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New York Times, Monday, April 4, 2016

Author:
David Kwong
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
194/1/20062/17/20195
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
3234421
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.59332
David Kwong

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 78, Blocks: 39 Missing: {JQXZ} This is puzzle # 14 for Mr. Kwong. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
David Kwong notes:
Just over a year ago Martin Gero, the creator of 'Blindspot,' hired me to consult on the puzzles for his new NBC show. When we started ... read more

Just over a year ago Martin Gero, the creator of "Blindspot," hired me to consult on the puzzles for his new NBC show. When we started cooking up ideas for where to hide secret messages naturally we thought of the NYT crossword. We pitched Will the idea and he agreed!

So here we have a Monday puzzle that is also featured on screen during the 4/4 and 4/11 episodes. It was not easy to make! I had to put in a message for the Blindspot viewers while maintaining the integrity of the crossword. After lots of back and forth with Joel Fagliano, I finally settled on the theme of BACK COUNTRIES. This worked well because countries are large enough of a category that I had lots of options for themers. And with the secret message adding in another thing to juggle, it was helpful to be flexible.

Will and Joel pushed me to make the countries at least five letters (OMAN and MALI were too easy). I am particularly fond of CLEARSIGN (ISRAEL) and WAYNEKNIGHT (KENYA), and happy to give the latter his crossword debut!

Other rejected options:

  • CARMINA BURANA
  • NO BAGGAGE
  • DAIRY SECTION

Hope you enjoy the puzzle and the episode!

Jeff Chen notes:
BACKCOUNTRY interpreted as 'country listed in reverse, within phrases.' Some beautiful finds, KENYA backward in WAYNE KNIGHT (Newman!) ... read more

BACKCOUNTRY interpreted as "country listed in reverse, within phrases." Some beautiful finds, KENYA backward in WAYNE KNIGHT (Newman!) my favorite. Impressive that David used no short country names, making his task that much more challenging — the four letter countries give more flexibility, like PERU (MINIATURE POODLE, PRESSURE POINT), IRAN (RAN A RISK, DIANA RIGG) or even CUBA (MEGABUCKS). Good call by Will/Joel on that.

NEWMAN!

How many themers do you need in a puzzle? When a revealer like BACKCOUNTRY is used, generally at least three more themers are needed — otherwise the puzzle feels thin. It's not necessary to go up to six total themers like today, but it can be awfully nice, especially when each of the themers sings.

Six themers do put a lot of strain on a grid. David uses an every-other-row arrangement, trying to space them out, but this means he's bound to get a bunch of regions that have little flexibility. It's no surprise that the gluey bits like O WAR, NSEC, OR BE come in those highly constrained areas. David does well to spread out ISE, HIED, ONA (odd that David chose ONA in such a flexible section) too, but in aggregate, it does feel like a lot.

I wonder if compressing some of the themers would have helped? Moving CLEAR SIGN down a row does put it right on top of HEAT LAMP, but the overlapping pairs of letters — GH and NE — would be friendly combinations. Same goes on the opposite side with the LP and LL overlaps if you squeeze NINEBALL atop PLAYBILLS. It's counterintuitive to not put some space between themers, but when theme density is this high, it can often help.

It was nice to get a bit of bonus fill, even with such high theme density. PATTERSON is a phenom, becoming a force in children's lit (his "Middle School" series is surprisingly good). ANTILABOR, BE FAIR, ONASSIS, I SWEAR are all good uses of longish slots, too.

I would have preferred a smoother solving experience, but there sure were a lot of nice theme finds. ADDED NOTE: No wonder the top left corner is so flexible but contains ONA and TET — I can't wait to find out what the hidden message is! I'll post it once it's public.

