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This puzzle is part of the Puzzling StackExchange Advent Calendar 2021. The accepted answer to this question will be awarded a bounty worth 50 reputation.

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To fully solve this puzzle (and receive the bounty!), find a magical place to be with these sorts of characters after solving the cryptic crossword.

Please forgive the less-than-acceptable checking, and I hope that all the clues are fair and legal. Merry Christmas Eve Eve, and Happy Holidays to all!

cryptic crossword grid

Across Down
1. Last drops of gin and tonic among their snacks for movie (3,11) 1. Show busy teachers around ferry (3,4,5)
7. Philosopher considered keynote after angry letter about doctor with Omicron (14) 2. I care about Stranger Things character (5)
10. Headerless programming language with archive file and icon (6) 3. Curtailed fish? Back to meat alternative (3)
12. King's core of three back in a fantastic place (6) 4. Picked up pace to tourist destination (4)
13. Host from Norway ushered in by the Spanish and the French (5) 5. RPG from alert broadcast found in summit (9)
15. Tools are finally silent around noon and in the afternoon (9) 6. Start petition now (5)
17. Snow Queen banished a creature protecting her abroad (9) 8. According to Spooner, all of us plant algae (7)
18. Regularly avoid due to recording (5) 9. Without notice, sign follows need for books (12)
19. Oceanic country not essential to Japanese city (6) 11. Attorney general supported by current Vice President (5)
21. Two articles and novella exhausted wise woman? (6) 14. Soviet scientist put bits of eggplant and nutmeg in scrambled yolks (7)
24. Game or conversation boring Mother, Billy, Iota, and yours truly (6,6,2) 15. Discussions following electronic agreement lead to natural protrusions (9)
26. America returning broken Mars probes filled with gas to Sweden becomes game (5,5,4.) 16. Turn to celebrity head over heels (5)
20. Hear about bathing time early in the morning (5)
22. Return from garden terrace (5)
23. Epilogue is improvised, written up without heart (4)
25. Scrooge says, "This party? Pointless!"

An image with blanks as followed: the blanks are black unless stated to be blue. The first line is a six-letter word with the last letter blue. The second line is a six-letter word with the first letter blue, followed by a seven-letter word with the third letter blue. The third line is a three-letter word connected to a four-letter word with a hyphen; the letter after the hyphen is blue. The fourth line is a three-letter word, then two five-letter words; the third letter of the second word is blue. The fifth line is a four-letter word with a blue second letter. The sixth line is a three-letter word with a blue first letter, followed by an eight-letter word with a blue fifth letter. The seventh line is two nine-letter words; the second letter of the first word and the fourth of the second are blue. The last line is seven-letter word with a blue fourth letter.

Grid Transcription

1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8
9
10 11 12
13 14 15 16
17 18
19 20 21 22
23
24 25
26
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1 Answer 1

7
+50
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First, here's the solved cryptic crossword:

Solved crossword

Clue explanations:

Across:
1. Last drops of gin and tonic among their snacks for movie (3,11) THE INCREDIBLES = THEI((-gi)N + (-toni)C)R + EDIBLES
7. Philosopher considered keynote after angry letter about doctor with Omicron (14) EPISTEMOLOGIST = EPISTLE* around MO (Medical Officer) + O (Omicron) + GIST (keynote)
10. Headerless programming language with archive file and icon (6) AVATAR = (-j)AVA + TAR
12. King's core of three back in a fantastic place (6) NARNIA = (-mo)NAR(-ch) + IN< + A
13. Host from Norway ushered in by the Spanish and the French (5) ELLEN = EL + LE + N (Norway)
15. Tools are finally silent around noon and in the afternoon (9) EQUIPMENT = (-ar)E + QUI(PM)ET around N (Noon)
17. Snow Queen banished a creature protecting her abroad (9) ELSEWHERE = ELS(-a) + EW(HER)E
18. Regularly avoid due to recording (5) VIDEO = (-a)V(-o)I(-d)D(-u)E(-t)O
19. Oceanic country not essential to Japanese city (6) NARUTO = NA(-u)RU + TO
21. Two articles and novella exhausted wise woman? (6) ATHENA = A + THE + N_A
24. Game or conversation boring Mother, Billy, Iota, and yours truly (6,6,2) MORTAL KOMBAT II = M(ORTALK)OM + BAT + I (Iota) + I (yours truly)
26. America returning broken Mars probes filled with gas to Sweden becomes game (5,5,4.) SUPER SMASH BROS = US< + MARSPROBES* containing H (gas) + S (Sweden)

