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New York Times, Thursday, December 22, 2016

Author:
Mark MacLachlan
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
312/22/201610/10/20170
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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.

Found bugs or have suggestions?