AV Club Bonus puzzle

AV Club crossword 6:01 (joon—across lite) 


today, ben tausig and evan birnholz bring you the perfect way to snap out of your tryptophan-induced post-thanksgiving malaise: a funky bonus crossword with a very neat concept.

avbonus151128joon here with a bonus fiend post for a bonus crossword, evan birnholz’s “Skip and Fall” (or is it “Rent Storage Space”? the email and pdf had the former title, but the .puz file i solved had the latter). the mechanic for this puzzle’s theme was very clever, and the execution was extremely elegant. let’s have a look at the four theme answers, each containing a DROP rebus square:

  • {Following a command hidden in this answer, convention handouts; following the command another way, one flaunting their friends} gives NAME [DROP] TAGS reading across. what does this mean? well, if you “follow the command” and drop the special rebus box, you get NAME TAGS; but if you start to “drop” at the DROP and read down, you get NAME-[DROP]PER. also, 19-down gets its own clue as {Each} for PER without the [DROP].
  • {Following the command one way, lecture; another way, amazeballs} clues JAW AT / JAW-[DROP]PING. PING clued by itself as {Send a quick message to}.
  • {Following the command one way, a holiday beverage; another way, a Cantonese starter} is EGG NOG / EGG [DROP] SOUP, plus {___ up (fancify)} for SOUP.
  • {Following the command one way, tangy treats; another way, winner of the 1999 Belmont Stakes} is LEMON PIES / LEMON [DROP] KID, plus {Tease} for KID. i don’t recall that horse (was it especially notable?), but sure, okay.

to tie it all together, the 1a clue (which i’d quite forgotten about long before i worked out what was happening with the theme is) {A blue container, e.g., for the company alluded to by this puzzle’s theme} LOGO. oh! that’s the logo for dropbox, here to be parsed as a [DROP] box. very nice.

now that we know what’s going on, let’s take a look at the two titles: “Rent Storage Space” is a little opaque to me. sure, dropbox is a company that sells (or i guess rents, loosely interpreted) storage space, and in some sense a box is literally “storage space”. but i’m not seeing how that ties into the theme. is the idea that each theme answer is “rent” (i.e. torn) at the [DROP] box? that seems like a weird way of describing the bifurcation. “Skip and Fall”, on the other hand, makes perfect sense—you’re either dropping (i.e. skipping) that box or you’re falling from it. that said, “skip and fall” doesn’t have much surface sense to me, so while it’s an apt descriptor of the theme mechanism, it doesn’t quite zing as a puzzle title.

as you’ve probably heard, evan is going to be taking over the sunday 21×21 puzzle at the washington post that had for decades been constructed by the late, great merl reagle. i believe that next sunday (not tomorrow) will be his debut. why are we getting this puzzle of his in the av club today? allow me to baselessly and needlessly speculate: i think that he entered it in the open casting call that ben put out a while back for a new avcx constructor, but then once he landed the wapo gig he had to withdraw his name from consideration. at any rate, i don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth: this was a really cool puzzle, and i’m delighted that evan and ben have given it to us.

fill bits:

  • {McHale of “Community”} JOEL. also of the soup, which recently either was canceled or announced that it’ll be ending. i was on the soup for about 15 seconds back in 2011, but i don’t think there are any clips of it to be found anywhere on the internet any more.
  • {“___ Almighty” (2007 comedy)} EVAN. i see what you did there. it’s gotta be tougher to surreptitiously sneak BIRNHOLZ into the grid. probably have to settle for BURN and HOLTZ or something.
  • {One who goes to school up in New Haven (no, not Albertus Magnus … Yale, I mean Yale)} ELI. is this an actual reference to something involving yale, or just a weird twist on the toofer tufts joke from 30 rock? poor, sad little yale. let harvard have its football and its academics and its au courant pop culture references; yale will always be first in gentlemanly club life.
  • {Word in the first sentence of a Wikipedia article that indicates its subject passed away} WAS. that’s a long way to go for WAS. i had all three letters in place before i saw the clue; i still can’t decide whether i like it.
  • {In a mean way?} ON AVERAGE. stats joke; loved it. best clue in the puzzle.
  • {Shoshanna’s cousin on HBO’s “Girls”} JESSA. the only other time i’ve seen her in a crossword was the (in)famous JESSA/JANSPORT backpacks crossing in anna shechtman’s puzzle that tripped a bunch of (mostly older) solvers up at the 2014 ACPT.

that’s all for me. hope you guys enjoyed this puzzle as much as i did!

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2 Responses to AV Club Bonus puzzle

  1. Evan says:

    Thanks, joon!

    I actually submitted this puzzle to the AV Club several months ago (in July, before Merl passed away). In fact, I never applied to the AV Club’s open casting call. I had planned to in case the Washington Post position didn’t work out, but then I found out the news, and decided to devote all of my puzzle time to that.

    Ben really deserves a lot of credit for the editing job on this one. Many of the clues had his fingerprints on them (that great clue for ON AVERAGE was all his…..and that EVAN clue was not mine, I assure you!). My original idea was that the “falling” theme answers (like NAME-DROPPER and EGG DROP SOUP) would actually be clued at the beginning of the thematic down answers; so 18-Across would be a clue for NAME TAGS and 19-Down would be a clue for NAME-DROPPER. Ben encouraged me to think of different ways to make those clues work, since how would a solver know that the answer to 19-Down started in the middle of the word rather than the beginning? We spent a while working out the kinks to what you see today, and I was glad to design the grid such that all the thematic downs (PER, PING, SOUP, KID) were words in their own right, so that opened up new possibilities for solvers to grok the theme.

    As for the title: I think that was simply a glitch in the .PUZ file. It should be “Skip and Fall.” I don’t know how “Rent Storage Space” got in there, although it’s probably because Ben and I bounced around many different titles (like “Fall Changes,” “Storage Space,” “Saving Space,” and even just the simple-but-obvious-to-the-point-of-giving-things-away “Dropbox”). It was pretty tough to come up with one that hinted at both elements in the theme and the tie to Dropbox, and obviously, we left the Dropbox connection for 1-Across.

    The bottom line for me is that I like it a lot when there’s a real collaboration between constructor and editor. More of that, Ben! (and all editors, really)

  2. Seth says:

    Great puzzle!

    The only thought I have about the down answers being free-standing words is that this allows the solver to finish the puzzle without ever getting the theme. This was pretty much my experience. I figured out early on that, if I simply kept one box blank in the Across themers, they worked, at least with one of the clues provided for each answer. Seeing only this, I completed the whole puzzle.

    Only then did I go back and try to figure out what I’d been missing, and that’s when I saw that DROP could be inserted in the blank boxes to make new answers.

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