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New York Times, Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Author:
John E. Bennett and Jeff Chen
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
64/9/20142/14/20193
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
0031200
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.57050
John E. Bennett
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
1037/5/201010/31/201962
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
2678182798
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.637232
Jeff Chen

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 78, Blocks: 40 Missing: {QXZ} This is puzzle # 5 for Mr. Bennett. This is puzzle # 94 for Mr. Chen. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Constructor notes:
JEB: I tend to like crossword puzzles that use the diagonal adjacencies in the grid as part of the theme and solving process. This ... read more

JEB: I tend to like crossword puzzles that use the diagonal adjacencies in the grid as part of the theme and solving process. This puzzle is no exception. Snakes have always been fascinating to me, but I must admit to being maybe a little overly cautious when hiking in poisonous snake country!

This puzzle seemed like it would be relatively easy to design/construct since the snake shapes could be arranged easily in many different configurations. I put the constraint of total symmetry into the initial mix, which made for a lot of time-consuming frustration! I was finally able to get four poisonous snakes, of reasonable length, to work out in the grid symmetrically using SIDEWINDER, COPPERHEAD, BUSHMASTER, and FER-DE-LANCE along with the central revealer WATCH YOUR STEP!

Although my first submittal to Will received positive attention for overall theme and design configuration, it was turned down because the supporting fill was too weak and the "bushmaster" and "fer-de-lance" entries were not well enough known to solvers. I eventually got a resubmittal version to work replacing those 2 snakes with KING COBRA and PUFF ADDER. (I was pretty much down to the end of poisonous snake possibilities without having the word "snake" appear in the themer!) When this resubmittal was rejected due to (again) relatively poor supporting fill quality, I knew I was going to need help in getting an acceptance. That's when I contacted my cross-town puzzle guru, Jeff Chen.

Jeff accepted the challenge right away and was instrumental in getting this puzzle in the acceptance column! His adjustments to the grid made a huge difference in opening up improved fill possibilities. Jeff also strategically asked Will whether having the snake shapes be symmetrical in the grid was necessary, and Will said "no". He and Joel hadn't even noticed that they were totally symmetrical! This got me off on a different tack which ultimately allowed the puzzle to be configured with all snakes either beginning or ending in the WATCH YOUR STEP! reveal. It also made the snakes look more snaky in their asymmetry, and less like a design pattern. Jeff's input and collaboration helped bail me out once again! ;-)

Jeff Chen notes:
Jeb asked me to come on board after Will gave him 'I like the concept but not the grid' feedback. My first impression: I thought it ... read more

Jeb asked me to come on board after Will gave him "I like the concept but not the grid" feedback. My first impression: I thought it was fun to have the snakes snaking around the puzzle, but I wasn't so sure about WATCH YOUR STEP. I so badly wanted something more … snaky.

Then it hit me! Indiana Jones's IT HAD TO BE SNAKES! Counting … 15 letters = perfect!

Only, not perfect, since that's not the exact quote. Shows what I know.

The first set of revisions were painful. Eventually, I came up with a grid skeleton that seemed to work well enough. Some testing showed it was likely doable. Fast forward eleventy-thousand hours, and we got something that at least was clean. Good enough!

Except, not good enough for Will. He pointed out that it was smooth, but there was little to no juice in the bonuses. We had to use a bunch of dry stuff for the long slots, and where was the fun in that? Excellent points.

Back to the drawing board.

I noodled around with some different snake shapes, including one where a single snake started from the middle, but that led nowhere, quick.

Thankfully, Jeb came up with the idea of intersecting ALL of the snakes to the middle! That curiously made things easier, as all the theme material took up less net real estate in the grid. I worked up some possible skeletons, focusing on squeezing as much pizzazz out of the long slots as possible, and voila! It still took time, but only maybe eleventy-hundred hours this time.

(But this huge Indy fan still wants the revealer to be IT HAD TO BE SNAKES. Accuracy, schmaccuracy.)

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© 2019, The New York TimesNo. 0122 ( 25,277 )

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Across
1
Jan. honoree : MLKJR
6
Mild reprimands : TSKS
10
Industrial vessels : VATS
14
"Old MacDonald" refrain : EIEIO
15
State said to be "high in the middle" : OHIO
16
"Thus with a kiss ___" (Romeo's last words) : IDIE
17
Glider measurement : WINGSPREAD
19
"Have you ___ wondered ...?" : EVER
20
Close calls : SCARES
21
Certain close-knit social media group : TWIBE
22
"Brigadoon" co-star Charisse : CYD
25
Actor Wilson who has appeared with Ben Stiller in 12 films : OWEN
26
Maker of the Pathfinder and Rogue : NISSAN
27
Grilled order with corned beef : REUBEN
29
Accomplished : DID
30
Before, in poetry : ERE
31
Long past time? : YORE
32
Guinness record holder for the U.S. city with the most consecutive days of sun (768), informally : STPETE
35
"Look out!" ... and warning when encountering the circled things in this puzzle : WATCHYOURSTEP
40
"Fingers crossed!" : HOPESO
41
Baseball's Matty, Felipe or Moises : ALOU
43
Some people have a gift for it : GAB
46
Wall St. starter : IPO
47
Addressee modifier on an envelope : CAREOF
49
Media sales team, informally : ADREPS
51
Auto company since 1899 : FIAT
53
Org. for Jaguars, but not Panthers : AFC
54
Big blows : WHAMS
55
Idiot : NIMROD
57
French military hat : KEPI
58
Massive electoral victories : LANDSLIDES
62
The "E" of Q.E.D. : ERAT
63
Biblical twin : ESAU
64
Creepy looks : LEERS
65
M&M's that were discontinued from 1976 to 1987 over fears about their dye : REDS
66
Chip's cartoon partner : DALE
67
Rear admiral's rear : STERN
Down
1
Kitten's call : MEW
2
Super Bowl of 2018 : LII
3
Burns in film : KEN
4
Lively dances : JIGS
5
___ Lee Browne, actor/director in the Theater Hall of Fame : ROSCOE
6
Yankee Joe whose #6 was retired : TORRE
7
Glossy look : SHEEN
8
Hyundai alternatives : KIAS
9
Lawn order : SOD
10
YouTube popularity metric : VIEWS
11
Counsel : ADVISE
12
Accessory for a cravat : TIEBAR
13
Peaceful : SERENE
18
Places where goods are sometimes fenced : PAWNSHOPS
21
Listings in a nautical table : TIDES
22
Shout : CRY
23
"Dang, that hurts!" : YEOW
24
___ mater (brain membrane) : DURA
26
Hobbyists' racers controlled remotely : NITROCARS
28
Transaction with a bookie : BET
29
___ ex machina : DEUS
33
Ore, for one? : TYPO
34
"The Cask of Amontillado" writer : POE
36
Contents of a poker pot : CHIPS
37
Damage, as a reputation : TAR
38
Zeno of ___ (philosopher) : ELEA
39
[And it's gone!] : POOF
42
Mixed martial arts org. : UFC
43
Rubbernecker : GAWKER
44
Stick (to) : ADHERE
45
Bikini insert : BRAPAD
48
Ring-shaped islands : ATOLLS
50
Sends out : EMITS
51
What follows the semis : FINAL
52
"It should be my turn soon" : IMDUE
55
Org. behind the New Horizons probe : NASA
56
Nutritionist's plan : DIET
58
Was in front : LED
59
Ruby of the silver screen : DEE
60
Blunder : ERR
61
Nine-digit ID : SSN

Answer summary: 4 unique to this puzzle, 1 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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