June 16, 2010

For every reaction there is an equal and opposite overreaction

Well, it's been a few days now, and I think I've mostly come to grips with the fact that people aren't talking about me all over the internet the way they were a few days ago. I got lots of great compliments, many from fellow constructors whose work I love, and a fellow could get spoiled! Thanks to everyone who chimed in. That actually is what makes constructing puzzles worth it.

But perhaps now would be a good time to take a look back at some of the more memorable comments about my Sunday crossword, which people turned out to have very strong feelings about, both good and bad. The majority of the comments (at places like Rex Parker's blog, Crossword Fiend, and the Times's Wordplay blog) were super enthusiastic (woo-hoo!), but the remainder of the reactions were ... what's the opposite of enthusiastic? Rancorous? Annoyed? Maybe even a dash of ... bitchy? Something like that. And there was pretty much no middle ground in between.

From here on down I'll be posting spoilers about the answer, so don't keep reading if you haven't solved the puzzle yet and still plan to solve it. All right. Onward.

This puzzle was pretty complicated, and pretty much the hardest grid I've ever constructed, ever. A full answer grid and an explanation of the theme are provided here, but for those of you who don't like clicking on things, I'll try to explain. Eighteen of the Down clues included a rebus square that represented a color. Those colored squares intersected six Across entries in blocks of three, forming tricolor flags, and you substitute the names of the countries associated with those flags for the blocks of three colors to complete those six answers. In case you don't remember which flag is whose, the six countries all appear in the puzzle, all clued as "Country with a [color], [color] and [color] flag."

So, a lot of layers, and for people who like that sort of thing, that's something that made the puzzle especially satisfying -- the solving process includes a lot of "aha!" moments. And so then you get very satisfying comments from those people, such as:

Now *that's* a Sunday!
Loved it, and I hate nearly everything.

That person and I are clearly on the same wavelength about a lot of things. Or there's this one:

I'm 58 and have been doing NYT puzzles for years and I believe this is THE most brilliant puzzle I've ever, ever, EVER seen. When I "got" the hook, I literally stood up and laughed.

Great image. As a humor writer, it's always gratifying to know I made someone laugh. Speaking of vivid images, there's this comment, which is an example of another type that I appreciate: the person who wasn't able to finish the puzzle but was still impressed when they saw the answer:

Each white square represents one of my balls, handed to me by Francis Heaney. On a Sunday. But wow.

It is, honestly, a lot of fun to trick people. Though one does hope that people get through to the end successfully, like this fellow:

I read the first clue (1D) and realized it was Mister Blue (my wife and I run a race car we call "Mister Blue", based on that old song). I looked at the theme, smirked and said to my wife "I got this all figured out on the first clue. There will be red, white and blue rebuses." Hours later, thoroughly humbled, I finally figured out the whole deal. At least I didn't have to come to the blog to do it.
The best Sunday puzzle in a LONG time!!

And then there was this on Twitter:

Awesome awesome puzzle in today's NYT. There are haters, but they're WRONG.

Thank you! I agree that the haters are wrong. But let's see what they have to say anyway. Of the complainers, there were a high percentage who felt that I had perpetrated a misdeed, sullying their nice relaxing Sunday with a mean ol' rebus crossword.

Utterly nuts. A tour de force for, say, Games magazine? Absolutely. Even remotely suitable for a general-circulation newspaper? Absolutely not.

So...that's someone who agrees that the puzzle is a tour de force, but thinks regular humans shouldn't be subjected to such radical cruciverbal ideas? Even all the ones who solved and enjoyed it? Odd.

Boo, hiss -- don't like rebuses on a Sunday. Just sayin'.

Is this some sort of blue law I don't know about?

I get surly when I waste time on a puzzle like this. In fairness, I was warned on Wordplay yesterday, so I should have just passed it by. The construction is brilliant, but the rebus/color thingy is better left for Friday.
Kudos to Francis and Will, but I don't enjoy having this type of puzzle on Sunday. That's what Thursday, Friday and Saturday are for.

Actually, Friday and Saturday are always themeless. And I'm pretty sure this puzzle wouldn't fit in the allotted space on Thursday. You'd have to squint to read the clues, and write pretty darn small.

Seriously, though, Sunday puzzles have always featured a range of difficulty, from the lighter end of Wednesday to the more brutal side of Thursday -- which is actually a pretty big difference. If you like one difficulty more than the other, do you really get this upset every time the Sunday puzzle is at the end of the scale you don't like as much? I just don't understand why "this type of puzzle" -- which has been running regularly on Sundays for years and years and years -- isn't appropriate for Sunday. I mean, what kind of messed-up synesthesia do you have to have to be like, "Rebuses are blue but Sundays are pink and OH MY GOD I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO IT'S LIKE I DRANK ORANGE JUICE AND BRUSHED MY TEETH."

Happily, that comment was followed by this one:

By FAR the best puzzle in ages. I thought only Patrick Berry was capable of creating such clever, delightful, enjoyable crosswords. Thank you, Francis. This ranks up there with Patrick's New Year's day chess crossword (from several years ago). I had so much fun this morning... this is why I keep my subscription to the Sunday Times.

...which served as a nice chaser. But let's not let me get any more of a swelled head than I already have:

Too clever by half. Not the least bit enjoyable.

