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New York Times, Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Author:
Neil Padrick Wilson and Jeff Chen
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
41/31/20172/11/20201
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
0020011
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.66000
Neil Padrick Wilson
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
1087/5/20102/11/202067
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
2779202898
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.638252
Jeff Chen

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 74, Blocks: 35 Missing: {QXZ} This is puzzle # 4 for Mr. Wilson. This is puzzle # 108 for Mr. Chen. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Constructor notes:
NEIL: I've spitballed some puzzle themes with Jeff before, but this is the only one that has managed to get off the ground. (Har har). ... read more

NEIL: I've spitballed some puzzle themes with Jeff before, but this is the only one that has managed to get off the ground. (Har har). Thanks again, Jeff!

At first, I thought this might need to be a 16x15 puzzle. My original themers included "FIREWORKS DISPLAY," "AIR BALLOON FIESTA," and the revealer, "WITH FLYING COLORS." Thankfully Jeff talked me down. We considered other themers (e.g., SOAP BUBBLES, AURORA BOREALIS, and LANTERN FESTIVALS) before ultimately agreeing on the themers here. They all have a different type of imagery about them. And being gay, I was super happy we managed to squeeze in RAINBOW FLAG and GLITTER BOMB — and both as debut entries, no less!

We went through many grids before landing on this one, including "mirror symmetry" grids. We started with some using 37 black squares, but I kept pushing for a more open grid. I think the result ended up pretty ideal, given our constraints. And even though there are technically two "cheater" squares, they're both essentially necessitated by the central pair of revealers.

"IT'S A BIG IF" still sounds a bit funny to my ear (I think "THAT'S A BIG IF" is more spot-on), but Jeff seeded that into our fill, and I didn't have strong objections. We also had a last-minute moment of panic where we noticed the word "FREE" showed up in our grid twice, but thankfully one of our earlier drafts had a corner we could substitute back in!

JEFF: I liked so much about Neil's basic concept. AIR BALLOON FIESTA, though ... it didn't hit my ear right, so off to Google to went. To my surprise, that phrase (in quotes) got a ton of hits.

Maybe my own ignorance was at fault? Or my weird phobia of hot air balloons pecked slowly open by peacocks? In any case, we almost talked ourselves into letting it slide — it is evocative, no doubt — but a few trusted friends gave me quite the side-eye when I proposed it. Off to search for new themers!

Jeff Chen notes:
I'm often full of piss and vinegar when I see low word-count themed puzzles. Frickin' constructors, bigger than their britches, ... read more

I'm often full of piss and vinegar when I see low word-count themed puzzles. Frickin' constructors, bigger than their britches, showing off all lah-di-dah! And look at today's bleedin' grid, 74 words, requiring LTD and CRIT? Why not follow your own advice, blankety-blank big-head Jeff, and go to a 76-word design?

I would have preferred that.

And another thing, you blimpity-bloopity … wait. What?

To Neil's point, I couldn't figure out a way to arrange the skeleton at 76 or 78 words such that it didn't feel like two half-puzzles. The black square separating FLYING and COLORS created more problems than I anticipated, causing a diagonal from SW to NE. I tried so many ways of creating a passageway through it, but no dice.

Putting black squares at the AR of ARREAR or at the S of UNIONS would have made for an easier, more newb-friendly Tuesday solve, no doubt. Both options would chunk apart the grid, though. Is that better or worse than a newer solver having to figure out IBERIA and RIYADH? After 10+ years of constructing, I still am not sure.

I'd love to have some feedback mechanism, where the NYT's app would allow for direct evaluation and commenting. Was the puzzle solvable? Fun? If not, why not? That type of feedback loop would be so valuable. Will Shortz has done a great job of expanding the NYT's crossword business, but it could be a true empire with some steps such as this.

P.S. If you're not sure what a GLITTER BOMB is, why aren't you watching Mark Rober's YouTube channel? Dude does some amazing stuff.

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© 2020, The New York TimesNo. 0211 ( 25,662 )

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Across
1
Story of why you really couldn't have done it : ALIBI
6
Car rental partner of Budget : AVIS
10
Open a bit : AJAR
14
Minus item, in accounting : DEBIT
15
Oenophile's love : WINE
16
Cops, slangily : POPO
17
Plants in abandoned lots : WEEDS
18
Lighting display at many a rock concert : LASERSHOW
20
Overdue amount : ARREAR
22
Strike callers : UNIONS
23
Symbol of pride : RAINBOWFLAG
26
Channel famous for veejays : MTV
28
Homer's H : ETA
29
Dim bulbs : IDIOTS
30
Papermaking material : PULP
31
It often introduces new wrinkles : AGING
32
Sign before Taurus : ARIES
33
With 35-Across, complete success ... or a hint to 18-, 23-, 46- and 51-Across : FLYING
35
See 33-Across : COLORS
37
Mourner's emotion : GRIEF
38
Sigma Chi, Sigma Phi and Sigma Pi : FRATS
39
Hankerings : YENS
40
Bluffer's words in poker, maybe : IRAISE
42
Actress Zadora : PIA
45
Food additive with "the fifth taste" : MSG
46
Comeuppance for a package thief : GLITTERBOMB
48
In an overwhelming way : HUGELY
50
Letter flourishes : SERIFS
51
Sport that can leave you with welts : PAINTBALL
54
Country or heavy metal : GENRE
55
Actress Merrill of "BUtterfield 8" : DINA
56
Polish before publishing : EDIT
57
Like granola, largely : OATEN
58
Lose sleep (over) : FRET
59
Sound of a flop : THUD
60
Shooting sport : SKEET
Down
1
"Congratulations! You've been selected ..." program : ADWARE
2
Eye lustfully : LEERAT
3
The Basques' peninsula : IBERIA
4
#2 for #44 : BIDEN
5
"Things may well not happen the way you suppose" : ITSABIGIF
6
Beltmaker's tool : AWL
7
Through, on an itinerary : VIA
8
"Yo mama" joke, e.g. : INSULT
9
Perceived to be : SEENAS
10
Lhasa ___ (dog) : APSO
11
Who said "In every walk with Nature, one receives far more than he seeks" : JOHNMUIR
12
Guests at the Last Supper : APOSTLES
13
Do some sculling : ROW
19
Fix, as a contest : RIG
21
"The Thinker" sculptor : RODIN
24
Turkey piece : WING
25
Something a lighthouse beacon cuts through : FOG
27
4-Down and others, for short : VPS
30
Those in favor : PROS
31
Those in favor : AYES
32
Clark Kent and Mr. Hyde, for two : ALTEREGOS
33
One may open a window for it : FRESHAIR
34
Pasta often served with clam sauce : LINGUINE
35
Lit ___ (college class) : CRIT
36
Welcome watering holes : OASES
37
Place to play hoops : GYM
38
Butter or olive oil : FAT
40
"Yeah, right!" : ILLBET
41
Saudi capital : RIYADH
42
Ballet position on tiptoe : POINTE
43
Escapee's cry : IMFREE
44
Not answering at roll call : ABSENT
46
Pick up on : GET
47
Start of a billiards game : BREAK
49
Pesky swarmer : GNAT
51
Shareable PC file : PDF
52
Actress Lucy of "Elementary" : LIU
53
Relative of Inc. : LTD

Answer summary: 4 unique to this puzzle.

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