The "Happy Birthday, Kevin" puzzle (9/16/09)

Monday, September 21, 2009

This is very late, but I wanted to create a post where people could discuss / give feedback on the puzzle Caleb Madison and I created for crossword constructor Kevin Der's birthday. We made it especially for Kevin, but it should be doable by any regular crossword solver.

In case you missed it, here are the links again.

NOTE: There is an error in the clues. 6-Down should read [Six after Ford]

[AcrossLite and .pdf version available from Amy Reynaldo's, here.

You can also print it out very easily, below (just click on "More" and then "Print")]

Across Lite - Happy Birthday, Kevin

Do not read on if you haven't solved the puzzle yet ...

The puzzle started as a side remark in the bar of the Brooklyn Marriott during the weekend of the 2009 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. If I remember correctly, I was sitting there with my friend Angela (PuzzleGirl) and maybe a couple other people and at some point Kevin Der and Doug Peterson came over ... I feel like Barry Silk was there at some point. Anyway, I remember Kevin standing there to my left and I joked about making a puzzle out of his name. I don't think I intended to honor him. I'm pretty sure I was mocking him. But somehow the idea stuck and I later pitched the idea to Angela, perhaps as a rebus puzzle ... but that just seemed too hard, so I decided to make it easy on myself (esp. as I had very little constructing experiences) and do a puzzle where I bury his name. I pitched some theme answers back and forth with Angela, and then I had the chance to run the idea by Caleb and he shot right back with two great theme answers (DUDE RANCH, BLADE RUNNER) and declared he wanted in. In fits and starts over the summer, we built the puzzle. All credit goes to Caleb for making the grid. I had not done that before and in fact had not done that until just this past weekend, when I did it twice. It hurts my head.

What was cool about constructing in a leisurely fashion is ... we must have written and rewritten the grid (or many parts of it) dozens of times. The SW alone has been through a half dozen versions, with the current version being my last minute oneupsmanship. We both had decent versions of that corner, but the last one ended up best, if only bec. it got rid of sad intersecting plurals at 70A (was ENDS) and 56D (was DONTS, as in "dos and donts"). Also a version of ENDS was elsewhere in the grid, so ENDS had to go even though most people probably wouldn't have noticed. The Ford stuff and the insane amt of cross-referencing — that's all Caleb. I thought of cluing OXY via the college (their url is, but Caleb is the one who noted the connection to OBAMA. Having NICO and LOU REED in the puzzle was just dumb luck. Turns out Caleb's a huge Velvet Underground fan. Who knew? People seem to like the clues on HAN SOLO [Ford explorer?] and END ZONE [Site of a safety dance?] the best; the former is Caleb's, the latter mine.

I was beyond happy to get CHAZ into the grid. It was kind of painful to hang on to the puzzle all summer for that reason alone. I wanted to be the first to use the former Chastity Bono's new, post-gender change name in a puzzle. And I loved my clue, [Sonny of Cher?]. Don't know if I was first with CHAZ, but I was first that I know about. I thank CHAZ, because getting out of the SE would have been hard without him.

Across clues are mostly mine, Down clues mostly Caleb's. I don't remember who did middle of the grid, but NW, NE, and S are mostly Caleb, and SW, SE, and N are mostly me. Part of the grid I'm most sad about is FRIEDA, in that I mistaken thought that was how FRIDA Kahlo spelled her name. Love "Peanuts," but am not sure I would use FRIEDA again unless I was well and truly desperate. Also, too many Es and Rs and Ds in that SE corner now that I look at it (though when you're writing a puzzle around the name DER ...). If this had been a puzzle for general publication, I would have changed the NITRO clue and possibly the ONE clue. Back-to-back rap clues at 49A (ONE) and 50A (NAS) made me very happy.

Ugh, I see now that we have ONE and AS ONE in the grid, so boooo. Why didn't Anyone mention that? If I'd noticed that, the SW would have undergone yet another rewrite.

It was great to see that so many people downloaded or printed out that puzzle last Wednesday. Kevin liked it. So, in general mission accomplished.

Anyway, all feedback welcome, and all questions entertained.


[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


Unknown 5:12 PM  

Great puzzle, really enjoyed it.

Minor nit--am I missing something with Obama? Isn't he six after Ford? Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama.

Anonymous 5:55 PM  

Sonny of Cher? was clever, especially since CHAZ and Bono both have four letters.

I'd appreciate an explanation of ON THE DL.

Mary in NE

Rex Parker 6:20 PM  

Pending confirmation from Caleb (who wrote the clue), I'm going to say that yes, [Five after Ford] is in error. An error No One caught — I guess I just took Caleb on faith w/o even bothering to count back, HA ha.

ON THE DL = "on the down low" i.e. hush-hush. See here.

Two Ponies 7:01 PM  

I did this puzzle the day Rex told us about it and really enjoyed it. Very clever clues worthy of anything we do on a daily basis here.
There's a bar where constructors hang out? Wow. I'd take that over any club here in Vegas any day.
But I can be such a nerd sometimes.

Anonymous 7:55 PM  

If it were fifth after Ford, then yes. But it was five after - Ford, then five more, then OBAMA.

Oh, I noticed the two ONES. Nowhere to shout Hey - A Boo Boo kept me (fortunately) quiet.

Greene 9:29 PM  

Didn't get around to working this until this evening. Absolutely loved it. HAN SOLO and BLADE RUNNER in the same grid? Awesome. I even got the rappers. OK, so I needed every cross. It still counts.

