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COUNTERPRODUCTIVE

New York Times, Sunday, November 19, 2017

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: 138, Blocks: 72 Missing: {JQXZ} This is puzzle # 30 for Mr. McCoy. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Notepad: The circled letters spell a bonus answer related to the puzzle's theme.
Tom McCoy notes:
The idea for this puzzle came from reading the book 'Number Freak,' which is full of interesting facts about numbers. One of my favorite facts from the book was that 4 is the only number n ... read more

The idea for this puzzle came from reading the book "Number Freak," which is full of interesting facts about numbers. One of my favorite facts from the book was that 4 is the only number n that is n letters long. For years, I've been toying with ways to turn that fact into a crossword theme, which finally resulted in today's puzzle.

I read that book about 8 years ago (well before I started constructing) and didn't look at it again until just now. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to realize that the author of the book is Derrick Niederman, a New York Times crossword constructor! Given that crosswords are mainly about wordplay, it's interesting how many constructors have a math background.

Originally I planned for the theme answers to be mathematical expressions such as THE SIXTH PRIME (13), TWO CUBED (8), or ONE THROUGH SIX SUMMED UP (21), but for the sake of variety I switched to the current theme, which uses numbers in non-mathematical contexts. I also considered cluing 110-Across as [This clue's 110-Across, for this clue], but I decided that would be a bit much. Thanks to the editing team for some other helpful tips that greatly improved the theme from my original submission!

Jeff Chen notes:
Tom plays on ANSWER LENGTHS, giving us entries hinting at their own length. ARGONS ATOMIC NUMBER is … (taking off my shoes to count on my toes) … 18, which is the length of ... read more

Tom plays on ANSWER LENGTHS, giving us entries hinting at their own length. ARGONS ATOMIC NUMBER is … (taking off my shoes to count on my toes) … 18, which is the length of that answer. The MIDNIGHT HOUR is 12, and MIDNIGHT HOUR has 12 letters.

I was confused as to why F O U R was circled in the grid. Were there four theme answers? Four ANSWER LENGTHs? Huh ... a-ha! FOUR seems to be the only number that contains exactly that number of letters. ONE has 3 letters, TWO has 3 letters, etc. Interesting piece of trivia.

(Another piece of trivia: what's the largest number that has nine letters in it? My answer below.)

I liked the in-the-language phrases like MIDNIGHT HOUR much more than the definitional VOTING AGE IN AMERICA things. But it's tough to find a snazzy phrase that contains exactly 18 letters, and also hints strongly at the number 18.

BAD LUCK SYMBOL … it does have the critical 13 letters, but it suffers from a definitional dryness. It also felt wonky. Not wrong, but I'm not sure how many people would call 13 a "symbol."

I enjoyed the McCoyan touches, NERDS as a high school clique, LAIR giving Smaug's Lonely Mountain, etc. It's fun to know something about the constructor and his/her personality reflected in the grid.

A couple more blips in the grid than I'm used to in a McCoy puzzle. ON MARS , s a verboten six-letter partial? Say it ain't so! NLE isn't really used in real life, and even though NBAERS is (in headlines), man does it seem weird.

Then again, with a very small amount of crossword glue overall, it just goes to show what a high bar Tom has set for himself.

Overall, I liked the concept of the ANSWER LENGTHs hinting at the entry's content, but I would have liked a few more sizzlers. Even as a chemistry wonk, I wasn't too interested in counting out ARGONS ATOMIC NUMBER. And darn it, I feel like I should have known it off the top of my head!

(My answer: TEN GOOGOL. Can anyone do better?)

