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Puzzle of the Week

New York Times, Monday, March 20, 2017

Author: Neil deGrasse Tyson and Andrea Carla Michaels
Editor: Will Shortz
Neil deGrasse Tyson
TotalDebutCollabs
13/20/20171
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
0100000
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.66000
Andrea Carla Michaels
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
576/12/20007/16/201730
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
63892200
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.63117

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 80, Blocks: 44 Missing: {JQX} This is the debut puzzle for Mr. Tyson This is puzzle # 56 for Ms. Michaels. Jeff Chen's Puzzle of the Week pick NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Notepad: CELEBRITY PUZZLE
To mark the 75th anniversary of the New York Times crossword, which debuted in 1942, we are publishing a series of puzzles co-created by famous people who solve the Times crossword, working together with regular Times puzzle contributors.
This collaboration is by the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and his Harvard classmate Andrea Carla Michaels (with her 56th puzzle for The Times).
The celebrity collaborations will continue periodically through the year.
More information about the making of today's puzzle appears in the Times's daily crossword column (nytimes.com/column/wordplay).
Constructor notes: ACME: Neil and I met almost 40 years ago in a galaxy far far away and have been friends for a long long time. We had already ... more
Constructor notes:

ACME: Neil and I met almost 40 years ago in a galaxy far far away and have been friends for a long long time. We had already discussed doing a puzzle together when Will broached the idea of pairing a megastar (pun intended!) with a mere mortal.

Neil participated in every aspect, from theme generation to input on fill and cluing, despite his very tight schedule ... he really is in another stratosphere these days!

(The original theme seed was YOUCANTBESIRIUS (15!), followed by PLANETOFTHEAPUS, a bird-of-paradise constellation no one has ever heard of!)

Neil and I went through dozens of astropuns and Will and Joel were the final arbiters, even adding LITTLEDIPPER. They were strict about getting us to tighten our focus on stars, specifically. Smooth sailing, despite a little "discussion" as to whether HEAVENLYBODY clued as a "hottie" was sexist or not ... and my stubbornness of wanting DWARFPLANET ("Where Doc and Dopey hail from?") as a poke at Neil, who was responsible for demoting PLUTO, much to the horror of third graders everywhere.

Neil is an energetic, indefatigable, humorous, brilliant educator who wants to highlight Science in many forms ... whether hosting "Cosmos" or joining forces with his old college buddy to create a little Monday puzzle!

NEIL: I suppose a good puzzle clue is one where some people know the answer outright, while other people know they should know the answer but don't, leaving the rest to feel guilty for being clueless about the clue itself. Of course, politics, literature, entertainment, and pop culture, combined with nimble vocabulary, heavily feed these puzzles.

But as science rises in or culture, empowering us to become better shepherds of this world that we are borrowing from our descendants, we might expect to see science-inspired clues alongside the traditional ones. And maybe even occasional puzzle that's entirely science themed. In this spirit, I was delighted to work with one of the NYT's frequent contributors Andrea Carla Michaels, an old acquaintance from college, to bring some of the universe down to Earth — in this case, for a Monday Puzzle. As good a place as any to start.

Jeff Chen notes: Neil deGrasse Tyson! Fanboy SQUEEEE! (Sorry for breaking your eardrums.) Huge fan of Tyson's — Jill and I watched all of ... more
Jeff Chen notes:

Neil deGrasse Tyson! Fanboy SQUEEEE! (Sorry for breaking your eardrums.)

Huge fan of Tyson's — Jill and I watched all of his "Cosmos" remakes. In a time when science gets dismissed by all too many people, I love Tyson's efforts to educate and make change with humor. What a pleasure to get an amusing astronomy theme from him and Acme.

I had heard HEAVENLY BODIES before, in this [Total hottie?] sense, but the others felt fairly fresh. I particularly liked the more esoteric terms like STAR CLUSTER and GAS GIANT, showing off Tyson's depth in astronomy.

Did you understand the clue for RED DWARF? [Bashful?] refers to Bashful, one of the Seven Dwarfs — the one who frequently turns red. Concise, amusing, spot-on. Perfect!

There were a few rough aspects to the grid — the north, in particular, felt clunky. AIRE (suffix), ITSA (partial), AS BIG (quasi-partial) all in one area is not good. Adding a cheater square up there, perhaps at the A of AIRE, might have helped, while still allowing for PAYPAL. The overlap of LITTLE DIPPER and GAS GIANT does make things slightly tricky, but a section that unconstrained ought to be smoother, especially when it's so close to where most solvers start a puzzle.

