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A CUT ABOVE THE REST

New York Times, Sunday, December 15, 2013

Author: Jeff Chen
Editor: Will Shortz
Jeff Chen
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1.633122

This puzzle:

Rows: 21, Columns: 21 Words: 140, Blocks: 82 Missing: {Q} Grid has mirror symmetry Grid has repeated answers This is puzzle # 21 for Mr. Chen. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Will Shortz notes: It is no exaggeration to say that today's puzzle is on par with the discovery of fire. Traveling bards will write epic tales and sing songs about the clever theme, the sublime execution, and the visual elegance ... more
Will Shortz notes: It is no exaggeration to say that today's puzzle is on par with the discovery of fire. Traveling bards will write epic tales and sing songs about the clever theme, the sublime execution, and the visual elegance comparable only to Baryshnikov at the pinnacle of his career. Jeff Chen is a Feynman-level ubergenius, no doubt possessing the most evolved mind since the inception of the primordial ooze, and has the ability to add comments into the "Will Shortz notes" box at his discretion.
Jeff Chen notes: This puzzle went through several dozen revisions on two completely different theme concepts. I started with the basic idea of making giant letters out of the letters themselves, i.e. a giant C out of Cs, I out of ... more
Jeff Chen notes: This puzzle went through several dozen revisions on two completely different theme concepts. I started with the basic idea of making giant letters out of the letters themselves, i.e. a giant C out of Cs, I out of Is, etc. and noticed that some letters I could clue in a homophonic style (the formation of a giant C would require SEES, SEAS, and SEIZE, T would only require TEES and TEASE, and I would be easy with just EYES). Only the letters C I L T and U fit my criteria though, so what could I do with those? The word CUT came to mind. After some rumination, this led to my first submission, where each theme answer had CUT cut out of it, (CUT) ONES TEETH ON, e.g.

Well, that was terrible; a fourth-rate dirty rotten stinker. In the back of my head I knew it wasn't very good, but I sent it anyway (sorry, Will, I won't send in stinkers any more). Will politely said he didn't care for the theme and pointed out that my symmetry (up-down) was just too visually strange. Looking back on it, I see what he meant. It's important to learn the rules before you break them, and I won't be trying any more up-down symmetry puzzles (unless they're similar in nature to Kevin Der's Titanic puzzle).

Luckily, I'm too stubborn (stupid) to give up. Lying in bed one night, the phrase "a cut above the rest" came to me and I slunk out of bed. Five bleary hours later, I came up with my first skeleton, but it ultimately Titanic-ed. It had all sort of grid issues, a ton of cheater squares, and several areas I wasn't sure I could fill cleanly. So I tore it up and stuck it someplace lewd.

My tenacious idiocy caught up with me a few months later and I took another stab at it. I didn't want any individual Cs adjacent to the big C (and similarly with the big U and T). Filling around those three giant letters was tough enough without that constraint, and with it, I was lucky to get out alive after days and hundreds of possibilities.

Then there was the issue of the other themers. I was dead set against made-up sounding definitions; I wanted in-the-language phrases instead. Luckily CUT has enough different meanings that it only took a week or so to gather a good set ... except I included HAS A SIX PACK, which nagged me as "not like the others". Good thing Will balked at that and even gave a lexical reason why. Lesson learned: if it looks like poo and smells like poo, it likely is poo.

Back to brainstorming themers. I searched various thesauri, online sources, picked friends' brains, and finally came up with SNIDE REMARK. I don't think it's as strong as some of the other themers, but was glad that Will accepted it. A few more hours of rework and recluing and I broke the plane of the goal-line. I was so relieved I spiked my computer.

A final note on symmetry. Typically L-R symmetry is no harder to execute on than normal (rotational) symmetry, but I couldn't spread my themers out like usual. Needing all my vertical themers to be pushed to the bottom, I was forced to incorporate an enormous number of across answers which overlapped two themers. Filling the dang thing nearly broke me. I still cringe at TEN O and don't care for ERNES crossing ESS or CTRS or ASTR. But sometimes you have to accept a little subpar fill in order to make an idea work. Hopefully solvers found the trade-off acceptable.

Jeff Chen notes: THE REAL STORY! Wanting another Sunday crossword, I summoned nefarious powers from the darkened netherworld (also known as Canada). To my horror, the dirt and clay outside my house trembled, clods bursting ... more
Jeff Chen notes: THE REAL STORY!

Wanting another Sunday crossword, I summoned nefarious powers from the darkened netherworld (also known as Canada). To my horror, the dirt and clay outside my house trembled, clods bursting toward the sky. A horrendous form pushed through the surface, two arms of congealed earth atop a trunk of elephantine proportion. I had called forth a golem, a powerful being from Hebrew legend!