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© 2017, The New York TimesNo. 1119 ( 24,848 )
Across
1. Sports figures : STATS
6. Words said through a car window : HOPIN
11. The Land Shark's show, for short : SNL
14. Throw (together) : SLAP
18. Fervor : ARDOR
19. Reno's county : WASHOE
20. It may come hot or iced : TEA
21. ___ Modern : TATE
22. This clue's 110-Across, timewise : MIDNIGHTHOUR
24. Not definitely going to happen : EVITABLE
26. Furry, red TV character : ELMO
27. Young actress who played two main characters in "The Parent Trap" : LOHAN
28. This clue's 110-Across, at the Olympics : DIVERSGOAL
30. Flipped (through) : LEAFED
32. Former executive with the same interior letters as his company : EISNER
34. As such : PERSE
35. Compete (for) : VIE
36. Opposite of blanc : NOIR
38. N.Y.C. attraction : MOMA
40. "I love her ten times more than ___ I did": Shak. : EER
41. Large amount : OCEAN
44. Steak ___ : TARTARE
46. End of the sci-fi film titles "First Man ..." and "Last Days ..." : ONMARS
49. This clue's 110-Across, as is relevant each November : VOTINGAGEINAMERICA
52. Assessment: Abbr. : EVAL
53. Mork's boss on "Mork & Mindy" : ORSON
54. Branching point : NODE
55. Leave one's mark? : GRADE
59. Bro or sis: Abbr. : REL
60. Phillies' div. : NLE
61. Staple of Southern cuisine : OKRA
62. One after whom a Times Square museum is named : RIPLEY
63. Prefix with -mester : TRI
64. This clue's 110-Across, to the superstitious : BADLUCKSYMBOL
69. Martinique, par exemple : ILE
70. Words of adulation : IMAFAN
72. Mimics : APES
73. Temple athlete : OWL
74. Clear, as a table : BUS
75. Jordan who directed "Get Out" : PEELE
76. Feline's warning : HISS
77. Home of Oral Roberts University : TULSA
80. Shakespearean plotter : IAGO
81. This clue's 110-Across, in chemistry : ARGONSATOMICNUMBER
85. Return fee? : RANSOM
87. Moving companies? : TROUPES
88. Unit of grass : BLADE
89. Article in a German paper : DER
90. Quash : VETO
92. State sch. on the Pacific Coast : UCSD
93. Co. leader : CEO
94. Beethoven dedicatee : ELISE
97. Pat of "The Karate Kid" : MORITA
99. Thanksgiving role : CARVER
102. This clue's 110-Across, in terms of attractiveness : REALLOOKER
104. 2017 U.S. Open winner : NADAL
107. 13th or 15th : IDES
109. "My word!" : MANALIVE
110. Something to count to understand 22-, 28-, 49-, 64-, 81- and 102-Across : ANSWERLENGTH
113. "___ It Romantic?" : ISNT
114. Designer Maya : LIN
115. Dramatic battle cry : TOARMS
116. Ornamental crown : TIARA
117. Rising concerns in modern times? : SEAS
118. "You rang?" : YES
119. Primetime ___ : EMMYS
120. Sen. Thurmond : STROM
Down
1. "Me too!!!" : SAME
2. Warble : TRILL
3. Snapchat request : ADDME
4. Uselessly : TONOAVAIL
5. ___ Lanka : SRI
6. Has in an old form? : HATH
7. Labor agcy. : OSHA
8. Perform perfunctorily : PHONEITIN
9. Debt note : IOU
10. Certain high school clique : NERDS
11. One of the stuntmen on "Jackass" : STEVEO
12. Old-fashioned "That's absolutely the last time" : NEVERMORE
13. The Lonely Mountain, for Smaug : LAIR
14. Play place : STAGE
15. Worker : LABORER
16. Place holders? : ATLASES
17. Kitchen tool : PEELER
19. "___ have thought ..." : WHOD
23. Giddy happiness : GLEE
25. Recipe amt. : TSP
29. As far as one can recall : INMEMORY
31. Hero role in "The Force Awakens" : FINN
33. Country whose name is also a two-word sentence : IRAN
36. Badgers : NAGS
37. Crumbled froyo topping : OREO
39. Nickname for a young Darth Vader : ANI
41. Be really generous to a waiter : OVERTIP
42. Words before "I'm going in" : COVERME
43. List-ending phrase : ETALIAE
44. Weighed, in a way, as a container : TARED
45. Orders : RANKS
47. University in Montreal : MCGILL
48. Seniors' org. : AARP
50. ___ Heights : GOLAN
51. Mild cheese : EDAM
56. Famous password stealer : ALIBABA
57. Inundated : DELUGED
58. Trash-filled lot, e.g. : EYESORE
60. Shooting stars? : NBAERS
61. Green lights : OKS
62. Mountain ash : ROWAN
65. Been in bed : LAIN
66. Shipping center : UPSSTORE
67. French film award : CESAR
68. Some pears : BOSCS
71. Custardy dessert : FLAN
76. Family Night entertainment : HOMEMOVIE
77. One with a large bill at breakfast? : TOUCANSAM
78. Ones stationed at home : UMPS
79. Told stories : LIED
80. McDonald's slogan introduced in 2003 : IMLOVINIT
82. URL ending : GOV
83. Push : TOUT
84. Ride option : UBER
85. Hollywood news : RELEASE
86. Businesswoman Huffington : ARIANNA
89. Layer of skin : DERMIS
91. Wooden nickels, e.g. : TOKENS
93. Give a ring : CALL
95. Blind parts : SLATS
96. Right-angle shape : ELL
98. Fit to be tied : IRATE
99. 2006 film with massive profits in related toy sales : CARS
100. One of Mr. Poe's children in a Lemony Snicket book : EDGAR
101. Back in : RETRO
103. Oleaginous : OILY
105. Wrong : AWRY
106. Blue side, for short : DEMS
108. Fraud : SHAM
111. ___ de guerre : NOM
112. French connections : ETS

Answer summary: 9 unique to this puzzle, 1 debuted here and reused later, 2 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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