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New York Times, Friday, December 25, 2015

Author: Mary Lou Guizzo and Jeff Chen
Editor: Will Shortz
Mary Lou Guizzo
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
174/17/201411/19/20168
SunMonTueWedThuFriSatVariety
21131621
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.60120
Jeff Chen
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
667/5/20102/23/201739
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
1954111665
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.633122

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 66, Blocks: 39 Missing: {JQZ} There are unchecked squares This is puzzle # 8 for Ms. Guizzo. This is puzzle # 46 for Mr. Chen. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Constructor notes: MARY LOU: When Jeff and I started kicking around ideas for a Christmas puzzle, we were shooting for a Friday, Dec. 25 date ... more
Constructor notes:

MARY LOU:

When Jeff and I started kicking around ideas for a Christmas puzzle, we were shooting for a Friday, Dec. 25 date — themeless with a mini-theme. One of the first steps I took was to research previous holiday puzzles. You really should try this lovely one by Paula Gamache if you've not worked it already. Her puzzle inspired me to give a visual aspect to the puzzle, using the black squares to make candy cane shapes.

I ran the idea by Jeff and he quickly whipped out a grid skeleton. I noticed that both ST NICHOLAS and CANDY CANES could be worked into his grid and he noticed that X, M, A and S would fit into the candy canes' crooks. We went back and forth on the fill — took some time to get a clean grid! I do believe Jeff came up with the six entries unique to the NYT database — IT'S A KEEPER, KGB SPIES, MISEDUCATE, NO LOOK PASS, OPERA CAPE and TELENOVELA. I enjoyed fitting LA SCALA in with that OPERA CAPE!

We had several options for cluing CANDY CANES including the fact that Spangler makes 2.7 million a day! Jeff came up with "Small time crooks?" which I thought was clever. It is always a pleasure to work with him. And always a pleasure to get that "Yes!" email from Will and Joel — thanks for accepting and editing!

I hope you enjoyed this Christmas puzzle and that you and your family have a wonderful holiday.

Jeff Chen notes: ML's great idea, making candy cane shapes out of black squares. And then when she paired CANDY CANE with ST NICHOLAS (who's tied to ... more
Jeff Chen notes:

ML's great idea, making candy cane shapes out of black squares. And then when she paired CANDY CANE with ST NICHOLAS (who's tied to CANDY CANEs by legend), it seemed nearly perfect. If we could only figure out what might fit in those "unchecked" squares in the crooks of the candy canes …

Magic Johnson, master of the NO-LOOK PASS

The engineer in me laid out the X M A S in left to right, top to bottom sequential order (the M to the west, the A to the east, and S in the south). It should be logical and orderly, dammit! ML very tactfully pointed out that this looked weird. Being weird, I took this as a compliment.

Thankfully, ML managed to convince me that a clockwise ordering of X M A S made much more sense.

We started with a 64-word grid (the block between AL HIRT and RCA removed). I like a challenge, and going down that low — along with the puzzle already being constrained by the candy cane blocks and the pair of mini-themers — seemed like a fun adventure.

After laying out many skeletons and testing to see which would give us the most flexibility, we barreled into the east section. We had the OPERA???? pattern in place pretty early, and we tried many different things (BUFF, COAT, DIVA, FANS, GOER, HATS, SOLO, STAR, etc.) before OPERA CAPE lent itself to snappy fill. MSRP / OCT / SEP weren't great, but getting SMART CAR / NO-LOOK PASS (I was a huge Magic Johnson fan) / IT'S A KEEPER / HALF-COCKED fill seemed well worth it.

The other three corners proved more challenging. It was only after weeks of work that we finally gave in and added the black squares to turn the 64-worder into a 66-worder. This allowed us to get in a lot of nice SEA MONSTER / KGB SPIES / AD AGENCY / TELENOVELA ("Jane the Virgin" fans, anyone?) / FREE RIDE stuff without much glue, but man oh man do I hate giving up. Anyway, who cares how many words there are — what's most important is how much entertainment the solver has.

Merry X A S M! Or whatever. Weirdo.

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© 2015, The New York TimesNo. 24,153
Across Down
1. Hurdle for a doc : BOARDS
7. Deadeye's asset : AIM
10. Short cut : SNIP
14. Performer of the "Green Hornet" theme in 1960s TV : ALHIRT
15. Label for 14-Across : RCA
16. Hole maker : MOTH
17. Scylla, e.g. : SEAMONSTER
19. "Not to mention ..." : ALSO
20. Red moles : KGBSPIES
21. Stable color : ROAN
22. Midwest transportation inits. : CTA
23. Quick hit : TOKE
24. ___ law : OHMS
27. Impetuous : HALFCOCKED
31. Chinese dynasty following the Han : WEI
32. Old-fashioned attire at 33-Across : OPERACAPE
33. Where Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" premiered : LASCALA
36. Inveigles : ENTRAPS
38. Like much court testimony : REHEARSED
40. Holy ___ : SEE
41. "There's nothing more to say" : ENDOFSTORY
42. Abbr. on a car sticker : MSRP
43. Rain, rain, rain : POUR
44. Open ___ : MIC
45. Lutheranism in 1521, e.g. : SECT
47. Campaign planner : ADAGENCY
53. Like the Hyundai logo : OVAL
54. Latin American soap : TELENOVELA
56. Prime-time time, informally : NITE
57. Ayaan Hirsi ___, author of "Infidel" : ALI
58. Opposite of the point? : ERASER
59. Traditional Yule gift : SLED
60. Zing : DIS
61. Relayed : SENTON
1. Sit back and enjoy : BASK
2. First name in fashion : OLEG
3. Literary character on whom Captain Hook is based : AHAB
4. Goes around : RIMS
5. Lozenge : DROP
6. "A right jolly old elf" : STNICHOLAS
7. Gallery sign : ARTSALE
8. Winter coat : ICE
9. Who said history repeats itself "the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce" : MARX
10. It can fit in a very tight parking space : SMARTCAR
11. Deceptive court move : NOLOOKPASS
12. "Hang on to that one!" : ITSAKEEPER
13. Called up : PHONED
18. Cloistered : SETAPART
24. Wise one : OWL
25. Middle of a three-part illustrated maxim : HEARNOEVIL
26. Teach myths, say : MISEDUCATE
28. What a student with a full scholarship has : FREERIDE
29. Four things represented visually in this puzzle's grid : CANDYCANES
30. 37-Down follower on a calendar : OCT
34. Laughed gleefully : CHORTLED
35. Gen. Pershing's grp. in W.W. I : AEF
37. 30-Down preceder on a calendar : SEP
39. Dwellers on the Gulf of Aden : SOMALIS
41. Some office printers : EPSONS
46. Somewhat : ATAD
48. Reason to cover your eyes in the theater? : GORE
49. Actress ___ Rachel Wood : EVAN
50. One out on a limb? : NEST
51. Classic role for Liz Taylor : CLEO
52. Soft ball? : YARN
55. High priest of Shiloh : ELI

Answer summary: 5 unique to this puzzle, 1 debuted here and reused later, 2 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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