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New York Times, Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Author:
John E. Bennett
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
64/9/20142/14/20193
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0031200
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1.57050
John E. Bennett

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 78, Blocks: 40 Missing: {JQVZ} Spans: 1 This is the debut puzzle for Mr. Bennett. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
John E. Bennett notes:
I am an architect but mostly retired now. About 4 years ago while I was still working in a Seattle architectural office, I had a 3-day ... read more

I am an architect but mostly retired now. About 4 years ago while I was still working in a Seattle architectural office, I had a 3-day weekend to kill while my wife was away for a few days. I decided it would be fun to try my hand at designing a crossword puzzle, since I enjoyed doing them so much. Kind of an architect's approach to many other things in life.

Without any computerized assistance I tried to work out a theme of literal words that do what they describe, like BACKTRACK going in reverse, etc. I got totally into a zone and time stood still for most of the three days. I knew I was hooked! Ever since then, I realized that crossword constructing would have to be a part of my life. Of course my goal, which I knew was a long shot, was to get a puzzle some day in the New York Times. I recognized fairly early on that without a computer program I would spend 99% of my time trying to just get basic word fills to work out. After installing a crossword program I was off and running! Now I need to always have a puzzle somewhere in progress or I feel like something is missing in my life!

The thing I find so satisfying about crossword constructing in my retirement (I like "crossword designing" better; "constructing" is what the contractor, or constructor, does after something is designed) is that for me it is a great substitute for architecture. Designing crossword puzzles is really not unlike designing buildings. You need an overarching concept or theme like "WHAT'S IN THE BOXES?", followed by a development of elements that support or relate to that theme (6 symmetrical letter groups), which then have to be worked into a structural network of support elements (like black squares). The supporting structure needs to have a predictable consistency (like symmetry) and needs to be relatively efficient (no more than 43 squares) and placed in locations that will allow the theme to be accommodated in a seamless and logical manner (symmetry again).

As with a building design, everything must meet code (like no more than 78 clues and no words less than 3 letters) and also comply with acceptable industry conventions (no off-color or depressive terms etc.). Beyond meeting the functional aspects of the design, the main ingredient, just like in architecture, is in the creativity used in producing an end product that will be more than just the sum of its parts. And of course, the design has to be approved by the "the Owner" who uses and pays for the design services and who in this case happens to be Will Shortz! ;-)

The inspiration for the "WHAT'S IN THE BOXES" puzzle was the result of thinking about what every crossword puzzle has in common for the every puzzler. Broken down to its very basics the question for the puzzler is always trying to figure out what IS in each of the boxes. This puzzle takes it to the next fractal up by making larger "boxes" and then having all 6 of them also be types of boxes.

Jeff Chen notes:
Another debut! I like seeing new constructors added to the ever-growing ranks. Neat that each new person brings a different ... read more

Another debut! I like seeing new constructors added to the ever-growing ranks. Neat that each new person brings a different perspective, a different set of inputs that goes into his or her puzzle. So to have two in a week is a treat.

Today's puzzle centers around WHAT'S IN THE BOXES, with six "boxes" all containing four-letter words which can precede "box." (PILLBOX, for example.) A good twist on the "word that can precede or follow" type theme. It's really nice that John kept everything consistent, each of the six "boxes" starting at the top left, reading from left to right and then top to bottom. I got a little tripped up at first because I was expecting them all to run clockwise, but that's likely just me and my preconceived notions of how things ought to be.

John also did a very nice job of choosing his theme answers. I wasn't sure what a SALT box was, but it came easily enough. I looked it up, and it didn't particularly seem like something I really ought to have known (a house style in New England, named after boxes used in the old days to store salt), but it was fun to learn.

There are many four-letter words that can precede BOX, so John did a great job of picking ones that could easily be filled around. Crossing constraints like with these 2x2 boxes are bound to give difficulty, but the only spot of any crunchiness was around the SW corner, with IS NO. The ?SN? pattern is a toughie, to be avoided at all costs — besides ISN'T, there's not much that fills it in a clean way. Otherwise, smooth sailing, excellent work.

