“PICK YOUR POISON” by Byron Walden
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“Pick Your Poison”
Constructor: Byron Walden
Theme: Quote puzzle
- 16A/22A/33A/47A/55A: “THE THEORY THAT THE COMMON PEOPLE KNOW WHAT THEY WANT, AND DESERVE TO GET IT GOOD AND HARD.” – H.L. Mencken’s definition of “democracy,” part 1
Ben: Mm, quote puzzle. I have to admit I’ve never liked this theme type. Either you know the quote, in which case it’s trivially easy, or you don’t, in which case you effectively have a ton of unchecked squares to slow you down until enough letters fill in to form recognizable words and syntax, all for (at best) a momentary amusement.
Michael: Yeah, Byron is great, but quote puzzles really have to dazzle to work for me, and this one feels a little trite. I do love Mencken’s trenchant crustiness, but this particular quote didn’t feel special enough to carry a puzzle.
Ben: This is an okay puzzle, but a few entries I wouldn’t usually expect from Byron Walden. POWER DRINK (26D: Red Bull, for one) just isn’t a thing — it’s ENERGY DRINK. I am giving serious side-eye to NON-JUROR (37D: One who refuses to take an oath) — is this a real term in the US? THYMOL next to Grand TETONS, Herman Melville’s crosswordese novel OMOO, I NEED A partial next to E-DATES, OREO-O’S (?!)… not up to the usual AV Club standards IMO.
Michael: I actually agree with all those objections, except OREOOS, which I keep staring at like it’s op art. It’s mesmerizing in a way I don’t dislike. I wonder how much better the fill could’ve been if he’d just gone for a higher word count. I mean, this thing is 16 wide and *still* only has 73 words, by my count. [side note: Byron is, indirectly, via Amy Reynaldo, the one who taught me how to quickly count the number of words in a crossword; you probably know this, but it’s the number of the last Across clue (here, 64) + the total number of squares that are first letters of both an Across and a Down (today, the 1, 5, 9, 14, etc. squares); so 64 + 9 such squares = 73). On standard 15×15 grids, the word count number is always even. Themed puzzles rarely drop below 74 in a standard grid, so to be below 74 in a super-sized grid … that’s pushing it. Probably impressive this thing is as clean as it is, given those restrictions, but I still don’t get why you even set those restrictions for yourself…]
Ben: NW was very hard for me, with U.TEP, ATHERTON, Vladimir GUERRERO, MOSHE Dayan and Sam ERVIN forming a plethora of proper names I didn’t know. Such is life — sometimes you get unlucky. I got it in the end.
Michael: Yes. ATHERTON is gonna crush a lot of people; and it’s crossing ERVIN (where that first vowel was a ? for me).
Ben: Liked the clues on IAGO (1A: “Who steals my purse steals trash” theatrical villain — nice to get an unusual quote for him) and BJS (51A: Head, more than once).
Michael: ABE, BEA, ME — a memoir of my 1992 cross-country road trip with acting legends Abe Vigoda and Bea Arthur. Look for it in bookstores this fall.
Ben: It’s a good quote, but this just isn’t my thing.