John Heaton (jheaton) wrote,
John Heaton
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A Community crossword, with commentary

Last week, I created and posted a Community-themed crossword puzzle in the Community 101 community. (Boy, could I have used the word "community" more often in that sentence?) It wasn't my first attempt at constructing a crossword, but it the first one I thought was good enough to share. I'm going to talk about it a bit below the cut, so if you want to give it a try before reading on, you can download it here.

Obviously, this was what we crossword solvers call a lightly themed puzzle. Themes don't come much more basic, in fact. Given that, I tried to make it a little more elegant in how I clued the theme entries. Each character named in the grid was clued with a descriptive phrase that had been said in an episode by one of the other characters named in the grid, and no one character provided the description for more than one clue. So:

  • 16-Across: [Saving the planet makes her back hurt] is what Britta said about ANNIE EDISON in 2x03, "The Psychology of Letting Go"
  • 28-Across: [Football is in his blood, or soul, or eyes] is a restatement of what Jeff said about TROY BARNES in 1x06, "Football Feminism and You"
  • 46-Across: [Barenaked Ladies has two Billboard Awards to his zero] is based on what Annie said about JEFF WINGER in 2x15, "Early 21st Century Romanticism"
  • 60-Across: [AT&T is her corporate equivalent] is an inversion of what Troy called BRITTA PERRY in 2x14, "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons"

Hm, now that I look at which episodes those descriptions came from, I realize I should have have two each from the first two seasons. Oh well.

Jeff's and Britta's clues caused me a bit of trouble. Originally, they were clued as [A bad grade in a tight sweater] and [The opposite of Batman] respectively, but after htbthomas betaed the clues for me, I realized that I had been inconsistent in my phrasing. Those two used metaphorical descriptions, whereas the others used descriptions of certain attributes. I spent a bit of time looking for metaphorical descriptions of Annie and Troy--if you saw my question on Twitter about episodes in which Britta was openly hostile toward Annie, that's what that was about--but was unable to find anything appropriate, so I ended up rewriting Jeff's and Britta's instead. Britta's still isn't quite right, but the phrasing matches at least.

Another modest stab at elegant cluing came in an attempt to have an equal number of clue referring to each of the characters named in the grid, and to those regulars who didn't. At first I had three clues referring to each of the grid characters and one for each of the others. Except, I eventually realized, for Abed, who wasn't mentioned in any. Oops! I changed 18-Across (MEN) from [28- and 46-Across, for example] to [Abed and Dean Pelton, to name but two]. That change set off a flurry of changes. 30-Down (BOA) was originally [Dean Pelton probably owns a feathered one], and became [One may have feathers or scales]. 60-Down (BED) was changed from [16-Across has a flowered coverlet on hers] to [One of seven seen in "Anthropology 101"]. And 68-Across (DYE) went from [Add a blue streak, like 60-Across in an alternate timeline] to [Add a blue streak to one's hair, for example]. And for some reason, I changed Jeff's referential clue from 55-Across (ICE), [46-Across doesn't like it his Scotch], to 54-Across (UGLY), [What 46-Across fears being seen as].

4-Down (PAIR OFF) went through several variations on the same theme. First it was [What many fans want 16- and 46-Across to do]. But I decided that wasn't fair to the not-inconsiderable number of Troy/Britta shippers, so it became [What some fans want 16- and 46-Across or 28- and 60-Across to do]. Then I went a little nuts and changed it to [What many fans want 16- and 46-Across, or 28- and 60-Across, or 16- and 28-Across, or 46- and 60-Across, or 16- and 60-Across, to do]. Which amused me, but finally space considerations led me to simplify it to [What some fans may want any given two of 16-, 28-, 46-, and 60-Across to do]. (I assume there's at least one Jeff/Troy fan out there. Prove me wrong, people!)

A few other notes about the puzzle:

  • The clues for SEC and TEN gave me some grief. On my first pass, they were clued respectively as [Powerhouse college football conf.] and [David Tennant's Doctor, to fans]. Then I read an article about Texas Christian University joining the Big 12 Conference that noted TCU would replace Texas A&M as the tenth member of the conference, and it struck me that it would be a cleverly misleading way to clue TEN, so I made that change. That left me with two clue referring to college athletics, and past experience in fandom has taught me that in the Venn diagram showing the logical relation between the sets "obsessive TV fans" and "people who know anything at all about college sports," the intersection is often quite small. People who know me well will no doubt find it bizarre that I would pass up a Doctor Who reference in favor of a sports one, but in this case it seemed the appropriate thing to do.) So I changed the clue for SEC to [Regulatory agency hated on Wall St.] (I passed up a Doctor Who reference there too; I was trying to keep the clues on the easy side, and Dalek Sec is a pretty obscure character even by the standards of a guy who's been a Doctor Who fan for 30 years.) That left me with two clues referring to the US government, but I liked the timeliness of the new SEC clue.
     
  • To my shame, there ended up being a discrepancy between the electronic and on-paper versions of the puzzle. One rule of crossword construction is that you should never use the same word (or a close variation thereof) in both the grid and the clues. One of the very last changes I made was to correct a mistake of this nature: I had REMAIN in the grid and had clued URN as [Cremated remains holder]. I changed the clue to [Cremains container]--probably still too close to REMAIN to make it past a good editor--in the XML file used to create the .PUZ and .JPZ files, but forgot to change it in the PDF. Dang!
     
  • If there's one thing about this puzzle I'm most proud of, it's that I got AGENT P into the grid. Yeah, EARPS isn't much of a word, but it's legit (it's appeared in the New York Times puzzle eight times since 1994), but I like it better than FREEST, which strikes me as an ugly word. WEN is uglier, but I think the clue redeems it somewhat. I'm not hugely fond of ROTA either.
     
  • Something that caused me no end of grief was my decision to make the puzzle available electronically, both as a .PUZ file (for Across Lite, the most commonly used crossword solver application) and as a .JPZ, for the Crossword Solver application. You can make a .PUZ with a simple text file, but making a .JPZ requires a fairly complex XML file. There's a program called Crossword Compiler (made by the same company that makes Crossword Solver, not coincidentally) that will put together the XML file for you, but the demo version (which, alas, is the version I have) will only compile puzzles up to 10x10, and I had made a standard 15x5. So I did it by hand, using a CrosSynergy puzzle as a guide. The problem with doing it by hand is that if you make a mistake, it can be VERY hard to find it. The two missing right angle-brackets were relatively easy to track down--Crossword Compiler told me what lines the errors were on when I tried to open the file--but the one missing quotation mark in a file that already contained 2,371 other ones proved harder, though finally I did track it down. The good news is, callea pointed me toward an online XML validator, so next time will be easier.
     
  • One good thing about going to the trouble of making a .JPZ files is that it allowed me to slip in one last hidden Community reference. If you solved in Across Lite, you got Mr. Happy Pencil, but if you solved it in Crossword Solver, you got the message, "Congratulations, you are streets ahead!" HAW! I kill me.
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Tags: crosswords, social media: lj, tv: community
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