Sunday, July 24, 2016
Constructor: David Steinberg
Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: SPACE INVADERS — grid is a representation of a screenshot from the video game
Word of the Day: BIG DIG (Boston megaproject completed in 2007, informally) —
The Central Artery/Tunnel Project (CA/T), known unofficially as the Big Dig, was a megaproject in Boston that rerouted the Central Artery (Interstate 93)—the chief highway through the heart of the city—into the 3.5-mile (5.6 km) Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. Tunnel...The Big Dig was the most expensive highway project in the US, and was plagued by escalating costs, scheduling overruns, leaks, design flaws, charges of poor execution and use of substandard materials, criminal arrests, and one death. The project was originally scheduled to be completed in 1998 at an estimated cost of $2.8 billion (in 1982 dollars, US$6.0 billion adjusted for inflation as of 2006). However, the project was completed only in December 2007, at a cost of over $14.6 billion ($8.08 billion in 1982 dollars, meaning a cost overrun of about 190%) as of 2006. The Boston Globe estimated that the project will ultimately cost $22 billion, including interest, and that it will not be paid off until 2038. -- Wikipedia
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Matt Gaffney here, filling in for Rex for the next eight days, which he'll spend at the baccarat tables in Monte Carlo (I'm guessing). I write a daily crossword here and a weekly crossword contest every Friday here. My latest crossword book is this.
Crossword wunderkind David Steinberg is our constructor today; I think he's the only teenager who's won my Crossword of the Month award (September 2015).
His puzzle is a SPACE INVADERS (91A: 1970s-'80s craze that's the theme of this puzzle ) screenshot in cruciverbal form, and there's a lot going on: a MOTHERSHIP in circled letters up top; nine entries invaded by ETs; SAFE spelled by four unchecked letters in the bottom section of the grid, indicating those boulder-like things you could hide under in the game; a LASER pointing upward in the upper left of the grid, hidden in the downward PRESALE (6D: Event for select customers) indicating the lasers you'd fire; and a cannon-shaped CANNON in the lower-left.
Phew...that's a lot of different ideas tossed into the mix, but I'm afraid this comes off as more of a big, confusing mess than a coherent and pleasant return to childhood. Lots of "well, not quites" as I looked over the grid later: the Space Invaders shot downward at the player, which isn't represented; using ET as your "Space Invaders" conflates two very different early '80s things (E.T. was sweet and ate candy, Space Invaders were trying to destroy your civilization); SAFE seems like an arbitrary word for those shelters down below, since the Space Invaders' missiles ate away at them, and they disappeared altogether when the Invaders got low enough; that thing was called a MOTHERSHIP? And why is it in that loop shape? Part of the problem is that Space Invaders was one of those games that was more popular in its Atari 2600 version than its arcade version, and the two were stylistically not identical. David used the arcade version here, so this didn't hit my nostalgia radar correctly. Are ROCKET FUEL (112A: Mission requirement) and AIRPORT BAR (116A: Place to get drunk before getting high?) supposed to be theme? I don't think so.
With all that going on, the fill took some hits: SSE / OSS / SSR / SSN / EEE / HET / RET / ORO isn't a great worst-of list for 3-letter entries. But the constructor also managed to sneak a lot of nice entries in as well, such as ETHEL MERTZ (41D: Friend of Lucy Ricardo), CHEAP DATE (49A: One not looking for an expensive night on the town), and ELDERBERRY (45D: Fruit used in wines and syrups).
The best part of the theme is the nine "Space Invading" ET's. PREEN, DOH, MINUS, DIED, TAKEN, GAME, DUO, MARKING and ABS became PRETEEN, DOETH, MINUETS, DIETED, TAKE TEN, GAMETE, DUE TO, MARKETING, and ABETS. Maybe this could've been a decent theme by itself, without all the other stuff, and then that "E.T." does not equal "Space Invaders" wouldn't have bothered me since you're just using "Space Invaders" to mean "E.T. was from space, and he's invading these entries". That might've been the way to take this. But with all the other elements in there it becomes a disharmonious mishmash.
It's schoolmarmish, but I assign grades to puzzles when I fill in for Rex, and I'll give this one a C-. When David Steinberg's Greatest Hits is released someday it will be a very nice volume, but I don't think this puzzle will make the cut. No worries, he has plenty of others to choose from.
Signed, Matt Gaffney, Regent of CrossWorld for 7 more days
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