Solution: Tracking Numbers
Authors: Alison Chang, Akira Baruah
Most of the clues in this (gigantic) crossword are pretty standard, except for a handful that include symbols and numbers. The symbols refer to a set of 4 albums by Ed Sheeran, while the numbers refer to 4 albums by Adele. This is additionally clued by 101 down, which says “Catalog or this puzzle’s theme” and solves to DISCOGRAPHY. (In the casual track, certain cells are highlighted which yield EIGHTEDSHEERANANDADELEALBUMS).
Each symbol or number can be substituted with a word for the clue to make sense. Within each “album” clue, the number after the sigma refers to the (sum of) track number(s) from which the word is pulled, while the position of the symbol or number indicates which word from the track name is used. For example: Songs for 30 Σ⑤ refers to the 5th track of Adele’s album “30,” which is “Oh My God.” We take the word “god” because 30 is the 3rd word in the clue. The puzzle uses the first 3, 4, 5, and 6 tracks from the first, second, third, and fourth album for each artist (in chronological order).
|Clue Number||Clue||Album(s)||Track(s)||Missing Word(s)||Answer|
|79A||Common = medium, with paint Σ⑤||=||5||Graffiti||SPRAY|
|194A||÷ color Σ①||÷||1||Eraser||PINK|
|217A||+ at Chapel ÷? (abbr) Σ⑤||+, ÷||3, 2||UNI, Hill||UNC|
|2D||= turn stones into this Σ①||=||1||Tides||SAND|
|4D||Condition that affected 25 = Anne's eyes Σ⑩||25, =||4, 6||Young, Queen||DEFLUXION|
|12D||What 21 might answer with "true" or "false" Σ④||21||4||You||QUESTION|
|17D||× it _ Σ③||×||3||Sing it _||AGAIN|
|18D||English's sitcom: "30 & _" Σ③||30||3||Love||WAR|
|19D||× or zero Σ①||×||1||One||BINARY|
|20D||+ decisions might be this Σ②||+||2||Drunk||UNWISE|
|21D||"25"'s opposite in French Σ①||25||1||Hello||ADIEU|
|25D||_ my 30 out Σ④||30||4||Heart||RIP|
|26D||÷ site for someone looking for coral, perhaps Σ③||÷||3||Dive||ATOLL|
|27D||Songs for 30 Σ⑤||30||5||God||PSALMS|
|33D||= violently Σ②||=||2||Shivers||CONVULSES|
|37D||19 man outfit, briefly Σ②||19||2||Best||TUX|
|60D||25 for × on the floor Σ⑦||25, ×||5, 2||Remedy, mess||MOP|
|89D||"19 Cars" band (2 words) Σ③||19||3||Chasing||SNOWPATROL|
|90D||21 30 Σ⑤||21, 30||3, 2||Turning, on||ACTIVATING|
|162D||21 _ Σ①||21||1||Rolling||PIN|
|174D||"30 I?" Σ⑥||30||6||Can||PLEASE|
|175D||Adds to + Σ①||+||1||Team||DRAFTS|
|176D||= act from a 202A Σ④||=||4||Bad||BETRAYAL|
|182D||Kingdom in 30 Σ①||30||1||Nature||ANIMAL|
|183D||× listen to these types of people Σ④||×||4||Don't||HATERS|
|185D||25 emojis, perhaps Σ②||25||2||Send||FLIRT|
|188D||21 of The Cruel Sea Σ②||21||2||Rumour||DAN|
|189D||= sound you hear Σ③||=||3||First||ALARM|
|191D||Maker of "25 Will" campaign Σ③||25||3||You||ATT|
|197D||÷ number Σ⑤||÷||5||Perfect||SIX|
If you fill in all the clues, the 4 unclued horizontal clues yield FIND ARTISTS FIRST NAMES. There are numerous ED and ADELEs scattered throughout the grid. If you highlight the full word in which each of these substrings appear, you get 25 INTO 30.
Applying the album clue pattern one more time, you know you need 1 word from a track of 25 and another word from a track of 30 such that the track numbers sum to 13. Looking at all combos (1 and 12, 2 and 11, etc), there is only 1 such pair where both sides have not yet been used, yielding “WATER INTO WINE, e.g.” from “Water Under the Bridge” and “I Drink Wine”. The answer to the clue phrase is MIRACLE.
First of all: Yes, we know this crossword is humongous. It keeps us up at night too. The reason is that ADELE is a pretty unusual and long substring, and to properly hide a variety of ADELEs across the grid, the words had to be decently long. Furthermore, if each edge of the 2, 5, etc. in 25INTO30 were length 3 instead of 5, the words would be things like BED, TED, WED, which would likely make the EDs overly obvious. We spent hours trying to condense the grid and weeping over how big it still was. Hopefully the final reveal felt worth it. We did consider naming this "Biggest Crossword Ever" to go along with "Worst Crossword Ever," but in the end we chose to keep a title that clues the importance of the track numbers in each album.
The inspiration for this puzzle came from listening to some Ed Sheeran on a drive home from work and noting that divide was an interesting album title. This made us vaguely remember that we had also seen other mathematical album titles. When we realized that this round required puzzles with equations, the puzzle idea was born.
We did notice during the hunt itself that some solvers interpreted INTO as Ed Sheeran’s divide album. Since the math symbols were always given directly throughout all the clues and never with a synonym, and since we could have formed a division symbol using two short words above/below a horizontal line if we wished to clue divide, we hope that this ultimately didn’t feel too compelling.
In the initial version of this puzzle, we somehow completely coincidentally placed the answers WATERS and WINERY in opposite corners of the grid, leading our test solvers down a large rabbit hole of trying to fold or overlay the grid to transform the WATER into WINE.
Ali got pretty addicted to Semantle in early 2022 and would often play while watching test solves, with both activities taking a while. She started pulling words from the grid as inspiration for input, and on one night, the answer to Semantle was actually MIRACLE itself.