New York Times, Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Author: Michael Black
Editor: Will Shortz
Michael Black
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47/14/20101/29/20140
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0013000
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.69012

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 78, Blocks: 38 Missing: none – this is a pangram This is puzzle # 4 for Mr. Black. NYT links: Across Lite PDF

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Michael Black notes: Though it took me three tries to get this puzzle accepted, I was glad with the final result. Looking back on the first two ... more
Michael Black notes: Though it took me three tries to get this puzzle accepted, I was glad with the final result. Looking back on the first two submissions, I have a "What was I thinking?" mentality; so although it meant more effort on my end, I'm glad Will did not accept either of the first two. I mean I actually had "THE NAME GAME" (the Shirley Ellis hit song) as the revealer in my first submission — weak, weak, WEAK! That entry helped with symmetry at the time, but that's a perfect example of rushing, being overexcited and submitting a puzzle that isn't all it can be.

In my second submission, I got rid of the reaveler. With this entry gone, I had to come up with new people to reconstruct the symmetry. Like my first submission, I wanted to try and use four people from four different categories (e.g. music, acting, politics, sports). I was able to do that, but with an obscure entry or two that Will wasn't buying. It was then that I realized how limited my palette was with this theme.

I had to sacrifice the idea of getting people from four different categories and double up on one — and then Woodrow Wilson came to mind, who I think has the coolest name for this theme, with WWI right in the middle. It meant having two presidents in the puzzle, but when it came right down to it, I figured, "So what? It turned out just fine."

The one thing I really like about this puzzle, which I've done in a Times crossword before, is taking words in their natural state and creating wordplay out of them. I didn't have to do anything to the words themselves; I was simply able to allow everyone to see these words in a different light.

My favorite clue in the puzzle is 5-down: Word after "take" or "give me". That is Will's handy work. My favorite answer, far and away, is SABO, as in Chris Sabo the baseball player. I always try and include one in my crosswords — the names usually get re-clued as non-baseball players, but there's no alternative for this one since he's the only well-known person with this last name. It's also my second pangram of my four accepted NYT puzzles (which I forgot until I looked at it recently), and it's the only puzzle thus far in which Will has not modified a single letter.

Thanks and hope you all like it!

Will Shortz notes: How did Michael find the four examples of this lovely theme? I have no idea. For consistency's sake I do wish they'd all been ... more
Will Shortz notes: How did Michael find the four examples of this lovely theme? I have no idea. For consistency's sake I do wish they'd all been either like 37A and 59A, with the three circled letters together, or like 20A and 44A, where the circles are separated. But that's probably asking too much. Anyway, having two of each type at least maintains a balance.
Jeff Chen notes: One of those eye-opening themes, a Wish-I-Thought-of-That (WITT). I'm in agreement with Will, it would have been just about a perfect ... more
Jeff Chen notes: One of those eye-opening themes, a Wish-I-Thought-of-That (WITT). I'm in agreement with Will, it would have been just about a perfect theme if Michael could have found even just three examples where the three letters were consecutive. I'm not a big fan of random circled letters, so the consecutive trios were particularly pleasing to my eye. Bravo for uncovering this theme, Michael, very fun.

I never used to pay attention to my 1-across, but I've come to realize that consciously or subconsciously, solvers' perceptions tend to be affected right away in that NW corner. And to start off with a relatively esoteric Spanish word crossing A MOLE ... not a great first impression for me. I think it affected my perception of the puzzle, especially upon seeing PRS, ENOL (with a crazy clue), ALEE, et al. as I went.

I did really like some of the long fill, SHADOWBOX and PAY TO PLAY adding a lot of body to the puzzle. But my constructor's brain just couldn't help wondering why with only four themers, two long downs, and a 78-word puzzle, there seemed to be quite a few compromises. I can understand why someone would include SABO (MLB or Reds fans — glad to hear Michael's thinking on that), but ENOL is pretty easy to replace with something much nicer. Same goes for SALA/AMOLE/ATESTS in that isolated NW corner.

Perhaps some solvers (and chemists) will argue that they like the crosswordese ENOL, because it helps them get a toehold as a freebie. But I strongly feel that this sort of thinking turns off newer solvers, as well as a more recent generation, and constructors should avoid this rationale whenever possible. As Will says in his submission guidelines: "Keep crosswordese to a minimum."

