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New York Times, Thursday, February 2, 2017

Author: Alex Eaton-Salners
Editor: Will Shortz
Alex Eaton-Salners
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
72/2/20171/25/20180
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
0011500
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.55100
Puzzle of the Week

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 76, Blocks: 38 Missing: {QZ} This is the debut puzzle for Mr. Eaton-Salners. Jeff Chen's Puzzle of the Week pick. NYT links: Across Lite PDF

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Alex Eaton-Salners notes: I submitted this puzzle on September 3rd, 2016 and it was accepted on October 20th (a pretty quick turnaround in my ... more
Alex Eaton-Salners notes:

I submitted this puzzle on September 3rd, 2016 and it was accepted on October 20th (a pretty quick turnaround in my experience). It's my second accepted puzzle at the Times, but the first one was pegged for a day that has a significantly larger backlog (per the most recent inventory I've seen).

My constructing program of choice is Crossword Compiler v9. I use grep/sed/awk (via Cygwin) for word list manipulation and searching. In addition to the word lists I acquired with Crossword Compiler, I also use Matt Ginsberg's list (www.otsys.com/clue) and the one curated by Jeff Chen (the latter also includes the excellent XWI word list). Thanks guys!

As you might guess from the nature of the gimmick, constructing this puzzle required extra front-end work. After laying out the themers and making a tentative grid skeleton, I created a mirror image of the grid with the themers entered backwards to facilitate construction of the portions that use reversed words. As I worked back-and-forth between the two versions of the puzzle, I used temporary black squares to create smaller regions for filling. I also had to do some manual trial-and-error since many of the vertical entries intersect both types of across answers. Likewise, differences in typical vowel and consonant layouts in each direction (forward and backward) posed an additional challenge.

In retrospect, perhaps I should have created a word list that excluded palindromes and words that make other words when reversed. Since I didn't, I had to manually avoid such words when filling the reversed areas (having reversed words that spelled something else in the forward direction felt inelegant). On the other hand, leaving those extra words in gave more options for the rest of the fill, which didn't need to be constrained in that manner.

For further thoughts on this crossword, please check out my constructor notes on the Wordplay blog.

Jeff Chen notes: Fantastic debut. Check that — fantastic puzzle, period. I quickly realized something backwardy was going on halfway through, ... more
Jeff Chen notes:

Fantastic debut. Check that — fantastic puzzle, period. I quickly realized something backwardy was going on halfway through, and I enjoy a good backwards puzzle. But I got a little annoyed that random words were reversed. YOU HAVE TO BE CONSISTENT, YOU STUPID CONSTRUCTORS, MYSELF INCLUDED!

Boy, did that slight(-to-gigantic) irritation flip to delight in a big way when the a-ha hit. Alex runs an orderly ship, the first several across entries going left to right as usual. But as soon as you hit BACK TO FRONT, you need to start entering the acrosses ... in BACK TO FRONT order! And then when you get to FORWARD HO, you go ... FORWARD again. Things switch again, appropriately at IN REVERSE, and then flip one last time at LEFT TO RIGHT.

This in itself was a fresh and amusing take on a backwards-type puzzle. But the friendly-sounding cluing made it stand out even further. I didn't get what [watch out now!] and [you can relax ...] meant during my solve, but afterward, it all came across so fun and amusing, like a square dance caller yelling out instructions or something. Colorful, really playful, right on my wavelength.

And the gridwork! Usually backwards puzzles have enough glitches in the matrix that my entertainment level diminishes. It's especially tough to construct something like this, where only certain entries are flipped. I was utterly amazed at how well Alex did with his fill. (I've used the dual-grid trick he described once before with a backwards puzzle — I originally learned it from Patrick Merrell some time ago. It's quite handy!)

There were a couple of toughies in TAMA, COATI, and GERI, but they are all legit(ish). And a minor ERN, that's it? Whoa. Such care to give us a smooth solve is very, very much appreciated.

