New York Times, Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Author: John E. Bennett
Editor: Will Shortz
John E. Bennett
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24/9/20148/25/20150
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1.54020

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 78, Blocks: 40 Missing: {JQVZ} Spans: 1 This is the debut puzzle for Mr. Bennett NYT links: Across Lite PDF

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John E. Bennett notes: I am an architect but mostly retired now. About 4 years ago while I was still working in a Seattle architectural office, I had ... more
John E. Bennett notes: I am an architect but mostly retired now. About 4 years ago while I was still working in a Seattle architectural office, I had a 3-day weekend to kill while my wife was away for a few days. I decided it would be fun to try my hand at designing a crossword puzzle, since I enjoyed doing them so much. Kind of an architect's approach to many other things in life.

Without any computerized assistance I tried to work out a theme of literal words that do what they describe, like BACKTRACK going in reverse, etc. I got totally into a zone and time stood still for most of the three days. I knew I was hooked! Ever since then, I realized that crossword constructing would have to be a part of my life. Of course my goal, which I knew was a long shot, was to get a puzzle some day in the New York Times. I recognized fairly early on that without a computer program I would spend 99% of my time trying to just get basic word fills to work out. After installing a crossword program I was off and running! Now I need to always have a puzzle somewhere in progress or I feel like something is missing in my life!

The thing I find so satisfying about crossword constructing in my retirement (I like "crossword designing" better; "constructing" is what the contractor, or constructor, does after something is designed) is that for me it is a great substitute for architecture. Designing crossword puzzles is really not unlike designing buildings. You need an overarching concept or theme like "WHAT'S IN THE BOXES?", followed by a development of elements that support or relate to that theme (6 symmetrical letter groups), which then have to be worked into a structural network of support elements (like black squares). The supporting structure needs to have a predictable consistency (like symmetry) and needs to be relatively efficient (no more than 43 squares) and placed in locations that will allow the theme to be accommodated in a seamless and logical manner (symmetry again).

As with a building design, everything must meet code (like no more than 78 clues and no words less than 3 letters) and also comply with acceptable industry conventions (no off-color or depressive terms etc.). Beyond meeting the functional aspects of the design, the main ingredient, just like in architecture, is in the creativity used in producing an end product that will be more than just the sum of its parts. And of course, the design has to be approved by the "the Owner" who uses and pays for the design services and who in this case happens to be Will Shortz! ;-)

The inspiration for the "WHAT'S IN THE BOXES" puzzle was the result of thinking about what every crossword puzzle has in common for the every puzzler. Broken down to its very basics the question for the puzzler is always trying to figure out what IS in each of the boxes. This puzzle takes it to the next fractal up by making larger "boxes" and then having all 6 of them also be types of boxes.

Jeff Chen notes: Another debut! I like seeing new constructors added to the ever-growing ranks. Neat that each new person brings a different ... more
Jeff Chen notes: Another debut! I like seeing new constructors added to the ever-growing ranks. Neat that each new person brings a different perspective, a different set of inputs that goes into his or her puzzle. So to have two in a week is a treat.

Today's puzzle centers around WHAT'S IN THE BOXES, with six "boxes" all containing four-letter words which can precede "box." (PILLBOX, for example.) A good twist on the "word that can precede or follow" type theme. It's really nice that John kept everything consistent, each of the six "boxes" starting at the top left, reading from left to right and then top to bottom. I got a little tripped up at first because I was expecting them all to run clockwise, but that's likely just me and my preconceived notions of how things ought to be.

John also did a very nice job of choosing his theme answers. I wasn't sure what a SALT box was, but it came easily enough. I looked it up, and it didn't particularly seem like something I really ought to have known (a house style in New England, named after boxes used in the old days to store salt), but it was fun to learn.

There are many four-letter words that can precede BOX, so John did a great job of picking ones that could easily be filled around. Crossing constraints like with these 2x2 boxes are bound to give difficulty, but the only spot of any crunchiness was around the SW corner, with IS NO. The ?SN? pattern is a toughie, to be avoided at all costs — besides ISN'T, there's not much that fills it in a clean way. Otherwise, smooth sailing, excellent work.

