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New York Times, Monday, October 7, 2013

Author: Amy Johnson
Editor: Will Shortz
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Amy Johnson
Puzzle of the Week

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 78, Blocks: 37 Missing: {JQVXZ} Spans: 2 This is the debut puzzle for Ms. Johnson. Jeff Chen's Puzzle of the Week pick. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Amy Johnson notes: Ah, my first NY Times crosswords. I'm very happy to be here. For me, this puzzle was a lesson in 'fresh and lively.' As a ... more
Amy Johnson notes: Ah, my first NY Times crosswords. I'm very happy to be here.

For me, this puzzle was a lesson in "fresh and lively." As a newbie, "fresh and lively" can be a difficult accomplishment. I was happy just to complete a grid with no Tibetan yaks, references to drugs or disease, Roman numerals (one of my own pet peeves) and still fall within the word count guidelines. Mr. Shortz liked my theme but found my first grid a bit too "crosswordy," asking me to try again.

So I tried again. I didn't exactly get a "meh" in his response but Mr. Shortz did not find the puzzle all that exciting for solvers. Again, he was willing to take another look if I wanted to try again. "Really?" I thought and walked away from the project for a couple of weeks. Coming back to it with fresh eyes, I was able to produce what you see today. Is it fresh and lively? I'll let you be the judge of that. I will say it is much improved, a "fresh and lively" lesson I hope I can carry over into other crossword constructions.

Will Shortz notes: There have been a couple of puzzles over the years whose themes involved words that combine with BLUE, but this is the first one that uses only song titles. Great punch line at 63A, too!
Jeff Chen notes: A great debut from Amy. I've said before how difficult it is to make a Monday puzzle, and this one fires on all cylinders. I really ... more
Jeff Chen notes: A great debut from Amy. I've said before how difficult it is to make a Monday puzzle, and this one fires on all cylinders. I really appreciate Monday puzzles which I could give to non-crossword friends to get them hooked on the NYT xw, and this is one of them. We have some fun puzzles coming up this week, but this one deserves the POW. Here are the reasons why Amy's works so well for me:

Interesting, consistent, specific theme. There is a huge range of solving abilities in the NYT xw universe, everyone from total novices to the speedsters (Dan, Anne, Tyler, Plot, ZigZag, Shazbot, Commander Chewie) who don't even look at the theme, so finding something that works for everyone is near impossible. Amy gives us a theme that beginners can grasp (songs all ending in a word that's a shade of blue, plus another song as a "revealer") and advanced solvers can appreciate, given the catchiness of the three songs. As for specificity, there may be other well-known songs which also fit the theme, but I couldn't think of any right off the bat.

Long fill. Often the best source of added snazz is 8+ letter fill. Amy has some nice stuff here, GETTYSBURG and ARE WE ALONE (although I would have preferred to see a clue like "Secretive whisper" to get more specific about its usage). But she also incorporates some shorter good stuff: ST PETER, WOE IS ME, RUB IT IN, and HAR HAR. Nice.

Surrounding fill. This is the category that makes Mondays so difficult to create. A late week puzzle often must use an esoteric or crosswordese entry to hold the grid together. In my own late-week puzzles I've often had to let the likes of an OEO pass because of tough grid constraints. That's usually fine for a late-week solver, but it can badly trip up the novice solver. Amy has filled her grid professionally, with just a couple of the lesser uglies: ENNE, PHYS, ESE, STDS, GSA. GIDE is an outlier for a Monday, but the crosses are all common words and the Nobelist Andre Gide is gridworthy. I also appreciate Amy's use of a set of black "cheater squares" at the very NW and SE. As Patrick Berry has said, he'll always choose to incorporate cheater squares if that means the surrounding fill is of higher quality.

Cluing. It's tough to come up with fun and tricky cluing on a Monday, because that usually makes it too difficult for the novice solver. There's nothing spectacular here, but nothing too tricky for its own good. A slight ding is the sheer length of the clue for SINGING THE BLUES. It would have been nice to concatenate that somehow, maybe "Soulful activity describing the ends of 16-, 27-, 49-across"?

