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New York Times, Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Author: John E. Bennett
Editor: Will Shortz
John E. Bennett
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44/9/20148/10/20171
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Puzzle of the Week

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 78, Blocks: 38 Missing: {FKQXZ} Grid has mirror symmetry This is puzzle # 3 for Mr. Bennett. Jeff Chen's Puzzle of the Week pick NYT links: Across Lite PDF
John E. Bennett notes: The initial spark was the thought of doing a puzzle with a large circle graphic — I tend to like puzzles that have ... more
John E. Bennett notes:

The initial spark was the thought of doing a puzzle with a large circle graphic — I tend to like puzzles that have something of visual interest in the design.

I realized early on that "mirror symmetry" would be the best option and also, if I wanted to have a long horizontal central themer, I would need a "cheater" square at each end, otherwise it was too difficult to mesh the long themer with the "round" (circle of shaded squares). Once the "round" had taken shape I began the search for circle themes. "THE RING OF FIRE" had potential but fires were mostly too negative! Eventually, it may have been the time of day that made me think about Happy Hour ;-), but at some point I thought "THE ROUND'S ON ME!" could be fun! It had the requisite 13 letters for the central themer and made for nice graphic word play too.

From there the types of bar drinks were fairly easy to list but many didn't yield acceptable fill. The other issue was with the top and bottom words in the "round" which are the only ones that were clued words (not formed like the others by diagonals) that could potentially prematurely give away the other themer words in the "round". RUM, at the top, and VODKA, at the bottom, for example, would have given it away pretty quickly. But GIN (also a card game) and STOUT (not just a drink) worked out to help conceal, from solvers, the thematic reveal words a little longer in the "round".

This was a fun puzzle to construct!

Jeff Chen notes: THIS ROUNDS ON ME! Er, THE ROUNDS ON ME. Hmm. I've never actually heard anyone get up and declare either one, but the former is the ... more
Jeff Chen notes:

THIS ROUNDS ON ME! Er, THE ROUNDS ON ME. Hmm. I've never actually heard anyone get up and declare either one, but the former is the way I imagine it happening.

Jeb (John E. Bennett) and I live pretty close to each other, so we meet up occasionally to talk shop. When he mentioned this one to me, I smiled — great minds think alike! I actually like his interpretation better than mine, what with 1.) the pretty circle, or "round" formed by the drinks, and 2.) the fact that all of his are alcoholic beverages.

I also appreciated his touch of GIN and STOUT, ones that can easily be clued not as the drink. As Jeb mentioned, that did hide the theme for a little bit.

I always worry when I see diagonal answers, since it's so tough to construct around them. But I like what Jeb did in the top left corner a lot. It is true that he had a lot of flexibility, being able to use any six-letter alcoholic beverage, but he made SHERRY work so nicely. DEATHS did give me a pause, since it's a bit of a no-no to include downers like this, but needing virtually no crossword glue to hold a section like this together is great work.

The bottom left exhibits a few of the usual traits I'd expect out of a section with diagonal answers — not surprising, given how open the corner is compared to the top left. I did like TRAIN CAR, HOT MEALS, even GIMBAL (sue me, I'm an engineer). I didn't like NNE/ACAP/PCT/ERST holding it together.

A different type of compromise in the bottom right. The short stuff is all fine, but the longer stuff ... RETESTS is a bit iffy, and EAGEREST feels more than a bit iffy. Working around these diagonal answers, if it ain't one thing, it's another.

Given the degree of difficulty here though, I enjoyed the final result despite my initial hesitations, especially that pretty ring of drinks, and the theme felt uplifting. I like it when a puzzle leaves me with good spirits.

(rim shot)

JimH notes: Mr. Bennett is branching out. His first two puzzles had similar grids, including shades/circles. This one, with mirror symmetry no less, is different.
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© 2016, The New York TimesNo. 1025 ( 24,458 )
Across Down
1. Common name for a cowboy : DUSTY
6. Winner's cry in a card game : GIN
9. Leaky parts of an old tent, often : SEAMS
14. ___ nous : ENTRE
15. A, in Asunción : UNA
16. Dustup : SCRAP
17. Hidden symbol between the "E" and "x" in the FedEx logo : ARROW
18. Drug for Timothy Leary : LSD
19. End of a lasso : NOOSE
20. Nipple : TEAT
21. Cloudless : CLEAR
23. Elizabethan stringed instrument : LUTE
24. Fedora or fez : HAT
25. Final part of a relay : LASTLEG
27. [their error, not mine] : SIC
28. Actor Christian of "Mr. Robot" : SLATER
30. State-of-the-art electronically : HITECH
32. Cradled : HELD
34. Mata ___ (spy) : HARI
35. Offer at a pub ... as suggested by this puzzle's shaded squares : THEROUNDSONME
40. Cock-a-doodle-doo : CROW
41. Dentist's focus : TEETH
42. Coal-rich German region : SAAR
44. Like Cheerios cereal : OATEN
46. "Facilities," informally : LAV
47. Suit material : SERGE
48. Device that keeps a ship's compass level : GIMBAL
50. "O Romeo, Romeo!" crier : JULIET
51. SSW's opposite : NNE
52. With 54-Across, tavern total : BAR
54. See 52-Across : TAB
55. Lead-in to fix, appropriately : PRE
56. Put ___ on (limit) : ACAP
58. ___ Picchu, site of ancient Inca ruins : MACHU
60. Shouts of dissent : NOES
61. Bathroom powder : TALC
62. Trimmed area around a green : APRON
63. "Hey ... over here!" : PSST
64. Once, in olden days : ERST
65. Burly : STOUT
66. Snitches (on) : RATS
1. Opposites of births : DEATHS
2. "That is SO incredible!" : UNREAL
3. Geological layers : STRATA
4. Gait faster than a walk : TROT
5. Tree with medicinal uses : YEW
6. Birds near the shore : GULLS
7. Detailed blowup on a map : INSET
8. Longtime Federer adversary : NADAL
9. Personal identifier, for short : SSN
10. Subj. of interest for the Green Party : ECOL
11. Move to action : AROUSE
12. Tile adhesive : MASTIC
13. When repeated, cry to an honoree : SPEECH
21. Place for wheeling and dealing? : CARLOT
22. Go over and over again : REHASH
25. Unwelcome look : LEER
26. Big name in bicycle helmets : GIRO
29. What Wi-Fi can connect you to : THEWEB
31. Yule glitter : TINSEL
33. Highlight in a Zorro movie : DUEL
34. Modern home entertainment option : HDTV
35. Sleeper or caboose : TRAINCAR
36. Soup kitchen offerings : HOTMEALS
37. Teachers' org. : NEA
38. Tuliplike flower whose name means "butterfly" in Spanish : MARIPOSA
39. Most ready to get started : EAGEREST
40. Related linguistically : COGNATE
43. Examination do-overs : RETESTS
45. Arrest : NAB
47. Teacher who may get no respect, informally : SUB
49. Tibetan holy men : LAMAS
50. Brief excursion : JAUNT
53. Completely focused : RAPT
54. Biblical pronoun : THOU
57. Polling fig. : PCT
59. ___-Magnon : CRO
60. "Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me!" airer : NPR

Answer summary: 1 unique to this puzzle.

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