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FOUR-LETTER WORDS

New York Times, Sunday, November 29, 2015

Author:
Alex Vratsanos
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
156/13/20111/20/20183
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
3132213
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.60030
Alex Vratsanos

This puzzle:

Rows: 21, Columns: 21 Words: 140, Blocks: 69 Missing: {Q} This is puzzle # 12 for Mr. Vratsanos. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Alex Vratsanos notes:
Of all my puzzles to date, this is probably the one on which I spent the most time. The original concept goes back to May 2012, inspired by a Mike Nothnagel Thursday that had appeared two ... read more

Of all my puzzles to date, this is probably the one on which I spent the most time. The original concept goes back to May 2012, inspired by a Mike Nothnagel Thursday that had appeared two years before. I went through several drafts before realizing that the first and last themers would fit in between the four-letter key words, all of which I had clued as [****]. Along the way, I received feedback from quite a few fellow puzzlers, which definitely made the final product better.

With the good fortune of seeing this puzzle published on the Thanksgiving weekend, I would like to express my gratitude to all of my friends and colleagues in the cruciverbal community. I hope that you enjoyed solving "Four-Letter Words" as much as I enjoyed making it!

Jeff Chen notes:
Nice idea, taking four words and combining them in different pairs to form longer words. All the cross-referenced clues got tiring for me during the solve, but I did like how rigorous Alex ... read more

Nice idea, taking four words and combining them in different pairs to form longer words. All the cross-referenced clues got tiring for me during the solve, but I did like how rigorous Alex was, using a logical sequence of combining keywords 1&2, then following with the order 1&3, 1&4, 2&3, 2&4, 3&4. The engineer in me likes when things are structured.

The tiny PEARLFISH

I wish all of the combinations had resulted in colorful entries. HEAD SHOT is a great phrase, as is LONG SHOT. HEADLONG isn't bad. But OVERLONG is not something I commonly see, and OVERHEAD and OVERSHOT are just neutral in my book.

I also wish the themers had been stronger. I know some solvers don't mind "dictionary definitions" in their grids, but seeing EXPENSE TYPE is pretty boring to me (and I work in finance!). WENT TOO FAR is much better in my eyes, since it's a phrase I hear in conversation. NOT A GOOD BET, similarly. YEARBOOK PHOTOGRAPH is so close … but YEARBOOK PICTURE or YEARBOOK PHOTO sound so much more natural to my ear.

Not an easy layout, what with the six themers and the four key words in the corners. So I appreciate that Alex worked in some good long fill, the AUTOBOT / SKELETOR pair my favorite (says a lot about my immaturity). I thought CHILI DOG was great too.

As will happen with tougher layouts, some long fill felt a bit wonky to me. I enjoyed learning about PEARLFISH, but this huge Samuel L. Jackson fan couldn't recall EVES BAYOU to save his life. I'll have to go watch it. AGEMATES and ILL-KEPT (unkempt?) also fell flat for me. Just personal opinion.

A friend of mine mentioned that Will asked her to reduce the number of short (3-5 letter) answers in her Sunday grid, and I wondered why that was. Today, I can see it. With so much short stuff around the perimeter, it felt to me like the puzzle was stuffed with filler material. Granted, starting with some gluey stuff in OOX, SMEE, COCAS, ETUI probably accentuated the effect, but there was such a bolus of short material around the entire perimeter that it was hard to ignore.

