Evan Birnholz’s Mini Puzzle Meta Suite: “The Haunted House” October 31, 2021

WaPo Erm… lots of time. Lots and lots of time (Jim Q) 


*Jump to very end of post for clean solution grid images*

As I begin to write this post, it’s midnight, and it’s rather dreary. 

And I’m still pondering, quite weak and… yeah you guessed it… weary. 

Over this very quaint and curious not-at-all-forgotten volume of puzzles galore. 

But it’s Birnholz, not the Raven, perched upon a bust of Pallas. Offering me a ROT13 hint rather than a sinister “Nevermore!” to give me that one final nudge I need to uncover the last piece of the puzzle:

Gur ahzore pbqr sbe gur Yvoenel vf bayl arrqrq gb uryc lbh trg gur frperg jbeq sbe gur Yvoenel. V rkcrpgrq gung gurer jbhyq or fbyiref jub jbhyq trg gur Yvoenel’f frperg jbeq jvgubhg hfvat gur pbqr, ohg vg’f gurer fb gung lbh qba’g unir gb qb n enaqbz nantenz.

Gur ahzore pbqr sbe gur Fnsr jbexf n yvggyr ovg qvssreragyl, ohg gurer’f na n-un zbzrag lbh’yy arrq gb trg orsber gur pbqr pbzrf vagb cynl.

I don’t know what it says. I’m not ready to cheat just yet. I’m soooo close. But if you’re on the last step like me, and you want a nudge, paste that message here  before reading on. Looks like a mouthful… But at least it’s Evan, and not the Raven, tapping at your window lattice. 

You know that feeling when you’ve been totally done with anything Netflix has to offer, and then out of nowhere they drop something phenomenal with no announcement? Like a new season of Black Mirror… or anything having to do with Breaking Bad… or something totally out-of-left-field that suddenly takes over your life for a week, like the deliciously just-shy-of-campy modern-spaghetti-western Squid Game? If not, congrats… you’re doing way better than me. If so, then you understand the feeling I got when I opened up this puzzle suite that Evan sent me a few days ago.

You never know when something crazy, fun, and funky is gonna drop from Evan in any given calendar year. Maybe it happens a few times. Maybe once. But you know it’s going to happen. And it’s going to be epic. You just don’t know when.

As soon as I opened the pdf for The Haunted House puzzle suite, I got Patrick Berry vibes. Because he’s the other one who drops really cool meta puzzle suites without notice. Side note: Get them for SUPER cheap here (Vicious Circle is one of the most clever and intensely satisfying solves I’ve ever encountered, and I’m all but certain Evan garnered inspiration from Berry in creating his own unique masterwork here with The Haunted House).

I’d say Evan faces a few more challenges than Patrick Berry when it comes to presentation: It has to be accessible to solvers at any level, and enjoyable, even if solvers don’t care to uncover the meta/mega meta. That is, if you’re going to aframegames, paying a few bucks, and downloading a puzzle suite in pdf format, you likely have an idea of what you’re getting yourself into. This? Nope!

Just seven… erm… eight… seemingly simple puzzles. That are so unassuming and adorable. Hell, they fit on two pages. But they’re bound to frustrate more than a few solvers. Me being one. I’m still not done.

I have a bit of confidence, however, that the chronic one-star Don’t-Mess-With-My-Normal-Crossword raters will show a bit of tact and deference for this truly amazing feat of fun, accessible, ingenious construction.

So here we go.

THEME: Halloween in seven puzzles, all leading to an eighth. At the onset we are told that we are in a “haunted house,” and that each puzzle is a “room” with its own meta answer. We also know that we are to eventually identify a monster and two sets of items that are necessary in order to defeat said monster.

My chicken scratch version of PUZZLE #1… can’t look at Evan’s less-hairy looking solution yet, for fear it might tip me off to the last meta.


