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STATE OF CONFUSION

New York Times, Sunday, January 12, 2020

Author:
Evan Mahnken and David Steinberg
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
710/4/20171/12/20201
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
1014010
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.65010
Evan Mahnken
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
986/16/20111/12/202019
SunMonTueWedThuFriSatVariety
86691132242
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.645183
David Steinberg

This puzzle:

Rows: 21, Columns: 21 Words: 140, Blocks: 76 Missing: {JX} This is puzzle # 7 for Mr. Mahnken. This is puzzle # 98 for Mr. Steinberg. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Will Shortz notes:
Evan Mahnken is a high school chemistry teacher in Amherst, Mass. David Steinberg is a puzzles and games editor for Andrews McMeel Universal syndicate in Kansas City, Mo. They're each ... read more

Evan Mahnken is a high school chemistry teacher in Amherst, Mass. David Steinberg is a puzzles and games editor for Andrews McMeel Universal syndicate in Kansas City, Mo.

They're each 23. They met at a crossword tournament two years ago. Evan originally sent a daily-size version of this puzzle to David, who proposed Sunday-sizing it with more theme examples. They collaborated on the grid by sending each other screenshots back and forth by email.

Constructor notes:
DAVID: It was a pleasure working with Evan on his first Sunday crossword! He initially proposed a 15x15 version of the theme with answers that scrambled Utah, Ohio, Maine, and Oregon. ... read more

DAVID: It was a pleasure working with Evan on his first Sunday crossword! He initially proposed a 15x15 version of the theme with answers that scrambled Utah, Ohio, Maine, and Oregon. Curious to see whether it was possible to scramble states with longer names, I wrote a Java program to mine a large word list for options. When I discovered that the 12-letter West Virginia could be scrambled within PERSUASIVE WRITING, I knew we were on to something! Evan sifted through my program's output to find the other six theme answers, and he took the lead on designing and filling the grid. We considered several fills before settling on the one you see, which we felt had the fewest obscurities. Most of the clues are Evan's.

Will Shortz held our puzzle in his queue for a while to space it out from Alan Arbesfeld's somewhat similar Altered States puzzle from October 9 of last year. Speaking of somewhat similar crosswords, we also strove to differentiate our puzzle from Bruce Haight's May 16, 2017 offering as much as we could. Both puzzles use AFRICAN LION, though, since it's one of just a few possible answers that scramble the letters of "California" consecutively.

Finally, I'd like to take this opportunity to encourage any new/newish constructors who feel intimidated by Sunday-size crosswords to take the plunge. Evan was initially nervous about constructing his first 21x21, but he did so well on structuring and filling this larger grid that I would've guessed he'd been constructing Sundays for years if he hadn't told me otherwise!

EVAN: I was indeed quite nervous about making a Sunday-size puzzle. It's daunting: there's so much white space, and you want to get the fill silky-smooth. David wasn't willing to compromise on any sub-par fill, and the puzzle you see here is the result. I think we're both quite proud of it. The task of making a Sunday-size puzzle on my own doesn't seem so bad now. I hope to make some more when I have my summer off. Happy solving!

Jeff Chen notes:
Sometimes I look back upon my early crossword solving/constructing days, when the crossworld was filled with wonder. Thankfully I still take great enjoyment in puzzles, but my ... read more

Sometimes I look back upon my early crossword solving/constructing days, when the crossworld was filled with wonder. Thankfully I still take great enjoyment in puzzles, but my obsession with crossword construction has pulled back the wizard's curtain (speaking of TOTO). A decade ago, I might have been awed by the find of CALIFORNIA mixed-up inside AFRICAN LION. Magical! How the frick could someone have possibly figured that out?

(Pushing glasses up nose) Actually, it's fairly simple:

  1. Consider each entry in your word list that's longer than 10 letters.
  2. Consider each string of 10 letters within that entry.
  3. Do a frequency analysis of said 10-letter string. Does it have exactly 1 of C L F O R N and exactly 2 of A I?
  4. If so – and the 10-letter string is different than CALIFORNIA, to avoid false positives — write to an output file.

WILL YOU JUST SIT DOWN ALREADY, SMART ASS, AND ENJOY THE MAGIC SHOW!

Ahem. There was one other entry that met the query criteria besides AFRICAN LION(S): TROPICAL RAINFOREST(S). I like that one better since it doesn't invoke a proper noun, which possibly muddies the theme, given that the US states are locations—

STOP STOP STOP STOP STOP!

But ... I haven't even begun to discuss the technical merits of this grid construction--

STOOOOOOOP!!!

Ahem. Maybe I should stop my analysis of ridiciminutia here?

YOU THINK?!

Some neat finds, and the clues helped to pull everything together. I don't know that I'd have figured out that CALIFORNIA was within AFRICAN LION without "Golden State" in the clue, for example.

Jim Horne notes:

A meme floating around crossword circles last year was that a great clue for MRED (101-Across) would be "Stable genius."

