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New York Times, Friday, February 23, 2018

Author:
Trenton Charlson
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
174/26/201711/23/20191
SunMonTueWedThuFriSatVariety
11022551
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.77012
Trenton Charlson

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 72, Blocks: 29 Missing: {FQ} Grid has super symmetry. This is puzzle # 4 for Mr. Charlson. Jeff Chen's Puzzle of the Week pick. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Trenton Charlson notes:
As I always look forward to the themeless puzzles each week, it's such a pleasure to be making my themeless debut today! I chose this ... read more

As I always look forward to the themeless puzzles each week, it's such a pleasure to be making my themeless debut today! I chose this grid in part for its pleasing symmetry, but also for its versatility. While it's true that there are no entries in the grid longer than 7 letters, the fact that there are 36 of these slots meant that I had a good amount of flexibility in placing my marquee answers. This 72-word grid also allowed me to incorporate some Scrabbly letters into lively entries without too much difficulty, and to maintain a nice grid flow throughout the puzzle while still being able to work on sections one at a time.

I started in the lower-left with CAPTCHA, which I found yielded promising letter combinations when paired with AMIRITE. The discovery that CTHULHU, another entry on my 7-letter seed list, could fit at 61-Across ended up being the key to finishing the corner, despite its delightfully odd combination of letters (not that I ever doubted the power of the Great Old One, mind you).

I did the upper-left next, seeing as ST JOHNS was one of my few choices for 24-Down. I was glad to be able to fit in DAD JOKE and NOXZEMA, as well as DNA LABS, which I think makes for a nice 1-Across, what with the interesting DN- start and Will and Joel's fantastic clue. Among other entries in the upper-right, I thought it would be cool to incorporate BJ NOVAK, in order to highlight both his great performance in The Office and the unusual opening letter sequence of BJN- (see a pattern here yet?) As it was the last to go in, filling the lower-right took the most time, but I'm pleased with how it turned out, especially with the unexpected intersection of CAKE MIX and XS AND OS at the X.

AS I SAID, it's a joy to see this puzzle in the Times— though I've since constructed several other themeless puzzles, this one might still be my favorite. Hope you enjoy solving it as much as I enjoyed creating it!

P.S. Here's a bonus puzzle: purely by happenstance, one entry ended up in a particularly appropriate location — which one?
Jeff Chen notes:
I love BJ NOVAK. He's an absolute genius! From writing for (and acting in) 'The Office,' to a book of short stories, to the most ... read more

I love BJ NOVAK. He's an absolute genius! From writing for (and acting in) "The Office," to a book of short stories, to the most hilarious (non-picture) picture book ever, this guy is brilliant.

Probably didn't do much for you if you didn't know him, though.

And Lovecraft's "The Call of CTHULHU"! Another masterpiece, this inducing terrors so horrifying that I can't begin to describe it without creeping myself out.

Again though, if you didn't know that, it wouldn't do much for you. Even worse, that bizarre letter sequence – something starting with CTHU, really? – might be aggravating. Annoying, even.

For me, this was a fantastic, A-1 themeless puzzle. Well crafted, with SUCH great use of mid-length slots – LUDDITE, GO GREEN, SWAGGER, MACH ONE, DAD JOKE, DNA LABS, ROSE CUT, XS AND OS, RISOTTO. Themeless constructors, take note!

THIS IS THE WAY YOU SHOULD BE USING MID-LENGTH SLOTS!

Don't just be satisfied with having neutral filler in those precious seven-letter slots. Strive to use great material like this.

And CUE CARD is not just a excellent entry in its own right, but what a brilliant clue. At first (and at second and at third) glance, I had no idea what was going on. [Stage holdup?] didn't have anything to do with Old West robbers? No? A stage of a play? But how is a CUE CARD like a robbery?

*headslap*

It's literally held up (for actors' benefit) on stage.

For me, POW! The gridsmanship is beautiful. But I can see how it wouldn't be POW! material for others. For that reason, I hesitated. I'd guess that as NYT themelesses go, it might not be good — heck, it might even be bad, as it could turn off too many chunks of the solving population. Probably not a lot of intersection in the Venn diagram of BJ NOVAK and CTHULHU fans.

But hey, this is my award to give out, and I really enjoyed this puzzle. So there.

