This Sunday, I’m picking up the Variety column for the first time, filling in for Caitlin Lovinger. I was a little apprehensive about unzipping the advance file of puzzles, not knowing what I would find. Inside, was a brand of brainteaser that I had not solved before: a PandA, or Puns and Anagrams puzzle. PandAs, where have you been all my life?
PandAs, as I’m sure most of you know, may resemble cryptics, but are something else entirely. A few days ago, I would have told you that cryptics were more my cup of tea and that I appreciate them for the extremely rigorous, concentrated little works of art they can be. While I patiently chip away at them, happy to arrive at three or four answers at each nibble, friends say they devour cryptics and given a choice for their puzzle workout, they prefer the British ones, with their extra layer of regional impermeability.
But who can turn away a lovely anagram, or turn up their nose at a fine or even corny pun? Laughing is as important as it ever was, if not more so. Still, when I first joined The New York Times, I tried to dodge puns in an overreaction to a stylebook caveat about indulging unwisely in wordplay, as it were.
But no such constraints bind Daniel Raymon and his puzzle, which I tackled by skipping and tripping among the clues and filling in the ones that felt right, then going back over the blanks and shaking up the letters that remained, hoping to see the answers fall into place.
Even though, when I was solving, the only other creature stirring was one of the cats, 1D caused me to chuckle aloud. The clue is “Head covering mother holds.” It took me the longest time to reach MAHATMA, or MAMA holding HAT. Get it? I know you do.
I didn’t, at first. My problem came from my misinterpretation of a crossing clue. Although I’m enjoying the fact that PandAs, unlike cryptics, have more of a scaffolding of crossing words that supports the solver, I keep expecting the answers to be sewn up as neatly as they are in some cryptics.
In this case, it was 17A that led me astray. Reading the clue: “What a fellow does to an envelope,” I made an assumption — or failed to make one. I thought of a fellow as one who receives a fellowship rather than as a male human, and I ended up with “readdresses,” when the actual answer was HE ADDRESSES. That helped me get MAHATMA, but I kept wishing there had been a millinery joke in the envelope, or maybe the HEADDRESSES/HAT cross was the millinery joke?
At 19A, “Cartoon character in Acapulco,” I stopped. I did not expect to see APU, a longtime regular on “The Simpsons,” who was caught up in a controversy over racial and ethnic stereotyping. Hank Azaria, the white actor who voiced the character — a highly educated immigrant from India who runs a convenience store — decided, in response to public disapproval, that he would no longer be the voice of Apu. He continued in other roles on the show.
The clues that most closely resembled those of a cryptic were easier for me to decipher, like 15A, “Expresses a rustic tale well.” The answer, ARTICULATES, means “expresses” and the anagram comes from recombining “a rustic tale.” (We’d have to toss away the “well,” though.)
I burst into laughter at 59A, “Redloh god toh,” which I mistook for a moment as an expression in a vaguely familiar foreign language. Then I had to decide whether the “redloh” should be a NUB or “bun.” (Snoino eht dloh.)
I think I’m in love with PandAs, and I want to try more of them. But I can’t say I totally grasp the significance of every answer. Maybe you readers who are experienced with this form can help me pick apart 1A, “Social Security Administration operating in four states.” I worked out that the answer is MISS AMERICA. And I found CA for California, RI for Rhode Island and either MI for Michigan or MISS for Mississippi. And either way, I have letters left over and no fourth state.
Where did I go wrong?