Difficulty rating: Easy

A great way to start this suite. A little Scooby Snack of a puzzle. Here we are asked to essentially fill in our own answers without the help of numbered clues. They can go anywhere in that little grid, reminiscent of the NYT Mini. But for me, the dead giveaway was [Melancholy] and [Word after Caesar or Cobb]. Those are Monday level clues for SAD / SALAD (side note: SAD SALAD sounds like an excellent band name). And they fit quite nicely together in the 5A / 5D position. Or perhaps you determined the [Golfer’s shout] / [Martini fruit] pairing first? (FORE/OLIVE). Regardless, once you can place a set of answers, the rest fall in quite quickly.

2:09 to solve for me.

And a very simple meta: if you read the letters featured in each of the numbered boxes in numerical order, you get D-O-O-R-S.

DOORS. Apropos for an Entrance Hall.


My chicken scratch version of PUZZLE #2

Difficulty rating: Easy

Already in the lab? Man! I was hoping for some hors d’oeuvres first, or a glass of champagne at the very least! We are given fewer instructions for this room, so it looks like we’re safe to assume that it’s a normal crossword. But it’s not exactly “normal”! And the fact that this room is used for “…ghastly cloning experiments” is definitely not a coincidence. In four (or eight, I suppose), instances, a letter is repeated within a single, rebus box.

They are:





And those repeated letters spell RATSDenizens of a laboratory for sure, and without a doubt, our second Meta answer. 

This one took me twenty less seconds to solve than the first, so I assumed I was bound to be the fastest meta solver Evan had ever seen.

And then I met puzzle #3.


I stopped at 7:30 minutes in and moved on, only halfway complete. Just talked with mom. She cites it as a major disappointment in my life so far.

Difficulty rating: Easy / Challenging

I’ve seen this puzzle type only once before: whilst solving a WaPo. I remember I was sitting on my porch. It was hot. Perhaps I had a beer or two. Therefore, it must’ve been a day ending in -Y. If you’re reading this sentence right now, it means I haven’t found the link to my review of that puzzle yet, otherwise I would’ve included it right here (don’t click that).

Anyways, this type of puzzle seems so frickin’ easy. It’s not. Fill in the first letters to clues that are missing their first letters, fill in just those letters at the appropriate numbers, then cross your fingers and hope you can figure out where the answers to the clues belong. Sometimes they are gimmes: [Ziti or penne shapes] for example… that’s clearly… PASTA? No. No it’s not. Erm. How about [Weak, as an excuse]? Surely, Evan has retired that terrible L word that has, oddly, been a standard answer in crosswords…. so it must be… yeesh, I don’t know! let’s move on…

That’s kind of how that puzzle went for me. I was done with it before I was done with it, so the time reflected in the pic isn’t accurate. Add another 7 minutes. 12 hours later. Or something like that. Once I got GET-GO and eliminated the possibility of that clue [Beginning (hyph.)] being answered elsewhere, it fell into place.

If I had one nit for the entire puzzle suite, it would be QUASAR. Totally new to me, and not quite inferable. I suppose, in the long run, it doesn’t matter to the big-picture solve whether you know it or not. But I really don’t want any mistakes in my grid, even if they don’t matter. Without crosses at every turn, it’s a tough word for the likes of me. QUASAR sounds to me like an X-Ray gun that shoots Easy Cheese.

Anyway, answers to starred clues spell out a message that says SHUFFLE MISSING OPENING LETTERS. And if you run the alphabet, you’ll find that the letters A C E H I R V are missing from the clues. Scramble those and you’ll get ARCHIVE! Where you’re likely to find some Stephen King books in that LIBRARY.

ARCHIVE = Room 3 Meta.

*One thing is very much bothering me in the instructions for this room: Written in blood on the first page are the alphabet and the code (1, 3, 7, 4, 5, 2, 6). I assumed I would need this code to uncover the meta, but I didn’t. I just unscrambled as the instructions told me. But that code suggests seven letters and the answer is seven letters… so… I’m either missing something for this puzzle or this has something to do with the mega-meta. I don’t think Evan would include any superfluous instructions in a puzzle this complex.


If you zoom in and throw on some readers, you might be able to see the pencil etching over the black squares :)

Difficulty rating: Moderate

It’s dark down here. Too dark for the puzzle itself as some of the entries are shrouded in blackness. The black squares, that is. It’s up to you to determine which clues should be one letter longer than they initially appear, and to enter those letters in the black squares.

