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New York Times, Thursday, March 13, 2014

Author: Alex Vratsanos
Editor: Will Shortz
Alex Vratsanos
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
156/13/20111/20/20183
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3132213
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.60030

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 72, Blocks: 38 Missing: {JQWZ} This is puzzle # 6 for Mr. Vratsanos. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Alex Vratsanos notes: I don't quite remember exactly when this theme came to me, but according to my files, my original draft dates back to March ... more
Alex Vratsanos notes: I don't quite remember exactly when this theme came to me, but according to my files, my original draft dates back to March 2013. That original draft was not as good as what you now see; BLACK OPS / EIGHT BIT was there, but opposite it was NINE IRON / BLUE NILE, which is not very elegant because of the differing lengths of the colors and numbers as well as their positions in the entries. The other themers were even less elegant, as they were not directly on top of one another (I had been working with horizontal themers up to this point): TEN SPOT was at the right of row 5, and NO TURN ON RED was at the left of row 6. Yes, TEN was right on top of RED, but now BLACK OPS / EIGHT BIT was the only theme pair that was not "number by color" (the other pair was ONE SHOT DEAL / FAKE TAN).

A few months later, I tried it again, and it was a step forward, but it did take some more drafting after that to come up with this grid. Even after it was accepted on January 16, I continued to play around with it, but now that it is in the New York Times, I am very satisfied with my work and Will's. Will did a great job with the clues (I loved his clue for MARGIN), but his biggest contribution was making the themers vertical — much more appropriate considering the revealer. Wish I'd thought to do that, having liked Joe DiPietro's "Bywords" a few months before it all started for this puzzle.

I hope you all enjoy solving it as much as I did making it!

Jeff Chen notes: Heavily constrained construction today, with a very neat revealer: COLOR BY NUMBER. Alex, a young constructor still in school, had ... more
Jeff Chen notes: Heavily constrained construction today, with a very neat revealer: COLOR BY NUMBER. Alex, a young constructor still in school, had contacted me about this puzzle a few months ago, and I thought it had a lot of potential. Glad to see that he made it through Will's gauntlet.

I liked very much how structured the themers were, i.e. the number and the color were always a matching length. It would have been much easier without that constraint (for example, being able to put ONE next to BLUE), so I'm glad Alex took it upon himself to shoot for the stars.

One question I asked him as we went back and forth on this: why those numbers, and why those colors? Specificity makes for elegance in crosswords, so it would have been really nice to have some pattern built in, i.e. TWO FOUR SIX EIGHT or ONE TWO THREE FOUR. I had suggested to Alex maybe trying it as a Sunday-size puzzle, perhaps with all the numbers one through ten, or with some rationale like one through seven coupled with the ROY G BIV colors. I don't know if that would have been possible though.

Note the central themer, which effectively divides the puzzle in half, left to right. Alex further ups the ante by using pairs of longish themers, forcing a extremely difficult construction, with effectively four tough-to-fill chunks of grid. Just looking at the white space in the NW and SE corners makes me shudder. I had suggested using cheater squares to smooth out an earlier version of his puzzle; glad to see a few in there. Much better than in the previous version!

What with the difficult constraints, I think Alex did a nice job in filling his grid. Aside from the handful of stuff I could overlook given the tough constraints, the one spot that jumps out is in the very tough NW corner, AVANTI crossing ANENT. I don't mind AVANTI at all, given that it's a real thing outside of crosswords, but ANENT falls in the ADIT camp to me — I used it once for Rich Norris (editor of the LAT) a while back and regretted it after sending it in; thankfully, Rich kicked it back to me saying ANENT was just too far off the crosswordese charts. Especially with its opaque clue, [Re], it was a tough section for me to solve.

I appreciate when constructors experiment, trying to achieve something not done before. If nothing else, it stretches the limits of possibility, potentially sparking new ideas to come.

JimH notes: "I'm walking here! I'm walking here!" Midnight Cowboy is the only Best Picture in Academy Award history to be RATED X.
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© 2014, The New York TimesNo. 0313 ( 23,501 )
Across Down
1. Swine : BOARS
6. "Giant" novelist, 1952 : FERBER
12. Country that calls itself the "Abode of Peace" : BRUNEI
13. Shakespeare character who says "Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave / My heart into my mouth" : CORDELIA
15. Like only one Best Picture in Academy Award history (1969) : RATEDX
16. Essay locale : OPEDPAGE
17. Stylish 1960s luxury coupe : AVANTI
18. Louis Malle's "___ Amants" : LES
19. Scottish exclamation : OCH
20. Fruit juice : NECTAR
21. Like much music, starting in the late 1980s : ONCD
23. Gold units: Abbr. : KTS
25. 2000 Richard Gere title role : DRT
26. D : POOR
28. Mycobacterium, e.g. : AEROBE
30. One of the vertices of the Summer Triangle : DENEB
31. Start to break up a fight, say : STEPIN
32. Boston legend Phil, to fans : ESPO
35. Rembrandt van ___ : RYN
37. Foundation stone abbr. : ESTD
38. Dirty dog : MEANIE
41. Conrad of the silents : NAGEL
44. Noted part of a book? : MARGIN
45. Eye part : UVEA
46. Diamond stats : DPS
49. Operative: Abbr. : AGT
50. Subj. of 1991's Start treaty : ICBM
52. Women's shoe style : TSTRAP
54. Line score inits. : RHE
56. Highball? : LOB
57. Approval of an order : AYEAYE
58. Play to the balcony? : SERENADE
60. Lassitude : TORPOR
61. Faint : KEELOVER
62. 11th-century founder of Scholasticism : ANSELM
63. Not hypothetical : INESSE
64. "___ lift?" : NEEDA
1. Like the Cowardly Lion at the end of "The Wizard of Oz" : BRAVER
2. Best on stage, say : OUTACT
3. Re : ANENT
4. Bureaucracy : REDTAPE
5. Mashie niblick : SIXIRON
6. Some diet drinks : FRESCAS
7. Teacher's advanced deg. : EDD
8. "___ Man" : REPO
9. 2010 installment in the Call of Duty series : BLACKOPS
10. Like some primitive game graphics : EIGHTBIT
11. "The Facts of Life" actress : RAE
12. Leave a lasting mark on : BRAND
13. Kid's art activity ... or something seen four times in this puzzle's solution? : COLORBYNUMBER
14. Public : OPEN
22. SFO opponent in the 2012 World Series : DET
24. Elate : SEND
27. Key preposition? : OER
29. Line holder : REEL
30. Vietnamese currency : DONG
32. Title character from the village of Highbury, 1815 : EMMA
33. Teal relative : SEAGREEN
34. Not too hard a golf hole : PARTHREE
36. Part of U.S.N.A.: Abbr. : NAV
39. Certain grandson : III
40. Vatican City vis-à-vis Rome : ENCLAVE
42. Sunbathe : GETATAN
43. "Piece of cake!" : EASYONE
46. Hung : DRAPED
47. Radio activity? : PAYOLA
48. ___ whale : SPERM
51. Foreshadow : BODE
53. Breviloquent : TERSE
55. Reef dwellers : EELS
58. Kind of trail : SKI
59. Rejections : NOS

Answer summary: 1 unique to this puzzle, 2 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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