"20 Years of Detention" — A Perfectly Cromulent Puzzle

Thursday, December 17, 2009

It was 20 years ago today ... that a certain TV show had its full-length, prime-time debut. Patrick Blindauer and I offer the following puzzle as a tribute. Enjoy.

As usual, click on "Print" on the image below, or go here (to the crosswordfiend.com forum) to get a .puz / AcrossLite version of the puzzle. Thanks to Patrick Blindauer for doing this with me. It was a blast. If you get stumped, you can find the solution here.

Brief write-up of the puzzle after the kitten, below ...

20 Years of Detention

I first thought about writing a puzzle to commemorate the 20th anniversary of "The Simpsons" some time last year. But as with most things I think of, I did nothing about it. Time passed. Then I was having dinner in Queens with Patrick Blindauer and and a few other folks after Ryan and Brian's Crossword Tournament in August, and I mentioned the idea to Patrick. I mentioned some possible theme ideas, but none seemed terribly feasible. Too obvious, or too elaborate. To my surprise, shortly thereafter, Patrick emailed me with a giant list of Bart's chalkboard scrawlings, each one beginning "I will not..." and each one paired with another of equal length. At first I thought ... I don't know. I wasn't sure. But then the more I thought on it, the more I liked it. It would be like a giant quote puzzle, so crosses would have to be super fair, but the theme phrases themselves (unlike most quote puzzles) are actually funny (TEASE FATTY makes me laugh every time I look at it).

We had enough material to do a Sunday-sized puzzle, but I wanted it to come out on the anniversary itself (today, Dec. 17), so we pared it down to six (still a Hell of a lot to cram into a 15x15 grid, esp. with the Xs and Ks and Vs and what not, plus BART). I built a grid. Got it rolling, then realized that fill would be a little ugly in and around the XEROX region. So Patrick tweaked the grid slightly and that opened things right up. We could have gone with a few other things besides OSAMU at 25A, but there was NO way I was giving it up. He's about as big a figure as there is in (non-Western) comics, and is a household name in Japan, and he's not in the cruciverb.com database, so I was prepared to fight for him. In that section, INI is really painful, but I was happy enough to get out of that XEROX section with OSAMU, ARTICHOKES, and PECKISH in place (all of which I love). MOE (like ABE) was an accident. But once I saw I had both of those guys, I intentionally put LISA in the NW.

Without a doubt, the western seaboard of the puzzle, from OSAMU to the far SW, took the most time to construct. And reconstruct. And reconstruct. I wanted PECKISH, which limited what we could do coming down off the "K" into the SW. In the end, we had the option of KAREEM or KARENS, neither of which is exciting (tho' the former beats the latter), and both of which were going to leave us with more partial / abbrev. action than we wanted in the surrounding fill. Then on a lark I proposed KAREN O to Patrick. She's the lead singer of the YEAH YEAH YEAHs (see 34D to see why we could *not* cue her that way). She was in the (hipster music) news as we were writing the puzzle, since "Where The Wild Things Are" was about to be released into theaters. I knew she was really famous in the rock music world, but for a mainstream audience ... I wasn't sure. Ran it by Patrick, thinking for sure he'd say "no way," but he liked it. Thought it was fresh and valid. So we went with her, and the SW is way, way better for having her.

Once Patrick got the grid issues sorted out (the really hard work), I filled most of the grid. At the end, Patrick got in and suggested modifications up top and in the SW (specifically, he picked up that IDEE, which used to be in the SW, and IDEAL, up top, are etymologically related and should therefore not appear in same grid together — that's an eagle eye). I clued Acrosses and he clued Downs, and then went through like a good editor and polished / modified *all* the clues. His technical skillz and editorial skillz are pretty mad. Some last minute back-and-forth on exactly how to clue the theme answers, and there we were. Done.

We submitted it to Will, but he rejected it, believing the theme had only niche appeal. Also, he seemed not to get the humor in many of the theme answers (e.g. "Am I supposed to know who FATTY is?"). If he felt that way, I'm sure he won't be alone. He knows what he's doing. So we're releasing it directly to you, for you to adore, vilify, or shrug at, as you see fit. Thank you.


[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter]


dk 10:02 AM  

I will not spank others. 

I will not defame New Orleans.
I will not bring sheep to class.
I will not eat things for money.
I will not prescribe medication.
I will not sell land in Florida.
I will not sell school property.
I will not encourage others to fly.
I will not drive the principal's car.
I will not conduct my own fire drills.
I will not sleep through my education.
I will not do that thing with my tongue.
I will not make flatulent noises in class.

I will not get very far with this attitude.

Greene 12:45 PM  

I tore through this during lunch today. Being a big fan of The Simpsons made the puzzle feel right in my wheelhouse, even if I will never catch up with Rex and Patrick with regard to the pop culture answers. OSAMU and KARENO? Not a clue. I know, I'm a WET BLANKET, but at least I was able to suss them out through crosses, so the whole thing was very fair.

Hard to say which Bartism was my favorite. USE ABBREV. is so incredibly absurd as to be inspired, but I'm gonna have to go with FAKE RABIES since the mental picture of just how Bart would do that is pretty awesome.

The best thing about doing a Simpsons puzzle is that it really embiggens the smallest man.

Thanks Rex and Patrick. Absolutely loved it.

Tom Mc 12:48 PM  

I was going to pedantically comment that OEILS is not really the French plural for eyes, as OEIL mysteriously becomes YEUX in the plural. But I Googled it, and it turns out that there are some contexts where you can use OEILS in French; e.g., bulls-eyes is oeils-de-boeuf.

KARENO was a mystery to me, but I'm old. The V in "the BEAV" was the last letter I filled in, which should not have been a mystery to me at all.

