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 wave, I 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.
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.
19 thoughts on ““Blackout Drunk””
Another terrific Sunday morning experience! I’m getting to great puzzles from you, Ross!
Oops the site didn’t take my comment correctly. Trying again:
Another terrific Sunday morning experience! I’m getting SOUSED to great puzzles from you, Ross!
There you go again, Rich. Winning the best comment award before half of us are awake.
I solved it without getting three of the four themed connectors (the one I got was BLIND); SPRING and QUESTION were both possible answers without considering LOADED. I appreciate it much more now that I’ve read the blurb, but wonder if it would’ve made it clearer (and necessary) that a drunk synonym was indicated if the second clue were eliminated (e.g., if 18A and 38D were clued as —). You probably tested that, right?
Indeed! And actually, this seems to be a funny “to taste” thing. Personally, I find it inelegant to have to leave certain clues blank with a “–” (though I’ve done it several times). For me, the “–” is a big neon “THE THEME IS HERE, LOOK AT THE PRECEDING ANSWER/CLUE!” sign, one which allows the solver to circumvent the aha/appreciation of arriving at the theme in the intended way. And, of course, allowing yourself to use “–” clues also means your theme set isn’t as tight, since you’re not restricting yourself to themers that are cluable *after* the “blacked out” square.
For sure. But then noticing that they worked for the opposite direction as well would be a nice little Easter egg.
I very much appreciate that you take the time to reply to carps and quibbles.
I too, solved the puzzle without getting the theme. I entered three without knowing where the blind mice were, only noticing the mice at the end of the solve. Nice that you could solve without the theme since all the words had their own clues.
Thanks for solving, Phil! And yeah–another reason I’m vaguely opposed to puzzles with “–” clues: you need information from elsewhere to understand the answer slot’s contents.
Shame on you all – I’m in Mountain Time and already well-caffeinated!
Oh boy… that one really LIT me up!
🥴 HAMMERED out the NW and NE, but the SW really TANKED my chances of completion.
Not sure if I’ll remember later, but I definitely had a good time with this one.
Well, you know what they say, Taylor. If at first you don’t succeed, drink about it.
Touché, sir, touché.
A cool puzzle, untimed (and interrupted by what was only my third trip to a restaurant after having been condemned to eating my own cooking for the last fifteen months). No errors. Got all four of the synonyms. Not easy, but not all that hard, either.
Thoroughly enjoyed the glacier story, too. I did an Inside Passage cruise not long ago, so I can relate to the scene you describe.
(No kayak for me, though. Safety in numbers, and all that … 😜.)
Glad to hear the puzzle wasn’t a slog for everyone, K! The tsunami notwithstanding, I *highly* recommend a Glacier Bay trip
This is beautiful! I got the theme with the Paisley album and the connecting entries. Fantastic! Then I cam here and read your story…I’d thought I’d had some scary moments sailing, but wow. At least I was on a relatively large sailboat…but a KAYAK??? Yikes. Thank you so much for the puzzle, Ross.
Harrowing story! Fortunately the puzzle was a bit less harrowing, though I would say on the tough side of the Rossword spectrum. One challenge with some black-square “rebus” puzzles with multiple replaced phrases is just remembering what goes where, etc… it helps that these are such evocative phrases that it wasn’t an issue here!
I’VE WASTED MY LIFE = evocative, or just really, really sad? 😀
I’m usually many weeks behind with your puzzles (and almost all puzzles), but happened to catch up tonight and this one is NICE. Good call not to do “—” clues! I confess I didn’t even figure out all of the theme words. How come you didn’t sell this to Fireball? And, so glad that glacier didn’t get the better of you!
Hey, Dan! For whatever reason, Fireball just doesn’t cross my mind all that often as an option. Even, as you suggested, for grids that pretty well fit the description like this one. I wonder to what extent “can be finished without seeing the gimmick examples” should be considered an asset/liability…