David J. Kahn’s Wednesday, 4/23/14 NYT crossword puzzle (ed. Will Shortz)


April 23, 2014 by manvspuzzle


Theme: MERCURY / SEVEN.  The first seven bros in space are sprinkled around the grid, along with a couple other apt answers.

Theme Answers:

  • 8A — GUS : GRISSOM
  • 41A — ALAN : SHEPARD
  • 71A — With 1-Down, first American astronauts : MERCURY
  • 72A — DEKE : SLAYTON
  • 1D — See 71-Across : SEVEN
  • 9D — NASA vehicle : ROCKET
  • 12D — Old U.S./Soviet rivalry : SPACE RACE
  • 57D — JOHN : GLENN

Something Good: Old people stuff.  This is good theme material for someone with actual memories of this early-sixties space stuff, and I think throwing something old-school out to the solvers is just as important as throwing out something ultra-modern.  I’m happy to learn these names, actually (knew GLENN and SHEPARD, basically), but it’s always tough solving for a theme you don’t really know it.  I’ve been receiving scores of handwritten letters from people all over the country (in response to an LA Times puzzle last week) who I feel confident would really dig in to this puzzle.  Not sure if they’d be able to finish, though (see below).

4 23 14

Hmm.  Mixed feelings today.

The theme concept is, at its heart, a good one.  I honestly think it’s pretty cool.  I learned a few things from it and the structure is more or less nice.

What I didn’t find nice was the ALL CAPS-style cluing for the astronauts’ names.  Unless I’m missing something, that just seems unnecessary and weird.  I guess arbitrary.  I kept waiting for the big payoff from this unique clue style I was seeing, only to never receive it.  It was just the first names of the astronauts.  I would have much rather had more straightforward clues (“60s pioneer Alan” or something like that), I think, to avoid the confusion and ultimate letdown.

Then there’s all the Natickiness.  You can see my one mistake above, but I own that one — I stupidly never checked the cross there.  But look at these crossings:

  • LOESSER/OTOE/MSU could be trouble for some people, too


Too much for me; I had to get Googly.  Not something I like to do any day, let alone Wednesday.

And LOESSER is just unfortunate on its own.  A 7-letter surname fill answer in a puzzle whose theme answers are mostly surnames of similar length just stands out like a sore thumb.  Too bad.

So all in all, I guess my major complaint has to do with the fill.  Not very well-executed overall.  Taken on their own, any one of those fill answers that bugged me would be fine (except LOESSER — I really just think that shouldn’t be here).  But put together the way we see them here, they just leave a bad taste in your mouth.

Nice theme with fill issues and some personal clue complaints.  I’d be very interested to hear from readers who feel differently than I do today.








8 thoughts on “David J. Kahn’s Wednesday, 4/23/14 NYT crossword puzzle (ed. Will Shortz)

  1. Z says:

    SHEPeRD, knew a U wouldn’t work, OLLA is learned from puzzles, SHOAL was no problem, OTOE I know from puzzles, and MSU – well, I’m from Michigan.

    IPAD/CAP was one of my typeovers, too.

    A little challenging, but not too bad for a Wednesday. I agree that new solvers probably really struggled.

  2. tom pepper says:

    I’m old enough that I knew all the names and young enough that I hadn’t forgotten them, so it was easy breezy from my perspective. But i suspect it’s a narrow age range that this puzzle would appeal to.

    Did not come across as Naticky, but only because I’ve built up callouses to the likes of OLLA, OTOE and INGE. In fact, I would say there are no Naticks in this puzzle. You have lots of obscure words crossing crosswordese that seasoned solvers will know, but not obscure crossing obscure.

    When you cram so much theme material into a puzzle, with a lot of it being on the edges, ugly answers like LOESSER, ACETALS and WHEREON happen. Whether that makes the puzzle still worth doing is debatable, but certainly David (old guy) and Will (old guy) thought the puzzle was worthy. Me (old guy) too.

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