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Author Topic: Brand new - questions.  (Read 3108 times)

Rich in Atlanta

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Brand new - questions.
« on: December 21, 2011, 06:31:37 AM »
I'm new here and new to construction. This is a great site; I've read through the various hints and suggestions (once - I know I'll need to go back many times) and I've already learned a lot.

The first thing I learned was that my initial idea for a theme was bad. I had thought about answers in the form of:


6 - 8, 6 - 8. I thought this was great as it would fit nicely in a 15x15 grid. Now I realize that I would have to have an 8 - 6, 8 - 6 mirroring it on the bottom of the grid, with the same theme and format, or I will lose the symmetry of the grid and theme. Also, this doesn't seem to fit any theme description that I've read; and lastly, it appears that ANDTHE is too long a phrase. Two brief questions.

First, is there any way to rescue something like this, or is it just a generally bad idea?

Secondly, in the absence of a formal theme, is it acceptable or (especially) desirable to have a background 'theme' in the sense that many of the answers turn out to fit a common category (band names again, for example) though they are fairly clued in another meaning? e.g. Supremes, Temptations, etc.

Thank you.


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Re: Brand new - questions.
« Reply #1 on: December 21, 2011, 12:30:23 PM »
One way to rescue your theme is to combine them thusly:

This gives you two 14 character theme answers, so ideally you would need either:
A:  A third entry of 14 characters related to the theme (song/album title or other factoid)
B: A shorter (but not too short) title or fact than can be put in the middle of the puzzle.

Option A seems better to me.

As to your second question, I have seen puzzles (themed and unthemed) with fill that had a lot do do with a specific subject.  Sometimes this was related to the main theme, sometimes it was symmetrical (making a theme of its own), sometime is was not.  However, it never broke grid symmetry (where the grid squares are), just placement of the fill words.  I have not seen one like this in a while, bu then again I have not been doing much solving lately.

I have only once seen an unsymmetrical grid and that was for theme purposes, the black squares formed a dollar sign in the middle of the grid.

I hope this helps, I am a newbie when it comes to construction, but I am trying to absorb as much as I can.



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Re: Brand new - questions.
« Reply #2 on: December 21, 2011, 08:12:42 PM »
Hey Rich--welcome to the site.

My advice on this theme idea is the same that you initially had yourself: not really worth pursuing. It's very difficult at first to come up with theme ideas and decide how good they are, so let me try to lay out some of the problems I see here. If you still wanted to give yourself some practice by putting the two 14x answers in a grid along with some kind of related answer across the middle row that might give you some useful initial experience at designing a grid and then filling it. FYI, you can never have an uneven number of even-lettered theme entries in a 15x or 21x grid while still preserving grid and theme symmetry, as the unpaired entry has to occupy the middle row, and therefore must be odd in length (barring some kind of rare theme revealer that you can split 4/4, 5/5, etc.).

First, this theme type resembles list and quote themes, in that puzzles as a whole have moved away from these bases and towards themes involving some kind of wordplay. SRATM parses nicely into two parts; in reality though it's simply one giant phrase without much else to it. To give you an example of what I mean, take the first half: SMOKEYROBINSON. On its own it's not particularly interesting, esp. when it's paired with ANDTHEMIRACLES. SMOKEY, however, is also the name of a fictional this name could lead you to think of a theme involving real-life people whose first names are also the names of fictional bears. I'm tired and can't think of many fictional bears off the top of my head--YOGI and BOOBOO are all I got--but there are actual people named YOGIBERRA and BOOBOOSTEWART (actor). These names and lengths are rough examples, as YOGIXXX probably sounds too close to bear and BOOBOOXXX seems fairly obscure, but hopefully they still give you some idea of what I mean re: wordplay vs. listing.

Second, the only way I see the current theme as workable is if it were some kind of tribute puzzle. The problem of course is that this group is now quite dated for most people. To do a tribute puzzle you'd have to include some very famous songs of theirs that will fit symmetrically into a grid--no easy task. Tribute puzzles are another theme type that's become very rare nowadays. Not only are the puzzles themselves typically either loved or hated based on whether the solver knows anything about the honoree, they're difficult to construct b/c it's very hard to achieve the desired theme denseness while using entries that are all fair to the majority of solvers (who are not experts on the tribute figure). IMO your chosen group would just be too recondite this many years after their heyday. The NYT ran a well-constructed Beach Boys tribute puzzle a few months ago, on a Wed. IIFC, and even that one was pretty divisively received...and they're much more well-known than Smokey.

