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LANE CHANGES

New York Times, Sunday, November 5, 2017

Author: Natan Last
Editor: Will Shortz
Natan Last
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
237/17/200711/5/20173
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
4111097
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.60230

This puzzle:

Rows: 21, Columns: 21 Words: 142, Blocks: 76 Missing: {QX} This is puzzle # 23 for Mr. Last. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Natan Last notes: This puzzle germinated during late nights spent dreaming under a mosquito net — I was in western Tanzania for work and it was recommended we stay in the compound at night, so I spent a lot of time with ... more
Natan Last notes:

This puzzle germinated during late nights spent dreaming under a mosquito net — I was in western Tanzania for work and it was recommended we stay in the compound at night, so I spent a lot of time with sci-fi e-books and blank grids and anti-malarial pills. Maybe also poetry — the Frost poem was definitely the seed, and earlier iterations of this puzzle focused equally on the "less traveled" and the "diverged" lines.

Initially I was looking for movies, songs, and literature pairs that had the word ROAD in them "diverging." (Here's a long boring explanation of that old, dream-fueled idea: imagine ROAD TO RIO across, then an additional OAD diagonally down from the R, then it picks up three rows down and finishes across with HOUSE, for the movie ROADHOUSE. The idea was to play on "less traveled" as less popular — ROADHOUSE as grossing less or having smaller audience numbers than ROAD TO RIO, or something). Anyway, that morphed into the idea you see now, with a nice steer from Joel on putting a black square after the "diverged" answer, since it should function as if it were its own entry.

Diagonal words always make filling tougher, and I'm happy with some of the pizzazz in the puzzle, but would've spent more time trying to avoid the glue, especially in the lower left. Hopefully the theme offers a fun aha moment, and hopefully you're as tickled by the descent of THE ROAD TO HELL as I am. Sad to see an Ed KOCH clue become Koch Industries, given the hellscape toward which companies like theirs have steered us.

Thanks to Will, Joel, Sam and all those who looked at early versions of this!

Jeff Chen notes: Natan takes us on some ROADs NOT TAKEN, starting phrases with synonyms for 'street,' then veering off diagonally to form some other phrase (or word). My favorite by far was THE ROAD NOT TAKEN splitting to form THE ... more
Jeff Chen notes:

Natan takes us on some ROADs NOT TAKEN, starting phrases with synonyms for "street," then veering off diagonally to form some other phrase (or word). My favorite by far was THE ROAD NOT TAKEN splitting to form THE ROAD TO HELL — dropping diagonally down was especially apt for this one. Too bad HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN wasn't another one, rising up!

I found it a little odd that some synonyms for "street" were hidden or disguised, some not. ROAD was overt, as was PATH. DRIVE misdirected from its "street" meaning, as did DRAG. And WAY as part of WAYNES WORLD felt like an outlier. With just five themers, I would have preferred more consistency.

It's hard to work with splitting themers, those pesky diagonals causing so much trouble in filling. I can understand why Natan decided to keep it to five pairs, with one pair having a very short themer (PATHOS). But overall, it felt thin to me. Tough to execute on this type of theme — six or seven pairs would have felt much meatier, but that gets so much more difficult to do.

Natan did a fantastic job of working in bonus fill — check out all the GOD HELP US, ATTACK ADS, MEDIA BIAS, BELOW ZERO, I AM LEGEND, THE BEE GEES, SEAN PENN, (oh) NO YOU DIDN'T, BELLAGIO (this huge fan of "Ocean's 11" filled it in without a single crossing letter!). So much goodness! Almost felt like a juicily-packed themeless grid. Everywhere I went, there was some other fat entry that satisfied.

There was some ELKE, SLO, ATP, DEP, etc., but it didn't get to be enough to bother me. To have five pairs of themers, with diagonal entries, plus that huge amount of strong bonus fill, and keep your crossword glue to below average for a Sunday? That's great craftsmanship.

The theme didn't totally work for me, feeling a bit inconsistent and thin, but that central ROAD pairing was dynamite. Along with all the snazz in the fill, I wasn't quite on the highway to heaven, but certainly not on the road to hell.

