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MIND THE GAP

New York Times, Sunday, October 7, 2018

Author:
Tom McCoy
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
3211/14/201310/7/20180
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
17815100
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.61362
Tom McCoy

This puzzle:

Rows: 21, Columns: 21 Words: 140, Blocks: 72 Missing: {JX} This is puzzle # 32 for Mr. McCoy. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Tom McCoy notes:
The idea for this puzzle came from the phrase HOLE IN THE WALL, although that specific theme entry did not make it into the final version. (I decided to avoid any theme answer with HOLE in ... read more

The idea for this puzzle came from the phrase HOLE IN THE WALL, although that specific theme entry did not make it into the final version. (I decided to avoid any theme answer with HOLE in it, to avoid repetition with the implied "IN A ROUND HOLE" that follows the bonus answer).

I always prefer when Sundays have something extra on top of the main theme, which is why I went for the bonus answer spelled out by the circled letters. At the same time, adding such a bonus can really constrain the puzzle: in this case, it required having nine theme answers to accommodate the nine-letter bonus answer, and nine theme answers is a lot to cram into a puzzle — it doesn't leave much room for long non-theme answers. I decided that the trade-off was worth it, but it's always tough weighing the theme against the non-theme fill.

Jeff Chen notes:
Not just one, but two interesting ideas today! Circles create gaps in appropriate words, i.e. RAIL is 'split' by a circle, thus making that circle a RAIL SPLITTER. What goes into a ... read more

Not just one, but two interesting ideas today!

  1. Circles create gaps in appropriate words, i.e. RAIL is "split" by a circle, thus making that circle a RAIL SPLITTER.
  2. What goes into a round hole? How about a SQUARE PEG? Great way of using circles – instead of just highlighting certain letters, the circles are precisely the "round holes" of that saying!

Most of the themers for idea #1 felt decent. RAIL SPLITTER, ROOM DIVIDER, and SAFE CRACKER worked best for me, since they were so directly literal. Ones like NASAL CAVITY felt more awkward, as the circle was a CAVITY "in" the NASAL. Er, in the nose. You get my meaning. Maybe.

And I liked that the circled letters spelled something for idea #2. Hey, SQUARE PEG going into a round hole! Er, round holes. Plural. I enjoy when constructors take a crossword convention like circled letters, and use them in a clever way.

Overall though, I felt like there wasn't synergy in these two ideas, a bit like 1+1=1.414 (the SQUARE root of 2). Some of my favorite puzzles take two established concepts from different walks of life and mesh them together in a brilliant way – that's how some people define "creativity." Seeing SQUARE PEGS emerge was more of a shruggy kind of moment for me.

The gridwork was a little disappointing, too. Granted, I have a very high bar set for Tom, who I think is one of the best in the business. Not a lot of colorful bonuses in just SOLO HOMER, ARM REST and BLANKNESS (which felt oddly thematic). And OSO, which Will has said he's trying to phase out (for good reason!), along with ANON EDUC ENE ERI OVO … it's an above average grid as Sundays go, but far from my favorite of Tom's products.

Jim Horne notes:
RATSO is a surprisingly common crossword answer; this is its 53rd appearance in the Times. Surprising both because Midnight Cowboy came out nearly 50 years ago, and because there's no way ... read more

RATSO is a surprisingly common crossword answer; this is its 53rd appearance in the Times. Surprising both because Midnight Cowboy came out nearly 50 years ago, and because there's no way to clue the word without reference to that film.

"City from which the U.S. moved its embassy in 2018" is a modern clue, and one seemingly designed to either raise hackles or cause you to lovingly stroke your red MAGA cap. Is it ok to stoke political outrage in a crossword? Sure, why not? I love NOBAMA too, not because it echoes my sentiments, but because it's a lively clue tailor-made to evoke a reaction.

Baseball lingo clues carry a regionalism danger. Your local broadcaster may refer to a "singleton," but it's tough to know if that's universal language or just how your play caller talks. Still, easy enough to figure out given a few letters.

The RATE clue is a little geeky, which I like. NASAL CAVITY is a snotty answer. I didn't know EPIZOA. "Little protestation" is a terrific clue for PEEP. The 2007 film "LARS and the Real Girl" is delightful. Lars's companion Bianca, not exactly a real girl, is a sex doll. No, really, it's more charming than it sounds.

That wraps up another Jeff and Jim Cross Words week. If we get enough feedback, we might do this once a month or so.

