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Word Salad

Kosman and Picciotto on their Nation puzzle, cryptic crosswords, wordplay and puzzles in general.

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States of Play

Around Independence Day, an American cryptic puzzler’s fancy naturally turns to thoughts of the US. It isn’t always easy: the crossword puzzle is a home-grown American invention, but the cryptic—or, ahem, “British-style” puzzle—is an import from across the Atlantic.

But one slice of Americana that does recur throughout cryptic puzzledom—both in The Nation and elsewhere—is the roster of the fifty state names. With its wide range of etymological flavors (English, Spanish, Native American and more) and variety of lengths and letter patterns, these constitute a little gold mine of cryptic resources for puzzlers.

We’ve made good use of them, too. A quick survey of our files shows that only twelve states have yet to put in an appearance (and one or two are waiting in the wings, in puzzles that are written but haven’t appeared yet).

Not surprisingly, the main use for state names is as the shortest path to their two-letter postal abbreviations; in fact, practiced solvers have learned to try those first on seeing the name of a US state. For instance:
   SCYLLA  South Carolina partner brought back a terrifying monster (6)
   FLOUNCE  Ribbon in Florida with little weight (7)
   CLOSET  Secrecy concerning sexual orientation to face defeat in Connecticut (6)
   MARTIAN  Alien in Massachusetts train wreck (7)

Sometimes, though, a state name can appear in a clue just as itself, since it’s the easiest way to specify an American city or town, either in the definition:
   CHICO  Marx in a California city (5)
   SAGINAW  Detected a trap inside Michigan city (7)
…or the wordplay:
   ANTIPODES  Hiking mineshaft in Arizona town leads to the other side of the world (9)
   BILLINGSGATE  Abusive language in Montana scandal? (12)

And once in a while, the postal abbreviation can combine with a direct reference, as in this &lit. clue:
   NASHUA  It’s, like, in New Hampshire, near the edges of USA! (6)

Here’s another combination strategy:
   A LA MODE  Fashionable mission in Texas and Delaware (1,2,4)

State names also make good grid entries:
   INDIANA  Gary’s place is at home with a goddess (7)
   UTAH  Hesitation to bear thanks where Mormons are plentiful (4)

And so do their derivative forms:
   CONNECTICUTER  Associate with one better-looking New England resident (13)
   IOWAN One that hurts an American from the Midwest (5)
   OKLAHOMAN  Sooner or later, boy chases after perverse LA hook (9)

Probably the apotheosis of state-naming in our puzzles so far was this pair of entries from Puzzle #3308, based on a bit of wordplay we borrowed the puzzler Mark Oshin (a k a Mr. E):
   VIRGINIA SLIMS  State: “Video-game family getting last of menthol cigarettes” (8,5)
   MINNESOTA FATS  State: “Workers mostly returning for pool hustler” (9,4)

Happy Y to all our friends and solvers! (That’s Fourth of July, of course.)

This week’s clueing challenge: WYOMING

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