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SURROUND SOUND

New York Times, Sunday, November 23, 2014

Author:
Patrick Berry
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
2297/11/199911/4/20182
SunMonTueWedThuFriSatVariety
741241679512
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.54980
Patrick Berry

This puzzle:

Rows: 21, Columns: 21 Words: 140, Blocks: 76 Missing: {JQ} This is puzzle # 191 for Mr. Berry. Jeff Chen's Puzzle of the Week pick. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Jeff Chen notes:
Another rock-solid piece of work from Patrick today. I told myself I was going to up my standards for certain constructors, as I like the idea of spreading POW!s around. And honestly, I ... read more

Another rock-solid piece of work from Patrick today. I told myself I was going to up my standards for certain constructors, as I like the idea of spreading POW!s around. And honestly, I wasn't wowed by the puzzle at first glance — it's just a homophone type of puzzle, yeah?

No! After speeding through the ultra-smooth solve, I began to realize how neat it was. Homophone pair puzzles have been done over and over again, so I think it's important to do something different, or add another layer. Perhaps jam three homonyms together? Or in this case, take a final syllable and find an unexpected homophone for it. ROTC PAPARAZZI was brilliant — the sheer craziness of RAZZI and ROTC sounding the same is really cool. (Note: regular reader Evan Kalish asked about the ROTC rhyme, so I'll clarify that ROTC is indeed commonly pronounced "rot-see.") Same goes for PEWTER and PUTER, LUNAR and LOONER, and COLLIE and CHOLY.

Pomegranate

I asked Patrick how he did it — these themers aren't really something you can find through brute force database searching. He said he came up with the idea while eating a pomegranate, and found theme candidates the old fashioned way: paper, a rhyming dictionary, and a whole lot of brainstorming. Very cool.

What's most impressive though, is Patrick's ability to create a Sunday-size puzzle which falls more into the Monday-ish level of difficulty that's accessible to newer solvers. Will generally pegs Sunday puzzles to be pretty difficult (roughly as hard as a Thursday), but I've noticed that there's a fairly wide range over the course of a year. That's a brilliant move, as the Sunday NYT xw has so much more exposure than other days of the week that it's good to put a gradient of difficulty within Sundays. Makes it more accessible to a wider range of solvers; a good strategy to continually increase readership.

But coming up with a super-smooth, relatively easy Sunday puzzle is incredibly difficult. If creating a super-smooth Monday puzzle is like getting a man into space, doing a similar task with a 21x, 140-word grid is starting a colony of lunar ballooners. The much more difficult specs mean that you have to use longer words on average (can't lean as heavily on 3, 4, 5-letter words), and knitting together a grid with roughly twice as much area without duplicating the usual ATE / EAT, ONE, IRE suspects that are so easy to miss … that's a monster of a task.

As usual, Patrick sticks the landing, even giving us a bevy of ALI BABA, EVIL EYE, RIB CAGE, SANDLOT (what great use of seven-letter entries!), while keeping the glue to an … ERNO? That's about it, for an entire Sunday puzzle? (Actually, ERNO Rubik is a bit of a hero of mine.) Patrick is one of the best when it comes to navigating the trade-offs between sparkly fill vs. clean smoothness.

So this puzzle might not look like eye-popping, but it's pretty close to the epitome of a perfect easy-level Sunday puzzle inviting in newer solvers. Really well done.

