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IT'S ONLY "A" GAME

New York Times, Sunday, January 12, 2014

Author:
Andrew Chaikin
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
21/12/20145/27/20180
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
2000000
RebusCirclePangram
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Andrew Chaikin

This puzzle:

Rows: 21, Columns: 21 Words: 140, Blocks: 72 Missing: {Q} Spans: 1 This is the debut puzzle for Mr. Chaikin. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Andrew Chaikin notes:
Last year, I was creating a game called 'May Own A's,' for the 57th Equinox word-game party in Berkeley. (That party's theme was condiments, naturally.) When I found that glorious ... read more

Last year, I was creating a game called "May Own A's," for the 57th Equinox word-game party in Berkeley. (That party's theme was condiments, naturally.) When I found that glorious 21-letter "backward-gram," I knew it was meant to be a Sunday Times puzzle instead. The idea of the theme extending to the clues themselves felt fresh enough to take seriously.

This was the first crossword I ever sent to Will, so I wanted it to be unimpeachable. Thus: many, many versions and revisions. Tyler Hinman graciously provided many rounds of feedback — laser-focusing me on clean, fresh, quality fill — and convinced me over and over to kill my darlings, in order to root out yucky partials and other woeful entries.

In one version, the SW corner had OBIWAN and YODA, which I desperately wanted to link to my STAR WARS entry elsewhere... Had to kill it. A later version had SHORTZ there instead — meta! — but it crossed with the unspeakable OGPU. Tried a few full-pangram versions, but the fill suffered. Knocked the puzzle down from 142 words to 140, removing 8 blocks in the process.

The theme clues I submitted to Will were ornately A-laden constructions. The STAR WARS clue was the much-geekier "Cash-fat astral saga that has J.J. Abrams (and lacks Khan and Data)." Since J.J. is a puzzle nut, I thought the shout-out would be cool. The BALACLAVAS clue featured Slavs, Tatars, and Kazakhs; the SAND MANDALA clue went to Dharamsala. Will rightly streamlined them — sometimes down to a single, tantalizing word. I trust the Master's instincts completely.

I think my favorite clues are the ones that work in meta-wordplay, like the A MAN...PANAMA clue, which includes another A-only palindrome ending in a country, or those two A-only ANAGRAMS. It felt a bit like George Perec's lipogrammatic novel A Void, where translator Gilbert Adair whipped up an E-less version of "The Raven" ("Blackbird, by Arthur Gordon Pym") and other "highly familiar madrigals." Finding famous A-only films (and a British TV show!) that actually won BAFTA Awards was satisfying as well.

Some other wordplay clues that didn't make it in: "Where Skilling made a killing" (ENRON) is a beheadment; "It turns chefs into chiefs" (AN I); etc. The puzzle's final clue ("Vientiane native") is a letter-bank, for all you NPL-ers.

Will Shortz notes:
In 2002 I published a crossword by Patrick Berry in which the only vowel in the entire grid was A, so I wasn't so impressed here that just the theme answers are univocalic. But the twist ... read more

In 2002 I published a crossword by Patrick Berry in which the only vowel in the entire grid was A, so I wasn't so impressed here that just the theme answers are univocalic. But the twist of the theme clues also having A as the only vowel? Love it! Fourteen theme entries in a Sunday puzzle is impressive, too.

Jeff Chen notes:
Before I started this gig last year, doing the NYT xw was fun in itself. But I always wanted more, specifically to hear Will's thought process regarding why he chose each puzzle and how he ... read more

Before I started this gig last year, doing the NYT xw was fun in itself. But I always wanted more, specifically to hear Will's thought process regarding why he chose each puzzle and how he changed it to his liking. There have been many highlights in the past six months, but having Will write and send daily comments on the puzzles is among the top.