In answer to your second question, I'd say that if you want to make a puzzle with a certain theme then that theme needs to be your primary focus. A theme should either be front and center or non-existent. You never want background subtlety to compromise your main theme or the overall puzzle at all. If you were constructing a typical 15x puzzle with a theme completely unrelated to R&B then you'd only work in an R&B reference if it were the best fit for the fill. One of the advice columns on this site mentions explicitly this topic: the forcing in of certain theme entries that are uniquely special to the constructor, to the detriment of the surrounding fill. I think that's some of the best advice on this site. Nancy Salomon is tremendously knowledgeable and helpful, and if nothing else you should read and reread her advice until you hear it whispering in your ear every time you're trying to hammer in some entry that you love but that doesn't fill well. If you were making a Fri/Sat-style themeless and were able to fit in two R&B groups it might be a nice addition to the puzzle as "background." Like Nancy says, though, you'd only do that if doing so enhanced your fill overall. Otherwise you dump the entry and move on to something else that allows you to fill more with more sparkle. You'll probably find something else you like better anyway.

Finally, it's perfectly fine to have theme answers relate to one another in some way but be clued in another way that doesn't link them. You can leave it to the solver to find the connection himself. For example, let's take your two R&B groups listed at the end. Maybe you have a theme of R&B groups clued as follows: SUPREMES {All powerful trio?}; TEMPTATIONS {Beguiling quintet?}, etc.

I hope that all makes sense and is useful to you. Please feel free to contact me.

Rich in Atlanta

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Re: Brand new - questions.
« Reply #3 on: December 21, 2011, 11:30:38 PM »
Thank you both for your responses. BradleyRobbins, the problem I see with joining them into 14 letter answers is that there is then no way to clue them as other than what they are, which is not what I was hoping for. In any case, I'm ready to abandon that approach altogether.

MidnightMover, that was very helpful. Group names (or perhaps backup group names) was something I was considering as an alternative - likely in a non-themed puzzle. Names like Supremes (Burger, Frankfurter and Black, among others) or Temptations (Gold, silver and the flesh, for example) can be clued with varying degress of obscurity fairly easily and without reference to the bands themselves.

Sticking with musical groups for purposes of discussion (and this is all intended as primarily a learning experience at this point), I had considered 3 approaches, and would appreciate any feedback on which seems better (or if any are workable). None of these would be specifically 'themed'.

One - bands of a certain era, R and B/Motown for example, all clued as above, in reference to an alternative meaning.

Two: Back-up bands, as in Miracles, Blackhearts, FamilyStone - again clued as something else. This I've considered with or without a clue like this: "Topeka Santa Fe connection, or a hint to several answers in this puzzle." Answer - ANDTHE. Or I suppose it could be starred clues, which I guess would make it a theme. I'm very up in the air about the 'ANDTHE' thing. In some ways I think it's clever, but I'm really not sure if it works. 

Lastly, bands from different eras, again adding groups that can be clued separately from their band identity, like Journey, Nirvana, etc. With perhaps a 'unifying' answer of ROCKOFAGES.

Looking forward to any opinions.


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Re: Brand new - questions.
« Reply #4 on: December 22, 2011, 05:09:08 PM »
Hey -

I like R & B / Motown bands the most of your ideas.  RANDB or MOTOWN would be a nice revealer. I'm still not sure what you'd do, though.  I would certainly try to get the Sherlock Holmes story "The Five Orange Pips" in there, though!

You could consider a Robinson theme. Entries like SMOKEYBEAR (10), JACKIEONASSIS (13 - JACKIEKENNEDY would be just as good), and BROOKSANDDUNN (13) would be okay.  Could you do anything with Edward G., Edwin Arlington, or Sugar Ray? I'm not sure that it would work.

My experience, limited though it is, is that a vast majority of my theme ideas fail for one of two reasons: (1) I can't come up with that last good theme entry I need (I think that the Robinson idea looks like one of those), or (2) I can't get the letter counts to work out right.  Do I have any advice? None except to keep trying.

- VB

Todd G

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Re: Brand new - questions.
« Reply #5 on: December 30, 2011, 12:14:35 PM »

Your theme ideas are mostly list based...that is, they're lists of related items and that's about it.  These are nowadays considered boring by your average editor, and aren't likely to be published.  For instance, one of my earliest submissions to Will Shortz was a puzzle with five 15-letter song titles, all #1 songs.  Will said no.

Your idea of using ROCKOFAGES to tie the bands together adds an interesting twist and could maybe work...if it matched the theme entries.  For instance using IRONBUTTERFLY and THESTONEROSES (Iron Age, Stone Age).  Then ROCKOFAGES makes a great final theme entry.

Another idea is to take your idea of back up bands...and put them in the grid vertically and in reverse, so the bands go "back up" the grid.  That would add an interesting and novel twist.

But avoid themes that are just lists of related entries, they aren't likely to be published.

Good luck!


P.S.:  Another early submission had the theme entries TIEAYELLOW / RIBBONROUNDTHE / OLEOAKTREE, where I also managed to place TONY, ORLANDO, AND, DAWN strategically in order in the grid (not clued with respect to the group).  It too was rejected.

But I still think it's a pretty cool puzzle.


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