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MIRROR REFLECTION

New York Times, Sunday, December 18, 2016

Author: Derrick Niederman
Editor: Will Shortz
Derrick Niederman
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
710/5/199712/18/20160
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7000000
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123

This puzzle:

Rows: 21, Columns: 21 Words: 144, Blocks: 85 Missing: {JQ} This is puzzle # 7 for Mr. Niederman. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Derrick Niederman notes: The roots of this puzzle date back to the late 1970s, when I was a graduate student in mathematics. I was part of a conversation that included a question from the department chairman, a distinguished ... more
Derrick Niederman notes:

The roots of this puzzle date back to the late 1970s, when I was a graduate student in mathematics. I was part of a conversation that included a question from the department chairman, a distinguished mathematician named Michael Artin, who asked "Is it possible to create a crossword puzzle with two independent solutions?" Perhaps I should explain that "independent solutions" is classic math talk, even if being applied to another realm. Anyway, I had yet to construct a crossword puzzle (my first, a Sunday Times cryptic, came out in 1981), so he clearly wasn't looking at me, but I remembered his challenge and, years later, took it to heart.

Obviously it's not possible to create a standard American crossword with two independent solutions, but I was able to create a few pairs of British-style crosswords that did the trick. They were 13x13, with alternating keyed letters a la an American cryptic. The problem was that they were difficult to solve. There was always ambiguity about which entry should go in which puzzle, and it was very difficult to have clues that were tight and descriptive enough to remove that ambiguity. I did finally make one that was nearly perfect in that regard, but I couldn't convince Will of its worthiness and had to settle for putting it in a book.

It wasn't until a few years ago (five?) that I came up with the idea that led to MIRROR REFLECTION--namely, creating a crossword whose Across entries could be clued in balanced pairs, with the entries for radially symmetric clues being identical. I knew that the demands of the puzzle were pushing it, but it's funny what happens when you keep on plugging. (And plugging, and plugging, as in this puzzle.) Some of the balanced entries had obvious clue pairings, which was great, but I got to relish the challenge of finding clues to join words that at first didn't want to seem joined at all. And if you're curious, I can say that Will got into the game, because when I saw the finished product I noticed that one particular pair of entries (RAT/DEN, jointly clued as "Occasional basement sight") had been changed in a way that worked perfectly well.

I've had maybe 50 crosswords and cryptics published at this point, but this was the most difficult construction by far. Maybe if I did things faster that figure would be much higher than 50. After all, I've been doing this off and on for 35 years!

Jeff Chen notes: Jim said it best: 'I thought (it) was amazing. Many will hate it, I suspect, but I was impressed.' I found it to be a bold, audacious idea — EVERY across answer and its symmetrical partner uses the exact ... more
Jeff Chen notes:

Jim said it best: "I thought (it) was amazing. Many will hate it, I suspect, but I was impressed." I found it to be a bold, audacious idea — EVERY across answer and its symmetrical partner uses the exact same clue — that's memorable.

Some of the pairings were brilliant, using the type of wordplay I love: [Caterpillar product] either a PUPA (think entomology) or a PLOW (think Caterpillar, the heavy machinery manufacturer). Others were spot-on like IRONS and WOODS being a [Set of clubs in a bag], or RIDING-hood or MOTHER-hood both working equally well.

It's just amazing to think that someone would be so daring as to attempt to make EVERY SINGLE PAIR OF ACROSS ANSWERS work this way.

Now, some didn't work for me. READINGS can amount to fortunes, as in a fortune-teller reading one's palm, but SPLURGES amounting to fortunes felt grammatically tortuous. DON and NOD as anagrams for O-N-D … neither NOD nor DON would ever be clued this way normally, so that felt inelegant. Fill in the blanks with "TRIX are for KIDS" felt like it opened up just about any pairing if you located the right quote.

And the fill. Oof. As much as I loved the concept and most of the execution in the across direction — just amazing that so many of the pairs worked so well — I had a rough time swallowing DAZER. Random TEN OZ. Made-up DETAG. Odd partials OF FUN, ONCE I, ET UN. Variant TIPI. Head-scratching SSATS. Suffix -ONYM. Hits most every category that editors ask to steer clear of, and then some. Sapped my enjoyment to hit these sorts of entries throughout the puzzle.

Also, it was unfortunate not to get much bonus fill. Derrick went up to 144 words, four past Will's max of 140, which translates into very little bonus material. Just a bit of SNOWCAT, STATELINE, ANTIVIRUS.

That all said, though, the construction task is so daunting that I wouldn't have even thought to attempt it. The fact that Derrick pulled off so many great pairings is astounding, no matter what prices he had to pay to make it all work.

Memorable, for sure.

