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New York Times, Monday, March 30, 2015

Author: Bruce Haight
Editor: Will Shortz
Bruce Haight
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This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 74, Blocks: 43 Missing: {VZ} Spans: 4 Grid has diagonal symmetry. This is puzzle # 10 for Mr. Haight. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Bruce Haight notes: This was one of my early puzzles from 2012 and I was NOT very optimistic about it. I didn't like the asymmetry, I didn't like the ... more
Bruce Haight notes:

This was one of my early puzzles from 2012 and I was NOT very optimistic about it. I didn't like the asymmetry, I didn't like the fill, I didn't like the 30 (!) three letter words, and I was afraid the birds looked more like stealth bombers. I did not think a puzzle about stealth bombers would fly.

The stealth birder. Er, bomber.

Will must have been up in the air about this one because it sat on his desk for six months — he eventually wrote me saying that he really liked the bird art, but could I clean up one corner of the fill? By that time my fill skill had improved some, and I took the opportunity to make wholesale changes, all of which were approved. Six months later I suggested more changes, some of which were approved. I still don't like AYLA, BEHR, and ABBES, particularly for a Monday, but at least Will and Joel came up with a current Beyonce clue for BEY. Long after the redos I realized this puzzle grid has diagonal symmetry like the kite puzzle I did, but the theme entries are vertically (not diagonally) symmetric.

I wanted to point out the birds pretty directly in the clues, ala the fish puzzle I did, but Will just hinted at them ("Flier in a V formation" as the clue for GOOSE). There certainly is something appealing about a little "grid art" oyster lurking in the background for the observant solver, but it surely will fly over the heads of some Monday solvers. At one point I was considering ALFRED HITCHCOCK at 49-Across — I think he might have liked this puzzle!

Jeff Chen notes: Grid art! Bruce is carving out a niche for himself with these diagonal symmetry art pieces. The bird visual came through strong and ... more
Jeff Chen notes:

Grid art! Bruce is carving out a niche for himself with these diagonal symmetry art pieces. The bird visual came through strong and clear for me; enjoyable change of pace, especially for a Monday.

Bruce brings up an interesting point about symmetry. Since so few of these diagonal symmetry puzzles have been published, it's difficult to figure out what their rules should be. My first reaction was similar to his — if the grid is diagonally symmetric, shouldn't the themers be too? But that's far from an absolute.

Flocking together (mwa ha ha!)

Matching grid and themer symmetry seems like the most elegant solution, but in this case, it might not be possible. With diagonal symmetry, long themers must intersect at some point — a tough task, dependent on a lot of luck. And grid-spanners (entries of 15 letters) can only be placed in row/column 3 through 13, otherwise they'd force double- or triple-stacked grid-spanners. All sorts of difficulties, so I'm okay with a bit of inelegance.

I would have liked FLOCK TOGETHER to be symmetrical with something, though. It doesn't have a matching themer in WRAPPING PAPER, nor does it sit in a centered spot, like it would with usual symmetry. Same goes for GOOSE. Sure would have been cool if GOOSE (or GEESE) were flying up diagonally or something!

Very difficult construction. Not a surprise that the roughest patch was down in that SE corner, with such a big space, constrained in a few different ways. And Bruce's point about the preponderance of 3-letter words was one I definitely noticed. Switching back and forth between acrosses and downs tends to make my solve feel somewhat choppy; not as much flow as I would like.

Finally, I wish Bruce had knit his "for the birds" concept together with something a little more thematic than CLEARED FOR TAKEOFF. ALFRED HITCHCOCK would have been great! Would have given BIRDS OF A FEATHER / FLOCK TOGETHER quite a different (Halloween-y) feel, though.

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© 2015, The New York TimesNo. 0330 ( 23,883 )
Across Down
1. Elation : JOY
4. "Tommy" band, with "the" : WHO
7. Network on the telly : BBC
10. Entice : LURE
11. Furious : IRED
12. "The Clan of the Cave Bear" heroine : AYLA
13. Ones that are alike : BIRDSOFAFEATHER
16. Queen ___ (nickname for Jay Z's wife) : BEY
17. Cleopatra biter : ASP
18. Flier in a V formation : GOOSE
19. Status ___ : QUO
20. Theater stage item : PROP
21. Peaceful state : REPOSE
22. The Red Baron, to Snoopy : FOE
24. Rink surface : ICE
26. Barbie's beau : KEN
27. Literary Jane who says "No net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will" : EYRE
28. Wildebeests : GNUS
29. Towel holders : RODS
30. Gather as a group : FLOCKTOGETHER
33. Sch. in Columbus : OSU
34. Genre for Jay Z and Schoolboy Q : RAP
35. French clerics : ABBES
38. Gen ___ (one born after the baby boom) : XER
39. Bread that might hold hummus : PITA
40. Not engage in seriously : PLAYAT
41. Easy as ___ : PIE
43. Buddy : PAL
45. Top-rated TV show of 2002-05 : CSI
46. Gospel singer Winans : CECE
47. Lead-in to port : HELI
48. ___ Rabbit : BRER
49. Give the go-ahead from the control tower : CLEARFORTAKEOFF
52. Letters sent by plane : AIRMAIL
53. Length of most TV dramas : ONEHOUR
54. ___ Stone (key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs) : ROSETTA
55. In plain contrast : STARKLY
1. Right guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment : JURYOFYOURPEERS
2. Chicago airport code : ORD
3. "Absolutely!" : YES
4. It might show wreaths and candy canes at Christmas : WRAPPINGPAPER
5. Playboy founder, informally : HEF
6. Work by Gray or Shelley : ODE
7. In any manner necessary : BYHOOKORBYCROOK
8. Like the meek, per Matthew 5:5 : BLESSED
9. Goes around a corner fast, say : CAREENS
10. In ___ of (replacing) : LIEU
11. Assuming that's true : IFSO
12. Crowning : ATOP
13. Outdoor meal with a grill, informally : BBQ
14. Rowing blade : OAR
15. The "17" in NC-17 : AGE
20. Sneak a look : PEEK
21. Lie down for a while : REST
23. Middle-earth creature : ORC
25. Actor's prompt : CUE
27. Alternatively : ELSE
28. Billy or nanny : GOAT
29. Singer McEntire : REBA
30. "The Simpsons" airer : FOX
31. Prefix with -ceps : TRI
32. "2001" computer : HAL
36. Relaxing : EASEFUL
37. Certain Chinese dish : STIRFRY
39. Eye closely : PEERAT
40. Malleable : PLIANT
42. "___ all the way here for this?" : ICAME
44. Some choristers : ALTOS
46. Muse of history : CLIO
47. Greeting south of the border : HOLA
48. Paint company whose name sounds like an animal : BEHR
49. Auto : CAR
50. In good health : FIT
51. Mauna ___ : KEA

Answer summary: 4 unique to this puzzle.

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