Remember last week’s AV Club contest puzzle?
Francis Heaney’s American Values Club contest crossword, “Sibilants Shepherded”
After a great meta crossword from Erik Agard last month with a relatively easy-to-find aha moment, this contest puzzle from Francis Heaney was…trickier, to say the least. Filling the grid went easily, but cracking what was going on with these theme clues took a little thought:
- 17A: A trip to the greatest ball pit in the world, e.g.? — SPHERE TREAT
- 23A: Mob hit that violated all the codes of honor and had everyone talking? — SCANDAL WHACK
- 32A: Picket line crossers that are just so unfashionable? — TACKY SCABS
- 40A: Grainy part of a computer image? — WHEAT PIXEL
- 49A: Item of concern to a knight’s assistant? — SQUIRE MATTER
- 60A: Caveman’s comment about a TV detective’s refusal to eat raw saber-toothed tiger? — MANNIX PICKY
This puzzle was rated at a 4.5/5, so I was expecting a little bit of a challenge, but I think this was almost a 5/5 for me in terms of cracking what was going on here. From the title of the puzzle (“Sibilants Shepherded”), something is going on with the “sss” sounds of those theme answers. Moving those back into place, one can get FEAR STREET (R.L. Stine’s other book series), CANDLEWAX, TAXICABS, SWEET PICKLE, CHOIRMASTER, and MANIC PIXIE. Some of these were tricky to crack – I had to double check “manic pixie” was a thing, and my brain refused to parse WHEAT PIXEL into SWEET PICKLE and I ended up checking with Joon to verify how it worked.
Similarly, I was at a loss after 20 minutes of staring at the grid and clues to find two other hidden sibilant combinations that were mixed up. After some assistance (both from the puzzle, which clarified I was looking for a movie and a Broadway show, and other Fiend bloggers), I think I’ve got it figured out. The combination of 4D‘s GUESSED (“Got the right answer despite having no idea”) and 45A‘s MART (“Shop”) can be turned into the classic show GET SMART, and the clue for 31A‘s LAID (“Getting it on the couch may get a sitter sacked if the parents come home early, even though the kid is asleep and has done all their homework”) cleverly hides SISTER ACT (which I still think of more as a movie than a Broadway show). While nice, hunting these down felt a bit more difficult than I expect for a typical AV Club contest, and didn’t really add to my solving experience. It was a little bit of a letdown.
Other nice clues from the puzzle:
- 38A: Conceptual artist LeWitt — SOL (Sol LeWitt is one of my favorite contemporary artists. The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art has a large-scale exhibition of his wall drawings and it’s pretty awesome.)
- 46A: “‘Doctor Who’ companion of the Capaldi era — CLARA (While the current season of Doctor Who hasn’t been doing as much for me as past seasons, it’s still mind-boggling to me, even as a relatively recent fan of the show, that it now has the fanbase/merchandise/etc. it does. I remember when you had to wait for late on a Friday night for the Syfy channel to show a poorly edited-down version of an episode from 6 months ago.)
- 5D: Word for your valentine — BAE (I’m technically a millennial and I still don’t entirely know what bae is supposed to mean.)
- 22D: Nile Rodgers’ group, which should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame already, come on — CHIC (Seriously. It is egregious that they have been up for nomination NINE times and have not gotten in. They did so much for dance music, both in disco’s heyday and today.)
- 52D: Sheer fabric — TOILE (I’m going to argue that this is incorrect – what Francis is thinking of is possibly TULLE. TOILE is generally linen that’s been printed with pastoral/other scenes, and while thinner, I wouldn’t say it’s generally sheer. This has been this week’s edition of Ben’s Sister Is Currently Getting A Degree In Fashion Design And Can Answer Questions About Fabrics.)