New York Times, Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Author: Kevan Choset
Editor: Will Shortz
Kevan Choset
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269/30/20036/27/20163
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22105601
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1.53510

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 76, Blocks: 38 Missing: {FJQXZ} Spans: 1 This is puzzle # 25 for Mr. Choset. NYT links: Across Lite PDF

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Kevan Choset notes: This puzzle falls into the genre of 'common phrase that can be interpreted in a wordplay-y way.' I'm a big fan of pop culture, ... more
Kevan Choset notes: This puzzle falls into the genre of "common phrase that can be interpreted in a wordplay-y way." I'm a big fan of pop culture, and like finding ways to make pop culture-themed puzzles that pay homage, but don't actually require knowing a lot of pop culture trivia. (I generally find that Will doesn't like publishing puzzles that require too much knowledge of a specific area of pop culture, as opposed to being more wordplay-y and accessible to all.)

I loved the Lord of the Rings films and I struck upon the phrase MIDDLE EARTH as something that I think is well-enough known (or figure-out-able at least) and lends itself to wordplay. I initially tried to find phrases where EARTH was in the exact middle, but I couldn't find enough that worked, so settled on the more general meaning of the word "middle" (after all, Malcolm was not actually in the dead center). It was important to me to use all feasible divisions of the word EARTH, though I couldn't find an E-ART-H breakdown. I debated whether I HEART HUCKABEES was valid, since the movie title was often written with a graphic of a heart instead of the word "Heart," but I found lots of references with the title spelled out.

I had some trouble in the upper right, getting two good 9-letter words to intersect the two theme entries there and to intersect the somewhat-constrained ISAACS. Note 36-Across. This is my first time including that in a puzzle.

Will Shortz notes: When editing this puzzle, I noticed that the grid had ISAACS at 30A crossing ISAK at 28D, which really wasn't good, as they're ... more
Will Shortz notes: When editing this puzzle, I noticed that the grid had ISAACS at 30A crossing ISAK at 28D, which really wasn't good, as they're basically the same name. Fortunately, IS OK bailed me out in the latter spot, and it has the advantage of never having appeared in a Times crossword before.
Jeff Chen notes: As an unabashed dorknerd, I couldn't help but smile when I came across MIDDLE EARTH as today's revealer (fair warning: I would love ... more
Jeff Chen notes: As an unabashed dorknerd, I couldn't help but smile when I came across MIDDLE EARTH as today's revealer (fair warning: I would love to see HELMS DEEP or BAG END or ELVISH METAL in a puzzle, but I realize I'm in a Hobbitish minority). Each of the four theme phrases contains EARTH spread across two words, and each of them is a snappy answer in itself. People may not know I HEART HUCKABEES but I really enjoyed that quirky movie.

Interesting point today for me was how knowing something about the constructor helped enhance my solve. Kevan is in entertainment law and often posts awesome pictures of him hanging out with big-time celebs on his Facebook feed. So I can imagine how I HEART HUCKABEES, LICENSEES and IN REM gave him no pause. I learned IN REM through crosswords, but I have to think it's part of Kevan's everyday lingo.

With this type of puzzle, there's a certain elegance to splitting the word EARTH either always the same way or always a different way. Today Kevan splits his entries EAR/TH twice, EART/H once, and E/ARTH once. During my solve, I had a sensation in the back of my head that something was a little odd, and I think this inconsistency was the reason. But overall, the theme phrases are strong enough, LINEAR THINKING being my favorite, that I didn't mind too much. Having such theme density often makes fill very difficult, but except for the IS OK / TWO A / SO TO region (which spans three theme entries), it holds together pretty well. Good work given the tough constraints.

Generally I'm in favor of adding long fill, as it spices up the puzzle. Kevan utilizes what is typically a very difficult arrangement, two pairs of nine-letter words (DOOHICKEY/LICENSEES and THRACIANS/PEANUT OIL) crossing not just one but two themers, and the SE corner shines as a result. THRACIANS will be tough for some, but I think it's a great answer steeped in ancient history and all the crosses are fair (thanks, terrible new Star Wars movies for making me cringe every time I hear ANI). Incorporating these two nine-letter answers without compromising the surrounding fill results in Elvish beauty.

Hey, I warned you.