Down:
1. Show busy teachers around ferry (3,4,5) THE CARE BEARS = TEACHERS* around BEAR 2. I care about Stranger Things character (5) ERICA = ICARE*
3. Curtailed fish? Back to meat alternative (3) NUT = TUN(-a)<
4. Picked up pace to tourist destination (4) ROME = "ROAM" (using 'picked up' as a soundalike indicator) (wordplay provided by @user39583 in comments)
5. RPG from alert broadcast found in summit (9) DELTARUNE = DUNE around ALERT*
6. Start petition now (5) BEGIN = BEG + IN
8. According to Spooner, all of us plant algae (7) SEAWEED = Spooner(“WE SEED”)
9. Without notice, sign follows need for books (12) DICTIONARIES = (-ad)DICTION + ARIES (sign)
11. Attorney general supported by current Vice President (5) AGNEW = AG + NEW
14. Soviet scientist put bits of eggplant and nutmeg in scrambled yolks (7) LYSENKO = YOLKS* around (E_ + N_)
15. Discussions following electronic agreement lead to natural protrusions (9) EYESTALKS = E + YES + TALKS
16. Turn to celebrity head over heels (5) PIVOT = (TO + VIP)<
20. Hear about bathing time early in the morning (5) RATHE = HEAR* around T
22. Return from garden terrace (5) ENTER = _EN TER_
23. Epilogue is improvised, written up without heart (4) CODA = AD(-h)OC<
25. Scrooge says, "This party? Pointless!" BAH = BA(-s)H

Next, note that...

there are a lot of pop culture references here among the answers, not all of them explicitly mentioned as such in their clues. Moreover, it seems that many of these pop culture vehicles involve characters who can control ice (an appropriate quality for a 'seasonal' puzzle this winter...), with many of these fitting the formatting of the sequences of blanks beneath the crossword:

KATARA (10A Avatar: The Last Airbender)
NOELLE HOLIDAY (5D Deltarune)
SUB-ZERO (24A Mortal Kombat II)
THE WHITE WITCH (12A Narnia)
HAKU (19A Naruto)
ICE CLIMBERS (26A Super Smash Bros.)
PROFESSOR COLDHEART (1D The Care Bears)
FROZONE (1A The Incredibles)

If we take the highlighted letters from the blank sequences and rearrange them, we can find 'a magical place to be with these sorts of characters':

IN A BLIZZARD!

(Thanks to @JeremyDover in comments for being my sounding board and for pointing out the final anagram that I had originally completely overlooked for some more bizarre options!)

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  • $\begingroup$ From the flavor, I feel like the next step is to rot13(svyy va punenpgref sebz gur tnzrf/fubjf/zbivrf va gur tevq. Sbe rknzcyr, IVBYRG be IRPGBE pbhyq pbzr sebz Gur Vaperqvoyrf; GUR JUVGR JVGPU sebz Aneavn; VPR PYVZOREF sebz Fhcre Fznfu Oebf). But I'm not familiar enough with all of these to push this any further. Or I'm completely wrong. $\endgroup$ Dec 24, 2021 at 0:05
  • $\begingroup$ @JeremyDover That might be a good shout. Many of the answers here which were not clued in a pop culture way are also the names of pop culture vehicles... $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Dec 24, 2021 at 0:09
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ It's probably rot13(va n oyvmmneq). $\endgroup$ Dec 24, 2021 at 0:37
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @samm82 Yeah, no matter how much I look I'm still not seeing 4D then! Hopefully a passer-by might be able to spot it :) (Pretty sure I've now fixed my typo and subsequent misexplanation in 7A at least...) $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Dec 24, 2021 at 9:53
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ rot13(V guvax cvpxrq hc vf n ubzbcubar vaqvpngbe sbe ebnz -> ebzr) $\endgroup$
    – user39583
    Dec 24, 2021 at 11:04

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