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COLORFUL CHARACTERS

New York Times, Sunday, November 9, 2014

Author:
Tom McCoy
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
3211/14/201310/7/20180
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
17815100
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.61362
Tom McCoy

This puzzle:

Rows: 21, Columns: 21 Words: 140, Blocks: 79 Missing: {QZ} Grid has mirror symmetry. This is puzzle # 6 for Mr. McCoy. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Tom McCoy notes:
In his notes for a recent puzzle, Joel Fagliano mentioned how it's useful to tinker with a theme until you find the best presentation for it. This advice was extremely applicable to ... read more

In his notes for a recent puzzle, Joel Fagliano mentioned how it's useful to tinker with a theme until you find the best presentation for it. This advice was extremely applicable to today's puzzle, which began as three independent ideas that merged over about two years.

When a puzzle's theme is not so straightforward, I like to delay the solver's realization of the theme so that the epiphany happens gradually. For this puzzle, therefore, I placed the black I one space from the edge so that there would be a black square to the left of 1-Across (HOLES). Hopefully, when solvers realize that 1-Across should be BLACK HOLES, they'll notice this (seemingly unnecessary) black square and initially conclude that the theme is a rebus where black squares stand for the word BLACK. I don't know if this trick will work on many people, but I do like to delay the theme epiphany, and a trick or two can help to cause such a delay.

Thanks to Jeff Chen for advice on how to expand the selection of 4- and 5-letter words in my word lists. I fill by hand as much as possible, but a few of the wider-open sections would have been messy without computer aid. Also, as always, thanks to Will Shortz for all the encouragement and for making the puzzle submission polished enough to be published.

Will Shortz notes:
Tom McCoy is a sophomore at Yale, co-captain of the Yale Road Running team, and a 2013 U.S. Presidential Scholar. Two of his five previous puzzles in the Times have been named 'Puzzle of ... read more

Tom McCoy is a sophomore at Yale, co-captain of the Yale Road Running team, and a 2013 U.S. Presidential Scholar. Two of his five previous puzzles in the Times have been named "Puzzle of the Week" on XWord Info, and this one might make it three out of six. It's definitely a wow.

Jeff Chen notes:
Such a clever concept! Tom has only recently emerged onto the crossword scene, but I've been as impressed with his body of work as any other newish constructor coming to mind. Today he ... read more

Such a clever concept! Tom has only recently emerged onto the crossword scene, but I've been as impressed with his body of work as any other newish constructor coming to mind. Today he treats us to "COLORFUL CHARACTERS," i.e. words that collectively FORM LETTERS. I've color-coded them in the grid below to make the idea more apparent. My favorite was BLUE JAY, composed of (BLUE) BERRY, (BLUE) RIBBON, and (BLUE) MOON.

What most impressed me was the cleanliness of fill in the grid. Sunday puzzles adhering to Will's 140 word maximum are hard enough to put together, and when you throw in crossing constrains all over the grid, it becomes so much more difficult. Very few people are up to this task — I would expect to see some or even a lot of glue required to hold sections together, particularly around the giant letters. For example, that huge yellow C is highly constrained, and really ought to need some crossword schmutz to hold it together. But Tom deploys black squares and cheater squares wisely, figuring out how to assemble the corner using only RTE. I imagine that must have taken a lot of iteration to get right. The entire grid is so well executed.

One thing I would have liked was more connectivity between the giant letters and the phrases they represented. Like many other solvers, I don't care for cross-referenced clues, especially when their answers are physically far apart in the grid. A similar principle was in operation here. YELLOW SEA is so nicely in proximity to the big yellow letter. BLUE JAY however, was so far away that I sort of lost interest in that connection.

I'm not actually sure if this issue could be redressed, given how many constraints this concept required. Since there are very few FORM LETTERS that would work (RUBY DEE is the only other one I could think of), and the lengths of 7/8/8/9 necessitate the mirror symmetry, there's not a lot of options to work through. But perhaps instead of placing the four big letters in the corners, they could have been positioned in the north, west, east, and south, along with their respective "revealers" nearby. That might have meant removing FORM LETTERS, but I think "COLORFUL CHARACTERS" is such a perfect title that FORM LETTERS almost dilutes the effect.

A very tough order, but I bet Tom might have been one of the few up to the task.

But overall, a great idea, very fun solve for me, and that's what matters. Perhaps if I could have turned off my annoying constructor's brain I would have given it the Puzzle of the Week. It was a close call and a tough decision — I love having those types of problems!

Stupid brain.

Jim Horne notes:

I liked this one even more than Jeff did. In fact, I named it my Puzzle of the Year for 2014.

