New York Times, Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Author: Jeff Stillman
Editor: Will Shortz
Jeff Stillman
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41/28/20144/27/20160
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0022000
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1.55000

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 78, Blocks: 36 Missing: {JQXYZ} This is the debut puzzle for Mr. Stillman NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Jeff Stillman notes: I'm thrilled to be a newly published NY Times crossword author, after several appearances in GAMES Magazine and the LA Times. My ... more
Jeff Stillman notes: I'm thrilled to be a newly published NY Times crossword author, after several appearances in GAMES Magazine and the LA Times. My very first puzzle, however, was a self-published one. In 2000, I doctored an issue of GAMES Magazine to include a puzzle that featured a marriage proposal to the woman I was dating. We would usually spend our lunch hour together working on the daily crossword, so it seemed an appropriate way to pop the question. I hadn't heard of Crossword Compiler at the time and did it all the old-fashioned way, laboriously developing the fill, the clues, and the layout over a three week period. Even at the new and improved NY Times pay rate, my effort probably would have only worked out to about five cents an hour, but the eventual payoff was more than worth it. We've now been married for over a decade.

The first theme answer I developed for this puzzle is still my favorite: PHONE BILBO. ("Give a hobbit a ring?") There had been a lot of buzz in Hollywood about the filming of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, so I had Bilbo on the brain and set about looking for other -BO theme answers. The puzzle was accepted in June of 2012, six months before the premiere, so I wondered if its publication might coincide with the opening. Not the case, as it turned out. But thankfully, Mr. Jackson does love his trilogies, so it coincided with The Desolation of Smaug instead, making for a very memorable first publication for me. Thanks to Mr. Baggins for the idea, Mr. Shortz for the thumbs up, and Mrs. Katy Stillman for saying "Yes" thirteen years ago!

Will Shortz notes: Themes like today's that work phonetically are usually funnier than ones that go by spelling. And going by my funnybone, all four theme answers today are good.
Jeff Chen notes: Debut! Nice phonetic sound change theme; I typically enjoy these more than the straightforward 'add-a-letter' puzzles. Three of the ... more
Jeff Chen notes: Debut! Nice phonetic sound change theme; I typically enjoy these more than the straightforward "add-a-letter" puzzles. Three of the themers I'm fully agreed with Will on, TWIST TAE-BO in particular gave me a chuckle. This type of theme can be awfully tricky because everyone's sense of humor is so different, so three out of four is pretty good.

STRUCK DUMBO was the only one which was a straight add-a-letter entry, so I didn't like it as much from that perspective. Plus, it seemed just kind of mean. Why not PLAYED DUMBO (Bilked a Disney elephant?) instead? I'm making myself laugh, thinking about Dumbo getting all red in the face as he selects the wrong shell every time with his trunk. This one? Are you sure? Nope! *trumpet in con man's face* Hilarious. Hilarious, I tell you!

*crickets chirping*

Ahem. Anyway, the "pinwheel" arrangement of themers often makes it difficult to incorporate good long fill, because your long fill can't be longer than the themers (otherwise solvers get mixed up as to what is theme and what is not). And especially for a debut, what a nice job Jeff does. Using eights and sevens to his advantage, PARAKEET with its fun clue, SPLIT UP, SCROLLS, INFRARED, and UNEARTH all add zing.

As for the shorter stuff, Jeff stuck with a 78-worder, the easiest of grids to fill. Not ambitious, but I'd take a clean debut than an overstretched one any day. And he obviously took care in his filling process, URGER and BAP being the only ones I questioned — pretty darn good. It's possible that some people will find BAP a super-common abbreviation, but yikes, it seems awfully fishy to me. And I bet URGER won't be heard outside the crossword world ... ever. Except for the inevitable emails I'll receive working that word in (sigh). Go ahead, you know you want to.

Anyway, very nice debut with just a few entries I didn't care for.

ADDED NOTE: Jon Markman, a trusty xwordinfo reader, suggested PUT A BOW ON IT as a revealer. Clever idea!

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© 2014, The New York TimesNo. 23,457
Across Down
1. Stern's opposite : STEM
5. Varieties : ILKS
9. Exercise unit : SITUP
14. One of the Smurfs : PAPA
15. Father of Ham : NOAH
16. Monastery wear : COWLS
17. ___ rock : ACID
18. Fit ___ king : FORA
19. Archaeological site : RUINS
20. Celebration dance after a goal? : SOCCERMAMBO
23. Sr.'s challenge : SAT
24. "Stop!" : AVAST
25. Oodles : ALOT
27. Combat engineer : SAPPER
30. Separated, as a couple : SPLITUP
33. Degree in math? : NTH
34. Get through to : REACH
37. Part of a drum kit : SNARE
38. Many millennia : AEON
40. Sag : DROOP
42. They're tapped : KEGS
43. Like many traffic violators in court : FINED
45. E.M.T.'s cry before using a defibrillator : CLEAR
47. Network that airs the Soul Train Music Awards : BET
48. Find, as at an archaeological site : UNEARTH
50. Hardships : RIGORS
52. Stuff in a muffin : BRAN
53. Goddess of the hunt : DIANA
55. Letter before omega : PSI
57. Punched out a Disney elephant? : STRUCKDUMBO
62. Ration out : ALLOT
64. Slender reed : OBOE
65. It may be checked, in more ways than one : COAT
66. "Fiddler on the Roof" character : RABBI
67. Rural route : LANE
68. Politico Gary : HART
69. Impassive : STOIC
70. It's just one thing after another : LIST
71. Not duped by : ONTO
1. Relaxing spots : SPAS
2. Crunchy sandwich : TACO
3. Vast : EPIC
4. Like the Marx Brothers : MADCAP
5. Like some vision : INFRARED
6. Tapestry-making aids : LOOMS
7. Gold standard : KARAT
8. Its appearance is deceiving : SHAM
9. Torahs, for example : SCROLLS
10. Marker letters : IOU
11. Aerobics done to Chubby Checker music? : TWISTTAEBO
12. Forearm bone : ULNA
13. Head-turner : PSST
21. Eternally : EVER
22. Like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, religiously: Abbr. : BAP
26. Farm sound : OINK
27. Real mix-up : SNAFU
28. Didn't go anywhere for dinner : ATEIN
29. Give a hobbit a ring? : PHONEBILBO
30. It's about a foot : SHOE
31. Prompter : URGER
32. Raid targets : PESTS
35. Eyebrow shape : ARCH
36. Rank above maj. : COL
39. In the vicinity : NEAR
41. One known for talking back? : PARAKEET
44. Extreme, as measures : DRASTIC
46. Orange exterior : RIND
49. Channel with the catchword "Drama" : TNT
51. South American cowboy : GAUCHO
53. Home of the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building : DUBAI
54. Desktop pictures : ICONS
55. Fours on a course, often : PARS
56. Thin strip : SLAT
58. Cinnabon purchase : ROLL
59. Haunted house sound : MOAN
60. Former baseball commissioner Giamatti : BART
61. Comics canine : OTTO
63. Kimono sash : OBI

Answer summary: 4 unique to this puzzle.

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