One observation that's been eye-opening is the diversity within his target audience. Before we started communicating, I always thought Will strove for the jaw-dropping, mind-blowing puzzles and filled in around them with "ordinary" stuff because he just couldn't get enough of the former. But now I've come to see that a significant portion (probably a large majority, actually) of his constituency shies away from anything too new, being very appreciative of puzzles that are familiar or push the envelope just slightly.

All of this is a long way of saying that even though today's puzzle doesn't blaze entirely new ground, it probably meets the needs of more solvers than the rule-breaking, game-changing puzzles. We've seen many puzzles before where theme answers use only one vowel, but it's a nice addition to have all the clues use only that same vowel. Some of them get a little tortured for my taste (the clue for RASTA MAN brought back unpleasant memories of Jar Jar Binks*) but overall the extra layer was appreciated.

A nice debut. There are definitely some compromises because of the high theme density and the way the themers interlock (the SO I/ON UP/ID DO section is so heavily constrained by the placement of the theme answers, for example), but also some nice long fill (RAW ONION, PYROMANIA, LAB ANIMAL are all great stuff). To start a construction career on a 21x is no small feat. Looking forward to more from Andrew.

*meesa still not forgiven you, Georgie Lucas

1
D
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A
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F
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F
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O
M
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C
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O
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A
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T
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Z
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N
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S
M
E
E
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T
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A
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B
L
E
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B
O
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S
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C
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C
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B
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C
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C
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D
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K
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M
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L
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N
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R
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K
A
M
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N
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I
P
A
D
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C
R
A
W
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T
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D
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E
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T
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D
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I
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A
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B
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S
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H
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C
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A
B
L
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M
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G
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J
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M
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P
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A
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M
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L
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T
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O
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A
K
A
© 2014, The New York TimesNo. 0112 ( 23,441 )
Across
