Hi and welcome to our first-ever discussion of the new “Solve the Internet” crossword, which you can find at Motherboard (new puzzles every week). Today’s conversation is between me (REXPARKER) and Ben Smith (B-Side). Enjoy.
Today’s puzzle: “Solve the Initials” by Caleb Madison
B-Side Hi Rex!
REXPARKER Holy crap what is happening?
B-Side IRC Chat.
B-Side As long as we’re solving the internet, I figured we could go old school as far as the internet goes
B-Side Also this was the first thing that popped up when I searched for an in-browser chat client
REXPARKER Is this the Matrix?
B-Side Probably a little closer to AOL chat? So, basically.
REXPARKER It’s so old-looking, I love it
B-Side That was partially why I chose this 1
REXPARKER I have printed out the “Solve The Internet” puzzle because F— the Internet (their web interface is not bad tbh, tho the bar is low)
B-Side I have a bunch of them open in tabs.
B-Side I was able to go through and solve the archive while waiting for this to get fully set up and for you to join
REXPARKER Wait, are we going back in time, because I’ve only solved today’s (though I did the first couple, whenever it launched)
B-Side I wasn’t sure how many we were going to cover, but today’s is a really good example about why I’ve mostly been hatesolving these
REXPARKER Good, let’s stick to today’s, though feel free to reach back for whatever you need. I’ll just nod knowingly.
B-Side I am assuming that I am the target audience for these (millennial, reads sites like Motherboard) and I do not like these puzzles
B-Side And the interview that kicked off the puzzle Did Not Help Things, as far as tone
REXPARKER Aren’t you a millennial?
B-Side I am! And yet the tone in the cluing rubs me entirely the wrong way for the most part.
REXPARKER Yeah, the whole “Not Your Grandma’s Xword!” vibe of the kickoff was like … “who do you think can even appreciate exactly what you are trying to do here Except people who solve ‘normal’ xwords”?
B-Side It’s a combo of trying really hard to make every clue feel some variety of “contemporary”, and Vice’s whole “wow we’re so edgy lol” thing
B-Side and the end result often feels *very Steve Buscemi In 30 Rock voice* Hello Fellow Teens
B-Side The main way it seems to be “disrupting” the standard crossword is using a smaller size
REXPARKER Also their copyright is ©STI, which I always read as “sexually transmitted infection,” so there’s that.
B-Side (sidenote: I work in tech, at a startup, and I hate the whole “disruption” culture thing for a multitude of reasons)
REXPARKER Yeah, disruption per se is just dumb. I think this is ambitious, and I like how he’s trying to obliterate format restrictions, in some ways.
B-Side but the Buzzfeed crossword also occasionally crossed over to this style of cluing, and the end result feels very contrived.
B-Side On one hand, I’m all for more non-standard grids, but I think these are too small.
REXPARKER I like the different shapes / sizes of the grid, the willingness to go w/ non-symmetry (tho I do think symmetry is generally your friend—keeps you from being lazy af)
B-Side It’s great to break the rules, but sometimes the rules are there for a reason
REXPARKER Small is OK w/ me, but not if I’m just getting one / week.
REXPARKER Break rules strategically. Otherwise it’s all a formless mess.
B-Side yeah, if it’s a weekly, just do a 15×15 grid! You can pull from what’s happening in web/pop culture and still do a full size puzzle!
REXPARKER Like why is today’s puzzle the shape that it is?
B-Side Right. You can put BDE in a grid! And have it be a full size grid! So you don’t have to fill the rest up with abbrevs.
REXPARKER No, really, WHY? It’s so small, I keep thinking there must be a reason to go all not-quite symmetrical
B-Side (side note to other constructors: if I see ANYTHING about BDE in a real grid, I will stop solving. I do not need to think about the phrase BDE ever again and have already blocked it on Twitter)
REXPARKER oh shit what is BDE and who is Pete Davidson (hi kids, I’m 48)
B-Side Pete Davidson is an SNL cast member (their youngest, currently – I think he was 20 when he joined)
B-Side He’s currently dating Ariana Grande
REXPARKER I got BDE from crosses and thought clue must be [Almost letter string?]
B-Side He apparently has a very large penis, and she revealed that in a tweet, and that set off a whole thing about who has Big Dick Energy and who doesn’t
B-Side Please stop making me explain BDE
REXPARKER Oh, I looked it up and The Internet said it stood for “Best Day Ever”
REXPARKER I wondered why everyone was going on about Big Dick Energy. Ugh, the puzzle needs fewer dicks.
B-Side Back to these puzzles – the grid sizes feel super arbitrary
REXPARKER What is the concept here? Just … a bunch of abbrs.?
