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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
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T
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V
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A
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H
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A
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© 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.

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