Variety: Puns and Anagrams

Christina Iverson tests the variety waters with a winsome debut.

PUNS AND ANAGRAMS — This was such a pleasant surprise! Christina Iverson is a puzzle editor at The Times and a familiar name to weekend solvers, mainly as a frequent constructor or co-constructor of bang-up Sunday crossword puzzles. Those big grids always come with a sprinkle of clever wordplay to bring a smile, and now we get to take a crack at a smaller grid with nothing but those offbeat gems.

That said, if your first glance at the clues in this puzzle put a befuddled look on your face, join the club. I love Puns and Anagrams, a.k.a. PandAs, but the puns in these puzzles can be freewheeling, wild creations that cross the border from solvable to a gray zone. Sometimes you figure out each crossing letter and fill in an entire entry and still have no idea why it makes sense until some synapse in your brain fires at 3 a.m. the next day.

And so we get anagrams, and thank goodness for those. This is at least the 100th time I’ve solved one of these puzzles, and I’m not too proud to admit that I still look for the easy way in. In this puzzle, the first anagram clue I spotted was at 17A, “Mollify papa, see?” There’s no obvious indication of what to do here, mind you, and I chalk up my realization to experience. My eyes are attuned to the potential of words and letters to reorder themselves, and APPEASE — meaning “Mollify” and composed of the letters in “papa, see” — swam into focus. The entry right beneath it at 19A is another anagram and is only four letters long: “Name for a mare” solves to ERMA. (I was charmed to find this entry sharing its final letter with 6D: “Name for a seal” is ELSA.)

Here are a couple of my favorite anagram clues in this puzzle. At 29A, the clue “Question I ask if a site’s likely to infect my computer” uses “if a site’s” to spell IS IT SAFE? And 39A, “In an R.V., a state of perfect happiness,” is a real vibe, as they say; mix up “In an R.V., a” to reach NIRVANA.

A few of these anagrams stack with another cryptic technique. For example, 34A, “Any intel that’s not harsh,” uses the letters in “intel” reordered with “N” and “E,” which sound like “Any,” to get LENIENT — “not harsh.” And 18A, “Are cold as Mercury and Saturn,” certainly looks like a cosmic clue, but its solution cracked me up: “Are cold as” solves to OLD CARS. (Wait, Saturns are old? Time flies.)

After solving enough anagrams, crossing letters start bringing puns into the realm of the possible, if not the obvious (the obvious ones are few and far between in this puzzle — it’s a good challenge). If you’re unfamiliar with these types of cryptic wordplay, you can always refer to a glossary; there are examples of most of the main types of clues today.

This puzzle’s clues contain a few hidden words. 37A leaped out at me: “Bit of attire in Minsk or Tallinn” solves to SKORT, which is a portmanteau for a garment that is a combination of a skirt and shorts. In other words, it’s a “Bit of attire in Minsk or Tallinn.” Hidden words can span words in a clue or tuck themselves into a single term, as in 1D, “Middle of Tallahassee,” where the three-letter entry is AHA.

A couple of other clue types that I find accessible make an appearance in this grid. There’s a double definition at 48D, “Clothing failures”: Both words in the clue can mean DUDS. There are a couple of letter sequence clues at 12D and 55D. 12D, “John Napier, alternately,” solves to ON AIR, alternate letters from “John Napier.” At 55D, “Sign accompanying a popular sermon, oddly,” the odd letters in “sermon” give the entry: SRO.

Once I get far enough along in a PandA grid that whole words start to form from crossing letters, I find that I can start to grasp the charade clues, which are just as they sound, like a game of charades. Each clue involves a series of directions; some are simple, some are convoluted. Charade clues are often filled with personality, and many in this grid are just wonderful once you get them. I thought that 3D, “Super-excited sausage,” would be a word for a hot dog, but instead it’s a funny series of two synonyms: HYPERLINK. I also thought that 1A was clever: “How a fake editor might feel when exposed” is A (“a”) SHAM (“fake”) ED (editor).

The clue at 9D, “Half-fare to L.A. repeated,” is trickier, but this is the thread: Take half of “fare,” or the first two letters, FA, and then put that next to “L.A., repeated,” to get FALALALALA.

Would I have figured FALALALALA out without almost all the letters in place? No way! I solved a lot of these entries backward, via crosses. Take 20A, “Visit Philadelphia’s state, you might say,” which solves to CPA. You have to say it out loud to get it. (Same with 25A, “Destroys, say.” It’s REX.) Then there are visual puns, like 20D: “ABCD FGHI …,” which solves to CUTE, or “cut E,” upon consideration. 44D, “W + A,” solves to WANDA (that one I almost guessed). But how does 16A, “EMARS,” become MARINES? This one tested my fortitude: It’s M-A-R IN (contained by) E (and) S. So tough, and so satisfying.

What did you think?