PROGRAM: [Across Lite]
Also, this letter originally appeared in McSweeney's #37. Get your copy here.Hey McSweeney's, While making my latest crossword, I had to stop for a good couple of minutes to contemplate two answers I'd managed to fit in the southwest corner: VIMEO (clued as "YouTube competitor") and AMANPOUR ("News anchor Christiane").
Both fit, that's always a plus.
Both were new, never-before-used entries, and us puzzlemakers love being the first to debut new words in crosswords.
But the fact that VIMEO crossed AMANPOUR at the M really bothered me. Was that unfair? Just how well-known are those entries? Would most people have heard of both words?
I think about things like this all day. Crossword constructors are supposed to go out of their way to avoid obscure crossings. When we have to rely upon an ungainly entry, like the Belgian river MEUSE, to hold our grids together, we'd better be damned sure that the words going the other way are all common entries. If we crossed say the first E in MEUSE with something like SOTER (you recall the years of his papacy, 166-175 AD, no doubt), we'd be stuck with a blind crossing. Blind because that crossing square is essentially unsolvable without either and encyclopedic knowledge of arcana or mad Googling skills.
Among certain circles, these blind crossings are called Naticks. I should know, because one of my puzzles led to the coining of that term. In my Sunday New York Times crossword of July 6, 2008, two obscure entries crossed at 1-Across, of all places. "Treasure Island illustrator, 1911" clued N C WYETH, while "Town at the eighth mile of the Boston Marathon" clued (you guessed it) NATICK.
The N was completely blind.
I remember thinking at the time that it was a tough but essentially fair crossing. Then again, I live in Boston and have at least thought about running the Boston Marathon. So NATICK to me would have been a no-brainer. Not so to pretty much everyone else. Since WYETH's name began with two initials, that first letter could have been BATICK, HATICK, or MATICK. You get the idea.
This move was deemed extremely dickish, and the Natick Principle was formed: "If you include a proper noun that you cannot reasonably expect more than one-quarter of the solving public to have heard of, you must cross that noun with a reasonably common word or phrase."
So what do you think? Is VIMEO crossing AMANPOUR a Natick? Let me know.