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New York Times, Saturday, July 12, 2014

Author: Tim Croce and Alex Vratsanos
Editor: Will Shortz
Tim Croce
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
333/12/20106/27/20151
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
01332816
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.56001
Alex Vratsanos
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
136/13/20116/28/20163
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
3122212
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.59020

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 66, Blocks: 30 Missing: {JQXY} Spans: 6, (2 double stacks) This is puzzle # 30 for Mr. Croce. This is puzzle # 9 for Mr. Vratsanos. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Constructor notes: This is the result of collaboration between members of two parties long thought to be incapable of mutual agreement. Those parties ... more
Constructor notes: This is the result of collaboration between members of two parties long thought to be incapable of mutual agreement. Those parties are, of course, Red Sox Nation and Yankees Universe.

The meeting was by chance: we had puzzles published back-to-back (11/10/11 and 11/11/11), and we were thus able to see each other's email addresses. You must know that I (Tim) am very shy by nature, so the thought had never entered my mind to contact anyone to collaborate with. Despite that, we got in touch over nine months later... I (Alex) wrote to Tim on August 31, 2012, seeing as he was the constructor for the next day, the day of my mother's second wedding, at which I was best man.

In summer 2012, I (Alex) came up with the combination of TAPPAN ZEE BRIDGE and LIBATION BEARERS in rows 3 and 4 and CUTLETS and LIP BALM (the latter not yet having been used in the NYT back then) crossing them. At one point, Tim and I tried 4-5-4 across the top and bottom two rows, but sticking with 3-7-3 made it much easier to work with those 7's. We agreed on either SEMIGLOSS PAINTS or SEMISOFT CHEESES for the third span. The top left and middle fell into place because there were few other options for those sections; once we discovered that –SES presented more options than –NTS, CHEESES it was. There was some debate over the fill in the NE, but, once we found ORESTES, a tie-in to 20A, that was it.

The bottom was harder. The age-old debate arose: pangram or smoother fill? We tried a number of stacks: STREAK FREE SHINE / IT'S THE LATEST FAD, LEAVES A BAD TASTE / INCOME TAX RETURN, SPACE SATELLITES / AEROBIC EXERCISE — here we abandoned Scrabbly fill — FAST EDDIE FELSON / IMPERIAL MEASURE, then this one. There was some hang-up over SPANG, but we thought the fill in the bottom center to be much better with than without it. And I (Alex) feel fortunate to have still been able to use one Scrabbly letter in the bottom half, as I thought the Z in TAPPAN ZEE BRIDGE might feel lonely with no other Scrabbly letters in the grid.

As for cluing, we agreed to both write full sets and chat over Gmail, going clue by clue and deciding which one was better. We found that to be better than splitting the clues in half, because deciding between two clues for each entry would make a better product. Of particular note is the one for ELBE, not being able to decide between referring to the Vltava and the border between West and East Germany (which the Elbe formed part of) and thus putting both in our manuscript.

Thanks, Will, for the terrific job you've done editing this and all our puzzles. And thank you, reader, for enjoying our puzzle!

Jeff Chen notes: Crosswords are like cars. There are some universal assets for both: great themes and strong fill for crosswords, and gas mileage and ... more
Jeff Chen notes: Crosswords are like cars. There are some universal assets for both: great themes and strong fill for crosswords, and gas mileage and reliability for cars. But it makes a lot of sense for car makers to create "concept cars" to show off what might be possible. These concept cars may not be very practical, but they sure are cool to look at. It wouldn't be much fun if EVERY car were a concept car, but one every once in a while creates a lot of buzz.

Today's puzzle is in that vein for me. It's crazy-looking pattern. Eye-popping. Those giant white spaces in the top and bottom scream LOOK AT ME! As a constructor, I look at that and shudder for fear of execution difficulties, but for most of the NYT audience, I bet more of a "hey, you gotta come take a look at this!" is in order.

With any themeless featuring a lot of 15's, those grid-spanners must pull their weight, since they won't leave much room for other good fill. If you hit the "Analyze" button down below, you'll see that the longest entries after the 15's are only seven letters long. It's generally harder to come up with great IM IN AWE type entries when you're constrained to only seven letters. More often than not, more neutral words like SCOWLED or INSEAMS will fit in better.

Out of those six grid-spanners, I thought LIBATION BEARERS and I DONT FEEL LIKE IT and EARTH SHATTERING were fantastic. SEMI SOFT CHEESES and ARIZONA CARDINAL lean more toward neutral for me. And TAPPAN ZEE BRIDGE... yikes! It took every cross to figure out, and even then, TAPMANZEE (with MATTI) sounded reasonable. (I think too much about all the fun practical jokes I could pull if I had a chimpanzee. Even better if I had a tapmanzee.) Overall, not bad on this front.