Looking forward to more work from Amy. P.S. There sadly is no ZigZag, Shazbot, or Commander Chewie in universe of NYT xw solvers. But there should be.

ADDED NOTE: Erik Agard shall hereafter be known as ZigZag. BTW, check out his indy crossword site, Glutton for Pun if you have a chance. Good stuff.

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© 2013, The New York TimesNo. 1007 ( 23,344 )
Across Down
1. Pat down, as pipe tobacco : TAMP
5. Trade : SWAP
9. Carpenter's file : RASP
13. Grammy winner McLachlan : SARAH
14. Heading on a list of errands : TODO
15. Salt lake state : UTAH
16. 1959 hit by the Drifters : THEREGOESMYBABY
19. Stock market index, with "the" : DOW
20. Collaborative Web project : WIKI
21. Helpers : AIDES
22. What children should be, and not heard, they say : SEEN
24. Pudding or pie : DESSERT
27. 1970 hit by Eric Clapton : AFTERMIDNIGHT
32. Barbie and others : DOLLS
34. 180 degrees from WNW : ESE
35. Close by : NEAR
36. Letter after pi : RHO
37. Belly muscles, for short : ABS
40. Magazine with an annual "500" list : INC
42. ___-la-la : TRA
43. Forever and ever : EONS
45. "___ in apple" : AAS
47. Nutso : BATTY
49. 1978 hit by Journey : WHEELINTHESKY
53. Something to scribble on : NOTEPAD
54. "Hurry!," on an order : ASAP
57. 11- or 12-year-old : TWEEN
60. Therefore : ERGO
62. One may be under a blouse : BRA
63. What the artists of 16-, 27- and 49-Across are doing (in reference to the last words of their hits)? : SINGINGTHEBLUES
67. "___ and the King of Siam" : ANNA
68. On the Adriatic, say : ASEA
69. Brings in, as a salary : EARNS
70. Piece of fly-casting equipment : REEL
71. Roseanne, before and after Arnold : BARR
72. Exercise that may involve sitting cross-legged : YOGA
1. California/Nevada border lake : TAHOE
2. "Can anybody hear us?" : AREWEALONE
3. Feb. follower : MAR
4. "Close call!" : PHEW
5. Bram who created Dracula : STOKER
6. "Alas!" : WOEISME
7. Billboards, e.g. : ADS
8. Certain lap dog, informally : POM
9. Gloat : RUBITIN
10. Slightly : ATAD
11. Kemo ___ (the Lone Ranger) : SABE
12. ___ ed. (gym class) : PHYS
13. Norms: Abbr. : STDS
17. Nobel-winning author André : GIDE
18. Fisherman's tale : YARN
23. Org. for the Bears and Bengals : NFL
25. "But of course, amigo!" : SISI
26. Garden of ___ : EDEN
28. Fed. air marshal's org. : TSA
29. Locale for an 1863 address : GETTYSBURG
30. "B.C." creator Johnny : HART
31. A waiter carries plates on it : TRAY
32. Sketched : DREW
33. Cry before "I know!" : OHOH
38. Worms, to a fisherman : BAIT
39. Not at all nutso : SANE
41. Network with an "eye" for entertainment : CBS
44. Dakar's land : SENEGAL
46. Pearly Gates sentinel : STPETER
48. Alias letters : AKA
50. Anderson of "WKRP in Cincinnati" : LONI
51. "That's so funny I forgot to laugh" : HARHAR
52. Rim : EDGE
55. ___ football : ARENA
56. Fail's opposite : PASS
57. Bygone Kremlin resident : TSAR
58. Cabernet, for one : WINE
59. Feminine suffix : ENNE
61. Follow, as orders : OBEY
64. Arrest : NAB
65. Fed. property manager : GSA
66. Philosopher ___-tzu : LAO

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

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