The NE corner... I do appreciate ID TAG in there, but the triplet of DLI/OID/OCT felt inelegant, especially since the plural ISAACS resides in that region as well. As always, constructors are faced with difficult trade-offs.

Any puzzle with MIDDLE EARTH sitting on top of SHE-RA is going to get my nerd on. Entertaining solve.

1
A
2
H
3
O
4
R
5
A
6
B
7
A
8
S
9
I
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C
11
D
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L
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15
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H
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O
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D
17
C
L
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T
H
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A
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O
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20
O
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M
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O
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L
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N
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E
A
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27
H
28
I
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K
I
N
G
29
C
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N
30
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S
A
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31
S
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P
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O
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K
E
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V
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I
H
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T
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C
K
40
A
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B
E
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S
42
B
R
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W
I
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S
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Y
S
O
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N
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H
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© 2013, The New York TimesNo. 23,359
Across Down
1. Now, in Acapulco : AHORA
6. Like a college course labeled "101" : BASIC
11. 551, once : DLI
14. One using Yelp or TripAdvisor, perhaps : RATER
15. Prefix with biology : ETHNO
16. Suffix with planet or fact : OID
17. Overcome an unpleasant misunderstanding : CLEARTHEAIR
19. Fall mo. : OCT
20. Bit of crew equipment : OAR
21. ___ tai : MAI
22. Actor Milo : OSHEA
24. Left-brain activity : LINEARTHINKING
29. "Anderson Cooper 360°" channel : CNN
30. Asimov and Newton : ISAACS
31. March honoree, for short : STPAT
34. "And ___ bed" : SOTO
36. "The Wonder Years" teen, for short : KEV
38. 2004 film featuring Dustin Hoffman : IHEARTHUCKABEES
42. Half a bikini : BRA
43. Accompanying : WITH
44. Final approval : SAYSO
45. Anderson Cooper, e.g. : ANCHOR
48. Midpoint: Abbr. : CTR
49. Reason to see a rheumatologist : ACUTEARTHRITIS
54. Instrument played by George Harrison : SITAR
55. Gulf state: Abbr. : UAE
56. Loony : NUT
58. ___ Paulo, Brazil : SAO
59. "The Lord of the Rings" setting ... or a feature of 17-, 24-, 38- and 49-Across? : MIDDLEEARTH
64. Young Darth Vader, to friends : ANI
65. Filmmaker Morris : ERROL
66. He-Man's sister : SHERA
67. Initials of fashion : YSL
68. Oracles : SEERS
69. Point toward : AIMAT
1. Instruction to play with the bow : ARCO
2. Special-request flight meal option : HALAL
3. Cheri formerly of "S.N.L." : OTERI
4. "The Crying Game" actor Stephen : REA
5. Sheet music abbr. : ARR
6. Joy formerly of "The View" : BEHAR
7. Failed in a big way : ATEIT
8. "___ Na Na" : SHA
9. Common pasta suffix : INI
10. Mexican beer : CORONA
11. Thingamajig : DOOHICKEY
12. Royalty payers, say : LICENSEES
13. Collar attachment : IDTAG
18. Certain Fed : TMAN
23. Reggae precursor : SKA
25. Org. with Lions, Tigers and Bears : NCAA
26. ___'acte : ENTR
27. Thumb a ride : HITCH
28. Escapes injury : ISOK
31. Fam. member : SIB
32. Allies of the Trojans in the "Iliad" : THRACIANS
33. What pad Thai is often cooked in : PEANUTOIL
34. Bake, as eggs : SHIRR
35. Not closeted : OUT
37. Letters on brandy : VSO
39. Old draft category for civilian workers : TWOA
40. Italian wine area : ASTI
41. Cartoon boy who can be described by an anagram of his name : BART
46. It runs the 'L' : CTA
47. Mercury counterpart : HERMES
48. Native Canadian : CREE
49. Test, as ore : ASSAY
50. Mary or Elizabeth : TUDOR
51. Cough drop brand : HALLS
52. Like some legal proceedings : INREM
53. Kama ___ : SUTRA
57. Word said while pointing : THAT
60. Dander : IRE
61. Dr. ___ : DRE
62. Spanish 57-Down : ESA
63. Tuna type : AHI

Answer summary: 5 unique to this puzzle, 4 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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