Sunday, November 6, 2016

Crossword Puzzle Rant Part 2: Supported With Evidence

So a while ago I had a post that came out of nowhere about crossword puzzles.  I offered plenty of hypothetical examples in that rant to support my arguments, but I didn't offer anything taken from actual crossword puzzles.

Now, because not all crossword puzzles contain every element that I ranted about, some will naturally be missing, but hopefully, you'll see what I mean, perhaps a bit more clearly.  My example crossword is one you can easily locate and work on yourself, since it was a Google Doodle.  Fair warning, if you want to do the crossword and don't want answers given to you, you may wish to do the crossword before continuing to read this post.  Jump break here, just to be nice.

My example crossword is one with a theme and an extra little fun bit, hinted at by the clue for 1 Across.

Now, part of my rant is fueled by the fact that there are eleven squares I can't fill in.  As I stated in my previous rant, I strongly feel as though if I have to look things up, I've already lost.  It's a puzzle, and popping the clue into Google to find the answer is cheating.  If I don't know something and can't get it from crossing answers, I just move on.  Conversely, if I get something I didn't previously know from crossing answers, I'll readily pop that answer into Google just to see what's up.

Most of the puzzle is nothing to be complained about, apart from the abundance of three letter answers.  They're more difficult to get from crossing answers, since they have fewer letters, and are often abbreviations or less common words.  Crosswords generally do a really good job of telling you when an answer is going to be an abbreviation, and there's an example of this in this puzzle: the clue for 77 Across.  It just flat-out has "abbr." in the clue.  Usually, the standard fare is to abbreviate a word in the clue, but when that's not possible, this generally happens.

However, the answer to this clue is on the annoying side.  Chess jumpers are obviously knights; no other piece in chess can jump over another piece.  How do I abbreviate "knights" down to three letters?  My first thought is "KTS", but wait, when you look at a record of chess moves in some high-level competition or whatever, knights are represented with the letter "N".  Is it "NTS"?  No clue.  Trying to get it from crossing answers confirms the last two letters are "TS", so we're left with trying to get the first letter from its crossing clue.  The puzzle's creator basically just made this up for the purpose of condensing the word "knights" into three letters, and it's terrible.

The remaining crossing answer is clued "Blue state?".  Clues with question marks indicate that you generally have to think a bit harder and that the first thing that pops into your head is probably not the answer.  Well, the first thing that pops into my head, given the farce that's happening politically in the US at the moment, is political parties and which states end up majority-voting for which party.  So that's obviously not it.  "Blue" can also mean "sad", though, so there's a second interpretation.

Getting crossing answers on this one gives me "FU" for the first two letters.  Given that I've got a "K" in the last letter because that's what I thought of first dangit, I have the impulse to just put in a "C" for shits and giggles.  However, let's take a look at the clue for the crossing answer.  I sound like a broken record already, I know.

The clue is "Grant-giving grp.", so right off the bat we know it's an abbreviation.  Crossing answers, our favorite things in the world, give me "EA" for the last two letters, so once again we're stuck without the letter we're actually looking for.  There's probably a lot of groups that give out grants, to be honest, and it's unreasonable to expect people to just know enough of them to go "oh yeah, it's that!" and fill it in.  My impulsive "C" would make this "CEA", but... I dunno.  Besides, if "knights" is supposed to be mangled into "NTS" instead of "KTS", then FUCN makes precisely zero sense for "Blue state?".

That's all the iteration of the area I can do, and I can't come up with an answer.  Moving on...

A nitpick about some answers that end up being two or more words for no apparent reason: see the clue for 6 Down.  "One way to store data" could be a lot of things, but at least it acknowledges that.  The answer is four letters, and tape backups are a thing, so it could be "TAPE".  The clue isn't plural, so the answer can't be plural; this rules out things like "HDDS", "SSDS", and "DVDS".  Besides, the clue doesn't contain an abbreviation or suggest that the answer should be an initialism.  Let's turn to our old friends, the crossing answers.  What do we end up with?  "ONCD".  On CD?  R U SRS?  Nobody burns CDs anymore, optical media is (thankfully) dying and CDs are seriously oldtech at this point.  Not necessarily incorrect, but could do with modernization.

