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PASSING GRADES

New York Times, Sunday, February 16, 2014

Author:
Yaakov Bendavid
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
62/28/20101/31/20160
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6000000
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001
Yaakov Bendavid

This puzzle:

Rows: 21, Columns: 21 Words: 134, Blocks: 64 Missing: {QZ} This is puzzle # 5 for Mr. Bendavid. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Yaakov Bendavid notes:
Once again, I'm thrilled to be published in the NY Times, my 5th puzzle. In my previous puzzles — all Sundays — I never had as few as six theme answers, as in today's ... read more

Once again, I'm thrilled to be published in the NY Times, my 5th puzzle.

In my previous puzzles — all Sundays — I never had as few as six theme answers, as in today's offering. Having only six meant I could spread them out more, and I had much more fun/leeway filling in the non-theme answers. I love choosing interesting or rarely-seen long non-theme answers and then filling in the shorter answers around them. Among the 17 non-theme answers of 8 letters or more, we have BED OF ROSES, AGITATING, COMO ESTA and LOVE NEST.

DAIRY GODMOTHER was the seed; my original clue — which made my family laugh — was "She might make you a cheesecake you can't refuse." The clue was changed by Will, keeping it one hop away from the original phrase instead of two.

My first idea for a clue for SCIENCE DICTION was "Exceptional quality of Sir Patrick Stewart's Captain Picard," but you'd might have had to be a Trekkie to get it; I think Will's Stephen Hawking clue works quite well.

The first few versions of the puzzle — there were over 20 — had a 7th theme answer stretching across the middle row, but I found that it made everything too crowded and led to very weak fill (and something like 24 3-letter words). It was clued "Lament of the Best-in-Show runners-up at Westminster" with the answer: WE HAVEN'T THE DOGGIEST. Pity I couldn't fit it in since coincidentally the puzzle appears the same week as the Dog Show. Thanks to XWordinfo, it has seen the light of day.

Jeff Chen notes:
Themers today are phrases with their F's changed to D's, thus giving 'passing grades.' At just 134 words and six themers, this is another one in Will's experiment of mashing up a ... read more

Themers today are phrases with their F's changed to D's, thus giving "passing grades." At just 134 words and six themers, this is another one in Will's experiment of mashing up a Sunday-size puzzle with a themeless. It's hard enough to create a Sunday-size puzzle with 140 words, and SO much harder to reduce to even 138 words. Get down to 136, and you have to be a grid ninja in order to pull it off. 134... there are few Sunday puzzles in Will's tenure that have achieved this level. Super hard to do.

The theme itself is pretty entertaining — "wacky" phrases are often going to be hit or miss depending on one's sense of humor. DAIRY GODMOTHER amused me (especially with Yaakov's original clue!), as did SCIENCE DICTION, but the rest I was plus/minus on. It seemed to me with a simple letter swap, there could be many more humorous options. And TWO DIVES FOR A TEN felt like it was an outlier, in that this poor themer still failed, with its F. I would have preferred all F's changed to D's, but I don't think it's a huge deal; there's no law against it. I'm sure some people will get their knickers in a bunch about this supposed travesty though. Mrrrrrow! (That's supposed to be the sound of a hissy-fit)

More notable to me today was the longer fill. Great use of the longest slots, BED OF ROSES being particularly nice. Even the unexpected COMO ESTA (apparently it's used in more formal situations, whereas COMO ESTAS is more informal) was really nice to uncover. Add in LOVE NEST, BLONDE ALE, and ORANGE OIL and you have some great stuff.

I wonder if sticking to 136 or even 138 words would have been better though, as some of the longer slots had so much more potential. LEFT SIDES feels pretty arbitrary, LOOSE TEA doesn't seem nearly as nice to me as LOOSELEAF TEA, and JILTERS could have been so much more. Makes me wonder what could have been if LOOSE TEA had been broken at the S, or JILTERS was broken in half (and their respective sections refilled).

Finally, my favorite clue gives an insider's nod to crosswords: "Iglu and yoghurt, e.g." for VARIANTS. Here's to you, EMEER and TIPI!

I appreciate the experimentation; it's an important way to try pushing the boundaries. I think I still want either more themers or more clever wordplay-type clues in my Sunday puzzles, but the variety allows me to better clarify and understand my own tastes.

