July 18, 2016

Titanic fight between Rex Parker and Will Shortz over the Sunday crossword.

What seemed like a terrible puzzle became damned good once we found out what the clues were supposed to be.

The NYT puzzle editor, Will Shortz, showed up in the comments section of Rex Parker's blog to say: "I don't usually read this blog, because I can't take the constant personal bashing" — but he just had to defend himself. He did so cagily — "The version [of the clues that the constructor] Jeff gave was not what I got" — and Rex called him on it — "That could mean anything" — and Shortz came back and essentially admitted that he'd changed the clues in a way that ruined the whole point of the puzzle.

If you didn't do the puzzle, the theme answers (the main long answers) were the titles of 2 different movies: FROZEN WATERWORLD, TITANIC SKYFALL, SAW THE DEPARTED, etc. These had clues beginning with "Double feature" and ending boringly: "Double feature about the Arctic Ocean?," "Double feature about baseball-sized hail?," "Double feature about attending a funeral?" But in the original version of the puzzle by Jerry Miccolis, the idea was that the clue referred to another movie: "Ice Age," "Armageddon," "The Sixth Sense."

Why did Shortz eliminate what made the theme interesting? As Shortz explains it:

[T]he constructor's clue for FROZEN WATERWORLD was "Remake of 'Ice Age' as a double feature starring Idina Menzel's voice and Kevin Costner?". The clue for TITANIC SKYFALL was "Remake of 'Armageddon' as a double feature starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Craig?". Etc.

I thought these clues were too long-winded. So I shortened them, as you saw. Whether the results are funny or not is for you to decide. Perhaps I should have kept the "Ice Age" and "Armageddon" angle instead of shortening the clues as I did. 
You'd think a man named Shortz would have a better sense of the meaning of "shorten."
Even then, tho, there are issues. I'm not sure, for example, that "The Sixth Sense" exactly equals SAW THE DEPARTED, as the latter is a verb phrase while the movie title is a noun. Further, getting the joke of the clue sort of assumes one knows the subject of "The Sixth Sense," which I wouldn't assume every solver does. That's something I try to avoid.
That is, fun was sacrificed to inclusiveness and we were all subjected to getting included in something we wouldn't have wanted to do at all if we'd known how dumb it was going to be.

23 comments:

Kevin said...

"That is, fun was sacrificed to inclusiveness and we were all subjected to getting included in something we wouldn't have wanted to do at all if we'd known how dumb it was going to be."

You have just summed up the present state of America.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

My understanding is that there's not a whole lot backing up the claim that doing games like crossword puzzles slows down the organic causes of neurologic deficiency.

Still I can't see the harm.

Kind of like boiling water while a woman is in labor.

Sheldon Cooper was told to go get some towels so he took off and went to Bed, Bath & Beyond.

Funny stuff.

M Jordan said...

Shortz has changed the world of crosswords: he democratized them. No more arcane theater/mixed drinks/foreign expressions clues/answers. His goal is for as many clues/answers as possible to be answerable by as many people as possible. He also single-handedly brought in the themed elements that this whole nontroversy is about.

Shortz is from my state, Indiana, the state that gave Trump the nomination, a vice presidential candidate, and Garfield. We are not merely non-snobs here; were anti-snob (despite that semicolon I just flashed at you).

Ann Althouse said...

"Shortz is from my state, Indiana, the state that gave Trump the nomination, a vice presidential candidate, and Garfield. We are not merely non-snobs here; were anti-snob (despite that semicolon I just flashed at you)."

The state that gave us Meade.

rhhardin said...

Famous Imus question when NYT crossword editor Will Weng died

What four letter beginning and ending with d describes Will Weng?

M Jordan said...

"The state that gave us Meade."

God bless young Meade ... a fellow Hoosier. You've got yourself a good man, an honest man, a "keeper," as they say.

shiloh said...

"The state that gave us Meade."

I'm bored!

MadisonMan said...

(laughing at Shiloh's comment)

Ignorance is Bliss said...


The state that gave us Meade.

