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New York Times, Thursday, November 22, 2018

Author:
Randolph Ross
Editor:
Will Shortz
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1095/12/199111/22/20180
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48103151824
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1.476002
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 )
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
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: 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.
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: 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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