“Blackout Drunk”

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 🥃🍸🥴🍹🍺

Heads up: this is a decently hard puzzle, both in conceit and cluing. But before we talk grid…

I’ve only ever once been anywhere near what you’d call “blackout” drunk. It was the night after I was very nearly killed by a fjord in Glacier Bay, Alaska. If you’ll abide a few more words than I tend to write above the fold, here’s the story.

It’s the spring of 2014, and my dad and I have flown to Juneau, Alaska, and boarded a week-long cruise to Glacier Bay, home to coastline that evokes that of Norway or Greenland in topography and coloring. The boat is essentially a floating 4-star hotel. You can sip a cocktail in the top deck jacuzzi and watch brown bears prowl craggy terrain that is inhospitable or deadly, depending on the time of year.

On the next to last day of the trip we board a red tandem kayak to get a close-up look at Dawes glacier, a 25-story ice wall spanning one of the mile-wide fjords of Glacier Bay. Dad sits ahead of me. Captain Bennett has warned us to keep back a quarter mile from the cliff face that bridged the steep mountainsides on either side of the inlet. It is about two miles across.

Lower-48’ers come in particular to witness the fjords drop big chunks of their mass into the bay below, a spectacular and noisy phenomenon called calving. While the name calls to mind images of savannah mammals depositing their glistening cargo unceremoniously into the switchgrass, glaciers themselves look decidedly inert. About as likely to interact with you as the Mona Lisa or a Tuscan fresco. 

But the glaciers here are alive and calving is frequent. Not only does ice break away and fall off the cliff, but pieces can shoot up unexpectedly at great speeds from the underside of the glacier, gaining velocity as they buoy themselves towards the surface. Some can breach like determined humpbacks. And the sound of thousand-year ice breaking apart is a truly hideous report, like the crack of a crucial beam supporting the tree house you’re reading in. When we began to hear it there in the shadow of the glacier, and to see snow and debris start to shake loose from shelves and fissures in the glacier, I feel sick.

Two hundred yards to our right, a Volkswagen Beetle-sized chunk dislodges. Directly in front of us, an even large piece breaks away. To our left, a third calf, pirouetting downward and violently connecting with an existing iceberg. 

And then, everything in between shudders. Before we register what is happening, a New York City apartment building-sized section of the glacier drops into the bay directly in front of us. At this point, I too forget my fear. It’s too surreal, too awesome to be exactly scary at that point. But it is only a matter of seconds before we understand the danger. Not of being crushed by falling ice—we were still too far off. But rather by the water that is rapidly being displaced by the sheer tonnage of the collapsed section of the terminus. 

We both begin to paddle as the swell in front of the glacier grows and grows. For an absurd moment, our boat does not move. We are paddling in opposite directions. I am trying to about-face and scram; dad is attempting to square the nose of our bow to the wave. Bugs and Daffy, passing the shotgun barrel back and forth. 

“Face the wave, Rossy!” I finally get the picture.  

By the time the wave is on top of us, the glacier has totally disappeared from view. Later, the captain will suggest we were looking up at a 30-foot swell. We’re going in, I think. I know our fate, and am already tensing my muscles to brace against the heart-stopping cold of the water. “Shit, oh shit,” I repeat. (Tonight at dinner I will bemoan this piss-poor choice of potential last words to my dad. Crai, a travel writer on board and also among the kayakers that day, will point out that this was probably, in the course of human events, not an altogether uncommon swan song.) When the first wave is upon us, its size gives the impression that we are moving forward, being sucked uphill along with the various ice chunks in the water around us. Ready? Here we go! Dad lifts his paddle and I follow suit. Heart pounding in my ears, I watch our kayak pass over the wave. On the downslope of the second waveI give out a short bachelorette party woo!, and I pretend to laugh to conceal the hysterical sobs that are coming.

That night–without meaning to–I get blackout drunk on Johnny Walker at the ship’s bar, with no memory of crying openly into my scotch, nor of returning to my cabin.

A couple more sober thoughts on “Blackout Drunk” after the jump.

the fjord in question

You’ll see a version of this type of puzzle every so often. It’s been done! And the revealer–or, in this case, the title–generally is a phrase like BLACK MAGIC or MAN IN BLACK, etc etc.

My understanding is that this offering played difficult for the test solvers. Perhaps that’s because the “blackout” synonyms for “drunk” are all different words: LOADED, BLASTED, BLIND, and WASTED. Which is to say, you’ve got exactly two shots at seeing each individual word. An easier version would have just blacked out the word “drunk” four times.

Another thing that seems to be important to my solving brain when I come to puzzles of this theme type is that the blacked out word to be applicable both down and across. That’s not a necessity; here’s a fun recent puzzle from Adam Aaronson that works great with the hidden word affecting only a down or across answer it abuts.

As it stands, my weird little brain wants to have it both ways. Thus, you’ve got SPRING [LOADED] ROD going across at 17-Across, and [LOADED] QUESTION at 22-Down. Ditto SAND[BLASTED] GLASS / BLASTED OFF, THREE [BLIND] MICE / FLY BLIND, and I’VE [WASTED] MY LIFE / TIME WELL [WASTED].

I’d love to hear how this played for the rest of you. Drop a comment!

Happy solving, friends.

-Ross

“Have a Nice Trip!”

by Jessie Bullock & Ross Trudeau

[.puz][PDF][Solution]

Words won’t precisely do it justice, so I’m attaching a photo below of the setting from which we’re uploading today’s puzzle. It’s a timely offering–you’ll see what I mean–and it’s that timeliness that convinced us to briefly plug back in to share it with you here. Jessie is waiting for me to join her on the beach about thirty yards seaward, so I won’t linger long to editorialize beyond noting that a kind and simple “bon voyage”-style DM from constructor Brooke Husic set the wheels turning that bring this puzzle to you today.