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© 2016, The New York TimesNo. 1218 ( 24,512 )
Across Down
1. One of the blanks in the cereal slogan "___ are for ___" : TRIX
5. Tinker, for one, in olden days : SHORTSTOP
14. Certain blade : ROTOR
19. Spread dirt, in a way : RUMOR
21. Legendary Egyptian queen : NEFERTITI
22. Run off : ELOPE
23. Stick together : UNITE
24. Liberal arts college in the Keystone State : LAFAYETTE
25. Like many a lot : PAVED
26. Hood lead-in : MOTHER
28. Caterpillar product : PUPA
29. Dud : LOSER
31. Historical period : ERA
32. One of Frank's wives : AVA
33. Member of the cat family : FELINE
35. Father, familiarly : REV
36. Japanese auto make : NISSAN
38. Court concern : NET
39. Big Australian export : TIN
40. One of five on a starfish : RAY
42. Set of clubs in a bag : IRONS
44. These could amount to fortunes : READINGS
48. Dead follower : SEA
50. Where to find grooms : ALTARS
53. Vingt-___ (multiple de trois) : SEPT
54. This does not fly : TWA
56. Anagram of the letters O-N-D : NOD
58. State with part of I-81: Abbr. : TENN
60. What you might call a dog : SPOT
62. Instrument for an angel : HARP
63. Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar, e.g. : TRIO
65. Something you can do with flies : SHOO
66. First name of an Oscar-nominated actress of 1957 : LANA
67. Time in ads : DATE
68. Square ___ : INCH
69. Animal in an Aesop fable : OWL
70. White House sight : ROSEGARDEN
72. White House sight : OVALOFFICE
75. Animal in an Aesop fable : ASS
76. Square ___ : DEAL
77. Time in ads : NITE
78. First name of an Oscar-nominated actress of 1957 : ELSA
79. Something you can do with flies : SHAG
81. Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar, e.g. : MAGI
82. Instrument for an angel : LYRE
83. What you might call a dog : MUTT
84. State with part of I-81: Abbr. : PENN
85. Anagram of the letters O-N-D : DON
86. This does not fly : EMU
87. Vingt-___ (multiple de trois) : ETUN
89. Where to find grooms : STABLE
92. Dead follower : EYE
94. These could amount to fortunes : SPLURGES
98. Set of clubs in a bag : WOODS
100. One of five on a starfish : ARM
102. Big Australian export : RUM
103. Court concern : LAW
105. Japanese auto make : DATSUN
108. Father, familiarly : POP
110. Member of the cat family : OCELOT
113. One of Frank's wives : MIA
114. Historical period : AGE
115. Dud : LEMON
117. Caterpillar product : PLOW
118. Hood lead-in : RIDING
120. Like many a lot : ZONED
122. Liberal arts college in the Keystone State : DICKINSON
125. Stick together : PASTE
126. Run off : ERODE
127. Legendary Egyptian queen : CLEOPATRA
128. Spread dirt, in a way : INTER
129. Certain blade : RAZOR
130. Tinker, for one, in olden days : ITINERANT
131. One of the blanks in the cereal slogan "___ are for ___" : KIDS
1. Harry or Bess in the White House : TRUMAN
2. What many Oscar speeches do : RUNOVER
3. Ape : IMITATE
4. Home star of Cthulhu, in fantasy tales : XOTH
5. 1975 TV debut, briefly : SNL
6. Like a more-than-full spoonful : HEAPING
7. Barrels ___ : OFFUN
8. Grim sort? : REAPER
9. "___ Little Tenderness" : TRYA
10. Bus. card abbr. : STE
11. Boxer's reward : TITLE
12. Old German ruler nicknamed "the Short" : OTTOVI
13. Facefuls in slapstick : PIES
14. Publish anew : REPRINT
15. Suffix with schnozz : OLA
16. Slithy ones : TOVES
17. The Marx Brothers spent a night at one : OPERA
18. V-shaped fortification : REDAN
20. Skin diving locale : REEF
27. Fix, as a pool cue : RETIP
30. Carbon compound : ENOL
34. Something to brush off a jacket : LINT
35. Ingredient in an old-fashioned : RYE
37. Exams required for some prep schools : SSATS
41. "Stat!" : ASAP
43. Part of a plant embryo that develops into a root : RADICLE
45. Together : ASONE
46. Remove a label from : DETAG
47. One runs through the middle of Kansas City : STATELINE
49. Like Norton software : ANTIVIRUS
51. Raise again, as a flag : REHOIST
52. Vehicle used for grooming ski trails : SNOWCAT
55. Small songbird : WREN
57. Very busy : ORNATE
59. Florida State athlete, for short : NOLE
60. Walks in rain boots, say : SLOSHES
61. En ___ (chess maneuver) : PASSANT
62. Tried : HADAGO
64. "What's this?!" : OHO
67. Feared : DREADED
70. Blacksmith's tool : RASP
71. Nav. rank : ADM
72. Ending with syn- or ant- : ONYM
73. Longest bone in the human body : FEMUR
74. Thrown with force : FLUNG
80. Eats (at) : GNAWS
82. Lewd look : LEER
87. Month after Av : ELUL
88. Chemo target : TUMOR
90. City that, despite its name, is smaller than Little Rock : BOULDER
91. Sole : LONE
93. Prattle : YAP
95. Like hand-me-downs : PREWORN
96. 19,101-foot volcano next to Peru's second-largest city : ELMISTI
97. Like Joan of Arc : SAINTED
99. Gone bad, in Britain : SPOILT
101. "Liliom" playwright Ferenc ___ : MOLNAR
104. Bets : WAGERS
105. Something that stuns : DAZER
106. Marketplace of old : AGORA
107. Common strip steak weight: Abbr. : TENOZ
109. "___ saw a little bird ..." (Mother Goose rhyme) : ONCEI
111. ___ Rica : COSTA
112. Plains dwelling: Var. : TIPI
116. The year 1601 : MDCI
117. Sherlock Holmes accessory : PIPE
119. Like dungeons : DANK
121. Tokyo, once : EDO
123. ___-Tiki : KON
124. D.C. player : NAT

Answer summary: 9 unique to this puzzle, 7 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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