Sunday, July 18, 2010

From NPL to NPR

Spoiler alert:  If you haven't solved last week's NPR puzzle and still want to, stop reading here.

Last week Will Shortz used a puzzle I wrote as the weekly NPR Weekend Edition Sunday listener challenge.  But just as he rewrites roughly half of the author's clues in a typical New York Times crossword puzzle, so did he do a once-over on this puzzle to get it fit for the air.

When I submitted it to Will over breakfast on July 4th at the annual National Puzzlers' League conference, it went like this:  "Take the letters in the phrase Space Needle, and rearrange them to name a popular weight loss technique."  The intended answer was Deep Cleanse.

It was timely since we were in Seattle at the time, and the wordplay was fine, but there were two problems with the puzzle.  

First, not everyone has heard of the Deep Cleanse, certainly fewer people than have heard of the Space Needle.

Second, a puzzle whose answer is the phrase Deep Cleanse probably fails the so-called "breakfast test" known to crossword constructors. The idea is that many people solve the crossword in their newspaper every day over breakfast, and would prefer not to see distressing words in the grid. This is why you will not see HITLER, CANCER, RAPE or VOMIT in your crossword puzzle.

The Deep Cleanse, without being too graphic, is a liquid diet designed to flush the contents of your digestive system and rid the body of impurities. Some people consider it revolutionary, and others consider it hokum, but many will agree that it's kind of gross.

Enter ace editor Will Shortz, who immediately found an elegant solution to salvage the puzzle. He gave Deep Cleanse as the starting point, defining it unobjectionably as a way to rid the body of toxins or clear the pores. This in turn leaves Space Needle as a more pleasing destination for those who solve the puzzle, and since everyone is familiar with it, it's a more fair answer.

A brilliant bit of editing, I would say. And that is why Will Shortz is Will Shortz.

No comments: