New York Times, Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Author: Alex Vratsanos
Editor: Will Shortz
Alex Vratsanos
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This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 74, Blocks: 38 Missing: {FXZ} This is puzzle # 7 for Mr. Vratsanos. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Alex Vratsanos notes: This puzzle was inspired by Matt Gaffney's Orca-nominated 'At the Present Time,' which used the traditional 5th, 10th, 15th, ... more
Alex Vratsanos notes: This puzzle was inspired by Matt Gaffney's Orca-nominated "At the Present Time," which used the traditional 5th, 10th, 15th, etc. anniversary gifts in the clues numbered 5, 10, 15, etc. Thinking of that puzzle as I ate lunch at the University of Delaware in April 2013, it struck me that chemical elements and lining up their atomic numbers with the clue numbers might work just as well.

Before I left the dining hall, I had come up with the grid you see now. I received excellent feedback on it from George Barany and his team, and was thrilled when Will accepted it last June 30. If you've enjoyed it, you may also enjoy this unpublished puzzle by Charles Deber, which has a few of the same theme entries.

Will put a very nice spin on the revealer clue, my original one being "With 38-Down, property of the first part of the starred entries that matches that of the clue." As for the fill, my favorites are YOU LOSE (I like Will's new clue), I'M SAD (ditto), ONE WOOD, JEOPARDY, SQUIRES, and PHDS (another great clue). Thanks, Will!

Jeff Chen notes: A very nicely constructed grid today. I remember a few years ago when Alex first contacted me, one of my big points of feedback was ... more
Jeff Chen notes: A very nicely constructed grid today. I remember a few years ago when Alex first contacted me, one of my big points of feedback was to be more careful about the quality of his grid fill. He had some interesting ideas, but too often there were too many unappealing entries which as a whole left a bad taste. It's fantastic to see how far he's come, especially considering today's grid is no easy construction.

The theme today is a little difficult to get, considering the long revealer clue. ATOMIC / NUMBER, which is the number of protons an element contains, is used to clue in four entries: CARBON COPY is at 6 down, and carbon's atomic number is 6. NEON LIGHTS is at 10 down, and NEON's atomic number is 10. Get it?

Alex ran this theme by me a few months ago, and I liked the overall construction — not an easy task to get four long themers at specific numbers — but I asked him, why those four elements? Just because they were ones possible to make four snappy phrases out of? And although it was kind of neat that the ATOMIC NUMBER matched up with the four entries, even after taking years of chemistry in both high school and college, I couldn't recall the atomic number of copper to save my life. So the idea didn't appeal to me all that much.

That said, I do appreciate the experimentation. Other constructors have used the across/down numbers within entries before, including one I found particularly ingenious, but Alex takes it a step further and uses those numbers for a different purpose. The concept didn't quite tickle me, but I'm sure some chemistry lovers will dig it.

I really liked the care Alex took in filling the grid today. He could have sat back and tried something simpler given that he already had quite a few long entries, but look at all the nice sevens: YOU LOSE, INHALER, TEST LAB, HOLED UP. Rich Norris at the LAT gave me very useful feedback a few years ago, that he prizes multiple-word phrases within themeless puzzles (as well as for long fill in themed puzzled), and I've taken that to heart. Certain one-worders like NIBLETS are really nice too, but in general, those two-word phrases have so much more potential than single words. Of course there are exceptions (I like SPINNER much better than ONE WOOD since most people call the club a driver), but it's a nice rule of thumb.

As with any difficult construction, there will be compromises here and there, but Alex does a nice job keeping these to a minimum. Ideally the lesser stuff would be spread out so it's not as noticeable, so it's too bad that MSN, PPS, DHS, all go straight across the bottom. I found it well worth, though, it in order to get those nice big chunks in the SW and NE corners.

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© 2014, The New York TimesNo. 23,514
Across Down
1. "Foucault's Pendulum" author : ECO
4. Legendary predator of elephants : ROC
7. Entertainers at many 49-Downs, for short : DJS
10. Super Mario Bros. console, for short : NES
13. Jobs offering : MAC
14. Stop ___ dime : ONA
15. Radio station listener's call-in, perhaps : REQUEST
17. Asthmatic's device : INHALER
19. "Checkmate!" : YOULOSE
20. Experiment site : TESTLAB
21. Alternative to dice : SPINNER
22. 1952 Winter Olympics host : OSLO
23. ___ Sea, waters depleted by irrigation projects : ARAL
24. "Spider-Man" director Sam : RAIMI
27. Abalone shell lining : NACRE
30. "___ all good" : ITS
33. Politico Hatch of 54-Down : ORRIN
34. Clumsy sorts : CLODS
35. Pick up : GET
36. Holey plastic shoe : CROC
37. Off one's rocker : LOOPY
38. Drag racers' org. : NHRA
39. "The Wizard of Oz" locale: Abbr. : KAN
40. Absorb, as gravy : SOPUP
41. ___-Grain : NUTRI
42. "Dee-lish!" : YUM
43. Bonnie's partner : CLYDE
44. :-( : IMSAD
45. "... ___ in Kalamazoo" : AGAL
47. Eldest Stark child on "Game of Thrones" : ROBB
49. Australia's Port ___ Bay : PHILLIP
52. In hiding : HOLEDUP
56. Team leader of song : RUDOLPH
57. Retired academics : EMERITI
58. Tee-shot club : ONEWOOD
59. Well-put : APT
60. Vintner's vessel : VAT
61. I.S.P. with a butterfly logo : MSN
62. After-afterthought on a letter: Abbr. : PPS
63. Many aging A.L. sluggers : DHS
64. ___ moment : AHA
1. Send out : EMIT
2. One of man's three legs, in the riddle of the Sphinx : CANE
3. Protest singer Phil : OCHS
4. Arrives, as fog : ROLLSIN
5. N.B.A. great in Icy Hot commercials : ONEAL
6. *Typist's duplicate of old : CARBONCOPY
7. Prohibitionists : DRYS
8. Game show with the theme music "Think!" : JEOPARDY
9. Knights' attendants : SQUIRES
10. *They're big on Broadway : NEONLIGHTS
11. "To be," to Brutus : ESSE
12. Suffix with slick : STER
16. Radius neighbor : ULNA
18. With 38-Down, property of the first part of the answer to each starred clue (appropriately positioned in the grid) : ATOMIC
24. First sports movie to win Best Picture : ROCKY
25. Pianist Claudio : ARRAU
26. *Medieval device with spikes : IRONMAIDEN
28. One way to read : ALOUD
29. *Anti-Civil War Northerner : COPPERHEAD
31. ___ firma : TERRA
32. Unflashy : STAID
37. Kid's post-haircut treat, maybe : LOLLIPOP
38. See 18-Down : NUMBER
40. Bit of surf in surf and turf : SCALLOP
41. Green Giant canned corn : NIBLETS
46. Radiant look : GLOW
48. Zip : OOMPH
49. Gym ball? : PROM
50. Barbaric sorts : HUNS
51. Nth degrees? : PHDS
53. Demanding sort : DIVA
54. See 33-Across : UTAH
55. Gyro bread : PITA

Answer summary: 2 unique to this puzzle, 1 debuted here and reused later, 3 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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