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New York Times, Monday, October 27, 2014

Author:
Stanley Newman
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
245/5/19845/24/20190
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1832523
ScrabRebusCirclePangramPre‑WS
1.640012
Stanley Newman

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 78, Blocks: 38 Missing: {GWXZ} Spans: 1 This is puzzle # 21 for Mr. Newman. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Stanley Newman notes:
The genesis for today's puzzle was my noticing the DVD monogram of Dick Van Dyke. Curious whether any other famous person had that ... read more

The genesis for today's puzzle was my noticing the DVD monogram of Dick Van Dyke. Curious whether any other famous person had that monogram, I searched through "d* v* d*" at the excellent database onelook.com, and discovered the second TV-related answer "Death Valley Days". "Hmm, 15 letters, maybe I can make a crossword out of that." That would require an 11 to balance DICK VAN DYKE, of course. There being no reasonable matching-monogram answer presenting itself at onelook, I hoped to find a "revealer" answer starting with DVD, and got very lucky with DVD RECORDER — having the obvious TV tie-in and the "what you are by solving this puzzle" wordplay-clue slant that came to me immediately.

With the assistance of Crossword Compiler software, I found the creation of the grid pretty straightforward — placing the black squares to avoid crossing words with uncommon letter placements (no answers ending in V, please), closing off the grid to the 78-answer maximum for maximum flexibility, then filling the remainder of the grid with answers as lively-but-easy as possible. The non-theme star of the grid is undoubtedly PAPA JOHNS (32 Down), which just happened to fit very nicely.

My two principal objectives in writing the clues: having them all rather easy, and as far as possible avoiding duplication with recent Times puzzles, or any of the other major crosswords, for that matter. The latter is easily checkable at crosswordtracker.com. As for the former, while I think I'm pretty good at writing easy clues (having gotten my undergrad education in the early 1980s from Games Magazine's puzzle editor, one William F. Shortz), I figured that the Times clues needed to be a bit more difficult than the puzzles I create and edit elsewhere, and proceeded accordingly. Nevertheless, nearly all of the one-third of the clues that Will fully changed were easier than my originals. I promise to remember that for my next Monday, Will.

There are several examples here of my favorite type of "good and easy" clue: Facts on perhaps unfamiliar-to-you subjects that require only general knowledge to understand. Two of them are 31 Across: "Top Chef" appliance (OVEN) and 58 Across: Chocolate __ cake (dessert with a molten center) for LAVA. The latter factual reference for LAVA is new to crosswordtracker. That came from my own experience, chocolate lava cake being served regularly at the salad buffet restaurant chain Sweet Tomatoes. Also new to crosswordtracker is the Forbidden City reference to MAO (61 Down), also from my personal experience, having visited Beijing last year.

Besides my own experience and imagination, I find Google and Wikipedia to be excellent sources of new-to-crosswords usages of words, facts and names. Just one example of the latter: With New Hampshire senator JEANNE Shaheen (50 Across) currently in a close race for reelection, I was both surprised she hadn't appeared in the Times crossword before, and confident that Will would find my clue appropriate for a Monday puzzle (which he did).

I'll end by sharing this fun fact with you: While the complete run of "Dick Van Dyke Show" episodes are available on DVD, it's inappropriately unfortunate that the owners of "Death Valley Days" have never released the full series in its "initial format."

Jeff Chen notes:
Crossword veteran Stan Newman works to bridge a generation gap (or two), tying older DVDs together with a DVD RECORDER revealer. I ... read more

Crossword veteran Stan Newman works to bridge a generation gap (or two), tying older DVDs together with a DVD RECORDER revealer. I didn't quite understand how the revealer worked at first, but it started to make some sense after cogitating over it. A DVD RECORDER (different than a DVR — thanks to Josh Saks for pointing this out) in this case is a person recording DVD entries into a crossword grid. Doesn't totally fire on all cylinders for me, but it's nice to work a little bit to understand a Monday puzzle. Sweet Valley High

I used to be a big fan of the Patty Duke Show (I'm an identical twin; what do you expect?) and have seen every Gilligan's Island episode roughly 16 times, so this puzzle made me want to go back and check out DICK VAN DYKE. I've never heard of DEATH VALLEY DAYS — I put in DEATH VALLEY HIGH before turning red, admitting that I knew what SWEET VALLEY HIGH was. Anyhoo, both nice answers.

With just three theme answers, this puzzle has lower theme density than today's average of four themers. Additionally, most puzzles with only three themers have 13-15 letters in each, which makes this feel even slimmer. It's pretty hard to make DVD RECORDER anything else than that, though, and I think a relatively thin theme can be just fine. To me, I would have loved to see one more DVD entry — but is that possible? Challenge issued! Can anyone think of one in the same vein? I'll put the winning entry or entries at the end of this post.

Low theme density does open up a puzzle for both clean and lively fill. Stan does the first in spades, really not having much of anything stick out. APACE is kind of an awkward word, and Gay TALESE isn't in my wheelhouse, but he does seem crossworthy, at least from his Wikipedia entry.

