John E. Bennett’s Wednesday, 4/9/14 *DEBUT* NYT crossword puzzle (ed. Will Shortz)


April 9, 2014 by manvspuzzle


Theme: WHATS IN THE BOXES?  Circled squares form boxes, each of which spells out a type of box when read clockwise.  Then there’s the revealer.

Theme Answers:

  • The Revealer: WHATS IN THE BOXES

Something Good: An Accessible Gimmick.  The whole “___ BOX” concept is one that’s been played on many, many times before, which is fine (crossword puzzles are pretty boxy things, after all), but the gimmick is going to feel kinda tired to elite solvers.  But for the average schmuck, this should feel fun, (relatively) easy, and unique.  Circles don’t show up every day, and they can be cool if the theme is tight (it basically is).  All in all, what I’m trying to say is that this is a fun concept geared toward capable, but casual, solvers.  It’s really for the masses, not just the rock stars.

4 9 14

Sorry for the late post.

This puzzle’s pretty fine.  That revealer — WHATS IN THE BOXES (37A: Question asked by a customs officer or a kid on Christmas … with a hint to this puzzle’s shaded squares) — just doesn’t hit home with me.  It certainly does its job, but it’s not what I would call a common, in-the-language phrase, so it’s kind of weird to base a puzzle around it.  A kid on Christmas is really not going to ask that question.  The kid knows there are presents in those boxes.  The kid knows he/she is going to open the boxes.  No need to ask.  The customs officer *might* ask the question, in a specific scenario involving multiple boxes in a vehicle.  Shouldn’t be a typical situation (WHATS IN THE BRIEFCASE or WHATS IN THE SUITCASES or WHATS IN THE TRUNK seem more likely).  So the revealer was a little weird for me.

But the overall concept is a good one.  Like I said above, solvers should generally find it cute and fun, especially those who aren’t totally obsessed with puzzles.  It make sense and it’s kinda cool.  Very nice in that regard.

Another issue I had was in the SW, where MASAI crosses FAIN.  Should I know those things?  Not saying that I have to know everything, but it seems like a pretty ugly crossing, and one that’s basically unnecessary.  Take a look at the corner:

sand(Edit: Alert blog nuisance Tom Pepper pointed out that of course the corner would be easy to fill without the letters S-A-N-D.  Oops.  What you’re seeing now is a corrected image.) 

In the words of my high school chess club friends: I see moves.  There’s a lot that could be done in that corner, even holding on to the ONE at 54-Across.  No real need for any obscurities — certainly not any that cross each other.

This really comes down to a much broader and divisive question: what, if anything, makes a puzzle element universally “bad?”  Personally, I have no issues with FAIN or MASAI taken on their own.  But for *this* solver, if they cross each other at the A…I’m screwed.  I have no problem telling you that I had a DNF today because I put an E in there instead.  A was my next choice, and Magmic let me know when I was wrong and then when I was right, but in the paper I’d be kind of left to wonder.

Perhaps the overarching notion at the constructor/editor level is that a capable Wednesday solver should just *know* both of these and it’s his/her fault if he/she doesn’t.  Not sure I agree.  I’m glad to learn these words, of course — learning is one of my favorite things about puzzles.  But I’m not learning if the crossing doesn’t work for me.  I’m only learning here, today, because as a blogger I’m spending extra time analyzing the puzzle.  Otherwise it’s just a big…nothing.

Hopefully there’s some food for thought in what I just wrote.

So overall, decent debut, good theme, tough corner, so-so revealer.  I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts.






6 thoughts on “John E. Bennett’s Wednesday, 4/9/14 *DEBUT* NYT crossword puzzle (ed. Will Shortz)

  1. Z says:

    FAIN would have been a WTF if not for his recent appearance. MASAI I’ve known for a long time. I recall learning that mixing blood and milk into a drink is considered “good” by the Masai a long time ago. It’s the kind of image that locks their name firmly in one’s noggin.

    More here:

  2. tom pepper says:

    I had the exact same experience. I stared at the last square for 10 seconds and decided it was a coin flip (obviously didn’t learn from Friday’s puzzle). I guessed right, but that’s beside the point. That crossing was the end of the puzzle for me, so it was my last impression. Which is unfortunate because I really liked the first 99% of it. Is it just me, or does the Natick (if there is one) always turn up in the very last section you complete too?

    Fitting SAND in that SW corner constrains the options, so it’s not like you’re working with a blank slate. You might have to lose ONE and maybe FIRST, or replace SAND with BEAT or something else, but I agree, there’s probably a Natick-free alternative.

    Singular BOX would have had a better ring to me than BOXES.

    Very happy again to see another debut–congrats, John! Keep ’em coming!

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