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Puzzle Solution #2: What the Dickens?

Mo-Larr Eternian dentistIt has been a week since the publication of my second Bachblog crossword puzzle, and it’s time to publish the solution. Along with the solution, I will subject you to my deconstruction of it.

I have included a generous amount of “spoiler space” at the top of this entry so that those of you who have not finished my puzzle will not have that opportunity cruelly taken away. If you haven’t yet completed it, avert your eyes. If you haven’t even started it, then by all means get to it. It will be time well spent.

Spoiler space begins here

Speaking of crossword puzzles, Wisconsinite Michael David—a frequent participant in Twin Cities Scrabble tournaments—had a second puzzle published in the New York Times just yesterday. Michael is a real crossword puzzle constructor (he doesn’t just play one on a blog), and he is not the only localish tournament Scrabble player to be published by the Times. California player and occasional Twin Cities tournament participant Andrea Michaels has been a contributor to Will Shortz’s puzzle page for several years.

Still speaking of crossword puzzles (and why not?), here is a video of the St. Paul Friends of the Library’s first annual crossword puzzle tournament:

Three players from our local Scrabble clubs participated in the individual portion of the competition: Jim Kramer, Anne Loring and Carl Voss. Carl finished in sixth place, just seconds away from qualifying for the three-person final. Pioneer Press coverage of the story is still available on its Twincities.com website.

The second annual Friends of the Library tournament is scheduled for February 2, 2013. See the TheFriends.org website for details.[1]

Puzzle solution

You will notice that I have once again managed to cleverly “sign” my puzzle.[2]

Puzzle answers

The bad

There are four clues and answers that did not please me. I’m guessing you might agree.

Number 64-Across is the first of these. The clue reads “Protocol providing access to 44-Down grp.” and the answer is NLA. The referenced answer of 44-Down is PCLAN. NLA is an acronym standing for Network Level Authentication, an obscure term requiring specialized knowledge. I might have found a way to wriggle out of using this answer, though I was limited by the need to find three five-letter answers starting with (left to right) P, U and C. I thought the three answers (PCLAN, UHAUL and CIRCA) would be easily enough found, making NLA’s obscurity unimportant. Unfortunately, PCLAN was a more difficult answer for many than I thought it would be. I rather liked the idea of having PCLAN and NLA cross, since they are related terms, but this probably was not a good idea. A more straightforward clue to PCLAN might have helped.

LARR was the answer to 54-Across. The clue “Mo-_____, Eternian dentist” was pretty a specific one about a fringe Masters of the Universe character (that’s him at the top of the page). It is easily googled, at least.

The answer to number 9-Down was used in desperation. I have no other excuse. ANBE, an anagram of BEAN, was the answer to “Mixed-up British comedic television character name.” It refers to Rowan Atkinson’s Mr Bean, of course. This clue and answer combination would never pass muster with Will Shortz.

Last, TSY is the airport code for Tasikmalaya, Indonesia. I suspect you have never flown through that particular hub. This sort of very obscure answer is sometimes found in the crossword puzzles, but I still don’t like it. Again, it was desperation born of having to fit words through NICKLEBY that led to this stinker at 10-Down.


An experienced puzzle solver and baseball-fan friend caught an error in the clue for ERA (52-Down). I used “Result of the calculation ((R * 9) / IP)” as my clue. The R should have been ER. Only earned runs (ER) are used to calculate earned-run average (ERA). Since using ER in a clue for ERA isn’t really acceptable, I’ve changed the clue to read, “Bob Gibson’s was 1.12 in 1968: Abbrev.”[3]

I have added a question mark to the clue to 37-Down (it now reads “Per follower?”). The answer to that clue is SONA, as in “persona.” I believe the question mark here more closely adheres to puzzle conventions for this sort of clue.

The theme

I think my theme is much more successful than the one in my first puzzle. The feedback I’ve received has been positive. The keys to the puzzle are contained in the answers to 7-Down and 42-Down.[4] The clue to 7-Down makes this clear:

With 42-down, the greatest writer England has never known? Answer is a clue to 16, 29, 35 & 37, 44, and 59-across

The answers WILLIAM and DICKENS are reflected in the answers to the five referenced across clues. HALNICKLEBY combines the names of Shakespeare’s Prince Hal and Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby. The other answers pair Iago and Oliver Twist, Ophelia and Ebenezer Scrooge, Puck (a.k.a. Robin Goodfellow, the sprite from A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and Fagin, Romeo and Mr Barkis.

In the clues for the combined characters, I try to pun on some aspect of the characters or their names. Some are more successful than others. “One taking an evil turn?” for IAGOTWIST might be the weakest.

Mr Barkis, the lovable comedic cart driver from David Copperfield is the least well-known character of the ten used. His courtship of David’s nurse Peggotty consisted entirely of his asking David to tell her that “Barkis is willin’.” He is a favorite character of mine, but probably stumps more than a few puzzle-doers in this case.

For good measure, I threw in a pair of “bonus” theme-related answers. BARD at 1-Across and BOZ at 43-Across.

The verdict

I feel like I made some progress with his puzzle. I didn’t make the unforgivable mistake of using “uncrossed” answers, and I didn’t use a theme incomprehensible to anyone but myself. For the most part I avoided esoteric words. On the other hand, I think many of my clues are too dense, particularly for some of the short, commonly-used answers. Many clues are too verbose. The result is a puzzle more difficult for casual solvers than I had hoped it would be.

It took me two days to construct the puzzle (one day to fit answers into a grid, and a second day to write the clues). This is roughly the same amount of time I spent on the first puzzle. I intend to work more deliberately on the next one. Maybe it will show.


  1. Loud in the LibraryThe Friends of the Library group is sponsoring a series of trivia contests/live concerts in the James J. Hill Library. This is the “Book It: The Party – Loud in the Library” series. I attended the three fall 2012 events with my friends Paul and Wolfie. We formed a team named “Hüsker Don’t.” Four events are scheduled for early 2013. If you think you can beat us at music trivia, see the TheFriends.org website for dates and times. [^]
  2. I included STEVE as an answer on my first puzzle. [^]
  3. Two early proofreaders of my puzzle caught an even more egregious error. I used a clue identifying Sonja Henne for the answer SONYA. I corrected this one before publishing the puzzle on my blog. [^]
  4. The puzzle’s title, “A Tale of Two Gentlemen,” is another pretty good hint. I would’ve been happier with it had the first part been from Shakespeare and the second part from Dickens rather than the other way around. [^]

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