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New York Times, Thursday, January 23, 2014

Author:
Michael Hawkins
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
171/23/20148/17/20195
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
1215152
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.63100
Michael Hawkins

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 80, Blocks: 40 Missing: none. Spans: 3 This is the debut puzzle for Mr. Hawkins. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Notepad: Although this puzzle can be solved in Across Lite, there are elements in the print version that cannot be duplicated electronically. We recommend using the PDF for the best solving experience.
Michael Hawkins notes:
The 'Wordplay' documentary launched my interest in crosswords, but I never advanced past the 'failed attempts on graph paper' stage ... read more

The "Wordplay" documentary launched my interest in crosswords, but I never advanced past the "failed attempts on graph paper" stage until longtime friend John "DOUBLESAWBUCK" Guzzetta confided that he was getting published. Not content to let him hold that accomplishment over me, I vowed that day to get serious about crossword construction.

The Missing BLOCKs puzzle was the fourth puzzle I submitted, following three rejections. I was drawn to rebus puzzles, perhaps the result of many sick days spent watching Alex Trebek on "Classic Concentration" as a child. The use of a BLOCK rebus appealed to me since it existed as an element of the puzzle already. I compiled a list of all the BLOCK-related words and phrases and then hit the OneLook and XWordInfo databases to fill in the ones I missed. The perusal of XWordInfo revealed that the idea had been used before, first in 1999 and then more recently in 2010.

I pushed forward with the puzzle anyway, confident that my take on the idea would be unique enough to set it apart. The Thursday, October 21, 2010 grid had a 2x2 block of black squares which represented BLOCK in all the phrases that butted against it. In the Thursday, January 7, 1999 puzzle, the rebus BLOCKs behaved as cheater squares since they were placed against existing blocks and in corners. In my version, I wanted the BLOCKs to interact with the original grid construction, omitting numbering where there was not yet a BLOCK, hopefully to the befuddlement of the solver.

The close quarters of theme answers in the NE and SW constrained the quality of fill more than I would have liked, but there's nothing too egregious. Many of my original clues stayed in, but some were made easier (specifying "Star Wars" for LANDO, e.g.) or harder ("Mendes or Gabor" changing to "Deliver Us From EVA", a LL Cool J movie I barely recall). I was pleased to see that Will kept my "It might be under a tank" clue for BRA and "Mad Men" clue for UTZ, and not at all surprised that the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle" clue for OOZE got the ax. The best edit was "Settings for some escape scenes" to replace the dull clue I had for SEWERS.

It's been a pleasure! See everyone back here in the not too distant future, some Monday, A.D.!

Will Shortz notes:
This is the second day in a row in which a Times constructor is making a debut. Michael Hawkins hails from Gastonia, N.C. The print ... read more

This is the second day in a row in which a Times constructor is making a debut. Michael Hawkins hails from Gastonia, N.C. The print and online versions of his puzzle necessarily have different numbering. The print version is the first puzzle I can remember in which the solver is supposed to number some of the black squares — either present or (as in this case) missing!

Jeff Chen notes:
Very cool idea from Michael today. Congrats on the debut! I always appreciate when constructors learn the rules well enough to break ... read more

Very cool idea from Michael today. Congrats on the debut! I always appreciate when constructors learn the rules well enough to break them with thoughtful deliberation, and I felt like Michael did just that. It's sort of a faux-rebus, one where supposed white squares are actually a physical block. I like it even better with his original concept (special squares being black, carrying a white number in them).

Very impressive was the way Michael interlocked his theme answers (BLOCKS OUT intersecting BLOCK PARTIES, etc.). It is true that there quite a few potential BLOCK-related answers to choose from, but to figure out a way to interlock at four different points is pretty neat. I don't think many solvers appreciate how difficult it is to do that.

Generally a good job on the fill too, considering the difficulty of filling around the interlocked theme answers… with the one main exception of TUBE PANS crossing SHEB. Oof, a very difficult crossing, one that I guessed on. Granted, I have roughly the skill of a one-legged dog in the kitchen, but I do know what a BUNDT PAN is. TUBE PAN does google strongly so perhaps that's on me, but yeesh, SHE? could have been anything, and TUNE PAN and TULE PAN felt like they were reasonable.

Final comment on fill: I would expect the NE and SW corners to be on the crunchy side, given 1.) how big they are and 2.) how constrained. But Michael dos a good job in the NE, with AS THE being the only blight. Even given my distaste for five-letter partials, it's not a bad one. The SW does suffer more, with IDAS and ENOW in close proximity. I wonder how many options Michael tried instead of BLOCKAGE, and if BLOCKADE or BLOCKERS or something would have cleaned that up.

Neat idea, perfect for a tricky Thursday.

Jim Horne notes:
Clue numbers here correspond to the print version of the puzzle. Note that numbers 23, 39 and 56 are absent from the grid in the print ... read more

Clue numbers here correspond to the print version of the puzzle. Note that numbers 23, 39 and 56 are absent from the grid in the print version and solvers have to figure out where to put them. Across Lite cannot number grids like this correctly so most electronic versions have different numbering and somewhat different clues, unfortunately giving away some of the aha moment.

