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New York Times, Thursday, October 27, 2016

Author: Milo Beckman
Editor: Will Shortz
Milo Beckman
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
86/24/201110/27/20160
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0111311
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.59210

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 78, Blocks: 36 Missing: {JQZ} This is puzzle # 8 for Mr. Beckman. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Milo Beckman notes: A few years ago, I wanted to make a puzzle where the solution involved leaving some squares blank. My original idea involved theme ... more
Milo Beckman notes:

A few years ago, I wanted to make a puzzle where the solution involved leaving some squares blank. My original idea involved theme entries like "RUNNING ON [EMPTY]" and "[NOTHING] PERSONAL" where the Down answers only made sense if you left the bracketed words blank. But Will rejected a couple iterations of this, on the grounds that solvers wouldn't enjoy seeing a Down answer like "ASHG" (not knowing they were supposed to leave the G blank).

So the obvious next step was a puzzle where the Down answers worked as valid entries with OR without the letter from the intersecting theme entry, so solvers would see "BRAG" when the clue suggested BRA. I played with this a bit, but I eventually gave up on it — I couldn't "explain" the gimmick to my constructing software, and I was never much good at hand-filling.

Then, in 2013, my laptop got stolen and I didn't have a backup of my laboriously compiled crossword dictionary (may it rest in peace). I tried to start over, but I was back to square one — AARE and IS AT and INRI in every fill! I got discouraged, and stopped constructing ... until I graduated college last year, needed some supplemental income, and decided to get back in on that crossword cash.

I picked this "ghost" idea back up, since (lacking a good dictionary) I'd have to do some hand-filling anyway. I wrote a Python script to generate a list of answer pairs like HOLY LAND / HOLLAND to work with, and went from there. My submitted version didn't have the second half of the revealer clue (it was just "Riddled with ghosts") since I like the idea of a gimmick puzzle that has no indication anywhere that it's a gimmick puzzle — just clues and words. But I get that people would've had too much trouble without a revealer.

Some extra details for extreme crossword wonks: To fill this puzzle, I created a new dictionary with every possible answer pair encoded in a particular way. The pair BRA / BRAG, for instance, was included in the special dictionary as the word "BRAG1" — the numeral 1 after a letter indicates that that letter can be removed and still be an acceptable entry. Then I inputted the four theme answers as rebus squares, e.g. TOWNS as T1 O1 W1 N1 S1 (see here). This way, my filling software looked at "_ W1 _ _" and suggested words from the special dictionary: AW1OL (AWOL / AOL), GW1EN (GWEN / GEN), TW1IN (TWIN / TIN), etc. I still had to handpick entries where the longer answer stood on its own — without a clue — but this rebus trick was extremely helpful.

Jeff Chen notes: Neat concept, but difficult to explain. Four answers have 'ghost' implied: (GHOST) TOWNS, (GHOST) WRITTEN, (GHOST) BUSTERS, and ... more
Jeff Chen notes:

Neat concept, but difficult to explain. Four answers have "ghost" implied: (GHOST) TOWNS, (GHOST) WRITTEN, (GHOST) BUSTERS, and (GHOST) STORY. None of the letters in those words show up in the down answers, i.e. COUR(T)IER becomes COURIER. Finally, all the old words such as COURTIER are legitimate words (or word-ish).

Whew! Make sense? If not, I've done some highlighting in the grid below to try to make the principle clear. I've also fixed up the answers below so they match their respective clues.

I liked some of Milo's finds, HOL(Y) LAND to HOLLAND the standout. That's the type of discovery I marvel at, such a dramatic change — a colorful, long answer turning into another solid entry. COURTIER to COURIER is also good, but there's something about a two-word to one-word transmogrification that's so neat.

This type of construction feat is very difficult. I've done it once before, but it took so long to create that I doubt I'll do another like it. Milo has an even more difficult task, given how many ghosted letters he has to work with. It's especially difficult around those seven-letter entries — that's so many connected answers that have to be worked in!