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© 2017, The New York TimesNo. 1105 ( 24,834 )
Across Down
1. Popular web portal : MSN
4. Sweet stuff : SUCROSE
11. Braggadocio : BIGTALK
18. "Well, well, well!" : OHO
19. Coming : UPAHEAD
20. Slant in columns : MEDIABIAS
22. 1992 movie based on an "S.N.L." sketch ... or, diverged: Modus vivendi : WAYNESWORLD
24. Railroad line? : ALLABOARD
25. "Out!" : SHOO
26. Suffix with host : ESS
27. Like pins-and-needles feelings : TINGLY
29. Mystiques : AURAS
30. Defunct org. in which Donald Trump owned the New Jersey Generals : USFL
32. "Adios!" : SEEYA
33. "Prince Valiant" son : ARN
34. "We're doomed!" : GODHELPUS
39. Computer mouse action ... or, diverged: Event for RuPaul : DRAGANDDROP
44. Less friendly : ICIER
45. Blue-roofed eatery : IHOP
47. Gambols : FRISKS
48. Time to remember : AGE
49. Erstwhile Fords : LTDS
50. "The Simpsons Theme" composer Danny : ELFMAN
52. Many a frat pledge : SOPH
53. Become bored (of) : TIRE
54. ___ mother : DEN
55. Scarcely : ILL
56. Freudian "will to live" : EROS
58. Better, to an impatient boss : SOONER
60. Spots likely to smear : ATTACKADS
63. Italian novelist Morante : ELSA
66. Destroys, in gamer-speak : PWNS
67. 1916 Frost verse ... or, diverged: Start of a saying about meaning well : THEROADNOTTAKEN
71. "Star Wars" nomad : JAWA
73. Opposite of "da" : NYET
74. Put a cover on : UPHOLSTER
78. Molson rival : LABATT
80. "No ___!" : PROB
82. Heads overseas? : WCS
83. Coral, e.g. : HUE
84. A long way off : AFAR
85. Part of a treasure chest : HASP
89. Another form of "Jehovah" : YAHWEH
91. Big swig : BELT
92. W.W. II org. whose insignia featured Athena : WAC
93. Prepare, as leftovers : REHEAT
95. Fill-up filler : FUEL
96. Cassava, for one : TUBER
97. Bring someone home ... or, diverged: Common high school offering : DRIVEINARUN
100. Frigid : BELOWZERO
102. From l. to r. : ACR
103. Proscriptions : NONOS
105. Chill out : LAZE
106. "Button" that's plainly visible : OUTIE
109. Showy debut : SPLASH
110. A germophobe might have it, for short : OCD
112. Acronym for the four major entertainment awards : EGOT
115. Artist with the third most Top 40 hits in the 1960s, behind Elvis and the Beatles : BRENDALEE
117. Nissan S.U.V.s ... or, diverged: Emotional appeal : PATHFINDERS
120. Hit 2007 Will Smith film : IAMLEGEND
121. Some potatoes : IDAHOES
122. Comic strip cry : EEK
123. Establish, as rules : LAYDOWN
124. Gratiano's love in "The Merchant of Venice" : NERISSA
125. Line in the sand? : SOS
1. Does course work? : MOWS
2. Bygone title : SHAH
3. Expression of shock at someone's actions : NOYOUDIDNT
4. Go after for redress : SUE
5. Try to induce a bigger purchase : UPSELL
6. Rookery cries : CAWS
7. Symbols of density : RHOS
8. Beyond, to bards : OER
9. Sea dogs : SALTS
10. Went for a whirl : EDDIED
11. Vegas casino robbed in "Ocean's Eleven" : BELLAGIO
12. Without purpose : IDLY
13. Supermodel Carangi : GIA
14. Armless coats that may bear coats of arms : TABARDS
15. Overflow (with) : ABOUND
16. Fabulist : LIAR
17. Russia's ___ Sea (arm of the Arctic Ocean) : KARA
20. Hungarians : MAGYARS
21. Activist youth org. : SDS
23. Snacks : NOSHES
28. Ball brand : NERF
31. La Dame de ___ (Eiffel Tower nickname) : FER
33. Sacred crosses : ANKHS
34. 1946 femme fatale film : GILDA
35. Santa's reindeer, e.g. : OCTET
36. Monumental support : PILLAR
37. TV band : UHF
38. "Word on the street is ..." : SOMESAY
40. Deadly cobra : ASP
41. Wilson of "The Office" : RAINN
42. They might be giants : OGRES
43. Kind of review : PEER
46. The usual : PAR
50. Actress Sommer : ELKE
51. "Keep out" sign : NOENTRY
53. Burgs : TOWNS
55. Bygone Apple app : ICHAT
57. ___-pitch : SLO
59. Autobahn autos : OPELS
61. Feuding : ATWAR
62. Syndicate head : DON
64. Online ticket exchange : STUBHUB
65. Chem. neurotransmitter : ATP
68. Sheriff's asst. : DEP
69. "Them's the breaks, I guess" : AHWELL
70. ___ Industries (oil and gas giant) : KOCH
71. "Aladdin" villain : JAFAR
72. Summers back in the day? : ABACI
75. "How Deep Is Your Love" group : THEBEEGEES
76. "Introduction to the Analysis of the Infinite" writer : EULER
77. Cool again : RETRO
78. God, informally : LAWD
79. Gender-neutral possessive : THEIR
81. Lummox : OAF
86. Philip ___, first Asian-American film actor to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame : AHN
87. "Milk" star, 2008 : SEANPENN
88. Interrupted mid-sentence? : PAROLED
90. Like leprechauns : WEE
91. Tipsy : BUZZED
93. Shrank : RECEDED
94. Skipjack, e.g. : TUNA
96. Early flight inits. : TWA
98. For naught : VAINLY
99. Straight-talking : NOSPIN
101. Certain radio format : OLDIES
104. What you might sit in by the pool : SHADE
106. Kabuki sash : OBI
107. Territory in Risk : URAL
108. Motif for Verdi or Monteverdi : TEMA
109. Whole heap : SLEW
110. "Fancy seeing you here!" : OHHI
111. $$$ bigwigs : CFOS
113. Certain fro-yo add-in : OREO
114. Sounds of reproof : TSKS
116. Back : AGO
118. Besmirch : TAR
119. Eavesdropping org. : NSA

Answer summary: 12 unique to this puzzle, 6 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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