One of the hardest things for me as a crossword puzzle constructor is avoiding the "great answer trap." That is, when you have a "great" answer in your puzzle (or a "great" section), and you are unwilling to let it go, no matter how difficult it makes completing the rest of the puzzle, no many how many undesirable compromises it requires. I've gotten a lot better about this as I've gained more experience (I now try to embrace the YAHOO philosophy -- You Always Have Other Options* -- and I try to remind myself that my great entries are never as great as I think), but it's still something with which I constantly have to grapple.
In a bold attempt to combat the great answer trap, I came up with the idea of making two puzzles in parallel with very similar grid shapes. My thinking behind this was that if I came up with a great answer that didn't fit in puzzle A, I could use it in puzzle B, which would not have the exact same constraints as puzzle A, and therefore would be more amenable to my great answer. In this way, I would be able to keep my great answers and get rid of them (and move on) at the same time. Win-win. But of course it didn't work at all. It's probably pretty obvious why. Once you get a few entries into each puzzle they diverge to the point that you can't just move an entry from one puzzle to the other.
What ended up happening is that I just made two themeless puzzles with the same basic shape but very different fill. You can see the grids below.
[Two rejected crossword puzzles]
I submitted both puzzles... and both were rejected. It was the lower left corner with each of them. In the first one, Will didn't like IT'S DEJA VU, because it's not really a standalone phrase. (The saying is "it's deja vu all over again.") In the second one, he just felt like the Southwest was way too drab -- which it is. I fell into a different trap there, the "surely, everyone likes what I like" trap. I went to University of Maryland for grad school, so I overrated how good of an entry TERRAPINS is.
Of the two I actually think the first one is more promising, but I got the impression that Will and Co. liked the second one better, so I reworked the lower left corner (which turned into a rework of the entire lower half) and submitted a new version. As you probably already pieced together, it was accepted.
I'm curious to see people's responses to it. Joel Fagliano, in the acceptance email, said, "Filled with lively vocabulary, and practically no compromises. One of your better constructions to date. Big yes on this, for a Saturday," which I was pleasantly surprised by. I actually wouldn't put this one among my best puzzles. I like it, of course. I think it's good. But if I was putting together a portfolio of my ten best puzzles or so, I'm not sure this one would make the cut. But, hey, if other people really like it that's totally cool by me. It's certainly better than the alternative. We shall see.
Alright. let's do a few bullets and call it a post.
- If DOSCH were a thing, I would have made BAD JOKE into DAD JOKE. It's only a matter of time before this neologism finds its way into a crossword puzzle grid.
- My clue for BON JOVI referenced "Lay Your Hands on Me" (changed during editing to "Blaze of Glory"), which is my favorite Bon Jovi song by far. I'm not a huge fan by any means, but I do have a soft spot for "Lay Your Hands on Me," because it's the first song on the album New Jersey, which my friend got on cassette in fifth grade, and we would listen to the first track, rewind it to the beginning, and repeat ad nauseam. That's a funny thing to think about now -- rewinding. I remember buying cassettes based almost entirely on what the first song was on each side, because those were the only ones you could easily find. Rewinding and fast-forwarding to the exact start of a song is something kids today will never have to deal with. Actually, come to think of it, it's something I almost never had to deal with. By the time I really got into music, CD players were already pretty mainstream. I still remember my first CD: Flesh and Blood by Poison. Don't worry, I redeemed myself with my second CD: Shake Your Money Maker by The Black Crowes.
- The RED ROBIN with which I'm most familiar is the hamburger joint. I loved this place as a kid. As an adult, eh... not so much.
- The HOT SPUR with which I'm most familiar is Tottenham Hotspur F.C. of the English Premier League. I don't follow soccer, but what I've found is that I've consumed so much sports throughout my life that now I somehow just absorb it through osmosis. Even when I'm not actively paying attention I still know basically what's going on -- like I haven't been watching the Australian Open and I don't really follow tennis, but I know both top seeds have already been eliminated. (Update: I saw Serena beat Venus in an all-Williams. Hell yeah! I love the Williams sisters. Serena might be my very favorite athlete ever.)
- I used to know a song about JOHN HENRY as a kid. The only part I remember now is the lyric "John Henry was a man who could beat a machine." I wonder if I can find it online. Ah, yes, easy. It's a pretty well-known song. Although it doesn't actually have the lyric I remember. This isn't surprising at all. Things are almost never verbatim how you remember them. One of the interesting things about keeping a blog is going back and rereading it years later. It's like auto-correct for your memories.
- To all the ELVER haters out there: Elvers are real things in real life. If you don't believe me, click here or here or here. Eelers on the other hand are total bullshit.
A few additional thoughts, added after reading some of the reviews of my puzzle.
- Jeff Chen at XWordInfo seemed to mostly like the puzzle, but he found it frustrating because he had a rough time in some sections (and not, apparently, in a satisfying, "a-ha moment" type of way).
- Deb Amlen at Word Play also liked it (but her column is never very critical of the puzzle) but also found it hard. Difficulty, of course, is highly subjective, as evidenced by the fact that...
- Amy Reynaldo at Crossword Fiend definitely liked it, but found it too easy...
- And Rex Parker didn't enjoy it very much because he found it way too easy.
- Rex also implied that kir is Crosswordese, which, in my opinion, it most definitely is not. It's a word I've seen many times outside of crossword puzzles (like on drink menus at French restaurants). In fact, here's an article written last year about how kirs are becoming trendy. Whether or not this is true or not, I do think it strongly indicates kirs are real things even to non-crossword solvers.
- He also posted a tweet of a scuba instructor and equipment technician who had never heard of AIR PIPE. Fair enough, it doesn't appear to be super common, but you can find it "in the wild," so it's not totally made up. Here's a quote from the website of Gensis Diving Institute of Florida (bold is mine):
Minimum Age 10 years, Jr. Open Water Certificate, or equivalent, open water equipment with compass, 50 lb lift bag, 10 ft rope and 2 marker buoys. It is suggested to have a pony bottle of 30 cu ft with an air pipe attached to a low-pressure inflator hose of the regulator.