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© 2018, The New York TimesNo. 1007 ( 25,170 )
Across
1
Experts : GURUS
6
Accord : TREATY
12
The Harry Potter novels, e.g. : SEPTET
18
External parasites : EPIZOA
20
Minuscule, cutesily : EENSIE
21
Not yet packed, say : UNREADY
22
Another nickname for Old Abe ... or a description of the circled letter? : RAILSPLITTER
24
Got fit : TONEDUP
25
Funny Brooks : MEL
26
Eight: Prefix : OCTA
27
Astronaut's place ... : OUTERSPACE
29
Aves. : STS
30
Let out, as a sigh : HEAVED
33
Venus, but not Serena : PLANET
34
Truckful : TON
35
A lid usually covers it at night : IRIS
37
Naval rank: Abbr. : ENS
38
Counterpart of Venus : MARS
42
Screen or partition ... : ROOMDIVIDER
47
Kitchen sink attachment : DISPOSAL
50
Much-disputed part of an airplane : ARMREST
51
Where decongestant spray goes ... : NASALCAVITY
53
Animal with a snout : TAPIR
54
Candidate's goal : SEAT
57
"___ time" : ITS
58
Discontent : UNEASE
59
Alternatively : ELSE
60
Kind : SORT
61
Cellular messenger : RNA
62
CBS drama beginning in 2018 : FBI
63
Negative connector : NOR
64
Cyberexpert's worry ... : SECURITYBREACH
69
___ Poke (caramel candy) : SLO
72
___-rock : ALT
73
Each "O" of BOGO : ONE
74
"___ and the Real Girl" (2007 comedy) : LARS
75
"What have I done!" : OHNO
79
Part of an auto garage's business : TOWAGE
81
Hawaiian mash-up? : POI
82
Product much advertised during football games : BEER
83
Clutch : BROOD
84
Office device ... : PAPERCUTTER
87
"That's my intention" : IPLANTO
89
At the end of the day : AFTERALL
90
Heist figure ... : SAFECRACKER
93
General ___ chicken : TSOS
94
Bear: Sp. : OSO
96
Soon : ANON
97
Memphis-to-Nashville dir. : ENE
98
Coinage during the 2008 presidential election : NOBAMA
101
"Spider-Man" baddie : DOCOCK
103
___ drive : USB
106
Bit of good fortune ... : LUCKYBREAK
111
Something you might get your mitts on : OVEN
112
By birth : NEE
113
Away from work for a while : ONLEAVE
114
Store banner ... : GRANDOPENING
118
Early ___ : ADOPTER
119
Scowling : AGLARE
120
Worry in East Africa : TSETSE
121
Something to chew on : DOGTOY
122
Some see-through curtains : SHEERS
123
"Ni-i-i-ice!" : SWEET
Down
1
Common phobia source : GERMS
2
Overturn : UPSET
3
Omani money : RIALS
4
Powerful arm : UZI
5
What a "singleton" is, in baseball lingo : SOLOHOMER
6
City from which the U.S. moved its embassy in 2018 : TELAVIV
7
Big retailer of camping gear : REI
8
Middle-earth denizen : ENT
9
About : ASTO
10
Keep busy : TIEUP
11
Dr. Seuss title animal : YERTLE
12
Be a lousy bedmate, say : SNORE
13
Physicist Mach : ERNST
14
Little protestation : PEEP
15
"Ain't I somethin'?!" : TADA
16
Cabinet dept. : EDUC
17
Kind : TYPE
19
Is on the up and up? : ASCENDS
21
Part of a place setting : UTENSIL
23
Mom-and-pop org. : PTA
28
Followers of talks : QANDAS
31
"___ tu" (Verdi aria) : ERI
32
Chose not to : DIDNT
34
Whigs' opponents : TORIES
36
"Water, water, everywhere," per Coleridge : SEA
38
"You're in my spot!" : MOVE
39
Like an increasing amount of immigration to the U.S. nowadays : ASIAN
40
Rizzo in "Midnight Cowboy" : RATSO
41
More cunning : SLYER
42
The "r" of r = d/t : RATE
43
Kind of hygiene : ORAL
44
Experts in the field? : UMPS
45
Publisher's announcement : ITSOUT
46
Wet : RAINY
48
Visits a school, maybe : SCUBAS
49
Feeling with a deadline approaching : PANIC
52
Like carbon 12, but not carbon 14 : STABLE
55
Trip up : ERR
56
Intrinsically : ATROOT
60
Eyeball layer : SCLERA
61
Calif.'s 101, e.g. : RTE
62
Containing iron : FERRIC
65
Gung-ho : EAGER
66
Quick signatures, quickly : INITS
67
Grammy winner Corinne Bailey ___ : RAE
68
Poet who originated the phrase "harmony in discord" : HORACE
69
Apostle of Ireland, for short : STPAT
70
Lounges : LOAFS
71
Have because of : OWETO
76
Respond to a bumper sticker, maybe : HONK
77
Bill : NOTE
78
Lilac or lavender : ODOR
80
Section at a zoo : APES
81
Distant source of radio waves : PULSAR
82
"X" isn't really one : BRAND
83
Void : BLANKNESS
85
Wallop : CLOBBER
86
Org. founded under Nixon : EPA
88
General rule : PRECEPT
91
"Aw, nuts!" : FOO
92
Converts to binary, e.g. : ENCODES
95
Literally, "great O's" : OMEGAS
98
"Pretty slick!" : NEATO
99
Expression of dismay : OYVEY
100
"Gah!" : AARGH
102
Egg: Prefix : OVO
103
Join : UNITE
104
Have a feeling : SENSE
105
Bring into the world : BEGET
106
Truckful : LOAD
107
Computer command : UNDO
108
Problem for a plumber : CLOG
109
Remained fresh : KEPT
110
___ chips (trendy snack food) : KALE
115
Scot's refusal : NAE
116
Scottie's warning : GRR
117
___ Amsterdam (name on colonial maps) : NEW

Answer summary: 8 unique to this puzzle, 4 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

Found bugs or have suggestions?