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New York Times, Thursday, December 10, 2015

Author:
Timothy Polin
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
5112/11/201111/28/20192
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
74962302
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.626140
Timothy Polin

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 76, Blocks: 36 Missing: {QZ} Spans: 1 This is puzzle # 20 for Mr. Polin. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Timothy Polin notes:
This one began as an abstraction in need of a theme. My original, vague notion was using [individual blocks as stand-ins for letters] ... read more

This one began as an abstraction in need of a theme. My original, vague notion was using [individual blocks as stand-ins for letters] in some way. From there it was a matter of working backwards towards a fitting revealer. Going off a list of BLOCK phrases, I was lucky enough to find one receptive to playful reinterpretation.

Because it was the only bit of theme material, the 15-letter revealer had to go across the middle. For the sake of lucidity, it also felt best if the four ER blocks were totally isolated in all eight directions. These two constraints imposed a rigid block pattern on the grid, which, in its own way, was strangely comforting.

Oftentimes, when there are a myriad of options, it's easy (for me, at least) to get bogged down and expend way too much effort desultorily, without a set plan or course of action. Indecision, thy name is Tim. But when you're working within an inflexible structure, with an embedded central entry crossing multiple themers, you're forced to overcome problems, rather than discarding grid/fill #2836 and starting over again, convinced that the perfect setup is just over the next hill. It's the obsessive, insomniac crossword fan's equivalent of a straitjacket and a padded cell. Restraints which, judging from the comments, some solvers wish I were permanently kept in. Someday!

Jeff Chen notes:
Can't remember a tougher Thursday! I was still hitting my head at the 30 minute mark. Such a relief to figure out that STUMBLING ... read more

Can't remember a tougher Thursday! I was still hitting my head at the 30 minute mark. Such a relief to figure out that STUMBLING BLOCKS were interpreted as ER hidden inside four black squares. I've fixed up the database answers and added ERs (in white) below to make things more clear.

Pulitzer-winning ANNE SEXTON

Check out all the interlock. I'm usually not one to be impressed at themer crossings, but there's so much of it I could barely get my head wrapped around it. I highlighted all the theme answers (in blue) below to give a better picture of it. Granted, Tim did have a lot of flexibility because there are many phrases/words starting with ER, but wow. Audacious construction.

I would have liked all the short themers to be more solid, though. NETH(ER), DIN(ER), CHATT(ER), (ER)ROL, (ER)ASURE are all fine. (ER)NES, SHO(ER), even (ER)IE PA felt weaker. Tough to do, especially since there aren't nearly as many words starting with ER as there are ending with ER. Perhaps a little less interlock would have facilitated better short stuff like (ER)IN, (ER)OS, (ER)DOS, etc.

As if his task wasn't hard enough, the grid layout — featuring shorter answers — meant that he had to work in a lot of long fill. AXIS OF EVIL is colorful, and HYGIENIC is pretty nice. ULTRAHOT feels slightly made-up, like ULTRA NICE or ULTRA SMART or something.

ANNE SEXTON doesn't get as many Google hits as I'd like to see (500K), but I'd argue that winning a Pulitzer makes you crossworthy. I'm not wild about that final N though, crossing ASANA. ASANA is a yoga term I see all around Seattle (we're a yoga town, but I think that crossing sets up too many solvers for a pure guess. For a puzzle that's already ultra hard (ha) to solve, I'd want to make more sure that people who stick with it are properly rewarded.

It was tough for me to remember which black squares were the ER ones, so it would have been nice to have them distinguished somehow. How cool would it have been if those four squares were somehow made to look like they were stumbling! Not sure how to do that, but fun to think about.