With a little elbow grease you’ll find that the correct entry for 4A [Hammer part] isn’t LAW, but {C}LAW, of course. Here’s the set, correctly:

  • {C}LAW
  • LOL{A}
  • OWE{N}
  • ROWE{L*New word for me
  • {E}RODE
  • {T}ARTS
  • {I}SLED
  • {C}URL *Tough clue [Twist on one’s head]. It refers to a lock of hair, of course. 
  • {K}ATE
  • DEN{S}

It should come without surprise (but definitely still be noted) that the visible entries are all still valid as crossword fill: URL, ATE, ARTS, SLED, etc. Always elegant.

It was a tad tricky to fill that one in, but the meta is very easy. You need only to read the letters “hiding in the dark” to determine that CANDLESTICKS would be of great use to help us see our way out of the basement.


Almost done!

Difficulty rating: Challenging

Some solvers are gonna want to run back into that basement rather than head into the appropriately named CRYPT, as CRYPTIC puzzles still have not quite caught on in America. They’re hugely popular across the pond.

This puzzle alone can warrant an entire post, but I’ll do my best to sum up my experience as an amateur cryptic solver.

I solve these types of puzzles rarely, which is a shame because I do indeed find them insanely clever and satisfying to solve. In fact, I usually solve them when I have to, like when they are part of a puzzle suite. I get too frustrated and look up the answers too quickly when I try to solve them by themselves. For this one, I hashed it out for about 15 minutes, got about most of it, then solved the last missing answer in a minute or two the next day. The pic is where I stopped after the first session.

A brief, and not-so-great explanation of cryptic puzzles:

A clue typically has two parts to it: One part of the clue is straightforward, and the other part is typically “cryptic.” That is to say “punny,” like the ? clues in American crosswords. The thing is, it’s up to the solver to determine which part of the clue is straightforward, and which part is cryptic. For instance 14A [Company division takes a cruise, I hearis SALES. The part I highlighted in blue is the straightforward clue. A “Company division” is certainly SALES. The next part, “takes a cruise, I hear” is cryptic. Takes a cruise is SAILS, but the “I hear” part is a hint that we are looking for a homophone. Hence, SALES.

The one missing in my almost-solution pic is pretty great. 1D [Pubs hosting the nude people, maybe]. I had ?A?H??S. And scratched my head for quite a while. Maybe the straightforward part of the clue is “maybe,” and the answer is PERHAPS, which fits, but I can’t get it to make sense in the cryptic part. Maybe the straightforward part is “Pubs,” and the answer is… BARROOM and my H is wrong (just noting now that it doesn’t fit). Or maybe it’s BARHOPS.

Nope. It’s BATHERS. The straightforward part is nude people, maybe and the cryptic part is Pubs hosting the because BATHERS has the word THE hidden in it, and it has BARS on the outside. So BARS (Pubs) is “hosting” the word THE.

I won’t lie: about half of the clues I only figured out the straightforward part and am still out-to-lunch on the cryptic part. 3A [Naked hero in broken-down bus summoned car rides] for instance is UBERS. I’m confident in that. The straightforward part of the clue is “summoned car rides.” But I have no idea at the moment what “Naked hero in broken-down bus” means. I’m gonna go back later and try to figure out the ones I don’t know. But it’s too much to go through every clue and answer in this already very-long write-up.

(update: I figured it out. The “broken-down bus” are the letters UBS in UBERS. It’s a BUS, broken-down because its letters are out of order. The “Naked hero” is the letters ER. It’s “naked” because HERO has shed its outer letters, H and O. Pretty cool, eh?)

Feel free to excoriate my weaksauce explanation of cryptics in the comments. There’s tons of exceptions, I’m sure, to the rules. Like 2D [Lite Subway choice] is LOCAL. Both sides of this one are straightforward (Lite = LO-CAL, and Subway choice is the LOCAL), though I’m not sure why “Subway” is capitalized.

Anyway, one clue, 11A, very much draws our attention to the middle column of the puzzle. [Search in the section where you’ll find the secret word: the middle column]. And the middle column reads URNS going down, which is something one is likely to find in a crypt. I love how the metas are all something associated with the rooms.

