Saturday Themeless by David Liben-Nowell
This is a puzzle with a long journey, and maybe a few mildly interesting stories to share from its trip.
The first origin point was the phrase DAD JOKES, which cropped up in a kind of amusing (if not exactly complimentary) way a few years ago. In February 2018, at the midpoint of the winter term at Carleton College, where I teach, I'd distributed my standard midterm evaluation for students to let me know what they thought of the course, and what could be improved in the second half. One of the questions ("what do you like least about the course") elicited one student response of "the dad jokes" (maybe the student wasn't being serious?! I can only hope so!). And then DAD JOKES and its symmetric twin MOM JEANS came onto my radar, and the puzzle idea was off and running with that pair as the seeds.
Well, "running" is probably an exaggeration. It took me about 18 months of poking and prodding at it to fill the grid in a way that satisfied me. That's still two versions of the puzzle prior to the one that you're looking at: the first one had a different entry at 18-Across (which Rich found to be too racy) [original submitted clue, if you want to puzzle it out: It was banned from Facebook in 2019 for its suggestive usage], and then the second version had a partial duplication between ALL DONE (33-Across) and ALL PRO (25-Down) that had to be excised. Rich's find of MRS JONES (to replace DOW JONES at 42-Across) is what saved that portion of the grid. So this version resulted from me ripping out both the NW quadrant of the grid (and thus the N section), and the W section (and thus the SW), and replacing them.
Some of my favorite clues survived, but I was sad to lose some of the others -- partially a consequence of my natural tendency to write fairly verbose clues, so often a good number of them get cut for length (and maybe for other reasons). And I have to confess to not knowing the answers to some of the clues in their final form. I hadn't heard of Charles COLSON maybe because I'm too young for it (the clue that I submitted was about the novelist COLSON Whitehead of "The Underground Railroad", among other books). But I'm also pretty naive to most proper names in popular culture, so I suffer equally from an ignorance of Questlove, IRENE Cara, IRENE Ryan, Billy Paul, and probably others that show up in this puzzle. And I haven't seen "Get Smart" even once, though I have heard a good number of invocations of the CONE OF SILENCE metaphor in my real life. Once I saw that including that entry in the grid was a possibility, I found some old clips on YouTube. Turns out the cone of silence thing was pretty funny all along. I hadn't even realized that it was a joke before working on this puzzle!
8. Grads of Cornell's Johnson Sch.: MBAS - Cornell renamed its business school for S.C. Johnson after the company he founded endowed them with $20M
13. Quartet quarter?: SOLO - Let's see, 1/4 of a quartet is one and if that performer sings alone...
14. Six-ton predator: ORCA - Sea World is phasing them out
17. LeBlanc who played Joey on "Friends": MATT - If you're a fan, you know who's who in this first to last episode montage.
20. Cutesy answer to "How do you say that in Spanish?": ESO - ESO is Spanish for the word "that" so the answer is ESO
21. Uncoupled?: BROKEN UP.
24. Zebras on a field: REFS - NFL REFS have broken racial and gender barriers
27. Classic muscle cars: GTOS.
29. Senator Ben who wrote "The Vanishing American Adult": SASSE - Joann and I have known 47. D.C. VIP: SEN Ben SASSE since he was ten years old. I taught with his dad and went to high school with his mother.
30. N.L. West team: ARI - Diamondbacks
31. Type of cable, briefly: COAX - COAXial cable. We're replacing a lot of ours with ROKU units
32. Shade for a lifeguard: SUNTAN - Oh, a SUNTAN is a shade of color
33. Defensive lines: CORDONS - The Swiss Guard form a colorful CORDON for the Pope
35. Dries, in a way: AIRS OUT.
36. Sometimes unattainable maxima: IDEALS - Don't let IDEAL get in the way of doable.
37. Sticky situation: MIRE.
38. 2010 World Cup host: Abbr.: RSA.
39. Origins: SEEDS.
40. Bass part: GILL.
41. It gives you the big picture: IMAX - Watching a shuttle launch on a giant IMAX screen with seat-rattling DTS Sound is breath taking.
44. Blade in a shell: OAR.
46. Metaphor for confidentiality popularized in a 1960s sitcom: CONE OF SILENCE - Would you believe Maxwell Smart?
51. Type of jacket: FLAK - Originally to protect against bullets and flak, QB's now also use them to protect their ribs
54. Card in Clue: ROPE.
1. Legendary wildlife conservationist: NOAH - Two at a time and 55. Ancient site of an iconic tree: EDEN - Another Biblical reference
2. Block in the kitchen: TOFU - No thanks.
3. Humbles: SHAMES.
4. Fodder for unfriendly trades: BARBS - As I've blogged before, Don Rickles would not be able to use his act today
5. Speaker's spot: SOAP BOX.
6. Takes up, perhaps: ALTERS - or for me, unfortunately, "let out"
7. Short bar order: COSMO.
8. High-waisted garb, stereotypically: MOM JEANS and 34. Some corny humor: DAD JOKES - Here's a bunch of 'em. David told us these were his seed entries.
9. Play with ideas: BRAIN STORM.
10. Do one's part?: ACT.
11. Couldn't stand?: SAT - Not true on all roller coasters any more
19. [Shrug]: OK SURE.
22. Olympics chant: USA! USA!...
23. Ricoh camera brand: PENTAX.
24. "To Kill a Mockingbird" theme: RACISM.
25. Heavy surf, e.g.: ERODER - Yeah, I suppose...
26. Obsolescent emergency exit: FIRE ESCAPE - Our school only had stairs
28. Coll. exam graders, at times: TAS.
31. Charles of Watergate infamy: COLSON - Would anyone else have been stumped if David has chosen "31. Whitehead of the Underground Railroad"?
32. Skirt alternative: SIRLOIN - Ah, now I see why it is called a Skirt
40. Scotty's "Star Trek: TNG" counterpart: GEORDI - La Forge played by LeVar Burton. Those glasses look like they were made out of my old lawn mower air filter.
45. Island reception: ALOHA - Last Saturday ALOHA was a parting word
48. Ancient Memphis setting: NILE - The importance of Memphis decreased when Alexandria became a major port on the Mediterranean.
50. 3/8 of nineteen?: ENS - Meta clue: The word "Nineteen" has eight letters and three of them are "ENS".
51. Questlove's do: FRO - His IMDB
52. Dirty: LOW - Garth Brooks has friends in those places.
Notes from C.C.:
1) Great to see you back, David. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
2) Happy birthday to dear Husker Gary, our incomparable Saturday sherpa, who spends enormous time every week to perfect his posts, finding the right words, finding the right visuals and reaching out to constructors for comments. We're so grateful for your time and effort, Gary! You make Saturdays special!
|Gary, C.C., Boomer & Joann 8/22/2014|