June 16, 2010

No rest for the cruciverbal

Well, all that New York Times business was fun, but there's no time to rest on my laurels (and laurels are prickly anyway), so here's another crossword for you. It's my latest from the Onion, and contains no material about human rights atrocities whatsoever.

(Download Across Lite, the discerning person's choice for solving crosswords online.)

Posted by Francis at 01:44 PM | Comments (1)

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 | Comments (16)

June 13, 2010

Come and Solve It

Hey, my Sunday crossword is out! If you're a Times crossword subscriber, you can grab it here. Also up is a short interview with me about the puzzle on the Times's Wordplay blog; it's filled with spoilers about the answer and the theme gimmick, so don't read it if you plan to solve the puzzle and haven't yet. However, if either half of that caveat doesn't apply to you, well then, please read freely!

Posted by Francis at 12:23 AM | Comments (11)

June 11, 2010

Crossword alert!

Since I gather that many people don't look at the internet over the weekend (for whatever crazy reason that might be), perhaps now is the time to remind everyone to be on the lookout for my Sunday New York Times Crossword debut this weekend, available online if you're a subscriber, in the Sunday Times magazine if you're not, or possibly as a printout from me if you see me in person in the next couple of days. There will also be a short interview with me in the Times's Wordplay blog.

In honor of this event, here is an mp3 in the ongoing sporadic Do What I Tell You to Do series, Sly Stone's "Crossword Puzzle". (Click through for download link.)

Posted by Francis at 03:12 PM | Comments (2)

June 04, 2010

Various things one might wish to be apprised of

Two blog posts in one day, after a month of nothin'? Well, you know what they say -- it never rains but sometimes Francis actually posts to his blog. And actually sometimes it does rain, so I don't know why they say that.

First off, my latest crossword book, "Sit & Solve Quick & Easy Crossword Puzzles" is now available in stores and from all your usual online retailers (Amazon, B&N, and maybe Craigslist for all I know). These are cute-as-a-button little 10x10 crosswords, a handful of which are themeless but mostly feature mini-themes (and are sometimes asymmetrical, because why the heck not).

In other crossword news, I have several puzzles on the way, which I'll re-plug when they're actually about to appear, but in addition to my usual Onion puzzle, I will also be turning up in Wired (probably), and the New York Times Magazine (definitely), the latter featuring my first Sunday Times crossword. I've had a bunch of puzzles in the Times, including a Sunday diagramless, but never a 21x21, so woohoo, awesome! There's also a puzzle you won't be seeing in the Onion, which I constructed and clued even though I kind of expected the idea to get killed (and, really, quite rightly so). But I thought I'd post it here anyway, just so you can see for yourself the Worst, Most Offensive Puzzle Theme Idea I Have Ever Had, which I apologize most profusely for, and I hope you will still continue to solve my other puzzles after seeing it, because really, the Times crossword is quite a nice feat of construction and is perfectly breakfast-table-appropriate, unlike this (named after a song title by Joy Division, in case you were wondering, in turn named after a J.G. Ballard novel, and I can't believe I'm still talking about this crossword, which was, let me reiterate, a really terrible idea).

In other news, the fabulous Lorinne Lampert will be performing on Monday, June 7, at the Bindlestiff Open Stage Variety Show at Galapagos Art Space as Uke-Lola (doors open at 7:00, show starts at 8:00). She will be singing, strumming, strutting, and simply sensational. If that's not sufficient enticement, host Keith Bindlestiff will once again be attempting his fabled "Kendama Blockhead" trick, in which he nails a cup-and-ball toy into his nose, and then tries to catch the ball in the cup. You either won't want to miss it, or won't want to look at it. All this and more for a mere $5! How can you resist?

Finally, I'm happy to report that I posted to my blog twice today. Hello, internet. I missed you.

Posted by Francis at 04:00 PM | Comments (8)

Wordplay in the news

I've been seeing ads on the subway for "The Real L Word", which looks like your typical kinda-exploitative, kinda-not-as-interesting-as-one-might-hope reality show, but which I am psyched about the existence of because it's just a single letter shift away from the ur-reality show "The Real World" -- just slide the second L three letters to the back. (That's what she said!)

On the front page of the New York Times's website today is a headline about tennis player Robin Soderling, who has the exact inverse wordplay feature of "The Real L Word" -- move the L in his last name three letters to the front and you get "soldering", which is not just something one does in middle school metal shop class when making a rudimentary sculpture of a bicycle (didn't everybody do that?), but is also the title of a somewhat inexplicable reggae song, equally inexplicably covered by Hall and Oates. These seriously are some of the lyrics:

She says she don't want the soul man,
The soul man fall asleep in bed.
She says she don't want the young boy,
The young boy drink too much white rum.

Soldering is what the young girl wants, soldering.
Soldering is what the young girl needs, soldering.
Oh, oh, young girl want soldering.

I just...have no idea what that means. And Urban Dictionary is no help. Maybe the young girl just really prefers attaching metal things to other metal things, rather than dating unacceptable gentlemen. There are weirder things, I guess. Anyway, you can download that little musical gem here, if you really need to hear it for yourself.

Finally, another subway poster (for "Killers") featuring Katherine Heigl got me thinking about the name "Heigl" and how you can swap two letters in it to make another (more common) last name. And it turns out that she shared the bill on "Gray's Anatomy" for several years with another actress who has the other surname in question, Chyler Leigh. (And yes, I did check to see if Chyler had in turn appeared with anyone named Cheryl. No such luck.)

Whew. Now that I've gotten all that out of my system, I will be less likely to wreck a party conversation by trying to casually work any of that in.

Posted by Francis at 12:56 PM | Comments (3)