1
D
2
N
3
A
4
L
5
A
6
B
7
S
8
B
9
J
10
N
11
O
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V
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A
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K
15
R
O
S
E
C
U
T
16
Y
O
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L
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S
E
17
O
X
I
D
A
T
E
18
L
U
D
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T
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O
Z
S
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I
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X
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L
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D
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B
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P
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A
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S
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O
P
I
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E
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G
I
R
L
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E
M
I
T
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S
29
L
I
E
30
M
O
N
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E
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D
A
D
J
O
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K
E
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S
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W
A
G
G
E
R
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O
D
E
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B
R
R
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M
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A
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C
H
O
N
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E
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C
A
K
E
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M
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I
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X
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O
M
A
N
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A
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B
U
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S
E
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N
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S
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S
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N
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A
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B
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R
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N
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R
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O
A
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A
D
A
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P
T
E
D
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C
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R
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H
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64
D
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L
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S
© 2018, The New York TimesNo. 0223 ( 24,944 )
Across
1
Matchmaking services? : DNALABS
8
Co-star of "The Office" who played Ryan Howard : BJNOVAK
15
In a classic form of diamond : ROSECUT
16
Victor's gloating cry : YOULOSE
17
Rust : OXIDATE
18
Technophobe : LUDDITE
19
They may be fluid: Abbr. : OZS
20
Banished : INEXILE
22
Smidgen : DAB
23
Shepherd's pie ingredients : PEAS
25
Venture a view : OPINE
26
Miss : GIRL
27
Radiates : EMITS
29
"No ___ can live forever": Martin Luther King Jr. : LIE
30
Street hustler's game : MONTE
31
Many a corny pun : DADJOKE
33
Bravado : SWAGGER
35
Lord Tennyson's "The Eagle," e.g. : ODE
36
Shaker's cry? : BRR
37
Speed of sound : MACHONE
41
Baker's shortcut : CAKEMIX
45
Certain Bedouin : OMANI
46
Aladdin's simian sidekick : ABU
48
Looks : SEEMS
49
Defeats by a hair : NIPS
50
Dumps : STIES
52
Auto parts giant : NAPA
53
"The enemy of ___ is the absence of limitations": Orson Welles : ART
54
Vehicle used by the police to catch thieves : BAITCAR
56
"Delta of Venus" author : NIN
57
Mob law? : RICOACT
59
Like many screenplays : ADAPTED
61
"The Call of ___" (short story by H. P. Lovecraft) : CTHULHU
62
Creamy Italian dish : RISOTTO
63
Colorful display in a weather report : HEATMAP
64
Places in the field : DEPLOYS
Down
1
Slumped : DROOPED
2
Cream in a cobalt blue jar : NOXZEMA
3
"Once again ..." : ASISAID
4
Trailblazed : LED
5
Four-letter fruit pronounced in three syllables : ACAI
6
"Au contraire ..." : BUTNO
7
The point of church above all? : STEEPLE
8
Ghostwriters lack them : BYLINES
9
Unit of energy : JOULE
10
Like Rodin's "The Thinker" : NUDE
11
Dated : OLD
12
Rendering useless : VOIDING
13
Phoenician goddess of fertility : ASTARTE
14
Snack company that's a subsidiary of Kellogg's : KEEBLER
21
Top part of a face : XII
24
Capital of Newfoundland and Labrador : STJOHNS
26
Reduce one's carbon footprint : GOGREEN
28
Copycat's comment : SODOI
30
Targets : MARKS
32
Comprehension : KEN
34
Ring letters : WBA
37
One referred to as "the crown" : MONARCH
38
"You all agree with me, yes?," in one word : AMIRITE
39
Modern screen test : CAPTCHA
40
Savor the praise : EATITUP
41
Stage holdup? : CUECARD
42
Had it in mind : MEANTTO
43
Sacrilege : IMPIETY
44
Tic-tac-toe plays : XSANDOS
47
Smidgen : BIT
50
___ Baron Cohen, player of Borat : SACHA
51
Title woman of a Beatles song : SADIE
54
Lip ___ : BALM
55
Scrape : RASP
58
Published : OUT
60
Party person, for short : POL

Answer summary: 4 unique to this puzzle, 1 debuted here and reused later.

Found bugs or have suggestions?