“Extended Family”

by Ben Bass & Ross Trudeau

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

Big shout-out to friend of the blog and all-around mensch Ben Bass, who is currently asea somewhere near the coast of Denmark. (For serious.) Some months ago he approached me about cluing one of the 100+ themeless grids I’ve made and (never clued) over the last couple years. Generally speaking, if I *want* to make a crossword and don’t have a theme concept I’m excited about, I’ll sit down and hammer out a freestyle grid. But I’m still not sure I want to do anything with them; they tend to leave me cold, for whatever reason. And so! I readily agreed to hand Ben–whose word play acumen and sense of humor I’ve long appreciated–a themed puzzle to wrangle. And lo!

Thanks much to Matt and Spelling Beelieber for test solving today’s grid! Thoughts and spoilers for “Extended Family” below…

Ben: Hej from Copenhagen, Denmark, where I’m wrapping up a European vacation. Of course, location is immaterial these days, as evidenced by today’s collaboration. Ross sent this lovable grid from Boston, I wrote a set of clues in Evanston, Illinois, and here we are.

What a pleasure to work with such an expert constructor and clever good guy. Thanks Ross for inviting me into Rossworld. Much like  Scandinavia, I’d happily visit again!

Ross: I’d be interested to hear which version of this y’all prefer. I was torn between a few priorities. On the one hand, I couldn’t decide whether BIG STRETCH or OH BIG STRETCH or OOH BIG STRETCH made for a more satisfying revealer. On the other, I couldn’t decided if I wanted to use it as a *title* or a revealer proper. And lastly, I wasn’t sure how much to prioritize the maximum length of the C__A__T answers. (I was 100% sure there could be *only* one C, A, and T in each answer.) And in fact, as you can see, CLOSING ARGUMENT (15) and CONJUGAL VISIT (13) exceeded the max length of the version I settled on (CORN HARVEST, 11).

Ultimately, all of these priorities are very much a reflection of what I think the most satisfying solve will feel like, though of course plotting that out requires an intellectual empathy that I expect I’ll be refining *forever*. In the end, a lot of this stuff is just to taste and a product of whatever gives you the best and most satisfying brain pops.

So! What say you? Drop a reaction in the comments!

Happy solving, friends!


8 thoughts on ““Extended Family”

  1. As sit beneath our tuxedo CAT, I am amazed at how well the BIG STRETCH was graphically displayed by this grid choice. It must be hard to abandon entries like “catlike reflex” and “conjugal visit” but the visual delight a solver gets from that 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 square spacing more than compensates. The repeated poker clueing was sneaky as I kept looking among the ashes for clinkers before returning to the green felt table; RHINO clue was outstanding and a bonus palindrome at “qaanaaq” is certain to raise eyebrows and chortles. Thanks for providing an alternative to slogging through the NYTXW sunday.

    • Glad to hear this, George. The mini poker theme was all Ben. And for whatever reason, features like the n+1 “growth” of the stretching C-A-T are, like, core to my personal appreciation of puzzle elegance. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. BIG STRETCH was perfect for the revealer, although I initially misread and entered CAT SCRATCH which was how my cat would routinely wake me. There being no apparent Ted Nugent related clues/answers (except maybe the five circled CATs), I realized what a stretch my error was and the true revelation became obvious. Also, a tip of the hat regarding 41A. Thanks for another terrific puzzle!

    • It’s funny, I interpret my own cat’s initial morning scratch at her (fraying) scratching post as both a stretch and an early-morning claw unsheathing. Two birds with one scratch!

  3. I can’t remember the last time I was so delighted by a revealer. Here I was thinking this phrase was semi-unique (in that I believed others certainly said it too, but having come to it independently) to my relationship with a feline former cohabitant, only to find out that it’s a crossworthy entry in its own right. It makes me feel connected to others through a little window of shared experience in appreciating our smaller, fuzzier, companions.

    • Thanks for saying, so, PA! It’s probably one of those phrases that enjoys, like, convergent evolution… and for similar reasons it has the added benefit vis-a-vis “crossworthiness” in that, with a few crossings, a non-cat-cohabitator can probably see and understand the context!

  4. 41A reminded me of a sharp-minded friend’s response to the question, Can you name any Symbolists? Sure, three: Efrem, Sr., Efrem, Jr., and Stephanie.

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