1
Last name in Scotch : DEWAR
6
Stream : FLOW
10
Bloke : CHAP
14
Like blokes : MALE
18
Napoleon, e.g., twice : EXILE
19
Steakhouse order : RARE
20
Test subject : LABANIMAL
22
*Grand-slam drama that stars Bacall's man : CASABLANCA
24
*Half an Xmas "Halls" chant : FALALALALA
25
1976 horror hit, with "The" : OMEN
26
Point value of an A in Scrabble : ONE
27
Little to no : SCANT
29
Heavily favored : ODDSON
30
All-inclusive : ATOZ
32
Beat poet Cassady and others : NEALS
33
Captain Hook's right hand : SMEE
34
69-Across, e.g. : TABLET
37
Scrams : BOLTS
38
*Astral saga that has a Darth part : STARWARS
42
Cutting edge : BLADE
43
Gulager of TV's "The Virginian" : CLU
44
French Oscar : CESAR
46
Bit of Google programming : BOT
47
Staple of a waiting room : SOFA
48
Work on the roof, say : THATCH
50
"Movin' ___" (TV theme song) : ONUP
52
One of die Planeten : ERDE
53
Kitty, e.g. : PET
54
Count ___ : CHOCULA
55
"___ Anything" ("Oliver!" song) : IDDO
56
"The Witches" writer : DAHL
57
King Arthur of tennis : ASHE
59
Kris ___ (music duo) : KROSS
61
Like classical poetry : METRICAL
63
*Fab "backward-gram" à la "Sam, aha! Bahamas!" : AMANAPLANACANALPANAMA
67
Burger topper : RAWONION
68
Segway inventor Dean ___ : KAMEN
69
Apple product : IPAD
70
Bird's gullet : CRAW
71
Chip on one's shoulder, say : TUDE
73
Kowtowers : TOADIES
75
Pilates targets : ABS
78
Take on : HIRE
79
Poses : SITS
80
Stone figures? : CARATS
81
Equal to the task : ABLE
82
Objective : END
83
Louis Armstrong, to friends : SATCH
85
Two-time U.S. Open champ : ELS
86
Houston's old ___ Field : ENRON
87
*Black cat that packs grass and chants "Jah" : RASTAMAN
91
Prefix with -hedron : ICOSA
93
Best-selling novelist Susan : ISAACS
94
Great Basin natives : UTES
95
An op-ed has one : SLANT
96
Air apparent? : SMOG
97
Worships : ADORES
100
"Common Sense" pamphleteer : PAINE
101
Valedictorian's pride, for short : GPA
102
Bygone Bombay bigwig : RAJA
106
*Landmark vassal law act : MAGNACARTA
108
*Warm mask/cap amalgams : BALACLAVAS
111
Burning desire : PYROMANIA
112
Puts away : ICES
113
Friends, in Firenze : AMICI
114
Big name in faucets : MOEN
115
Depict : LIMN
116
Swarm : TEEM
117
Where Sharp Electronics is based : OSAKA
Down
1
Chrysler Building style, informally : DECO
2
Physical, e.g. : EXAM
3
Smart-alecky : WISE
4
*"M*A*S*H" star : ALANALDA
5
One in a gray suit : REB
6
Modernist Kafka : FRANZ
7
A bridge might have one : LANE
8
"The Lord of the Rings" villain : ORC
9
"Pop" goer : WEASEL
10
Online gaming guilds : CLANS
11
Gatekeeper's cry : HALT
12
Lawyers' org. : ABA
13
Picasso's designer daughter : PALOMA
14
Tilex target : MILDEW
15
Latin 101 verb : AMAS
16
Score creator Schifrin : LALO
17
Style : ELAN
21
Subject of the documentary "An Unreasonable Man" : NADER
23
Spoils : LOOT
24
Two-faced : FALSE
28
*Haphazard : CATCHASCATCHCAN
31
Gift shop buy : TEE
32
Sign at an intersection : NOUTURN
33
Apple product, perhaps : STRUDEL
34
Recipe amt. : TBSP
35
Skin soother : ALOE
36
*Gala that saw "Black Swan," "Avatar" and "Ab Fab" attract claps : BAFTAAWARDS
37
*Bar glass that's half Bass, half dark malt : BLACKANDTAN
38
*Lama's art that can't last : SANDMANDALA
39
*"Shazam!" : ABRACADABRA
40
Noted political maiden name : RODHAM
41
Designer McCartney : STELLA
43
Comedian Margaret : CHO
45
"___ hear" : SOI
48
Something woeful : THEPITS
49
Item of attire for 54-Across : CLOAK
51
Square meals that are round : POTPIES
52
Minneapolis suburb : EDINA
54
Jackie of "Shanghai Noon" : CHAN
58
Maine senator after Mitchell : SNOWE
60
Striped Girl Scout cookie : SAMOA
62
Knocks : RAPS
63
Zodiac symbol : ARCHER
64
Pier place : MARINA
65
Adams and Alcott : LOUISAS
66
Most handy : NEAREST
72
'70s self-help course : EST
74
Word repeated in the "Superman" intro : ITS
76
Alliance : BLOC
77
Meaning: Fr. : SENS
81
*Flashback and halfbacks : ANAGRAMS
84
Eyelashes : CILIA
86
That, in Tijuana : ESO
88
Source of excitement : TURNON
89
TV/movie group associated with this puzzle's theme? : ATEAM
90
Agave drink : MESCAL
92
In the slightest : ONEBIT
93
Apple product : IMAC
95
The Adversary : SATAN
96
Jerk : SPASM
97
Day-and-night, in a way : AMPM
98
Belafonte hit : DAYO
99
Dungeons & Dragons figure : OGRE
100
Strait-laced : PRIM
101
Elation : GLEE
103
Reebok alternative : AVIA
104
Hike, with "up" : JACK
105
The East : ASIA
107
It goes before E except after C : ANI
109
Whiz : ACE
110
Vientiane native : LAO

Answer summary: 8 unique to this puzzle, 2 debuted here and reused later, 1 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

Found bugs or have suggestions?