Everything about this meta is so damn tight.


Something’s fishy about this puzzle!

Difficulty rating: Moderate

This one is pretty easy to figure out, especially after the diabolical CRYPT puzzle! Here, we have anagrams as entries for some of the clues instead of the answers. It’s appropriate because one is likely to “mix” things in the kitchen. And they’re all anagrams of foods! Perfect!

  • [“Lemon” fish dish] isn’t SOLE, it’s LOSE.
  • [___ butter (Jif or Skippy spread)] isn’t PEANUT, it’s ANTE UP. 
  • [Still-life fruits] isn’t PEARS, it’s REAPS.
  • [Black or green pizza toppings] isn’t OLIVES, it’s VOILES. (not sure what VOILES is)
  • [Sandwich fish] isn’t TUNA, it’s AUNT. 

And if you look at the first letters, of the anagrams, it’s LARVA in the kitchen.



Difficulty rating: Easy

There’s a ghost in the bedroom. Or perhaps five of them. Here, the solver is tasked with filling in entries that appear to be one letter too long, and where a black square should be, there’s a white square in its place. Quite the opposite concept than that cozy BASEMENT puzzle.

So, from the GET-GO in 1A we have [___ and haw]. Monday level easy-peasy clue for HEM. But the puzzle is asking for four letters. Erm…. Let’s look at 1D [Project for a beaver]. Another Monday level clue for DAM. So logic dictates that we skip over the first box altogether and enter HEM and DAM in the following three. The tricky part of this puzzle is determining which boxes remain “blank,” but the ghosts reveal themselves rather quickly, largely due to the easy nature of the clues.

In true Birnholzian fashion, the “missing” letters, if filled in with another letter, will yield a very valid crossword entry:

  • A?OL / HO?E = AWOL / HOWE
  • DR?T / LAV? = DRAT / LAVA
  • AS?S / ROO? = ASKS / ROOK
  • N?AT / MOP? = NEAT / MOPE

Check out our five ghosts. If you were in this bedroom, would you be able to sleep? Me neither. I’d be AWAKE the entire night.

And going into the final room, our seven meta answers thus far are








Looks like DRACULA awaits us in the final room. Let’s go slay him.

Now it’s time to enter the FINAL PUZZLE: THE SAFE.

The different highlighter colors mean nothing. I just grabbed whatever was around to help keep track of areas of the puzzle I had used.

Difficulty rating: Moderately Challenging… needs elbow grease and persistence.

I am familiar with this puzzle type. I don’t do them often, but I find them very enjoyable because of the synergy that happens between the ROWS and the PIECES. Still, this one took me the longest to solve by far.

It’s much harder when some clues in the ROWS have many possible answers. For instance, ROW A: Register contents – Could be CASH, could be ONES, could be CHANGE… could be anything really!

Canine woe – TICKS? FLEAS? (The fact that the word TICKS can be found as part of another word somewhere else in this puzzle really messed me up for a bit)

What you depend on is a gimme, and hopefully there’s at least one in each row. In this one it’s Fishy bagel topping, which is without a doubt LOX and can easily be entered into the last three boxes in that row. And in the PIECES, if you correctly guessed Corn CHEX, you can enter that piece of the puzzle in, giving you –CHE as the last three letters in ROW BAnd so goes the synergy of the puzzle, where the ROWS help you get the PIECES and the PIECES help you get the ROWS. I did enjoy the CONAN O’BRIEN clue [Late-night host broadcast in “Skelevision in 2006 for Halloween (2 wds.)]. I very much remember that broadcast. Hilarious.

Anyway, it’s not that this grid is hard, but it is time consuming. For me anyway. But if you stick it out there’s a clear as day message hidden in the circled letters:


Wait… X in each room? Does X stand for “a random variable”? I toyed with that thought for a hot second before noticing that there is exactly one X in each of the seven puzzles.

ROOM 1: FAXED / AXING , where the X can be changed to a C to make valid crossword fill! FACED / ACING







Ready for mind to be blown?