Other clues whose answers are more than one word but don't suggest it:
  • 8 Down: Many ("ALOTOF")
  • 25 Down: Continue ("GOON")
I feel like "GOON" should have been clued in a manner that would have led someone to put the word "goon" in the grid instead of "go on".  "Henchman", "Crony", or "Generic tough guy" would work.

I don't include 49 Down, "Almost no time" in that list because when you think of something that means "Almost no time", multi-word expressions readily come to mind and don't feel contrived.  "AJIFF", or "a jiff", works in this case.  No complaints.

Honorable mention goes to 55 Down, "The Spirit ___ Louis", though.  In these sorts of cases, the answer fills in the blank space in the given phrase.  These are very readily multiple words, as is the case here.  My complaint is that there's one blank and two words, one of which is abbreviated.  Kinda like "On CD", but less contrived.  It's just not intuitive, that's all.  The human mind sees one blank and wants to fill it with one thing, and it gets confused when it has to fill that one blank with two things.

Nine of the letters I can't get are in a nice little 3x3 block, so we'll address the sole remaining letter first.  20 Across is "World War II spy org.".  Well, we know two things: one, it's an abbreviation, and two: it's well before my time.  If I didn't pay abnormally close attention on that day in history class, I'm not going to know it.  Our buddies, the crossing answers, give us "SS" for the last two letters, so once again we're stuck trying to get the first letter.  The first letter is a part of one of the four theme clues, which I also can't fully get because it's an SAT word.  Oddly enough, I got the other theme clue SAT word, "PERFUNCTORY", from crossing answers.  Anyway.

10 Down's clue is "Intellectual or emotional depth", and its third letter is the first letter of 20 Across.  Well, given what I was able to get of this annoyingly obscure word, it has to be a vowel.  That's good, as it takes the number of candidate answers down from 26 to 5.  Unfortunately, none of them ring a bell.  I want to put in an "E", though, because of the rest of the letters that I have in 10 Down.

Here we are.  Born to be kings?  No, we're not the princes of the universe.  We're finally at the dreaded unsolvable 3x3.  Let's look at the Down clues first, for no real reason.  Three of the letters are the last three in the answer to 10 Down, which we previously discussed.  44 Down is "Actress Sandra or Ruby".  No clue what three-letter last name this is supposed to be.  45 Down is "Wood-shaping tool".  I'm not a woodworker and I don't watch those low budget home improvement shows on PBS, so I don't know this one either.  In before it's "SAW" or something similarly stupidly simple.  "SAW" doesn't make any sense, though, it's a wood-cutting tool, which isn't really the same thing as a wood-shaping tool.

Now for the Across clues.  43 Across is "Actress Lupino".  Great, another celebrity that I'm just supposed to know about.  Nope.  50 Across is "Slugger Williams".  As I understand it, "Slugger" is a term that relates to baseball, so we're looking for a baseball player.  Whenever a three-letter name comes up, I have a tendency to default to "BOB", even when it has zero chance of being right, so basically I dunno.  55 Across is "Courtroom cry".  The first letter is the "O" in "OFST", or "of St.", from 55 Down's "The Spirit ___ Louis", which we've already addressed.  What could the other three letters be?  It's too short for anything that comes to mind that begins with "O", which happens to be limited to "ORDER" and "OBJECTION".  I plead the fifth.

So there we have it.  The majority of my problems with an actual crossword puzzle, easily referenced for your convenience.  The rest of my complaints are due to things where there's multiple valid answers and I just have to get enough of the crossing ones to figure out which one it is, and 16 Across, which can only be "DNA" or "RNA".  To solve this little fucker whenever it comes up, you stick in that "NA" and then you hope you can figure out whether the first letter is "D" or "R".  I've got an "R" there because a "D" doesn't make sense with the crossing answer, which so happens to be 10 Down.

Also, 11 Down, "Not alfresco" is "INSIDE"?  Plz 2 lrn language consistency por favor.  Arigatou.

But wait, that makes no sense.  "alfresco" (well, to be correct, "fresco") is both Spanish and Italian for "fresh".  How is "not fresh" "inside"?  It should be "preserved" or "old" or "aged" or something else that isn't six letters and thus wouldn't fit.  What the hell.

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