At 80 words, this is over Will's usual max of 78. I don't mind that, if I get some nice bonuses in the fill. But aside from PAYPAL, there was only PUMICE, TWEETS, PSYCHO that added to the quality of my solve — not enough for my taste. No doubt that the grid construction is challenging, especially with five themers and a central 11-letter entry splitting up the puzzle, but I would have liked to see what happened if the three black squares after KNEAD were removed, allowing for a long down answer where AFAR and HOOVES are right now. Would have required moving around a ton of black squares, but even getting a single pair of great bonus entries can add so much.

That all said, when a theme shines, I don't mind grid flaws nearly as much. So happy to get this concept that's so appropriate to Tyson. Well done to Acme for bringing him into the NYT constructors' fold!

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© 2017, The New York TimesNo. 0320 ( 24,604 )
Across Down
1. Fix, as a cat : SPAY
5. "Get cracking!" : ASAP
9. "Jurassic Park" insect casing : AMBER
14. Pack animal : MULE
15. "___ girl!" : ITSA
16. First lady after Hillary : LAURA
17. "That's my cue!" : IMON
18. Like Dorothy's slippers : RUBY
19. Boston airport : LOGAN
20. Toe testing the waters? : LITTLEDIPPER
23. Potentially dangerous bacterium : ECOLI
24. ExxonMobil? : GASGIANT
28. "___ Comedy Jam" : DEF
29. Command to Rover : BEG
32. "Bald-faced" thing : LIE
33. "Who goes there, friend or ___?" : FOE
34. Bowling scoresheet unit : FRAME
36. Square dance site : BARN
37. Oscar nominees' gathering? : STARCLUSTER
41. Vittles : FOOD
43. Manipulate, as bread dough : KNEAD
44. Bird that hoots : OWL
45. Mai ___ (cocktail) : TAI
48. Admit, with "up to" : OWN
49. '50s high school dance : HOP
52. Bashful? : REDDWARF
55. Inventory items : GOODS
57. Total hottie? : HEAVENLYBODY
60. Simple pond life : ALGAE
63. "Me as well" : ITOO
64. "Voulez-vous coucher ___ moi ce soir?" : AVEC
65. It may be reasonable to a jury : DOUBT
66. Catches forty winks : NAPS
67. Intertwine : MESH
68. New Mexican pueblo builders : ZUNIS
69. Exuberance : GLEE
70. Regarding, in a memo : ASTO
1. Wore an upside-down frown : SMILED
2. Volcanic rock : PUMICE
3. Many, many : ALOTOF
4. 1983 film in which Barbra Streisand dresses as a man : YENTL
5. Suffix with million : AIRE
6. ___ poker : STUD
7. Equally large : ASBIG
8. E-commerce site formerly owned by eBay : PAYPAL
9. Declare to be true : ALLEGE
10. Native New Zealanders : MAORI
11. Computer program glitch : BUG
12. Paleozoic or Mesozoic : ERA
13. Sought political office : RAN
21. "The Scales" constellation : LIBRA
22. Greek letter before omega : PSI
25. Quite a distance off : AFAR
26. Neither's partner : NOR
27. Hamilton's bill : TEN
30. Body part to lend or bend : EAR
31. Big inits. in trucks : GMC
34. 1-800-FLOWERS alternative : FTD
35. Certain fraternal order member : ELK
36. Place to dream : BED
37. Successful auctioneer's last word : SOLD
38. Commercial game with wild cards : UNO
39. Put in stitches : SEW
40. Having an aftertaste, as some barbecue sauce : TANGY
41. Debate position against "against" : FOR
42. Have debts : OWE
45. 140-character messages : TWEETS
46. Drivers' org. : AAA
47. John who wrote "The World According to Garp" : IRVING
49. Reindeer feet : HOOVES
50. Most bizarre : ODDEST
51. 1960 Alfred Hitchcock thriller : PSYCHO
53. Abu ___ (Mideast land) : DHABI
54. Prebirth : FETAL
56. President who won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize : OBAMA
58. "Ain't happening" : NOPE
59. Finish second : LOSE
60. Woodworking tool : ADZ
61. Baseballer Gehrig : LOU
62. Rifle or revolver : GUN

Answer summary: 3 unique to this puzzle, 1 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

Found bugs or have suggestions?