Rex Parker 1:07 PM  

@Tom, good point re: OEILS. Probably warrants a new clue with that specific reference, actually.


Unknown 1:44 PM  

Regarding the sad omission of the Adelie penguin from Noah's Ark, you may be even sadder to learn that these penguins are threatened shrinking sea ice and increased snow in Antarctica.

Van55 2:10 PM  

I have not seen a single episode of The Simpsons the 20 years of its airing, and I have been an adult for that whole time.

I don't look down on those who think the show is brilliant; the cartoon format just never appealed to me for some reason.

I also don't recall seeing the introductory cels with Bart writing on the chalkboard, so the theme was completely lost on me.

In short I agree with Shortz's reasoning for rejecting the puzzle, but maybe there are many more Simpsons devotees than he or I think.

I also struggled mightily with the arcania:


Bob Kerfuffle 2:25 PM  

Congrats on a fun puzzle, Patrick and Prof. Michael!

Speaking of French plurals, my one write over was correcting an S to an X at the end of EAUX. I'm not bothered by it, but crosswords in general seem to have a very lax policy on plurals of non-English words. How often do we hold off on filling in the end of amoebae vs. amoebas or the like? It just adds to the fun, or skill, of doing puzzles.

Stan 2:43 PM  

Will may be right that the puzzle is too focussed on a single character/show for the mass market (some people would feel left out). But the theme answers are way funny enough, every one.

Had some trouble in the South, where answers were easy, but I had nothing to hang them on -- until ARTICHOKE appeared.

Good, fresh clues for PECKISH and BANDANA.

Anonymous 3:20 PM  

Loved the puzzle even tho I'm not a Simpsons watcher (never really beeen a TV watcher, so I missed out on Seinfeld too)

Best part was finding a list of all the episodes and what was written and laughting out loud at work...great fun!


Mike Lewis 3:28 PM  

I choose "adore." Thanks, Patrick and Rex!

retired_chemist 4:40 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
retired_chemist 4:44 PM  

Did not get KAREN O - had THEN and ALSO early on but gave up on them. I didn't check properly. The SW was my main Waterloo, largely because of insisting that 57A begin with FART.... which of course led to some mighty strange fill. Eventually got FAKE RABIES but didn't check 44D and its other crosses.

Also, I had a second Waterloo. SPAN LOCKERS (WTF? but I could not figure out an alternative) @ 41A led to BULL @ 29D (my experience is that when anyone has to shout at high volume it's BULL), COMB as a WTF # 42D, and OKS for the Quaker cereal (as logical as OHS to me)

OSAMU (common enough Japanese name) and OXLIP were no problem, though I had TULIP @ 25D momentarily. Our botanical contingent will no doubt tell us that a TULIP is not in the primrose family. So be it...

Overall I had a fun time but made a lot of errors. Not enough of a Simpsons fan to have an easy time with this one, but I certainly got my money's worth from it.

Joseph Brick 7:27 PM  

Tough but fun puzzle. I couldn't crack the south due to the cluing on AMFM, (in addition to not knowing BEAST or ERNES).

Is AM/FM used for versatility the same way AC/DC is used for bisexuality? (Is it ever used outside of its radio context?) If not, I wouldn't think "in a way" grants that much leeway. I know, sour grapes.

Still, I laughed out loud at Tease Fatty. (Come on, Will - it's funny!) And the Simpsons is too niche? Yet the ubiquitous Italian music notation fills aren't? Please.

Orange 7:32 PM  

KAREN O was in Francis Heaney's 11/4/09 Onion A.V. Club crossword, and she was in a clue in Brendan Quigley's 2/10/09 Onion crossword. All my hipster cred comes from crosswords. Does that negate it? I think it does.

My favorite theme entries are the ones in which Bart is doing exactly what the teacher tells him not to do—TEASE FATTY and USE ABBREV.

Fun puzzle!

Two Ponies 7:37 PM  

Huge Simpsons fan but the fill here made it tough for me. Will was right.
Timely use of French plurals since it came up in a joke between me and @dk today on the daily blog.
Oxlip screwed me completely as I could not let go of tulip (I'm no Plantie Bea).
Good job for you two but not as much for me as I had hoped.

Meg 8:52 PM  

This was a fun puzzle, which I did during my daughter's piano lesson. Started with FLOG and FROG, which totally messed me up in the NW for awhile, but it eventually worked itself out. I was confused about the OEILS, but after reading comments, understand.

The AM__ gave me AMBI (sort for ambidextrous)....but no.

Overall I liked the clues, many of which were not immediately gettable. I mean, man, I had to think!

My favorite: I will not xerox my butt, though carve gods is also really good.

Thanks for the fun, you guys!

mac 10:05 PM  

Thank you for the extra puzzle! I'm not the greatest Simpson fan, but I've seen a fair bit of it since buying some dvds. It wasn't as hard as I was afraid it was going to be. I too had bull and ACDC for a while, and my favorites were "tease Fatty" and "fake rabies".

Anonymous 11:11 PM  

Excellent Simpsons tribute.
Too bad you didn't have time to submit it elsewhere. The L.A. Times
may have liked it.
Props to the both of you!

Unknown 3:06 PM  

Well, I loved it (although since I check things on SyndicationLand time, I didn't see it till today!)... and I agree with TEASE FATTY and USE ABBREV., and I also had a big ??? at KARENO, but got it from crosses.
- Mark, MSF (Major Simpsons Fan)

DeeJay 12:44 PM  

How Will can consider the longest-running sitcom in the history of American TV "niche" is beyond me. If "The Simpsons" connection was not revealed, I might agree.

But, this is a good, clever puzzle.

Anonymous 1:35 PM  

KAREN O in a legit crossword puzzle = I love this puzzle as if it were my own child.

"We were overlooked / Like a puzzle book" - "Fancy"

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