You had to find the crosses (X’s) and examine the crosses (junctions where the entries meet) in order to get the word CROSSES. Useful things to have when staring down DRACULA.

That’s… I mean… I don’t have the words. I don’t think my mind has been so pleasantly blown by a concept in a puzzle as thoroughly as this.

But, alas, we ain’t done.

And here’s where I’m stuck.

The rest of the directions for THE SAFE tell us that …the name of item Set 1 (CROSSES) along with the safe combination (5, 2, 6, 7, 3, 1) in tandem with its missing number (4?) are the keys to unlocking item Set 2. 

I interpret this to mean that we are to look at box number 4 (the crossing) in each of the puzzles in the order of the safe combo. But that gives B S S M G L, which is meaningless.

Oh wait. Let’s try this… maybe it’s saying we need to look at crosses 5 , 2, 6, 7, 3, and 1 in… puzzle 4? That’s A R W L … okay that ain’t working either. And what of that library code? Should I look at cross 5 in puzzle 1? That’s S. Cross 2 in puzzle 3? That’s Z. That’s not gonna go anywhere either.

For the sake of ending this write-up (going on like 4 hours of typing and thinking and formatting) I’m swallowing my pride and translating the ROT13 nudge from the top of the post:

The number code for the Library is only needed to help you get the secret word for the Library. I expected that there would be solvers who would get the Library’s secret word without using the code, but it’s there so that you don’t have to do a random anagram.

The number code for the Safe works a little bit differently, but there’s an a-ha moment you’ll need to get before the code comes into play.

Ok. Damn that library code. It sent me down a wicked rabbit hole.

I’m sorta/kinda live-blogging at this point, and Evan was kind enough to send me another ROT13 hint.

Here it is:

Erzrzore guvf fragrapr sebz gur vagebqhpgvba ng gur irel ortvaavat bs gur Unhagrq Ubhfr: “Ubj lbh qvfpbire gur frperg jbeqf jvyy punatr sebz ebbz gb ebbz, ohg ubyq ba gb gurz, nf gurl jvyy pbzr va unaql sbe gur rvtugu naq svany chmmyr (gur Fnsr).”

I’m giving myself another 20 minutes before I copy and paste it in here and call it a day.

Back soon.

Oh I think I got it.

You know what bothered me that I can’t believe I failed to mention? The fact that CANDLESTICKS is an entry in the last puzzle when it’s already the meta solution for Puzzle 4. That’s one helluva dupe! That might be what we’re looking for, however.

Oh my. Oh dear me.


Look closely. If my puzzle weren’t contaminated by highlighter I probably woulda seen it sooner. Running downward in that last puzzle are the other 6 meta answers. Holy crud. LARVA in column 2, ARCHIVE in column 6, URNS in 7, RATS in 8, AWAKE in 11, and DOORS in 12. And look where they cross.

CANDLESTICKS.    A E S T K S. I’m quickly anagramming that to STAKES, which I had suspected would be the last word. And I’m sure the code 5, 2, 6, 7, 3, 1 is telling us the order in which to examine the letters.

  • Room 5 was URNS and the cross was at S.
  • Room 2 was RATS and the cross was at T
  • Room 6 was LARVA and the cross was at A
  • Room 7 was AWAKE and the cross was at K.
  • Room 3 was ARCHIVE and the cross was at E.
  • Room 1 was DOORS and the cross was at S

This was simply mind-blowing. Layer upon layer upon layer upon layer… and it kept going. What a beautiful piece of art, this suite. I can’t imagine a tighter puzzle.

(and just like that, someone has already dinged it with a 1 star rating. No rationale in the comments of course. That’s just plain ignorant and rude imho.)

Still a tad miffed at that Library clue… I can’t figure out how we were to ascertain a certain order for the missing letters in order to use the code properly, and it really threw me off. But that’s a me issue :)

Pretty solution grids below courtesy of Evan Birnholz:









THE SAFE (without meta)

THE SAFE (with meta)







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25 Responses to Evan Birnholz’s Mini Puzzle Meta Suite: “The Haunted House” October 31, 2021

  1. David L says:

    I couldn’t get the second word from the safe either, and decoding Evan’s hint didn’t enlighten me.

