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New York Times, Thursday, December 21, 2017

Author:
Alex Eaton-Salners
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
352/2/20173/26/20202
SunMonTueWedThuFriSatVariety
127614113
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.54250
Alex Eaton-Salners

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 73, Blocks: 36 Missing: {BJQXZ} Spans: 1 Grid has mirror symmetry. This is puzzle # 6 for Mr. Eaton-Salners. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Alex Eaton-Salners notes:
I owe a debt of gratitude to the constructor who first published a puzzle with left-right symmetry. Grid art like this is impossible ... read more

I owe a debt of gratitude to the constructor who first published a puzzle with left-right symmetry. Grid art like this is impossible with rotational symmetry.

Coming up with a good Y-shape took several iterations and a lot more agonizing than you might guess given the simplicity of the design. The parameters I varied were (1) the height of the arms; (2) the height of the base; (3) the width of the cross piece; and (4) whether or not the lower corners were squared off (i.e., adding another black block). Part of the difficulty was choosing an aesthetically pleasing shape that could be filled around smoothly, but I also struggled with the inherent tension between my Platonic ideals of "SLINGSHOT," "GOAL POSTS," "TUNING FORK," and "THE LETTER Y." I think it turned out pretty well (even if the arms are a bit short for a TUNING FORK).

I was surprised to see this run on a Thursday. I didn't get a day-of-the-week indication when the puzzle was accepted and I had assumed that the theme warranted a Wednesday (or even Tuesday) placement. Consequently, Will and crew had to dial up many of my clues. Speaking of cluing, I like the conversational tone that Will used for the theme clues. He's quite adept at making puzzles feel like a dialog.

I hope AL FRANKEN doesn't make the puzzle unpalatable for anyone. I constructed the grid back in June, months before the controversy over his treatment of women. I suspect that this will be the first and last appearance of his full name in the NYT crossword. On a more pleasant note, I'm stoked to finally see MII clued as the Nintendo avatar instead of the Roman numeral. I'm sure others have suggested that meaning before.

Jeff Chen notes:
Grid art! Alex gives us TUNING FORK formation of black squares that can also look like a SLINGSHOT. And if you squint, GOAL POSTS (I ... read more

Grid art! Alex gives us TUNING FORK formation of black squares that can also look like a SLINGSHOT. And if you squint, GOAL POSTS (I pity the kicker who has to get it through those narrow uprights). Squint even harder, and you can almost see THE LETTER Y.

Squint harder!

It's tricky. I like the idea a lot, but trying to make the pattern of black squares look exactly like each of those four things is a toughie. It'd look nearly perfectly like a TUNING FORK if you filled in the S of RAGS and E of ETTA, and lengthened the arms. It'd also make the SLINGSHOT look much sturdier.

But then it'd look even less like THE LETTER Y. And if you widened the posts to make it look more like GOAL POSTS, then it wouldn't look at all like a TUNING FORK.

So … best to go with something that *almost* works for everything?

Ah, trade-offs.

Some nice fill to elevate the solving experience, ICE POPS, EUREKAS, I RECKON making those bottom corners snazzy. LUNAR YEAR, too!

AL FRANKEN … oof. Unfortunate timing.

GENERAL HOSPITAL is also nice fill. Or a themer? Maybe that hospital looks TUNING FORK-ish? Nah, it's just a grid-spanning bonus, muddling up what is fill and what is theme. But Alex needed the black square between STAG and PETE to make it possible to fill inside his TUNING FORK, so you can't break up GENERAL HOSPITAL at the H of HMO (fun crossing, by the way!).

Given the simplicity of the theme, it felt out of place for a Thursday. I think if the grid had been smoothed out, eliminating ALPE, ITE, CRI, CONT, FEU, it could have made for a solid Tuesday or Wed puzzle. I understand Alex's effort to make the grid meatier by going to a low word count (73 is hard to achieve!), but it made for a dissonant combination of early-week theme plus late-week fill.

Still, I like me some grid art. And I like that Alex tries out so many different ideas in crosswords.

Jim Horne notes:
Thanks to our database, we know exactly who Alex Eaton-Salners can thank for introducing left-right mirror symmetry to NYT crosswords. ... read more

Thanks to our database, we know exactly who Alex Eaton-Salners can thank for introducing left-right mirror symmetry to NYT crosswords. The first such puzzle ever in the Times was on June 14, 1942 (the 18th NYT crossword in history) by former Times Editor Charles Merz and former Times publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger.

