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New York Times, Thursday, December 12, 2013

Author:
David Steinberg
Editor:
Will Shortz
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David Steinberg

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 72, Blocks: 35 Missing: {FQXZ} This is puzzle # 19 for Mr. Steinberg. Jeff Chen's Puzzle of the Week pick. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Notepad: After this puzzle was created, the constructor did something to 11 squares - as suggested by a two-word reading of 63-Across before alteration.
David Steinberg notes:
This puzzle was a real challenge to construct, and I imagine it will be just as challenging to solve! I originally came up with the ... read more

This puzzle was a real challenge to construct, and I imagine it will be just as challenging to solve!

I originally came up with the idea in January after noticing that ERASERS becomes EASES after the Rs are literally erased. I wondered if there were any other words that made sense after their Rs were erased, particularly ones with multiple Rs. After that, I spent many hours trying to maximize the theme density, starting in the lower left with my favorite pair of entries, M(R) AND M(R)S. For the first time in many months, I had to use manual construction in conjunction with crossword construction software: I was able to create a word list with all the Rs filtered out to avoid adding nonthematic Rs, but I couldn't figure out a way to get the software to recognize that all entries crossing the thematic Rs had to make sense when the Rs were erased. Thus, the construction process, particularly in the upper half of the puzzle, was laborious—at multiple points, I was convinced that finishing this puzzle would be impossible. Yet somehow I managed to fill a grid that worked!

I wish I had been able to incorporate one more R in the upper right, but I just couldn't get it to work without seriously straining the fill. As a final note, I constructed the puzzle in a 72-word grid in case Will Shortz liked the theme but felt the puzzle would be more appropriate for a Saturday.

Will Shortz notes:
If I were selecting a Puzzle of the Week, this would probably be it. Both the theme idea and execution are beautiful. And most of the ... read more

If I were selecting a Puzzle of the Week, this would probably be it. Both the theme idea and execution are beautiful. And most of the clues here are David's. I made the clues slightly easier than I usually would for a Thursday, because of the nastiness of the theme.

The puzzle is still probably pretty hard. Incidentally, the Monday-Thursday puzzles this week were used last Saturday at the 1st Arlington Heights (Ill.) Memorial Library Crossword Tournament. David's crossword, which was the playoff, is probably the first tournament puzzle ever in which empty squares in the solution were counted correct!

Jeff Chen notes:
This puzzle is a thing of beauty. It took me a long time to realize what was going on — ERASERS is parsed as ERASE Rs — ... read more

This puzzle is a thing of beauty. It took me a long time to realize what was going on — ERASERS is parsed as ERASE Rs — and when I cottoned to the trick, I marveled at the fact that the grid is so clean and sparkly, both with the Rs or without! It's rare I come upon a twist I've never seen before, and even more rare when it's this elegant. Bravo!

Note the extremely difficult constraint of creating a themeless (72 words) where all entries with Rs must also read normally with their Rs missing. Because of this, I expected there to be severe compromises in fill. And because the trick is so neat, I was prepared to be okay with some ugliness. I've tried something sort of similar (but easier) and found it near impossible. It caused me to break into tears in front of random people (sorry, dentist) and ultimately land on something that was too ugly to submit. That makes me appreciate this grid that much more.

True, there aren't that many marquee answers that you might see in a regular themeless — PAD THAI, AGES AGO, I SAY SO, M(R) AND M(R)S, SH(R)INE(R) is low for a straight themeless — but there also aren't many ugly bits that you typically see as "glue" to hold a themeless together. To have only TGI, SAE (self addressed envelope), and our friend ISAO Aoki, that's very good in terms of clean themeless fill. I've heard people grouse about Rapa NUI before (same with ULAN Bator) but I personally don't mind those at all. I like stories about those giant stone heads on Easter Island, and I think it's fun to know the name RAPA NUI.

The most minor of nits: I would have loved to see no cheater square after RELY (and the symmetrical one before COHN). I realize it must have made the fill cleaner, which I very much appreciate, but such a beautiful puzzle would have been even more visually elegant without the cheaters. A matter of personal opinion, that's all.

Standing O, David. Er, Mr. Steinberg. El Presidente. Save a job for me when you take over the world.

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© 2013, The New York TimesNo. 1212 ( 23,410 )

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Across
1
Letter attachment? : CEDILLA
8
Boomer born in 1961 : ESIASON
15
Operate like a fan : OPENOUT
16
Borg contemporary : NASTASE
17
Stroll : AMBLE
18
Kind of ray : GAMMA
19
Rapa ___ (Easter Island) : NUI
20
A long time past : AGESAGO
22
Sanctioned : OKD
23
W alternative : ELLE
25
Missouri's ___ River : OSAGE
26
Sounds from kids : MAAS
27
Town in England or Nevada : ELY
28
Friday's preceder? : TGI
29
Rolling Stone co-founder Wenner : JANN
30
Energy-filled chargers : STEEDS
33
Tearjerkers? : ONIONS
35
Flashlight light : BEAM
37
Maurice Chevalier musical : GIGI
38
Want selfishly : COVERT
40
"Explanation" that may follow "because" : ISAYSO
44
Kind of tie : BOLO
45
Make breathless : AWE
47
Saxophonist Al : COHN
48
Impact result : DENT
49
Tricot and others : KNITS
51
Seek damages : SUE
52
Butt : END
53
Dish garnished with a lime wedge : PADTHAI
55
Jeremy of the N.B.A. : LIN
56
Swellhead's trait : EGOTISM
58
Awabi, at a sushi bar : ABALONE
60
Bath locale : MAINE
61
They're unbeatable : NEMESES
62
___ analysis : SYSTEMS
63
Moderates : EASES
Down
1
Scoop holders : CONES
2
Military attachment : EPAULET
3
"Samson and Delilah" director : DEMILLE
4
Schubert's Symphony No. 8 ___ Minor ("Unfinished Symphony") : INB
5
1970 hit about a girl with "a dark brown voice" : LOLA
6
Later, to Luis : LUEGO
7
Banned event, informally : ATEST
8
Attractive : ENGAGING
9
Wise : SAGE
10
Golfer Aoki : ISAO
11
Kale source? : ATM
12
Subjects of Margaret Mead study : SAMOANS
13
Certain bullet train rider : OSAKAN
14
Relatives of Teddys? : NEDS
21
Pudding starch : SAGO
24
Fastener with a ring-shaped head : EYEBOLT
26
Whack jobs : MANIACS
29
Nudges : JOGS
31
Band parodied by Weird Al Yankovic's "Dare to Be Stupid" : DEVO
32
Enclosure to an ed. : SAE
34
Britain's last King Richard : III
36
Munchies from Mars : MANDMS
38
Ski resort rentals : CONDOS
39
Chucklehead : TWIT
41
Coin flipper's declaration : YOULOSE
42
Excel : SHINE
43
Concord : ONENESS
44
Joint application, maybe : BENGAY
46
Gas with or without an "m" : ETHANE
48
Judges : DEEMS
49
Casey of radio countdowns : KASEM
50
"Quién ___?" : SABE
53
Itch (for) : PINE
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"___ Rock" : IAMA
57
Half of an exchange : TIT
59
Article in French papers : LES

Answer summary: 1 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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