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New York Times, Saturday, June 14, 2014

Author: Alex Vratsanos
Editor: Will Shortz
Alex Vratsanos
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
136/13/20116/28/20163
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3122212
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.59020

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 68, Blocks: 25 Missing: {Q} Grid has both 90- and 180-degree symmetry This is puzzle # 8 for Mr. Vratsanos. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Alex Vratsanos notes: In my four semesters at the University of Delaware, crosswords were, all in all, my biggest distraction. They were also the ... more
Alex Vratsanos notes: In my four semesters at the University of Delaware, crosswords were, all in all, my biggest distraction. They were also the biggest thing I had going for me there, as my second published one (11/11/11) made me arguably the most famous freshman on campus. And even though I have left Delaware and regained focus on my studies closer to my home in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley, crosswords remain my #1 hobby.

Today's puzzle is one that I have been very proud of, ever since I completed it, clued it, and submitted it in October 2012. (I put it in the mailbox exactly four days before my fourth NYT puzzle ran so that I would not have nothing left in the tank, so to speak, after that puzzle ran.) I would have liked it to be supersymmetric, with 7's going all the way around the perimeter of the grid and rows and columns 7 and 9 being spans, but the switch to a mix of 8's and 6's made it much easier for me to make the four longest entries be fresh and interesting.

My favorite of the 12's is IDIOSYNCRASY, as even though it's the only single word among them, I find it fun to say! I also like CRANBERRY BOG a lot, as well as JOAN BAEZ (what a great 1A!), SCHERZO, DENARII, FINIAL, LAST EXIT, ISLAMIST, JILTED, ZONK OUT, KATMANDU, GO ROGUE, and CRONKITE. As for clues, Will kept almost exactly half of mine. Some of the new ones that struck me were those for 15A, 26A, 30A, 59A, 60A, 21D, 35D, 47D, and 55D.

Finally, I am truly amazed and honored to have set the bar for the cycle, now that I've had a puzzle published on every day of the week. Jim Horne noted that David Steinberg completed the cycle with his ninth NYT puzzle (3/9/13), and David Kwong matched the feat with the puzzle that Horne named his Puzzle of the Year for 2013 (10/31/13). Though I have now done it in only eight, Steinberg did it in less time than I did, and I now encourage anyone who wants to do it in only seven, the absolute minimum, to make an effort to achieve that goal.

I look forward to my next publication, but I will not lose focus on my studies. I hope you all enjoyed my puzzle!

Jeff Chen notes: This might look like a typical themeless construction, with a set of triple-stacked 8's in each corner, but it's not. Alex travels an ... more
Jeff Chen notes: This might look like a typical themeless construction, with a set of triple-stacked 8's in each corner, but it's not. Alex travels an ambitious road by adding two aspects, both of which make this construction much harder than the more typical ones.

First, note the four long entries crossing the triple-stacked 8's. EDWARD NORTON, POINT OF ORDER, CRANBERRY BOG, IDIOSYNCRASY, they're all great. We don't often see four EXTRA long answers like this, all intersecting each other in a windmill pattern.

And Alex could have made this easier on himself by blocking off some of the puzzle flow. Note how each of the four corners flows in either direction? Might not seem like a big deal, but it's so much harder to get a puzzle to knit together with an open construction like this. If Alex had blocked off the start of DENARII / TOSCA for example, his SCHAEFER / CRONKITE / HASTENED stack wouldn't have had to "turn the corner" there.

Given these ambitious constraints, Alex does a nice job. Starting with the four aforementioned long entries, all great, he expands from there into his four triple-stacks. I loved the NW one, with the Scrabbly JOAN BAEZ to kick it off, and INNUENDO and LETS DOWN are both very nice. The other stacks aren't quite as nice, but that's to be expected given the constraints. Typically I wouldn't consider NORTHERN, HASTENED, even OLEASTER to be great themeless entries.