This isn't the first crossword where clues reference numbers that don't appear in the grid.

"Black-and-white horse?" at 11D is the best clue ever for MRED.

1
F
2
I
3
G
4
J
5
O
6
N
7
A
8
S
9
S
10
U
11
M
12
E
13
I
N
O
14
A
V
E
15
C
16
S
L
U
R
R
Y
17
E
V
A
18
M
I
M
I
19
T
E
N
S
E
R
20
N
E
W
21
K
I
D
O
N
22
T
H
E
23
BLOCK
A
D
E
24
D
R
A
I
N
25
D
U
E
T
S
26
S
T
Y
X
27
S
28
H
E
B
29
O
30
O
31
Z
32
E
33
W
H
E
R
E
34
B
U
X
O
M
35
B
36
U
37
T
38
C
H
E
R
39
BLOCK
P
40
A
R
T
I
E
S
41
A
T
S
E
A
42
A
Q
A
B
A
43
A
Z
U
L
44
L
U
N
E
45
D
46
R
47
E
48
W
49
L
50
A
51
N
D
O
52
S
U
E
D
E
53
I
54
C
55
E
56
BLOCK
B
U
S
T
57
E
58
R
M
O
V
I
E
59
D
O
N
A
L
D
60
E
L
O
I
61
E
B
B
62
A
P
O
G
E
E
63
S
E
A
R
64
A
L
I
65
S
E
W
E
R
S
66
A
R
K
67
L
E
T
© 2014, The New York TimesNo. 0123 ( 23,452 )
Across
1
Pudding flavor : FIG
4
Rapper Lil ___ : JON
7
Take on : ASSUME
13
Sea goddess who rescued Odysseus : INO
14
"Mit," across the Rhine : AVEC
16
Mixture of cement : SLURRY
17
"Deliver Us From ___" (2003 film) : EVA
18
Actress Rogers : MIMI
19
Less loose : TENSER
20
Member of a boy band with nine top 10 hits : NEWKIDONTHEBLOCK
23
Supply line cutter : BLOCKADE
24
Fatigue : DRAIN
25
Triple-platinum Sinatra album : DUETS
26
Boundary river : STYX
27
Western actor Wooley : SHEB
29
Move like goo : OOZE
33
Invitation info : WHERE
34
Top-heavy : BUXOM
35
Kitchen counter option : BUTCHERBLOCK
39
Some street gatherings : BLOCKPARTIES
41
Befuddled : ATSEA
42
Jordan's only seaport : AQABA
43
Color of el mar : AZUL
44
Crescent : LUNE
45
Enticed : DREW
49
Calrissian of "Star Wars" films : LANDO
52
Expensive boot material : SUEDE
53
Bygone delivery : ICEBLOCK
56
"Titanic" or "Avatar" : BLOCKBUSTERMOVIE
59
Daisy's love : DONALD
60
"The Time Machine" people : ELOI
61
Decline : EBB
62
Zenith : APOGEE
63
Blacken : SEAR
64
Thrilla in Manila participant : ALI
65
Settings for some escape scenes : SEWERS
66
Ten Commandments keeper : ARK
67
Do-over : LET
Down
1
Buffs : FIENDS
2
Flip : INVERT
3
"Beat it!" : GOAWAY
4
Pack tightly : JAMIN
5
Poet who wrote "If you want to be loved, be lovable" : OVID
6
Little ___ (early comic character) : NEMO
7
___ crow flies : ASTHE
8
Weather warning : SLEET
9
Beach bag item : SUNBLOCK
10
___ Minor : URSA
11
Black-and-white horse? : MRED
12
"The ___ Affair" (Jasper Fforde novel) : EYRE
15
Building unit : CINDERBLOCK
21
Puffed cereal : KIX
22
Angel food cake requirement : TUBEPAN
23
Represses, as bad memories : BLOCKSOUT
27
"___ Bop" (1984 hit) : SHE
28
Royal messengers : HERALDS
30
___Clean : OXI
31
Actress/model Kravitz : ZOE
32
Rescue letters : EMS
33
"Huh?" : WHA
34
It might be under a tank : BRA
35
Barnyard cry : BAA
36
Snack brand represented by Sterling Cooper on "Mad Men" : UTZ
37
Houston sch. : TSU
38
Cooler part : CELLBLOCK
39
Set-off chunks of text : BLOCKQUOTES
40
Fin : ABE
45
Its name may be written with an ampersand : DUO
46
Make plain : REVEAL
47
Food item : EDIBLE
48
Smidgen : WEEBIT
50
Less inept : ABLER
51
The Graces in Raphael's "The Three Graces," e.g. : NUDES
52
Smug look : SMIRK
53
One of the Argonauts : IDAS
54
Deal : COPE
55
Sufficient, for Shakespeare : ENOW
56
Obstruction : BLOCKAGE
57
Zeno's home : ELEA
58
Thunder : ROAR

Answer summary: 5 unique to this puzzle, 2 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

Found bugs or have suggestions?