Resolution to Evan Birnholz’s Dec. 25 crossword, “Santa’s Workshop”


On Nov. 7, friends-of-the-show Grace Topinka and Chelsea Rowan have been discussing, on their podcast “Two Girls One Crossword,” some puzzles they’d solved round Halloween they usually introduced up my “Haunted House” meta suite from 2021. Grace had talked about that there was no requirement that I write one yearly, however nonetheless she hoped she would have one other likelihood to resolve a multi-puzzle suite of that sort. That’s about once I started working planning “Santa’s Workshop.” Christmas would fall on a Sunday this yr, as Halloween did final yr, so it felt like the precise time for a particular selection puzzle.

A couple of weeks later, on Nov. 30, I used to be about 70 % completed with the suite once I bought a cellphone name from my editor Mitch Rubin. He gave me the gorgeous information that the Dec. 25 concern of The Washington Submit Journal can be the final one. I had no thought tips on how to proceed on this puzzle, or any puzzle for that matter, after listening to that. For just a few hours I even thought of shelving “Santa’s Workshop” till subsequent yr for a few causes. I wasn’t in a position to get a two-page unfold in The Journal like I’d initially hoped, which meant I’d must condense a whole suite of puzzles onto one web page, and that was powerful sufficient. Simply as importantly, I didn’t know if my copy editor would nonetheless be checking it.

In the end, I made a decision to complete the suite and submit it now. There would by no means be one other ultimate concern of The Washington Submit Journal, so this was the time to do it.

In the event you haven’t gotten an opportunity to resolve “Santa’s Workshop” but, you’ll find it here.


The directions on the prime learn:

The elves on the North Pole have misplaced a number of letters written to Santa. Your job is to assist them discover these lacking letters to allow them to end their work for the vacations. The primary three puzzles will every yield a six- or seven-letter secret reward, and this can come in useful for the ultimate puzzle.

So, identical to with “The Haunted Home,” you’ll want to finish every puzzle and discover the key meta solutions for the primary three puzzles. The distinction with “Santa’s Workshop” is that not one of the puzzles are commonplace crosswords. These are selection puzzles, a number of of which you’ll find in such shops because the Wall Road Journal and Games World of Puzzles, however the ones on this suite have their very own twist.

Marching Bands is a kind of selection puzzle invented by Mike Shenk, editor of the Wall Road Journal crossword. The puzzle is split into Rows and Bands, with two solutions in every Row positioned facet by facet, whereas the Bands solutions are entered one after one other, beginning in a lettered sq. (A, B, C, or D), winding across the Band, clockwise, and ending on the sq. proper under the lettered sq.. You will discover one other instance of a Marching Bands that Mike wrote for the WSJ here.

A standard technique in fixing a Marching Bands is to begin with straightforward Rows clues and use them to purpose out the place to enter the Bands solutions. The second clue of Row 3 is [Reduce, ___, Recycle], a reasonably primary clue for REUSE, and that leaves you with a four-letter reply that precedes it with the clue [Border]. A very good guess for that’s EDGE. Coming into these two solutions in Row 3 will present you the reply to the primary clue of Band C [Actor Richard] is GERE.

It’s a must to watch out on this Marching Bands, although. The second clue of Band C is [Small issue to “pick”] which must be NIT, however the letters from EDGE and REUSE in Row 3 offer you GERE after which a phrase by some means starting with U in Band C. One thing seems to be unsuitable.

That is the place the introductory notice to the suite may offer you an aha second. You understand how your job is to seek out the lacking letters that the elves misplaced? You’ll discover a number of of them on this puzzle. The Rows solutions are all regular, however seven letters within the Bands have to be ignored for his or her clues to make sense.

  • Band A, 2nd clue: [Go through a novel] is READ, skipping over a T, which makes the reply appear to be TREAD.
  • Band A, sixth clue: [Actress Blanchett] is CATE, stopping earlier than an R, which makes the obvious reply CATER.
  • Band C, 2nd clue: [Small issue to “pick”] is NIT, skipping over a U, which makes the obvious reply UNIT.
  • Band C, 4th clue: [Former amateur] is PRO, stopping earlier than an M, which makes the obvious reply PROM.
  • Band B, 2nd clue: [Hive insect] is BEE, stopping earlier than a P, which makes the obvious reply BEEP.
  • Band B, third clue: [Fit for a king or queen] is REGAL, stopping earlier than an E, which makes the obvious reply REGALE.
  • Band A, 4th clue: [Tug of war need] is ROPE, skipping over a T, which makes the obvious reply TROPE.

The skipped letters from the Bands, from prime to backside, spell out TRUMPET. That’s a present you may count on in the event you’re concerned in marching bands, and it’s the primary secret reply.

