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New York Times, Monday, March 17, 2014

Author: John Lieb
Editor: Will Shortz
John Lieb
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125/14/20134/28/20183
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0412203
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1.61100

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 78, Blocks: 38 Missing: {KQZ} This is puzzle # 4 for Mr. Lieb. NYT links: Across Lite PDF

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John Lieb notes: 'Vowel run' themes seem to come along three or four times a year and when they do I wonder where the inspiration for them comes. ... more
John Lieb notes: "Vowel run" themes seem to come along three or four times a year and when they do I wonder where the inspiration for them comes. This one came about in a roundabout way...

In themeless puzzles, I enjoy the occasional random, oddball trivia clue that either surprises me or makes me think of something I have not thought of for a while. I tried collecting a few of these and making a themeless puzzle with them as seed entries, but that attempt fizzled out. One of those entries, GYMNASTICS, and the trivia clue that went with it held my attention and I wanted to see if I could get it into a themed puzzle somehow. This was back in June 2012 and I had recently done a Monday puzzle by Andrea Carla Michaels and Michael Blake, so the vowel run idea was fresh in my mind.

A G*M progression seemed to have potential and the theme entries came quickly. I also thought that with the GYM- entry last, it could be clued with the trivia clue, since if you notice the vowel run there are not a lot of words starting with GYM, and that it might make a fun Tuesday puzzle because of that random bit of trivia whose answer could be inferred. Once Will accepted the puzzle and said he was using it as a Monday, I figured the trivia clue would get changed to something more traditional, and it did. Overall, I'm happy with how the puzzle came out and that about 60% of my clues made it through (the one for JIM PALMER being my favorite).

And that trivia clue for GYMNASTICS, which only children of the '80s might appreciate: "Sport coached by Mr. T in the '80s animated series 'Mister T'."

Jeff Chen notes: Such a fun time meeting John at the ACPT a week ago! We toiled away at judging (read: goofed off in the back room) and attended two ... more
Jeff Chen notes: Such a fun time meeting John at the ACPT a week ago! We toiled away at judging (read: goofed off in the back room) and attended two imbibement meetings hosted by Will (what happens in Brooklyn stays in Brooklyn). A math teacher by profession, John is a really nice guy.

To the puzzle! A vowel progression of the pattern G?M* (in search strings, the ? can stand for any letter while the * can stand for any number of letters), John goes one step further than most, including the Y for a sixth entry. Five entries are hard enough to integrate smoothly, and six is even harder.

A typical trade-off is that with six themers, it's difficult to incorporate much long fill. Often, you need to deploy your black squares to separate the themers, and working in even one set of long downs becomes difficult. But John blasts that notion apart, giving us the sparkle of SEDUCTIVE FANTASIES (math teacher or Walter Mitty, hmm?), DRESS CODE, and JIM PALMER. More good long fill than we usually see on a Monday — very impressive!

Regarding the short fill, Will and I have a difference of philosophy when it comes to Mondays. I totally get that he wants to make even the easiest puzzle something that the erudite NYT audience will appreciate. I would prefer to make the Monday puzzle something a beginner could tackle, thus encouraging audience growth. I think seeing IRAE, NILS, ADANO, A TEST in a grid would turn off a true beginner, thus losing a potential customer, as I tend to think of things more from the business side than anything. I appreciate that Will wants to keep his current audience happy, though. It's his prerogative, of course.

As for the theme, I like vowel progressions — I think they're fun. As my good friend Andrea Carla Michaels (ACME as we call her) says, they're almost lyrical, poetic. I would prefer for a little more tightness than what we have today, as GUM sticks out to me as the only full word chunk and GYMNASTICS is the only themer without two words. But what can you do — this particular G?M* sequence isn't particularly amenable to that.

Raising another glass to Walter — er, John!

P.S. I pity the fool.

1
C
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A
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T
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© 2014, The New York TimesNo. 0317 ( 23,505 )
Across Down
1. Ace of spades, e.g. : CARD
5. Room under the roof : ATTIC
10. Old Russian autocrat : TSAR
14. Lothario's look : LEER
15. The middle Corleone brother : FREDO
16. Six: Prefix : HEXA
17. "Dies ___" (Latin hymn) : IRAE
18. Poacher's nemesis : GAMEWARDEN
20. Guitarist Lofgren of the E Street Band : NILS
21. With it : HIP
22. In ___ of : LIEU
23. Idaho's nickname : GEMSTATE
25. Muslim pilgrim's destination : MECCA
28. Pringles container : CAN
29. Witness : SEE
31. Young 'un : TOT
32. College concentration : MAJOR
35. Request for some skin : GIMMEFIVE
38. Gung-ho : AVID
39. Regulations : RULES
40. Streets: Abbr. : AVES
41. Mayberry resident who became a Marine : GOMERPYLE
43. Lifeless : INERT
44. Beat by a hair : NIP
45. Old what's-___-name : HIS
46. Picnic pest : ANT
47. Hersey's "A Bell for ___" : ADANO
49. Round candy in a vending machine : GUMBALLS
54. Stow, as cargo : LADE
56. Burma's first prime minister : UNU
57. Campbell's product : SOUP
58. Sport that includes the pommel horse and parallel bars : GYMNASTICS
61. "Assuming that's true ..." : IFSO
62. Round hammer part : PEEN
63. Most accessible seating choice : AISLE
64. Grub : EATS
65. Out of kilter : AWRY
66. "___ Gold" (Peter Fonda film) : ULEES
67. Eye woe : STYE
1. Hold on (to) : CLING
2. Eagle's nest : AERIE
3. Domain : REALM
4. Casual Friday relaxes it : DRESSCODE
5. Kabul native : AFGHAN
6. Characteristic : TRAIT
7. City near Phoenix : TEMPE
8. Suffix with sulf- : IDE
9. Monk's hood : COWL
10. Number of Scrabble points for a B, C, M or P : THREE
11. Alluring : SEDUCTIVE
12. Lumberjack's tool : AXE
13. Moved fast : RAN
19. "Save Me" singer Mann : AIMEE
24. Cigarette substance : TAR
26. Report on, as a news story : COVER
27. 1945 Alamogordo event, informally : ATEST
29. Captain Hook henchman : SMEE
30. Ambulance letters : EMS
32. ___ Carta : MAGNA
33. Steer clear of : AVOID
34. Orioles Hall-of-Fame pitcher who modeled Jockey underwear : JIMPALMER
35. Fellas : GUYS
36. Not well : ILL
37. Excursions to la-la land : FANTASIES
39. School in Troy, N.Y. : RPI
42. "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" spinoff : RHODA
43. Bach's "Mass ___ Minor" : INB
46. Makes laugh : AMUSES
48. One minding the baby : NANNY
49. False front : GUISE
50. "I give up!" : UNCLE
51. Lite : LOFAT
52. Robust : LUSTY
53. "Assuming it's true ...," informally : SPOSE
55. Jacob's twin : ESAU
58. Transcript stat : GPA
59. Archery wood : YEW
60. Up to, briefly : TIL

Answer summary: 4 unique to this puzzle.

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