S A T U R D A Y
April 23, 2011
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….
Theme: "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!
Ammo (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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