Saturday, July 30, 2016: “A Hunger Artist”

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Solving time: 43:44, which puts today’s puzzle as the second fastest Saturday that I’ve ever completed. Easy as performing a BIT PART (53A: It doesn’t have much to say) in a movie.

Puzzle quality:

“But his happiest moment was when the morning came and an enormous breakfast was brought for them, at his expense, on which they flung themselves with the keen appetite of healthy men after a weary night of wakefulness.”

-“A HUNGER ARTIST” (34A: 1922 Kafka short story)

No theme.

I don’t have very much time today to write a full blog post, so it’s fortunate that I also managed to solve the puzzle quickly.

This was a beautiful puzzle, like an enormous breakfast after seven consecutive and tiring nights of drab puzzles. It struck a deft balance of proper noun arcana, snappy puns, and tough vocabulary. While my solving experience felt incredibly fluid, there were still multiple points where I had to stop and think carefully about the challenging clues.

My first mistake was to write in METAMORPHOSIS for 34A: 1922 Kafka short story, but I was doubtful of that answer from the start; it was too much of a gimme for a Saturday, since “Metamorphosis” is probably Kafka’s most famous work. Besides, the title for that story is “The Metamorphosis,” so that answer technically wouldn’t have been correct.

Nonetheless, I was able to fill in TINA FEY for 18A: “Mean Girls” screenwriter on my first go around the grid, and I also caught on to the pun at 8D: “F and G, but not H” (NOTES) very quickly. After that, the UR (upper-right) corner of the grid flew by fairly quickly; as a patent-holder myself, I enjoyed the answer to 8A: Basis of a patent, NEW IDEADEFEATIST is such a Saturday-level answer for 12D: “Glass half empty” sort, which most people would answer with the word PESSIMIST. It’s hard to get, but at the same time, it’s not so obscure that hardly anyone would be familiar with the word. You would think that the clue 16A: “Something John Adams and John Quincy Adams each had” would refer to the familial relationship between the two presidents, but instead the answer referred to the fact that both only had ONE TERM.

I was reading Matt Gaffney’s post about today’s puzzle on Mr. Rex Parker’s crossword blog; it suggests that some long crossword answers are “better” than others. I thought about the arbitrary nature of Gaffney’s criteria. Who’s to say that the phrase CHANCE MEETING (32A: Start of many a romantic comedy) is a “good” or “bad” phrase? Why is AEROSOL CAN (29D: Sprayer) uninteresting? I can understand why you would say that certain short answers are objectionable; traditional crosswordese like “EEG.
“ATTU,” or “ASL” are icky because they are phonetically quirky or unpleasant to pronounce, but that obviously isn’t true for a phrase like PLATELET COUNT (35D: Hematologist’s measure). The act of counting platelets or studying hematology might be uninteresting, but the phrase itself can’t be classified as intrinsically bland. Gaffney suggested that words with higher Scrabble value are more compelling. Does that mean that an excellent grid-spanning answer has to have a “Q” or an “X” or a “Z” somewhere in it? If anything, those could make the words uglier, at least on a phonetic basis.

Just food for thought.

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