And there are a few blips here and there, most interesting to me was that they almost all came from the "turning the corner" areas. EDER and SORBS. CHA and ENHALO. IVO and ELEC. DANO and ETERNE. Alex keeps the rest of the puzzle pretty lively and clean, but those small areas get tricky. Any time you have to knit sections together in multiple ways, things get tough. Alex does do a nice job of keeping everything solvable with fair crossings, although the F in SCHAEFER / FINIAL was a bit iffy for me. Big fan of everything from our local Manny's Pale Ale to Bud Light with Lime. (Only after long runs, I swear! Don't tell anyone.). But I wasn't aware of SCHAEFER. Perhaps someone needs to telex me some.

Some great clues today. [Provider of bang for the buck?] was a fun one, alluding to a buck using his antlers as weapons. [Sitter's choice] looked so innocuous, making me think about TV vs. movies while watching tots. Devious!

JimH notes: The cycle in only eight! Congrats.
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© 2014, The New York TimesNo. 23,594
Across Down
1. "Diamonds and Rust" singer, 1975 : JOANBAEZ
9. Add in large amounts : PACKON
15. "Is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?," e.g. : INNUENDO
16. Surround with light : ENHALO
17. Disappoints : LETSDOWN
18. More legible, say : NEATER
19. Marvin Gaye's "___ Tomorrow" : TIL
20. Gambling : STAKING
22. One often seen at the door : MAT
23. River of Hesse : EDER
25. Undermine : ERODE
26. Wound around the body? : GASH
27. Reasons for some joyrides : DARES
29. Cause of an insurance increase, for short : DUI
30. National card game of Mexico : MONTE
31. Call for a meeting? : POINTOFORDER
34. Part of many a symphony : SCHERZO
37. Visit : SOJOURN
38. Many a Cape Cod locale : CRANBERRYBOG
40. Multitudes : HOSTS
41. Multitude : TON
42. Some settlers, before settling : SUERS
46. H. G. Wells's "Empire of the ___" : ANTS
47. Teatro Costanzi premiere of 1900 : TOSCA
49. Kind of engr. : ELEC
50. Pull (out) : EKE
51. New Testament money : DENARII
53. ___ Andric, Literature Nobelist before John Steinbeck : IVO
54. Ornament at the top of a spire : FINIAL
56. Sign at the end of a freeway, maybe : LASTEXIT
58. Like God, in the olden days : ETERNE
59. Former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, for one : ISLAMIST
60. Team whose playing venue appears on the National Register of Historic Places : REDSOX
61. Dumps : EYESORES
1. Dumped : JILTED
2. Six Nations tribe : ONEIDA
3. Provider of bang for the buck? : ANTLER
4. Greek consonants : NUS
5. Twins, e.g. : BEDS
6. Make ___ of : ANOTE
7. Best Actor nominee for "American History X" : EDWARDNORTON
8. Fall asleep fast : ZONKOUT
9. Cylindrical pasta : PENNE
10. Rare blood type, for short : ANEG
11. Ching preceder : CHA
12. Asian capital : KATMANDU
13. Wild olive : OLEASTER
14. Boreal : NORTHERN
21. Kojak's love of lollipops or Reagan's love of jellybeans, e.g. : IDIOSYNCRASY
24. Starts on a righteous path : REPENTS
26. Disobey directives, say : GOROGUE
28. Gathers on a surface, chemically : SORBS
30. Charms : MOJOS
32. Novel ending? : IZE
33. Time keeper? : FOB
34. "America's oldest lager beer" : SCHAEFER
35. First person outside NASA to receive a moon-rock award, 2006 : CRONKITE
36. Accelerated : HASTENED
39. 1937 film based on a Gershwin musical : ROSALIE
43. ___ of life : ELIXIR
44. Work over : REVISE
45. Nursery brand : SCOTTS
47. Bringer of old news : TELEX
48. Sitter's choice : AISLE
51. Longtime soap actress Linda : DANO
52. "Take ___ a sign" : ITAS
55. Group awaiting one's return, for short : IRS
57. Some rock : EMO

Answer summary: 3 unique to this puzzle, 1 debuted here and reused later, 6 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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