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New York Times, Thursday, November 22, 2018

Author:
Randolph Ross
Editor:
Will Shortz
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1115/12/19912/28/20190
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49103161824
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1.486002
Randolph Ross

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 70, Blocks: 35 Missing: {FJQXZ} Spans: 2 This is puzzle # 109 for Mr. Ross. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Randolph Ross notes:
This theme was inspired by the famous NY Post headline: 'Headless Body Found in Topless Bar.' I found four long entries for which I ... read more

This theme was inspired by the famous NY Post headline: "Headless Body Found in Topless Bar." I found four long entries for which I could create word rebuses. Both Headless body and Topless Bar were ineligible because of their unmatchable word lengths, so I substituted TOPLESS SWIMSUIT and HEADLESS CHICKEN - two offbeat entries that I wasn't sure would pass muster, but I'm glad they did. The latter was at least better than HEADLESS TURKEY — a "fowl" idea for a puzzle appearing on Thanksgiving.

When doing the fill here, as I like to do with many of my 15 x 15 themed puzzles, I try to include a lot of 7 or 8-letter entries. They lend themselves to better clues, IMO. So in this one my favorite entries are ITS A LIE ("Fake news!",) ONE UNIT (Blood drive donation,) LAKEBED (Superior floor,) DISARMED (Took the heat off?,) and PODESTA (first time this was clued in relation to the Clinton campaign's hacked campaign manager — it has always been clued as an Italian mayor).

Some of the other 7's and 8's were infrequently used in crosswords, as well — RAPPELS, YACHTER, and PASS AWAY. As a constructor, you have to balance the benefits of including a lot of 7+ entries with the inevitable crossing of 3 and 4-letter words, some of which are overused or not easy to clue in a fresh way. I think this puzzle has a little of that issue, but I think worth the payoff for some of the better clues of the longer fill.

Jeff Chen notes:
_OWARD is such an interesting clue. It obviously is missing something, but what? COWARD, HOWARD, or TOWARD? Or maybe it's missing ... read more

_OWARD is such an interesting clue. It obviously is missing something, but what? COWARD, HOWARD, or TOWARD? Or maybe it's missing multiple letters, as in UNTOWARD? Delightful to finally uncover the jazzy phrase, HEADLESS CHICKEN, and realize that it's literally describing (C)OWARD.

BOTTOMLESS PIT is a great phrase too. QUARR_ was a bit too obvious of a clue for my taste though. I suppose it could have misdirected some to QUARREL, but how about CHAS_, which would have more easily misdirected to CHASE?

ENDLESS SUMMER wasn't as familiar to me. It's … an album? A movie?

Is a TOPLESS SWIMSUIT a thing? What is the term for the swimsuit bottom of a bikini set? Isn't it just a "swimsuit bottom"?

I like what Randy did in the west and east sections, which tend to be tricky in this sort of layout. Just an ALAR and an ESSO is a good result.

I hitched on the big corners, though. No doubt, going down to 70 words with giant corners makes for a tougher, more Thursday-ish solve. And I fully agree with Randy on RAPPELS and YACHTER. But entries like ONE UNIT (seems arbitrary), the odd partial AT A TIME, along with ENS, ITA, NUIT, STER – and that's just the bottom of the puzzle – made it not worth it for me.

It's a tough call. Will and Joel often nudge constructors to go lower in word count for later-week puzzles, a philosophy I generally agree with. I think some reining in would have helped this one, though. Breaking up the big corners by going to 74ish words might have produced better trade-offs.

I liked the concept a lot, strong notion for a tricky Thursday, making the work in solving worth the a-ha moment. If they had all been as great as _OWARD / HEADLESS CHICKEN, it could have easily garnered POW! consideration.

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© 2018, The New York TimesNo. 1122 ( 25,216 )

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Across
1
Green rock : EMERALD
8
Goes down a steep rock face, in a way : RAPPELS
15
Danger for sailors : LORELEI
16
"Fake news!" : ITSALIE
17
OWARD : HEADLESSCHICKEN
19
Playground retort : ISTOO
20
Distress signal? : ACHE
21
Talk up : TOUT
22
Neighbor of Moldova : UKRAINE
25
Q
U
A
R
R
: BOTTOMLESSPIT
31
Bygone orchard spray : ALAR
32
Worker in a garden : BEE
33
Some lumps : SUGAR
35
Superior floor, e.g. : LAKEBED
37
To each accordingly : PRORATA
39
Combat zone : ARENA
40
Concept embodying yin and yang : TAO
41
John, abroad : IVAN
42
SEASO : ENDLESSSUMMER
46
Without attention to detail, say : INHASTE
47
Environmental concern : SMOG
51
Swimmer Torres with 12 Olympic medals : DARA
52
Advances : LENDS
57
I
K
I
N
I
: TOPLESSSWIMSUIT
60
Blood drive donation : ONEUNIT
61
Simultaneously : ATATIME
62
John in the Clinton and Obama administrations : PODESTA
63
America's Cup participant : YACHTER
Down
1
K-12 : ELHI
2
Hangout for Homer : MOES
3
Quod ___ faciendum : ERAT
4
Overhaul : REDO
5
With full effort : ALLOUT
6
Linda ___, Supergirl's alias : LEE
7
Took the heat off of? : DISARMED
8
Friend of the Fonz : RICHIE
9
2004 Olympics site : ATHENS
10
Letter that appears twice in the Schrödinger equation : PSI
11
Hostilities ender : PACT
12
Nevada county or its seat : ELKO
13
Place : LIEU
14
On its way : SENT
18
Step on it : SCALE
23
Kind of beef : KOBE
24
Gas station in Canada : ESSO
25
Roar : BLARE
26
Like many chardonnay barrels : OAKEN
27
Statistician's observation : TREND
28
Jewish holiday with costumes : PURIM
29
Comment when turning down a charity appeal : IGAVE
30
Golden Horde member : TATAR
31
Resembling : ALA
34
Published : RAN
36
So-called "Island of the Gods" : BALI
37
Expire : PASSAWAY
38
Drubbing : ROUT
40
Peter and Paul : TSARS
43
Breaks off a relationship : ENDSIT
44
California forest name : SHASTA
45
Home planet of TV's ALF : MELMAC
47
Check : STOP
48
Like early recordings : MONO
49
Like some columns : OPED
50
Sticker : GLUE
53
O.T. book read during 28-Down : ESTH
54
Ravel's "Gaspard de la ___" : NUIT
55
Small change : DIME
56
Suffix with trick : STER
58
Starfleet Academy grad. : ENS
59
Spanish diminutive : ITA

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

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