Where It Works

Being the Esteemed Man Of Culture that I am, I subscribe to the New York Times Crossword and make a point of doing it every day. I’ve gotten quite good at it in the last year! Anyway, there’s often a bit of humor in them, maybe be it the wry puzzles of Thursdays or an offbeat theme for a Sunday. Then there are days like today, where there’s a fun crossing.

44-Across was clued with “Risky thing to do close to flight time” and 44-Down “Start of a series.” The answers are, respectively, ‘PACK’ and ‘PILOT,’ the irony being that the pilot is of the television variety and has nothing to do with the flying sort of pilot, despite it crossing with a clue about flying (and last-minute packing). Look, it’s not as funny when you write it out like this, but it definitely got a chuckle out of me while solving today.

It’s also the sort of joke that would only work in a crossword puzzle; as my feeble attempt to translate it shows. It’s a crossword joke, so that’s where it works. You can make a similar joke elsewhere (something to do with a pilot packing for a pilot?) but it wouldn’t work in any way like how juxtaposition works in the crossword puzzle.

If it’s not quite clear, I love it when things take advantage of what they’re using to communicate. The alt-text on an xkcd comic is a vital part of the strip, and the ways that online writings can use hyperlinks to add context and irony is something I never tire of. They aren’t things you can do in print, are they?

I played Control recently, a third-person adventure game involving paranormal spaces and weird telekinetic powers. It’s weird and wonderful, and perhaps nowhere is this more clear than in the infamous Ashtray Maze.

If you are planning on playing Control soon, maybe skip this next paragraph? I don’t wanna spoil it for ya.

The Oldest House, where the game takes place, is an every-shifting building that likes to ignore the rules of reality. To get into some of the more secret spaces in the building you must go through the Ashtray Maze, which deliberately traps people who aren’t supposed to be there. So the building’s janitor who may or may not be a god gives you a walkman to guide you through. You enter the maze, put the music on, and venture in as some Finnish heavy metal starts playing. The rooms you run through shift around you, doors unfolding and refolding as you run through an abstract hotel that feels like the joyous lovechild of Inception’s hallway fight and M.C. Escher, all the while fighting off the antagonistic Hiss and sometimes flying from door to door. It’s ridiculously awesome; Jesse, your character, is getting a hold of her powers and you’re on your way to the climax. It works, and it’s so delightfully unique to the medium.

While another visual medium (say, film or comics) could capture the abstract architecture, the sheer euphoria of finding your way through the maze with the pumping music (that adapts to your pace of play!) is hard to capture elsewhere. It’s also something you did, which adds to it all.

There are stories, beats, and jokes that work better in any one form or another (adventuring in Tomb Raider works the way it does in a video game and would have to be changed for a movie, and John Wick would have to be changed a lot be a cool video game). It’s always a delight to see something that really takes advantage of its medium. Sometimes, it’s a video game, sometimes it’s a television show, and today it was a flipping crossword puzzle.

Look, I contain multitudes.

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