AV Club Contest – September 30, 2015

AV Club 7:43 + 2 minutes (Ben) 


Remember last week’s AV Club contest puzzle?

Erik Agard’s American Values Club contest crossword, “Shiftwork”


Nothing particularly theme-y seems to be going on with the entries in this week’s AV Club, but something did seem to be happening with the clues, given that the puzzle is hiding both an author of a work AND a weapon from that work:

  • 17A: Silicon Valley city (“Where Are the Children?”) — SANTA CLARA
  • 23A: Transfers of info from your head to somewhere safer (“The Count of Monte Cristo”) — BRAIN DUMPS
  • 33A: Practical joke pulled by departing upperclassmen (“The Diary of a Young Girl”) — SENIOR PRANK
  • 45A: Jazz pianist who composed “Ain’t Misbehavin'” (“The Color Purple”) — FATS WALLER
  • 51A: Gymnastics score for Comaneci (“The Joy Luck Club”) — PERFECT TEN

The first thing I thought of while solving the puzzle were the authors of the works listed in parentheses – Mary Higgins CLARK, Alexandre DUMAS, Anne FRANK, Alice WALKER, and Amy TAN.  Each of these lines up nicely with the second word of each theme clue to provide the author and weapon:

TAN       TEN

The only KAFKA story I know of that involves an APPLE used as a weapon also involves a giant cockroach that used to be a man.  THE METAMORPHOSIS is the Meta answer to the puzzle.

The nice part of a crossword like this where the theme and meta don’t really affect the fill is that you don’t deal with areas where you have a lot of relatively stale fill in the service of 2 or 3 awesome entries.  There was a lot of nice fill and clues throughout the grid – comediam Wyatt CENAC got a nice shoutout at 15A, and even if her promoters never manage to make her crack the Billboard charts on US shores (which, “I Will Never Let You Down” is suprisingly decent for generic Top 40 pop, I admit), Rita ORA (50A) seems poised to have at least a few years of infamy as crossword fill over here.  Other nice cluing:

  • 9A: Nickelodeon character whose surname is Marquez — DORA (this clue managed to get the song from the opening credits to another show featuring a Latina on Nickelodeon, Taina, stuck in my head.  DO NOT CLICK ON THAT LINK.)
  • 29A: Crack commando unit sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit, before escaping to the Los Angeles underground where today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune, with “the” — A-TEAM (I’m using this as an excuse to link to Mr. T’s fantastic “Be Somebody or Be Somebody’s Fool”.  CLICK ON THAT LINK.)
  • 1D: Invectives “dropped” by the foul-mouthed — F-BOMBS
  • 25D: Live-streaming app named after a desert animal — MEERKAT (Remember the week or so before Periscope was released that everyone was all about Meerkat?  I do.)

I really dug this puzzle.  The meta felt a bit easy, somewhere between a week 1 and week 2 on the Gaffney scale, but I knew exactly what was going on mid-way through the puzzle and only needed a minute or so of work after filling the grid to get the final answer.  Still, solid fill, solid cluing.

4/5 Stars

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13 Responses to AV Club Contest – September 30, 2015

  1. Mr. Grumpy says:

    I’m still baffled. I saw the trick for the authors’ names in parentheses, but where are KAFKA and APPLE hiding in the grid?

    • Ben Smith says:

      The answers are “hiding” in the grid in the squares that get changed to the respective author’s name – the letters in the grid that are changed to make the authors’ names spell out APPLE, while the letters they are changed to spell out KAFKA.

  2. Amy Reynaldo says:

    I liked the puzzle and the meta. I did have to Google kafka weapon apple to unearth the apple cockroach assault in Metamorphosis.

    Was a little surprised to find Santa Claus in a clue for an answer pretty close to SANTA CLARA. Ben Tausig, what’s your editorial stance on such duplications?

    • Ben Smith says:

      I distinctly remember having to read The Metamorphosis for an AP Literature class my senior year of high school. It’s apparently one of those books that sticks with you.

    • Bencoe says:

      Unfortunately, one of the scenes from the metamorphosis I remember most is the part where the apple got lodged in gregor’s shell. My dad majored in German lit and philosophy and taught me Kafka at an early age. He hated that Gregor was translated as a “giant cockroach” instead of, as he always put it, “a beetle-like insect.”

  3. Ben Tausig says:

    My editorial stance on that dupe is that I did a bad job :(

  4. Bob Kerfuffle says:

    Wow! This was a great construction by Erik Agard. I was so impressed by the fact that he found five author names that became words in reasonably common phrases with the change of one letter, yielding KAFKA, that I dismissed any further information coming from those author names, But that the same-positioned letters in the original names could give the name of the weapon, that is truly remarkable.

    I am not well-read in Kafka, and my Google searching only yielded a knife used at the end of The Trial, which I submitted with no support from the grid. :(

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