Big Little Drama

Uncovering a town-nickname mystery - isn’t that what clues are for?

Published May 5, 2024

Hello everyone! After a week away, I’m ready to get back into the grid. Come with me!

But first, it’s been a sad week in the crossword community, as puzzle legend Nancy Schuster died at age 90. The inaugural winner of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in 1978, Nancy was involved in every tournament since, either as a solver, a proofreader, or a judge. There’s a great gallery of her ACPT photos here. A champion of the puzzle in more ways than one, she will be missed.

Clues you can use

Thursday, May 2 (New York Times, constructed by Brandon Koppy)

___ Limón, first Latina U.S. poet laureate = ADA

A 2001 MFA graduate from NYU, Ada Limón started her career at Condé Nast magazines before publishing her first poem collection, Lucky Wreck, four years later. She was named the 24th U.S. Poet Laureate in 2022, and wrote a poem for this fall’s NASA mission that will send a probe to find if Jupiter’s moon Europa might sustain life. Its conclusion:

We, too, are made of wonders, of great

and ordinary loves, of small invisible worlds,

of a need to call out through the dark.

Also named a Macarthur fellow in 2023, Limón has clearly lived her own words: “I want to try to be terrific. Even for an hour.”

Tuesday, April 30 (Vox, constructed by Juliana Tringali Golden)

Engineering competition inspired by a Japanese sport  = ROBOT-SUMO

This contest is rather straightforward: Two robots, usually no bigger than 2 feet by 2 feet, try to push each other out of the ring. The robots are equipped with ultrasonic and infrared sensors, and most are built with a flat, tilted blade in the front to help with the pushing. The sport can be rather frenetic, as these robots move a little bit faster than their 400-pound human counterparts. Do see if the World Robot Olympiad has a robot-sumo event coming to a town near you! 

Thursday, May 2 (USA Today, constructed by Marshal Herrmann)

South Korean legal drama about minor offenders  = JUVENILE JUSTICE

The theme of this crossword was “JU- JU-” phrases, such as JUMPIN’ JUMPIN’ and JUNGLE JUICE. This 2022 Netflix series fits right into the theme, with another very straightforward title: Judge Shim Eun-seok (played by Kim Hye-soo) weighs the cases of juveniles who come into her courtroom. A Decider review calls the show “about as close to an American-style procedural as Netflix or Korean TV gets.” 

There is no question that Korean dramas have grown in popularity over the past few years, and I fully expect to see more K-dramas popping up in crossword puzzles. Collider has a great roundup of Netflix’s most popular Korean shows, and I fully believe that “The Silent ___” (K-drama set on the Moon)” is a clue you could SEA very soon.

Monday, Apr. 29 (Atlas Obscura, by the students of the March 2024 “Creating Crossword Puzzles” course)

Nevada’s “Biggest Little City in the World” = RENO

Believe it or not, there was a time–1927, to be precise–when Reno’s famous entry arch did not bear that famous sobriquet:

Looking to revamp it in 1928, the city asked for a slogan, and awarded the $100 prize (about $1,800 in 2024) to G.A. Burns of Sacramento. But it has since been discovered that his submission, “The Biggest Little City in the World,” was applied to Reno 20 years earlier. In 2018, the most recent Reno arch reno cost nearly a quarter million, but it still proudly proclaims just how big and small the city is … no matter who first noticed it.

The eras tour

If you like your crosswords old, Crossword Craze is for you. As 2024 marks the centennial of Simon & Schuster’s O.G. crossword book, a great group of writers has been discussing daily newspaper puzzles from that era, showing quite vividly how much things have changed–but also how much has stayed the same.

If you prefer new crosswords, Defector’s Hoang-Kim Vu has a story for you: A wonderful recap of the 2024 ACPT, featuring many of the heavy hitters and their practice regimens. While you’re there, be sure to solve some Defector crosswords too! Some really great stuff.

With summer on the way, I hope you’ll be able to sit back soon and solve a puzzle on a beach. Until then, stay comfy and have fun puzzling!

Chris King is a longtime crossword commentator, and the author of five published puzzle books. His column appears on Questionist every Sunday. 

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