Paula Gamache’s Tuesday, 12/17/13 crossword puzzle (ed. Will Shortz)

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December 17, 2013 by manvspuzzle

Theme: NBA.  The acronym can be found in the middle of the 8 long theme entries, each of which intersects another, and each of which has an *.  Then, for good measure, there’s a small revealer.

Theme Entries:

  • 17A — *Sheriff’s insignia, in old western: TIN BADGE
  • 29A — *Actor named in a “Six Degrees” game : KEVIN BACON
  • 46A — *Tangy breakfast item : ONION BAGEL
  • 54A — Org. found in the answer to each asterisked clue : NBA
  • 59A — *Packers’ hometown : GREEN BAY
  • 3D — *Tanning method : SUN BATH
  • 11D — *Recover, as lost love : WIN BACK
  • 40D — *Tommy’s game in the Who’s rock opera “Tommy” : PINBALL
  • 44D — *Feature of many a charity gala : OPEN BAR
© The New York Times

© The New York Times

***

Hmmm.

Full disclosure: I *have* already read the other blogs this morning.  Sometimes I read them before I write mine, and sometimes I don’t.  This just happens to be one of those mornings.  So I know what’s going on in the blog-o-complain-o-sphere.

The reaction to this puzzle probably shouldn’t be unexpected.  It’s got basically three strikes against it: 1) pretty unimpressive theme concept, definitely not appealing to the totally-radical cutting-edge super-popular-sexy-beast rock-star  demographic 2) the concept is doubly unimpressive coming from a master such as Paula Gamache (she’s the 17th-most-prolific constructor in the Shortz-era), and 3) there’s some bad* fill.

All of this is a recipe for haters hatin’.

So what are we going to do here, on this blog?  Let’s address those strikes one at a time.

***

Strike One: The Theme

It’s not mind-blowing — we can all clearly see that.  It’s straightforward.  NBA runs across the middles of the theme entries.  That’s it.  Why does NBA do that?  No explanation.  No play on words, no joke, nothing.  Just…NBA runs across the middles of the theme entries, cause that’s what Paula felt like doing.

I know that I have had similar concepts rejected, not just from Will, because the theme was too boring and old-school.  Not exciting enough.  So it makes some sense that some people in the know would be bothered that Paula gets to have her puzzle published and they (we) don’t.

But, then again…we should probably take into account the theme density.  There are 8 intersecting long theme entries here.  Wow.  That’s a lot.  *And* there’s a revealer.  Granted, it’s not a great revealer, just NBA.  And it’s also not in a typical revealer place.  It’s just sort of thrown in the puzzle somewhere in the Southwest.

But still: there’s a lot of theme here.  62 squares.  That’s a full third of all the letters in this puzzle.  Holy crap!

Also, it’s a gettable theme.  Straightforward isn’t *awesome* — we all understand that by now.  But it’s gettable.  It’s good for someone out there, just maybe not you.  Yes, there are other humans solving this puzzle.

Strike 2: The Master Produces Less-Than-Masterful Work

This is tough for some people to swallow.  I don’t think the big issue lies in the idea that someone so good could produce something average — that sort of thing happens all the time.  I think the big issue is that it gets through all of the hurdles necessary for being published in the Times.

But then I have to argue with myself.  What does it mean for a puzzle to be “great”?  Can’t that mean more than one thing?  The New York Times produces 365 puzzles a year.  They can’t all be good in the same way, and inevitably, some of them have to seem good to a only a small faction of people (that is, crappy to a *large* faction of people).  I, as a solver, don’t want every puzzle to be good in the same way.  I *like* not liking some puzzles!  This puzzle’s theme is not what I would call “great,” but it’s theme density sure is.  So, this puzzle has great theme density.  That’s how this puzzle is great.  Masterful, actually, I’d say — even if I don’t personally like it so much.

Strike 3: Bad* Fill

So what could one argue is “bad” fill in this puzzle?  Here’s a little list, culled from the other blogs and my own brain:  RELYON/SPITON/INON/INBUD, HOS, HAHA, OOP, OOH, NAH, THESEA, ACADS, SCENEV, KNT, KENT, KIR, ASON/SONNY, ULA, AARE, SNERT, GES, NONNA.

So, sure — that really *does* seem like a lot.  But some of these aren’t really that bad, says me.  HAHA, OOP, OOH, NAH, THE SEA, SCENE V, KENT, SNERT, GES and NONNA are all fine with me.  I don’t care if they’re overused or even a little obscure (and SCENEV could have a better clue).  They’re in in my lexicon and gettable, so have at it constructors.

I don’t like the repeated INs and ONs.  I don’t like the pluralized HOS, because unless you’re referring to the derogatory term, it really doesn’t make sense.  You could actually change HAHA to GALA (or a number of other words), and NAH, HAHA, and HOS would all go away.  But I digress.  I personally don’t like AARE, ULA, or KNT, either.  But remember kids — that’s just me personally!

Anyway, so yeah, some of the fill is bad*.  But it’s not that bad.  I mean, the sun will still come up tomorrow, ya whiner.

***

Yow, it took me forever to write this post.  But here it is.  Thanks Paula for giving me lots to write about!

Hey readers, why not leave comments?

***

* “Bad” fill can take many forms.  Maybe I’ll write more about it someday.  But here are some quick, conventional definitions:

  • Crosswordese (i.e., words you hardly see anywhere in your life other than in puzzles).  EPEE, ANOA, etc.
  • Partial Phrases (I’M A, IN THE, ON ME, etc.)
  • Obscure Words or Acronyms
  • Plurals That Aren’t Normally Pluralized (HOS, PINKS, THES, etc.)
  • Roman Numerals
  • Letter Strings for the sake of Letter Strings (EFG, RST, etc.)

…and many more!

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