24. Process of Elimination

Patrick Berry’s Sunday (Sept. 9) New York Times crossword, PROCESS OF ELIMINATION, involved a very novel concept that was beautifully executed. Here, after the cut, is Patrick’s explanation of how he put it together…

First, here’s the clue in the puzzle that revealed what was going on: In the answer to each italicized clue, cross out any letter that appears twice; then read the letters that remain. This yielded just one remaining letter from each of nine answers that, when put together, spelled L-E-F-T-O-V-E-R-S.

From Patrick Berry:

I got the idea for this one from the phrase SORE LOSER — for some reason I happened to notice that it paired off perfectly with an L left over. Naturally that begged the question: were there other, longer examples out there? So I queried my database to find them. (It took me years to compile that database, but the effort pays off when I think of a linguistic quirk like this one and don’t want to spend months brainstorming good examples.) My query basically deleted letters from each entry in pairs, then kept the ones that could be whittled down to a single letter.

Once I had my list of working entries, I just had to come up with a 7-10 letter payoff phrase that would allow me to use as many good entries as possible. LEFTOVERS wasn’t my first choice — I also considered REMAINDER and ODD MEN OUT — but both of those required some dullish theme entries to make the lengths match up, whereas LEFTOVERS yielded a uniformly lively set. (It also got SORE LOSER in there, which seemed fitting.)

Even with the computer shortcut, it took me longer to prep the theme than it did to make the puzzle — but actually, that’s quite often the case for me. Good themes are hard to come by!

8 Responses to 24. Process of Elimination

  1. Manny says:

    Super theme for a super puzzle!

  2. Ashish says:

    Thank you for posting this – I wondered how the theme emerged.

    On another note, we crossword constructors don’t take enough time to celebrate such masterpieces. Chess awards Brilliancy Prizes – we should as well!

    Leftovers evoked the same reaction in me that Special Delivery did –


  3. Linda G says:

    Thanks to Amy for the link to this explanation. That was one of the most enjoyable puzzles I’ve ever done…superbly executed.

  4. Stephen W Berry says:

    I enjoyed it too.

    Thank You, Patricks.


  5. Howard B says:

    Not quite a puzzle-within-a-puzzle, but a puzzle with a smaller puzzle following, for dessert. Berry tricky. Congratulations on the execution of a fine theme.

    I like that Mr. MERRELL (->M) has posted this writeup, as someone whose name fits the theme. It kind of completes the circle (grid?) in some strange karmic fashion.

  6. Patrick Merrell says:

    Ha, Howard, you’re right! I hadn’t noticed that.

  7. Patrick Merrell says:

    I read that one paper, which picks up the NYT puzzle in syndication, didn’t display the italicized clues in italics. Another paper did likewise — in addition to changing the giveaway clue (the one I described above)! Their replacement clue (the answer being TWICE) was: “Knock if the answer is no” ??? I guess they wanted to make sure nobody could figure out the theme.

  8. TimeTraveller says:

    Great puzzle – justly celebrated.
    The stupid Vancouver Sun today printed a “correction” of the puzz with themic clues italicized. Do you suppose someone there is reading the blogs?
    And (sigh) to beg the question has a good and useful meaning in addition to its current somewhat degraded usage.

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