04.23 Saturday

April 23, 2011
Michael Wiesenberg

Greetings crossword fans! As PuzzleGirl and the rest of PuzzleFamily continue to move their Fortress of Solitude to a new, undisclosed location, the lineup of guest bloggers continues. I’m Sam Donaldson, a regular poster over on another crossword blog (there are other crossword blogs?), but for purposes of this blog I think I’ll be PuzzleHunk. ("Hunk of what," I suppose, remains to be determined.)

It’s Saturday, so it must be time to roll up our sleeves for a challenging freestyle (nee themeless) puzzle, right? Oops, maybe not….

: "Dude, Who Took My E?" – You won’t find an E anywhere in the grid or even in the clues.

Theme answers
: Um, everything in this puzzle is a theme answer. So let’s just get down to the nitty-gritty.

At first blush, one wouldn’t know this is a themed puzzle, as the 72/31 grid is pretty standard for freestyle crosswords (72/31 is my shorthand way of noting the number of answers and the number of black squares, respectively. Most freestyle puzzles have no more than 72 answers and fewer than 33 black squares, though of course there are exceptions.) But there’s a note that accompanies the puzzle: “
Can you spot the unusual feature in this puzzle's clues and answers?” I confess I didn’t get the gimmick until well into the solve. Given the letter E is the most commonly used one in our alphabet, it’s not easy to make a fluid grid without one, and even tougher to write sensible clues. Did the Wiesenberg-Norris tandem pull it off well? You be the judge!

For what it’s worth, my vote is an enthusiastic “yes.” There’s lots to like in this offering. Take the PUSSYCAT that’s ON LOAN TO the PIANO BAR in the northwest corner—it’s always nice when a triple stack provides not only juicy entries but a little story to boot. Alas, the story in the southeast (a CHIP SHOT on CATALINA lands in ASHTRAYS) isn’t as endearing, but the stack is still solid. Other interesting items include GOT OUT (64A. Quit), SAIL INTO (37D. Bawl out), AT A LOSS (7D. Stuck), AS OF NOW (25D. So far), and SLAM ON (3D., Apply strongly, as to start braking). On that last one, note that the clue would normally read along the lines of “Apply strongly, as brakes”—but that last word has the dreaded E, so it has to be re-written in a way that’s still accurate but not so awkward as to look strained. Since I didn’t notice it, I’d have to say it worked.

I toyed with writing a review that contained no E’s, but when I couldn’t think of an elegant way to say this was a “themed” puzzle after about 30 seconds of thought, I just gave up and decided instead to marvel at this construction. If you force me to pick some nits in this review, I'll go with these: (1) it's a little awkward to have
GO IN (30D. Antonym of withdraw) and GO SOFT (35A. Show sympathy toward, with "on") in the same grid (the added presence of GOT OUT just makes it that much more apparent); and (2) NINTHS (59A. Last innings) is a cumbersome plural. But I can look the other way on these points; given the construction constraints, you can color me impressed. Kudos both to Michael and Rich!

(Oh wait, it’s usually “bullets,” isn’t it? My bad.):

• 18A: ‘60s-‘70s Saudi King (FAISAL). His full name, Faisal bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, is consistent with the theme. Sheez, like it would have been soooo hard to get his full name into the puzzle! All you need is a 23x23 grid and you’re home free.

• 22A: Woodworking slot (DADO). I understand Diddy sang the dirty ditty, “Dada Wants His Dado,” but I've never heard it. I think it’s about building a bookcase.
And sex.

• 28A: Civil rights activist Roy (INNIS). He was opposed by Outtis. (Look, people, when the jokes are free, you get your money’s worth.)

• 32A: Just okay (NOT SO HOT). Your reaction to this writeup, perhaps?

• 38A: Qom inhabitants (IRANIS). Merl Reagle’s favorite crossword entry! I think the clue was used just so you couldn’t say the theme was that the letter Q was missing throughout.

54A: Soothing hot drink also known as Lucky Dragon (HYSON). I would have sworn "hyson" is what a mother said to her boy when he came home from school. You might think a drink called "Lucky Dragon" would contain firewater, but it's just a Chinese green tea.

11D: Sports no-nos, informally ('ROIDS). That's short for steroids, which in turn make other things short. So I hear.

35D: Young birds (GOSLINGS). Had it not been for the "no E" constraint, I'm sure the clue would have been [Ryan, et. al.].

57D: Kin kin (KITH). What what? The the? F...ok, I'll stop there. Ken ken I know, but the kin kin was sure new to me. My dictionary defines kith as "one's friends and acquaintances." Now I suppose I have to use it in a sentence for it to sink in fully.

That's all for today, my kith. Things return to form tomorrow when Doug pops in to talk about the Sunday puzzle. Thanks for reading this far, and enjoy the rest of your weekend. PuzzleHunk out!

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Alexscott said...

