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New York Times, Monday, August 4, 2014

Author: Joel Fagliano
Editor: Will Shortz
Joel Fagliano
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
5110/22/200911/13/20163
SunMonTueWedThuFriSatVariety
1181069223
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.65351

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 70, Blocks: 38 Missing: {FJQ} This is puzzle # 29 for Mr. Fagliano. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Joel Fagliano notes: I came up with this simple theme on a plane ride, of course. It felt pretty average as themes go, so I decided to make it ... more
Joel Fagliano notes: I came up with this simple theme on a plane ride, of course. It felt pretty average as themes go, so I decided to make it distinctive by really lowering the word count. I'm pretty sure I've never seen a Monday puzzle with only 70 words, but it seemed like a fun construction challenge to make a puzzle with this much open space still have all easy vocabulary. I'm really happy with how clean it came out in the end (AWNS was OWNS and BRAGS was BLOGS for a while until I noticed the OWN A GUN/OWNS dupe), and that I was able to work some lively fill in. I'm not sure whether Monday solvers will find the chunky corners too difficult, so I'm interested in reading the response to this one.
Jeff Chen notes: Joel's done some great work in his nearly 30 puzzles for the NYT. But I can't remember ever thinking 'how the heck did he do that?' ... more
Jeff Chen notes: Joel's done some great work in his nearly 30 puzzles for the NYT. But I can't remember ever thinking "how the heck did he do that?" until today. I was wondering why my solve went so slow. It wasn't a lack of smoothness — there's only one piece of glue I can point out (AWNS), and all the crossings are fair. It wasn't that the cluing was extraordinarily hard. So why did it take me roughly 50% longer?

I realized there's a bit of magic involved. This is a 70-word puzzle... without looking at all like one. If you eye the empty grid, you wouldn't think it was a themeless, would you? Doesn't have the wide-open four corners most exhibit. Yet its 70 words puts it WAY below average for a Monday. It's a real testament to the quality of work that it took me so long to figure this out.

I've put together 72 word-count themed puzzles before and found them extremely difficult. Most of the time I can't fill them cleanly enough so they could run as an early-week puzzle — crossword glue in Mondays and Tuesdays risks alienating beginning solvers. So to see the smoothness of this 70-word creation is amazing. Unbelievable how he left so much white space between themers (note where SNEERS sits sandwiched between WINDOW and AISLE, for example) and managed to keep things silky.

Life is all about expectations, isn't it? I experienced a bit of disconnect. A straightforward theme (WINDOW MIDDLE AISLE) with a themeless-esque grid was a bit like eating a cheeseburger while watching an art film. I still really enjoyed both, but I wonder if I would have preferred them separately? Might just be human nature — my resistance to change.

And a minor nit, it would have been great if all three themers had the same verb structure (CRACK, MEET, GO, e.g.). But overall, a really nice change of pace for a Monday. It's so hard to make a low word-count grid this smooth. I'll be interested to see if we get more of them, considering how challenging they are to create. I'll be dissecting this one further on my own.

1
R
2
A
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C
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E
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B
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R
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A
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G
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S
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S
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H
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15
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O
W
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T
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K
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M
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G
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Z
O
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H
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© 2014, The New York TimesNo. 23,645
Across Down
1. Marathon or sprint : RACE
5. Toots one's own horn : BRAGS
10. "___ out of your league, man!" : SHES
14. Shah's land : IRAN
15. Des Moines native : IOWAN
16. Vehicle with a hatch on top : TANK
17. Venus de ___ : MILO
18. Muppet with a long bluish nose : GONZO
19. ___ in a blue moon : ONCE
20. Lets some air in, say : CRACKSAWINDOW
23. Any graduate from a women's college : ALUMNA
25. Becomes an Elvis impersonator? : SNEERS
26. Compromised, as two parties : METINTHEMIDDLE
30. Actor Damon : MATT
31. German state whose capital is Dresden : SAXONY
32. "Sounds good!" : OKAY
33. Cacophony : DIN
34. Jane Austen classic : EMMA
38. Hypes : BOOSTS
41. Lab container : VIAL
42. Get hitched : GODOWNTHEAISLE
46. Start watching a TV show, say : TUNEIN
47. Parts of a moral code : VALUES
48. What the ends of the answers to 20-, 26- and 42-Across are : AIRPLANESEATS
52. Narrow opening : SLIT
53. Mideast's ___ Heights : GOLAN
54. Close, in a guessing game : WARM
57. Make an engraving : ETCH
58. Illuminated from below : UPLIT
59. Horror film assistant with a Russian name : IGOR
60. Salon tints : DYES
61. Down-and-out : NEEDY
62. Word that's only coincidentally made up of the four main compass points : NEWS
1. Wheel's edge : RIM
2. "Exodus" hero : ARI
3. India's capital before New Delhi : CALCUTTA
4. Sheer awfulness : ENORMITY
5. Lions and tigers, but not bears : BIGCATS
6. Corner chess piece : ROOK
7. Plant bristles : AWNS
8. Mideast's ___ Strip : GAZA
9. Strands at a chalet, say : SNOWSIN
10. High as a kite : STONED
11. "Messiah" composer : HANDEL
12. Shout after the band leaves the stage : ENCORE
13. Distorts, as data : SKEWS
21. ___ Taylor, women's clothing chain : ANN
22. ___ 500 : INDY
23. BBs and bullets : AMMO
24. Plumbing problem : LEAK
27. Wore : HADON
28. Be : EXIST
29. Calendar page : MONTH
34. Facetious fall guy for one's wrongdoings, maybe : EVILTWIN
35. Malapropism : MISUSAGE
36. Like guys : MALE
37. Pub orders : ALES
38. Be hot, hot, hot : BOIL
39. Exercise one's right under the Second Amendment : OWNAGUN
40. Common highway speed limit : SEVENTY
42. Opposite of innocent : GUILTY
43. How chop suey is often served : ONRICE
44. Ocean bottoms : DEPTHS
45. Baseball designation one step below Major League : AAA
46. Zapped, as during an arrest : TASED
49. Slangy dissent : NOPE
50. Woman's name that sounds like a letter : ELLE
51. Uttered : SAID
55. Pull an oar : ROW
56. ___ Fields cookies : MRS

Answer summary: 6 unique to this puzzle.

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