“DARK HUMOR” by Erik Agard
Nothing is pure black and white…except for this puzzle! Solve the puzzle first, figure out the meta answer, then read on for the review (Spoilers for the puzzle and the meta).
Welcome to NGOTB’s first non-BuzzFeed indie review! I’m Erin Milligan-Milburn, and today’s treat is by constructor, co-founder of the Indie 500 crossword tournament, and recent college grad Erik Agard. He posts nuggets of joy every Wednesday at his blog, Glutton for Pun.
This crossword is a meta, with the following instructions: “the bonus answer to this puzzle is a vehicle in history.” That narrows it down to Just About Anything. The theme should give us some clues after we figure it out, though. We have two longer across answers:
- 30a. [With 36-Across, quip from a famous comedian] WHY DON’T THEY MAKE THE WHOLE PLANE
- 36a. [See 30-Across] OUT OF THAT BLACK BOX STUFF?
We also find two groups in the SW and SE corners with a column of three rebus squares each:
- 37a. [Sausage casing] (GLO)VE I’m assuming this is a condom joke, but big fingers can be called sausage fingers, so it could be an actual glove.
- 44a. [Allergic outbreak] (HIV)ES
- 50a. [Is ___?] (IT A)RT
- 42a. [Yuck!] B(ARF) BARF could probably be ART, based on what was eaten. Eww.
- 49a. [Laptop brand name that comes from the Latin for “sharp”] A(CER) Like “acerbic.” Neat!
- 55a. [Like luminous skin] D(EWY)
Finally we have one down clue on each side divided into three mini-clues, each corresponding to the left, center, and right letters of each rebus square column:
- 37d. [7-up? / “It’s ___” (enthusiastic partygoer’s comment) / “Bend ___” (Lil Jon single)] GHI / LIT / OVA I can’t say I’ve ever been an enthusiastic partygoer, so I’ll take his word for it. Also, love the clue for GHI, with “7-up” referring to the letters in the button above the 7 button on a telephone keypad.
- 43d. [Alternative to “buddy” or “slugger” / DVR remote letters / ___ bread] ACE / REW / FRY Today’s puzzles are making me super hungry, between the NYT’s FRY COOK and this FRY bread.
At first glance, we have a quote about airplanes and their black boxes, or flight recorders (which are now orange, but I don’t think anyone calls it “the orange box”). Could our meta answer be a plane, or related to planes? The other part of the grid that jumps out as just plain weird (or just PLANE weird, ha!) is the use of two large areas of black squares in the bottom corners.
Hmm. Let’s review the quote. “Why don’t they make the whole plane out of that black box stuff?” Maybe the means that the black boxes are important. Closer scrutiny reveals that there are enough black squares to the left and right of the rebus squares for each extra letter in those squares. Erik could have done without the rebus squares and just used those black boxes for the extra letters, but he didn’t. Let’s see what happens if we spread out the rebus letters to take up that extra space:
GHI, LIT, REW, and FRY move out of the rebus squares and into the black boxes. By themselves they don’t amount to anything, but if we combine those letters to “make the whole plane out of that black box stuff” and anagram them, we find the WRIGHT FLYER I, which is indeed a vehicle in history and our meta answer. To top it all off, looking up the author of the quotation did not help me get to the correct answer, but a Google search of the quote leads to comedian Steven WRIGHT. Mind = blown.
This was a tough meta for me. It took me several hours interspersed with stream of consciousness texting before it clicked. The black boxes in the grid, the quote about black boxes and planes, the meta answer being an airplane, and the speaker of the quote sharing the surname of the brothers that developed the first heavier-than-air powered aircraft provided layers upon layers of meta goodness for me. The one quibble I have is that the plane is usually referred to as the Wright Flyer or 1903 Flyer without the Roman numeral one, and that extra “I” made anagramming difficult, but I’m more than willing to pay that price for the aha moments experienced here.
As for the fill, it was Difficult. Erik’s puzzles are usually difficult for me, but I made numerous mistakes which I had to check more than once before I was able to finish. I’d never heard of 6d. AUTOMAN, 9d. ELYA, or 10d. TOMTATO. I had DUBSTEP for BROSTEP, and I had to ask my husband for the vowel in 19d. KOPF. Then I felt a bit silly, because I realized that 29a. [John associated with D. Hall of fame] was OATES, and D. Hall was Daryl Hall.
Erik loves punny clues, and they’re usually subtle, so it might take me a few readings to get it. My favorites were 11d. [Wrong kind of letter?] for ENABLER and 15d. [Residents of the Oedipal complex?] for THEBANS. He also gave us a new clue for 48a. ENO [Entry that crossword constructors would probably just clue as [Rejection online] if it weren’t the name of a famous person], following the leads of ECIG, ECASH, ENOTE and the like.
Overall, Erik’s crossword was challenging, but the payoff was absolutely worth it.
Thanks for reading our indie review debut here at New Grids on the Block! I’ll leave you with some music from OAR, because I listened to them all the time in college. Until next time!