I don't think I ever would have figured out the theme of this puzzle, even after finishing it. While I'm impressed by the accomplishment of leaving out the most commonly used letter from the answers and clues, I can't say it did much for my enjoyment of the puzzle itself (even retroactively). Overall, the puzzle was easier than a typical Saturday, I only had trouble with the HYSON/ISCHIA cross. I'd never heard of either, so had guess on the S. Also, I've never heard SAIL INTO used for "bawl out." So that was a little weak.

But getting back to the theme: when it is only noticeable to the puzzle creator, and of no use or amusement to the solvers, isn't it really just the crossword equivalent of self-abuse?

v-man said...

Impressive lack of the letter e. Hyson and ischia were also the last to fall and was also a guess for me. I'm wondering if the lack of es made the puzzle easier to solve. I'm sure it made it more difficult to construct. I always assume Saturdays are themeless puzzles so I never bother to look for one.

VisitingScot said...

57D I agree "kith" is unusual by itself, but "kith and kin" is a stock phrase (at least in Scotland) for "close friends and relatives". Hence the clever cluing of "kin kin".

Doug P said...

I wondered if Sam would try to do an E-less writeup. I was going to try to do an E-less comment, but even that was too hard.

I didn't think the clues were too tortured considering the restraints. I loved "Quondam JFK arrivals" for some reason, and "Butt loci" was awesome.

imsdave said...

Amazing construction feat AND a nice puzzle to boot (if a little soft for a Saturday). Kudos.

Special thanks to Sam for the great writeup.

ps - if you've ever wanted to beat Doug Peterson on one of his "Saturday Stumpers", today is your chance:

Saturday Stumper

hazel said...

nice puzzle and writeup. although the puzzle's e-lessness went right over my head, that's a pretty cool feat.

ISCHIA sounds like a nice place to visit.

backbiter said...

Along with Alexscott and v-man Hyson and Ischia crossing was that last letter entered and totally guessd. Other than that no problems.

tutu said...

That pussycat sitting on top of piano bar gotout dorags then cha chas! Looked not so hot to ryan gosling made him go soft. That's no picnic son. Then Oprah sails into Catalina in a smock, makes a chipshot over ashtrays and Yao! And snorts! Aw well, La law says she has clout and I'm at a loss, on occasion. Iacocca for doing these soloacts I tell ya. As of now I,ll thank PuzzleStag for a great writeup.

C said...

Didn't notice or miss the "e"s in the puzzle. Kudos to the constructor and editor.

Swagomatic said...

I was totally oblivious to the theme - even after studying the competed puzzle. Oh well, it reminds me of when I once had to write a 500 word essay without any forms of the verb "to be." It was a fun puzzle; Ischia and hyson were my last answers as well.

Nighthawk said...

Great write-up, Sam/PH. Never would have noticed the lack of e otherwise, which I think is a huge feat, both in the construction parameter and in the fact that it was executed so smoothly that it went unnoticed. Kudos to Mr. Wiesenberg!

I too had a Natick at the HYSON/ISCHIA cross. Thought ISCHIA were pelivic bone (more than one ischium) but I guess that would actually be ischii instead. After quick Google of it, looks like a fun and beautiful vacation spot. Both WOTD for me.

Duane said...

I worked at Teledyne Hyson in Brecksville, Ohio which made manifold plates for the steel manufacturing industry. Even tho Hyson was a combination of the founders names, was nice to see it used in a crossword.

Anonymous said...

Not sure why hyson is such a natick. It may not be a common answer, but it's a frequent clue.

mac said...

Gee, Sam, you use a lot of es in your write-up!;-). Very fun, SH.

I might as well insert Nighthawk's first paragraph if I remembered how to do that, but I am retroactively impressed with this feat. Putting in 12 8-letter words without e is amazing.

Why did I want dolaps for dorags? I also first put it hysop, but I realized that needs two ss. Nice to learn about the green tea.

CoffeeLvr said...

I did not figure out the theme either; did notice there were a lot of O's. I solved on paper, technically a DNF, since I mis-spelled INNeS. But I entered the grid in AcrossLite, and did find the error right away.

Had to change the tense to get from GiveUp to GET OUT at 64A. Had PUShover before PUSSYCAT.

Really helped to know DADO, FAISAL, CATALINA, & LA LAW right away.

Rube said...

Like @CoffeeLvr, misspelled INNeS and had to come here to be enlightened. So, also, technically DNF. Did not know HYSON, but ISCHIA is well enough known.

I've seen LOOFA before, but I thought OCA was a "South American tuber". I see it is now in New Zealand also. (Or is there an Auckland in South America also? I'm too lazy to Google to set this straight.)

Was going to complain about GOSLINGS, but "Young geese" is not allowed per the theme. Speaking of which, it's pretty impressive. Quondiam is definitely my WOTD.

Anonymous said...

You share genes with your kin but not your kith.
Kith are people who are related to you by a marriage ie Your sister's husband is KITH.
Just friends are not KITH

Loved the cross of TORONTO and ONTario.
McBeal in T.O.

*David* said...

Easier Saturday then usual other then two tough crosses, GLADIOLI/OSTIA and HYSON/ISCHIA. I usually am not impressed by feats of construction and this one was no different, it felt a bit stilted.