Given the challenge, it's no surprise to see a few clunkers in the affected regions. I thought the NE suffered most, with IS WAR and MIN(T)ER, and the T BAR to BAR change isn't much a change at all. And as much as I loved HOL(Y) LAND to HOLLAND, having the awkward THR (from TH(O)R) took away from that region's appeal. There's also some awkward ASORT, RNDS, PRES spread around, not to mention CDI, ARD, AMU, etc.

Overall though, I liked the novelty of the ghosted words. Fun and tricky concept, appropriate for Halloween.

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© 2016, The New York TimesNo. 1027 ( 24,460 )
Across Down
1. Blu-ray ancestor : VCR
4. European History and Physics C: Mechanics, for two : APTESTS
11. One may be open at the bar : MIC
14. Fair-hiring inits. : EOE
15. Midriff-showing garment : CROPTOP
16. "Kinda sorta" : ISH
17. Area ___ : RUG
18. Tile in a mosaic : TESSERA
19. The "World's Most Dangerous Group" : NWA
20. Like fish and chips : BRITISH
22. Like many celebrity memoirs : GHOSTWRITTEN
24. Some gold rush remnants : GHOSTTOWNS
25. Sister publication of 16 Magazine : TEENBEAT
26. What's done in Haiti? : FINI
27. Suffix with drunk : ARD
28. Column on an airport screen: Abbr. : ARRS
29. #1 hit for Bill Withers (1972) and Club Nouveau (1987) : LEANONME
32. ___ es Salaam : DAR
34. Address not found on a GPS : URL
35. Full of ghosts ... like four answers in this puzzle? : HAUNTED
37. "Now I ain't sayin' ___ a gold digger" (Kanye West lyric) : SHE
40. ___ Pérignon (brand of bubbly) : DOM
41. Milton Berle hosted the world's first one : TELETHON
43. Berry said to have anti-aging qualities : ACAI
46. Crew leader, for short : COX
47. Advice between "buy" and "sell" : HOLD
48. Zapper : LASERGUN
51. Campfire entertainment : GHOSTSTORY
53. Monster film hit of 1984 : GHOSTBUSTERS
54. How the fashionable dress : SMARTLY
56. Grp. that brought Colbert to Baghdad : USO
57. "That was over the line" : NOTCOOL
59. Like on Twitter, informally : FAV
60. Bleu expanse : MER
61. School assignment specification : DUEDATE
62. Word before "Happy New Year!" : ONE
63. It went boom, for short : SST
64. Repeat offenses, metaphorically : STRIKES
65. GPS lines: Abbr. : RDS
1. Sink or swim, e.g. : VERB
2. Package delivery person : COURIER
3. Fit for a queen : REGINAL
4. It follows a curtain-raising : ACTI
5. Inauguration V.I.P.: Abbr. : PRES
6. Comedian Daniel : TOSH
7. Brief records, in brief : EPS
8. Knight's ride : STEED
9. Shredded : TORE
10. 4,200 feet, for the Golden Gate Bridge : SPAN
11. One involved with underground rock bands? : MINER
12. "This ___!" (fighting words) : ISWAR
13. Tête-à-têtes : CHATS
21. Element #50 : TIN
23. Ingot, e.g. : BAR
25. Home of the Thunder, the Double-A affiliate of the Yankees : TRENTON
26. Certain bug : FLU
27. ___ Darya : AMU
30. "Now you're talking!" : OHO
31. "Smokey, this is not ___. This is bowling. There are rules" ("The Big Lebowski" quote) : NAM
32. Joe Biden's home: Abbr. : DEL
33. Suffix with hater : ADE
36. Ted Cruz's home: Abbr. : TEX
37. Aimed at : SHOTFOR
38. Suriname colonizer : HOLLAND
39. Last song recorded by all four Beatles, with "the" : END
40. German article : DIE
42. By way of: Abbr. : THR
43. Reunion attendees : ALUMS
44. Welfare worker's workload : CASES
45. Of ___ (so to speak) : ASORT
46. More adorable : CUTER
49. Boxing segments: Abbr. : RNDS
50. Joint ailment : GOUT
51. Bit of dust : MOTE
52. Tap options : ALES
54. Take a long bath : SOAK
55. Fashion's ___ Saint Laurent : YVES
58. Early fifth-century year : CDI

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

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