Checkered Flag is a spread puzzle type that I invented seven years in the past, although till now I’d solely written two puzzles of this sort. One in every of them appeared on my previous Satan Cross web site here, and the opposite was a part of a meta suite for the primary Indie 500 Crossword Event in 2015.

The place regular crosswords characteristic phrases that cross at one letter every, the solutions in a Checkered Flag cross at two letters every. The solutions are entered in a zigzag formation; Rows solutions run throughout and take up two strains of horizontal squares, and Columns solutions run down and take up two strains of vertical squares. (Facet notice: Again in 2015, I’d used the clue headings Zigs and Zags since that felt like a whimsical method of describing the solutions, however I made a decision to simplify issues this time round with Rows and Columns as an alternative.)

Similar to with the Marching Bands puzzle, the Rows and Columns solutions must be entered one after the opposite. In Row 1, the primary clue is [Visibly sad (2 wds.)] which is IN TEARS, and the second clue in the identical Row is [Living spaces] is HOMES. So that you’d enter IN TEARS within the squares (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7) and HOMES in squares (8, 9, 10, 11, 12) in zigzagging style. From there, you may see that the primary reply in Column 1 has the clue [Member of a 16th-century Peruvian empire] begins with IN-, which might let you enter INCA in squares (1, 2, 13, 14) zigzagging down.

Equally, as with the Marching Bands puzzle, there are some trick letters (all within the Columns) which might be lacking:

  • Column 2, clue 1: [Conclusions] is ENDS, ignoring a beginning T, so it seems within the grid as TENDS.
  • Column 5, clue 1: [___-pedi] is MANI, ignoring a beginning O, so it seems within the grid as OMANI.
  • Column 1, clue 2: [Ahead of schedule] is EARLY, ignoring a beginning Y, so it seems within the grid as YEARLY.
  • Column 2, clue 2: [Poetic tributes] is ODES, ignoring a beginning C, so it seems within the grid as CODES.
  • Column 3, clue 3: [Martial arts star Bruce] is LEE, ignoring a beginning A, so it seems within the grid as ALEE.
  • Column 5, clue 2: [Spanish word for “hand”] is MANO, ignoring an ending R, so it seems within the grid as MANOR.

These lacking letters in top-to-bottom order spell out the second secret reward, TOY CAR. Whereas I’m not a NASCAR or Components One fan, I think about many followers of each performed with toy automobiles once they have been children.

It’s price a notice right here that I’m very happy that Amuse Labs might assist me develop a handy on-line fixing possibility for the Checkered Flag.

The third puzzle within the suite is one other selection crossword invented by Mike Shenk: a Labyrinth puzzle. Right here, the solutions proceed in Rows and alongside winding Paths. Labyrinth puzzles have a tendency to begin within the upper-left nook and wind all the best way round, ending within the area under that upper-left sq., however I made a decision to start at sq. 1 in that upper-left nook and finish within the lower-right nook at sq. 99. As soon as once more, you’ll find an instance of a separate Labyrinth puzzle from the Wall Road Journal here in the event you’d prefer to attempt it.

The puzzles on this suite all function equally in that you’ve got Rows solutions positioned facet by facet and it is advisable to use them that can assist you determine the place the crossing solutions go. It’s no completely different within the Labyrinth. Row 3, clue 2: [Singer Morissette] is ALANIS, which implies the primary reply in that row has 5 letters. With the clue [Tale told at bedtime], that’s a reasonably straightforward clue for STORY. In the event you can determine that Row 2, clue 1: [Vibrations in the ground] is TREMORS, that may go a protracted strategy to figuring out the primary reply within the Path: [1991 military code name (2 wds.)] is DESERT STORM.

Similar to the primary two puzzles, it’s important to be careful for lacking letters, and this time they’re all within the Paths:

  • Path clue 2: [Bones in a cage] is RIBS, ignoring a beginning C, so it seems within the grid as CRIBS.
  • Path clue 4: [Arrived] is CAME, ignoring an ending O, so it seems within the grid as CAMEO.
  • Path clue 9: [Photo ___ (PR events)] is OPS, ignoring a beginning M, so it seems within the grid as MOPS.
  • Path clue 11: [Highest poker card] is ACE, ignoring a beginning P, so it seems within the grid as PACE.
  • Path clue 14: [Like adorable animals] is CUTE, ignoring a beginning A, so it seems within the grid as ACUTE.
  • Path clue 15: [Chat] is TALK, ignoring a beginning S, so it seems within the grid as STALK.
  • Path clue 17: [Odds’ opposite in math] is EVENS, ignoring a beginning S, so it seems within the grid as SEVENS.

The lacking letters from prime to backside spell COMPASS, a present which may come in useful in the event you have been misplaced in a labyrinth or a maze of some type. (And sure, I do know there’s a difference between a labyrinth and a maze — a labyrinth has one steady path and a maze has a number of branching paths that may result in useless ends.)

