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Winners' Circle

New York Times, Sunday, October 26, 2014

Author:
Caleb Emmons
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
66/21/20127/28/20150
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
1011300
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.72110
Caleb Emmons

This puzzle:

Rows: 21, Columns: 21 Words: 140, Blocks: 80 Missing: {Q} Scrabble average: 1.73 This is puzzle # 3 for Mr. Emmons. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Notepad: When this puzzle is completed, the eight circled letters, starting in the upper left and proceeding roughly clockwise, will spell an appropriate word... or a different appropriate word.
Caleb Emmons notes:
I had been knocking around the idea of having some theme answers 'override' others for quite awhile before I came up with the idea of using famous matchups from history and popular ... read more

I had been knocking around the idea of having some theme answers "override" others for quite awhile before I came up with the idea of using famous matchups from history and popular culture. At first, I just thought the "winner" of the battle would claim the square and that would be that. But then there would be no rhyme or reason to where the opponents would cross. So the idea of using the winning — and losing — letters to spell something meaningful came to me.

My first try was the pair CHAMP/LOSER in a 15x15 grid, but it turned out that was too small to accommodate that much theme material. (Not to mention, I didn't really feel comfortable calling GM Kasparov a "loser.") So I turned to a 21x21 grid.

The grid was terrible to create (just ask my wife) since the theme pairs had to cross in exact spots, the pairs in a given order, and the non-matching length themers had to fit into a symmetric grid. Only two of the "cheater" black squares in the grid are really cheaters; the rest were necessitated by fitting the theme entries. Once the theme entries were placed, there was almost no choice for where the rest of the black squares could go without chopping into the non-symmetrically placed themers.

Filling a grid with such constraints was truly a, um, battle. The struggle was real, but I'm very happy to be in the, uh, winner's circle, with my first Sunday in the NYT! And though my original title ("Clash of the Typos") was defeated, my favorite clue (67-Across) did survive the editorial process! Victory lap!

Jeff Chen notes:
It's pretty rare that I see a new type of theme I don't remember seeing before, and today's concept gave me a great big smile. There have been a lot of Schrödingers now as well as ... read more

It's pretty rare that I see a new type of theme I don't remember seeing before, and today's concept gave me a great big smile. There have been a lot of Schrödingers now as well as pairs of answers crossing for various reasons, but this idea felt fresh and new to me. I love seeing the innovation. Caleb picked pairs of well-known adversaries; the crossing squares contain a different letter in the across and the down directions; one set of letters spells CHAMPION and the other spells DEFEATED. Made for a really enjoyable solve for me.

Caleb's not kidding — puzzles with crossing themers are tough. It's especially difficult to create smooth fill right around those intersection points, so I was impressed that he didn't really need more glue-y answers than average. And check out the HERCULES and HYDRA region, excellent construction. The letters right around the special square — Y / U / R / R — create all sort of constraints to work with. I love what Caleb has done with this NW corner. It's a big chunk of white space to fill; an audacious target given how difficult it usually is to work with crossing answers. And to kick off a puzzle with SCHLUBS is beautiful. Great use of a cheater square in the very NW corner.

King Kong vs. Godzilla

Caleb also does a nice job of separating his themers with black squares. Enough separation to be able to fill around one pair of themers at a time, but not too much as to choke off puzzle flow. The only area that gave me a pause was where KING KONG / GODZILLA and TORTOISE / HARE flowed together. COERCIVELY is such a long slot to fill (not a lot of flexibility) that it's hard to avoid odd bits like OTILDE (although I'm still undecided as to whether it's actually awesome). Similarly, in the symmetrical section, that region where two sets of themers flow together gets us the awkward partial IS MAN and the sticky bit of AME. However, that region is adorned with the beautiful ACID JAZZ — impressive to work that in.

I would have liked for there to be more symmetry in the theme answers. I know how challenging that would have been to do — it must have been hard enough to simply find enough pairs that worked with the required letters. Even to have the longest ones paired up = I wouldn't have thought twice. Or to have all the CHAMPION letters used only in the across direction, and all the DEFEATED letters used in the down? And I know it would be a huge stretch, but even better would be if the eight special squares had been symmetrically paired — could have made for amazing elegance.

All that said though, I admire the novelty of this puzzle. What's most important for me these days is the delight level a crossword provides, and I had so much fun solving this one.

