Of Course
"Midrash" by David Hanson and George Barany (June 2014; updated Winter 2016)


DH:  This puzzle took a roundabout route to become the one used in the Tournament.  When George and I were paired up to create a puzzle for the tournament, he had an idea he wanted to try out.  After a bit of back-and-forth emailing, we decided we had enough good material for a modification of that theme to perhaps be NYT-publishable.  That was great, but it left us with a hole tournament-wise.

We met at the Bruegger’s in Roseville to go over the NYT puzzle and discuss the tournament puzzle.  In passing, I mentioned I had a puzzle with a Minnesota connection that might work.  It was based on four ten-letter answers in a pinwheel arrangement: LAKE ITASCA, SAINT LOUIS, NEW ORLEANS, and OL MAN RIVER.  The three geographic locations began in roughly the right locations in the grid, but the song title was out of place, both thematically and geographically.  We tried playing around with a couple of ideas, but couldn’t make anything work there.  I sent George an electronic copy of my puzzle, and we went our separate ways.

The next time I saw the puzzle was after George had done his first bit of magic on it.  I had rejected both SAINT PAUL (9 letters) and MINNEAPOLIS (11 letters) as theme entries because of the mismatch in length with the other locations.  George saw the very simple solution I had missed: TWIN CITIES fit the ten-letter restriction perfectly and was actually more inclusive geographically. While using that prevented us from using the term ‘City’ in cluing STL or NO, we could easily get around that.  He then redesigned the grid so that the four geographic locations were hit in order as you moved from the top of the grid downward.

After working on a couple of grids with this arrangement, George performed his second bit of magic for this puzzle.  Noting that the theme entries took four rows of the puzzle left eleven rows with nothing to do but hold the puzzle in place.  But there are 11 letters in MISSISSIPPI. He placed a circle within each of those eleven rows and assigned it a letter to spell the river.  And he did it in a manner that roughly maps out the course of the river.  Sure, it’s not perfect, starting North of LAKE ITASCA, and missing the big loop near its source where it flows northward, but we’re trying to build a crossword puzzle, not map de La Salle’s travels.

Having  those eleven additional cells filled put some tough restraints on the fill.  Each of those letters essentially has three words going through it, rather than just two, so it was more than adding an additional 25%+ to theme cells.  One of the five-letter entries, SLIER, actually already had 80% of it forced by the themes.

The fill itself has a couple of references to the Mississippi, if given enough poetic license.  The river is like America’s WATERSLIDE, going down the center of the country.  The SILT winds up near the river’s mouth, and even though he was mainly known for salt-water diving, even Jacques COUSTEAU dips a toe in.

GB: Let me start by saying what a delight it has been to collaborate with Dave, both on this puzzle and on the one (or more precisely, the family of ones) that we have high hopes for with the New York Times or some other publication.  I wanted to give him the first shot at the narrative, and have made just very minor edits, plus added a few links [including to earlier versions]. We should also note that Victor Barocas, undoubtedly one of the most accomplished, creative, and prolific constructors in Minnesota, wore his "crossword editor" hat very well indeed.  Victor values the prospective solver experience above all else, including "stupid constructor tricks," and was ever-so-vigilant about ensuring that the words chosen would be accessible to Tournament contestants at the amateur level.  For example, we were quite happy with a grid that featured TROUSSEAU, a perfectly good word in the working vocabulary of every Frenchman who is interested in French ladies garments, but Victor sent us back to the drawing board, with concrete suggestions to go with the general exhortations.  Then, after internal beta testing amongst all of the Tournament constructors, Victor noted a few clues that could use a bit of tweaking, and he made the final choice of the puzzle's title (see next paragraph).  Bravo!

So, what did you think of the final title:  "Of Course"? With 20-20 hindsight, pretty good, huh?  Our original idea, "A River Runs Through It," was uniformly deemed as giving away the game too easily, and even the ingenious "Twain's World" may have been a tad too easy [click here and here for imdb links to the respective movies that those proposed titles riff on.] 


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