On this day when there are de facto question mark blocks under so many trees, we're happy to present this Nintendo-themed puzzle — themed meaning 100 percent of clues plus six answers in the puzzle.
"Video games?" some of you wonder, tugging on your collars. One such person was our editor Bill MacDonald, who's half a generation or so above your constructors' cohort:
(Overworld theme music begins to speed up, provoking anxiety…)
(Fireworks, people jumping over flagpoles)
We often say that we don't engage in pop culture for the sake of trivia … and also that hopping online to figure something out or confirm a guess is a fair recourse. Are we talking out of both sides of our mouths?
We'd refer you to fellow constructors Joshua Kosman and Henri Picciotto's concept of the "solving tripod" — between the definition, the wordplay, and the crossing letters, we give you multiple paths to victory. (And in fact, the definition should ideally not be a lock for the answer, i.e. determinative — you should need to lean on the wordplay or crossing letters, if only to be sure you're sure.) Sure, this puzzle may expand the pool of traditional cryptic subject matter, but we're not going to strand you trying to figure out KOOPA TROOPA any more than we would KOKOPELLI, KOOKABURRA or KOENIGSEGG. (Note to self: What about a knockout-themed puzzle ...?)
Thanks to Andy, John, Joe and Bill, for their help on this puzzle and all the rest, and thanks to you, our terrific solvership, as well. Merry Christmas, and we'll see you next year.
[Update May 9: We have put Playing With Power into the vault, to be released again this autumn in the Word▶️ collection. Subscribers can find a link to the puzzle in the emails we sent on Dec. 25, Jan. 18, Jan. 25, Feb. 25 and Apr. 25.]