Only by half? I thought it was too clever by way more than that. I've failed! Along the same lines was this tweet:

This week's NY Times Sunday crossword was annoyingly twee, and I'm not just saying that because it took me 40 minutes.

Twee? Belle & Sebastian are twee. My crossword fucked your shit up. That is not twee. That is BAD-ASS. This guy understands:

This puzzle was like a camping trip with rain and bears and other misadventures. Not too much fun while it was happening but a source of bragging rights in the future.

I like to imagine my crossword ripping open someone's tent to get at their peanut butter.

In the category "maybe knows the material a little too well" comes this comment from someone who did find the puzzle "uber-clever" but still had a complaint about the entry GREEN TEA, clued as "Drink with dim sum":

I guess I should point out that green tea is absolutely NOT part of Cantonese dim sum. It could be, in the same way a scotch on the rocks COULD be part of a candlelit Italian meal.

Well, okay -- but I don't live in Guangzhou, I live in New York. And here, you get green tea with dim sum.

This person had nothing to say about the puzzle itself, but did have an aesthetic bone to pick:

Six of the most boring National Flags on the planet.
I'll stick with our beautiful Stars and Stripes.

Such incredibly random and gratuitous nationalism! I guess our flag has more stripes. And some bling.

I'd like to wrap up with the most over-the-top positive comment of them all, possibly verging on hysteria:

I woke up Monday morning thinking, "when will I enjoy another Times puzzle as much as this one? Have I been spoiled forever? Is this week going to be utterly heart-wrenching for me??? Francis Heaney and Will Shortz, what (granted, potentially) have you wrought???

I'm sorry I ruined crosswords forever for you! But Beatles Rock Band is a lot of fun too. Maybe give that a try!

Posted by Francis at 02:16 AM

Dude, it was fabulous. That's all you need to know.

Everyone seems to have an opinion about something, and the intertubes gives each and EVERY one of those people a forum for stating it. For better or verse.

Posted by: Deb Amlen at June 16, 2010 08:10 AM

Thanks again! I just didn't want the loopier comments to be lost to the ages. Though now I sort of wish I had responded in limerick form.

Posted by: Francis at June 16, 2010 09:31 AM

Have to admit--my parents were beaten by it, and rarely give up on the Sunday. Generally, if my father can't figure the theme, he will hand it over and my mother will break the back of the thing for him. When I brought up the puzzle over the phone that night, she was still bitter about not getting it. I think she felt better when I told her it was yours.

And as an only-occasional crossword puzzle guy, I didn't even attempt it and just skipped to the answers. I thought it was pretty darned cool, though.


Posted by: Vardibidian at June 16, 2010 09:36 AM

I thought it was pretty fantabulous as well, and I don't regularly do NYT crosswords (unless they are by somebody I know). I think the person who commented about the green tea clue is right, because I don't remember ever having been served GREEN tea with dim sum.

Posted by: Guy at June 16, 2010 10:55 AM

Your crossword took hours to solve, and I would STILL be working on it (as of Wednesday) if I hadn't abruptly figured out "less yellow." And then all the pieces lined up, the solution blossomed forth, the roomful of 10,000 dominoes went "clackclackclack" and the walls fell. Thanks for a brilliant and satisfying puzzle -- you are a great man, Francis. Don't get a big head.

Posted by: Gullible at June 16, 2010 11:09 AM

Guy: Maybe that tea isn't what I think it is? I'm pretty sure I've had green tea at dim sum -- as well as jasmine and chrysanthemum, which I actually prefer.

Gullible: Thanks! (Re the big head: too late!)

Posted by: Francis at June 16, 2010 11:23 AM

The one thing I didn't care for about this puzzle was when Brian said "So tell me about this puzzle of Francis's that everyone's talking about" and I had to attempt to describe the theme in a concise, coherent fashion without visual aids.

This post reminds me why I never, ever read reviews of my puzzles. I tend to get too irritated by the criticisms, especially the ones that I think are invalid, no matter how many people rave about the puzzle.

Posted by: Trip at June 16, 2010 11:35 AM

Fun puzzle. My only complaint is, why was MALTA not replaced with RED/WHITE?

Posted by: Richard at June 16, 2010 12:14 PM

Oh, dammit, now I have to rewrite it again.

Posted by: Francis at June 16, 2010 01:45 PM

I figured out what was going on immediately from FRANCES BEAN, but it was still a tricky solve, and a heck of a lot of fun.

Also, Wikipedia says that jasmine tea (which has always been the default when I've gone for dim sum) can be a form of green tea. And Wikipedia would never lie to us!

Posted by: debby at June 16, 2010 03:55 PM

Absolutely loved it, it was hard but doable, took me way longer than the usual Sunday. Eternally grateful that you included the colors in the clues or I would still be solving it a week later.

Posted by: Sheera at June 16, 2010 05:10 PM

love love loved it!

Posted by: beth at June 18, 2010 01:34 PM

The greatest disappointment is yet to be: When St. Martin's Press reprints this puzzle in a book, the answer grid will be highly compromised. They can't do color.

Posted by: Jon88 at June 20, 2010 10:11 AM

A: you make me laugh all the time.

B: anyone who is foolish enough to keep their food in their tent desrves to have it ripped open by bears.

Posted by: Dianna at June 20, 2010 10:45 AM

The BEST puzzle since Ernst Theimer's "planted Antonyms" back in 1986.

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