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New York Times, Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Author: Bruce Haight
Editor: Will Shortz
Bruce Haight
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
391/3/20136/7/20183
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212117430
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.58032

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 78, Blocks: 36 Missing: {QV} This is puzzle # 8 for Mr. Haight. NYT links: Across Lite PDF

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Bruce Haight notes: My first version of this puzzle had a self-centered string of I's going down the middle of the puzzle from top to bottom. It ... more
Bruce Haight notes: My first version of this puzzle had a self-centered string of I's going down the middle of the puzzle from top to bottom. It didn't look much like a beanstalk, and all that "I-business" caused some problems with the fill.

The second version had BEANBEANBEANBEAN down the middle (15x16 oversized grid) — Will did not see any magic in that.

For this accepted version, I put the only two vertical block groups in the middle, with BEANSTALK connecting them. I was able to "hide" the other words in bigger words ... sort of. I went with the Wikipedia spelling of FEE, FI, FO, and FUM — there were other versions out there. I considered cluing HIJACK as "Bad thing to yell to a friend on a plane," but that would have spilled the beans. Jack and the Giant are attached to the beanstalk, and I envision this as the moment when Jack has just made it down with all the loot he stole from the poor giant, and Jack is about to grab an axe and chop down the beanstalk. The bean salesman will no doubt be harping on Jack for a cut of the profits soon ...

Original grid

The southwest portion of this grid was hard to fill — HIJACK is tough to work with, particularly on the bottom row. The version I submitted to Will (see right) is quite a bit different than what was published. My favorite entry in the whole puzzle was NO CAN DO at 63-Across, so I was surprised that Will replaced it with GERARDO. I assume he was not pleased with the combination of RENA, STR, ESCE, and IME — pretty bad, I must admit. I take this as a lesson that one is better off with a hard but fair long word, even for early week, than a bunch of weak short "glue."

Hope you enjoyed the puzzle!

Jeff Chen notes: Fun idea, JACK and the BEANSTALK theme today, with the GIANT at the top. I like the visual, imagining JACK at the bottom, about to ... more
Jeff Chen notes: Fun idea, JACK and the BEANSTALK theme today, with the GIANT at the top. I like the visual, imagining JACK at the bottom, about to start on his quest to the top. The FEE FI FO FUM also nicely bounced about, echoing back and forth across the puzzle.

We had another Jack and the Beanstalk theme a while back, but I like that Will put enough time between them so that not everyone will immediately remember. Another year or two would have been ideal, so people with annoyingly OCD brains like mine would have a chance to forget, but two years is pretty decent.

This is a tough grid to work with. Placing that BEANSTALK right down the center forces four big corners, often a challenge to fill. The NW corner comes out pretty nice, a Scrabbly X in OXIDIZE, and REARLIT and SET AHEAD aren't bad. I like EZINE as a term too, so overall it's clean enough to do the trick.

Oh, that tricky SW. I'm in agreement with Will (and Bruce) that the original could have used some cleanup. I do like that the new SW is much smoother. I don't like that SARG / FREEH / GERARDO area, though. GERALDO feels totally fine to me, as he had his own national TV talk show. And although "Rico Suave" rings a bell, GERARDO does not. Could just be my ineptitude in pop music, but that region feels potentially unfair to a big market segment of solvers. "Unfair" is such a subjective term, but "satisfaction" is something that can be measured more easily.

Alternate grid possibility with cheaters

Out of curiosity, I tried my hand at it, and with the given constraints, I couldn't do any better. But I don't think that's a good reason to stop, given how important solver satisfaction and that feeling of "fairness" is. I tried adding a set of cheater squares, which helped a lot (left) and still retained Bruce's great NO CAN DO. The visual does suffer slightly, but I think it would have been a better trade-off. I'm sure there are other ways to do it; perhaps lifting JACK to intersect the K of BEANSTALK?

