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New York Times, Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Author:
Queena Mewers and Alex Eaton-Salners
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
22/6/20192/4/20202
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
0011000
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.57000
Queena Mewers
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
352/2/20173/26/20202
SunMonTueWedThuFriSatVariety
127614113
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.54250
Alex Eaton-Salners

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 76, Blocks: 38 Missing: {JQZ} Spans: 1 This is puzzle # 2 for Ms. Mewers. This is puzzle # 32 for Mr. Eaton-Salners. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Constructor notes:
We submitted this puzzle in December 2018, and it was accepted in April 2019. It's our second collaboration in the NYT. Our working ... read more

We submitted this puzzle in December 2018, and it was accepted in April 2019. It's our second collaboration in the NYT.

Our working title for this puzzle was "Instrument Panel." But we informally thought of it as a story about a raunchy rendezvous involving a love triangle, champagne, stilettos, and a sex tape.

Since we knew that angle wouldn't fly in a mainstream venue, in our submitted manuscript we clued the theme entries as "Heel instruments?," "Rom-com plot instruments?," "Toasting instruments?," "Interviewers' instruments?," and "Procreation instruments?" Because those theme clues hint at the dual nature of the instruments in each themer, we thought an additional revealer was unnecessary.

We were a little disappointed to see that the theme clues were edited into more straightforward definitions and paired with a revision of the southeast corner to add the revealer MUSIC. That grid revision, unfortunately, resulted in some infelicitous words being added to the puzzle.

On the other hand, perhaps that change enhances the aha moment by delaying the solver's realization of the connection shared between the theme entries.

In choosing our group of themers, we prioritized examples where the instrument word was used in a completely different sense. For example, a COMPUTER KEYBOARD is very similar in form and function to a piano keyboard, so that was a no-go. We also avoided themers like SEA BASS where the two homographs have different pronunciations.

Jeff Chen notes:
Wonderful early-week theme. You'd think that a musician with a 25-year history of playing in orchestras, jazz bands, symphonies, ... read more

Wonderful early-week theme. You'd think that a musician with a 25-year history of playing in orchestras, jazz bands, symphonies, string quartets, etc. would pick up on instruments hidden at the ends of theme phrases. Only a dunderhead would say YES, I KNOW THIS THEME; IT'S GEOMETRIC SHAPES!

Bah. CHAMPAGNE FLUTES are cylindrical, and I stand by that fact. Er, "fact."

But TAPE RECORDERS ARE RECTANGULAR BOXES!

Maybe I shouldn't comment on SEX ORGANS.

If only the gridwork had been as strong as the theme. Take that southeast corner, for example. Parallel placement of a themer and a revealer, squished together in one corner, rarely works out. You never want to subject newer solvers to something like INRI. These types of "I have to know THIS if I want to do crosswords?" entries are no good, hearkening back to the days of Maleska taking smug pride in making crosswords esoteric. Sure, the crossings are fair, but it's still not a fun entry for most people to encounter.

As much as I enjoy having a revealer in the "omega position" (the final across answer), I'd much rather give up some elegance to preserve a better solving experience. Shifting MUSIC all the way to the left might have helped, but that, of course, would require a complete grid redo.

It's such a shame that Alex and Queena's intent didn't align with Will Shortz's vision. I prefer Will's approach — the delayed a-ha is fantastic — but shooting it back to the constructors would have resulted in a much more polished grid. That's a big ask, given how many puzzles Will has to churn through, but even if he had to hire another assistant to get this done, it'd be well worth it.

There are benefits to this audacious grid layout, no doubt. I love the word CHICANERY, and to get so much CAN OPENER, PIN SETTER, BREXIT? OK, I'LL BITE! If the theme had been harder, more like Wednesday or Thursday difficulty, I'd have happily given the thumbs-up.

Other solvers without a pesky constructor's voice in their head might have a stronger solving experience. There is something to be said about some Tuesdays pushing boundaries, after all. Such a shame (that I can't get past my insistence on technical excellence), as the theme was POW! quality.

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© 2020, The New York TimesNo. 0204 ( 25,655 )

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Across
1
Smidgens : IOTAS
6
Friend, to François : AMI
9
Sniper's aid : SCOPE
14
Olympics symbol : TORCH
15
Symbol for an audio device : EAR
16
Big name in pest control : ORKIN
17
Crams (in) : SHOEHORNS
19
Center of U.S. lobstering : MAINE
20
Luxury purse monogram : YSL
21
Long March leader in China : MAO
22
Abandons a commitment, in slang : BAILS
23
Some romantic entanglements : LOVETRIANGLES
28
___ of one's existence : BANE
29
Letters after Chuck Schumer's name : DNY
30
Texter's "One more thing ..." : BTW
31
Philosopher with a "razor" : OCCAM
34
ET from the planet Melmac : ALF
35
Bank with M.L.B. naming rights, for short : CITI
36
Things clinked on New Year's Eve : CHAMPAGNEFLUTES
40
Fey of "30 Rock" : TINA
41
Drop from the roster : CUT
42
Alternatives to taxis : UBERS
43
Prefix with freak or friendly : ECO
44
Undergarment with hooks : BRA
45
Harley, e.g., informally : BIKE
47
Interviewing aids : TAPERECORDERS
51
St. Kitts's island partner : NEVIS
52
Jerry's partner in ice cream : BEN
53
Org. with code-named programs : CIA
56
Confine, as on a farm : PENIN
57
Subjects of health class diagrams : SEXORGANS
60
Minotaur's island : CRETE
61
Trident-shaped letter : PSI
62
Man's name whose last letter often has an accent : ANDRE
63
Funeral fires : PYRES
64
"Even so ..." : YET
65
What the ends of 17-, 23-, 36-, 47- and 57-Across make : MUSIC
Down
1
Teeny-weeny : ITSY
2
Cries of awe : OOHS
3
Online troublemaker : TROLL
4
Nail, as a test : ACE
5
"Zip it!" : SHH
6
Make fizzy, in a way : AERATE
7
Home that may have a butler : MANOR
8
Returns org. : IRS
9
A bunch : SOMANY
10
Daniel ___, player of 007 : CRAIG
11
"Sure, try me" : OKILLBITE
12
Bowling alley worker, once : PINSETTER
13
L.A.-to-Chicago dir. : ENE
18
Gathering clouds, to some : OMEN
22
Canada's oldest national park : BANFF
24
Michelle who wrote "Becoming" : OBAMA
25
Improvise, in jazz : VAMP
26
Lay off, as workers : IDLE
27
Roger Federer's nationality : SWISS
31
Largish jazz combo : OCTET
32
Deceitful doings : CHICANERY
33
Item made unnecessary by a pull tab : CANOPENER
34
Bug in "A Bug's Life" : ANT
35
Expert solver of a Rubik's toy : CUBER
37
Zoning divisions, maybe : ACRES
38
Green dip, informally : GUAC
39
Princess Leia's twin brother : LUKE
44
Picklers' solutions : BRINES
45
Campaign promise of Boris Johnson : BREXIT
46
Fig. on a driver's license or passport : IDNO
48
Paperless party announcement : EVITE
49
More than fat : OBESE
50
A bunch : SCADS
54
Letters on a crucifix : INRI
55
"Just hold on ___!" : ASEC
56
Angel dust letters : PCP
57
007, for one : SPY
58
Animal in a flock : RAM
59
Animal in a herd : GNU

Answer summary: 4 unique to this puzzle, 2 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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