“Sounds Painful”

[.puz][PDF][Solution] Difficulty: 3.25/5

Today’s puzzle is reactive and autobiographical. No two ways about it.

Back in December I shared an essay about my personal struggle with Schwannomatosis. I was ambivalent about relating some of those details for predictable reasons, but the reception that piece got from you all erased any lingering doubts I had about being open about that stuff. I remain deeply humbled and grateful for the support I received from the puzzling community. And it’s why I feel okay sharing another further detail that’s been front of mind for several weeks now.

Last year I was part of a pain medication study for a drug called Tanezumab–originally intended for arthritis sufferers–which over the course of several months offered me a modicum of relief. Not exactly a game changer, but the only effective therapy among a dozen or more I’ve experimented with since my early-20s. Unfortunately, an FDA panel rejected the drug for osteoarthritis pain management and the study was closed.

2022 has therefore felt like something of a square one, and the last few weeks have been particularly challenging. As a result, I’ve been spending somewhat less time being active and social and somewhat more time making crossword puzzles. As I described last winter, developing puzzles exists in a sort of sublime Goldilocks zone between entertainment and rigor, and is by far the best medicine for getting my mind of the hurt. Sometimes that’s chasing a theme pattern, and other times it’s entering a fugue state and grid building. But it’s a daily routine. At this point I have more than 100 unclued themeless grids sitting in a folder; maybe this spring I’ll enter my Themeless Era? And one frustrating day a couple of weeks ago, I put today’s grid together as a sort of meta reflection on my most reliable form of pain management.

Don’t worry too much on my behalf. I’ve got excellent caregivers, chief among them my soon-to-be-wife. On Sunday mornings after I push the weekly Rossword live, I can hear her giggling (or rolling her eyes) in the bedroom as she looks at the puzzle and the blog post while I make her coffee. This morning will be no different. I’m a lucky guy.

Thoughts and spoilers on “Sounds Painful” after the jump. My thanks go out to Jak and Matt for test solving this week.

call the wahmbulance!!!!

Ok, it’s just a gridded up version of me being a Big Baby. All I really wanted to do was to maximize the OW sounds in the theme answers, which meant excluding all O-W strings that didn’t evoke a Big Baby when spoken aloud.

HOW NOW BROWN COW with 4 examples is obviously the crown jewel, though I do like the trifecta of BOWCHICKAWOWOW. And as Matt pointed out at the test solving phase, there’s a lot more attestation for “bowchickawowWow,” which fairly necessitated the “variation” tag, which I further find high-larious unto itself.

If your puzzle itch hasn’t been scratched, I’ve also got the 21x Wall Street Journal puzzle this weekend, and on Thursday my 50th New York Times grid goes to print.

Happy solving, friends!


13 thoughts on ““Sounds Painful”

  1. Hi, Ross. Barring any other information, and of course being anything other than knowledgeable on the matter, I’m disappointed on your behalf that an effective treatment has been stalled. Let’s hope, though, that that iteration of the drug and the study in which you participated were steps in a productive direction.

    On an issue of wording, please let me offer a friendly suggestion that there are two ways—as there usually are, at least—and that your response might be better described as reactive, rather than reactionary.

    • It’s a tough spot to be in to respect the science behind the decision–I gather it had to do with side effects I didn’t personally experience–and regret not being able to avail myself of the option. The disappointment has been fading over time, at least. And! That’s a pretty hilarious usage mistake 🙂 I’ll amend it, but I did get a nice chuckle out of my error…

  2. Welp, that’s the first time I realized a theme and got misty eyed. For what it’s worth, I also giggled as all the OWs popped out at me. Crossword Achievement Unlocked. Hate to hear about the pain and the end of the study. I hope you find some comfort soon. Thanks for sharing your struggles.

  3. Thanks for the puzzle, Ross, and sorry to hear about the medical setback. I look forward to the day when you are less productive constructor because you’re out of the Goldilocks zone. Glad there’s a reservoir of those 100 themelesses that we can draw from when you’re able to do other things.

    • Thanks as ever for dropping by, Rich. I’m not too terribly sure what to do with these puzzles! I only make themelesses when I don’t have a theme idea queued up, so they don’t hugely feel as though I’ve made them *for* anyone but myself. We’ll see. Maybe Parker wants to zine ’em up!

      • Seeing you do a themeless would be like watching LeBron play football. I mean, I’m sure he’d be good at it and everything, but I can’t help feeling that it sort of misses the point of LeBron.

  4. I’m not crying, my duct sprung a leak. There are so many biologicals out there, that will eventually be the right partnership with your condition. I am currently on Skyrizi, and can attest to it’s amazing results with Psoriatic Arthritis after numerous trials on other meds. I still have heard very little about your condition and I work in Pharmaceuticals. If you have strong support, that is half the battle. I still haven’t solved a single puzzle without help, I’m just saying….

    • Ah! I’m so very happy you’re getting some Skyrizi relief! And, honestly, I’m not in a position to complain. I’ve got support from all quarters. Thanks for solving, Karen!

  5. I’m so sorry that you’re going through all of that!
    Question (not a criticism!): aren’t repeated words usually only used for the theme, as you did with “ow”? “Away” showed up twice (9D and 37D), yet those don’t appear to be theme-related. Although you may wish to run AWAY from your pain! {hugs}

    • You are correct, Leslee! I thought about trying to excise all the other O-W strings, but satisfied myself with the morbid justification that the theme answers simply can’t contain all the ouchies. Alas 😀

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