1
G
2
O
3
P
4
A
5
D
6
M
7
I
8
T
9
S
10
H
11
I
12
M
13
O
N
A
14
O
N
A
S
S
I
S
15
A
C
E
16
T
E
T
17
W
A
Y
N
E
K
N
18
I
G
H
T
19
T
20
R
A
I
L
21
I
S
W
E
A
R
22
C
23
L
E
A
R
S
I
24
G
25
N
26
I
N
T
O
27
S
U
R
F
28
T
A
S
29
S
30
E
L
31
P
I
S
T
32
O
33
L
34
H
E
A
T
L
35
A
36
M
37
P
38
A
G
O
39
R
E
40
F
41
C
N
N
42
N
O
R
43
N
I
N
44
E
B
A
L
45
L
46
G
A
47
S
T
R
O
48
B
E
F
A
I
49
R
50
H
I
E
D
51
T
52
O
53
D
O
54
P
L
A
55
Y
56
B
I
L
L
S
57
O
H
I
O
58
A
59
N
60
N
U
O
V
A
61
B
A
C
K
C
O
62
U
63
N
T
R
Y
64
B
65
A
66
D
67
E
R
E
68
C
A
R
P
E
T
S
69
O
D
E
70
Y
E
S
71
T
H
I
R
D
S
72
R
O
W
© 2016, The New York TimesNo. 0404 ( 24,254 )

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Across
1
Republican grp. : GOP
4
Owns up to : ADMITS
10
That guy : HIM
13
"Cat ___ Hot Tin Roof" : ONA
14
Billionaire Aristotle : ONASSIS
15
Point of no return? : ACE
16
Lunar New Year in Vietnam : TET
17
Actor who portrayed Newman on "Seinfeld" : WAYNEKNIGHT
19
Be behind : TRAIL
21
"Honest!" : ISWEAR
22
Obvious indication : CLEARSIGN
26
Fascinated by : INTO
27
Explore, as the Internet : SURF
28
Mortarboard attachment : TASSEL
31
Glock, e.g. : PISTOL
34
It may keep cafeteria food warm : HEATLAMP
38
In time past : AGO
39
Red or yellow card issuer : REF
41
Channel for Anderson Cooper : CNN
42
Neither's partner : NOR
43
Billiards variant : NINEBALL
46
Prefix with intestinal : GASTRO
48
"Come on, no cheating" : BEFAIR
50
Went in haste : HIED
51
Commotion : TODO
54
Ushers' offerings : PLAYBILLS
57
Native of Akron or Cleveland : OHIOAN
60
Dante's "La Vita ___" ("The New Life") : NUOVA
61
Rural area ... or what can be found in each set of circled letters? : BACKCOUNTRY
64
Spoiled : BAD
67
"Able was I ___ I saw Elba" : ERE
68
Notable products of Persia : CARPETS
69
Poem "to" somebody or something : ODE
70
Thumbs-up response : YES
71
Helping after seconds : THIRDS
72
Heed the coxswain : ROW
Down
1
Understood : GOT
2
Result of dividing any nonzero number by itself : ONE
3
James whose novels have sold more than 300 million copies : PATTERSON
4
Diarist Nin : ANAIS
5
Naturally illuminated : DAYLIT
6
Yahoo alternative : MSN
7
Suffix with expert : ISE
8
Kind of torch on "Survivor" : TIKI
9
ID thieves' targets : SSNS
10
Actress Uta : HAGEN
11
Apple messaging software : ICHAT
12
The first "M" in MGM : METRO
14
Man ___ : OWAR
18
Volunteer's response : IWILL
20
Flat floater : RAFT
22
Channel with hearings : CSPAN
23
Mario's video game brother : LUIGI
24
Exasperated cry : GAH
25
Tiny div. of a minute : NSEC
29
Serenaded : SANG
30
One of three active volcanoes in Italy : ETNA
32
"Kill ___ killed" : ORBE
33
Thumb (through) : LEAF
35
Like 1947's Taft-Hartley Act : ANTILABOR
36
Edible mushroom : MOREL
37
Herders' sticks : PRODS
40
Commotion : FLAP
44
Kindle download : EBOOK
45
Rap's ___ Kim : LIL
47
Prison weapon : SHIV
49
___ and raved : RANTED
51
Maguire of Hollywood : TOBEY
52
Midway alternative : OHARE
53
Does some kitchen prep work : DICES
55
Mongolian tents : YURTS
56
All students at Eton : BOYS
58
A debit card is linked to one: Abbr. : ACCT
59
"The Daily Show" host Trevor : NOAH
62
Mentalist Geller : URI
63
"Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me!" airer : NPR
65
Commotion : ADO
66
It might get your feet wet : DEW

Answer summary: 2 unique to this puzzle, 1 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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