It wasn't their invention, of course. Will Shortz tells me that there were mirror symmetry grids as far back as the 1910s.

1
A
2
S
3
S
4
I
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S
6
I
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C
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A
9
M
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A
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R
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O
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W
H
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T
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V
14
S
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G
A
L
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16
G
E
N
E
R
A
L
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H
O
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P
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T
A
L
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E
A
T
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A
N
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M
A
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E
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E
D
U
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E
R
A
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T
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K
N
O
L
L
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P
R
E
P
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S
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T
A
G
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P
E
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T
E
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P
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A
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L
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S
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F
O
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H
E
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A
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T
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H
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I
N
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R
N
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H
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S
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E
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L
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G
E
N
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O
F
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L
O
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S
W
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T
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E
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R
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G
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S
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R
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E
Y
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F
E
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U
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M
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N
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C
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O
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P
O
P
S
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C
K
O
N
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P
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F
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T
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E
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K
A
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F
L
Y
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T
O
© 2017, The New York TimesNo. 1221 ( 24,880 )

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Across
1
Birthplace of St. Clare : ASSISI
7
Mustang alternative : CAMARO
13
"Oh, I don't care" : WHATEVS
15
Last name in astronomy : GALILEI
16
Winner of 13 Outstanding Drama Series Emmys : GENERALHOSPITAL
18
Snack : EAT
19
Spark : ANIMATE
20
Email address ending : EDU
21
Form of "sum" : ERAT
23
Hillock : KNOLL
24
Elite-type school : PREP
25
What does follow? : STAG
27
St. ___ (site of a spring vacay) : PETE
29
Micronesian nation composed of hundreds of islands : PALAU
32
Busy W. Coast airport : SFO
34
___ bar : HEATH
38
Prepare for entombment, say : INURN
39
"___ Eye Is on the Sparrow" (hymn) : HIS
40
Kemper who plays Kimmy on "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" : ELLIE
41
Ones involved in wishful thinking? : GENII
42
___-quoted : OFT
43
Features of some apartments : LOFTS
44
Elizabeth ___, "Pirates of the Caribbean" protagonist : SWANN
45
"Deck the Halls" contraction : TIS
46
Foreign currency option : EUROS
47
Rips (on) : RAGS
49
___ Candy, Wonder Woman's best friend : ETTA
50
Spanish chess piece : REY
52
Pot-au-___ (French stew) : FEU
54
1980s TV star known for wearing chains : MRT
55
First-tier supervisor in the U.S.M.C. : NCO
58
Colorful, cold treats : ICEPOPS
60
"S'pose so" : IRECKON
62
Badlands National Park feature : PRAIRIE
63
Available : FORRENT
64
Words of understanding? : EUREKAS
65
Reach by air : FLYINTO
Down
1
"Shucks!" : AWGEE
2
Clip : SHEAR
3
Pole star? : SANTA
4
Suffix with Jersey : ITE
5
Contents of IV bags : SERA
6
The Trump who wrote "The Trump Card: Playing to Win in Work and Life" : IVANKA
7
Knight 'hood? : CASTLE
8
Mont Blanc, par exemple : ALPE
9
One's Nintendo avatar : MII
10
Revamp : ALTER
11
Lincoln Center's Walter ___ Theater : READE
12
Get ready for a Mr. Olympia competition, say : OILUP
14
What some of the black squares in the grid might represent : SLINGSHOT
15
Another thing they might represent : GOALPOSTS
17
Blue Cross offering, briefly : HMO
22
Winter Palace resident : TSARINA
24
Burn rubber : PEELOUT
26
Another thing they might represent : TUNINGFORK
28
One more thing they might represent : THELETTERY
29
"Little" trio in kiddie lit : PIGS
30
Again : ANEW
31
Approximately 354 days, 8 hours, 48 minutes : LUNARYEAR
33
Diminutive of Josephine : FIFI
35
Senator in 2017 news : ALFRANKEN
36
Puente of "The Mambo Kings" : TITO
37
Oil and gas giant : HESS
48
Photo tone : SEPIA
49
Swashbuckling Flynn : ERROL
50
Having sat in the locker room way too long : RIPE
51
Relative of cream : ECRU
53
Puts into service : USES
54
Tick off : MIFF
56
Abbr. at the bottom of a page of text : CONT
57
Words with hold or pass : ONTO
59
Filling food? : PIE
61
Dernier ___ (latest thing) : CRI

Answer summary: 4 unique to this puzzle.

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