Luckily, I had just brushed up on my golem lore (if you haven't read Helene Wecker's "The Golem and the Jinni" please do, it's fantastic). I rushed outside with a scrap of paper with which to animate the creature and wrote "Make me a memorable Sunday puzzle, something a cut above the rest." Jamming it into its mouth, I stepped back with trepidation as the clay monster creaked to life. Golems, after all, have a tendency to go mad and start crushing things.

I followed the great hulk-beast as it tromped down the street to the local playfield. Scratching my head, I watched as it clobbered its fists into the grass, the earth shaking with each of its strikes. After a few minutes, I yelled, "What in blazes are you doing? CUT! Cut? Cut ..." My jaw dropped as I realized it was pounding the word C U T at the top of a gigantic grid. Genius — a literal C U T above the rest! As it finished its task, its eyes flashed a terra cotta red and it ran into the darkness, roaring about how it would smash out all life on earth. That wasn't so good, but its puzzle was.

So there you have it; that's how a Sunday crossword is made. And if you see a golem rampaging in the streets, I don't know anything about it.

JimH notes: This is the 17th Shortz-era grid with repeated answer words. Manny Nowsowsky and Jeff Chen have two each. Compare with this April Fool's puzzle from 2000 where Mr. Nosowsky teased out 12 different definitions for TTT...
1
C
2
C
3
C
4
C
5
C
6
I
7
S
8
U
9
P
10
A
11
U
12
E
13
L
14
T
15
T
16
T
17
T
18
T
19
C
R
O
A
T
20
T
O
U
R
21
L
U
A
U
22
L
E
T
H
E
23
C
E
L
T
S
24
C
L
U
E
25
T
U
R
K
26
C
A
T
E
R
27
C
S
I
S
28
H
O
U
S
29
E
R
U
L
E
30
C
T
R
S
31
C
C
C
C
32
C
33
U
U
U
U
U
34
N
O
T
M
E
35
A
S
36
P
37
C
38
A
39
M
R
I
40
J
41
U
42
K
E
S
43
J
44
A
45
U
N
T
I
E
R
46
E
O
S
47
U
N
I
C
Y
48
C
49
L
50
E
51
A
L
F
52
E
L
I
53
A
S
54
M
55
S
N
B
C
56
P
A
L
57
B
I
O
58
N
59
I
C
L
E
G
60
T
O
O
K
61
A
62
T
A
X
I
63
O
N
E
A
64
A
65
G
66
A
67
I
N
68
R
E
L
O
69
T
70
O
71
P
S
C
O
R
72
E
73
A
S
S
74
E
N
D
O
R
75
S
76
E
77
D
78
I
N
L
E
A
F
79
N
80
A
S
T
I
81
E
R
82
O
H
E
N
R
Y
83
L
E
A
R
N
T
84
E
L
P
R
A
D
O
85
F
A
R
I
N
A
86
D
A
Y
S
87
H
88
E
R
B
S
89
H
I
D
90
E
F
91
O
D
E
D
92
A
L
E
93
A
E
I
O
U
94
T
E
A
T
95
S
96
E
S
S
97
D
98
I
V
A
N
99
M
100
C
101
R
102
A
E
103
C
H
I
104
R
R
105
T
H
R
I
C
E
106
T
H
I
R
D
107
H
E
R
O
E
108
S
109
M
A
O
I
S
T
110
T
R
A
G
E
D
111
Y
112
T
I
N
M
A
113
N
114
A
M
O
S
115
I
116
D
E
A
S
117
N
O
O
118
S
E
119
D
A
T
E
120
Z
E
K
E
121
O
U
N
C
E
122
T
W
Y
L
A
123
O
R
B
S
124
E
D
Y
S
125
N
O
O
K
126
N
O
R
M
127
S
K
Y
S
© 2013, The New York TimesNo. 23,413
Across Down
1. Oceans : CCCCC
6. Bats : ISUP
10. "The Clan of the Cave Bear" novelist : AUEL
14. Razz : TTTTT
19. Tennis's Goran Ivanisevic, e.g. : CROAT
20. A band may be on one : TOUR
21. Torch-lit event : LUAU
22. River of forgetfulness in Hades : LETHE
23. Iron Age people : CELTS
24. It has nine rooms : CLUE
25. Ottoman : TURK
26. Serve up on a platter, say : CATER
27. Collectors of DNA : CSIS
28. Game twist : HOUSERULE
30. Some basketball players: Abbr. : CTRS
31. Espies : CCCCC
33. Profit from : UUUUU
34. "I'm innocent!" : NOTME
35. Lab safety org.? : ASPCA
39. 3-D pic : MRI
40. Diner fixtures, informally : JUKES
43. More rakish : JAUNTIER
46. Canon offering : EOS
47. Clown prop : UNICYCLE
51. Sitcom ET : ALF
52. Walt Disney's middle name : ELIAS
54. Cable inits. since 1996 : MSNBC
56. "Be a ___" : PAL
57. "Six Million Dollar Man" feature : BIONICLEG
60. Cabbed it : TOOKATAXI
63. Most likely to be called up : ONEA
64. From the top : AGAIN
68. Move, informally : RELO
69. 2400, on the SAT : TOPSCORE
