Rock Around The Clock  
"Midrash" by Todd Gross and George Barany (June 2016)


GB:
As his biosketch shows, Todd Gross is one of the most innovative constructors currently plying his craft in the New York Times and other venues, It's been a privilege and a pleasure to share on our website some of Todd's creations that are a bit off the track from what the MAINSTREAM_MEDIA is looking for; the present puzzle is but the most recent example. Solve the puzzle, if you will, with this Bill Haley & His Comets classic (1955) playing in the background. I will let Todd pick up the narrative, although there will yet be an interjection or two from me.

TG: The story of this puzzle starts in July of 2014, when I first got the idea of creating a book of tribute crosswords. Each puzzle would be inspired by a different constructor, in most cases the puzzle's theme would be based on multiple puzzles by that constructor. My inspiration for this was Anne Fox, who was famous for puzzles with several long intersecting theme answers [usually based on literature, and usually related to a specific holiday, especially Christmas]. As one amazing example, see this puzzle (27x!) that commemorated the U.S. bicentennial. Many people eagerly awaited the next Anne Fox Sunday puzzle, but in the decades since she stopped publishing (she passed away in 1983), no one else has created a similar sort of interlocking puzzle ... even though computers make it easier to build such a puzzle now.

I had already written a tribute puzzle, based on Joe Krozel's famous LIES puzzle [you can read about it in this interview I did for Wordplay], so I thought I'd try creating a puzzle like Anne Fox's Sunday specials. Moreover, I thought that I could create an entire book of such tribute puzzles. As a proof-of-concept, I created 4 puzzles, and e-mailed several constructors I know (including George) to see what they thought of the idea. I was really excited to have an idea for a different kind of puzzle book, so no real competition. Alas, everyone I told about it (including George) thought it wouldn't be successful. So I scrapped the idea of a Kickstarter campaign, but continued creating tribute puzzles. Not counting a couple of false starts, I created 12 tribute puzzles, including four that were Sunday-sized.

In January of 2015, George remembered my idea, and asked if I could donate one of these puzzles as a prize for his Enigma Variations crossword metapuzzle contest. I wrote up this description of some of my Sunday-sized vaporbook puzzles. As luck would have it, the winner [David Krol of Burbank, CA] demurred on the Anne Fox and Frances Hansen tribute options, electing instead to go with a tribute to Tap Osborn called "Rock Around The Clock."

According to Crossword Puzzle Compendium (1980), a book by Norton Bramesco and Jordan Lasher, "... in 1972, he [Tap Osborn] simply became obsessed with the idea of creating a puzzle of his own. He selected as his trademark the puzzle poem, an incredibly difficult challenge because each line in the verse has to have 21 or 23 letters in it." But I'd already created a puzzle poem in tribute to Frances Hansen, so instead I created a "day in the life" puzzle, where the theme entries are based on a specific theme, and each clue refers to a time of day ... starting at the top in the morning, finishing at the bottom at night. Tap had two such puzzles with Father's Day as their theme (BTW, Happy Father's Day, everyone!) as their theme, on June 19, 1977 and June 15, 1980 respectively, and (not surprisingly) one for Mother's Day on May 9, 1982 [links take you to the puzzles, as compiled in the xwordinfo.com database].

From this, the idea for "Rock Around The Clock"—where every theme entry would be the title of a rock song related to a specific time of day—came fairly easily. I combed through Rolling Stone magazine's list of their top 500 songs to identify time-specific titles, and hoped that title lengths and times of day would match up.

GB: I've taken the liberty of listing the songs in the order that they appear in the puzzle, along with Todd's clues and appropriate YouTube links [years in parentheses refer to when the song was released, not necessarily to the video we link to].

 

  • Wake Up Little Susie 6:30 A.M. (Everly Brothers, 1958)
  • Hit the Road, Jack 8:00 A.M. (Ray Charles, 1961)
  • Shop Around 11:00 A.M. (Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, 1961)
  • Beast of Burden 2:00 P.M. (Rolling Stones, 1978)
  • School's Out 3:30 P.M. (Alice Cooper, 1972)
  • Running On Empty 11:00 P.M. (Jackson Browne, 1977)
  • The Sound of Silence 3:00 A.M. (Simon and Garfunkel, 1964)
  • TG: I was even able to add in an extra bit of cleverness. 3 A.M. was chosen as the time for THE SOUND OF SILENCE because that song was on Simon and Garfunkel's album titled Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. Did anyone catch that while solving the puzzle?

    I don't have a lot to say about the nontheme entries, except that on the whole they're a bit harder than I would have liked. In particular, the first three Across entries are all fairly tough, even though they're all pretty short. I wanted to keep the word count to 140, the normal maximum for a New York Times Sunday puzzle.

    I hope everyone enjoyed this tribute puzzle, and no one considered it a BEAST_OF_BURDEN.

    GB: Todd finished working on the puzzle quite a while ago, and we were just waiting for the most opportune time to roll it out. In the meantime, according to the guiding philosophy of our cruciverbal consortium, I was able to arrange some top-flight peer review (see list on the puzzle's main page) on relatively short notice. We decided to change some of the answer words (particularly a couple of Naticks) and ease up on clue difficulty. However, out of respect for Todd's formidable construction skills, his original version is also made available.

    A few more points to share. Consensus least favorite fill seems to have been ANN_B (47-Down) and OOT (118-Down). Most worrisome dupes, SILENT_K (60-Across) and A.M./P.M. (96-Across). Some considered BEAST_OF_BURDEN an outlier, and more scholarship on this point will be welcome. Comparison was made to this Merl Reagle puzzle.

    If you want to tell others about this particular page, refer them to http://tinyurl.com/rockclockmidrash

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