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WINNERS' CIRCLE

New York Times, Sunday, October 26, 2014

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

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 culture. At first, I just ... more
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 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 pairs of answers crossing for ... more
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 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.

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© 2014, The New York TimesNo. 1026 ( 23,728 )
Across Down
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
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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