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TOP GEAR

New York Times, Sunday, December 16, 2018

Author:
Sam Ezersky
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
307/28/201212/16/20189
SunMonTueWedThuFriSatVariety
311334105
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.71210
Sam Ezersky

This puzzle:

Rows: 21, Columns: 21 Words: 138, Blocks: 71 Missing: {JX} This is puzzle # 30 for Mr. Ezersky. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Sam Ezersky notes:
Today's puzzle is hereby dedicated to my housemate, Nick. The revealer was all his idea; I just happened to flesh out the exact wordplay and build the whole thing myself instead of seeing ... read more

Today's puzzle is hereby dedicated to my housemate, Nick. The revealer was all his idea; I just happened to flesh out the exact wordplay and build the whole thing myself instead of seeing through on a collaborative effort. Sorry, Nick!

Note to aspiring puzzle makers: Be wary of interlocking theme answers. They. Will. RUIN. You. Really, though, crossing ADD TO QUEUE with CALLING IN (T)STION adds so much more of a constraint to the rest of the grid. Then there's crossing SAFE ZONES with the symmetrically placed revealer, and having to connect BOOK O(F) RA at the F. Don't forget that CY(B)HICS / BERETTA still needs to find its way into the grid somewhere ... and now we're up to three theme answers being accounted for.

TL;DR: I played a giant game of Tetris in order to fit all the thematic pieces into one 21x21 puzzle, while still holding myself to my usual high fill standards. Thus, this took tons of reworking, but the time and effort to produce a particularly enjoyable grid versus one that just fit the bill felt worth it. As I outlined in my latest article on crosswords, keeping the solver in mind is what matters most.

Now ... grab yourself a print copy of The Times, and enjoy this year's Puzzle Mania!

Jeff Chen notes:
Before you go sending that angry THIS F'IN PUZZLE MAKES NO SENSE! email to me, look at the fixed-up answers below. Go on; I'll wait. Get it? [Casting doubt on] isn't CALLINGINTSTION, ... read more

Before you go sending that angry THIS F'IN PUZZLE MAKES NO SENSE! email to me, look at the fixed-up answers below.

Go on; I'll wait.

Get it? [Casting doubt on] isn't CALLINGINTSTION, but CALLING IN(TO QUE)STION, with the TOQUE "dropped" down.

(We've taken the liberty of highlighting the hats below, just in case it's still not clear.)

The first one I hit was THE BOOK O(F EZ)RA, and I embarrassingly thought that THE BOOK OF RA was some Egyptian offshoot of the Bible.

A Bible scholar I'm not!

We've seen plenty of these drop-down themes before, but I liked the discovery of TOQUE in CALLING INTO QUESTION and BERET in CYBERETHICS. Impressive to find five-letter strings within snazzy phrases.

I debated whether this was Sunday-worthy, or if it felt like a weekday puzzle outstaying its welcome.

WHY IT'S BETTER AS A SUNDAY

  • I liked what Sam did with some of the crossing answers. Hiding TOQUE in ADD TO QUEUE was fantastic. FEZ in SAFE ZONE, too. Those types of long crossers would be much harder to pull off in a 15x15 weekday.
  • A weekday puzzle would need AT THE DROP OF A HAT in the grid as a revealer, and since each themer requires something dropping down, you'd only be able to fit in three hats (or risk causing serious compromises). Nice to have the diversity of five hat types.

WHY IT'S BETTER AS A WEEKDAY

  • Once you figure out what's going on, the trick might feel repetitive.

Ultimately, I think it would have been better shrinkified to a 15x15 grid.

Even though the theme itself didn't hold my attention throughout the entire solve, I enjoyed enough of the bonuses, a ton of stuff in ASTROPOP LEGO BLOCK CRAB LEG IMPOUND LOT BUNDLE UP. Helped keep up my interest; well worth the minor prices of ENCE ESTE SABE etc. It's a very tough technical execution, and Sam did it well.

Jim Horne notes:

Great title.

