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New York Times, Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Author: Chuck Deodene
Editor: Will Shortz
Chuck Deodene
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
4011/16/199410/3/20170
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
01398118
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.58031

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 76, Blocks: 37 Missing: {JQZ} This is puzzle # 40 for Mr. Deodene. NYT links: Across Lite PDF

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Jeff Chen notes: Not being into home improvement, it was a fun exercise to guess what could fill in '___ ISLAND.' I guessed DESERT, MIDDLE, STANDING, ... more
Jeff Chen notes:

Not being into home improvement, it was a fun exercise to guess what could fill in "___ ISLAND." I guessed DESERT, MIDDLE, STANDING, even ISLAND, (really, Jeff? ISLAND ISLAND?) and more ridiculous things before using the crossing answers to get CENTER / ISLAND. Apparently, that's a thing! I've seen them before but never known their proper terminology.

The engineer in me liked Chuck's firm interpretation of the theme, with the islands be smack dab in the middle of theme phrases. Note that TIMOR has exactly the same number of letters before and after it, as do the others (highlighted below to better illustrate).

Chuck could have gotten away with finding islands at any old position — say, ELBA in PARALLEL BARS, but that wouldn't technically be a CENTER ISLAND, not being exactly centered.

The writer in me preferred the snazziness of PARALLEL BARS compared to the lesser snazz factor of BUSHEL BASKET, though. The latter does appear to be a real term, but it's not something I'd strive to use as fill.

FORMAL TALKS did a better job of playing to both the engineer and writer — it's a great phrase, and it contains that exactitude of center alignment. Great find, too. Not easy to come up with 5+ letter hidden word discoveries like this!

Both personas also enjoyed the black squares in the center of the grid — they (sort of) look like a CENTER ISLAND. The writer approved of the kooky shape, and the engineer appreciated how much surface area that island would give the cook. Functionality!

What with such awkward themer lengths — 11 / 12 / 6 / 6 / 12 /11 — not a surprise to need some crossword glue. It wasn't terrible, but with I AM SO, SNEE, MTNS, NATAL, etc., I'd be curious to see if going up to 78 words would have resulted in a better grid. As much as I enjoyed MESMER, I'd personally have revised, maybe by shifting the two black squares above MESMER to the left and adding a black square at MESMER's first E.

Overall, I would have liked more sparkle in both the themers, even if it meant less rigidity. Take that, engineer!

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V
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© 2017, The New York TimesNo. 1003 ( 24,801 )
Across Down
1. River to the Caspian Sea : VOLGA
6. Speedy : SWIFT
11. ___ the line (obey) : TOE
14. Like some walls at Harvard : IVIED
15. Tureen dipper : LADLE
16. Humble dwelling : HUT
17. One might stare at the Sun : BALTIMOREAN
19. Suffix in many ore names : ITE
20. Paris's ___ Palace : ELYSEE
21. Submarine sandwich meat : HAM
22. Linux forerunner : UNIX
23. It holds four pecks : BUSHELBASKET
26. NBC host Carson : DALY
29. 1986-2001 Earth orbiter : MIR
30. Outback flock : EMUS
31. Prefix with sex or cycle : UNI
32. Banco de México money : PESO
33. Retort to a doubter : IAMSO
36. With 38-Across, feature of an upscale kitchen ... or of 17-, 23-, 47- and 58-Across? : CENTER
38. See 36-Across : ISLAND
39. Message that might start with "@" : TWEET
40. Whitney and Shasta, for two: Abbr. : MTNS
42. "To Kill a Mockingbird" author : LEE
43. Former piece of an ice shelf : BERG
45. Affirmative in "Fargo" : YAH
46. Huskies' haul : SLED
47. Manager at a train depot : STATIONAGENT
51. What an insole helps support : ARCH
52. Darlin' : HON
53. Julius who sang "Anywhere I Wander," 1953 : LAROSA
57. [Har har!] : YUK
58. Discussions that might lead to a treaty : FORMALTALKS
60. Master pilot : ACE
61. Capital of Jordan : AMMAN
62. Wiped out big-time : ATEIT
63. ___ Royal Highness : HER
64. Moist-eyed : TEARY
65. Catch at a rodeo : LASSO
1. A shady person may give off a bad one : VIBE
2. Track shape : OVAL
3. Water ___ (pond plant) : LILY
4. Subsists : GETSBY
5. Parting word that's 80% vowels : ADIEU
6. ___-mo : SLO
7. Medal of Honor recipient : WARHERO
8. Something to strive for : IDEAL
9. Served in blazing liquor : FLAMBE
10. <-- : TEN
11. Set one's sights low : THINKSMALL
12. Tummy protrusion : OUTIE
13. Writing in digital format : ETEXT
18. Famed German hypnotist : MESMER
22. Bar habitué's order, with "the" : USUAL
24. ___ Royal Highness : HIS
25. Slightly off : AMISS
26. Channel for fumes : DUCT
27. All over again : ANEW
28. Player who might tackle a wide receiver : LINEBACKER
32. Kind of dish at a lab : PETRI
34. Old-fashioned dagger : SNEE
35. Had too much, briefly : ODED
37. Places for crowns : TEETH
38. Really suffering, so to speak : INHELL
40. Neighbor of Bangladesh : MYANMAR
41. Touch in baseball : TAG
44. "Leave!" : GOHOME
46. Rock bands? : STRATA
47. "Open wide!" : SAYAH
48. Cease-fire : TRUCE
49. "Psycho" mother : NORMA
50. Birth-related : NATAL
54. Plaza de toros cries : OLES
55. Tackles a black diamond trail, say : SKIS
56. Concerning : ASTO
58. Liposculpture target : FAT
59. "With ___ luck ..." : ANY

Answer summary: 5 unique to this puzzle, 1 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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