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New York Times, Monday, April 28, 2014

Author: Jim Modney
Editor: Will Shortz
Jim Modney
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159/4/19804/28/20140
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1101435
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1.6600114

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 74, Blocks: 36 Missing: {X} This is puzzle # 15 for Mr. Modney. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Jim Modney notes: It's great to be back! My last crossword puzzle was published on April 12, 1984 in the NYT, and then, like Rip Van Winkle, I went ... more
Jim Modney notes: It's great to be back! My last crossword puzzle was published on April 12, 1984 in the NYT, and then, like Rip Van Winkle, I went into a very long slumber.

Back in the early 80's I had 38 puzzles published by various syndicates, including 14 in the NYT. I was taught the craft by Eugene Maleska and Margaret Farrar, and I have fond memories of their letters and encouragement.

Then I got busy with family and career, and put my crossword things in a box, which I looked at wistfully from time to time over the years, but always put back in the closet. Now my family is grown up and retirement beckons, and I have the time to construct crosswords again. The 30 year hibernation is over.

A few years ago I stumbled over various crossword blogs including Wordplay and XWord Info (of course!) and the wonderful Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project headed by the prodigious David Steinberg. I purchased Crossword Compiler for Windows, and studied current construction norms. Things have certainly changed since the early 80's!

Today's BODY DOUBLES crossword is the result of a year-long collaboration with Will Shortz. The original puzzle had six themers, all of the form [body part]-[TO/A]-[body part], and "Body Doubles" was the puzzle title. Will suggested the removal of TOE-TO-TOE and MAN-TO-MAN from the puzzle to tighten up the theme. I was surprised that Will would want to reduce the thematic material, but saw that the remaining four themers formed a really elegant and balanced group (two sets of doubles within doubles). I then suggested moving the title into the puzzle as a fifth themer, and when Will agreed, rewrote the puzzle completely and resubmitted. But that wasn't the end! Will asked for several more revisions to improve various fill words before accepting the puzzle, and after he decided to run the puzzle on a Monday, he made further changes so that the fill and clues were more "Monday friendly."

BODY DOUBLES is also a homage to crossword themes that were very common 30 years ago: the repeated word theme. For example, one of my early puzzles in the NYT featured card game expressions that have entered the language (HELD ALL THE CARDS, CARDS ON THE TABLE, IN THE CARDS, CARDSHARPS). A theme like that is not allowed nowadays because of the CARD repetition. BODY DOUBLES skirts the rule by having the repetition contained within single entries, and so the puzzle is a blend of the norms of the 80's and today ... just like me.

Will gave final approval to this puzzle on April 10. When I happily informed Will that it was almost exactly 30 years since my last puzzle appeared in the NYT, he said that he would try to publish the puzzle soon ... and squeaked it into the last week of April. Thank you, Will!

And did I mention, it's great to be back!

Jeff Chen notes: Welcome back, Jim! Thanks to David Steinberg, the PreShortzian Puzzle Project has nearly finished digitizing (or 'litzing') all the ... more
Jeff Chen notes: Welcome back, Jim! Thanks to David Steinberg, the PreShortzian Puzzle Project has nearly finished digitizing (or "litzing") all the puzzles available, and you can already see puzzles back to 1977 on XWord Info. Be sure to check out Jim's older puzzles. How cool to return to the puzzle-making fold after 30 years!

And what a nice construction today. With five themers, I'd usually expect a 78 or 76 word construction, but Jim ups the ante with a 74 worder. Not easy, especially since the central entry forces big corners of white space. It's an ambitious endeavor to say the least, so I was expecting some unsightly fill as soon as I saw the openness of the grid. But to my delight, nearly everything fell smoothly. Not only smoothly, but with such goodness as SQUEEZES (if only contract bridge were still uberpopular, this could have gotten an awesome bridge-related cardplay clue) and BLENDS IN.

I'll emphasize again how hard this task is. Take a look at some themeless grids (down the list) and you'll see similarities between subsections of those and this grid. It's tough to fill a 4x6 or 3x7 space both cleanly and with sparkle; often taking multiple dozens of attempts before arriving on something pleasing. I love seeing WENDYS and TAHITI in the corners of a Monday puzzle — well done. Obvious that Jim/Will have taken a lot of care in polishing the fill.

