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New York Times, Thursday, March 14, 2019

Author:
Nancy Stark and Will Nediger
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
23/14/20196/12/20192
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
0001100
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.75000
Nancy Stark
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
295/27/20066/12/20192
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
12025118
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.78032
Will Nediger

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 76, Blocks: 35 Missing: {QVZ} This is the debut puzzle for Ms. Stark. This is puzzle # 27 for Mr. Nediger. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Constructor notes:
NANCY: As a passionate lifelong recreational tennis player, I have always loved the comment from Peter Fleming, winner of an ... read more

NANCY:

As a passionate lifelong recreational tennis player, I have always loved the comment from Peter Fleming, winner of an astounding 52 doubles titles including seven Grand Slams with his partner John McEnroe: "The best doubles pair in the world is John McEnroe and anybody." And so, too, I have found myself fortunate enough to collaborate with Will Nediger — surely one of the best crossword constructors working today. In addition to being a consummate professional, he is a joy to work with — generous, good-natured, laid back, and seemingly without ego.

Knowing that I couldn't construct a crossword grid if my life depended on it, I wondered if having a good idea might "earn" me a top puzzle pro. Of course, having a good idea is not so easy: as one constructor/blog friend told me: "Ideas never come when you're trying to think them up. They come when you least expect them." As did this one. I don't remember the moment of inspiration, but once I sat down with the idea and saw that the symmetry would work, I thought: this is the one for which I should try to find a collaborator. Thanks to Lewis Rothlein and Erik Agard for getting me to Will Nediger.

As a solver, I like my puzzles tough and, even more, I like them tricky. That's the kind of puzzle I wanted to bestow on the puzzle-solving community. Hoping that it will give solvers the big "Aha Moment" that the best trick puzzles always give me.

About my background: I'm a writer, lyricist, and former Book Club Editor. I'm a lifelong Manhattanite and have had had Home Delivery from the NYT since 1971.

WILL:

Admittedly, I don't know anything about Peter Fleming, but Nancy is surely selling herself short here. The theme is the most important part of a puzzle, after all, and Nancy is a theme-making machine. She's also a delight to work with, and we've already got one more upcoming collaboration in the Times, hopefully not the last!

Jeff Chen notes:
The villainous BLACK HAT played upon; HAT implied in the central square (see below for images / fixed-up entries). Four sizzling ... read more

The villainous BLACK HAT played upon; HAT implied in the central square (see below for images / fixed-up entries). Four sizzling phrases hid that HAT in confounding ways – YOU DID WHAT, HATE MONGER, HATCHET JOB. CHEW ON THAT! Note how HAT was never alone, like in HAT HEAD or COWBOY HAT. Great work picking themers.

Solid gridwork, too. Not a surprise, given that Will Nediger is one of the best in the business. With only four shortish themers, I'd fully expect a ton of great long fill. ALTER EGO, BAR CAR, HOBO BAG, GET ON IT, OLD LATIN – not disappointed!

I wasn't keen on the grid segmentation, though. I got trapped during my solve in the SW, then again in the SE, then a third time in the NE. So frustrating to dead-end multiple times. It's tough to avoid grid segmentation in a theme layout like this, but I'd have taken lesser sizzling fill in exchange for more grid feng shui. Think about how much more open the grid would have felt without the block between IT IS and PHEW, for example.

The puzzle conceit would have felt more deliberate if the HAT square had been the lone black square not touching any others. As it was, I wondered, why that square? Just because? A bit too random.

That train of thought led to another puzzle, with much more of a BLACK HAT. That would have been exceptional for use in today's! It may not have been possible to have every answer running into the HAT be thematic, but I'd have been okay if it had been just a subset.

"Words or letters in black squares" have been tapped for thematic material enough that Jim wrote a script to help automate the fixup process. One from just a couple of months ago came to my mind immediately. Since this is getting to be an old idea, it'd be helpful if Will (Shortz, not Nediger) spaced them out further going forward.

But aside from dead-ending a couple of times, I enjoyed the solve, enough of a trick to make all the hard work worth it. Strong debut.

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© 2019, The New York TimesNo. 0314 ( 25,328 )
Across
1
Kept for a rainy day : LAIDAWAY
9
Place where people are going with their drinks? : BARCAR
15
Norman Bates or his mother, in "Psycho" : ALTEREGO
16
Advice for relaxing : EXHALE
17
Top-level list : MAINMENU
18
Judge appropriate : SEEFIT
19
Ninny : ASS
20
One of the choices on a computer's 17-Across : EDIT
22
Brown or blacken : SEAR
23
Welcome at the front door : SHOWIN
26
Get dressed (up) : GUSSY
27
Portable workstation : LAPTOP
30
___ it out (fights) : DUKES
32
Chinua who wrote "Things Fall Apart" : ACHEBE
33
Order in the court : WRIT
34
Concert piece : AMP
37
"Here's something for you to think about, you ingrate!" : CHEWONTHAT
39
One who spreads discord : HATEMONGER
41
Shade provider in Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" : YEW
42
Coalition : BLOC
44
Mindlessly : ONAUTO
45
Request during a physical checkup : SAYAH
46
Beginning of many workdays : NINEAM
47
[I don't care] : SHRUG
50
Onetime division of the Chrysler Corporation : DESOTO
52
Sweatshirt part : HOOD
53
Finding on Snopes.com : MYTH
54
"Are you ___?" : MAD
57
"Ciao" : IMGONE
59
Manage to detach by hitting : JARLOOSE
63
Have a quick look-see, say : PEEKIN
64
Language of the pre-Roman Empire : OLDLATIN
65
Some IHOP choices : SYRUPS
66
Western villain ... or a hint to four answers in this puzzle : BLACKHAT
Down
1
Spiritual guide : LAMA
2
"___! 'tis true I have gone here and there" (start of a Shakespeare sonnet) : ALAS
3
"That so?" : ITIS
4
Place where plots are hatched : DEN
5
The radius runs along it : ARM
6
Small : WEE
7
Politico who called the press "nattering nabobs of negativism" : AGNEW
8
Incredulous question : YOUDIDWHAT
9
Worst in a competition : BEST
10
Can : AXE
11
Animal that shares its name with a king of Thrace in the "Iliad" : RHESUS
12
Sights along the Champs-Élysées : CAFES
13
Aid for a fugitive : ALIAS
14
Take another shot at : RETRY
21
Habituate : INURE
23
Burgoo, e.g. : STEW
24
Kind of purse that sags : HOBOBAG
25
In public : OPENLY
26
"What are you waiting for?!" : GETONIT
27
Frilly : LACY
28
Long : ACHE
29
"Close call!" : PHEW
31
A geisha might be found in one : KIMONO
34
Shivering fit : AGUE
35
Self-referential : META
36
Place for a king and queen : PROM
38
Overdo the flattery : TOADY
40
Prefix with particle : NANO
43
Takedown piece : HATCHETJOB
45
Numbers game : SUDOKU
47
Where many cabins are found : SHIPS
48
Comfortable and welcoming : HOMEY
49
"Got it" : ROGER
51
Will, more emphatically : SHALL
53
Clothing department : MENS
54
Unpleasant find in a sweater : MOTH
55
___-Pacific : ASIA
56
Ding : DENT
58
Edge : NIP
60
Suggested qty. : RDA
61
Inc. alternative : LLC
62
Symbol of strength : OAK

Answer summary: 3 unique to this puzzle.

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