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© 2014, The New York TimesNo. 0216 ( 23,476 )
Across
1
Summer refreshers : ADES
5
Israel's Netanyahu, informally : BIBI
9
Bowler and sailor : HATS
13
Tracking systems : RADARS
19
Ports : LEFTSIDES
21
Memphis deity : ISIS
22
Actress Cuthbert of "24" : ELISHA
23
One who turned Cinderella's pumpkin into pumpkin cheesecake? : DAIRYGODMOTHER
25
Drive away : DISPEL
26
Reference : ALLUDETO
27
New York's Jacob ___ Park : RIIS
28
Crude coconut opener : MACHETE
29
Cherry part : STEM
30
Worth mentioning : OFNOTE
32
Iglu and yoghurt, e.g. : VARIANTS
33
Bad beginning? : MAL
36
___ cycle : REM
37
Dustin Hoffman title role : RAINMAN
39
County or lake of Cooperstown, N.Y. : OTSEGO
42
Dunking cookie : OREO
44
Be too syrupy : CLOY
45
Liquor unit : DRAM
49
Snorkeling bargain? : TWODIVESFORATEN
52
Hip-hop artist with the 2013 #1 album "Born Sinner" : JCOLE
53
Up to, shortly : TIL
54
French noodles? : TETES
55
What makes blue jeans blue : ANIL
56
"She's got electric boots, a ___ suit" ("Bennie and the Jets" lyric) : MOHAIR
57
Rust-causing agents : OXIDANTS
59
Vex : ANNOY
60
Stomachs : ABIDES
61
Fit to ___ : ATEE
62
Tin can plinker, maybe : BBGUN
63
Challenge for a speech coach : LISP
64
Oscar winner Leachman : CLORIS
67
Setting of "The Crucible" : SALEM
68
Nappy fabric : MOLESKIN
72
Undeveloped : LATENT
73
Elizabeth Taylor role of '63 : CLEO
74
Roman ruler before Caesar : SULLA
75
Subj. of Snowden leaks : NSA
76
Dismantle on a ship : UNRIG
77
Transportation company that skimps on safety? : NODRILLSAIRLINE
80
Conk : BEAN
81
Wisecrack : JAPE
82
Of the flock : LAIC
83
Lawn care brand : SCOTTS
84
Mythological monster : CHIMERA
87
Addr. book datum : TEL
88
Even if, in brief : THO
89
Corkscrewed : SPIRALED
92
"___ no turning back" : THERES
95
Dress accessory : SASH
99
Knacks : TALENTS
100
Reason for an ophthalmologist's visit : STYE
101
It might be answered "Muy bien, gracias" : COMOESTA
104
Sergeant's order : ATEASE
105
Stephen Hawking's computer-generated voice? : SCIENCEDICTION
107
Church vessel : CENSER
108
Bring in : EARN
109
Duvel pub offering : BLONDEALE
110
Prepares to propose : KNEELS
111
Kind of rug : AREA
112
Buttonhole, for example : SLIT
113
NASA's ___ Research Center : AMES
Down
1
Acting family : ALDAS
2
Did a Vegas job : DEALT
3
Return option : EFILE
4
Pulled strings, maybe? : STRUMMED
5
Former 6'9" N.B.A.'er Hayes, to fans : BIGE
6
"What did ___ deserve this?" : IDOTO
7
Comfortable state : BEDOFROSES
8
Suffix with age : ISM
9
Band's cue : HITIT
10
More wan : ASHIER
11
Draws : TIES
12
Old atlas initials : SSR
13
Force under Stalin : REDARMY
14
Keys on a piano : ALICIA
15
Two things seen beside James Bond at a casino? : DISHANDCHIPS
16
Popular ski spot : ASPEN
17
Butler of literature : RHETT
18
Register ring-ups : SALES
20
Screenwriting guru Field : SYD
24
Call from a balcony : OROMEO
28
Massenet opera : MANON
31
Indoor balls : NERFS
32
In a loathsome way : VILELY
34
Starting trouble : AGITATING
35
Tryst site : LOVENEST
38
Director's cry : ACTION
39
"The Simpsons" character with a habit of calling things "gnarly" : OTTO
40
Candy bar that comes two to a pack : TWIX
41
Most arias : SOLI
43
Insect repellent ingredient : ORANGEOIL
46
Artery : ROAD
47
"That's ___!" : ALIE
48
Bodies of eau : MERS
50
Little: Suffix : ETTE
51
Per ___ : ANNUM
52
Use for a résumé : JOBSEARCH
56
Spammer enabler : MAILLIST
58
"Oh yeah? Let's see you hold your breath for TWO minutes!," e.g.? : DAREINCREASE
59
Better qualified : ABLER
62
Like Bruce Willis, in his later movie roles : BALDER
63
She "drank champagne and danced all night," in song : LOLA
64
Crude weapon : CLUB
65
46-Down division : LANE
66
Spanish alternative? : OTRA
67
Checked (out) : SCOPED
68
Myocyte : MUSCLECELL
69
Sweater, e.g. : KNIT
70
"___ it rich?" (Sondheim lyric) : ISNT
71
Highlands refusals : NAES
74
Better at conniving : SLIER
77
Handles : NAMES
78
Triangular sail : LATEEN
79
Infuser contents : LOOSETEA
81
Altar no-shows : JILTERS
85
Gingerbread house visitor : HANSEL
86
Enrobe : ATTIRE
89
Heap : STACK
90
Eucharist holder : PATEN
91
TV actress Graff : ILENE
93
Spotted scavenger : HYENA
94
"Ditto" : SODOI
96
"Take me ___" : ASIAM
97
Lifted : STOLE
98
Hosiery brand : HANES
100
Kind of tissue : SCAR
102
Coin grade : MINT
103
Repetitive behavior condition, for short : OCD
105
View from a boardwalk : SEA
106
Grammy Awards airer : CBS

Answer summary: 11 unique to this puzzle, 2 debuted here and reused later, 3 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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