My first New York Times themeless puzzle ran today. I submitted it quite a long time ago, several years ago, so it was interesting to look back on it recently, when I received a sneak-preview copy a few days ago. My thoughts, being as impartial as I can, are that it has too much short dross -- ARY, RELO, OOP, OTO next to UTE, OTTOI, IDA, DECI, OLEO, and ALAR aren't good, and in fact, I've made it a priority to reduce this type of fill in my more recent themeless submissions (several of which have already been accepted) -- but the medium and the long entries rock. Seriously, there's not a bad one in the bunch and there are a few legit gems (BELIEVEYOUME is my favorite answer and it was my first "seed" entry).
The critics mostly agree with my assessment. Jeff Chen of XWord Info liked it the best. (I was quite pleased to get a POW rating.) Rex Parker of Rex Parker Does the NY Times Crossword Puzzle said, more or less, what I did above, as did Amy Reynaldo of Diary of a Crossword Fiend. However, the public -- or at least the commenting public -- was much more down on my puzzle than were the critics. Both at Rex's blog and at the NY Times WordPlay blog, there were a decent amount of negative comments and the overwhelming percentage of them came from people claiming it was too reliant on proper nouns and too trivia oriented. In fact, the number one "Readers' Pick" comment at the WordPlay blog is:
Not impressed with this puzzle. It's just a game of "How many obscure proper nouns can I Google and put in a puzzle."I understand the sentiment of this comment. As I mentioned in my constructor comments at XWordInfo, I sometimes forget that people don't love all the things that I love. I've had many a puzzle rejected, in part, because entries I thought were awesome Will Shortz did not think were awesome at all: VERBALKINT, THEGOOGLE (based entirely off a joke from The Onion), and JIMMORA (he of "Playoffs?!" fame) all come to mind. Constructing, I do tend to get caught up in my own little "crossworld" and not think about the broader public. That's a fair critique.
On the other hand, to say I crammed the puzzle full of obscure proper nouns is absurd (and it's even more absurd to say that I had to Google them -- those answers are pure Gulczynski [tapping my head]). For one thing, take a look at the grid -- ICECOLDBEVERAGE, BELIEVEYOUME, LAPDOG, TEAPARTY, FIREPLACE, SOUNDSLIKEAPLAN, OHCOMEON, HOWNICE, BOOKEM, OEDIPAL, VULGAR, BABYSIT -- there's a slew of decent-to-very-good, longish, common words and phrases for a solver to get a foothold. If you can nail this stuff, the proper nouns, even if they aren't up your alley, will mostly fall into place.
For another thing, here are some of the proper nouns in the puzzle commenters said they didn't know, along with the number of Google hits they get:
- THECLASH: 16.7 million. Only the most well-know punk band ever (arguably).
- PANTERA: 30.9 million. Heavy metal might not be your bag (it's not mine), but you can't argue with the massive popularity of Pantera.
- ECKHART: 9.3 million. "Aaron Eckhart" (what I entered into Google) was in all the recent Batman movies and Erin Brockovich. Even if you have never heard of the movie in the clue (Thank You for Smoking) he is a pretty big star.
- DIRKDIGGLER: 380 K. I really wanted the clue, "1997 film character who finally reveals himself in the end." I suppose that would have really thrown people for a loop.
- RAINES: 225 K. "Ella Raines" was an old-timey actress, but apparently still one who is pretty well-known.
- TSR: 526 K. I Googled "TSR" + "D & D". Admittedly bad fill, but not that obscure. There are a lot of D & D nerds out there.
- NED: 631 K. "Ned Flanders" is the guy who says "okely-dokely" on that little-known TV show called The Simpsons.
- DIAS: 380 K. "Bartolomeu Dias" was the first known European to sail around Africa. That's kinda a big deal, right?
- LINA: 43 K. I Googled "Lina" + "Singin' in the Rain" -- not a ton of hits.
- CHET: 67 K. I admit "Chet Lemon" was purely self-indulgent. I love the '84 Tigers. They started the season 35-5. They only lost five of their first 40 games! Five! (And then they got swept by "my" Seattle Mariners who lost 88 games on the season. Baseball is weird.)
- CRACKOS: 936. This is a late entry. I forgot about the biggest offender of them all. "Graham Crackos" gets a whopping 936 hits -- not 936 K, just 936. So that one is super obscure. But also super inferable.
So, OK, I'll give you Lina, and I'll give you Chet [late entry: and Crackos], but that's about it. Everything else is fair game. Some of it (e.g., The Clash) I'd say is even common knowledge. Perhaps you didn't know it, but that's the way it goes. It doesn't make it obscure or unfair fill. The flip side of "not everybody loves what I love" is "just because I don't know it, doesn't mean everybody doesn't know it." And Google, although admittedly not the ultimate arbiter of popularity, suggests that a lot of people know most the proper nouns in my grid.
So, Solver, I offer you a proposal: I'll agree to cut back on the self-indulgent proper nouns in future submissions, if you agree to not get sour because you happen to not know something that many others do know -- deal? Great.
Oh, and also, buy my book. Thanks.
Until next time ...