There was lots of fun misdirection like "Driller's Organization" = ROTC and "Follower of Thurston Howell" = III. I'll cry uncle with 64A though. How does "Period requiring asterisks" = STEROID ERA?

Rex, do you use Crossword Compiler? If so, is it available for MAC or is only a Windows application?

More puzzles like this one, please!

Mo 10:30 PM  

Nice, very nice job guys. I started out looking for a rebus and then quickly switched to the the name inside the long answers idea. The triple use of Ford had me wondering whether Kevin has a tie-in with Fords of some kind. STEROID ERA--love it (with the double asterisks in the clue!)

Moved through quickly until the NE...that was rough. Never heard of NICO or NITRO, had FIVE for THAT, didn't know my Hebrew, and was having a hard time seeing those downs. Finally took out FIVE and put in THAT, and IN HOUSE and then COASTAL came in from the fog. I knew I wanted SAD for 31A, but didn't know what the %$#@^ would end in DL. When I put the D in and got Mr. Happy Pencil, I was thrilled, but I thought that ONTHEDL stood for "On the disabled list," since that's the only DL I know of. I've heard the saying, "On the QT" which means about the same thing (QT being short for quiet) THAT would be great in the grid.

retired_chemist 11:03 PM  

Can't remember much specific that I thought about this puzzle - seems like I did it a looooong time ago. Fridayish in difficulty for me. ON THE DL was for me also a WTF.

Yery enjoyable. Thanks, gentlemen.

Stan 11:08 PM  

Well, with BLADERUNNER and LOUREED and NICO, of course I'm going to love it.

What really worked here was that the clues seemed obscure, but weren't. They were never "You know it or you don't." I mean, how many people in the world know Nitro's real name? Or that there was an American bundt cake craze in 19-whatever. It didn't matter.

Very successful puzzle, I thought.

Spencer 11:24 PM  

Minor correction: is Occidental Petroleum. You want

Clark 12:30 AM  

@Greene - I usually don't have a clue about baseball stuff, but I'm pretty sure "Period requiring asterisks" = STEROID ERA because the record books for this era of steroids are going to include some records that are marked with asterisks to indicate that they should be taken with a grain of salt because they were achieved with the help of performance enhancing drugs.

ArtLvr 2:17 AM  

Well, congrats on the joint effort, Rex and young Caleb! I finished it only with googles for the Natick crossing of NICO and NITRO. Had no clue on the CHAZ or ON THE D.L. or rappers or the film BLADE RUNNERS or the Asterisk convention in the record books, but filled those by means of crosses anyway.

It struck me as too much of a guy thing, overall, but thanks for sharing -- and I'm glad DER liked it! As for me, it was a good thing I knew BOB HOPE. I guess my mood is a bit sour tonight, with further fallout in the Presidential-wannabees' sleazy affairs dept.


Susan 12:11 PM  

I got NATICKed by Nitro/Nico. I liked the puzzle. I liked on the DL but thought the clue should have an abbreviation in it since the answer has one. I liked Chia Pet and in general the large number of two-word answers (Lou Reed, Han Solo, dead air). I LOVED 53A Safety Dance site. Very clever. Surprised to see clues that reference each other. I thought you didn't like that. (It doesn't bother me...)

Thanks for sharing this!

chefbea 1:09 PM  

Was a great puzzle and lots of fun. Did it last week whenever you put it in the blog.

I agree do more of them..maybe one for Bea, Mac, etc

And btw.. get rid of the chinese garbage!!!!

fikink 1:19 PM  

@Susan, I don't think ON THE DL needs an abbreviation in the clue, because the fill is not an abbreviation, it is an expression.


AV 2:19 PM  

Cool puzzle. Simple theme, easy to solve if you know who Kevin is (I do).

Really liked the Ford allusions throughout the puzzle (especially since I was always thinking of the wrong Ford).

Re: "What was cool about constructing in a leisurely fashion is ... we must have written and rewritten the grid (or many parts of it) dozens of times"

That is always the case with all my puzzles - maybe BEQ can whip out three puzzles a week with little rework, but I think the rest of us are in the same boat!

Susan 4:55 PM  

@fkink I agree that "On the DL" is an expression but in that expression DL is an abbreviation for "down-low." Please, Rex, or someone, explain how its being part of an expression exempts it from the usu. rule about cluing. It seems like a very arcane distinction that would be highly debatable any time it was invoked.

Glitch 6:10 PM  

I'll try.

First, there is no "rule", it's a convention or guideline, and can be ignored. Just as an answer is not "required" to be in any dictionary, per the NYT guidelines.

Second, not all "shortenings" are abbreviations, e.g. Al Smith (for Alfred Smith).

"On the DL" stands on it's own, much like "On the QT".

When you look up the definition for DL, it's an "initialism", not "abbreviation", for Down Low.

The distinction is between abbreviation, initialism, and acronym.

Not actually arcane, but close.

Remember --- there are no RULES.


Stan 6:54 PM  

@Glitch: Great post on the abbreviations issue. I've tried to put this into words myself and just given up.

Susan 10:07 AM  

Thanks, Glitch. Of course I meant conventions and not rules. But I stand by ARCANE distinction! (Of course, I love arcane distinctions; don't we all?)

rain forest 4:10 PM  

Seems there are ARCANE rules, guidelines, or coventions re puzzle construction of which I, and no doubt many others are unaware, which doesn't blunt my solving enjoyment in the least. The DER puzzle was fine, and I had no problem with any of the items mentioned above, probably because of my ignorance of the nuances of puzzle-making. Just sayin'

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