The pluralization of the revealer felt a tad off to me, as WHAT'S IN THE BOX feels stronger (a more in-the-language entry related to a kid groveling at cool Uncle Jeff when he brings over a present). Or perhaps if the clue had been related only to the customs officer? Even then, I have a hard time imagining a customs official saying that instead of OPEN THE BOXES RIGHT NOW DAMMIT. Perhaps a inspector at a seaport might be the closest fit in my mind.

Putting that qualm aside, it's a well-executed puzzle. To incorporate 1.) six "boxes," plus 2.) a grid-spanning revealer and 3.) four long pieces of fill is not easy. Many constructors would be fine with the first two components, so I'm glad to see the third piece, which adds a lot of spice to the grid. Excellent job on the layout, especially for his first puzzle.

Really nice debut!

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© 2014, The New York TimesNo. 23,528
Across Down
1. Furtive attention-getter : PSST
5. Handles roughly : PAWS
9. Like some scents for men : MUSKY
14. Arabian Peninsula land : OMAN
15. James who won a posthumous Pulitzer : AGEE
16. State one's case : OPINE
17. Knight's contest : TILT
18. Cut back : PARE
19. ___ wrench : ALLEN
20. Will Smith biopic : ALI
21. Cottonmouth, e.g. : WATERSNAKE
23. Capable of being stretched : TENSILE
25. Trivia whiz Jennings : KEN
26. Cineplex ___ Corporation : ODEON
27. Was on both sides of : STRADDLED
33. Pixel density meas. : RES
35. Muesli morsel : OAT
36. A low one is best, for short : ERA
37. Question asked by a customs officer or a kid on Christmas ... with a hint to this puzzle's shaded squares : WHATSINTHEBOXES
43. "The Mikado" accessory : OBI
44. "Didn't know that!" : GEE
45. Prepare for a spike, in volleyball : SET
46. Verbiage : WORDINESS
50. Abs worker : SITUP
54. Tangent of 45° : ONE
55. Rock, so to speak : ICECUBE
57. Dawn : FIRSTLIGHT
61. Grass from a farm : SOD
62. Seminomadic Kenyan : MASAI
63. New York's ___ Stadium : ASHE
64. Title derived from the name "Caesar" : TSAR
65. Ingredients in old-fashioneds : RINDS
66. "Little piggies" : TOES
67. Mezzo's choirmate : ALTO
68. Stuck-up sort : SNOOT
69. Some linemen : ENDS
70. First lady before Mamie : BESS
1. Latke component : POTATO
2. Heeded the photographer, say : SMILED
3. IV solution : SALINE
4. Blasting stuff : TNT
5. ___ States : PAPAL
6. Banded gemstones : AGATES
7. "#1" may follow it : WERE
8. Futures dealer? : SEER
9. Bellyached : MOANED
10. Higher ground : UPLAND
11. Product of a domesticated insect : SILK
12. Proposer's prop? : KNEE
13. Its banknotes have denominations from 1,000 to 10,000 : YEN
21. Cellar stock : WINES
22. Roller derby need : SKATES
24. Microsoft Excel command : SORT
28. Schleps : TOTES
29. When repeated, super-enthusiastic : RAH
30. N.Y.C. ave. parallel to Park and Madison : LEX
31. Bard's preposition : ERE
32. Prosecutors, for short : DAS
34. Seal engraved on a ring : SIGNET
37. "Holy cow!" : WOW
38. "Game of Thrones" network : HBO
39. Bring up, as a grievance : AIR
40. Word in many a woman's bio : NEE
41. Attack from all sides : BESET
42. Ear-related : OTIC
47. El ___ (fabled city) : DORADO
48. Refuse to yield : INSIST
49. Said "alas," say : SIGHED
51. Shoving match : TUSSLE
52. W.W. II threats : UBOATS
53. Three-time Cy Young winner Martinez and others : PEDROS
56. Magnus Carlsen's game : CHESS
57. "April Love" composer Sammy : FAIN
58. "There ___ 'I' in 'team'" : ISNO
59. After the whistle : LATE
60. "The heat ___!" : ISON
62. ___ Paul's (seafood brand) : MRS
64. Bill : TAB

Answer summary: 3 unique to this puzzle, 1 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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