73. Dolt : ASS
74. Like most checks and political candidates : ENDORSED
78. Green : INLEAF
79. Not so nice : NASTIER
82. Annual literary prize : OHENRY
83. Picked up, in Britain : LEARNT
84. Home of Velázquez's "Las Meninas" : ELPRADO
85. Breakfast dish : FARINA
86. They break at dawn : DAYS
87. Angelica and others : HERBS
89. Like some resolution, for short : HIDEF
91. Showed no restraint, in brief : ODED
92. Cask filler : ALE
93. Linguistic quintet : AEIOU
94. Parts of sows and cows : TEATS
96. Head of steam? : ESS
97. Place to lounge : DIVAN
99. Jazz great Carmen : MCRAE
103. Cricket's sound : CHIRR
105. Triply : THRICE
106. Like New Jersey among states admitted to the Union : THIRD
107. Subway fare : HEROES
109. Chinese hard-liner : MAOIST
110. "Antigone" or "Elektra" : TRAGEDY
112. One famed for heartlessness : TINMAN
114. Last name in cookies : AMOS
115. Some notepad jottings : IDEAS
117. It may be left hanging : NOOSE
119. Take out : DATE
120. Farmworker in "The Wizard of Oz" : ZEKE
121. Scale unit : OUNCE
122. Tony winner Tharp : TWYLA
123. Spheres : ORBS
124. Ice cream brand : EDYS
125. Recess : NOOK
126. It's what's to be expected : NORM
127. "The ___ the limit" : SKYS
1. Grab : CCCCC
2. Abbr. on a musical score : CRESC
3. Cause of a crybaby? : COLIC
4. Provider of an inside look? : CATSCAN
5. Nos. after a period, maybe : CTS
6. Yen : ITCH
7. Last name in "Star Wars" : SOLO
8. Farm females : UUUUU
9. Takes for granted : PRESUMES
10. Charitable giving, e.g. : ALTRUISM
11. Trees with poisonous seeds : UUUUU
12. Marquis's inferior : EARL
13. First name in "Star Wars" : LUKE
14. Girl group with four #1 hits in the 1990s : TLC
15. Often-decorative kitchen item, in Britain : TEACOSY
16. Aids for long drives : TTTTT
17. Gas bill unit : THERM
18. Crisp : TERSE
29. Lead-in to pop or pass : EURO
32. Chicago setting: Abbr. : CST
34. Japanese computer giant : NEC
36. [See above] : PIECEOFTHEACTION
37. Last place, with "the" : CELLAR
38. Indy 500 winner Luyendyk : ARIE
40. 2007 title role for Ellen Page : JUNO
41. In utero : UNBORN
42. [See above] : KICKEDOFFTHETEAM
43. Sharp putdown : JAB
44. 1974 Fassbinder film subtitled "Fear Eats the Soul" : ALI
45. Subj. of some 911 calls : UFO
48. Figurehead, for short? : CPA
49. Like some parenting : LAX
50. QB Manning : ELI
53. Ottoman V.I.P. : AGA
55. RR stop : STN
58. Brown-___ (sycophants) : NOSERS
59. Like one pre-Columbian civilization : INCAN
61. Parting word : ALOHA
62. Taunting figure : TORERO
65. Running pants? : GASPS
66. Subj. for Galileo : ASTR
67. N.B.A. Hall-of-Famer Thomas : ISIAH
69. Oscar winner Swinton : TILDA
70. Oscar winner Tatum : ONEAL
71. [See above] : PLAYEDHOOKY
72. Winter month in Spain : ENERO
74. Withdraw from the bank? : ERODE
75. [See above] : SNIDEREMARK
76. Seashore fliers : ERNES
77. Twosomes : DYADS
80. [See above] : ALBUMTRACK
81. [See above] : EDITEDDOWN
88. "___ kleine Nachtmusik" : EINE
90. Per : EACH
93. National rival : AVIS
95. Her name is Norwegian for "beautiful woman who leads you to victory" : SIRI
98. Van Gogh painting that once sold for a record $53.9 million : IRISES
100. Highlight of many a western : CHASE
101. Fix : RIG
102. Ain't right? : ARENT
104. Concerto movements : RONDOS
105. Broke : TAMED
108. Didn't get involved : SATBY
109. Pac-Man screen, e.g. : MAZE
110. ___'clock scholar : TENO
111. Numbskull : YOYO
113. Loch ___ : NESS
116. Twosome : DUO
118. Canon offering, briefly : SLR

Answer summary: 8 unique to this puzzle, 3 debuted here and reused later, 2 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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