B-Side appears to be
B-Side the smaller size leads to a lot of smaller fill to support whatever seed entries
B-Side which means we’re getting a lot of clunky crosswordese I’d give a dirty look to in a full-size grid ALSO has a long clue that’s trying to be clever and failing
REXPARKER Are they “seed,” though, if the grid is so small and just filled with three-letter stuff you wouldn’t want in your normal puzzle?
B-Side there was also a whole grid that did iHOb-style rebrands
B-Side which I think is the closest this has come to a standard theme puzzle
REXPARKER Oh yeah. That was a better puzzle, in my memory
B-Side (which is fine: I love themelesses and we need more of them at all levels)B-Side This grid seems entirely constructed around putting ZERO FUCKS in a puzzle.
B-Side which, fine, but it also felt very “this isn’t your GRANDMA’s crossword!” *does donuts with a dirtbike*
REXPARKER The longer answers here are just fine (SOULCYCLE, AFTER PROM, BEER BONGS). But then they poured three-letter dreck all over them. It’s like beautiful, fresh greens smothered by a half gallon of ranch dressing.
B-Side I like that analogy
B-Side SOULCYCLE is great fill! Stop ruining it with a bunch of garbage!
REXPARKER This whole endeavor feels like [the band] fun., i.e. they are telling me they are young, and I’m like You are aging and sad (join the club)
REXPARKER Again, superdown for the innovation, supernotdown for the skateboarding / record scratch / allaround Poochiness of it all!
REXPARKER (Kids, look up Poochie, I am 48)
B-Side Every time I solve one of these it makes me crochety (which, I am already The Internet’s Oldest Thirty Year Old, but I’m _trying_ to stay with it)
B-Side It’s very Poochie.
REXPARKER I got confused with the cluing a bit. Like, I couldn’t tell what part of speech [The last time we’re ever going to party with each other before we all leave for college!! I’m going to miss you guys so much. Let’s stay friends forever.] was asking for
REXPARKER Technically, everything after “college” in that clue is bs
B-Side I am fine with longer clues, especially when they’re trying to have fun with the material, but a lot of these just feel long for the sake of long
B-Side a very corporate sort of “edginess” that rings fake
REXPARKER CORPORATE EDGINESS
REXPARKER THINK DIFFERENT
REXPARKER Long clues, fine. But do not leave me hanging, clarity-wise, on part of speech. I feel like the teacher who’s like “grammar actually matters, kids” and then there are spitballs and texting and I quit my job. Something like that.
B-Side So often these long clues aren’t adding anything
B-Side for example:
B-Side “Where no one should go to outbid me on an original 1976 Bee Gees promotional Children of the World glass mirror” for EBAY
REXPARKER I don’t miiiiind it
REXPARKER I mean, true, it adds nothing clue-wise, but it’s wacky / whimsical … I dunno.
B-Side I feel like it could still communicate all that and be whack/whimsical in a more concise way
REXPARKER Post Malone clue = just fine. Good, even. ([Post Malone’s other favorite thing besides Bentleys] = BEER BONGS)
B-Side This made me have to think about Post Malone for more than five seconds and I did not enjoy that.
B-Side But otherwise, yes.
REXPARKER [Important initials if you are choking] really shouldn’t be EMT. You don’t have that kind of time. CPR is the only answer there.
REXPARKER Actually, scratch that: HEIMLICH
B-Side I WAS ABOUT TO SAY
B-Side (I totally entered CPR there first, but then had the same realization)
REXPARKER “Oh, you’re choking, hang on, let me dial…” FLATLINE SOUND
B-Side “Important initials for having the machine that’ll allow you to watch your childhood copy of “The Lion King” <3″ (VCR) could completely drop “Important initials for having” and still scan
REXPARKER True. Concision is a thing. A good thing.
REXPARKER I’m happy to see DSA in a grid, though I wrote D-NY (1A: Important initials after the political victory of Alexandria Ocasio Cortez)
B-Side Exactly. That’s the main thing that irks me about these – a lot of the clues feel one revision away from being better versions of themselves.
REXPARKER I think editing your own shit is hard, tbh. You need outside eyes.
B-Side YES. I wrote a Jeopardy for the National Puzzlers’ League convention next week and it was made infinitely better by having (a few) editors/testers look at it.
REXPARKER OK I’m done with this one, how ’bout you?
B-Side Pleasure chatting with you!
REXPARKER Yes. Can you get this convo into some kind of post-(Malone)-able order?
[Ben sends Rex txt file, Rex lightly edits it, end scene]