Going down (and across) in history

From pre-Columbian peoples to pioneering puzzlers, a week for the ages

Published December 31, 2023

The final day of 2023! I hope you’re ready for a new year, but no matter what, we’ve got a few more puzzles from this last year to go. Let’s get solving!

Clues you can use

Friday, Dec. 29 (Inkubator, constructed by Tracy Bennett & Laura Braunstein)

Hindmarch who designed the “I’m Not A Plastic Bag” = ANYA

Anya Hindmarch launched her eponymous brand in 1987 when she was just 18 years old. She made her breakthrough 20 years later with “I’m Not a Plastic Bag,” creating a reusable tote that became a symbol for reducing single-use plastic consumption. Hindmarch is known for her creative collaborations, including her collaboration with Kellogg’s where she transformed cereal boxes into stylish clutches. Anya Hindmarch (the brand) has boutiques in major cities worldwide, and Hindmarch was appointed as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2009.

This clue came from the final puzzle in the Inkubator Crosswords project, a long-running series of puzzles made by and edited by women. The puzzles were fantastic, and culminated in a book you should buy! Franchise editors Tracy and Laura did a fantastic job with this final puzzle. I’m sure they’ll both stay in puzzles; indeed, Tracy already has a pretty good gig editing Wordle.

Thursday, Dec. 28 (USA Today, constructed by Adam Aaronson)

Indian record label with the most subscribed YouTube channel = T-SERIES

Founded in 1983 by Gulshan Kumar, T-Series has grown to become one of the largest music and film production companies in India. On YouTube, the channel hosts many music videos, including “Vaaste,” “Lut Gaye,” and “Dilbar,” all of which have more than a billion views. In 2019, it surpassed Sweden’s PewDiePie to become the most-subscribed channel on all of YouTube. T-Series was the first account to cross the 100- and 200-million subscriber thresholds, and remains the world’s most-subscribed account (though MrBeast is only 30 million behind!).

Wednesday, Dec. 27 (LA Times, constructed by Amanda Cook and Katie Hale)

“We Feed People” chef Jose = ANDRES

Born in Mieres, Spain, Andrés moved to New York in 1990 at age 21, to cook at a popular Spanish restaurant in Manhattan. In the years since, he has opened a number of restaurants in the US, including Minibar in Washington, D.C, which has received two Michelin stars. However, while an accomplished restaurateur, he’s best known as a charitable chef. After the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Andrés started the World Central Kitchen, which provides meals to citizens after disasters: Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, Ukrainian borders after the breakout of the war, and Maui after the 2023 fires. In 2018, Andrés was named Humanitarian of the Year by the James Beard Foundation. To learn more about him, you can watch Ron Howard’s 2022 documentary We Feed People – or just watch him match Stephen Colbert’s jovial energy in a recent appearance on The Late Show.

Some pre-Spanish solving

Friday, Dec. 29 (New York Times, constructed by Robyn Weintraub)

People who worshiped the fertility goddess Pachamama = INCA

A fun Friday puzzle by Robyn, and so I wanted to launch a little quiz for you about American empires people. Given a clue that was used in a crossword, determine if it was for INCA, MAYA, or AZTEC.

  1. Like the gods from the realm of Tamoanchan. AZTEC
  2. Empire founded by Manco Capac, in legend. INCA
  3. Chichen Itza constructor. MAYA
  4. Builders of Peru’s Qhapaq Nan. INCA
  5. Culture whose Civ 6 leader is Lady Six Sky. MAYA
  6. Culture that introduced popcorn to the world. AZTEC

Don’t forget “Ancient carvers of giant stone heads”: OLMEC! Also, be sure to listen to this BBC Radio interview with Robyn as she discusses constructing this puzzle!

We’ve come a long way

A couple of articles from the last week. The first comes from the San Francisco Chronicle, as they try to solve the paper’s first crossword, from 1924. The results weren’t very good: While those early constructors were pioneers, they didn’t have the sheer magnitude of computing power we have today, and they resorted to some very obscure words. Last week was the 110th anniversary of the first crossword anywhere, and that included NEIF (“A fist”). As far as I can tell, that word has never been included in another crossword since.

Finally, Parade published an article about the efficacy of word games on your mental health. The article notes that a crossword routine can push back dementia symptoms by 2.5 years, and numeracy puzzles like sudoku and chess are also great at supporting the memory. But it would be hard to do a “Number of the Week” sudoku column, so let’s stick to this!

Happy New Year to all of you fine crossword people! I hope 2024 is filled with new puzzles, new puzzle events, and great moments of learning new things.

Chris King is a longtime crossword commentator, and the author of five published puzzle books. His column appears on Questionist every Sunday.