1
P
2
U
3
P
4
S
5
M
6
E
7
S
8
S
9
C
10
H
11
A
12
P
13
D
I
N
A
H
14
E
L
L
A
15
H
Y
P
E
16
A
X
I
S
O
17
F
E
V
I
L
18
A
G
E
S
19
N
E
T
H
20
O
T
I
C
A
21
R
T
I
S
T
22
C
L
E
A
23
N
S
24
S
E
M
I
T
E
25
E
S
S
26
I
S
27
M
28
D
I
N
29
N
30
E
31
S
32
A
E
I
O
33
U
34
G
35
R
I
L
L
36
S
37
T
38
U
M
B
L
I
N
39
G
40
B
L
O
C
K
S
41
M
E
L
B
A
42
A
R
I
E
L
43
U
T
T
44
N
45
S
46
T
47
R
C
A
48
P
49
D
50
A
51
R
52
A
K
E
I
53
N
54
E
D
55
D
I
E
S
56
G
57
L
A
S
S
S
L
I
58
P
P
59
I
E
P
A
60
O
A
H
U
61
A
N
N
E
S
62
E
X
T
O
N
63
O
D
O
R
64
M
O
J
O
65
C
I
A
R
A
66
F
E
T
E
67
E
W
A
N
68
T
E
S
T
© 2015, The New York TimesNo. 1210 ( 24,138 )
Across
1
Young wolves : PUPS
5
Unenviable situation : MESS
9
Bloke : CHAP
13
Blues chanteuse Washington : DINAH
14
That señora : ELLA
15
Build up : HYPE
16
Geopolitical term introduced in the 2002 State of the Union : AXISOFEVIL
18
Game box specification : AGES
19
Infernal : NETHER
20
One drawing alluring images : EROTICARTIST
22
Wipes (out) : CLEANS
24
Phoenician or Palestinian : SEMITE
25
Treacherous bend : ESS
26
School of thought : ISM
28
Greasy spoon : DINER
29
White-tailed eagles : ERNES
32
Succession within an ethnic group? : AEIOU
34
Question thoroughly : GRILL
36
Obstacles seen four times in this puzzle's completed grid? : STUMBLINGBLOCKS
41
___ toast : MELBA
42
Disney friend of Flounder and Sebastian : ARIEL
43
Verbalize : UTTER
44
___ Stavro Blofeld (Bond archvillain) : ERNST
47
Onetime NBC parent : RCA
48
"Get a room" elicitor, for short : PDA
51
Accrue hand over fist : RAKEIN
54
Swirls : EDDIES
56
Something lost and returned in a fairy tale : GLASSSLIPPER
59
City ENE of Cleveland, OH : ERIEPA
60
Setting for the George Clooney film "The Descendants" : OAHU
61
Poet who won a 1967 Pulitzer for "Live or Die" : ANNESEXTON
63
Reputation : ODOR
64
"It" : MOJO
65
One-named R&B singer with the hit "1, 2 Step" : CIARA
66
Have a dinner for, say : FETE
67
Actor McGregor : EWAN
68
A crucible is a hard one : TEST
Down
1
Spots for computer users : PIXELS
2
Hooks up : UNITES
3
Turkish pooh-bah : PASHA
4
Worker at a stable : SHOER
5
Series of races : MEET
6
Singer befriended by a young Forrest Gump : ELVIS
7
Was an errant driver? : SLICED
8
Sub choice : SALAMI
9
Go on and on and on : CHATTER
10
Salubrious : HYGIENIC
11
Pithecological study : APES
12
Trying type : PEST
13
Terpsichore's domain : DANCE
17
Bone to pick? : FOSSIL
21
Head of a conspiracy : RINGLEADER
23
Chicago Cubs Hall-of-Famer : ERNIEBANKS
27
"Surely not ME!?" : MOI
30
Northern game : ELK
31
Classic Mercedes roadsters : SLS
32
Honey-colored : AMBER
33
Early afternoon ora : UNA
35
Flynn of film : ERROL
36
Dallas institution, for short : SMU
37
Lunar celebration : TET
38
Like the core of the sun : ULTRAHOT
39
Chow line? : GRR
40
"Guns" : BICEPS
45
Opening word : SESAME
46
Thus far, informally : TILNOW
48
Several works of Michelangelo : PIETAS
49
Order out? : DEPORT
50
Lotus position in yoga, e.g. : ASANA
52
Removal : ERASURE
53
Storied assassin : NINJA
55
Song of the South : DIXIE
56
Typo, e.g. : GOOF
57
Bring aboard : LADE
58
Low hand? : PEON
62
Build : ERECT

Answer summary: 2 unique to this puzzle, 1 debuted here and reused later, 2 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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