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New York Times, Thursday, October 3, 2013

Author: Evan Birnholz
Editor: Will Shortz
Evan Birnholz
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This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 78, Blocks: 36 Missing: {JQ} This is the debut puzzle for Mr. Birnholz. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Will Shortz notes: In the print edition of the Times, the solution to this puzzle will be shown as SUCKS2BYOU, 2BORNOT2B, etc. For online, though, the ... more
Will Shortz notes: In the print edition of the Times, the solution to this puzzle will be shown as SUCKS2BYOU, 2BORNOT2B, etc. For online, though, the solution shows "BB" in the theme squares, as we felt that's what solvers are more likely to guess. This was the playoff puzzle at last Friday's Westchester Crossword Puzzle Tournament. As I write this, I'm anxious to see how quickly (or not) the contestants catch onto the trick.

ADDED NOTE: Winning time for this puzzle at the 17th Westchester Crossword Puzzle Tournament, held last Friday in Pleasantville, NY:

1st — Bob Mackey, perfect in 8:36

2nd — Jeffrey Schwartz, perfect in 10:34

3rd — Glen Ryan, 11:56 with one error

Evan Birnholz notes: I was delighted when I finally got some NYT acceptance letters this summer after four years of rejections. So you can imagine my ... more
Evan Birnholz notes: I was delighted when I finally got some NYT acceptance letters this summer after four years of rejections. So you can imagine my shock when, only a few days before my 30th birthday, Will asked me if he could use this grid as the playoff puzzle for the Westchester Crossword Puzzle Tournament. My debut in the New York Times, AND I got to see many puzzle enthusiasts all in the same room solving it in real time — I couldn't ask for a better birthday present.

I originally submitted the clue for (TO BE) OR NOT (TO BE) as a revealer: [Famous dramatic words ... and a hint for this puzzle's theme], which I thought would be a good way of showing that some theme answers are TO BE, others are not, and you have to figure out what the OR NOT element is. I would have preferred that the revealer had been there, but it can be fun to let solvers interpret an answer as a revealer without being explicit about it (like Jeff Chen's STIR FRIES puzzle).

There were several other TO BE entries I considered using, like TO BE CONTINUED, HIP TO BE SQUARE, IT REMAINS TO BE SEEN, and the Weird Al song DARE TO BE STUPID. I actually built two different grids for this puzzle. The first one had some really great long fill entries, but I scrapped it because a) I thought there were too many short, crappy answers, and b) I didn't think an entry like CRABB would fly, especially since those B's held down a theme square. The lesson, as always, is don't hesitate to tear your puzzle down and start over if you think you can do better. The second version that you see here is much cleaner, so that's what I submitted.

I don't know if any individual puzzle inspired me to create this one, but I think the closest analogue might be Joel Fagliano's DOUBLE U puzzle from July 2012, which I thought was remarkably clever.

One last note: I think it's fitting that the NYT would run my puzzle on October 3, 2013, since that happens to be my late grandmother Edna's 100th birthday, and there's a funny crossword story about her too. When my mother Elaine was young, my grandmother came home and found that her daughter had completely filled in the answers to the crosswords in one of their puzzle books. My grandmother was astounded. "How did you do that?" she asked, stunned that her daughter might be a crossword-solving ace. "Oh," my mother said, flipping the pages to the end of the book, "they have all of the answers right here in the back. See?" Thus the legacy of puzzle-related deviousness in my family was born.

Jeff Chen notes: Fun debut from Evan! The eight special squares must be interpreted TO BE in the across direction and BB in the down; a whimsical ... more
Jeff Chen notes: Fun debut from Evan! The eight special squares must be interpreted TO BE in the across direction and BB in the down; a whimsical interpretation of TO BE OR NOT TO BE. Cleverly done. At first I wondered if I was missing something, because I kept thinking it should be "TO BE" in the across direction and (blank) in the down. But then I decided I was overthinking things and kicked back with a COHIBA to shut up my stupid brain.

Well-constructed grid, especially so given that it's Evan debut. He's chosen really nice theme entries for the most part, with BORN TO BE WILD, SUCKS TO BE YOU, TO BE HONEST, and BRIDE TO BE standing out. The down answers containing BB aren't flashy per se, but almost all of them do a nice job. Esoteric foreign words like ABBE are usually something a constructor strives to avoid in a grid, but in something this ambitious, some trade-offs are usually required.