Yes, it's debatable whether squeezing the extra Q (in ESQS) was worth it. I do like seeing the two Q's in close proximity because they spice things up, but it it worth having both ESQS and AQUI in close proximity? I'd say no, but as always, it's a personal preference.

I was seriously considering this puzzle for the POW, but I had some hesitations with the theme. I really like BODY DOUBLES as a revealer, and appreciated Jim's explanation of why he saw it as elegant. But I would have preferred something closer to his original approach. Perhaps my hitch was due to the fact that the themers only covered HEAD and HAND, which doesn't really make up much of a body? Anyway, I personally felt like there was more on the table that could have been capitalized upon, in order to achieve a bigger, punchier a-ha moment from the revealer.

Looking forward to more from the prodigal son.

JimH notes: Surprisingly, this is not the longest known NYT sabbatical. Jeffrey Wechsler went 40 years between this 1969 puzzle and this one in 2009.
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© 2014, The New York TimesNo. 0428 ( 23,547 )
Across Down
1. Protein-rich food : TOFU
5. Brand of instant coffee : SANKA
10. Titles for attorneys: Abbr. : ESQS
14. Mimicked : APED
15. ___ terrier (dog breed) : CAIRN
16. Here: Sp. : AQUI
17. Direct, as competition : HEADTOHEAD
19. Bankrupt : RUIN
20. Newspaper advertising flier, e.g. : INSERT
21. "___ Your Enthusiasm" : CURB
23. Snakelike fish : EEL
24. Four: Prefix : TETRA
25. 17-Across, literally: Fr. : TETEATETE
27. Driver's licenses and such, for short : IDS
28. Co. bigwig : CEO
30. Flabbergasts : AMAZES
31. Italian ice cream : GELATO
34. Sneakers since 1916 : KEDS
35. Star stand-ins ... or a hint to 17-, 25, 48- and 58-Across? : BODYDOUBLES
38. ___ .45 : COLT
40. Sleek fabric : SATEEN
41. Combination punch : ONETWO
44. M.A. or M.B.A.: Abbr. : DEG
45. Wide mouth : MAW
48. 58-Across, literally: Sp. : MANOAMANO
51. Japanese cartoon art : ANIME
53. Roush of the Baseball Hall of Fame : EDD
54. "Avatar" race : NAVI
55. Filched : STOLEN
56. Crosby, Stills, ___ & Young : NASH
58. Direct, as combat : HANDTOHAND
60. Redding of R&B : OTIS
61. Winter pear : ANJOU
62. Memorial Day race, informally : INDY
63. Traveled : WENT
64. What a witness takes at a trial : STAND
65. Hurl : TOSS
1. Polynesian paradise : TAHITI
2. Made the first bid : OPENED
3. Eats grandly : FEASTS
4. What a milking machine connects to : UDDER
5. Many a person whose name starts "Mc-" : SCOT
6. Reaction to a cold drink on a hot day : AAH
7. Aunt's girl : NIECE
8. "Sauer" hot dog topping : KRAUT
9. Newswoman Mitchell : ANDREA
10. ___-piercing : EAR
11. Hugs tightly : SQUEEZES
12. Shushed : QUIETED
13. Immaculate : SINLESS
18. Followed back to its source, as a phone call : TRACED
22. Collision sound : BAM
25. Ones with warts and all? : TOADS
26. No longer available : TAKEN
29. English cathedral town : ELY
31. Reached : GOTTO
32. "Ode ___ Nightingale" : TOA
33. Best in competition : OUTDO
35. Is inconspicuous, say : BLENDSIN
36. Honey maker : BEE
37. In a smooth, flowing manner, in music : LEGATO
38. "Don't be absurd!" : COMENOW
39. Out with one's sweetie : ONADATE
42. Pale : WAN
43. Plains Indians : OMAHAS
45. Certain Pepperidge Farm cookie : MILANO
46. Changes, as the Constitution : AMENDS
47. Hamburger chain that offers the Baconator : WENDYS
49. ___-garde : AVANT
50. Masked Japanese fighter : NINJA
52. Perfect, as a pitcher's game : NOHIT
55. Hunky guy : STUD
57. F.D.R.'s successor : HST
59. "___ we now our gay apparel" : DON

Answer summary: 1 unique to this puzzle.

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