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  • Writer's pictureLyle Broughton

The Sex Number

Updated: Aug 3, 2022

This one is a bit of a meme, I'll admit it. I definitely made some concessions in fill quality for the sake of getting the theme to work, but hopefully you'll agree that it was worth it.

This puzzle was originally inspired by a certain picture that Will Eisenberg posted to Crosscord, which got the gears turning. Quiara Vasquez and Ada Nicolle also deserve shoutouts for getting the ball rolling even further, giving me hope that this dumb idea might actually be possible.

Spoilers (and many more details) underneath the puzzle...

The Sex Number
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It all started with this image that Will posted:

This is the only occurrence in NYT crossword history that NICE has been the answer to either 69A or 69D. (It's this puzzle, in case you were curious.) And then I posted this:

The premise of a puzzle built entirely around "funny number crossings" was well underway, and thanks to the help of fellow Crosscordians, I decided on 666 (6D & 66A) and 1337 (13D & 37A) as two other solid additions, and began trying to formulate a grid layout that has each of those 4 crossings. Turns out it's ridiculously hard to do. Every black square that I added/deleted/shifted caused seemingly random effects on the grid numeration. But after much trial and error, I arrived at this:

This is a 15x15 grid, and you may have noticed that the final puzzle is 16 rows tall. That's because (surprise!) the ?????????????HELL? pattern constrains things quite a lot. Thanks to Ada's suggestion of SPACE F{LEET}S / {LEE T}RACY, though, I did have a somewhat viable way of dealing with the {LEET} square, so I still felt like not all hope was lost.

I decided to try one last Hail Mary to keep the idea alive: expanding to 15x16. Luckily, the stars aligned and THE TRAGEDY OF OT{HELL}O was a perfect fit, crossing serendipitously with both THI{N ICE} and {WEED} OUT, two of the very few good options for those slots. Of course, new grid dimensions meant spending several more hours aimlessly shuffling black squares around, hoping to stumble upon the perfect arrangement by sheer chance. Eventually, I found the layout that ended up becoming the final puzzle.

Luckily, the grid ended up being fillable, even though I had to lower Crossfire's minimum word score to 1 in order to do it. Even though it's a bit rough around the edges (and some of the rebuses don't actually disguise the meaning of the rebused word), I still think it succeeds as a meme puzzle, and it was certainly a worthwhile exercise in grid construction.

If you're already a member of Crosscord, you can read through the entire brainstorming session for this puzzle starting here :)



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