1
S
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C
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H
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AF
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P
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O
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H
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B
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J
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P
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A
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A
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G
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A
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C
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C
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B
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M
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J
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B
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D
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K
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D
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D
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A
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W
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M
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D
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© 2014, The New York TimesNo. 1026 ( 23,728 )
Across
1
Boors : SCHLUBS
8
Latin dances : SALSAS
14
Opponent of 14-Down, in sports : ALI
17
Park place : PLAYAREA
18
Woodworker's vise : CCLAMP
19
Flip ___ : ACOIN
21
Opponent of 3-Down, in Greek myth : HERCULES
22
Opponent of 9-Down, in classical literature : HECTOR
23
Certain marked-down item: Abbr. : IRREG
24
Like court testimony : SWORN
25
Product once pitched by Michael Jackson and Mariah Carey : PEPSI
27
Where some "K-I-S-S-I-N-G" is done : INATREE
29
Least taut : SLACKEST
31
The "L" of "A = L x W" : LENGTH
33
Mexico City sight : SMOG
36
Any ship : HER
37
Banjoist Fleck : BELA
39
Steep slope : ESCARP
41
March birthstone, traditionally : JASPER
45
"Siegfried," e.g. : OPERA
47
Yellow diner packet : SPLENDA
48
Cue user, maybe : ACTOR
49
Google ___ : GLASS
51
Opponent of 28-Down, in comics : BATMAN
53
Martial artist Jackie : CHAN
54
Animal also known as a hog-nosed coon : COATI
55
"___ sûr" ("Of course": Fr.) : BIEN
56
Mouth, slangily : TRAP
60
Opponent of 49-Down, in film : KINGKONG
62
18 or 21 : LEGALAGE
66
NPR's Shapiro : ARI
67
It may be taken from the neck of a superhero : PEZ
68
Red topper : FEZ
69
Snaps : FOTOS
70
Rough track condition : MUD
71
Baja aunt : TIA
72
Female gametes : OVA
73
A case might be made for one : CRIMINAL
75
Relative of neo-soul : ACIDJAZZ
77
Challenge : TEST
79
Hatfields or McCoys : CLAN
80
"What ___?" (Mark Twain essay) : ISMAN
82
The works : ATOZ
83
Unusual diacritic used in Portuguese : OTILDE
85
Jack on "24" : BAUER
86
Long-distance swimmer Nyad : DIANA
87
Lila ___, Oscar winner for "Zorba the Greek" : KEDROVA
90
Opponent of 64-Down, in the Bible : DAVID
92
Brackish water locales : DELTAS
93
Missouri tributary : PLATTE
94
Chirpy greeting : HIHO
95
Knot : TIE
96
Opponent of 78-Down, in fable : HARE
97
Cousin of ibid. : LOCCIT
101
Opponent of 86-Down, in games : KASPAROV
106
Ornamental pond feature : LILYPAD
108
Tickle : AMUSE
110
Pasta seasoner : BASIL
112
Rear : RAISE
114
Where to emulate the locals, it's said : INROME
116
English city where the Magna Carta originated : STALBANS
118
Take over : ANNEX
119
Ideal world : UTOPIA
120
Soothed : ASSUAGED
121
Part of a clown outfit : WIG
122
Second : MOMENT
123
X's : DELETES
Down
1
A whole lot : SLEWS
2
Wassail : CAROL
3
See 21-Across : HYDRA
4
Part of many a silo : LAUNCHER
5
Address letters : URL
6
Obsolescent summoner : BEEPER
7
Postpaid encls. : SASES
8
The 12 of the Pac-12: Abbr. : SCHS
9
See 22-Across : ACHILLES
10
Inc.'s cousin : LLC
11
Subbed (for) : SATIN
12
___ friends : AMONG
13
Sardinelike fish : SPRAT
14
See 14-Across : FOREMAN
15
Sleep (with) : LIE
16
Dutch financial giant : ING
17
Acidity measures, informally : PHS
19
Diver's supply : AIR
20
The ___ City (New Orleans) : CRESCENT
26
W.W. II craft : PTBOAT
28
See 51-Across : THEPENGUIN
30
Prefix with plunk : KER
32
Wave catcher? : EAR
34
Windy City terminal code : ORD
35
Collection of marks, for short? : GPA
38
Leader of ancient Ephesus? : EPSILON
40
'70s radical grp. : SLA
41
Good thing to hit : JACKPOT
42
Attain : ACHIEVE
43
What "America" has four of : STANZAS
44
Beer ___ : PONG
46
Arafat successor : ABBAS
47
Stanley, for one : STEAMCAR
49
See 60-Across : GODZILLA
50
Be behind : LAG
52
Not do well : AIL
54
By force : COERCIVELY
57
Knock : RATATAT
58
Reservation holder? : ARIZONA
59
Squares : PIAZZAS
61
One of the brands of Yum! Brands : KFC
63
What fog might delay, for short : ETA
64
See 90-Across : GOLIATH
65
Hall-of-Fame outfielder Roush : EDD
69
Getting just a slap on the wrist, say : FINED
74
Loony : MAD
75
___ Zion Church : AME
76
Lock up : JAIL
78
See 96-Across : TORTOISE
81
3 x 3 x 3 container? : SUDOKU
84
Day-care attendee : TOT
85
Riboflavin, e.g. : BVITAMIN
86
See 101-Across : DEEPBLUE
87
Autobahn speed meas. : KPH
88
She, in Rio : ELA
89
Sweetie pie : DARLING
91
Tuna often served seared : AHI
92
Start of a bear market : DIP
95
___ fly : TSETSE
98
Vice of Dorian Gray : OPIUM
99
"The Divine Comedy" division : CANTO
100
Download alternative : CDROM
102
Civil war president : ASSAD
103
North African capital : RABAT
104
Missouri tributary : OSAGE
105
Creepers : VINES
107
Latin law : LEX
109
Essential part : MEAT
111
Drug sold in microdots : LSD
112
Like some talent and emotions : RAW
113
Singer DiFranco : ANI
115
Reveal, poetically : OPE
117
Form of digital communication?: Abbr. : ASL

Answer summary: 8 unique to this puzzle, 3 debuted here and reused later, 3 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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