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New York Times, Thursday, December 22, 2016

Author:
Mark MacLachlan
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
312/22/201610/10/20170
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
1010100
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.53010
Mark MacLachlan

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 78, Blocks: 42 Missing: {JQWXZ} Spans: 1 This is the debut puzzle for Mr. MacLachlan. Jeff Chen's Puzzle of the Week pick. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Mark MacLachlan notes:
I'm super excited to publish my first NYT crossword puzzle! I can't remember how this idea originated, but it was a year or two ago. I ... read more

I'm super excited to publish my first NYT crossword puzzle! I can't remember how this idea originated, but it was a year or two ago. I messed around with some different grids and didn't actually think it would be possible to fill the grid with "AL", the symbol for aluminum, down each side. Then, last spring I came across the phrase "ALL THINGS BEING EQUAL" – I put that across the center, built a grid around it, and worked hard to fill the puzzle. I submitted the puzzle in the summer and it was rejected – too many obscure words (e.g. "ALGORES", which I sort of knew was pushing it…) and "SIDING" was not in the grid itself. But, Will liked the theme, so I tried again.

I managed to remove most of the puzzle killers and put "SIDING" into the upper right part of the puzzle (not ideal), but there were still problems. I knew that the main issue was the "Q" in the phrase across the middle, which limited words that could cross it. I found the "Albert Einstein Medal" and thought that had much better letters. So, I started over, put "SIDING" in the lower right section, and was able to fill the rest of the grid quite sensibly. (I tried hard to avoid cheater squares, but couldn't finish it without 6 of them.) I resubmitted the puzzle and, after a few exchanges and refinement with Will, we found a fill that worked.

This puzzle took me a long time to make. What made it tough is that there was only one spot in the lower right for "SIDING" and only one spot for "ALUMINUM", and there aren't a ton of "AL" words — I needed 22 of them + the 19-letter phrase.

Hope you enjoy it!

Jeff Chen notes:
(AL)UMINUM SIDING added to today's puzzle, featuring the chemical symbol for aluminum, Al. Check out the grid below for the deets. ... read more

(AL)UMINUM SIDING added to today's puzzle, featuring the chemical symbol for aluminum, Al. Check out the grid below for the deets. We've also corrected the appropriate answers so they match the clues. We wouldn't want to add ERT or LEGE to our database!

Neat concept. (AL)BERT EINSTEIN MED(AL) is such a great feature entry for this puzzle, just perfect how 1.) it has an AL on either side, 2.) it's 19 letters long, making it exactly 15 letters without the ALs and 3.) it's such a great-sounding entry. Reminds me of another puzzle featuring OUTSIDERS.

The first step in this construction is quite easy — you start with a 19x15 grid, with AL down each side in columns 1, 2, 18, and 19 (and black squares appropriately extended out to the sides). After you're done, you can lop off those extra columns, and voila!

HOWEVER … the execution is not easy at all. There are a reasonable number of words that start / end with AL, but limiting yourself to just that subset makes things so rough when constructing the sides of the puzzle. I was impressed that Mark, a debut constructor, was able to work in some great long entries like ALOHA SHIRTS, COLOSSAL, and PURITANICAL, without resorting to that much crossword glue. Yes, IN LA and REMAT are not good, but those are minor prices considering how tough those sides must have been to construct.

I would have loved for ALUMINUM SIDING to be one long entry, as it felt inelegant to split it up, but to do that, Mark would have needed a matching 12-letter entry. It would have forced the puzzle to be more open; less segmented, as 12-letter entries are very inconvenient to work around.

On that note, I would have liked the puzzle to breathe more — it's very partitioned. It was smooth overall, though, and if I had to choose between smooth vs. good puzzle flow, I'd tend toward the former.

I thought about this puzzle a lot after finishing it, and that's a sign of an excellent puzzle. Great stuff, especially from a debut constructor!

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© 2016, The New York TimesNo. 1222 ( 24,516 )
Across
1
Hitchcock, for one : ALFRED
5
Leave rolling in the aisles : SLAY
9
Divulge : REVEAL
13
Women's beauty magazine : ALLURE
14
Zilch : NONE
15
Army V.I.P. : GENERAL
16
Islands attire : ALOHASHIRTS
18
Certain football pass : LATERAL
19
Bright-eyed : ALERT
20
Fencing option : EPEE
21
Huge : COLOSSAL
22
Narrow valley : GLEN
23
Buddy : BRO
24
TV character who says "You know I wouldn't talk in front of anyone but you" : MRED
25
Like some sex : PREMARITAL
30
Support group for adolescents : ALATEEN
32
What may be dispensed from a dispenser : SOAP
33
Phone button : REDIAL
34
International prize first awarded to Stephen Hawking in 1979 : ALBERTEINSTEINMEDAL
37
Claim : ALLEGE
38
Things that may all be off : BETS
39
Conclude negotiations : DOADEAL
40
Taverns and such : ALESELLERS
42
Buildup behind a dam : SILT
43
___ bran : OAT
44
Pirate captain mentioned in Poe's "The Gold-Bug" : KIDD
45
With 42-Down, home construction material ... or a hint to this puzzle's theme : ALUMINUM
49
Modest skirt : MIDI
50
Perfect : IDEAL
53
Whales like the one in "Moby-Dick" : ALBINOS
54
Prudish : PURITANICAL
56
Checks for the ex : ALIMONY
57
Actor Ken : OLIN
58
Like arrangements for some wedding receptions : FLORAL
59
Pilgrims John and Priscilla : ALDENS
60
Leader between Mao and Jiang : DENG
61
Not dressy : CASUAL
Down
1
Arctic shipping hazard : FLOE
2
Region in western Germany : RUHR
3
Part of Q.E.D. : ERAT
4
From abroad? : DES
5
Took potshots (at) : SNIPED
6
Actress Sophia : LOREN
7
A penny is a small one : ANTE
8
Word cried 15 times in a row by Meg Ryan in "When Harry Met Sally ..." : YES
9
Not a knockoff : REAL
10
Inner: Prefix : ENTO
11
Some aerial show formations : VEES
12
Bungles : ERRS
15
Melancholy : GLOOM
17
Moon of Saturn that's a French woman's name : HELENE
21
Brunch option : CREPE
22
Fairy tale sister : GRETEL
23
Teacher's handfuls : BRATS
24
Database manager's option : MERGE
25
Writes on a blog : POSTS
26
One of the founders of Westworld, on HBO's "Westworld" : ARNOLD
27
Prepare for framing again, say : REMAT
28
Fingered : IDED
29
Big-selling Procter & Gamble product : TIDE
30
Competent : ABLE
31
Course requirements? : TEES
32
Dog in the funnies : SNERT
35
Girder also known as a rolled-steel joist : IBEAM
36
Victor's cry : IDIDIT
41
Punk : LOUSY
42
See 45-Across : SIDING
44
Competitor of Sapporo : KIRIN
45
Competitor of eBay : UBID
46
Act out : MIME
47
A party to : INON
48
Rennes rejections : NONS
49
Lounging slipper : MULE
50
"To Live and Die ___" (1985 film) : INLA
51
God, in Granada : DIOS
52
Neutral shade : ECRU
54
Peeved, informally : POD
55
Steelers' grp. : AFC

Answer summary: 4 unique to this puzzle, 1 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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