There weren't a huge number of long bonuses, but RECORD DEAL and DAVINCI were both great, and EPONYM helped out too. (PINKEYE, though … eew.)

Loved this puzzle. It's so rare for me to see something as innovatively fun as this, while still working within all the general rule of one-letter-per-square. Can't wait to see what Alex has planned next.

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© 2017, The New York TimesNo. 0202 ( 24,558 )
Across Down
1. Echoing sound in a hallway, maybe : STEP
5. "Not this again!," e.g. : MOAN
9. Idle laughter source? : ERIC
13. Call with a raised hand : TAXI
14. Clear, as a printer : UNJAM
16. Lyra's brightest star : VEGA
17. British crown colony from 1937 to 1963 : ADEN
18. Animal that resembles a raccoon : COATI
19. Grp. that promised Trump "We'll see you in court" : ACLU
20. How a book in Hebrew is read [watch out now!] : BACKTOFRONT
23. London lav : LOO
24. Part of a bomb : FUSE
25. Language in which "hello" is "annyeonghaseyo" : KOREAN
27. Proverb : SAYING
30. Showed, as in a showroom : DEMOED
32. Zellweger of "Chicago" : RENEE
33. Wagon train cry [you can relax ...] : FORWARDHO
36. 18-wheeler : RIG
37. Boxer Lennox : LEWIS
38. Really long time : EON
39. Ready to leave the garage [here we go again!] : INREVERSE
42. Little hoppers : TOADS
44. Whole : ENTIRE
45. Recently : OFLATE
46. Kind of bike : TANDEM
48. Some line cutters, in brief : VIPS
49. Treatment for a sprain : ICE
50. How people are usually listed in photo captions [phew, all done!] : LEFTTORIGHT
56. Stretchers may touch them : TOES
58. Mr. Bean portrayer Atkinson : ROWAN
59. Crime film genre : NOIR
60. Bone in a wing or arm : ULNA
61. Like some moussed hair : SPIKY
62. Become clumped : CAKE
63. William ___, early British P.M. : PITT
64. Part of a flower : STEM
65. February 13, e.g. : IDES
1. Attack with a sword : STAB
2. "All done!" : TADA
3. Boardroom fig. : EXEC
4. Conjunctivitis : PINKEYE
5. Kind of membrane : MUCOUS
6. Switch words : ONOFF
7. Open a bit : AJAR
8. Grp. that has added 12 members since the end of the Cold War : NATO
9. Mendes of "2 Fast 2 Furious" : EVA
10. Aspiring band's goal : RECORDDEAL
11. Brand of cooler : IGLOO
12. Leak fixer : CAULK
15. Some baitfish : MINNOWS
21. Bygone Winter Palace resident : TSAR
22. Janowitz who wrote "Slaves of New York" : TAMA
26. Poetic adverb : EER
27. Spice Girl Halliwell : GERI
28. Rhineland refusal : NEIN
29. Food label listing : INGREDIENT
30. Divine water : DOWSE
31. Port with lots of lake-effect snow : ERIE
33. Plant with spores : FERN
34. Its sound in old westerns was often simulated by a coconut : HOOF
35. Latch ___ : ONTO
37. High school athletic awards : LETTERS
40. Southwest terminal? : ERN
41. Perfume container : VIAL
42. Mix : STIR
43. "Vitruvian Man" artist : DAVINCI
45. James Parkinson or Alois Alzheimer : EPONYM
46. Rendezvoused (with) : METUP
47. Cause of some poisoning : ECOLI
48. Shares held by a shareholder : STAKE
51. Dandies : FOPS
52. Blockhead : TWIT
53. Egg on : GOAD
54. Trail activity : HIKE
55. Very: Fr. : TRES
57. Used sofa? : SAT

Answer summary: 2 unique to this puzzle, 1 debuted here and reused later, 1 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

Found bugs or have suggestions?