On that note, I would have liked more oomph to the visual. It's neat that the BEANSTALK is growing down the center of the grid. But I find it odd that it's sort of suspended in midair. How is JACK going to reach it to start climbing? Additionally, it would have been great if MAGIC BEANS had somehow been incorporated, perhaps percolating under the earth. Regular crossword symmetry of course prohibits this sort of thing, but maybe mirror (left-right) symmetry could have enabled a crisper and more lively image.

Anyway, an interesting take on the fairy tale. A good idea to bring it to a 15x picture, with a fun visual of JACK, the BEANSTALK, and the GIANT.

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© 2014, The New York TimesNo. 1223 ( 23,786 )
Across Down
1. Espresso and cappuccino : COFFEES
8. 2014 World Series winners : GIANTS
14. Become rusted : OXIDIZE
15. Largest country in Africa since the breakup of Sudan in 2011 : ALGERIA
17. Illuminated from behind : REARLIT
18. Bright, as a fire : BLAZING
19. Tonsil doc : ENT
20. One helping an addict : ENABLER
22. Spell-off : BEE
23. Snicker : TEEHEE
24. ___ flash : NEWS
25. Like Santa's helpers : ELFIN
28. Coarse, as humor : EARTHY
31. New York Stock Exchange symbol : BULL
32. Pale : WAN
33. Mad ___ : HATTER
37. Buddy : BRO
38. Wayward offspring, informally : BADSEED
40. Day-___ : GLO
41. Kebab stick : SKEWER
43. General on Chinese menus : TSO
44. "Sands of Iwo ___" : JIMA
45. Fanatic : MANIAC
47. Attempt, as a field goal : GOFOR
48. Org. in the "Dirty Harry" movies : SFPD
51. Fend off, as mosquitoes : SLAPAT
53. "We Three Kings of Orient ___" : ARE
54. Vexes : RANKLES
56. Snatch : NAB
59. Take back, as a false charge : RETRACT
61. Milan opera house : LASCALA
63. Rapper with the 1991 hit "Rico Suave" : GERARDO
64. Greek personification of the outer sea : OCEANUS
65. Commandeer : HIJACK
66. Clichéd gift on Mother's Day : PERFUME
1. Center : CORE
2. Plural animal name that does not end in "-s" : OXEN
3. Italian carmaker : FIAT
4. Fireside chat prez : FDR
5. Brennan of "Private Benjamin" : EILEEN
6. Online publication : EZINE
7. Advance, as a clock : SETAHEAD
8. Ibsen's "Hedda ___" : GABLER
9. "Winnie ___ Pu" : ILLE
10. Lab culture medium : AGAR
11. Pince-___ (glasses that clip to the nose) : NEZ
12. Cree, Creek or Crow : TRIBE
13. Muscle : SINEW
16. The 13 of PG-13 and 17 of NC-17 : AGES
21. Storied locale for the circled letters in 8- and 65-Across : BEANSTALK
23. Dusk-dawn connector : TIL
24. WaPo competitor : NYT
25. Declines : EBBS
26. Lie in wait : LURK
27. Ice mass : FLOE
29. "The Cosby Show" son : THEO
30. Duped : HAD
32. Give a heads-up : WARN
34. Weekly "Whew!" : TGIF
35. Ticklish red Muppet : ELMO
36. Engine sound at Indy : ROAR
38. Actress Arthur : BEA
39. Bake in a sauce : ESCALLOP
42. One justification for the Iraq war, for short : WMD
44. Make a quick note of : JOT
46. Violates the rules : ISNTOK
47. Real hoot : GASSER
48. Puppeteer Tony : SARG
49. Former F.B.I. chief Louis : FREEH
50. ___ dish : PETRI
52. "Ciao" : PEACE
54. ___ avis : RARA
55. Flexible, electrically : ACDC
56. When repeated, Mork's sign-off : NANU
57. One in the class of '12 or '13, now : ALUM
58. Diamond bag : BASE
60. British rule in old India : RAJ
62. Half-___ (low-octane drink order) : CAF

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

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