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MIRROR REFLECTION

New York Times, Sunday, December 18, 2016

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

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 ... read more

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 ... read more

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
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
Down
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
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Like a more-than-full spoonful : HEAPING
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Barrels ___ : OFFUN
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Grim sort? : REAPER
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"___ Little Tenderness" : TRYA
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Bus. card abbr. : STE
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Boxer's reward : TITLE
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Old German ruler nicknamed "the Short" : OTTOVI
13
Facefuls in slapstick : PIES
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Publish anew : REPRINT
15
Suffix with schnozz : OLA
16
Slithy ones : TOVES
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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
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Exams required for some prep schools : SSATS
41
"Stat!" : ASAP
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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
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Raise again, as a flag : REHOIST
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Vehicle used for grooming ski trails : SNOWCAT
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Small songbird : WREN
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Very busy : ORNATE
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Florida State athlete, for short : NOLE
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Walks in rain boots, say : SLOSHES
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En ___ (chess maneuver) : PASSANT
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Tried : HADAGO
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"What's this?!" : OHO
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Feared : DREADED
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Blacksmith's tool : RASP
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Nav. rank : ADM
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Ending with syn- or ant- : ONYM
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Longest bone in the human body : FEMUR
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Thrown with force : FLUNG
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Eats (at) : GNAWS
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Lewd look : LEER
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Month after Av : ELUL
88
Chemo target : TUMOR
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City that, despite its name, is smaller than Little Rock : BOULDER
91
Sole : LONE
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Prattle : YAP
95
Like hand-me-downs : PREWORN
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19,101-foot volcano next to Peru's second-largest city : ELMISTI
97
Like Joan of Arc : SAINTED
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Gone bad, in Britain : SPOILT
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"Liliom" playwright Ferenc ___ : MOLNAR
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Bets : WAGERS
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Something that stuns : DAZER
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Marketplace of old : AGORA
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Common strip steak weight: Abbr. : TENOZ
109
"___ saw a little bird ..." (Mother Goose rhyme) : ONCEI
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___ 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, 6 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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