New York Times, Monday, July 28, 2014

Author: Tom McCoy
Editor: Will Shortz
Tom McCoy
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
2211/14/20139/4/20160
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11415100
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.61341

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 76, Blocks: 36 Missing: {FX} This is puzzle # 5 for Mr. McCoy. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Tom McCoy notes: This puzzle was quite literally a labor of love because it originated as a present for my mom! She's an avid quilter, and this was ... more
Tom McCoy notes: This puzzle was quite literally a labor of love because it originated as a present for my mom! She's an avid quilter, and this was the best quilting-related theme I could think of. In fact, for a while I had QUILTS at 27-Across instead of GUILTY (with QATAR at 27-Down), but I decided that QUILTS was not worth the price of SDS at 28-Down. Some other theme answers I considered were BA(THREAD)ING and YOUCAN(TWINE)MALL.

This was the first time I constructed after my debut came out last November, so I made a big effort to adapt to the critiques of that puzzle. First, many had said that the debut would have benefitted from a revealer, so for this puzzle I started with a revealer and built the rest around it. Secondly, many thought the debut's non-theme fill was clean but boring. Therefore, for this puzzle, I decided to allow a few less-than-desirable entries such as LGA, NCR, and ASTI in order to accommodate a few more exciting entries like TRYHARDS, LOSE-LOSE, and SPARKLER.

The grid was tough to fill because it was my first attempt at more than four theme answers and because the Q of STRING QUARTET had to sit inconveniently in the center of the grid. I'm glad the theme necessitated five components because otherwise I would have been tempted to trim down the theme in order to make the filling easier.

When I realized this puzzle could be a pangram, I got pretty excited. However, after reading many crossword blog posts that were decidedly anti-pangram, I realized that including every letter of the alphabet does not increase the solver's enjoyment. Therefore, I gave up the pangram idea, and that certainly improved the puzzle because it brought the word count down from 78 to 76 and removed the need for some cheater squares.

Merry Christmas again, Mom!

Jeff Chen notes: A classical music(-ish) theme from Tom today, STRING QUARTET reinterpreted as a foursome of different types of string. At its heart ... more
Jeff Chen notes: A classical music(-ish) theme from Tom today, STRING QUARTET reinterpreted as a foursome of different types of string. At its heart it's a "hidden words" theme, and since so many of those have been done before, it's important to choose snappy theme answers. Although I don't know HEY ARNOLD, I've heard of it, and the clue was a nice bit of trivia. VOCAB LESSON was another strong one, and ZERO PERCENT sang to me. I can just imagine someone saying "Zero percent chance of that!" Good stuff.

I was a little mystified by the four strings. ROPE and YARN, definitely. NYLON felt more like a material to me, though. Perhaps it's my engineering background, through with I designed a lot of plastic parts to be injection molded from nylon? And CABLE I can see as a type of string… sort of. My first thought was to wonder what one of my computer cables had to do with string. I would have preferred if Tom had gone with THREAD and TWINE. A matter of personal taste.

Setting those qualms aside, Tom did a nice job putting together the puzzle, especially considering the difficult 11/9/13/9/11 pattern (central 13 = very limiting). I like the layout overall, with a lot of space between themers. I didn't quite find it as smooth as some of his other work, especially around those parallel downs: LOSE LOSE / GAUNTLET and SENESCED / TRY HARDS. Those types of parallel downs are notoriously difficult to execute with total smoothness. Tom does a great job in the NE, picking two strong entries, and filling around them with only an LGA and YDS, very minor nits.

The SW suffers a bit though, with SENESCED being an interesting VOCAB LESSON for some but not terribly snazzy for others. TRY HARDS… are they "a thing"? It could easily be some sort of really old (or really new!) slang. Just not something I've heard before, which is fine. But the crossing between NCR and SENESCED is going to be rough on some solvers. Arguably an unfair crossing, although I could see it going either way.

Finally, I really appreciated reading Tom's comments about 1.) holding the solver's experience as by far the most important factor and 2.) learning from solver feedback. I think it's important to remember that opinions are simply opinions, but I really like his process of data-gathering and reflection.

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© 2014, The New York TimesNo. 23,638
Across Down
1. Squander : WASTE
6. Like a cat in need of a firefighter, stereotypically : TREED
11. N.Y.C. alternative to JFK : LGA
14. Notions : IDEAS
15. Mandel of "America's Got Talent" : HOWIE
16. Galley propeller : OAR
17. Chance of an impossibility : ZEROPERCENT
19. 666, for the numbers on a roulette wheel : SUM
20. In the manner of : ALA
21. Fraidy-cat : WUSS
22. Portent : OMEN
24. Cutters that cut with the grain : RIPSAWS
27. Innocent's opposite : GUILTY
29. Watery abysses : DEEPS
30. Nickelodeon show whose protagonist has a football-shaped head : HEYARNOLD
33. From ___ Z : ATO
35. Note between fa and la : SOL
36. Functions : USES
37. Classical music group ... or what the four sets of circled letters make up? : STRINGQUARTET
41. Yank : JERK
42. ___ de cologne : EAU
43. ___ the pants off : SUE
44. For even a second more : ANYLONGER
47. Insipid : BLAND
51. Observed : BEHELD
52. Nineveh's land : ASSYRIA
54. Indian dress : SARI
55. ___ mater : ALMA
57. Critical hosp. department : ICU
58. A.T.M. co. : NCR
59. Component of a language class, informally : VOCABLESSON
63. Mattress's place : BED
64. Weasley family owl : ERROL
65. Prepared to be knighted : KNELT
66. Coupon bearers, often : ADS
67. Baseball's Pee Wee : REESE
68. Somebody ___ problem : ELSES
1. ___ of Menlo Park (Thomas Edison) : WIZARD
2. Penguin variety : ADELIE
3. Mexican wrap : SERAPE
4. "___ Te Ching" (classic Chinese text) : TAO
5. Psychic's "gift," briefly : ESP
6. Plump songbird : THRUSH
7. Birds in the "Arabian Nights" : ROCS
8. Rams' mates : EWES
9. German article : EIN
10. Roundabout route : DETOUR
11. Like a catch-22 situation : LOSELOSE
12. Knight's glove : GAUNTLET
13. One of eight on an octopus : ARM
18. "Gross!" : EWW
23. With great attention to detail : MINUTELY
25. Hand-held Fourth of July firework : SPARKLER
26. ___ Spumante : ASTI
27. Black-tie parties : GALAS
28. N.F.L. lengths: Abbr. : YDS
31. Suffix with Kafka : ESQUE
32. Word pronounced the same when its first two letters are removed : YOU
34. Upright, as a box : ONEND
37. Grew old : SENESCED
38. Those who put a lot of effort into social climbing, in modern lingo : TRYHARDS
39. Joke : GAG
40. Chafes : RUBS
41. Short boxing punch : JAB
45. Dickens's "___ Twist" : OLIVER
46. Talk on and on and on : RAMBLE
48. Comes up : ARISES
49. Kidman who is neither a kid nor a man : NICOLE
50. Intimidates : DAUNTS
53. Mule on a canal, in song : SAL
55. Unit of farmland : ACRE
56. Thailand/Vietnam separator : LAOS
58. Org. for LeBron James : NBA
60. Rock with gold or silver, say : ORE
61. Squeeze (out) : EKE
62. Sketch comedy TV series since '75 : SNL

Answer summary: 7 unique to this puzzle, 2 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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