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New York Times, Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Author: Gordon Johnson
Editor: Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
23/15/20167/20/20160
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1.61001
Gordon Johnson

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 74, Blocks: 36 Missing: none – this is a pangram. Spans: 1 This is the debut puzzle for Mr. Johnson. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Gordon Johnson notes: Three's the charm, they say. Unfortunately I had to go through that cycle 6 times before getting here. Meaning this is exactly ... more
Gordon Johnson notes:

Three's the charm, they say. Unfortunately I had to go through that cycle 6 times before getting here. Meaning this is exactly the 18th puzzle I ever constructed, but my first ever for the New York Times. So, good to be here.

As a first timer, perhaps I should say I work for the UN, I've lived overseas for many years in many different places (currently Bangkok), and my background is in engineering, philosophy and international affairs. Somehow those three fit together well enough. These days I mostly focus on environmental issues.

So contemplating groups of threes, I think I was sitting in a meeting one day having trouble concentrating. So my mind drifted toward groups of threes, as it does. There are so many! From the Wise Men to the Blind Mice to the Little Pigs, from Three Dog Night to Three Days Grace, from the Stooges to the Musketeers to the Holy Trinity. And in the inanimate world the list continues: there's earth, wind and fire; the sun, moon and stars; rock, paper, scissors; and of course … liquid, solid, gas.

Now most of these potential themes have been worked over pretty well already. But the cruciverb database told me that STATESOFMATTER was as yet unused. As well, this nice 14-letter word is exactly the same length as LIQUIDSOLIDGAS. So I was off and running. Choosing H2O as the matter in question, I looked for phrases that included ice, water and steam that hadn't been overused already.

ICESKATINGRINKS had never seen used, runs to 15 letters and could go smack dab in the middle of the puzzle. So putting that in place and with the other themers as my guide, it turns out that WATERTANKS and STEAMBOATS are both 10 letters and fit perfectly and symmetrically at 11D and 26D, locking all the theme words together quite nicely I thought. So there you have it.

One last point for the purist in us all: yes, there are more than three states of matter. If this puzzle had a title, it would have been "Forget Plasma." According to Wikipedia, I guess we should ignore "Bose–Einstein condensates, neutron-degenerate matter and quark-gluon plasma" as well.

Jeff Chen notes: I liked this idea, STATES OF MATTER paired with SOLID LIQUD GAS. Tough for me to not enjoy a physics / chemistry puzzle! It was also ... more
Jeff Chen notes:

I liked this idea, STATES OF MATTER paired with SOLID LIQUD GAS. Tough for me to not enjoy a physics / chemistry puzzle! It was also fun to use water as the example, ICE SKATING RINKS to WATER TANKS to STEAMBOATS. Although I've seen this basic concept before, it's usually been with three themers only, starting respectively with SOLID / LIQUID / GAS. So I liked all the theme material packed in today.

Poor plasma got the shaft

Elegance in puzzles delights me, and that can come in many forms. Some people prize interconnection, like how STEAMBOATS runs through SOLID LIQUID GAS. But that doesn't impress me so much, since several answers could have fit there — STEAMROLLS, STEAM POWER, STEAM ROOMS. The crossing of STATES OF MATTER / WATER TANKS does have some elegance — there's a fortuitous shared letter in the critical words, MATTER and WATER.

I would have loved some natural progression though. One could be ICE to WATER to STEAM (or reversed), perhaps all three of them listed sequentially in the across direction. Another could be STEAM higher than ICE higher than WATER, to demonstrate the relative densities of the three states. That might have been confusing to some, but it could have been a fun picture of an ice pond on a warming day. Plus, it's just a cool phenomenon that water gets less dense when it boils … AND when it freezes.

Nice to see a debut constructor pushing himself to get some bonus fill in the grid, even with five themers. I liked MACADMIA and EBULLIENT. JESTER, UTMOST, HECKLE, and RAQUEL were also appreciated.

REBOIL though … okay, it's a tough little area once you've gotten the themers and EBULLIENT fixed in place. But not only is it a pretty made-up sounding word, but it muddies the theme, making me wonder if it's somehow supposed to be related? I find a few BES, APO, DOZ kind of gluey bits more passable than one REBOIL, especially since the latter takes up a precious mid-length slot.

Overall though, a nice debut.

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© 2016, The New York TimesNo. 0315 ( 24,234 )
Across Down
1. Tori who sang "Cornflake Girl" : AMOS
5. Inspiring part of the body? : LUNG
9. Shot the bull : JAWED
14. Handed-down tales : LORE
15. Bibliographic abbr. : ETAL
16. As a friend, in France : ENAMI
17. Nut from Hawaii : MACADAMIA
19. Certain nonviolent protest : SITIN
20. Elements' various forms : STATESOFMATTER
22. Wanna-___ (copycats) : BES
23. Have on : WEAR
24. Ottoman bigwig : PASHA
28. Tapioca or taro root : TUBER
31. "Eternally nameless" Chinese concept : TAO
34. Places where knots are tied : ALTARS
36. ___ chi : TAI
37. "The Magic Mountain" novelist Thomas : MANN
38. Places to do figure eights : ICESKATINGRINKS
41. One preparing for a coming flood : NOAH
42. Sports org. with a five-ring logo : IOC
43. Rudely interrupt, as a comedian : HECKLE
44. "Cheers" bartender : SAM
45. Like mud, in an idiom : CLEAR
47. Under siege : BESET
48. Lacking adornment : BARE
50. Mil. mail center : APO
52. Three main 20-Across ... with examples included in 38-Across and 11- and 26-Down : SOLIDLIQUIDGAS
59. Parts of combination locks : DIALS
60. Bursting with joy : EBULLIENT
61. Leading the pack : ONTOP
62. Middle's middle? : DEES
63. Sell : VEND
64. Like much chili : ZESTY
65. Greased auto part : AXLE
66. Just manages, with "out" : EKES
1. Help for the poor : ALMS
2. Ring around a castle : MOAT
3. Toothed whale : ORCA
4. Ticket specification : SEAT
5. Alternative to buy : LEASE
6. Nth degree : UTMOST
7. Babe in the woods : NAIF
8. Early rock genre for David Bowie : GLAM
9. Court entertainer : JESTER
10. ___ Bath (prank call name) : ANITA
11. Large containers often found atop buildings : WATERTANKS
12. Abu Dhabi dignitary : EMIR
13. Loud noise : DIN
18. Go down the gangplank : DEBARK
21. Just free of the sea bottom : AWEIGH
24. Annoying sorts : PAINS
25. Giant in lightweight metals : ALCOA
26. Some Mississippi River traffic : STEAMBOATS
27. This-and-that dish : HASH
29. City on the Erie Canal : UTICA
30. The U.N.'s ___ Ki-moon : BAN
32. Site for a parolee tracking device : ANKLE
33. Get-go : ONSET
35. Went by sloop, say : SAILED
37. Computer alternatives to touchpads : MICE
39. "Piggy" : TOE
40. Bring to 212° again : REBOIL
45. Fried chicken option : CRISPY
46. Welch of "Myra Breckinridge" : RAQUEL
49. Divvy up : ALLOT
51. A vital sign : PULSE
52. It's 1 for 90° : SINE
53. Mother of Helen of Troy : LEDA
54. Alpine goat : IBEX
55. Run-down tavern : DIVE
56. Show one's nerdy side, with "out" : GEEK
57. Youngest Brontë : ANNE
58. Yardsticks: Abbr. : STDS
59. Qty. at a bakery : DOZ

Answer summary: 4 unique to this puzzle, 3 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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