My tenth puzzle ran today in the New York Times. It received mixed, but I would say mostly positive, reviews from the critics. Rex Parker wrote, "The majority of this puzzle was amazing. The end ... well, we'll get to that..." He really didn't like the SE corner. Amy Reynaldo gave it four stars. And Jeff Chen, thought it was ... just OK, maybe. It's tough to tell with Jeff, because he isn't really a critic. He is not going to pan a puzzle the way Rex will, and he prefers to temper even modest criticism with a compliment. For example, he wrote, "Damon's layout doesn't allow for a lot of long (8+ letter) answers, but he does have some seven-letter slots to shore up the snazziness. FAUX FUR is a great one. I would have liked a couple more," which is about as "vicious" as he gets. (And by the way, I like the way Jeff is, and I like Rex's and Amy's styles too; there is room in Crossworld for a range of different personalities.)
My own feeling on this puzzle: I like it, I'm proud of it, but if I made it today, I would probably do it differently. I constructed this puzzle over two years ago, when I was very much a low-word-count novice. Since then, I've made it a point to not only get in the "snazzy" answers, but to do so without comprising the rest of the puzzle with garbage fill and Crosswordese. So looking back on things, I cringe when I see ALUI, AOUT, IDEE, and especially STES in my puzzle. I wouldn't stand for this in a puzzle I made today -- I'd work and rework it until I ironed it all out of the puzzle. But back then I simply didn't have the experience and wherewithal to do this.
But judging from the comments online, people aren't bothered much by the spate of Franco-Crosswordese. Instead the majority of the criticism, like Rex's, is aimed at that SE corner. ICEBEARS ("Knoxville hockey squad") seems to be the entry people find most objectionable, which is completely understandable, minor league hockey teams don't really belong in a puzzle (we can grandfather in the Houston Aeros). The only things I'll say in my defense is that I think ice bear is also a colloquialism for polar bear, so it's (maybe) a real thing outside of being a minor league hockey mascot. Also, it's completely inferable, and the crosses are fair. Surprisingly, a few people (including Jeff and Rex) also balked at RAVER, which is very strange to me, as raver has been a normal word in my vocabulary for the last two decades. I would have gone RAVEN/SCONE, if I thought RAVER was in any way illegitimate. Also, I actually did have an alternate SE corner that used ICEBEERS instead of ICEBEARS, but I opted not to use it, because I didn't love the plural (ice beer, yes; ice beers, eh...). Perhaps I made the wrong choice.
So this puzzle wasn't perfect, but like I said, I'm still proud of it. If nothing else I achieved my goal of getting BLAXPLOITATION and BICURIOUS into a New York Times puzzle. As Amy Reynaldo wrote: "I asked my husband if my answer grid should highlight BI-CURIOUS or BLAXPLOITATION and he was astonished that these are both in a crossword." Yes! Exactly.
Until next time...
(PS: If you are a baseball fan or a word play fan (or both) buy my book, Urban Shocker All-Stars: The 100 Greatest Baseball Names Ever. It's a fun little read.)