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© 2018, The New York TimesNo. 1216 ( 25,240 )
Across
1. Early wake-up time : FIVEAM
7. Title for Iran's Ruhollah Khomeini : IMAM
11. Herbert of old "Pink Panther" films : LOM
14. Penultimate tourney round : SEMIS
19. "Doesn't matter to me" : IMEASY
20. Not yet completed : TODO
21. ___ moment : AHA
22. Sash go-with : TIARA
23. Ancient capital of Laconia : SPARTA
24. Brew : SUDS
25. Letters before single, double or triple : RBI
26. Lace tip : AGLET
27. Casting doubt on : CALLINGINTOQUESTION
30. Lake Volta's land : GHANA
31. The best, informally : ACES
32. Radio/TV character played in film by Michael Horse (1981) and Johnny Depp (2013) : TONTO
33. Like some ruins in the Western Hemisphere : MAYAN
35. Lookalike : TWIN
36. 8.5" x 11": Abbr. : LTR
37. Scare quote? : BOO
38. Words of resignation : IQUIT
40. Topic concerned with hacking and software rights : CYBERETHICS
42. Put on a few layers : BUNDLEUP
44. Three-star mil. rank : LTGEN
45. Pope who supported the House of Borgia : PIUSIII
47. Diminishing returns? : ECHOES
50. They're between shoulders : ROADS
54. Word with shot or suit : LONG
55. Rowdydow : ADO
56. Not abstaining : USING
57. Much sales : RETAIL
58. "No bid" : IPASS
60. An end to depend : ENCE
62. Head honcho : CEO
63. "Resume speed," musically : ATEMPO
64. Emailing option : BCC
65. Riddle-ending query : WHATAMI
67. Toward the stern : ABAFT
69. Its first letter stands for "India" : IPA
70. Certain tenant : ROOMER
72. Lex, e.g., in N.Y.C. : AVE
74. Misfortunes : ILLS
75. Going for broke : ALLIN
77. Sides in Risk : ARMIES
78. Bette Midler's "Divine" nickname : MISSM
80. Tense periods, for short : OTS
82. Archer of film : ANNE
83. Dangerous environment : SNAKEPIT
84. Easy-to-swallow pill : GELCAP
85. Food item cracked open before eating : CRABLEG
87. Prized duck : EIDER
89. It comes after II Chronicles : BOOKOFEZRA
91. "Today was just brutal!" : IMSPENT
94. Coiner of the term "Oedipus complex" : FREUD
96. / : PER
97. Thickheaded : DIM
100. Words of denial : NOTI
101. Lost : ATSEA
103. All-nighter aid : NODOZ
105. Sets of plotted points : LOCI
106. Shade of pink : CORAL
108. Immediately ... or where this puzzle's five shaded squares appear? : ATTHEDROPOFAHAT
111. Floor : AMAZE
112. Japanese symbol of luck : KOI
113. Largo or lento : SLOW
114. Swimming : NATANT
115. Notable schemer : PONZI
116. Some dash lengths : EMS
117. Rock stars are frequently on this : TOUR
118. Come out : EMERGE
119. Standard parts of combo meals : SODAS
120. "I'm good, thanks" : NAH
121. E-tail site since 2005 : ETSY
122. King's speech? : SERMON
Down
1. Kind of year : FISCAL
2. Collision : IMPACT
3. Calf raised for its meat : VEALER
4. Gloucester and Kent in "King Lear" : EARLS
5. Certain bubbly, informally : ASTI
6. Final work of Willa Cather's "Prairie Trilogy" : MYANTONIA
7. Tennis commentator's cry : ITSIN
8. Police officer who's not necessarily on horseback : MOUNTIE
9. "Play next" command on a music app : ADDTOQUEUE
10. Shade of green : MOSS
11. Cowboy's rope : LARIAT
12. "Here we go again ..." : OHBOY
13. Followers of openers : MAINACTS
14. By oneself, in a way : STAG
15. It's played for half a beat in 4/4 time : EIGHTHNOTE
16. Country whose name consists of three consecutive state postal abbreviations : MALAWI
17. Peaceful : IRENIC
18. ___ spawn (hellions) : SATANS
28. "Ooh, let's do that!" : GOODIDEA
29. "Eww, that's enough!" : TMI
34. MetLife Stadium team, on scoreboards : NYG
37. Clear and set, as tables : BUS
39. Scanned IDs : UPCS
41. Italian pistol : BERETTA
42. Gets to : BUGS
43. One who cracks the whip? : LIONTAMER
44. Plastic construction piece : LEGOBLOCK
45. Serving in a red-and-white striped box : POPCORN
46. Totally out : INACOMA
48. Juice brand : HIC
49. Longtime N.B.A. on TNT analyst : ONEAL
51. Who wrote "Some people talk to animals. Not many listen, though. That's the problem." : AAMILNE
52. Action of a ladle : DIPPING
53. "Miss ___" (2016 political thriller) : SLOANE
54. Some fall births : LIBRAS
57. Heroes of the Battle of Britain, for short : RAF
59. Babe : SWEETIE
61. Mannerly : CIVIL
66. Freelancers' units: Abbr. : HRS
68. Colorful treat that resembles a rocket : ASTROPOP
71. All-Star Mets catcher of the 1990s-2000s : MIKEPIAZZA
73. Corner PC key : ESC
74. Tow destination : IMPOUNDLOT
76. Scat snippet : LALA
79. "Quién ___?" : SABE
81. Sanctuaries : SAFEZONES
84. Be conned : GETTAKEN
86. [Shiver] : BRR
88. With 93-Down, half of a double helix : DNA
90. Skunklike, say : ODOROUS
91. Like TV but not radio? : INCAPS
92. "Old MacDonald" farm sounds : MOOMOO
93. See 88-Down : STRAND
94. Purchase at an African market : FETISH
95. "Yay, team!" : RAH
97. Cause damage : DOHARM
98. Volunteer's declaration : ICANGO
99. Snowball fighter's protection : MITTEN
102. Botanical opening : STOMA
104. Marriage money : DOWRY
105. "Ciao!" : LATER
107. Gifts that one usually bows when receiving : LEIS
109. Certain dirección : ESTE
110. What stars have : FAME

Answer summary: 15 unique to this puzzle, 3 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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