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Here in the United States, COVID is now casting a long shadow over our summer. To help pass the time where we should be enjoying our normal summer activities, here's a connect wall to remind us of what we could be doing. The set of sixteen words below can be partitioned into groups of four words that have something in common. And of course the commonalities have something in common, which is related to the title of the puzzle. I wish you luck!

ALL, BOARD, BOTTLE, COLD, DEALER, DEGREE, HAPPY, INNING, MODULAR, OLDEST, PINES, SOLO, TEAR, TENDER, THESIS, WHITE

HINT:

Two of the groups are based on fitting in a phrase with the connecting word. One of the groups is based on wordplay with the connecting word, and the other is a group whose members fall in a category described by the connecting word.

HINT:

DEALER and OLDEST are in the same group, which is not based on wordplay.

HINT:

ALL and PINES are in the same group, which is not based on fitting in a phrase with a connecting word.

HINT: This turned out harder than I thought it would be...sorry about that! @hexomino has gotten the groups mostly correct, but to get things over the finish line:

Group 1:

Wordplay based (think insertion): contains ALL, INNING, PINES

Group 2:

Phrase based: contains BOARD, COLD, TENDER

Group 3:

Phrase based (consider plurals): contains DEGREE, TEAR, THESIS

Group 4:

Examples of something (think games, but one is a bit of an Easter egg): contains DEALER, OLDEST, SOLO

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    $\begingroup$ I think I've managed to successfully identify one category since yesterday. This certainly is a tough one, nice work. $\endgroup$ – hexomino Jul 4 '20 at 21:17
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks @hexomino! I'm glad it worked out the way it did...I can provide another hint tomorrow if needed. $\endgroup$ – Jeremy Dover Jul 4 '20 at 21:26
  • $\begingroup$ In the first hint, do you mean the rot13(pbaarpgvat jbeq sbe gur svany nafjre, be sbe rnpu vaqvivqhny tebhc)? $\endgroup$ – tmpearce Jul 6 '20 at 1:09
  • $\begingroup$ @tmpearce: In the first hint, the "connecting word" is the word describing each group. No hint is offered on how to get from the four "connecting words" to the final answer. Does that clarify? $\endgroup$ – Jeremy Dover Jul 6 '20 at 1:13
  • $\begingroup$ @JeremyDover Yes, that helps - the hint refers to multiple connecting words, one for each group, not the ultimate connecting word. $\endgroup$ – tmpearce Jul 6 '20 at 1:15
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New Answer

Group 1

Words which can have the word TO inserted into them to form a new word - ALL, INNING, MODULAR, PINES (ATOLL, INTONING, MODULATOR, PINTOES)

Group 2

Words that form a new word/phrase with the word FEET - BOARD, COLD, TENDER, HAPPY

Group 3

These are all phrases when combined with numbers in the NINETIES - (98) DEGREE(s), (96) TEAR(s), (95) THES(e)S, (99) BOTTLE(s)

Group 4

These are things which come FIRST - OLDEST, DEALER (cards), WHITE (chess), SOLO

Connections

Combining them in a certain way we have NINETY FEET TO FIRST which is a reference to BASEBALL as that's how far apart the bases are (thanks to Jeremy Dover for the correction, I originally had it slightly wrong).
Baseball is referred to as America's Pastime which is the link to the title (thanks to El-Guest for pointing this out).

Previous answer

Group 1
Words to which we can add S to the front to create a new word - ALL, COLD, INNING, PINES.
Here I think the "connecting word" is SAND because each new word formation is S AND word.

Group 2
Words which create a phrase when combined with WATER - BOARD, BOTTLE, TENDER, WHITE

Group 3
Words which create a phrase when combined with PAPER - DEGREE, MODULAR, TEAR, THESIS

Group 4
Words which are associated with the WHEEL - (wheeler) DEALER, HAPPY (wheels), OLDEST (not totally sure but could be this), SOLO(wheel).

So the connecting words are
SAND, WATER, PAPER, WHEEL
Which makes me think that the commonality is
FLY - SANDFLY, WATER-FLY, FLYPAPER, FLYWHEEL

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    $\begingroup$ I really like your solution, but it's pretty far off what I had in mind (and mine is less stretchy, I think). As a hint, rot13(Ebgngr PBYQ, OBGGYR naq ZBQHYNE). That will get two of my groups, and you'll be a single transposition away from the other two. $\endgroup$ – Jeremy Dover Jul 7 '20 at 11:52
  • $\begingroup$ Your four categories are exactly the same as I've got this afternoon, and likewise I'm feeling stumped by the final connection! I'm thinking if you use rot13(SVEFG CREFBA) this might lead to something in the way of gaming... $\endgroup$ – Stiv Jul 8 '20 at 14:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Stiv Maybe you can see something more than I can. I can see how your phrase relates to gaming but not the other groups. Although, admittedly, it's not something I know a lot about. $\endgroup$ – hexomino Jul 8 '20 at 14:14
  • $\begingroup$ And of course you have that your answer is rot13(Nzrevpn’f Cnfgvzr), @hexomino $\endgroup$ – El-Guest Jul 8 '20 at 14:29
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    $\begingroup$ Seeing the rest of these comments now it looks like you were spot on with your conclusion even when you weren't confident about it - well done :) $\endgroup$ – Stiv Jul 8 '20 at 15:01

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