One or two quick thoughts on “Having a Nice Trip!” after the regrettably basic jump.

WISH YOU WERE HERE (15)

It would have been easy to render a theme like this without a revealer. The pattern of metaphorical vehicles with a positive connotation stands up without any ancillary hinting, but anyone who’s been in even the most passing crossword dialogue with me knows that my soul fractures slightly but perceptibly whenever I forgo signaling a raison d’être in the grid itself. And was adding the “THE” to allow for an interlock between THE WELCOME WAGON, DREAM BOAT, and TIGHT SHIP somewhat gratuitous? Perhaps. But I love shit like that. So.

Sometimes the inspiration for posting a puzzle is as simple as a friend saying “have an amazing trip!” That brief note sent my mind directly to FANTASTIC VOYAGE, et voila.

Working with Jessie on this puzzle was particularly fun and satisfying, for reasons that are probably fairly obvious. Our trip to Quintana Roo, Mexico is our first proper vacation since before quarantine, and the time we’ve been able to spend connecting with each other and letting down our respective guards a bit has been, in a word, FANTASTIC(O).

Happy solving, cherished solvers.

-Ross & Jessie

“Significant Digits”

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 🔢🔢🔢

As I write this, Jessie and I are under one roof with several agreeable friends for the first time in more than a year. I hope you’ll forgive a brief post; we’re blissed out and trying to stay in the moment. (The house, incidentally, is filled with several Big Names in crossworld; more details to come!) 

Today’s puzzle is a cute one, I think. And it gets even cuter if you have the wherewithal to print the PDF and solve on paper. And even if you don’t, I recommend clicking into the PDF when you’re done to see how it may have enhanced your solve… Spoilers and thoughts as to why after the jump. 

agreeable friends <3

Process on this one was WEIRD. I iterated on this off and on for a few days trying to find an arrangement where at least 4 box numbers were positioned such that they could accommodate a answer that used their number in the answer, *and* which answers both started with the same letter (PARENT/PERCENT) or started and ended with the same number (WHEN I’M / MUSTANG) to achieve the desired effect.

Will Nediger was kind enough to test solve this one a few weeks ago, and one of his initial observations was that, pictographically speaking, 7-Across *technically* reads OCEAN 12 S rather than OCEAN’S 12, since the 12 is in the upper left corner of the box, and therefore slightly to the left of the S. 

Personally, I didn’t really mind that (it also occurs with TURNED 30/TURNE 30 D and WHEN I’M 64 / WHEN I’ 64 M), but it did occur to me that I could mess with the number placement in the PDF with a little photoshop magic. So, presto-chango, the 12 is now in the upper right hand of the relevant box, rendering the answer unequivocally OCEAN’S 12. Ditto the 30 and the 64 (which is now in the lower left corner of its box). 

Happy solving, friends!

-Ross

“Cross-Pollination”

by Parker Higgins & Ross Trudeau

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 🐝🐝🐝

Special tribute bonus puzzle inbound!

When I pitched Parker on the base idea for this crossword, our first question was, “How much overlap is there between the crossword solving community and the 26-Across solving community?” Quite a lot, we expect, though we’re eager to see how intuitively this plays for the 26-Across uninitiated.

For the hardcore fans, however, we have a special treat. Sam Ezersky, the ‘Keeper Himself, is joining us on the Cursewords Live stream this evening to live solve our little tribute grid and talk All Things Hive. Tune in at 9p Eastern tonight (Monday)! Fair warning: we treasure Sam, and any 26-Across list kvetching in the chat will be met with swift moderatorial retribution! So keep it light and airy, friends.

In any case, leave us a comment! Was this a fun little collision of word nerd worlds? Would you solve another such puzz?

Happy solving, friends!

-Ross

“Close Quarters”

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 🏘🏘🏘🏘

Who doesn’t love a good aesthetic phase? Picasso went blue. The Beatles went psychedelic. And Will Nediger? Well, Will’s gone stacks on stacks on stacks. Stacked theme answers, that is.

First he went and did this, which, *cranium eruption*. Then he followed it up with this, and, obviously, *brain melt*. And most recently THIS–and he’s just giving it away for free! King stuff. (Incidentally, he dropped by the Twitch stream to discuss that last one–much fun, highly recommend giving it a watch.)

Needless to say, I admire Will’s work a lot. So much so that I’m happy to be shamelessly derivative. So today I offer you, humbly, a bewilderingly-inspired grid. Thoughts and spoilers after the jump.

Honestly, after being incepted/inspired by Will’s work, I wasn’t exactly looking for a *scintillating* concept. His “High Romance” puzzle has multiple layers of thematic meaning that this grid certainly does not. I settled on ADJOINING ROOMS (14) as a revealer, specifically because the middle four letters of N-I-N-G were necessarily going to cross decently well with a variety of ROOMs for the simple reason that we name a lot of rooms in the “___ING room” pattern.

Anyway, this theme set and grid arrangement took a metric ton of iterating. There’s not really a science to this stuff. Just: pick rooms with decently common letters, and jigger and rejigger until the vowel-consonants and left-right letter distributions look, uh, passable … and then experiment with 23940823094 black box arrangements to try to get the whole thing to hang together.

In the end, I actually really like how this came out. III was the only real compromise to my mind, and even that doesn’t really make me feel cheap.

Oh, and I spent a LONGGG time trying to generate an OSIRIS clue that references the fact that his brother Set killed him and chopped him up into little pieces. [God that was dead Set against?] Ehhh. Almost, but … kill your darlings.

Happy solving, friends!

-Ross