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New York Times, Thursday, March 26, 2020

Author:
Alex Eaton-Salners
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
372/2/20174/9/20202
SunMonTueWedThuFriSatVariety
127615114
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.55250
Alex Eaton-Salners

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 72, Blocks: 34 Missing: {JQXZ} This is puzzle # 35 for Mr. Eaton-Salners. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Alex Eaton-Salners notes:
ROMAN GOD makes its NYT crossword debut today. Interestingly, it almost debuted back in 2018 in this puzzle. There, my original ... read more

ROMAN GOD makes its NYT crossword debut today. Interestingly, it almost debuted back in 2018 in this puzzle. There, my original submission had the dual revealer of ROMAN GOD and PLANET. Continuing to think about that connection probably contributed to arriving at today's theme (my jumping-off point was the Mercury/Mars pairing).

Having a central 11-letter theme entry (INNER PLANET) forces either vertical triple stacks of 7+-letter words in two corners or a bunch of 3-letter words (if those longer entries are broken up). I chose the former. Another decision point was how to orient the two Utah blocks breaking up the sides. I chose the configuration needing words matching ????G??T and I??S???? rather than ??B????I and T????A??. ??B????I is very limiting, which means fewer options for smooth and interesting fill.

Of course, combining those decisions with the 8-letter themers in rows 3 and 13 creates large swaths of open space in the NE and SW corners. With only a couple of 3-letter words interspersed between the 6s, 7s, and 8s, solvers may have a hard time getting a foothold there.

That layout, plus the low word count (72) and perhaps some hard vocabulary, is likely what bumped this puzzle to Thursday instead of Wednesday, where it was initially slotted. Hopefully, solvers aren't disappointed that the trickiness factor is less than a typical Thursday offering!

Jeff Chen notes:
Convo from inside the top-secret Gridmasters and Gargoyles Group (D&D : ridiculous dorks :: G&G : geek elite): Alex: ... read more

Convo from inside the top-secret Gridmasters and Gargoyles Group (D&D : ridiculous dorks :: G&G : geek elite):

Alex: Surprised to see this one running on Thursday. It was slated for Wednesday, but I guess the puzzle proved too difficult for the test solvers in that slot. Maybe the theme would have been better served by a less audacious grid. I suspect there will be grumbling that the theme isn't tricky enough for a Thursday puzzle.

Jim: Hey, you stole my line! This was a fine Wednesday puzzle.

Jeff: Bah, what smart thing am I supposed to say now? Hmm … the only thing that will cure me is Mercury?

Jim: Bring me the paddle.

Alex hit two nails right on their heads. #1, wham! It's a fine theme—especially after you notice that it's not just two random planets for each themer, but always MERCURY plus another one (it totally didn't take me a solar year to figure this out, no sirree!). It's an extremely straightforward one, though, not worthy of the Thursday slot.

#2, bam! A simpler grid would have befitted this simpler theme. I love the drive to do something more, but a 72-word grid with five themers almost always comes with compromise. Amazing avoidance of short glue, but today, it came in the form of oddballs:

  • ASTARTE isn't of the same level as Isis or Osiris, and to have her muddying things up under ROMAN GOD should be avoided.
  • SIEGED … is passable. "The city is under siege!" is terror-inducing. "The invaders have sieged our castle!" is more "WTF kind of mead have you been drinking?" inducing.
  • SOAKAGE. Let us not discuss thee, prithee well nay?

There are huge benefits of going down to 72 words—HOUDINI / OSMOSIS is almost worth it all by itself! The more I study it, the more I try to convince myself that maybe it was the right decision. LAWFUL TRUE GRIT. TOP GUN took my breath away. GO ALL IN, yeah?

Yeah, not with the compromises.

Overall, a fine theme that could have been made much sharper and more fun, if it had been fine-tuned for a Wednesday, where it belonged.

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© 2020, The New York TimesNo. 0326 ( 25,706 )

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Across
1
Amount to make do with : LESS
5
Slip up : ERR
8
Teleprompter user : ORATOR
14
Late Surrealist Turner : ALAN
15
Second person : YOU
16
Country singer Carly : PEARCE
17
Mercury or Sun, e.g. : WNBATEAM
19
Volume 1, Number 1 and others : ISSUES
20
Sporty 1980s Pontiac : FIERO
21
Reprobate : ROGUE
23
Common man's name from Hebrew : ELI
24
Some diplomats working in N.Y.C. : UNREPS
26
Mercury or Venus, e.g. : ROMANGOD
28
___ Lobos : LOS
29
Something to chew on : GUM
31
Bronze Age fertility deity : ASTARTE
32
___ Pass (means of foreign travel) : EURAIL
34
Smack : KISS
35
Mercury or Earth, e.g. : INNERPLANET
38
"Yikes!" : OHNO
40
Invented : COINED
41
Liquid absorbed by surrounding soil : SOAKAGE
44
"Bill ___ Saves the World" : NYE
45
Shots fired? : BBS
48
Mercury or Mars, e.g. : MUSICIAN
50
ITV spot : ADVERT
52
Handel's "___ for St. Cecilia's Day" : ODE
53
72 things in this puzzle : CLUES
55
Carson City's lake : TAHOE
56
Lightly burned : SINGED
58
Mercury or Saturn, e.g. : AUTOMAKE
60
Deep down : INSIDE
61
Vegas casino with the Penn & Teller Theater : RIO
62
Kennington cricket ground, with "the" : OVAL
63
Waged a long campaign against : SIEGED
64
Place for a slop bucket : STY
65
Patches (up) : SEWS
Down
1
Within bounds : LAWFUL
2
Current event? : ELNINO
3
They go into battle at the sides of cavalrymen : SABERS
4
Capture : SNARE
5
___ of Providence (image on a dollar bill) : EYE
6
Sound in a circus act : ROAR
7
Buzz : RUMOR
8
Poppy products : OPIUMS
9
Upgrade to a box, perhaps : RESEAT
10
Wiimote batteries : AAS
11
Only movie for which John Wayne won an Oscar : TRUEGRIT
12
Striped and spotted felines : OCELOTS
13
Lives : RESIDES
18
Highest-grossing movie of 1986 : TOPGUN
22
Not hold back : GOALLIN
25
Positive : SURE
27
Uncovered : NAKED
30
Only performer with a speaking part in 1976's "Silent Movie" : MARCEAU
32
Slender Japanese mushroom : ENOKI
33
Bit of Wall St. news : IPO
35
So to speak : INASENSE
36
Novelist Seton : ANYA
37
Must : NEEDTO
38
Unconscious assimilation : OSMOSIS
39
Subject of the 2006 biography "Escape!" : HOUDINI
42
Submit : ACCEDE
43
___ Age (late 19th century) : GILDED
45
Parent's admonition : BEHAVE
46
NBC Nightly News anchor before Brian Williams : BROKAW
47
Braces : STEELS
49
Gets in the neighborhood of : NEARS
51
"Let's go!," in Spanish : VAMOS
54
Hearts, but not minds : SUIT
57
It's a job : GIG
59
Little dog : TOY

Answer summary: 5 unique to this puzzle, 1 debuted here and reused later.

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