1
O
2
V
3
E
4
R
5
C
6
O
7
C
8
A
9
S
10
S
11
H
12
O
13
E
14
S
15
H
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E
17
A
18
D
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J
O
V
I
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H
O
A
G
Y
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M
I
X
U
P
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O
S
L
O
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A
L
E
C
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E
X
P
E
N
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S
E
T
Y
P
E
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S
P
E
W
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I
T
S
E
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L
F
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E
M
C
E
E
S
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H
E
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S
S
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A
N
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B
A
A
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L
E
A
S
E
34
C
O
D
A
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E
S
E
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O
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V
A
R
Y
38
E
S
T
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I
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G
O
R
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N
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A
S
T
Y
43
B
E
Y
O
N
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D
T
H
E
45
T
46
I
M
E
L
I
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M
I
T
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I
R
O
N
E
R
S
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S
A
R
A
N
50
A
U
T
O
51
B
52
O
53
T
54
E
T
U
I
55
A
D
56
S
57
W
A
G
O
58
N
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D
I
N
E
R
O
60
S
C
R
U
61
B
62
S
E
M
I
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S
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Z
E
N
E
R
65
W
66
E
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N
68
T
T
O
O
F
A
69
R
70
R
E
C
K
71
L
E
S
S
L
Y
72
A
L
C
O
A
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P
I
S
A
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N
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S
H
E
A
R
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R
I
A
L
T
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O
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S
E
D
A
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N
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E
L
S
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A
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P
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E
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D
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S
E
A
D
U
C
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K
87
D
I
R
A
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C
89
E
S
90
O
B
E
S
O
91
Y
E
A
R
92
B
O
O
K
P
H
93
O
T
O
G
R
A
P
H
94
S
95
T
96
O
A
T
97
I
O
N
S
98
I
P
O
99
D
A
R
N
S
100
P
O
I
101
T
102
A
S
K
103
B
104
A
L
E
R
105
E
S
L
106
I
L
L
107
K
E
P
T
108
V
109
I
O
L
I
N
110
S
N
I
F
111
F
112
S
113
N
E
M
O
114
N
O
115
T
A
G
O
O
D
B
116
E
T
117
V
I
A
L
118
A
D
E
N
119
E
F
I
L
E
120
H
O
A
R
Y
121
E
S
S
O
122
L
O
N
G
123
A
F
T
E
R
124
A
G
R
E
E
125
S
H
O
T
© 2015, The New York TimesNo. 1129 ( 24,127 )
Across
1
Key word #1 : OVER
5
Plants with intoxicating leaves : COCAS
10
Mosque no-no : SHOES
15
Key word #2 : HEAD
19
Bon ___ : JOVI
20
Songwriter Carmichael : HOAGY
21
Minor snafu : MIXUP
22
Capital known for 300 years as Christiania : OSLO
23
Ill-fated seducer in "Tess of the D'Urbervilles" : ALEC
24
1-Across + 15-Across : EXPENSETYPE
26
Erupt : SPEW
27
What a driverless car drives : ITSELF
29
Pageant V.I.P.s : EMCEES
30
Like some soldiers in the American Revolution : HESSIAN
32
Farmyard call : BAA
33
You may leave when it's up : LEASE
34
Endnotes? : CODA
35
Portland, Ore.-to-Boise dir. : ESE
36
Egg producer : OVARY
38
The "e" of i.e. : EST
39