And the rest of the fill is pretty darn good; lots of sparkly stuff. Evan tosses in my man Geordi LAFORGE, who gets his second appearance in the NYT, making up some ground to the ubiquitous crossword ST:TNG personnel, Deanna TROI (31 appearances) and Lieutenant WORF (six). Hopefully his CHESS SET is a Star Trek Tridimensional one.

Like with most (non-Patrick Berry) puzzle, there are flaws. Aside from the typical ORI, HOSP, FAO, etc., I don't think Darrell ISSA is terribly grid-worthy, and the same goes for XENIA, OH, which mysteriously shows up with relatively high frequency (16 appearances in the NYT Shortz era, despite being a town of about 25,000 people). In general, I really appreciate what Will has done for the NYT xw in terms of fill (browse the pre-Shortzian puzzles to get a sense for what fill used to be like), and I applaud continuing motion toward better quality fill. Here's hoping we don't see ISSA again, until he does something worthy of fame.

More importantly, here's hoping we see more work from Evan in the future! One of the best debuts I've seen in a while.

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© 2013, The New York TimesNo. 1003 ( 23,340 )
Across Down
1. ___ skirt : HULA
5. "The Tao of Pooh" author Benjamin : HOFF
9. One with ergophobia : SLOTH
14. "Look what I found!" cries : OHOS
15. Kind of tradition : ORAL
16. "___ talk?" : CANWE
17. "Good thing I don't have the same problem!" : SUCKSTOBEYOU
19. Following : AFTER
20. River of film : PHOENIX
21. 1986 top 10 hit for Billy Idol : TOBEALOVER
23. That's the point : DOT
24. Meal at which to drink four cups of wine : SEDER
25. Part of a pickup line? : TAXI
28. "___, boy!" : HERE
29. Earth goddess created by Chaos : GAEA
33. Expanse : OPENAREA
36. "Apparently" : SEEMSTOBE
38. What fell in the Fall : MAN
39. That is the question : TOBEORNOTTOBE
41. Robert of "Quincy, M.E." : ITO
42. One who may need a shower? : BRIDETOBE
44. Holder of a pair of queens : CHESSSET
46. Shiner : STAR
47. Milk sources : EWES
49. N.B.A. Hall-of-Famer Walker : CHET
50. Belgian battleground during W.W. I : YPRES
52. Letters in car ads : APR
54. "Truthfully ..." : TOBEHONEST
57. Brought up to speed : BRIEFED
61. Yokel, in slang : GOMER
62. Classic rock song in "Easy Rider" : BORNTOBEWILD
64. G.W. competitor : UMASS
65. P.D.Q. Bach's "I'm the Village Idiot," e.g. : ARIA
66. Rep. Darrell of California : ISSA
67. Like the myth of Ragnarok : NORSE
68. Luxury hotel name : RITZ
69. Locale for a Village People hit, informally : THEY
1. "Scrubs" locale: Abbr. : HOSP
2. "Don't even think about it" : UHUH
3. Bats : LOCO
4. Showed politeness at the front door : ASKEDIN
5. Certain ring bearer : HOBBIT
6. Relative of a gemsbok : ORYX
7. ___ Schwarz : FAO
8. Fictional substance in a Disney film : FLUBBER
9. Zodiac symbol : SCALE
10. U.S.S. Enterprise chief engineer Geordi ___ : LAFORGE
11. Where reruns run : ONTV
12. Overly precious : TWEE
13. Mister, overseas : HERR
18. ___ Balls : SNO
22. Christmas hymn beginning : ADESTE
24. Events at which people are dead serious? : SEANCES
25. Some pyramids : TOMBS
26. In two, say : APART
27. Ohio city WSW of Columbus : XENIA
28. It's possessive : HER
30. Some buggy drivers : AMISH
31. Name on a bottle of Sensuous Nude perfume : ESTEE
32. Half of an old comedy team : ABBOTT
34. Caen cleric : ABBE
35. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, e.g. : ROBBERS
37. Drifts away : EBBS
40. Quaker product : OHS
43. Chardonnay feature : DRYNESS
45. "Whatever!" : SCREWIT
48. Fancy suite amenity : WETBAR
51. In and of itself : PERSE
52. Ball mate : ARNAZ
53. Mr. ___ : PIBB
54. What's not for big shots? : BBGUN
55. 38-Across's genus : HOMO
56. "Ah, my Beloved, fill the Cup that clears" poet : OMAR
57. "I say" sayer : BRIT
58. Menu section : FISH
59. Threat ender : ELSE
60. Time of 1944's Operation Neptune : DDAY
63. "... goes, ___ go!" : ORI

Answer summary: 6 unique to this puzzle.

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