State of Confusion – The New York Times

If youre a cryptic aficionado, the title of this puzzle reads classic cryptic: Confusion, and other words that mean chaos and disorder, tend to tip a solver off to an anagram, the reordering of letters. I must add that in a (possible) coincidence, there is an actual cryptic puzzle running today (in the Times Magazine, as well as on the app) that has a crossover clue at 9-Across, like when two prime-time TV shows overlap casts for some episode to try to get you hooked on both shows. If youve ever had an urge to try a cryptic but felt intimidated, go over there and look at 9A; itll give you a start. In addition, I always do a post on Wordplay that tries to explain every clue, and if you love seeing people who are supposed to know what theyre doing get things wrong, then you really shouldnt miss it. I am often humbled by the cryptic, but continue to love it and so will you.

All right! Back to business here.

As you will surely notice, there are seven across entries today with shaded or circled letters, depending on what platform youre solving. The clue for each one has a bracketed secondary clue this is the part where my light bulb clicked on, because those secondary clues all tip you off to various United State nicknames like the Empire State for New York, an example that doesnt appear in the grid today. Theres no confusion there, I dont think. What else could [Wolverine State], which is the secondary clue at 23A, be?

Lets go one further, and say that a solver even knows what state that is. Lets say that a solver counts those boxes or bubbles and finds that the number of letters in said state are the same eight which is another strong hint that were looking to just rearrange those letters.

Does this help you answer the main part of this clue at 23A, Voice box? It didn't do much for me! I had to get plenty of downs before I figured out ANSWERING MACHINE in this spot. It was only after the fact that I confirmed my suspicions, as those shaded letters were the same letters in MICHIGAN.

The second example, at 33A, is probably the most crystalline. First of all, the primary clue Safari sighting is quite straightforward, unless you decided to go all pun crazy and look for internet references, thinking of Safari the Mac browser. Also, the anagrammed U.S. state makes up all but one letter of the final entry, and that secondary clue [Golden State] is perhaps the most recognizable state nickname. So take California and jumble up those letters voil! AFRICAN LIO N.

And thats it! Thats the trick. Not all of the theme answers have pun answers like the first one, but they all follow the same method: Brackets hold clue for the state, state is anagrammed into the shaded/bubbled boxes, regular clue is for the overall answer. The originality and challenge today, Id say, lie in how subtly those rearranged letters sneak into those difficult themers. I found it highly satisfying to figure them out after knowing the rules of the game.

If youre stuck on one, Ill give you all the states in order from top to bottom, and then the entries in the same order. I do find that good old-fashioned pen and paper can help with a long anagram like some of these, though just line up the words and cross out letters as you go.

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State of Confusion - The New York Times

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