And I can understand Will's editorial philosophy of "let the constructor's fill stand unless there's something that REALLY needs to be fixed." There is a certain beauty in that, as the constructor is allowed to present his/her work as he/she intended. I don't think it's the philosophy I'd take if I were editor, but I respect Will's belief. So given that, I would ask any constructors reading this post to keep Will's above criteria always in mind. Totally fine if a challenging construction requires a weird little entry or two, but if at all possible, why not strive for perfection?

Overall, a very nice theme which I felt could have been made golden by upping the quality of some fill, notably the SW and NW corners. I'm not as rabid/fanatical about "The War on Fill" as others, but I do think that as with every evolving, competitive market, the NYT must continually work to maintain its reputation as the gold standard in daily crosswords.

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© 2014, The New York TimesNo. 23,458
Across Down
1. Part of una casa : SALA
5. Totally disgusted : FEDUP
10. Compressed pic, of a sort : JPEG
14. Let off : EMIT
15. Brief concession : ILOSE
16. Brewery fixture : OAST
17. Spa wear : ROBE
18. See 22-Down : VITAE
19. Hospital sticker : HYPO
20. A general and his country : ULYSSESSGRANT
23. Loaded with substance : MEATY
24. Title for a J.D. holder : ESQ
25. Impossible point total in American pro football : ONE
28. Clandestine sort : SNEAK
32. Remove, as a corsage : UNPIN
34. Trigram on rotary phones : PRS
37. A hoops great and his league : ELGINBAYLOR
40. Cake similar to a Yodel : HOHO
42. Battle zone of 1956 and 1967 : SINAI
43. Baja resort area : CABO
44. A comic and his former show : ADAMSANDLER
47. Kobe cash : YEN
48. Cassette half : SIDEA
49. Soup alternative : SALAD
51. Brian who's a self-professed "nonmusician" : ENO
52. Part of a bridle : BIT
55. Harem wear : VEILS
59. A president and his conflict : WOODROWWILSON
64. Mazar of "Entourage" : DEBI
66. What "-phage" means : EATER
67. Wear a long face : MOPE
68. ___ ether : ENOL
69. Final part of most Broadway musicals : ACTII
70. Away from the wind : ALEE
71. Like candy corn's texture : WAXY
72. Woman's golf garment : SKORT
73. Motorola phone brand : RAZR
1. Immunizing fluid : SERUM
2. Whac-___ (carnival game) : AMOLE
3. Benghazi's land : LIBYA
4. Bikini atoll trials, informally : ATESTS
5. Word after "take" or "give me" : FIVE
6. New Haven collegians : ELIS
7. Fruity candy since 1945 : DOTS
8. Grammarian's concern : USAGE
9. Exerters of pressure, maybe : PEERS
10. W.C. : JOHN
11. Ante up : PAYTOPLAY
12. Psychic's "gift," for short : ESP
13. Classic muscle car : GTO
21. 1/1 title word : SYNE
22. With 18-Across, an old term for brandy : AQUA
26. Weeper of myth : NIOBE
27. Scandalous company with a tilted-E logo : ENRON
29. Joy Adamson's big cat : ELSA
30. Opposed to, in dialect : AGIN
31. Classifications : KINDS
33. View from Ft. Lee, N.J. : NYC
34. Thumb-sucking, e.g. : PHASE
35. "The Kiss" sculptor : RODIN
36. Spar with nobody : SHADOWBOX
38. Simba's mate : NALA
39. Jessica of "7th Heaven" : BIEL
41. Kipling's "Follow Me ___" : OME
45. 1988 N.L. Rookie of the Year Chris : SABO
46. Noted first name in raga : RAVI
50. San Diego-area horse-racing venue : DELMAR
53. Bits of creativity : IDEAS
54. Follow, as a U.P.S. shipment : TRACK
56. Sicilia, per esempio : ISOLA
57. "J to tha L-O!" artist : LOPEZ
58. Smile like Snidely Whiplash : SNEER
60. In need of a shampoo, say : OILY
61. German Expressionist ___ Dix : OTTO
62. Small dam : WEIR
63. Order in the court : WRIT
64. It might get your feet wet : DEW
65. Bambi's aunt : ENA

Answer summary: 4 unique to this puzzle.

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