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New York Times, Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Author:
Talitha Randall
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutCollabs
112/20/20170
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1.51000
Talitha Randall

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 72, Blocks: 51 Missing: {BJQXY} This is the debut puzzle for Ms. Randall. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Talitha Randall notes:
A close family friend had just passed. At the wake, in my grief, I believe I may have overindulged because that night I fell in my ... read more

A close family friend had just passed. At the wake, in my grief, I believe I may have overindulged because that night I fell in my kitchen and broke my tailbone. Knowing I'd be laid up for over a month, and knowing likewise that I cannot live on Freecell and reruns of House alone, I did the only other thing I could think of while flat on my back: construct! I came up with eight themes, threw the puzzles together with little care, and submitted in a package.

To my ever-growing appreciation and delight, one of my themes was acceptable to Mr. Shortz's impeccable taste, though the construction and non-thematic entries were "subpar." (They were being polite; it was a nightmare!) I resubmitted three or four times, taking suggestions for improvement, one rejection being due, to my total mortification, to exceeding word count! How green am I? But this is my first puzzle, and I can say with near certainty that that won't happen again; shame is a powerful thing!

When I devised the theme for this puzzle, I intended it for a Thursday, which is all I will say about its content. My fondest hope is that it might be universally enjoyed.

Meanwhile, I'll return to toiling in obscurity and newfound wrinkles at my other passion: writing country songs in a small Oregon town for a fan base of three, one of whom is my mother, and will keep wondering daily why all of Nashville isn't knocking down my door.

Jeff Chen notes:
Debut! The three plus signs are so aesthetically pleasing ... and functional! Talitha gives us three ways of forming NINE — ONE ... read more

Debut! The three plus signs are so aesthetically pleasing ... and functional! Talitha gives us three ways of forming NINE — ONE (plus) EIGHT, FOUR (plus) FIVE, SEVEN (plus) TWO so neatly exhibit crossword symmetry. Sometimes the crossword gods shine down upon you!

We recently had another usage of plus signs made of black squares, but I enjoyed seeing it again.

Additional NINE motifs, a baseball TEAM having nine players on the field, NONA the NINE prefix, SEPT the ninth month, NEIN a homophone of NINE. A bit too haphazard for me, but I appreciate the effort to bulk up the theme.

Oh right, CLOUD nine and nine LIVES! I highlighted the theme answers aside from NINE (below) to make them stand out better.

At 51 black squares, this one is nearly off the chart. (Some editors place a cap of about 38 black squares max, but Will often allows people to go up to 42.) Each extra black square makes the filling task so much easier, to the point where they get called "cheater squares." So, this went overboard for me.

I also felt like it made for way too many short answers, not enough long ones. For a puzzle featuring short themers, I want some juicy long fill to elevate my solve. TORPEDOS, TORNADO, REDHEADS, even FORSAKEN helped, but I wanted more. Note how the extra black squares on the left side of the grid nibbled away at the SW corner, taking away precious 8-letter slots. Yes, TORNADO is a goodie, but there's so much lost potential in that CHIDES slot — so much tougher to make a six-letter slot sizzle compared to an eight-letter one.

In terms of short fill, a bit of ESTE is fine, but OVEST is not the kind of debut word you aim for. The rest of the grid was pretty well executed — it's a shame that SEPT and NONA felt like crossword glue. I wonder what other NINE phrases/entries could have been substituted.

Nice idea and neatly symmetrical ways of adding up to NINE. Some flaws in execution, but I enjoy it when a new constructor debuts with a novel idea.

1
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© 2017, The New York TimesNo. 1220 ( 24,879 )
Across
1. Russian ruler : TSAR
5. Themes : MOTIFS
11. Gathering of people with a shared interest : MEETUP
13. Pennsylvania, for example : AVENUE
14. Nixes, as a proposal : TORPEDOS
16. Bibliophile : READER
17. Possess, in the Bible : HAST
18. Sunrise's direction, in Sonora : ESTE
20. "We shall never know all the good that a simple ___ can do": Mother Teresa : SMILE
21. With 22-Across, certain way to make 60-Across : ONE
22. See 21-Across : EIGHT
24. Game-ending cry at a card table : GIN
25. Designer Jacobs : MARC
27. V.I.P. at boot camp : SARGE
28. Dunham of "Girls" : LENA
29. Some businesses: Abbr. : LLCS
31. Assessing, with "up" : SIZING
33. With 34-Across, another way to make 60-Across : FOUR
34. See 33-Across : FIVE
35. Colorful bird with a big bill : TOUCAN
37. Dole (out) : METE
38. Carrier of electricity : CORD
39. Electricity, e.g. : POWER
41. Be flippant with : SASS
45. Office data: Abbr. : HRS
46. With 47-Across, a third way to make 60-Across : SEVEN
47. See 46-Across : TWO
48. Absurd : INANE
50. Opera set partly on the banks of the Nile : AIDA
52. Food or air : NEED
53. 19th-century Midwest territory : DAKOTA
55. Annie and the Little Mermaid, notably : REDHEADS
57. Like paradise : EDENIC
58. Network (with) : LIAISE
59. Voiced : SONANT
60. This puzzle's theme : NINE
Down
1. More concise : TERSER
2. Month number 60-Across: Abbr. : SEPT
3. Had a date, say : ATE
4. Like cutting in line : RUDE
5. Deface : MAR
6. Sunset's direction, in Sorrento : OVEST
7. 60-Across, in baseball : TEAM
8. Person native to an area : INDIGENE
9. Kind of station : FUELING
10. First name in women's tennis : SERENA
11. 2016 Disney film set in Polynesia : MOANA
12. Pretend to be : POSEAS
14. Singer Yorke of Radiohead : THOM
15. Ado : STIR
19. Nestful : EGGS
23. Mate for a bull : HEIFER
26. ___ 60-Across (state of euphoria) : CLOUD
27. Difficult situation : SCRAPE
28. A cat is said to have 60-Across of them : LIVES
30. ___ Jacquet, director of "March of the Penguins" : LUC
32. Problem before a big date, informally : ZIT
33. Left bereft : FORSAKEN
35. What transported Dorothy to Oz : TORNADO
36. Burst in space : NOVA
37. Gregor who pioneered in genetics : MENDEL
38. Upbraids : CHIDES
40. Small dam : WEIR
42. "Relax, soldier!" : ATEASE
43. Greta Garbo or Ingrid Bergman : SWEDE
44. Gains yardage? : SODS
46. Arrive, as a storm : SETIN
49. Prefix meaning 60-Across : NONA
51. Possible score after 40-all : ADIN
52. German homophone of 60-Across : NEIN
54. "___ now!" (infomercial phrase) : ACT
56. Japanese "yes" : HAI

Answer summary: 3 unique to this puzzle, 2 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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