I would have loved to see more long fill in this puzzle, given the low theme density. Stan's point about going up to 78 words is well-taken; that definitely makes it easy to fill a puzzle smoothly. But it also means that there's not much room for additional meat in the puzzle. PAPA JOHNS and NERVE CELL, that's the kind of fill I like as bonus material. I personally might have played with removing black squares, the ones between MOBS / FEAR and SAPS / LADY, for example. A pair of 9's in those two slots could have helped a lot. In today's quickly evolving crossword market, I think beefing up a thin theme is near essential. Not enough to "just" have smooth fill anymore.

So far the best DVD candidate, by Mike Black: DALLAS VS DENVER [Super Bowl XII matchup, the only NFL Championship game with its initials]. I also like Bruce Haight's DALLAS VIA DENVER [only airline route from New York to Colorado that has those initials]. Creative thinking!

1
A
2
C
3
M
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E
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S
6
A
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N
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N
9
A
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J
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O
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T
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S
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Q
U
O
T
A
15
P
I
E
R
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O
K
R
A
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U
R
B
A
N
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A
C
R
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R
A
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A
B
S
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D
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K
V
A
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N
D
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K
E
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T
A
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O
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S
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R
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F
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C
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O
V
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N
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P
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O
E
T
S
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S
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P
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D
E
A
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H
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V
A
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E
Y
40
D
A
Y
S
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E
R
R
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I
M
P
E
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A
P
P
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A
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A
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O
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U
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M
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E
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A
D
E
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J
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A
N
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D
V
D
R
E
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C
O
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D
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L
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O
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U
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O
H
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M
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O
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P
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L
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P
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Y
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S
© 2014, The New York TimesNo. 1027 ( 23,729 )
Across
1
Topmost points : ACMES
6
Tennis champ Kournikova : ANNA
10
Scribbles (down) : JOTS
14
Target number to hit : QUOTA
15
Jetty : PIER
16
Southern vegetable that's often deep-fried : OKRA
17
Opposite of rural : URBAN
18
1/640 of a square mile : ACRE
19
Banister, e.g. : RAIL
20
Muscles that are crunched : ABS
21
Eponymous star of a 1960s sitcom, the only American TV star with his three initials : DICKVANDYKE
24
Author Gay : TALESE
25
Desert rest stops : OASES
26
Subsequent prescription order : REFILL
29
Abel's brother : CAIN
31
"Top Chef" appliance : OVEN
32
___ Corner (Westminster Abbey locale) : POETS
34
Gasoline additive brand : STP
37
Long-running western anthology, the only American TV series with its three initials : DEATHVALLEYDAYS
41
Make a misstep : ERR
42
Urge to act : IMPEL
43
Downloadable programs : APPS
44
Any "Salome" solo : ARIA
45
Very beginning : OUTSET
47
Gettysburg general George : MEADE
50
New Hampshire senator Shaheen : JEANNE
53
TV hookup option ... or what you are by solving this puzzle? : DVDRECORDER
55
TV host Dobbs : LOU
58
Chocolate ___ cake (dessert with a molten center) : LAVA
59
River that starts at Pittsburgh : OHIO
60
Amherst school, in brief : UMASS
62
"What's ___ for me?" : INIT
63
Peeling potatoes in a mess hall, say : ONKP
64
Stew-serving utensil : LADLE
65
Maui or Kauai : ISLE
66
Standardized H.S. exam : PSAT
67
Toys on strings : YOYOS
Down
1
Pastel blue : AQUA
2
Street's edge : CURB
3
Angry crowds : MOBS
4
Pilot's in-flight announcement, for short : ETA
5
Beach footwear : SANDAL
6
Speedily : APACE
7
Shaving mishaps : NICKS
8
Place for an axon : NERVECELL
9
Field of expertise : AREA
10
Amman's land : JORDAN
11
Approves : OKAYS
12
Tot's three-wheeler, informally : TRIKE
13
They're rung up on cash registers : SALES
22
Sick : ILL
23
Raucous : NOISY
24
Slight coloration : TINT
26
Went in a vehicle : RODE
27
Ceaselessly : EVER
28
Haunted house feeling : FEAR
30
Corroded : ATE
32
Rival of Domino's : PAPAJOHNS
33
Hispanic hurray : OLE
34
Drains, as one's energy : SAPS
35
Ilk : TYPE
36
"Hey, I've got a secret ..." : PSST
38
New person on staff : HIREE
39
Sch. known as the West Point of the South : VMI
40
Social engagement : DATE
44
Charge for a commercial : ADRATE
45
Result of dividing any number by itself : ONE
46
Hard to control : UNRULY
47
1552, on a cornerstone : MDLII
48
Bob ___, restaurant chain : EVANS
49
Aleve alternative : ADVIL
51
Eleniak of "Baywatch" : ERIKA
52
Get a pet from the pound, say : ADOPT
54
Chicken house : COOP
55
Lord's partner : LADY
56
Norway's capital : OSLO
57
Applications : USES
61
His portrait is at the entrance to Beijing's Forbidden City : MAO

Answer summary: 1 unique to this puzzle, 3 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

Found bugs or have suggestions?