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New York Times, Monday, December 23, 2013

Author: Michael Blake and Andrea Carla Michaels
Editor: Will Shortz
Michael Blake
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
131/28/20082/13/20179
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
0831100
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.64003
Andrea Carla Michaels
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
566/12/20003/20/201729
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
53892200
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.63107

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 78, Blocks: 38 Missing: none – this is a pangram Spans: 1 Scrabble average: 1.88 This is puzzle # 9 for Mr. Blake. This is puzzle # 41 for Ms. Michaels. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Constructor notes: ANDREA: Michael and I met at a construction lunch and became good friends a half dozen years ago. Many of our puzzles are from ... more
Constructor notes:

ANDREA:

Michael and I met at a construction lunch and became good friends a half dozen years ago. Many of our puzzles are from something one or the other of us has spontaneously said at lunch and we expand it into a puzzle. Because the puzzle was based on an idea Michael originally had, he gets top billing on this one. This is our 6th published collaboration, but we've made at least a dozen more that have been published elsewhere, or for private clients, or have (gulp) been rejected.

We have very different styles and senses of humor, but share a respect for each other and usually have dozens of backs and forths about what we can and can not live with, usually managing to work it all out. We offer advice on each other's individual work as well. And it was Michael who brought me into this century by insisting I learn how to use a computer to aid my construction and to facilitate our collaborations. This puzzle went through eight or so iterations as we tried to make it as smooth as possible.

This is a traditional puzzle type (this word follows these words ...) but we were excited because we had a nice 15 reveal across the middle and four theme entries that had not been used before: SPERM WHALE, PIGGYBACKING, FOG MACHINE. Two 10s, two 12s and a 15 reveal seemed like a lot of material for a Monday, so I thought this would be a Tuesday, but I think I'm seared in Will's brain as Miss Monday. So be it!

What we liked is that there are so many kinds of banks, river banks, sperm banks, piggy banks, fog banks (a nod to SF where we both reside), so room to play! Plus we loved the cheekiness of SPERMWHALE as well as the X in RIVERPHOENIX. And yes, we went for the pangram. Originally we had JAH/JONG but it was for a Monday/Tuesday level and Michael couldn't live with JAH, but was able to change OBOE to OJOS and preserve the J!

KOKO is snuck into the lower corner as a tribute to the Siamese I had for 16 years who was my closest companion. The only other private shout out is to the COEN brothers, as they are fellow Jews from Minneapolis. When we made this puzzle a year and a half ago, "No Country for Old Men" was their big hit. I've asked Will to update the clue to their new smash "Inside Llewyn Davis", but it may be too soon, or that film title might not be Monday level.

Will Shortz notes: Andrea Carla Michaels is the most 'promiscuous' of New York Times crossword constructors. This is her 20th collaboration in The ... more
Will Shortz notes: Andrea Carla Michaels is the most "promiscuous" of New York Times crossword constructors. This is her 20th collaboration in The Times with nine different contributors! The "word that goes with" sort of theme has become overdone, but this one is nicely handled, with a handsome construction to boot. The only entry here I don't like is O-NINE, which isn't too bad.
Jeff Chen notes: Fun start to the holiday week from Michael and Andrea. With a bit of cheekiness in SPERM WHALE (and its SPERM bank theme answer), ... more
Jeff Chen notes: Fun start to the holiday week from Michael and Andrea. With a bit of cheekiness in SPERM WHALE (and its SPERM bank theme answer), it's also the start to a week with a touch of the risque. Unusual for the Gray Lady, but I wholeheartedly approve. Stay tuned ...

The "word that can follow" theme is not something Will accepts much these days, but if there's a twist or an additional element, it can be workable. A really nice revealer like TAKE IT TO THE BANK is a bonus, giving the puzzle an extra layer of depth. Having four additional theme answers, each a snappy entry in its own right (FOG MACHINE is great!), is another plus.

Ah, the pangram discussion is sure to rear its head in the blogosphere today. There are many different philosophies on this, and I don't think any is objectively right or wrong. Andrea's thinking: the relatively rare letters (JQXZ) give a puzzle extra zing, a meatiness that fills the solver's belly. And I can understand the argument that OJO happens to be in the crossword relatively frequently, so why not toss the solver into the deep end right away, forcing them to learn something that will no doubt help them with harder xws?

