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New York Times, Saturday, December 17, 2016

Author:
Zhouqin Burnikel
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
5611/13/20129/21/201819
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519165452
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.56281
Zhouqin Burnikel

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 70, Blocks: 29 Missing: {JQXZ} This is puzzle # 37 for Ms. Burnikel. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Zhouqin Burnikel notes:
I'm not good at themeless and seldom venture out of the standard grid layouts. As friendly as this grid setup was, I still had a tough ... read more

I'm not good at themeless and seldom venture out of the standard grid layouts. As friendly as this grid setup was, I still had a tough time finding nice answers for these bridging slots: 33A / 39A (ECOFREAK / SERRANOS) and 21D / 27D (RSSFEED / SALAMIS) — I had filled and locked the two triple-stacked 10s earlier on.

Jeff Chen notes:
And C.C. hits for the cycle! I admire people who can do it all, and C.C. is developing into one of those folks. I liked entries ... read more

And C.C. hits for the cycle! I admire people who can do it all, and C.C. is developing into one of those folks.

I liked entries like TWITTERBOT, DOUBLE TALK, ALL THE RAGE, and GLASSY-EYED — C.C. is so good with her bonus fill on themed puzzles, that it's no surprise she can feature some real winners in a themeless. ORDER NOW and ANY IDEAS helped flesh out the puzzle, as did ECOFREAK.

I did pause at ECOFREAK, especially without a "disparaging" qualifier. While it is a colorful word, it does seem a little offensive. Perhaps it's my Seattle environs, filled with dirty hippie ecofreaks.

I mean, super-passionate people trying to save the environment! Ahem. Please don't blow pot smoke in my face.

Usually, the most wide-open space in a themeless will be the trickiest to fill. Here, my eye was drawn immediately to the LENDS / SELL section (and the symmetrical SAMP / PLEAT). They might seem innocuous, but those two triangles of space have to work in concert with their adjoining triple-stacks — not easy. At the top, I thought it was a little inelegant to get Brett RATNER and Ben BRADLEE next to each other. I do think both are crossworthy, but they make for an ungainly pair for solvers who don't know the hard-to-spell names.

But that was the only spot I thought was a bit inelegant. Yes, SAMP is a toughie, as is RSS FEED (Rich Site Summary), but all the crossings are fair (although reader Gerry Wildenberg points out that JSS and JAM IN work equally well — I hadn't thought of that!). I do wonder if RSS FEED is an asset to the puzzle — not only is RSS a seemingly Random Set of Stuff, but I stopped using RSS FEEDs a few years ago when Google Reader shut down. Hmm.

There weren't as many great feature entries as I usually want in a themeless, especially one using a fairly standard pattern of black squares — HEALTH PLAN, SO FAR AS, MEDICATE, PROMISED, and TEANECK were more neutral than assets for me — but C.C. sure did a nice job of filling smoothly around the ones she did have.

Jim Horne notes:

I liked this one even more than Jeff did. It had me at 1 Across.

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© 2016, The New York TimesNo. 1217 ( 24,511 )
Across
1. Automated message poster : TWITTERBOT
11. Insignificant row : SPAT
15. Reading material for French fashionistas : VOGUEPARIS
16. Composer of "A-Hunting We Will Go" : ARNE
17. Gobbledygook : DOUBLETALK
18. "Los Caprichos" artist : GOYA
19. Pop group whose name is an exclamation : AHA
20. Makes advances : LENDS
21. Force to fit : RAMIN
22. Ready to serve : DONE
24. Persuade : SELL
25. Left-handed : SNIDE
26. Really takes off : SOARS
28. Control, metaphorically : REINS
30. Not sweet : SEC
31. Was chicken, say : RAN
33. One who's extremely green? : ECOFREAK
35. Green stuff : MOOLAH
38. Works : KNEADS
39. Peppers that are hotter than jalapeños on the Scoville scale : SERRANOS
41. Cry upon opening a hospital bill : EEK
42. Like the year 2017 : ODD
43. Targets of naphthalene : MOTHS
45. Cabinet units: Abbr. : DEPTS
49. Guy in the kitchen : FIERI
51. Corn porridge : SAMP
53. Bar flier : DART
54. 109 in Vatican City : ACRES
55. Iron production? : PLEAT
57. South America's ___ Negro : RIO
58. "You ___?" : RANG
59. Part of a benefits package : HEALTHPLAN
61. Yours, in Tours : ATOI
62. Extremely popular : ALLTHERAGE
63. Does some surgical work : SEWS
64. Looking dazed : GLASSYEYED
Down
1. Andy Taylor and Homer Simpson, for two : TVDADS
2. Cry of delight : WOOHOO
3. Omnivorous lizard or its genus : IGUANA
4. Hardly a racing boat : TUB
5. Poker player's blink, say : TELL
6. Touching things in competition : EPEES
7. Brett who directed "Rush Hour" : RATNER
8. Ben ___, legendary Washington Post editor : BRADLEE
9. Hazard for marine life : OILSLICK
10. It might accompany the wag of a finger : TSK
11. Astronomer whose show won three Emmys and a Peabody : SAGAN
12. Affianced : PROMISED
13. "I'm stumped - what do we do?" : ANYIDEAS
14. New Jersey town near the George Washington Bridge : TEANECK
21. Source of news and blog postings : RSSFEED
23. Bad play : ERROR
27. Deli stock : SALAMIS
29. Zippo : NONE
32. Touch alternative : NANO
34. Like croupiers' tables : RAKED
35. Treat with drugs : MEDICATE
36. "Call right away!" : ORDERNOW
37. Summer stretch : HOTSPELL
39. To the extent that : SOFARAS
40. Clinton Foundation head Donna : SHALALA
44. Processes, as ore : SMELTS
46. Betting tactic : PARLAY
47. Priority protocol : TRIAGE
48. High : STONED
50. New York's historic St. ___ Hotel : REGIS
52. Walks : PATHS
56. Anonymous news source : THEY
59. Halloween figure : HAG
60. TSA ___ (airport screening program, informally) : PRE

Answer summary: 8 unique to this puzzle, 1 debuted here and reused later, 3 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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