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COLORFUL CHARACTERS

New York Times, Sunday, November 9, 2014

Author: Tom McCoy
Editor: Will Shortz
Tom McCoy
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1.62341

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 today's puzzle, which began as ... more
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 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 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 treats us to 'COLORFUL ... more
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 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.

JimH 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 Down
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
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
73. 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: 12 unique to this puzzle, 1 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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