SHOPKEEPER: The wheat is from Kansas, and the molasses comes from Missouri.
GRANDMA SARAH: Well, sir, we'll do without molasses. Anything from Missouri has a taint about it.
GRANDPA SAMUEL: Now, Grandma, you've got to tread lightly now we're here in Texas. Lots of nice elements from Missouri coming West.
GRANDMA SARAH: Never heard of nice things from Missouri coming West. And treading lightly is not my way. (To the shopkeeper) We're from Kansas. Jayhawkers, and proud of it.
SHOPKEEPER: I know how you feel. I'm a Hoosier, myself.
GRANDMA SARAH: Personally, I don't think much of Hoosiers neither.

The Outlaw Josey Wales

Rick Turley said...

Well, that's three of us (Kokomo) if you count the formative years. For those of you who haven't been through town, it ain't nothing like that song. Trust me on that one.

raf said...

Rick Turley said...
Well, that's three of us (Kokomo) if you count the formative years. For those of you who haven't been through town, it ain't nothing like that song. Trust me on that one.

Similarly: Gary.

mikee said...

I look froward to Althouse's take on the puzzle that will result whenever Hillary opens her mouth and makes noises as President.

Every utterance from Madame President Hillary Clinton will be an actual case of the Liar Paradox on a grand scale, with graft, corrupt practices, illegality and denial of the obvious expressed as well.

I doubt even my saintly elementary school teacher Sister Mary Camilla (Camillla the Gorilla, we called her behind her back - way far away behind) could successfully diagram the truth out of such wonders as we shall behold from the first vagina warrior president.

Yancey Ward said...

Well, I guess next week's puzzle is ruined for me now.

The original clues with the actors listed were simply too easy- the shortened clues with the third movie title only were brilliant. The ones Shortz actually used are crushingly dull.

However, as someone who has worked on the Sunday puzzles edited by Will Weng, Eugene Maleska, and Will Shortz, I prefer Shortz's editing choices for the most part, and not just because I don't have to know an obscure song from 1927, or what Bulgarians called a coin in the 1800s- the themes are simply more clever and require extra dimensions of thinking than those of the pre-Shortz era. So I will give Shortz a pass on this one.

EMD said...

Hmm. I'm shocked the PNA Trolls don't frequent the crossword posts.

Yancey Ward said...

Also, Ann has good point, and it is probably one that Shortz took into consideration- grammatical coordination between clue and answer probably works better with the longer clues Shortz created. Shortz has definitely made such coordination more rigorous during his tenure.

EMD said...

Rex Parker is a comics page portmanteau!

Ann Althouse said...

"Also, Ann has good point, and it is probably one that Shortz took into consideration- grammatical coordination between clue and answer probably works better with the longer clues Shortz created. Shortz has definitely made such coordination more rigorous during his tenure."

The indented stuff is Shortz, not me. I said nothing about grammar. My gripe is that 2 movie titles put together without a clue that is another movie is not interesting or fun or anything.

Sunday puzzles are generally annoying because they're in smaller print and just larger. There shoukd be some payoff, something beyond filling in all the squares.

When I go into the archive to do old puzzles, I do everything but Sundays. When the new ones come up, I do them, but I don't like them. This one was just an outrage.

Wilbur said...

The Saturday NYT crossword puzzles are by far their hardest. The Sunday puzzle is child's play compared to it.

"Through the sycamores the candle lights are gleaming
On the banks of the Wabash far away."

I'm not from Indiana (right across the state line, in Danville) but that song brings out a wistful nostalgia for one who left 30 years ago.

Rick Turley said...

Wilbur said...

"Through the sycamores the candle lights are gleaming
On the banks of the Wabash far away."

I'm not from Indiana (right across the state line, in Danville) but that song brings out a wistful nostalgia for one who left 30 years ago.

-------------------------------
It's just not the same song when somebody other than Gomer sings it at the 500. Sad to see the passing of an era this year.

Unknown said...

What does George Gordon Meade have to with crosswords? BTW he was from Pennsylvania!

gpm said...

Don't know how the others would have played out, though the originals did seem rather longwinded (and probably pretty easy), but the final version was also pretty dumbed down. One of my faster Sundays, and not particularly fun.

--gpm

rcocean said...

Doesn't the LONDON TIMES have an even better crossword puzzle?

jaydub said...

"Sunday puzzles are generally annoying because they're in smaller print and just larger."

Download "Across Lite," then use it to open the puzzle from the NYT website. Across Lite has a lot more flexibility than the print version.