___ Olshansky, first Soviet-born N.F.L. player : IGOR
41
Villainous : NASTY
43
1-Across + 122-Across : BEYONDTHETIMELIMIT
48
Workers on the board : IRONERS
49
It covers everything quite clearly : SARAN
50
Decepticon's foe in "Transformers" : AUTOBOT
54
Sewing case : ETUI
55
Clio nominees : ADS
57
S.U.V. alternative : WAGON
59
Moolah : DINERO
60
Benchwarmer : SCRUB
62
Final Four round : SEMIS
64
___ cards (items used in ESP tests) : ZENER
65
1-Across + 125-Across : WENTTOOFAR
70
15-Across + 122-Across : RECKLESSLY
72
Acronym on the S&P 500 : ALCOA
73
Galileo, by birth : PISAN
75
Take off, as a heavy coat? : SHEAR
76
Venice tourist attraction : RIALTO
78
S.U.V. alternative : SEDAN
80
Golfer Ernie : ELS
81
Acted like : APED
85
Goldeneye or harlequin : SEADUCK
87
Paul who won a Nobel in Physics : DIRAC
89
1962 Paul Anka hit : ESOBESO
91
15-Across + 125-Across : YEARBOOKPHOTOGRAPH
94
Coat fur : STOAT
97
Ammonium and others : IONS
98
Subj. for Bloomberg News : IPO
99
Puts in stitches, say : DARNS
100
Food that's an anagram of 98-Across : POI
101
Washing the dishes, e.g. : TASK
103
Plantation device : BALER
105
Subj. with many irregularities : ESL
106
Shabby : ILLKEPT
108
Sound in "Eleanor Rigby" and "Yesterday" : VIOLIN
110
Disdainful sounds : SNIFFS
113
"Little" visitor to Slumberland, in old comics : NEMO
114
122-Across + 125-Across : NOTAGOODBET
117
Holder of small doses : VIAL
118
Former British crown colony in the Mideast : ADEN
119
TurboTax option : EFILE
120
As old as the hills : HOARY
121
Petro-Canada competitor : ESSO
122
Key word #3 : LONG
123
Looking for : AFTER
124
Go well together : AGREE
125
Key word #4 : SHOT
Down
1
California resort town : OJAI
2
V, in physics : VOLT
3
1997 Samuel L. Jackson film : EVESBAYOU
4
Pilaf-like product : RICEARONI
5
Pot user? : CHEF
6
Tic-tac-toe failure : OOX
7
"Understand?" : CAPEESH
8
Fellow students, generally : AGEMATES
9
Brings together : SYNCS
10
"Hook" role : SMEE
11
Successes in the game Battleship : HITS
12
Sister brand of Phisoderm : OXY
13
Elation : EUPHORIA
14
It helps you get ahead : SPEED
15
Pardner's mount : HOSS
16
Glimpses : ESPIES
17
Orioles' div. : ALEAST
18
He played Chaplin in "Chaplin" : DOWNEY
25
Date : SEE
28
QB Bobby who purportedly put a curse on the Detroit Lions : LAYNE
31
Germophobe's need : SANITIZER
33
Doesn't pursue : LETSDROP
34
Mustard, but not ketchup: Abbr. : COL
36
Stage prize : OBIE
37
Old TV adjustment: Abbr. : VERT
39
Radiologist, e.g. : IMAGER
40
Biological blueprints : GENOMES
42
Makes up (for) : ATONES
44
Lucius's son, in Harry Potter : DRACO
45
Fancy marble : TAW
46
Fidelity offerings, for short : IRAS
47
Political insults, so to speak : MUD
51
Uncle ___ : BENS
52
Hershiser who was Sports Illustrated's 1988 Sportsman of the Year : OREL
53
Major ally? : TORY
56
Islamic mystics : SUFIS
58
Place for a bust : NICHE
60
Figurine : STATUETTE
61
Stemming from : BASEDON
63
Archenemy of Mattel's He-Man : SKELETOR
65
General interests? : WARS
66
Author Wiesel : ELIE
67
Tournament organizer since '39 : NCAA
68
"Ha! I was right!" : TOLDYA
69
Says "Read you loud and clear ... over," say : RADIOS
71
Rope in : LASSO
74
Informer, informally : NARK
77
South American tuber : OCA
79
Recharge midday : NAP
81
Sandpaper and such : ABRASIVES
82
Creatures that may live inside oysters - hence the name : PEARLFISH
83
Cable's ___ Classic : ESPN
84
Springfield exclamations : DOHS
86
Male lead in Disney's "Frozen" : KRISTOFF
88
Messy food order at a carnival : CHILIDOG
90
Witty Nash : OGDEN
92
___ choy : BOK
93
Common wedding reception feature : OPENBAR
94
Kind of column : SPINAL
95
"Holy ___!" : TOLEDO
96
J. Paul Getty and others : OILMEN
102
Literally, "breathless" : APNEA
103
[You stink!] : BOO
104
Ho hi : ALOHA
107
Beast on Skull Island, informally : KONG
108
Low-lying area : VALE
109
Robert who oversaw the acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm : IGER
110
Ophthalmologist's concern : STYE
111
Burkina ___ (African land) : FASO
112
Vending machine feature : SLOT
115
Small songbird : TIT
116
Burns's "before" : ERE

Answer summary: 11 unique to this puzzle, 3 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

Found bugs or have suggestions?