    I was also puzzled by the number code in puzzle 3. I didn’t notice (duh!) that the starred answers told you what to do — I was trying to make something out of their initial letters instead, which went nowhere.

    Eventually I realized that there were 7 numbers in the code and 7 initial letters missing from the puzzle, and I figured the code would tell me how to order them. But it doesn’t, unless I am missing something, so I don’t see how the code works as a hint.

    • Jim Quinlan says:

      Looks like we were on the same page in the Library! Pun totally intended. Still stumped as to how that code was helpful.

      • The missing opening letters to Room 3, in alphabetical order, are:

        A, C, E, H, I, R, V

        The numbers in the code are:

        1, 3, 7, 4, 5, 2, 6

        Match those letters to the numbers in the given order, so A = 1, C = 3, E = 7, H = 4, I = 5, R = 2, V = 6, then rearrange them in numerical order:

        1 = A
        2 = R
        3 = C
        4 = H
        5 = I
        6 = V
        7 = E

        While I knew people could get the answer ARCHIVE just by scrambling ACEHIRV and coming up with a word, I wanted that code in there so you could have a guide to rearranging the letters and it wouldn’t be a total random anagram. Plus it’s easy to look at ACEHIRV, even with the starred clues, and dismiss it as nonsense.

        • Jim Quinlan says:

          Oh. So clear and so simple now. Now I’m stumped as to how that eluded me.

        • David L says:

          I interpreted the code the other way around. The missing letters are ACEHIRV, so I labeled them 1234567 in alphabetical order. Then I rearranged them as in the code, 1374526. That yields AEVHICR.

          Fortunately it was easy to see the correct answer, especially because I had figured out by that point that it must begin with A.

  2. Thanks, Jim, for such an epic post! I’m glad you enjoyed the suite even if it tripped you up at times.

    One bit of backstory: I got lucky with the STAKES. Originally I was going to end with just DRACULA and CROSSES, and I’d already built a couple of the puzzles like the Entrance Hall and the Basement with their meta answers. But then I thought, well, I wish I could use the secret words beyond just spelling out Dracula’s name with their first letters, and it’d be a shame if I couldn’t include STAKES since those are the classic weapons used to kill vampires. Then I saw the letters of STAKES were contained in CANDLESTICKS once each; and remember, I’d already built the Basement puzzle earlier. Just pure luck, but there was no way I could leave STAKES out once I saw that.

  3. Amy Reynaldo says:

    It took me a while to see how the UBERS cryptic clue worked, since “hero” can mean a sub sandwich and the SUB letters are all found in UBERS. But the “naked hERo” is ER, with the flanking H and O stripped off. The “broken-down bus” is scrambled to UB_S and the naked hERo is “in” that scrambled bus.

    • Chris Engle says:

      I had to get help to find STATUTE as an answer in Room 5; I’m not a frequent crypto solver. Might I ask how you reach the solution from the “David, for one, has time for law” clue? All I can guess is that the ST might come from St. David (for one, at the beginning), but I’m lost as to the rest.

  4. Evan (not Birnholz) says:

    Fantastic puzzle. As good as any I’ve ever done in twenty years of solving. Bravo.

  5. Dan C says:

    Absolutely phenomenal. The sheer amount of theme put into the final grid, while still making the entire puzzle solvable, is incredible. Great job all-around on this one!

  6. Seth says:

    Before I read any of this, can someone point me to where I can get this? I didn’t know it existed before seeing this write up, and it sure sounds like something I’d like to try!

  7. Seth says:

    WOW. Standing ovation, Evan. Thanks, Jim, for doing this special write-up — I never would have known this existed otherwise. (I don’t normally do the WaPo puzzles — so many puzzles out there in the world nowadays, so little time!)

    This rivals Patrick’s “Cross” words contest back in 2011. If you never did that thing, drop what you’re doing immediately and go do it: https://www.xwordinfo.com/Contest

    • ryoustra says:

      Seth – the PDF links for the Cross puzzle appear to be broken. You wouldn’t happen to have an alternate link for that, would you? A crossword puzzle titled “Cross” isn’t the simplest thing to google for :)

  8. BryanF says:

    Just amazing! Incredible masterpiece of crossword meta-ness!

