by Charles Steinhardt and Palmer Mebane
First, solve the picross, finding a 93-square loop:
The 93 letters, reading clockwise from the red A, can be thought of as scrabble tiles drawn from a bag, and if so, the highest-scoring plays all fall within the outlined loop on the 15x15 board:
AMPQHRE - HAMPER (Q)UUVWYA - QUA (UVWY)IAY - WAVY (UIY)LMLT - MULTIPLY HBBAURS - RHUBARBS KREEJEE - JEE (KREE)EED - JERKED (EE)RUOAR - URARE (EO)WRLOT - KOTOWER (L)GALNOE - ALLONGE VIFIIGZ - FRIZ (VIIG)A?G - GInGIVA (G)OOCEDO - COED (GOO)ONTI - FOOTING (O)FNTTXO - FOX (ONTT)IAI - TITIAN (O)EINNDE - IODINE (NE)AISNT - INSANE (NT) - TAG (N) - NO
Where there are multiple plays yielding an identical optimal score,
the shape of the loop is used to break the degeneracy. The final
This leaves seven tiles in the bag. The unique best play with those seven tiles is along the third row, DECOMPRESSOR, which is the answer to the puzzle.