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© 2014, The New York TimesNo. 1109 ( 23,742 )
Across
1
Extremely attractive bodies : BLACKHOLES
6
Bird found in this grid's lower-right corner : BLUEJAY
13
Building material in Oz : YELLOWBRICK
18
Female surfer : WAHINE
19
Words from a Latin lover : YOTEAMO
20
Byproduct of petroleum refining : ETHANE
22
1996 Olympic tennis gold medalist : AGASSI
23
Suffer remorse : FEELBAD
24
U.S.S.R.'s Brezhnev : LEONID
25
Sharp : TART
26
Side of a diner : SLAW
28
Background color of a $100 bill : TEAL
30
It might be stained : PANE
31
Hikers' snacks : TRAILMIXES
34
Facetious unit defined as the amount of beauty needed to launch one ship : MILLIHELEN
36
Young musician? : NEIL
37
Nail holder : TOE
39
Birds Eye bagful : PEAS
40
"That old" stuff of song : BLACKMAGIC
42
Sodium ___ (potato chip flavoring) : ACETATE
46
World's first national park : YELLOWSTONE
49
Dog's plaint : YIP
50
Leading : PROMINENT
52
Whitney who went to Yale, appropriately : ELI
54
Quaking ___ : ASPEN
57
Body of water found in this grid's upper-right corner : YELLOWSEA
58
Lawn tool : EDGER
60
Performing, say : ONSTAGE
62
Plagued : BESET
63
Vitamin used to fight Alzheimer's : BTWELVE
65
X contributor : MOTHER
66
Puts on eBay, say : RESELLS
68
"What a ___!" : RELIEF
69
"Methinks," in forums : IMO
70
Instruments in the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood" and "Within You Without You" : SITARS
72
Hawaiian verandas : LANAIS
74
Prey for a cheetah : GNU
75
With 77-Across, when combined into one word, national trivia championship, e.g. : NERD
77
See 75-Across : FEST
78
Hardware store or nursery purchase : BULB
79
Gels : SETS
80
Beverage found in this grid's lower-left corner : GREENTEA
82
Ending with may : HAP
85
Injury found in this grid's upper-left corner : BLACKEYE
87
Bereavement : LOSS
88
Placeholder? : ATLAS
90
Prey of the Morlocks : ELOI
91
Give the go-ahead : GREENLIGHT
94
Relative of a panpipe : HARMONICA
97
Common muffin flavor : BLUEBERRY
101
Jai ___ : ALAI
102
Impersonal notes ... or what four groups of this puzzle's answers do (totaling 11 words) : FORMLETTERS
104
"Mon ___!" : DIEU
105
Josh : RIB
106
___ 6 : MOTEL
107
Fundamental : BASAL
109
Unit named for a telephone pioneer : BEL
110
Crass : VULGAR
112
Substance in some signs : NEONGAS
116
Inclined (to) : LIABLE
118
Eponymous Bloomer : AMELIA
119
Tranquil : ATPEACE
120
Print up? : EMBOSS
121
Owner of Columbia Pictures : SONY
122
Baby bird? : STORK
123
Super-rare occurrence : BLUEMOON
Down
1
Helga's "horrible" husband : HAGAR
2
Butler's maiden name? : OHARA
3
Banning from future work : BLACKLISTING
4
Nitrogen symbols : ENS
5
Earth-shattering, maybe : SEISMIC
6
Quaint way of sending documents : BYFAX
7
Lerner's partner on Broadway : LOEWE
8
Beehive Stater : UTE
9
Long, narrow fish : EEL
10
Insult : JAB
11
Centuries-old instrument : AMATI
12
Peak performance? : YODEL
13
Lily-livered sorts : YELLOWBELLIES
14
Course: Abbr. : RTE
15
"Fingers crossed!" : IHOPESO
16
Illusory sight on Mars : CANAL
17
Robotic dog on "Doctor Who" : KNINE
18
Bit of power : WATT
21
Paradise lost in "Paradise Lost" : EDEN
27
Rapper ___ Wayne : LIL
29
View from Neuchâtel : ALP
32
What you might bow your head to receive : LEI
33
Like some wine glasses : STEMLESS
34
Have good intentions : MEANWELL
35
Sunburn preventer, maybe : HAT
38
Idle : OTIOSE
40
"Koala bear," e.g. : MISNOMER
41
Modern purveyor of Scrabble and Monopoly : APPSTORE
42
"___ we done here?" : ARE
43
Who said "I can't prove it, but I can say it" : COLBERT
44
Trial site : TESTLAB
45
Pittsburgh-to-Wilkes-Barre dir. : ENE
47
Honeymoon attire : NEGLIGEE
48
110, to Bilbo Baggins : ELEVENTY
49
Sports star with size 18 shoes : YAOMING
50
"Ginger ___" (1952 Newbery winner) : PYE
51
Bill : TAB
53
"NO!" : IREFUSE
55
End of the Bible? : ETH
56
Scottish negatives : NAES
58
Some ovines : EWES
59
Director Guillermo ___ Toro : DEL
61
Swindles : GRIFTS
64
Like some councils : TRIBAL
66
Tabula ___ : RASA
67
Ignore : SNUB
71
Start of a round : TEESHOT
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Rapt : ALLEARS
76
Home of India's Red Fort : DELHI
79
Went down a slippery slope : SKIED
81
"... just kidding!" : NOT
82
Web file format, for short : HTML
83
Burn alleviator : ALOE
84
Be winded : PANT
86
Frosty's pipe : COB
88
Decorative bands : ARMLETS
89
Chillax, say : SITBACK
91
Future imago : LARVA
92
Alternative name for Troy : ILIUM
93
Anne's home, in literature : GREENGABLES
95
Court locale : ARENA
96
Desist : CEASE
98
Top prize : BLUERIBBON
99
Film archive : REELS
100
December celebrations : YULES
102
Incursion : FORAY
103
Beaver State capital : SALEM
106
Chief : MAIN
108
Long ride : LIMO
111
Day-___ : GLO
113
Go (for) : OPT
114
Modern beginning? : NEO
115
Long, narrow fish : GAR
117
Blood type system : ABO

Answer summary: 11 unique to this puzzle, 1 debuted here and reused later, 1 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

Found bugs or have suggestions?