Showy concept cars often have compromises in order to fit everything under the hood, and that's seen in some entries like DERAT, SOLFA and ARRAS and their crossing, the little corners filled with CPL / URI and MTA / SSN. Not what I'd like to typically see in a themeless. Additionally, the puzzle's flow wasn't ideal, being broken into three mini-puzzles: top, center, bottom. I was stymied by the top (which is fine, as I'm sure some people will know the TAPPAN ZEE BRIDGE off the top of their heads), without any way to break in.

That said, the overall effect is still pretty neat. I wouldn't want to see this type of puzzle every week, but a few times a year it provides for a great visual effect.

Finally, a few notes on clues. [They run up legs] for INSEAMS is awesome, exactly the type of clue that resonates for me, personally. (I was thinking about spiders running up legs, or better yet, miniature tapmanzees.) The clue for SCOWLED was less interesting to me, going for an esoteric definition of "scowl" (I looked up "scowl," and one of the last definitions was "lower." Then I looked up "lower," and one of the last definitions was "scowl." Some help, stupid dictionary.). This kind of cluing feels too SAT-ish and unsatisfying for me, but I'm sure others will enjoy it. Even prefer it.

Personally, it was a really nice touch to end on [Bright spots], which I thought were going to be something like HIGHLIGHTS, but was indeed, SOLARIA. Nice misdirection.

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© 2014, The New York TimesNo. 23,622
Across Down
1. Army equivalent of a leading seaman: Abbr. : CPL
4. Lowered : SCOWLED
11. Man on the street? : BRO
14. New England state sch. : URI
15. Football helmet feature : EARHOLE
16. Preposition with three homophones : OER
17. Span since 1955 : TAPPANZEEBRIDGE
20. Middle of an Aeschylus trilogy, with "The" : LIBATIONBEARERS
21. Classic label in classical music : ERATO
22. Try to pull off, say : TUGAT
23. Camera movement : TILT
24. Unwelcome neighbor : SNOOP
29. Get on board : LADE
30. Gouda and Muenster : SEMISOFTCHEESES
33. Greeting at the head of a procession : ALLHAIL
34. Selfish response to a request : IDONTFEELLIKEIT
42. River that passes by the Hermitage : NEVA
43. Wall hanging : ARRAS
44. Saint who is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers : ELMO
45. Squarely, informally : SPANG
47. First name in late-night TV : CRAIG
48. Monumental : EARTHSHATTERING
54. Pro athlete in a red-and-white uniform : ARIZONACARDINAL
55. Subway inits. : MTA
56. Bright spots : SOLARIA
57. One being shepherded, say : EWE
58. It's double-hyphenated: Abbr. : SSN
59. Like many a sports car : TWODOOR
60. Brutus' "but" : SED
1. Schnitzels, e.g. : CUTLETS
2. Plain variety : PRAIRIE
3. Stick in a purse? : LIPBALM
4. 1950s-'70s defense acronym : SEATO
5. Request often accompanied by "please" : CANI
6. Pasta eaten with a spoon : ORZO
7. "That's enough," to a server : WHEN
8. Banker/philanthropist Solomon : LOEB
9. River into which the Vltava flows : ELBE
10. Clear of vermin : DERAT
11. Some corner shops : BODEGAS
12. Move from A to B, say : REGRADE
13. Hero of 20-Across : ORESTES
18. Stanger a.k.a. Bravo's "Millionaire Matchmaker" : PATTI
19. "You can't beat me!" : IRULE
24. Sight-singing technique : SOLFA
25. 54-Across, e.g., for short : NFLER
26. Gender option on modern forms : OTHER
27. Onetime center for the distribution of oranges : OCALA
28. 2008 World Series winners, to fans : PHILS
31. Didn't get snapped up, say : SAT
32. Laura Nyro album "___ and the Thirteenth Confession" : ELI
34. They run up legs : INSEAMS
35. Skips : DEPARTS
36. Reproductive, in a way : OVARIAN
37. Sportscaster Jim : NANTZ
38. Olympic gymnast Strug : KERRI
39. Manhattan eatery referenced in Billy Joel's "Big Shot" : ELAINES
40. "Wow!" : IMINAWE
41. Turned off and on : TOGGLED
46. Shade : GHOST
47. Ohio's ___ Point, home of the Top Thrill Dragster and Millennium Force roller coasters : CEDAR
49. Kind of day or job : SNOW
50. Headlight? : HALO
51. Part of A.M.P.A.S.: Abbr. : ACAD
52. Arum family member : TARO
53. TLC, e.g. : TRIO

Answer summary: 4 unique to this puzzle, 3 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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