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© 2014, The New York TimesNo. 1123 ( 23,756 )
Across
1
Canned food you don't eat : ALPO
5
"Black Swan" director Aronofsky : DARREN
11
Compete in the Winter Games, say : SKI
14
Lose strength : WANE
18
Whistle prompters : FOULS
20
Become invalid : EXPIRE
21
Org. that prepares tables : IRS
22
Norway's patron saint : OLAV
23
Office missive sent out arbitrarily? : RANDOMMEMORANDUM
26
"Rent" character ___ Marquez : MIMI
27
It borders five U.S. states : ONTARIO
28
Yarn : TALE
29
What Gustave Doré's "The Confusion of Tongues" depicts : BABEL
30
Stone fruit? : GRANITEPOMEGRANATE
36
Fellow sailors : MATEYS
39
Gourmand's want : MORE
40
Tailor's sideline? : SEAM
41
Dark horse : BAY
42
Applicability : USE
43
Back : SPONSOR
46
Expander during inhalation : RIBCAGE
48
Aeronaut who's headed for the moon? : LUNARBALLOONER
53
Headmaster honorific : SIR
54
Earnest request : ENTREATY
55
Suffix with land or sea : SCAPE
57
"Outside the Lines" broadcaster : ESPN
61
Stickers? : CACTI
62
Like audiences for R-rated films : MATURE
64
D.C. transport : METRO
65
It may be open at a bar : MIC
66
Photographers who stalk future lieutenants? : ROTCPAPARAZZI
71
Sunset shade : RED
72
One getting a licking, informally? : LOLLY
74
The Pequod, e.g. : WHALER
75
Poverty relief organization : OXFAM
77
Support for a proposal? : KNEE
78
Animal that may carry its baby on its back : KOALA
79
Wireless? : ACOUSTIC
82
Subsist : ARE
84
Desktop machine made of malleable metal? : PEWTERCOMPUTER
88
Eddie ___, "Leave It to Beaver" boy : HASKELL
92
Like some restrictions : DIETARY
93
Blast furnace input : ORE
94
Thurman of "The Producers" : UMA
95
Turkey's place, in large part : ASIA
97
Snowbelt city : ERIE
98
Groused : MOANED
101
Provides some idea of an object's size? : MENTIONSDIMENSIONS
106
Communicate with the server, perhaps : ORDER
107
Oscar nominee for "Silkwood" : CHER
108
Feed supplier : TWITTER
112
Wind up : RILE
113
Lassie's affliction after failing to rescue Timmy? : COLLIEMELANCHOLY
118
C.P.A.'s study : ECON
119
1965 Johnny Mathis album of Latin American music : OLE
120
Turn while seated : SWIVEL
121
"Into the Wild" star Hirsch : EMILE
122
___ mining : DATA
123
Gender-neutral pronoun : ONE
124
Excommunication provocation : HERESY
125
"It's a pity" : ALAS
Down
1
Age of Aquarius hairstyle : AFRO
2
Student's burden : LOAN
3
Bad choice on first down : PUNT
4
Retirement period : OLDAGE
5
Possessor? : DEMON
6
Medieval battle weapon : AXE
7
Dashboard abbr. : RPM
8
Kia model : RIO
9
Go astray : ERR
10
"That's amazing!" : NEATO
11
Moves obliquely : SIDLES
12
Last name in horror : KRUEGER
13
Doctrine : ISM
14
George Eliot, but not Marilyn Manson : WOMAN
15
Chinese company whose 2014 I.P.O. was the world's largest in history : ALIBABA
16
Retail clerk's accessory : NAMETAG
17
Glare : EVILEYE
19
"You'll be ___!" : SORRY
24
Some Veterans Day honorees, for short : MIAS
25
Pentagon Papers subject, for short : NAM
29
Babe in the woods : BAMBI
31
Lead one to believe : IMPLY
32
Plane, e.g. : TOOL
33
"Cubist" Rubik : ERNO
34
Dinero unit : PESO
35
Not just see : RAISE
36
Hybrid animal : MULE
37
South American capital : ASUNCION
38
Arm of the sea : TENTACLE
43
Was in session : SAT
44
Amenity in a G.M. vehicle : ONSTAR
45
What some dreams and themes do : RECUR
47
First Nations tribe : CREE
49
What doesn't come full circle? : ARC
50
Hear again : RETRY
51
"Bugsy Malone" star Scott : BAIO
52
___ avis : RARA
56
Candy from Austria : PEZ
58
Briggs & ___ (engine maker) : STRATTON
59
Tinseltown event : PREMIERE
60
Drift off : NOD
62
Nyasaland, today : MALAWI
63
Parody : APE
64
Problem of mistaken identity : MIXUP
65
Reformer from the time of D.D.E. to L.B.J. : MLK
67
Tommy Lasorda's jersey number : TWO
68
Require balm, say : CHAP
69
Reacted to a shock, maybe : PALED
70
Streak : ZOOM
73
Boon for an investigative journalist : LEAK
76
A.C.C. school : FSU
78
Five-time Jockey Club Gold Cup winner : KELSO
79
Farm name ender : ACRES
80
Unforthcoming : COY
81
Reputation, informally : CRED
83
Have an encore presentation of : REAIR
85
Abound : TEEM
86
To be, to Balzac : ETRE
87
Drops out of the sky : RAIN
88
Played along with : HUMORED
89
"A poem in our eyes," per Emerson : AMERICA
90
Little pitcher's place : SANDLOT
91
$5 picture : LINCOLN
96
Jessica Simpson's sister : ASHLEE
98
No longer standing tall? : MOWN
99
In readiness : ONICE
100
Bronchial woe : ASTHMA
102
Singer ___ Marie : TEENA
103
First of 50: Abbr. : DEL
104
Source of the word "galore" : IRISH
105
2006 World Cup winner : ITALY
109
Work hard : TOIL
110
"___ and Basie!" (1963 jazz album) : ELLA
111
Jim Beam and Wild Turkey : RYES
113
Gentle bird call : COO
114
Palindromic animal : EWE
115
Once-high station? : MIR
116
"Paradise Lost" figure : EVE
117
Media exec Moonves : LES

Answer summary: 8 unique to this puzzle, 1 debuted here and reused later, 1 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

Found bugs or have suggestions?