But my personal philosophy is that I want Monday puzzles to be a gateway for novices, getting them hooked into the NYT daily puzzle without feeling like they have to learn a totally new lexicon. So OJOS (the Spanish word for eyes, which most people are unlikely to encounter outside of xws) is something I could do without on a Monday. And as much as I like COQ, it seems to come at the price of MASC, which to me doesn't seem worth it. Anyway, different strokes.

A final point, look at the nice mid-length fill, a feat difficult to achieve when there's such high theme density. TOMCAT, SCRIBE, EPOCHS, AXIOMS all enhanced my solve. And I would make a juvenile joke about BREASTS, but that might be too titillating.

(groan)

1
C
2
O
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A
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16
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B
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J
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W
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73
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D
© 2013, The New York TimesNo. 1223 ( 23,421 )
Across Down
1. Coca-___ : COLA
5. It represents a family on a coat of arms : CREST
10. Sound from Big Ben : BONG
14. Police action : RAID
15. ___ de Mayo (Mexican holiday) : CINCO
16. Love: Lat. : AMOR
17. Italian soup pasta : ORZO
18. Mammal with the largest brain of any animal : SPERMWHALE
20. Holy hymn : PSALM
22. Thin-layered mineral : MICA
23. Complain, complain, complain : NAG
24. Riding on someone else's shoulders : PIGGYBACKING
28. Marsh gas : METHANE
31. School for an English prince : ETON
32. Blood classification system : ABO
33. Opposite of fem. : MASC
35. 44-Across, en español : OJOS
39. "Believe you me!" ... or what you can do with the start of 18-, 24-, 53- or 63-Across? : TAKEITTOTHEBANK
44. Peepers : EYES
45. Je ne sais ___ : QUOI
46. Xbox alternative : WII
47. ___ & Chandon (Champagne) : MOET
51. Chicken pieces that aren't legs, thighs or wings : BREASTS
53. Young Indiana Jones portrayer : RIVERPHOENIX
57. Street: Abbr. : AVE
58. Director Joel or Ethan : COEN
59. Hog sounds : OINKS
63. Dry-ice contraption for theatrical effect : FOGMACHINE
67. Squeal of delight : OOOH
68. Trolley : TRAM
69. Vietnam's capital : HANOI
70. Produce : MAKE
71. "Auld Lang ___" : SYNE
72. Back of a boat : STERN
73. Like show horses' feet : SHOD
1. Corn, wheat or soybeans : CROP
2. Relatives of paddles : OARS
3. Multitalented Minnelli : LIZA
4. Newspaperman Ochs : ADOLPH
5. Hypodermic amts. : CCS
6. ___ Van Winkle : RIP
7. A Hatfield, to a McCoy : ENEMY
8. Professional writer : SCRIBE
9. Philanderer, in slang : TOMCAT
10. Cry before "humbug" : BAH
11. Muscat citizen : OMANI
12. Fastballer Ryan : NOLAN
13. Allman brother who married Cher : GREGG
19. Texas city on the Brazos : WACO
21. Home for the Dolphins : MIAMI
25. Flying pest : GNAT
26. Heroic exploit : GEST
27. Old radio or TV part : KNOB
28. Aussie's buddy : MATE
29. Online auction site : EBAY
30. Puff from a joint : TOKE
34. ___ au vin : COQ
36. 1975 shark thriller : JAWS
37. "You can count ___" : ONIT
38. Equipment for schussing : SKIS
40. Salinger's "For ___ - With Love and Squalor" : ESME
41. London subway, with "the" : TUBE
42. What Little Boy Blue blew : HORN
43. "Old MacDonald" refrain : EIEIO
48. Shamu, for one : ORCA
49. Pleistocene and Eocene, for two : EPOCHS
50. Something to pass at a fund-raiser : THEHAT
52. Self-evident truths : AXIOMS
53. Whitewater transports : RAFTS
54. Piano key material, once : IVORY
55. Eschewing both meat and dairy : VEGAN
56. Cat-___-tails (whip) : ONINE
60. Ark builder : NOAH
61. Executioner in "The Mikado" : KOKO
62. What many furry animals do in the spring : SHED
64. Butterfly or Bovary: Abbr. : MME
65. Neither's partner : NOR
66. German "a" : EIN

Answer summary: 3 unique to this puzzle, 1 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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