    I was able to figure out the code for ARCHIVE by working backward. I got the secret words for Rooms 1, 2, 4, and 7, but I had to solve the Safe and both item sets to get the secret words for Rooms 3, 5, and 6. Somehow in all of my crossing offs in Room 3, I missed the starred clues telling me what to do, but working backward, I realized those letters were missing and then immediately went to alphabetical order and got the code to see how the secret word was derived.

    I don’t know how I missed the secret word for Room 5, but the cryptic definitely stumped me in the same area as Jim. I couldn’t get BATHERS, HEAT, or SALES. I should’ve seen the obvious clue for the secret word though.

    I immediately saw where the secret word came from in Room 6 once I knew what it was, but missed it from just looking at the puzzle prior to doing the Safe.

    Just a brilliant set of puzzles!

  9. Pilgrim says:

    That was challenging and lots of fun. Maybe it was just me, but I liked how the grid for the laboratory (site of some “ghastly cloning experiments”) resembles a double helix DNA strand (maybe if you squint real hard).

  10. Eric S says:

    Truly an impressive piece of puzzle construction!

    My favorite part may have been the library. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like that.

  11. Jim G says:

    Finally finished this tonight. Fantastic puzzle(s), with a bonus surprise cryptic, no less! FWIW, room 5 was pretty easy for this cryptic fan (which makes sense; you definitely wouldn’t want to throw what cryptic addicts would think of as a hard cryptic at solvers who aren’t used to them).

    The only hiccup was 11A. Is that a cryptic clue? I can’t figure it out if so.

    The meta that gave me the most trouble was Room 6. I ended up backing into it starting with L based on it having to be DRACULA, but I couldn’t figure out why. I was looking for another word in the grid that could be scrambled to make a food, so I thought maybe OLAF could be turned into LOAF. never did figure out that it was LARVA until I was doing the final crossing meta, and even then I had to come here to find out why.

    • Dunno if you got this answered elsewhere, but for 11A in the cryptic, the definition is “where you’ll find the secret word: the middle column” and the wordplay is that HINT is literally a hidden section of the words “search in the.”

  12. Chris Engle says:

    This was my first attempt at one of Mr. Birnholz’s Halloween-themed puzzles, and I must say…. I look forward to trick-or-treating with him again next year. Even though I had to seek help at several points throughout the puzzle, there was a real joy in seeing how everything fit perfectly together, whether it was one of my own “aha” moments or via help when I got stuck. This kind of masterfully crafted puzzle suite is, I think, just what is needed to convince the “one-star, don’t-mess-with-my-crossword” people (of which I have mostly been a member) that there is much more on offer in the world of cruciverbalism if we open our minds to expand our definitions of what a good crossword can be.

  13. ryoustra says:

    Spread this out over a few evenings with my wife, and man! the destination was worth the journey (and vice versa). Evan’s works are a weekly Saturday afternoon treat for us, and I’m always peeking into the Post Magazine before it even makes it into the house to see what Evan’s got up his sleeve. Mind blown this week!

    Loved, loved, LOVED the cryptic puzzle – each clue was such a great little challenge (…please give us more!) I had recently stumbled onto some of Stephen Sondheim’s cryptics from back in the day – which are a treat – so I came to this with some newfound experience.

    But for me, the true measure of a great construction like this is the time I spend afterwords thinking backwards to get a sense of how you first came up with the concept and the final answer, and how you got all the pieces to fit. I still can’t fathom how this evolved, and would love to hear you discuss more – maybe on a podcast somewhere?

    I still do refer people back to last year’s “5×5”, and this was another magnum opus. Bravo!

    • Jack S says:

      For me it was a multi-night solve along with my wife and daughter. And we had a lot fun doing it! Fantastic puzzle!

  14. Thanks, everyone! It’s been really heartening to see people’s nice messages about this suite. If it gave you your first exposure to cryptics, then I hope you’ll give them another try. I couldn’t solve cryptics myself five years ago, but I can now and it’s a real thrill to crack one.

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