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New York Times, Thursday, November 24, 2016

Author: Brian J. MacDonald
Editor: Will Shortz
TotalDebutCollabs
111/24/20160
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0000100
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.54000
Brian J. MacDonald

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 78, Blocks: 36 Missing: {JQ} This is the debut puzzle for Mr. MacDonald. NYT links: Across Lite PDF

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Brian J. MacDonald notes: Happy Thanksgiving! I am honored and thrilled to have my first puzzle published in the New York Times. I want to thank Will ... more
Brian J. MacDonald notes:

Happy Thanksgiving! I am honored and thrilled to have my first puzzle published in the New York Times. I want to thank Will Shortz, Joel Fagliano and David Steinberg for their feedback and patience, and especially for the great work they did editing this puzzle.

The idea for this puzzle came from my recollection of a 1980's Mad Magazine parody that referred to MTV as "Empty-V." I don't remember why I was thinking about that, but I made the connection between the "empty" rebus and Montana's two-letter postal abbreviation, and thought there could be a theme there. I've seen other crosswords that feature state abbreviations in various ways, but couldn't recall one that involved reading the letters as a rebus.

It's a pretty short list of states whose abbreviations can be used in this way, but it was not too hard to come up with possible theme entries. The challenge was coming up with entries that were consistent, made sense in English and did not repeat a letter in the abbreviation. The three entries that ended up the puzzle were none of my first choices, but they met these requirements. I like that each phrase ends with a four-letter word, even though that was not intentional.

The very first version had three grid-spanning entries and no revealer. As the theme entries were simplified, the space for a revealer was created. The first revealer was just POSTAL CODES, but I worried that could be confused with ZIP codes. Luckily, I had a five-letter central space that I could fit STATE into without too much trouble, and I felt that clarified it sufficiently.

I really love the way Will and his team re-wrote the clues to the theme entries. The ones I submitted were quite contrived and basically made the revealer unnecessary (I think I was still subconsciously resting the idea of a revealer). The re-written clues tie everything together and really make it a puzzle, so thanks again to that whole team!

I hope you all have a happy and safe Thanksgiving filled with ALL SMILES!

Jeff Chen notes: Debut! Play on the STATE POSTAL CODES and phonetics, i.e. empty nest = MT nest = MONTANA NEST. I particularly liked aisle seat = IL ... more
Jeff Chen notes:

Debut! Play on the STATE POSTAL CODES and phonetics, i.e. empty nest = MT nest = MONTANA NEST. I particularly liked aisle seat = IL seat = ILLINOIS seat, as this one was new to me (I've heard the other two before in similar wordplay contexts).

I was impressed with the amount of bonus fill Brian worked in — SMELL TEST touching RAT FINKS, and I would happily GO TO TOWN on ALL SMILES. Excellent use of those four long slots. Even ON PAPER and MY TREAT = good uses of the mid-length slots. Pretty unusual to see such goodness in a debut puzzle.

I wasn't as enamored with the crossword glue prices to pay, though. Starting right off the bat with SRA / AT PAR (even as an investor and MBA I barely know this term) wasn't perfect, and then there were dribs and drabs of TMEN, SKEE (partial), OLA (weird suffix), SSRS, CSA (esoteric initialisms), strewn about. And I don't mind the trade-off of getting a Z for the price of OZS / ERE, but with the other crossword glue already in place, perhaps it would have been better to do without that rare letter.

I wonder if a few cheater squares would have helped. Putting a black square at the S or SARI would have eliminated SSRS (SRS seems better to me), for example.

I would have also liked a fourth kooky themer — perhaps something like PRIMETIME MAINE or GREEN WITH NEVADA? — even if it came at the cost of not having the STATE / POSTAL CODES revealer. It was pretty easy to figure out the trick, so the revealer felt a bit like it wasn't giving me enough credit as a solver. And especially considering that Thursday puzzles are supposed to be hard, swapping out the revealer for a fourth example would have been nice.

But overall, fun debut with some nice bonus fill.

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© 2016, The New York TimesNo. 1124 ( 24,488 )
Across Down
1. Male hedgehogs : BOARS
6. Thoroughbred farm employee : GROOM
11. Piece of legislation : ACT
14. How some stocks are sold : ATPAR
15. Like some mattresses and batter : LUMPY
16. "My Orcha'd in Linden ___" (classic poem) : LEA
17. *Place where kids aren't found now : MONTANANEST
19. Food that's cured : LOX
20. Gripe : BEEF
21. Some investigators, informally : TMEN
22. Martini's partner : ROSSI
24. Authoritarian's reason : ISAIDSO
26. Baseball feature : SEAM
27. *Whenever : NEBRASKATIME
32. Winery output : CASKS
35. Listing on an athletic schedule : MEET
36. Piece of legislation : LAW
37. Some classic computers : IBMS
38. With 59-Across, necessary substitutions, phonetically, for understanding the answers to the starred clues : STATE
40. Allele, e.g. : GENE
41. Stylized Tesla logo : TEE
42. Electrical units : OHMS
43. All-around Canadian put-down : HOSER
44. *Air passenger's request, maybe : ILLINOISSEAT
48. Spanish dramatist ___ de Vega : LOPE
49. Stephen Colbert and Conan O'Brien : TVHOSTS
53. Tons of, informally : LOTSA
55. Silk dress, maybe : SARI
57. "Sharknado" actress Reid : TARA
58. "Ended, ___ it begun" (Emily Dickinson poem) : ERE
59. See 38-Across : POSTALCODES
62. Starbucks units: Abbr. : OZS
63. The Jetsons' boy : ELROY
64. Successfully brings around : SWAYS
65. "As if!" : NOT
66. Woodworkers' tools : RASPS
67. On edge : ANTSY
1. Cartoon title character adapted from a Felix Salten novel : BAMBI
2. First tribe encountered by Lewis and Clark : OTOES
3. Sleep study diagnosis : APNEA
4. Stoolies : RATFINKS
5. Mrs., abroad : SRA
6. Red-carpet looks : GLAMOR
7. Viking character : RUNE
8. Film for which Gregory Peck had the highest-paid performance of his career, with "The" : OMEN
9. Black ___ : OPS
10. "I've got this" : MYTREAT
11. Happy as a clam : ALLSMILES
12. Biz bigs : CEOS
13. Cry on the street : TAXI
18. Federal investigative grp. : NTSB
23. ___ bran : OAT
25. Montréal's Île ___ Soeurs : DES
26. ___-Ball : SKEE
28. Collect : AMASS
29. Collection : SET
30. Some locks : MANE
31. Washstand accompanier : EWER
32. Commercial lead-in to group : CITI
33. Victim of murder one : ABEL
34. Basic scrutiny : SMELLTEST
38. One going on foot? : SHOE
39. "More than I needed to know!" : TMI
40. Really have at it : GOTOTOWN
42. In theory : ONPAPER
43. Derisive laugh : HAH
45. Apple platform : IOS
46. Cheats, euphemistically : STRAYS
47. What superheroes battle : EVIL
50. 1978 Peace co-Nobelist : SADAT
51. Baskets made from beyond the arc, informally : TREYS
52. Pert : SASSY
53. Rock's Kings of ___ : LEON
54. Ricelike pasta : ORZO
55. Historical group of 15, for short : SSRS
56. On : ATOP
60. Rock-___, classic jukebox : OLA
61. Johnny Reb's org. : CSA

Answer summary: 4 unique to this puzzle.

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