“Updates Available”

[.puz][PDF][Solution] ๐Ÿ‘ฉ๐Ÿพโ€๐Ÿ’ป๐Ÿ‘จ๐Ÿผโ€๐Ÿ’ป Difficulty: 2.5/5

First things first: Jessie and I want to extend a sincere Thank You to all the well-wishers of crossworld. We got engaged last Monday evening, an ecstatically happy occasion that coincided with our second New York Times crossword collaboration. The conceit of that puzzle was (spoiler alert) barftastically romantic, even by our standards.

We’ve since returned to Cambridge full of vigor and steely determination! Jessie’s just begun the harrowing post-PhD job search and continues to Put In Work on her dissertation book project, and I am going Back To School shopping! As of this week I’m officially a student again, working towards an MFA in creative writing locally at Emerson. I’ve also got a number of significant puzzle projects on the front burner, all of which represents a veritable feast of creative pursuits on which I plan to gorge unashamedly in the coming months. *burp*

Anyway! One of the first chores that presents itself upon returning from a weeklong holiday is firing up one’s computer and starting up the ol’ “install later” two-step with the software updates alert… right? Which brings us to this week’s puzzle, “Updates Available.” Thoughts and spoilers after the jump!

software: “I’ve changed!” me: lol right

This theme set is an outgrowth of my recent rereading of “Gravity’s Rainbow” on the heels of my puzzle of the same name in the Times a few weeks ago. The V-2 ROCKET, I *quipped* to Jessie, probably had a V4 ENGINE and ran on V8 JUICE … and walla! A theme set version one-point-oh is born.

I went *back and forth* on how to represent this VERSION NUMBER concept. Initially I went with a more conventional representation, with VONE FLYING BOMB, VEIGHT JUICE, and VFOUR ENGINE as theme answers… but I just couldn’t get past the weird parsing of VFOUR when V4 just *looks* so much closer to the version number V-dot-digit naming convention.

The resulting V2 ROCKET, V8 JUICE, V6 ENGINE set looks for visually appealing to me, though of course it’ll present some issues on the solving end, since I have to define wether the applet/AcrossLite file is looking for V2 ROCKET or V[TWO] ROCKET, which might be annoying for solvers who get the error alert when they just guessed wrong as to which answer I specified on the back end. In any case, you *got it right* either way, since the across answers in MY [TWO] DADS, THE [EIGHT]IES, and DEEP-[SIX]ED all preserve the numerical meaning of those letter strings.

Happy solving, friends!

-Ross

“Local Lingo”

by Soleil Saint-Cyr & Ross Trudeau

[.puz][PDF][Solution] ๐ŸŒ ๐Ÿ“ฌ Difficulty: 3/5

The last big online puzzle tournament of the summer kicks off next Saturday. Book your Lollapuzzoola tickets now! As a bonus, my collaborator on this week’s puzzle, Soleil Saint-Cyr, has also contributed a puzzle to a slate of warm-up midis with a meta solution. If you’ve got an afternoon to devote to puzzle solving and characteristic Lolla shenanigans, this is a can’t-miss event.

Meantime, this week’s Crucinova ($) puzzle is a grid concept that I cooked up last spring. The form you’ll find it in when it drops on Wednesday 8/19 is the result of the thoughtful stewardship of editor Lisa Bunker.

*Spoilers* and notes from Soleil on “Local Lingo” below!

dorque du Soleil

Soleil: Hey everyone! I’m excited to say that I’m back to constructing after a ~ more-than-brief hiatus.~ Ross came to me with this half-baked theme idea close to a year ago, right when I started learning to construct. I remember our (very very long) email thread going back and forth about all of the possibilities for theme entries, and the real breakthrough with this grid came when we discovered that ITALIAN STALLION fit the theme. We probably finished the grid and cluing back in winter of 2021, so this one has been sitting on the shelf for a while, and I’m really happy that we’re finally able to share it with the world! Happy solving!

Ross: When we started defining the terms of the theme, we started with [LANGUAGE + any WORD] English phrases, with the caveat that the WORD in that stated LANGUAGE had to itself be a valid English language word, such that we could obscure the gimmick in the clue, e.g. [Pain in Paris?] for FRENCH BREAD. It hadn’t occurred to me to examine names for this concealable property, so when Soleil pulled ITALIAN STALLION I was, well, pleased as, ahem, punch. Killer answer, killer spanner (15).

Happy solving, friends!

