Written by Brian Chen
Solving the clues gives:
|Winner or advocate (4|2)||CHAMPION|
|Criticize small details (3|2)||NITPICK|
|The Illuminati, for example (4|4)||CONSPIRACY|
|Namesake of a triangular fractal (4|4)||SIERPINSKI|
|U.S. state whose name may be used to count out roughly one second (9|0)||MISSISSIPPI|
|Rice cooked in seasoned broth (0|3)||PILAF|
|Vegetable that gives Popeye superhuman strength (1|4)||SPINACH|
|Chilean dictator (0|6)||PINOCHET|
|Animal with sharp quills (5|2)||PORCUPINE|
|Modern camera smartphones have about 10–15 of these (4|4)||MEGAPIXELS|
|Genus of the Taung child (8|6)||AUSTRALOPITHECUS|
|Newell Brands permanent marker (4|1)||SHARPIE|
|Brave, as an explorer (5|1)||INTREPID|
|French revolutionary figure (5|4)||ROBESPIERRE|
All the clue answers have PI as a substring, with location given by the enumeration: the numbers before and after the vertical bar indicate the number of letters before and after PI. This also disambiguates some of the clues, and explains the title — this puzzle was released on the first day of the hunt, which is March 14, or Pi Day.
The extraction method is suggested by PI and the dots between the first two answers and at the end. We write down the digits of the decimal expansion of π, one per clue, and then index the corresponding digit into the answer:
This spells out ANSWER IS FLAT EXPANSE, so the answer is FLAT EXPANSE.
This was originally conceived as a backup puzzle of sorts, but it worked its way to the first day because we couldn't pass up the opportunity to release it on Pi Day, and then to the first puzzle because it seemed to be the only puzzle with the potential to be easy enough. As a result I tried to make the clues as easy as possible while being still somewhat interesting. The enumerations before and after PI were given also to suggest that the positions where PI appeared were not used for extraction. I was really happy that 278 teams managed to solve it.
I included the "ANSWER IS" prefix both to confirm to solvers that "FLAT EXPANSE" was literally the answer instead of a cluephrase, and to push the X to a position where it could be clued with a reasonable word (words like "epiphylaxis" or "pigeonpox" are not particularly compelling). We were surprised and dismayed that many teams still interpreted it as a cluephrase and guessed words like "PLAIN" or "PLANE" or looked for words that contained PI matching that definition. While it would have been ideal to use an answer containing PI, unfortunately none of our meta answers this year contained PI as a substring (and since this puzzle was added so late with so few constraints on its answer, we might not have wanted to assign that answer to it anyway).