Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Wednesday, October 8, 2014, Mary Lou Guizzo and Jeff Chen


Five (!) vertical fifteens shred the grid, leaving, in one reviewer's opinion, somewhat strange-looking black blocks that also run vertically. Maybe there should be more vertical themes, but they are like vertical photographs, I guess, which is to say, less common than horizontal ones.

MANIFESTDESTINY (3D: Expansionist doctrine) went right in, probably because it took me so long to understand that term in History class, which resulted in me really understanding it. I also thought immediately of THRILLAINMANILA (9D: Big 1975 boxing showdown), because I'm old and I have brothers who watched boxing, but I thought of it with the "The," as I always do, so it took a cross or two before I figured that one out. I am not familiar with THEDESCENTOFMAN (11D: Darwin work … with a hint to three consecutive letters in 3-, 4-, 7-, 9- and 11- down), but it wasn't too hard to figure out.

I don't particularly love the clue "14A: Knock silly" for DAZE, nor with "19A: Honest with" for TRUETO, but, well… what am I gonna do? I chuckled momentarily at CAB (38A: One with a checkered existence?) and UMP (52A: Official with a whisk broom, for short) (is it really a broom or a brush?), groaned at AND (43A: First-goal link), and enjoyed the three two-word sentence INONIT (45A: Privy to a practical joke, say). There's some deep Simpsons trivia in MONA (37A: Homer Simpson's mother) (I needed crosses for this!), and deep Native American trivia with 50A: Onetime tribe of the Upper Midwest (SAC) (ditto).

Lots of the usual stuff in here, and some of the not-so-usual-but-it's-really-better-that-way stuff (EZINE, ANTIS, ATRIA…), but, well, I don't know… it's Wednesday, I guess.

- Horace

p.s. After I write the blog, I often go see what Amy Reynaldo thought of the puzzle, and she points out that the letters "MAN" not only appear in every theme answer, but move progressively (descend) lower and lower, which is a really nice touch. Still, the density of theme material, and the added bonus theme element, really compromise the rest of the fill. Is it worth it? Again, it's Wednesday, so maybe.


  1. 6:17. This is, IMO, a perfect theme. How brilliant is it that the three-letter piece MAN falls by an equal amount in each 15-letter answer? To find 5 15-letter answers that fit that requirement is truly top-drawer. And none of the long answers feels awkward or like a stretch. Yes, TENCOMMANDMENTS and THRILLAINMANILA would feel better with "the" preceding each one, but I don't mind. In exchange, as is always the case, we're left with less than stellar fill, including the fact that no answer is longer than 7 letters, and only one answer that crosses three of the theme answers (ASHANTI). It's an awkward grid, necessitated by the placement of the 15-letter answers. There are 24 3-letter answers.

    So, on the whole, does the beauty of the theme outweigh the fill's lack of "elan"? My feeling is yes, but I can see the other side as well.

  2. Yes, I sold the theme short today by not realizing what was going on. I thought about it a lot after writing the review. It really is beautifully done, but, as we've said already, it's not perfect because of the compromises. But who says they all have to be perfect?

  3. 11:38
    I have done many puzzles in my life when I found the main joy in simply working out the theme, particularly a really good theme. The fill can often be just that: fill. Sure, it would be better to have both be excellent, as Horace often and rightly points out. But I think I can readily accept the compromise with a good theme.

    But really, I don't see the problem with this puzzle. The worst crosswordese that we have is EON, ERNE, and ANTIS, no oreos, Isao Aoki, Ural, or Aral. EKE only appears in a clue. Not sure what to make of that other than as a reminder that it isn't in the grid!?!

  4. 13:11 (FWOE)
    Only because I'd originally put in RUBIc, got the cAFKA cross (I knew it was with a "K" but never fixed it), and then searched and searched until I ended up back at the top. I finished in under 10:00 but for that! Anyway, I've actually read THEDESCENTOFMAN and that other book of Darwin's. I often quote the former when speaking of hummingbirds, for in it, Darwin refers to them, quite humorously, as "one of the most quarrelsome" of birds, and goes on to offer an anecdote. Well, nice theme and good Wednesday, even though there was some SMUT in there. Have I mentioned that the HYATT Regency on Maui is one of the nicest hotels in which I've ever stayed?

  5. There have certainly been some puzzles wherein the theme was a lot of fun, but I guess they have to be pretty spectacular (like a couple by Patrick Blindauer last year) for me to like them more than a solid themeless with tricky, fun clues.