The final puzzle is a kind of puzzle that’s usually named Packing Crates, which was invented by Patrick Berry. This time it makes use of the identical thought, however with the holiday-appropriate title “Present Bins.” The solutions on this selection crossword proceed in Rows and Bins. As an alternative of a winding sample like in a Marching Bands or a Labyrinth, the Field solutions are entered left-to-right, top-to-bottom in rectangular- and square-shaped packing containers.

In the event you solved this puzzle in print, the difficult factor is that it’s important to decide the place every Field goes utilizing restricted data. The Field clues are ordered alphabetically by reply and the reply lengths are given, however in any other case it’s important to use the Rows solutions that can assist you determine the precise location of every Field. In the event you solved this puzzle on-line, part of the problem was eliminated: It reveals you the positions of the completely different Bins from the beginning, though you don’t know precisely which Field reply goes the place. In any occasion, Present Bins can nonetheless be solved utilizing a synergy of the Rows solutions, logic, endurance and time.

It additionally comes with some extra detailed directions which might be related to the general meta reply to the suite:

When the puzzle is full, eight unboxed letters offers you a touch to discovering the three secret presents on this grid. The squares of every of those presents will inform you the place you’ll find Santa’s four-word message within the first three puzzles.

So, in the event you’ve crammed within the grid appropriately, it ought to appear to be this:

You’ll discover that eight unboxed (and unclued) letters spell out the phrase DIAGONAL. This can be a trace to discovering the three secret presents on this puzzle Can you notice TRUMPET, TOY CAR and COMPASS hiding within the grid diagonally? They’re proper right here:

We’re supposed to make use of these hidden diagonal phrases to seek out Santa’s four-word phrase hidden within the first three puzzles, so what can we do with this data?

You’ve in all probability seen that each sq. on this selection suite has its personal quantity — that is an uncommon characteristic even for the range puzzles that you just see right here. The numbers within the squares of the diagonal TRUMPET, TOY CAR and COMPASS are the keys to discovering the general meta reply. Have a look at the identical numbers for every of those solutions of their respective puzzles:

  • The diagonal TRUMPET within the ultimate puzzle has the numbers (4, 15, 26, 37, 48, 59, 70). Take the squares with the identical numbers in Puzzle 1: Marching Bands.
  • The diagonal TOY CAR within the ultimate puzzle has the numbers (1, 12, 23, 34, 45, 56). Take the squares with the identical numbers in Puzzle 2: Checkered Flag.
  • The diagonal COMPASS within the ultimate puzzle has the numbers (31, 42, 53, 64, 75, 86, 97). Take the squares with the identical numbers in Puzzle 3: Labyrinth.

The corresponding squares, from Puzzle 1 by way of Puzzle 3, spell out Santa’s four-word message to you: IT’S A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE.


Earlier than I wrap issues up, I’ve a number of folks to thank for his or her help. I had a giant variety of test-solvers since one can’t be too cautious with a spread meta suite. In alphabetical order: Richard Allen, Patrick Blindauer, Neville Fogarty, Amy Goldstein, Giovanni P., Paolo Pasco, Karen Spencer, and Quiara Vasquez. (Quiara, by the best way, is among the two editors, together with Gavin Byrnes, who can be operating the progressive puzzle subscription service Crucinova starting in January, 2023. Verify that out in the event you like fixing some uncommon crosswords that you just gained’t usually see in a newspaper.) Alex Boisvert helped me develop a digital puzzle file for the Checkered Flag crossword, and Srishti Agarwal and the staff at Amuse Labs labored exhausting to adapt the suite for fixing on The Submit’s web site.

There’s yet another individual I must acknowledge. Keep in mind how I mentioned that I thought of shelving this suite till subsequent yr as a result of I didn’t know if my copy editor can be out there to verify it? That’s Jenny Abella. She has been my copy editor since I began writing puzzles for The Washington Submit seven years in the past. When the information got here that The Submit Journal can be ending, it meant that Jenny was shedding her job at The Submit. I’ve seldom labored with anybody who has the extent of endurance and professionalism that Jenny does. She saved me at any time when I had typos or factually incorrect clues, and I made loads of them over time. She helped make my puzzles higher by forcing me to rethink and tighten clues that didn’t fairly work. Regardless of studying the exhausting information from Nov. 30, she nonetheless reviewed and checked “Santa’s Workshop” identical to she had each different Submit puzzle of mine since 2015.

Even after ending the suite, the ultimate meta reply IT’S A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE appeared like a bittersweet conclusion, nearly prefer it have been a message that The Journal would proceed on in spite of everything, or that there can be higher information for the employees of The Journal and, in my case, Jenny particularly. My very own message of hope is that she and everybody from The Journal who’re searching for work will land someplace on their toes. Any information group can be fortunate to have them.

Thanks for studying. I’ll see you in 2023 with new puzzles.

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