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New York Times, Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Author:
Tracy Gray
Editor:
Will Shortz
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249/8/20106/12/20185
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6245610
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1.60431
Tracy Gray

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 78, Blocks: 38 Missing: {Q} Spans: 1 This is puzzle # 5 for Ms. Gray. Jeff Chen's Puzzle of the Week pick. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Tracy Gray notes:
I am excited to have my fifth puzzle published in the NYT today! The inspiration for this puzzle came from a beer I was drinking at ... read more

I am excited to have my fifth puzzle published in the NYT today! The inspiration for this puzzle came from a beer I was drinking at the time. Not any old beer, mind you, but a nice, smooth LAGER — and a wonderful word that I found could be anagrammed an additional four ways. Of the nine total puzzles I have had accepted by the NYT to date, this one was the easiest for me to construct, and when I look back at my construction notes, I only had these five theme entries from the get-go. At the time, I was running most of my theme ideas by my mentor, Nancy Salomon, and her response to this idea was "works for me" and I was thrilled when I heard it had "worked" for Will Shortz as well!

Hope you enjoy the puzzle — have a safe celebration this New Year's Eve and a wonderful 2014!

Will Shortz notes:
Everyone understood the theme here, right? There's no answer that explains that each of the five long Across entries ends in some ... read more

Everyone understood the theme here, right? There's no answer that explains that each of the five long Across entries ends in some arrangement of the same five letters. An "explainer" is needed only when the theme is more subtle than this.

Jeff Chen notes:
I often say how hard it is to construct a smooth but interesting early-week puzzle, and Tracy has succeeded today. I really liked the ... read more

I often say how hard it is to construct a smooth but interesting early-week puzzle, and Tracy has succeeded today. I really liked the theme (phrases whose final words are anagrams of each other), and the solve was silky smooth. Beautiful work!

Note how snappy the theme phrases are. It's rare to see a puzzle with such strong themers, because most of the time a theme is heavily constrained by demands of consistency and/or specificity. But here Tracy picks out five winners, each one a phrase I'd be happy to use as long fill in one of my own puzzles. Some might deem ROCKETS RED GLARE as a partial, but I think it works on its own quite well. As an aside, notice how Tracy chose a 15-letter middle entry, which makes the grid construction MUCH easier than if she chose a 9, 11, or 13-letter entry.

And really nice use of Scrabbly (JQXZ) letters in the fill today. Sometimes a constructor will shoehorn one in where it doesn't really fit, causing a jarring solve. But J in DEEJAY, Z in ORZO, and X in XANADU are really nice. JUNCO was unfamiliar to me, but since it was the only thing I had to look up (and it's a common bird), it was welcome. Sure, nobody likes to see ULE in their puzzle, but since there's not much else on the offenders list, it gets a pass.

Interesting that the toughest part for me was the SW. I took six years of French in high school, but could barely pull out PLAGE. Then again, I can barely keep "Chen" and "chien" straight. (Makes for awkward family reunions.) I have a feeling there will be complaints today about PLAGE (and how the corner could have been "better" filled), but sometimes a constructor uses certain words for a reason. Perhaps they have a special fondness for the entry, or they like the similarity to the Spanish word PLAYA and its Burning Man associations, who knows*? If this were a Monday puzzle I might object, but I found it to be a useful exercise in recall.

Very well done!

*ADDED NOTE: Tracy and I exchanged emails, and she said: "I absolutely did choose the word french word PLAGE for the lower SW corner having just been to the French side of the island St. Maarten when I constructed this puzzle. Since it translates to 'beach', I thought it tied in nicely with my mini-theme of islands/beach towns such as Ibiza, Malta, and Avalon." Cool!

1
A
2
F
3
L
4
A
5
C
6
M
7
Y
8
B
9
A
10
D
11
B
12
H
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T
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L
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M
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15
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16
L
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17
L
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18
G
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J
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H
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O
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X
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K
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T
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P
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F
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B
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C
K
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G
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© 2013, The New York TimesNo. 1231 ( 23,429 )
Across
1. Insurance giant with a duck in its ads : AFLAC
6. "I messed up!" : MYBAD
11. Food preservative, for short : BHT
14. Pack animal : LLAMA
15. Eagle's nest : AERIE
16. Big name in jeans : LEE
17. Being extravagant and self-indulgent : LIVINGLARGE
19. Comfort ___ : INN
20. Place to relax : SPA
21. Baseball count : OUTS
22. North American finch : JUNCO
24. "Ragged Dick" author : HORATIOALGER
27. Site of Kubla Khan's "pleasure dome" : XANADU
30. ___ terrier : SKYE
31. Pirouette : TWIRL
32. Barbershop symbol : POLE
34. Pocket watch accessory : FOB
37. Illumination in "The Star-Spangled Banner" : ROCKETSREDGLARE
41. Adam's ___ (water) : ALE
42. Gorgons : HAGS
43. One of Spain's Balearics : IBIZA
44. "Survivor" immunity token : IDOL
46. King Arthur's resting place : AVALON
47. All-malt beer : PREMIUMLAGER
52. Jeweler's eyepiece : LOUPE
53. Feminine name suffix : ETTA
54. Terrier's bark : ARF
57. Cause of inflation? : AIR
58. Scotch whisky brand : CHIVASREGAL
62. Mop & ___ (floor cleaner) : GLO
63. "Raw" or "burnt" color : UMBER
64. It's moving at the movies : IMAGE
65. Lombard Street feature : ESS
66. "The Wrestler" actress Marisa : TOMEI
67. Blender setting : PUREE
Down
1. "___ right with the world" : ALLS
2. 1960s hairstyle : FLIP
3. Volcanic emission : LAVA
4. Bordeaux buddy : AMI
5. Be lovey-dovey : CANOODLE
6. Valletta is its capital : MALTA
7. It's not used to make matzo : YEAST
8. "It's c-c-cold!" : BRR
9. 2008 U.S. govt. bailout recipient : AIG
10. Record spinner : DEEJAY
11. Fancy gold jewelry, e.g. : BLING
12. Ergo : HENCE
13. Opera's Mario Lanza, for one : TENOR
18. Expert : GURU
23. Suffix with glob : ULE
24. "Listen up!," old-style : HARK
25. Archipelago parts : ISLES
26. Green-lighted : OKED
27. Bonus, in ads : XTRA
28. Barracks no-show : AWOL
29. "Good job!" : NICE
32. "The Lord is my shepherd ...," e.g. : PSALM
33. Assn. or grp. : ORG
34. Not make the grade? : FAIL
35. Rice-shaped pasta : ORZO
36. Noggin : BEAN
38. G : THOU
39. Be concerned, slangily : GIVEARIP
40. Letter-shaped shelf support : LBAR
44. Jackanapes : IMP
45. Like most jigsaw puzzles : DIECUT
46. I.R.S. employees: Abbr. : AGTS
47. French beach : PLAGE
48. Stirs up : ROILS
49. Continental cash : EUROS
50. Flood barrier : LEVEE
51. Creator of the game Missile Command : ATARI
54. Petri dish gel : AGAR
55. Storm : RAGE
56. Hightail it away : FLEE
59. Managed care plan, for short : HMO
60. Co. with the motto "Think" : IBM
61. Australia's national bird : EMU

Answer summary: 2 unique to this puzzle, 2 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

Found bugs or have suggestions?