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New York Times, Thursday, December 10, 2015

Author:
Timothy Polin
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
4812/11/201111/7/20182
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74962002
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
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19
N
E
T
H
20
O
T
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C
A
21
R
T
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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
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A
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R
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A
K
E
I
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N
54
E
D
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D
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E
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56
G
57
L
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58
P
P
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E
P
A
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O
A
H
U
61
A
N
N
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62
E
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T
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O
D
O
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64
M
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C
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F
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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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