XW Info

Thursday, April 17, 2014
by Mary Lou Guizzo and Jeff Chen
Thu 4/17/2014
© 2014, The New York Times
Jeff Chen notes: It's a real pleasure to work with Mary Lou. One aspect I really like about her is that she understands how many theme ideas it takes to yield a single half-decent one. Too often when people approach me with a concept, we find out it's been done before, or it's too loosey-goosey, whatever, and they don't continue to brainstorm. Not ML! I find it takes at least ten thoughts to produce one quasi-workable theme, and even then, development of said theme takes time (and may not work out in the end). I'm glad she sticks through the arduous process.

This puzzle was a bear to put together, and we went through many iterations. People might say left-right (or "mirror") symmetry is becoming my shtick, and I do admit to liking the visual appeal. Most often I need to incorporate blocks in the center of the puzzle, which by nature either take on a smile or a frown, and who doesn't like seeing a nice friendly face right in the middle of their grid? (Don't answer that.)

Theme development alone on this one was very tricky. ML came up with a long list of workable phrase, and we wanted to narrow it down to a consistent set of at least four. Even then, the puzzle didn't feel heavy enough until we came across the idea of adding THINK / THROUGH, a double hint to the themers.

And then the grid work. Tortuous! Every time you work with crossing answers, you heavily constrain your grid. One set of (fixed) crossing answers is easy-peasy. Two is no bother. Three gets a little tricky. Four... groan. You might think, why do those goofballs need so many black squares up there? You'll answer you own question if you try to position those four sets of crossing themers within a 15x grid (and tear your hair out in the process).

Then to the bottom section. I wasn't wild about sectioning the grid in two (the edges of the smile sort of split the grid) but we didn't have many options for layout in those side regions. Keeping the four themers as separate as possible helped us fill relatively smoothly, so it was a trade-off we were willing to make. We did consider splitting some of the entries like CHESS GAME and OUTHOUSES to get rid of uglies like ETE, ASA, EST (ick!) but it surprisingly turned out to only reduce the ick factor slightly. So we decided to accept a tiny bit more ugly stuff to incorporate those nice I AM SO DEAD type answers. Honestly, it's too many glue-type entries in general, but I thought the overall concept was neat enough to be okay with it.

Finally, two notes interesting to me. First, I'm sure there will be people who gripe about DUROC because it's a word they don't know. But why not look it up and learn something? There's a giant swath through the Midwest who would likely argue with you cotton-pickin' city-slickers (pretty sure that's what Midwesterners say). Second, check out the "cross" made out of black squares at the top center. Typically I don't like to do this as it makes the grid feel too "filled-in" with black squares, but in this case, I thought it was a nice echo to the shape of the themers (highlighted in blue/red below).

1.Mob muscle : GOON
5.Little bit : JOT
8.A pop : EACH
12."You know nothing about me" : AMNOT
14.Open-mouthed state : AWE
15.Astronomer ___ Brahe : TYCHO
16."America's Most Wanted" host John : WALSH
17."Toy Story" character : REX
18.Subway fare? : HEROS
19.Superior skill : PROWESS
21.Pioneer in New Criticism : TSELIOT
23.With 13-Down, blew one's stack : WENT
24.With 15-Down, spent way too much money for something : PAID
25.Song that may be performed with supertitles : ARIA
27.Turn on : SEND
28.Soft and light : COTTONY
31."That put me over the edge!" : ILOSTIT
35."What?!" : HUH
36."Fine and dandy," in old slang : OKE
37.Symbols for statistical means : MUS
38.What pitchforks pitch : HAY
39.Summer in Qu├ębec : ETE
40.Slick trick : FASTONE
42.H.R.E. part: Abbr. : EMP
43.With 30-Down, hit dead-on : SHOT
45.With 61-Across, carefully consider ... or a clue to this puzzle's theme : THINK
46.With 32-Down, followed a career ladder : ROSE
47.Not ___ (meh) : SOHOT
49.Big club? : ACE
50.Hardy hog breed : DUROC
51.Opposite of paix : GUERRE
53.World powerhouse in curling : CANADA
54.Botanist Gray : ASA
55.Seasoned veterans : OLDPROS
59.Wii forerunner, for short : NES
60.Debussy's "La ___" : MER
61.See 45-Across : THROUGH
62.Kit ___ bar : KAT
63.Winter D.C. setting : EST
64.Bullet points : ITEMS
65.'60s campus org. : SDS
1.Stare with an open mouth : GAWP
2.Palestinian nominee for Best Foreign Language Film of 2013 : OMAR
3.Simmering : ONLOW
4."Easy peasy" : NOSWEAT
5.Throws off balance : JARS
6."I ___ you" : OWE
7.Emoticon medium : TEXT
8.They're usually heavier at night : EYELIDS
9.Stinging : ACRID
10.Toy train sound : CHOO
11.Human in "Alien," e.g. : HOST
13.See 23-Across : THEROOF
15.See 24-Across : THENOSE
20.Can't do well : STINKAT
22.Go caving : SPELUNK
26.Wife of Muhammad : AYESHA
27.French writer de Beauvoir : SIMONE
28.Metaphor for diplomacy : CHESSGAME
29.Heads for the woods? : OUTHOUSES
30.See 43-Across : THEHEART
32.See 46-Across : THERANKS
33."My parents are going to kill me!" : IAMSODEAD
34.Pigeonholes, in a way : TYPECASTS
41.Little jerk : TIC
44.A.L. East squad : TOR
46.Go quickly : RUN
48.Go quickly : TROT
50.Go quickly : DASH
52.Pre-coll. years : ELHI
53.Teeth : COGS
56."The 5,000 Fingers of ___" (1953 Seuss film) : DRT
57."The Purloined Letter" writer : POE
58.Main ingredient in pirates' grog : RUM

© 2014, Jim Horne