AVCX Bonus Crossword

AV Club  puzzles about 16 minutes 
meta about 15 minutes (Matt) 



Francis Heaney’s AVCX Bonus Crossword, “Getting Duped” — Matt’s review

On April 2nd, AVCX subscribers (become one here) received the following curious note from editor Ben Tausig:

Hi friends:

Please enjoy this free bonus puzzle by Francis Heaney, clocking in at 3.5/5 difficulty. It’s the first of two puzzles we’re giving away to subscribers this weekend! The other one is being provided by a special guest who works for our rival puzzle, the United States Devalued Crossword, taking a temporary break from his normal gig. Both Francis and I are very busy, so we offered him the opportunity. He said he would bite.


I immediately suspected massive trickery afoot, because a) there’s no such thing as the “United States Devalued Crossword,” b) April Fool’s weekend, and c) Francis Heaney’s byline is on the puzzle (since Henry Hook’s passing, no more devious crossword mind exists).

But the puzzle sent out with that note (solution at right) is rather unremarkable. I didn’t see a theme connection between the six long entries (KNOCKED OFF, PARAPHRASE, ASYMMETRIC, WAX DUMMIES, KING SNAKES, and IN DISGUISE), though they are all evocative. And while the grid is competently filled, there’s more dreck than you’d expect from a constructor of this caliber (MEE, TPKS, AS NO, YMA, ECTO, SEP, SLO).

But this was just the setup! A few hours later, editor Ben sent along a second puzzle and note:

Hi friends:

Huh, weird. I found this note from Francis on my desk at AVCX headquarters. Seems like our guest needs to knock it off. Can you figure out what’s going on?


You’ll notice that this second puzzle (grid below) contains the same four theme entries as the first puzzle — but also that the similarities end there. The second puzzle has had a ton of black squares added with all-new fill to boot. It almost looks as if the second constructor outright stole the four theme entries from the first and changed just enough details to make his second puzzle “new.”

[Digression: if you’re not familiar with the recent plagiarism troubles in crosswords, stop here and read this and/or this.]


So what’s going on here? The first thing I decided to do was check out what letters from the first puzzle were covered up by those many black squares in the second, since that seemed like a possible way the author might’ve hidden instructions. And lo and behold! They spell out:


That’s OTHER GRID UNDER X, and there do seem to be many X’s in this grid. What if we look under them? The squares underneath them spell out a second message (!):


That’s contest answer COPY EDITOR! So they hired someone as a “copy editor,” and then their mysterious hire misinterpreted that to mean that he was supposed to steal another constructor’s theme entries, add some black squares to make the autofill easier, autofill it, et voila — a brand-new crossword!

This is a magnificent concept and construction. Hiding two separate messages in a single 15×15 grid using two different mechanisms (black squares and letters under X’s) is not something you see every day and requires an extremely high level of fancy stepping. In fact, when I saw OTHER GRID UNDER X, my first thought was that, logistically, it couldn’t be letters underneath X’s in the grid. But it was. Like when you think Harrison Ford can’t possibly survive that jump from the sewer tunnel in “The Fugitive,” but then he does! Except this one really happened.

The constructor and editor also had fun with the clues in the second puzzle, which are hilarious while certainly not skewering any actual crossword editor. I laughed many times, like at 8-D, 26-A, and 17-A. Also 30-A and 42-A. And 52-A.

4.85 stars, and one of the most enjoyable crosswords of the year thus far. Francis and the AVCX burnish their reputations once again.

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7 Responses to AVCX Bonus Crossword

  1. Francis says:

    The theme was a pretty loose one of “imperfect copies”, held together mainly by the cluing (which our “guest” broke when he changed the clues, tsk). Couldn’t get too ambitious with the theme when it needed to work around two meta constraints in two grids, though.

  2. chris says:

    i will say this: the cluing in the second puzzle made me laugh enough that i didn’t even care that the clues themselves were generally not that helpful. it would have been easy to have bad clues, but it’s a testament to francis’ skills that i actually enjoyed the stylistic suck. very well done.

    • Evan says:

      Co-signed, although strangely I’d say that the bad clues are kinda helpful once you realize that they’re all bad in some way. I found myself thinking about the clues a little differently than I normally would: maybe the clue has the answer word in it, maybe there are typos, maybe they get their facts wrong, etc.

      • I tried that too. I also tried comparing the grids and seeing which locations had the same letter in both grids (aside from the duplicated theme entries), before doing the right thing.

        This puzzle reminded me a lot of Crimes Against Cruciverbalism, a puzzle I enjoyed from this year’s MIT Mystery Hunt. Definitely worth checking out if you haven’t seen it already.

    • Francis says:

      Ben shares a lot of the credit for the comedy in grid 2’s clues. We swapped roles for that part of the project, with Ben writing the first pass on the clues and me editing. Partly we did that to save time, because it was getting down to the wire to get the puzzles tested before ACPT, but also because it seemed like that would help the second puzzle have a different cluing voice. I was very happy with the result. Ben wrote my favorite clue in that puzzle, “Prefix with f Boyardee”.

      • janie says:

        an all-around perfect and perfectly ingenious collaboration! and while i sent in a correct solution — suspecting there was somethin’ goin’ on w/ all those Xs in the second grid — i arrived at it not by seeing the hidden messages but by “logic” (and here i use the word to mean “a shortcut”…). i saw the duplicated theme set and surmised that the “guest helper” had been given the instruction to COPY [the] EDITOR — all the time keeping in mind the recent flap over at usa today. but just because i skipped over the embedded messages, don’t for one minute think i don’t appreciate ’em! truly savor the multiple layers of trickery and april foolery and plain old lol solving-fun. i think you’ve raised the bar for this kind of meta yet again!


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