“Tough Way to Go”

by Jessie Bullock & Ross Trudeau

[.puz][PDF][Solution] โ˜ ๏ธ๐Ÿšข ๐Ÿšž ๐ŸšŒ โ˜ ๏ธ Difficulty: 2/5

Conventional wisdom is that you don’t acknowledge a no-hitter in progress, lest the bored and minorly vindictive karmic bureaucrats in the sky take note and yank the rug out from under your pitcher. Avert your eyes, the thinking goes. Think about something else. Just don’t *want* it too much, and you’re more likely to *get* it.

The reason I note all this is because it’s looking like the Delta variant *could* disrupt a highly anticipated vacation that Jessie and I have lined up in two weeks (we’re vaccinated, but). This eventuality would be particularly excruciating insofar as that this particular vacation–to a little resort in St. Lucia–was originally on the books for the very first week we all first went into lockdown in March of 2020. Suffice it to say that we’ve *built this one up* in our heads.

SO. We’ve decided to take a reverse jinx approach. This week’s puzzle, and indeed this entire blog post, is meant to look the possibility that our vacation gets cancelled again DIRECTLY IN THE EYE. Hello darkness our old friend! How are you? Actually, hold that thought, we super don’t care. F*** right off, sir! And good day to you!

I hope you bring this spirit to your solve as you crack “What a Way to Go!,” the thematic content of which is a direct foil for the last J+R collaboration on this site. Thoughts and spoilers after the jump.

honk honk

The conceit here is pretty straightforward, but this theme brings a big goofy grin to my face. We’re working with various metaphorical vehicles with a negative connotation: CLOWN CAR, SINKING SHIP, PAIN TRAIN, STRUGGLE BUS, SAME BOAT. And in fact, this theme started when a friend of mine mentioned a “bruise cruise” he’d been on–apparently some screamo metal floating mosh pit. Weren’t the before times wild?

Anyway, as noted about, this puzzle is the spiritual evil twin of the “Have a Nice Trip!” puzzle that Jessie and I posted back in June. That grid featured metaphorical vehicles with a *positive* connotation–GRAVY TRAIN, DREAM BOAT, TIGHT SHIP, THE WELCOME WAGON–as well as the revealer FANTASTIC VOYAGE.

Kudos to Jessie for such smooth and evocative content in this one. She’s getting conspicuously good at filling grids these days… keep your eye out for more from her relatively soon…

Happy solving, friends.

-Ross

Achieving Balance

[.puz][PDF][Solution] โš–๏ธ

This coming week I’m delighted to share a byline with Malaika Handa–curator of 7xwords–on the Tuesday 8/3 Universal puzzle, as well as with Enrique Henestroza Anguiano on the Saturday 8/7 Wall Street Journal puzzle, which happens to be Enrique’s 21×21 print debut! Drop him a high five on Twitter; he’s a real pleasure to make dorky newspaper puzzles with.

In recent weeks I’ve been managing some health issues that have made the day to day somewhat, uh, quavery? I hadn’t intended to post this puzzle until later in the fall, but sometimes I can’t help but to get a bit autobiographical with my thematic material. Perhaps I’ll be able to achieve a bit more balance in the coming weeks (and be somewhat less oblique in my life updates on this site). Meantime…

H/t to Nate, Rafa, Amy, and Jeff for test solving today’s puzzle. Thoughts and spoilers after the jump.

level-headed Anakin

My tastes have evolved pretty starkly when it comes to this kind of crossword theme. One of my early New York Times puzzles was a MANSPREADS concept that follows the same formula, albeit in reverse. That puzzle fails to abide what I now think of as a pretty integral feature of the genre, namely restricting yourself to only one example of each of the letters that “spread” or “center” etc. Notice all those extra M’s and A’s in MAMMALIANS that muddy the spreading M’s and A’s that the puzzle wants you to direct your attention to!

One thing I really like about this week’s grid is the use of the rebus function to further “center” the C-H-I’s beyond just having them adjacent to one another, as in ENFRANCHISEMENT. That presented its own challenges in the construction, specifically stacking the CHI rebus directly below ENFRANCHISEMENT … OOH CHILD came to the rescue as the only possible answer that could accommodate the intersecting revealer answer below it in CENTERED ONE’S CHI.

You’ll note a couple of places where I could’ve dropped a black square to up the word count–the U at DO LUNCH jumps out at me–but for whatever reason I felt like keeping this particular theme as wide-open as possible. Too many black squares might have choked off the grid and, well, ruined the flow. At the end of the day, this turned out to be an ultra-low 68 words.

Looking forward to hearing what you think in the comments. Drop me a note!

Happy solving, friends!

-Ross