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© 2020, The New York TimesNo. 0112 ( 25,632 )
Across
1
Some Japanese cars : MAZDAS
7
Judean king, in Matthew : HEROD
12
Medical insurance grp. : HMO
15
Freedom of the ___ : SEAS
19
Like a short play : ONEACT
20
Brick material : ADOBE
21
Sushi fish that's never served raw : EEL
22
School with its own ZIP code - 90095 : UCLA
23
Voice box? [Wolverine State] : ANSWERINGMACHINE
26
33-Across's sound : ROAR
27
"Dang!" : NUTS
28
Like a soufflé : EGGY
29
___ Kea : MAUNA
30
2014 film with the tagline "One dream can change the world" : SELMA
31
Losers : ALSORANS
33
Safari sighting [Golden State] : AFRICANLION
35
Captain of science fiction : NEMO
36
Spleen : IRE
38
Wiggle room : LEEWAY
39
Rehearsed : PAT
42
Device that keeps fish alive : AERATOR
44
Pay a brief visit : SWINGBY
48
Stashed for later [Blue Hen State] : SQUIRRELEDAWAY
53
Whom a warrant officer might report to, informally : LOOIE
54
"___ Lang Syne" : AULD
55
Letters on an ambulance : EMS
56
Times before the present? : EVES
58
Revealer of the Wizard : TOTO
59
Following, as a detective might : TAILING
63
Gave up the ghost : CROAKED
66
It's condensed : DEW
67
Editorialist's skill [Mountain State] : PERSUASIVEWRITING
72
Banned pollutant, for short : PCB
74
West Coast birthplace of John Steinbeck : SALINAS
75
Like some candles : TAPERED
78
"No way, José!" : UHUH
80
Fairy tale prince, perhaps : FROG
81
"There it is!" : AHA
84
Big Island city : HILO
85
Events for socialites : GALAS
87
Knight's accouterments [Ocean State] : SWORDANDSHIELD
92
Brother or sister : SIBLING
95
School : EDUCATE
96
___ Schwarz (toy company) : FAO
97
Like some wallpaper patterns : FLORAL
100
In which a single raised pinkie is an "i": Abbr. : ASL
101
Wilbur's partner in an old sitcom : MRED
103
Sushi bar offering [Centennial State] : AVOCADOROLL
107
Cockney and others : DIALECTS
111
Pilots' flights just after training is finished : SOLOS
112
Face-planted : ATEIT
113
Detach slowly (from) : WEAN
114
Hit playfully on the nose, slangily : BOOP
115
Rights-defending org. : ACLU
116
Has been around the block [Evergreen State] : KNOWSATHINGORTWO
119
What locks are made of : HAIR
120
Hawaiian word that's also a common Chinese surname : LEI
121
Layers : PLIES
122
Ready for publication, say : EDITED
123
"Like that'll ever happen" : IBET
124
Lead-in to Brown or Robinson in #1 song titles : MRS
125
Sport on a range : SKEET
126
Not for ___ (sign) : RESALE
Down
1
Disney heroine of 2016 : MOANA
2
Invalidate : ANNUL
3
Cocktail garnishes : ZESTS
4
___ City, Yukon Territory : DAWSON
5
Nail : ACE
6
Bit of party decoration : STREAMER
7
Puts up : HANGS
8
Pushing the envelope : EDGY
9
Letters after CD : ROM
10
Most of the 2010s : OBAMAERA
11
Insomniac's order : DECAF
12
Tush : HEINIE
13
Poses a danger to : MENACES
14
Cry with an accent : OLE
15
Emphatic rejection : SURELYNOT
16
Food inspectors test for it : ECOLI
17
Thrifty competitor : ALAMO
18
Sticky roll : SARAN
24
Snub : IGNORE
25
Let fly : HURL
30
One leaving a trail : SNAIL
32
What scared horses do : REAR
34
"That's so sweet!" : AWW
36
Article : ITEM
37
40 make up a furlong : RODS
39
Exam for the college-bound : PSAT
40
___ fortis (another name for nitric acid) : AQUA
41
Noted export from Holland : TULIPBULB
43
Something North Carolina's Alcohol Law Enforcement regulates, aptly : ALE
45
Charlie Brown catchphrase : GOODGRIEF
46
Ask the obvious question, so to speak : BITE
47
"Ouch!" : YEOW
49
Indolent : IDLE
50
"___ here!" : WERE
51
Maintain : AVOW
52
Reading on the dashboard of the DeLorean in "Back to the Future" : YEAR
57
Improv offering : SKIT
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Fed. agency that helped take down Al Capone : IRS
61
Secretive org. : NSA
62
Wide gap : GULF
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Walgreens rival : CVS
64
Symbol for viscosity, in chemistry : ETA
65
Short swim : DIP
68
What phonies put on : AIRS
69
Word before cap or shoe : SNOW
70
Shakespearean schemer : IAGO
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Classic pop brand : NEHI
72
Flat-faced dogs : PUGS
73
Kind of tea : CHAI
76
"___ Minnow Pea," 2001 novel with an alphabetically punny title : ELLA
77
Dummy : DODO
79
Setting for some pickup basketball : HALFCOURT
81
Uses sigma notation, in calculus : ADDS
82
Tow : HAUL
83
Nelson Mandela's org. : ANC
86
George Eliot's "___ Marner" : SILAS
88
It's no bull : REALTALK
89
Musician Marley, son of Bob : DAMIAN
90
Outlander : STRANGER
91
Command to a dog : HEEL
93
Go-ahead : NOD
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Many a dad joke : GROANER
98
Stella ___ (imported beer) : ARTOIS
99
Big name in theaters : LOEW
102
Flotsam and jetsam : DEBRIS
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Japan's largest brewer : ASAHI
104
English class quiz subject, informally : VOCAB
105
Skateboard jump : OLLIE
106
Imitates Daffy Duck, in a way : LISPS
107
Many a founding father, religiously : DEIST
108
Terra ___ : COTTA
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Dry (off) : TOWEL
110
Fine china : SPODE
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"This is fun!" : WHEE
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Airline with a crown in its logo : KLM
117
1-1, for one : TIE
118
Something that might accompany a dedication : ODE

Answer summary: 10 unique to this puzzle, 1 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

Found bugs or have suggestions?