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New York Times, Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Author:
Ruth Bloomfield Margolin
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
92/26/201412/20/20180
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3013200
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1.50100
Ruth B. Margolin

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 76, Blocks: 38 Missing: {FJQWYZ} This is puzzle # 3 for Ms. Margolin. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Ruth B. Margolin notes:
Naive constructor wanders unknowingly into the quicksand of a tricky-to-implement perimeter theme. Whichever path she takes, the theme ... read more

Naive constructor wanders unknowingly into the quicksand of a tricky-to-implement perimeter theme. Whichever path she takes, the theme idea leads to murky fill. Will responds in a manner that is simultaneously encouraging (i.e. he likes the theme) and discouraging (i.e. he says that perhaps it can't be done), and the constructor flails around for a bit, gasping for good fill, wearing down Will's admirable patience, until finally emerging safe and sound and published.

I know that you've read that story in these notes before. I am clearly not the first to discover that a puzzle with perimeter theme answers is really hard to fill! Having fixed letters all around the perimeter severely limits the options for words that can fill in the rest of the puzzle. I just didn't know that when I began this project, and it seemed like such a good idea. Will clued me in after my umpteenth revision attempt, and I think he probably wanted me to throw in the towel.

But a few months later, I couldn't help trying again. Will then brought in an expert, Frank Longo, to consult, and Frank offered some suggestions (Thank you, Frank!), some of which you see in the puzzle's northeast. At the end of it all, Will gave it his approval, and here we are. The story has a happy ending!

Jeff Chen notes:
'Perimeter puzzles' rely on a revealer to makes sense of the answers around the edges. SUBMERGED didn't make sense to me at first ... read more

"Perimeter puzzles" rely on a revealer to makes sense of the answers around the edges. SUBMERGED didn't make sense to me at first — shouldn't that mean two "sub" answers will merge, i.e. cross? But upon further thought, SUBMERGED instructs the solver to "merge SUB with what's in the entry." Interesting concept!

That one at the very bottom — that's a subLIME! (groan)

Ruth did a good job selecting theme answers, choosing ones that looked perfectly normal in the grid — not to mention, ones that intersect so nicely in the four corners! I stared at the very first square for the longest time, wonder how LIME could make sense for [Lofty in thought or manner]. I do like limes, but are they really lofty? Finally figuring that out was lime. Er, (sub)LIME.

I had a head-scratching moment upon uncovering (sub)URBAN and (sub)TRACT, as those didn't "merge" with another theme answer. And then I kicked myself, remembering that SUBMERGED just meant "add SUB." Dang it!

Ruth is absolutely right, perimeter puzzles are notoriously difficult to fill well, given the constraint of having two crossing "themers" in the corners (I swore them off after my last one). I was very pleased with Ruth's execution in the lower right — SASHIMI along with not a drop of crossword glue? Beautiful work, especially given the degree of difficulty.

The lower left is more typical in terms of the liabilities seen in perimeter puzzles. ALIENEE is a valid word, but I don't know how many (non-lawyer) solvers will clap at this one. Along with IN ME and (the very minor) EST, it's got a few flaws.

Perimeter puzzles are also notorious for making it difficult to work in great long fill. With all the constraints already placed on the grid, it's so tough to take advantage of those long slots. TEA HOUSE is quite nice, but PANELIST to me is more neutral, as are BETAMAX, SLEEVES, ESSENES, etc.

I like when struggle suddenly flips to a moment of discovery, so I liked the concept. There were a few more dabs of crossword glue than I like, but that's part of the nature of this theme style.

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© 2016, The New York TimesNo. 0224 ( 24,214 )
Across
1
Lofty in thought or manner : SUBLIME
5
Like the area between city and farm : SUBURBAN
10
Puts down by force : SUBDUES
14
Apple originally marketed to schools : EMAC
15
Blackmore's Doone : LORNA
16
M.I.T. part: Abbr. : INST
17
M.I.T. part: Abbr. : TECH
18
Make impure : TAINT
19
City on the Arno : PISA
20
S.U.V. named for a lake : TAHOE
22
Football legend Amos Alonzo ___ : STAGG
24
Number of states that border the Mississippi : TEN
25
Composer of music "as ignorable as it is interesting" : ENO
26
D-Day vessels, for short : LSTS
28
With all judges present : ENBANC
30
Greet, as the new year : RINGIN
32
Popular Bach piece for the lute : BOURREE
33
Twinings in London is one : TEAHOUSE
36
Super Bowl highlights, to many : ADS
37
Goes underwater ... or a hint to the answers on the perimeter of this puzzle : SUBMERGES
40
"Six-pack" muscles : ABS
42
Talent show judge, often : PANELIST
45
LP protectors : SLEEVES
48
Bow respectfully : SALAAM
50
Fruitcake fruit : CITRON
51
Eartha who sang "C'est Si Bon" : KITT
53
Mani-pedi spot : SPA
54
Mens ___ (criminal intent) : REA
55
"Star Wars" droid, informally : ARTOO
57
Upper reaches of space : ETHER
59
"You've Got a Friend ___" : INME
61
Yoga posture : ASANA
63
Diva ___ Te Kanawa : KIRI
64
Wasabi ___ (bar snack) : PEAS
65
Politico lampooned by Fey : PALIN
66
Sign to heed : OMEN
67
Underlying theme : SUBTEXT
68
Take away : SUBTRACT
69
Become less intense : SUBSIDE
Down
1
Renter from a renter : SUBLETTER
2
"This is no joke!" : IMEANIT
3
Speed of sound : MACHONE
4
Guitar amp effect : ECHO
5
Extreme: Abbr. : ULT
6
Comedians' shindig : ROAST
7
Yanks' allies in W.W. I and II : BRITS
8
Visitor to Siam, on stage and film : ANNA
9
"Explorer" channel : NATGEO
10
Stock market fluctuation : DIP
11
Acrobat's wear : UNITARD
12
Dead Sea Scrolls sect : ESSENES
13
Meat of the matter : SUBSTANCE
21
College benefactor Yale : ELIHU
23
Serengeti antelope : GNU
27
Hoity-toity sort : SNOB
29
Rio's land, to natives : BRASIL
31
Thigh-slapper : GASSER
32
Capital on the Aare : BERN
34
World Series game sextet : UMPS
35
Triton's domain : SEA
38
Tale of adventure : GEST
39
Send over the moon : ELATE
40
Property recipient, in law : ALIENEE
41
Loser to VHS : BETAMAX
43
Sushi bar option : SASHIMI
44
Like the pointed end of a pencil : TAPERED
45
The "2" in the formula for water, e.g. : SUBSCRIPT
46
U.S. broadcaster overseas : VOA
47
Totally absorbed : ENRAPT
49
U.S.S. Nautilus, for one : SUBMARINE
51
Eucalyptus-munching animal : KOALA
52
Column style : IONIC
56
Central figure in a Mussorgsky opera : TSAR
58
Ring stoppages, for short : TKOS
60
Guinness suffix : EST
62
Formicide's target : ANT

Answer summary: 3 unique to this puzzle, 1 debuted here and reused later, 1 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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