Thursday, November 26, 2009
*****First of all, if you haven't yet done the puzzle I wrote to support Christina Applegate's breast cancer foundation, please go here and get it. Do not read past this point. Spoiler alert, spoiler alert, etc. Here's a picture of a pretty kitten. Do not read past the kitten unless you have completed the puzzle...
So I'll let you all critique it, and I'll just explain how it came together. I was inspired a few months back to do a benefit puzzle. I follow Christina on Twitter and knew she was involved in Lee Denim Day, a big breast cancer fundraiser that took place in October. So I was kicking around theme ideas involving "Lee" or "Denim" and getting nowhere. Then I thought ... well, Christina does puzzles, and she has a Foundation of her own, so what can I do with that? RIGHT ACTION FOR WOMEN appealed to me right away because I could break it down into symmetrically arrangeable parts (5, 8, 5) — too long for a traditional 15x15 grid, but I could stagger them. Now, I could still have made the puzzle 15x15, but I decided to give myself a little room so I could have a better chance to fill the grid cleanly (I am still new to grid design, and I know my limitations).
So then I needed a concept. Something to do with "RIGHT" ... "RIGHT" is conventionally symbolized by letter "R," so ... "RIGHT ACTION ..." I guess adding an "R" would be a kind of "ACTION." Yeah, OK. So ... why add the "R"? What should that do? What could answers have in common? Well, Christina's an actress, so ... what about playing with actress names? Add a letter to get an actress name and thus a wacky phrase. STREEP was the first name that came to mind, but I didn't get further very easily. I really, really didn't want the actress already to have an "R" in her name. . . so rather than pore over lists of actress names, I just asked my Twitter followers to throw me actress names wherein removing the "R" gets you a real word (i.e. STREEP - "R" = STEEP). I was stunned by the quick and varied responses. But I was also stunned at how few names would actually work well here, where the "R"-less actress name would be a word that could also start a familiar phrase. Each time I got a new, viable name, I'd throw down some base phrases, but honestly, the ones I ended up going with were the first that came to me. And they were 2 13-letter answers and 2 14-letter answers. Serendipity.
I built the grid in an afternoon and had (I think) Amy Reynaldo and Angela Halsted test it. Worked out some kinks and sent it Christina, who approved the whole endeavor. Then I decided that I should hold it til a suitable occasion, which I decided would be Nov. 25, her birthday. Then on Nov. 24 I got the bright idea to show it to anyone who wanted to test it. First responders were a couple accomplished constructors and a champion solver: Eric Berlin, Caleb Madison, and Dan Feyer, respectively. All were approving, but it was clear that there were parts of the grid they weren't thrilled with (rightly), and so I decided to tear down about half the puzzle and then rebuild it. Second draft was deemed a "lateral move" by Eric, and so I went back at it until I had eliminated the iffiest, most grating stuff (there wasn't a ton, but what there was was definitely marginal-to-ugly).
First biggest challenge was 45D. Started with -RW--T, and let me tell you, that's not a very kind letter combo. Could've gone with "OR WHAT!?", but boo! Then thought about DR or MR for the first part. I have listened to Kanye West's "Late Registration" enough that MR. WEST came to mind quickly. Knew many wouldn't know it, but also knew I could clue it, and cross it, in a way that would make it gettable. After that, by FAR the biggest trouble I had was in the NE center (around POESY) and in the SW center (around CHIEF). O+M+G. Originally I had NOD OFF where NO LEFT now stands. Obviously NOD OFF is better, and that's what my first draft had. But it also had WGN crossing SANDH (yes, that's SANDH, as in "shipping & handling"). WGN is common to Chicagoans and crossworders, but I did not like it with the SANDH crossing at all. Tear down resulted in changes that affected the entire NW corner, from XTRA to BBQ and over to TWERPS — everything changed.
Then there was the opposite section in the central SW. Had CALIF and STRATI where CHIEF and STEFFI now stand, but the real killer here, the one tiny answer that made me tear the whole section out, was SAR. That's short for SARdinia. It's a valid abbrev., but when Eric solved it and still didn't know what SAR. stood for, I knew it had to go. You would not think a stupid little three-letter word would cause so much trouble, but it did. Tear out, rebuild, tear out, rebuild. Finally got it to the point where everything felt clean. All readers (incl. Eric, my most thorough critic) agreed it was better, and so it stood. Done and done.
Ran it by a ton of people at the last minute for proofreading purposes, and caught many tiny things I either didn't notice or didn't think were relevant at first. The little cluing details are maddening when you are both writer *and* editor. Punctuation, phrasing, accuracy, spelling, etc. You've got to watch it all, and even when you're watching, stuff gets by. No wonder Will has a small army of people proofing his puzzles. There are Lots of small things to keep track of.
So, there you go. I really hope you enjoyed it, and also that you were moved to donate to the cause. In addition to MR. WEST, I'm quite fond of the crime fiction / film noir subtheme I've got going there with FEDORA crossing THE MOB and then FBI close by. I have a history of being kind of in love with Teri GARR, so even though she's crosswordese, I'm happy. R. CRUMB is a genius and I'm teaching his adaptation of Genesis next semester. "REHAB" is a guilty pleasure. Etc. Parts that still make me wince a little — IGORS, AMANAS, WPA/POESY (legit, and redeemed some by Keats, but I'd say what I have there is a narrow escape, at best). But that's enough from me. Have at it, and thank you for you attention / indulgence. And thanks especially to the dozen or so people who affected the final outcome of this thing. And to Christina for inadvertently inspiring it.