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New York Times, Friday, December 12, 2014

Author: Evan Birnholz
Editor: Will Shortz
Evan Birnholz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
810/3/201310/23/20150
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0001124
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.69100

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 68, Blocks: 31 Missing: {QX} This is puzzle # 6 for Mr. Birnholz. NYT links: Across Lite PDF

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Evan Birnholz notes: This puzzle went through a strange evolution. I submitted the initial draft (to right) in August 2013, but Will nixed it ... more
Evan Birnholz notes: Original grid

This puzzle went through a strange evolution. I submitted the initial draft (to right) in August 2013, but Will nixed it because he didn't think PASTAFARIAN would be a well-known enough term for Times solvers (naturally, I threw down that word in my very first Devil Cross puzzle). He said it was a close call, which I interpreted as, "Refill that part of the grid and try again." I went back to work, and after a few attempts to make a close switch with PASTA FAZOOL proved unsuccessful, I settled on another grid, which Will accepted in March 2014.

Second grid

It was a pretty clean grid (see left), but a month ago I took another look and cringed that I left in a couple of not-so-great entries like OATER, MSEC, and PBA. Because I had some creaky fill in my last Times puzzle that I still wish I had excised, I decided to go back and give this one another revision.

The final version is about two-thirds different from the original acceptance, but I think it's the best one. I'm just glad Will agreed and ran it so soon afterwards. For me, being able to fit in one of the best bands ever and one of the best TV shows ever at 46- and 48-Across was icing on the cake.

Interestingly, I'm responsible for the last two instances of both AEROS and WILCO in the Times puzzle. Both times I submitted similar clues to refer to the old Houston-based A.H.L. team and the Chicago-based band. Both times Will instead chose clues to refer to a quaint term for airplanes and a radio reply. He may be trying to tell me something.

On another note: listen up, new crossword constructors! The five of us behind the Indie 500 crossword tournament are accepting submissions for a sixth tournament puzzle. The deadline is January 15.

Finally, happy birthday to my Dad, who got me into this whole puzzle thing.

Jeff Chen notes: Nice work from one of the young guns today, KEEP(in') IT REAL. It took me a long time to get toeholds into the puzzle, but it all ... more
Jeff Chen notes: Jimmy Page playing "Stairway to Heaven" Nice work from one of the young guns today, KEEP(in') IT REAL. It took me a long time to get toeholds into the puzzle, but it all came together after several passes through. I liked the classic vibe of the puzzle, replete with strong entries like PLOT TWISTS and SIDEKICKS that won't fade over time. Even the either-you-know-it-or-you-don't stuff was strong — great to see ELISHA OTIS, the elevator magnate, as a full name in the grid. And shame on you if you don't know LED ZEPPELIN, given that even this pop music Luddite can pluck out "Stairway to Heaven" on the guitar. (It sounds terrible; sincerest of apologies to Jimmy Page. Please don't come over and smash my guitar.)

Nice, wide-open layout. It features just 8 entries of 8+ letters, but all those entries are strong; a 100% conversion rate. Great job of not leaving anything on the table, with the entries already mentioned along with the Scrabbly JACK SPRAT and the festive OKTOBERFEST. A lot of assets anchoring the puzzle.

The top and bottom of the puzzle feature 7s, often more difficult to squeeze goodness out of. There are some strong ones to be sure — AMPED UP, BASEMEN, HIJINKS, RARE GAS, THE WIRE — overall though, I wanted more to be upped from simply neutral (BELIEFS, COLGATE, SALTINE, etc.) to a colorful asset.

I wonder what would have happened if the black squares at the top and bottom of column 8 of the grid were offset, creating blocks of entries 6 and 8 letters long. Hard to say if the 68-word layout would have accommodated more strong 8-letter entries or not. The 68-word grid can often be tricky — it often allows for a more wide-open flow than a 70-word grid, but it can also make packing in a high quantity of assets more challenging.

Just a couple of gluey bits, the minor ERN, ETE, and AEROS. I imagine some people would argue that the last is just fine as the Houston hockey team. I'd agree if it was an NHL team, but the AEROS are part of the AHL. Check that — were part of the AHL, folding in 2013. Ah, well.

Overall, I enjoyed the workout, coming up with virtually nothing (only ACME with its awesome Wile E. Coyote-ish clue) during my first pass. I love it when something that seems impossible at first unfolds bit by bit, allowing you to piece it slowly together. Very satisfying.

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M
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© 2014, The New York TimesNo. 1212 ( 23,775 )
Across Down
1. Person at the top of the order : ABBESS
7. Excited : AMPEDUP
14. Fan's output : COOLAIR
16. Brand behind the mouthwash Plax : COLGATE
17. Tex-Mex item : TOSTADA
18. Robert Goulet, e.g. : CROONER
19. Annual event held in the Theresienwiese : OKTOBERFEST
21. Certain tube filler : NEON
22. Slangy goodbye : KEEPITREAL
27. Relative of a harrier : ERN
28. All hits all the time? : FIGHT
29. Reply on the radio : WILCO
30. Person with important clerical duties : VICAR
31. Tuber grown south of the border : JICAMA
32. Tomfoolery : HIJINKS
35. Ones trying to prevent stealing : BASEMEN
36. Stud muffin : ADONIS
37. Certain branches : SECTS
38. The tropics and others : ZONES
39. Uses maximally : MILKS
40. Ceiling : CAP
43. Influential figure in upward mobility? : ELISHAOTIS
45. ___ Ball (event at Hogwarts during the Triwizard Tournament) : YULE
46. Their best-selling (23x platinum) album had no title : LEDZEPPELIN
48. Series of drug-related offenses? : THEWIRE
52. Politico who wrote "The Truth (With Jokes)" : FRANKEN
53. Skin cream ingredient : RETINOL
54. Square snack : SALTINE
55. Licensing requirement, maybe : EYETEST
56. Wee : TEENSY
1. Start to play? : ACTONE
2. Talk show V.I.P. : BOOKER
3. Common ground? : BOSTON
4. John in a studio : ELTON
5. 9-5, e.g. : SAAB
6. Talk show V.I.P.'s : SIDEKICKS
7. Put up with : ACCEPT
8. Mohamed ___, Egyptian president removed from power in July 2013 : MORSI
9. Thickening agents? : PLOTTWISTS
10. Psych 101 subject : EGO
11. Judo ranking : DAN
12. Trojan competitor : UTE
13. So says : PER
15. 21-Across, e.g. : RAREGAS
20. N.H.L. players' representative Donald : FEHR
23. Reduces to bits : RICES
24. Land east of Babylonia : ELAM
25. Fictional corporation that made a jet-propelled unicycle : ACME
26. It has points of interest : LOAN
28. This is the end : FINISHLINE
30. Tree huggers? : VINES
31. Half a nursery rhyme couple : JACKSPRAT
32. Run through the gantlet, say : HAZE
33. Pop ___ : IDOL
34. Iowa politico Ernst : JONI
35. Credo : BELIEFS
37. ___ bath : SITZ
39. Car modified for flying in "The Absent-Minded Professor" : MODELT
40. "Home Alone" star, 1990 : CULKIN
41. Time Lords on "Doctor Who," e.g. : ALIENS
42. Big name in retail : PENNEY
44. Planes, quaintly : AEROS
45. Broadway character who sings "The Rumor" : YENTE
47. Not that bright : PALE
48. Number of weeks in il Giro d'Italia : TRE
49. "Stop right there!" : HEY
50. When le Tour de France is held : ETE
51. Romeo's was "a most sharp sauce" : WIT

Answer summary: 2 unique to this puzzle, 3 debuted here and reused later, 1 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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