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enter image description here Transcription of some of the text in the puzzle:

Naughty kids get nothing on Chirstmas, in short. There's always an internal scramble to search for who to cross off the list.

field which aims to k◯he details of out planet (5 7)
type of therapy that ◯on's opponent's initial running mate famously received (8 5)
positio◯ in an orchestra (5 5)
what joh◯ms was often portrayed as, by his opponents (10)
runners in the same taxonomic class as ◯s (9)
it's found directly above the ◯per on some tops (5 6)
a◯lness caused by an allergic reaction to schistosomes (8 4)

If both players move optimally in a game of tic tac toe, X keeps circles down, initially.

1. Take the circled letters in order (top to bottom, left to right) and prepend two extra letters to form a word describing what each player in this game does at tic tac toe.
2. In light of this, where should you look to find the answer to the next question?
3. What does this game of tic tac toe have in common with Santa's sleigh?
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  • $\begingroup$ I've solved enough of the seven clues to see the pattern there, but can't figure out what to do with the crossword and wheel pictures ... $\endgroup$ Dec 26, 2021 at 17:06

1 Answer 1

12
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The top clues

are each missing a synonym for "zero" at the marked point.

field which aims to k[NOW T]he details of our planet → EARTH SCIENCE
type of therapy that [NIX]on's opponent's initial running mate famously received → ELECTRIC SHOCK
positio[N ONE] in an orchestra → FIRST CHAIR
what joh[N ADA]ms was often portrayed as, by his opponents → MONARCHIST
runners in the same taxonomic class as [DUCK]s → OSTRICHES
it's found directly above the [ZIP]per on some tops → SHIRT CHOKER
a[N IL]lness caused by an allergic reaction to schistosomes → SWIMMER'S ITCH

These answers are alphabetized, helpfully confirming them.

The O grid:

The blanks on the right match the lengths of our synonyms for "zero". The arrows around the O hint that we need to fill the synonyms in, so they can be read word-search-style.

Assuming all cells have to be used, the P must be for ZIP; the Z must go on the left, because if it were on the right it would need to be used in whatever word uses the upper-right corner. Similarly, NIX must be diagonal starting from the upper-left.

progress so far

The cell in R3C1 must then use the shared I as well. The cell in R1C2 must be part of a horizontal word, so that means NIL must be placed going ↙wards...

partial progress
And now DUCK can only be fit into the grid in one way (overlapping the D in NADA).

filled grid

The arrow traces out the word ENLACED.

X grid:

As hinted by "internal scramble", in the flavortext, each of the clues' answers has an anagram of CHRIST within it (which is often represented by a "cross" -- either in the † shape, or the Greek letter chi (Χ)).

answers filled into grid

The answers can be filled in based on the direction of the arrows, so that the CHRIST anagram goes in the center. The red line then traces a path saying SCREW.

What next?

The two bits below the grids have transparent rectangles in them...

If you've solved Definition Resolution, another puzzle by noneuclideanisms, you know where this is going: overlay on title

Hey, the ouer lines match some of the shapes in the title! And then when they're matched up, the boxes overlay a bunch of pigpen-cipher-like symbols... exactly as many as letters in our two answers so far.


These sets of shapes tell us how to fill the tic-tac-toe grid with letters from our answers: DRC
ELA
WSN

If both players move...

..."X keeps circles down, initially" hints at the comic XKCD, which has a nice map of optimal tic-tac-toe moves.

If both players follow the prescribed strategy, we get the following result:
XXO
OOX
XOX

Questions:

1: The circled letters are CELS; we'd say that each player here EXCELS at tic-tac-toe (given that they're playing optimally!).
2: So, to find the answer to the next question, we should look at the X cells.
3: Just like Santa's sleigh, this game of tic-tac-toe...

tic-tac-toe grid
...is DRAWN.

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    $\begingroup$ Bah, was just about to post my answer but lost by ~2 minutes! I had rot13(fuveg pbyyne vafgrnq bs fuveg pubxre) but the end result is of course the same. $\endgroup$
    – user39583
    Dec 26, 2021 at 20:45
  • $\begingroup$ Beautiful solve! I kept getting caught on the idea that the lines outside the boxes were indicating directions in which to load letters into the tic-tac-toe grid. Bravo! $\endgroup$ Dec 26, 2021 at 20:57

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