Hi everyone! I'm excited to review Erik Agard’s latest themeless puzzle (#72 in an ongoing themeless series) he released on his website, Glutton for Pun. I'll be doing something similar to this regularly starting now - reviewing independent puzzles out there, not just from Erik but from all of the lovely indie sites that you can check out on the blog's sidebar. Erik's puzzle especially grabbed me, and that's why I'm kicking off this review series with this particular puzzle. Spoilers aplenty below, so consider yourself warned.
This was an absolute knock-out of a themeless crossword. This is a 60-word themeless, which is a severely low word count, and it’s very, very, very difficult to pull something off this clean with that low a word count. 64 words is a threshold that even expert-level crossword writers struggle to pull off successfully. Here, the 60-word feat is as smooth as silk; in fact, I didn’t even realize how low of a word count this puzzle had until I counted (three times, as it turned out, just make sure my math was correct) after I had solved the puzzle. Unreal.
The southeast section was the toughest to crack. I made the task more difficult than it should, by dropping in a (I thought) ironclad TROI at 37-Down [“Die ___ Musketiere”] DREI (yes, I had the wrong language, and yes, that’s not even how you spell “three” in French. Sue me). I did have one incorrect square: the crossing of 6-Down [Dick alternative] RICH and 16-Across [Jewish fast day] TISHA B'AV; I had RICK/TISKABAV, though I admit the H definitely looks better there, though I also admit to not being up to speed on my Jewish fast days. I’d’ve changed the clue on 6-Down to a wealthy context (or perhaps in reference to the richness of BUTTERMILK DONUTS featured so prominently in a recent puzzle run by a more mainstream crossword outlet). But this is the slightest of demerits.
Other RICH bits here: Love the SISTER ACT drop at 12D [Film with a sequel subtitled “Back in the Habit”] – funny story, I saw both Sister Act and Honey, I Blew Up the Kid as a double-feature at the Cottage Grove, Minnesota drive-in movie theater that finally closed just a few years ago. What year was that? 1992? Jeez…time flies. HD VIDEOS [4K offerings] was a juicy string of consonants to uncover. Love the that-can’t-be-right double-I in ANTI-ITCH (2D: Like some creams). Appreciated JAI ALAI (45A: Cesta punta, by another name) getting its due as a non-partial in a crossword. Favorite clue was probably 14-Down [Actress who plays Martha Kent, and who shares a name with a different Superman character] DIANE LANE. This is a great example of a tricky clue that relies on pop culture, yet the trickiness is not dependent on in-depth knowledge of the pop culture in question. I only have casual knowledge of Superman – never saw any of the movies, never saw one episode of Smallville, never read the comic books, etc. (I know, let me hear it in the comments, Superman superfans) – but I know the general gist – Lois Lane, Jimmy, the Daily Planet, Clark Kent, etc. I kept thinking Erik was hinting at an actor named LOIS something, but then when I uncovered LANE, I then latched onto DIANELANE, then I remembered that she was in one of the recent revivals of the movie franchise (looking now…ok Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice which came out last year and good lord it has made like a billion dollars at the box office and I literally have never heard of this movie. I am completely amnesiac to blockbuster action movies nowadays, but when you literally mash up two of the most successful blockbuster action series into one movie, it’s just too much, apparently. Too much.). This is cluing brilliance, folks – not one, but two a-has for the price of none, and I didn’t need to have seen a second of the Superman movie franchise to appreciate it!
Anyhoo, this puzzle? This was a good puzzle. What'd you think? Feel free to chime in with a comment below!