The pluralization of the revealer felt a tad off to me, as WHAT'S IN THE BOX feels stronger (a more in-the-language entry related to a kid groveling at cool Uncle Jeff when he brings over a present). Or perhaps if the clue had been related only to the customs officer? Even then, I have a hard time imagining a customs official saying that instead of OPEN THE BOXES RIGHT NOW DAMMIT. Perhaps a inspector at a seaport might be the closest fit in my mind.

Putting that qualm aside, it's a well-executed puzzle. To incorporate 1.) six "boxes," plus 2.) a grid-spanning revealer and 3.) four long pieces of fill is not easy. Many constructors would be fine with the first two components, so I'm glad to see the third piece, which adds a lot of spice to the grid. Excellent job on the layout, especially for his first puzzle.

Really nice debut!

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© 2014, The New York TimesNo. 0409 ( 23,528 )
Across
1
Furtive attention-getter : PSST
5
Handles roughly : PAWS
9
Like some scents for men : MUSKY
14
Arabian Peninsula land : OMAN
15
James who won a posthumous Pulitzer : AGEE
16
State one's case : OPINE
17
Knight's contest : TILT
18
Cut back : PARE
19
___ wrench : ALLEN
20
Will Smith biopic : ALI
21
Cottonmouth, e.g. : WATERSNAKE
23
Capable of being stretched : TENSILE
25
Trivia whiz Jennings : KEN
26
Cineplex ___ Corporation : ODEON
27
Was on both sides of : STRADDLED
33
Pixel density meas. : RES
35
Muesli morsel : OAT
36
A low one is best, for short : ERA
37
Question asked by a customs officer or a kid on Christmas ... with a hint to this puzzle's shaded squares : WHATSINTHEBOXES
43
"The Mikado" accessory : OBI
44
"Didn't know that!" : GEE
45
Prepare for a spike, in volleyball : SET
46
Verbiage : WORDINESS
50
Abs worker : SITUP
54
Tangent of 45° : ONE
55
Rock, so to speak : ICECUBE
57
Dawn : FIRSTLIGHT
61
Grass from a farm : SOD
62
Seminomadic Kenyan : MASAI
63
New York's ___ Stadium : ASHE
64
Title derived from the name "Caesar" : TSAR
65
Ingredients in old-fashioneds : RINDS
66
"Little piggies" : TOES
67
Mezzo's choirmate : ALTO
68
Stuck-up sort : SNOOT
69
Some linemen : ENDS
70
First lady before Mamie : BESS
Down
1
Latke component : POTATO
2
Heeded the photographer, say : SMILED
3
IV solution : SALINE
4
Blasting stuff : TNT
5
___ States : PAPAL
6
Banded gemstones : AGATES
7
"#1" may follow it : WERE
8
Futures dealer? : SEER
9
Bellyached : MOANED
10
Higher ground : UPLAND
11
Product of a domesticated insect : SILK
12
Proposer's prop? : KNEE
13
Its banknotes have denominations from 1,000 to 10,000 : YEN
21
Cellar stock : WINES
22
Roller derby need : SKATES
24
Microsoft Excel command : SORT
28
Schleps : TOTES
29
When repeated, super-enthusiastic : RAH
30
N.Y.C. ave. parallel to Park and Madison : LEX
31
Bard's preposition : ERE
32
Prosecutors, for short : DAS
34
Seal engraved on a ring : SIGNET
37
"Holy cow!" : WOW
38
"Game of Thrones" network : HBO
39
Bring up, as a grievance : AIR
40
Word in many a woman's bio : NEE
41
Attack from all sides : BESET
42
Ear-related : OTIC
47
El ___ (fabled city) : DORADO
48
Refuse to yield : INSIST
49
Said "alas," say : SIGHED
51
Shoving match : TUSSLE
52
W.W. II threats : UBOATS
53
Three-time Cy Young winner Martinez and others : PEDROS
56
Magnus Carlsen's game : CHESS
57
"April Love" composer Sammy : FAIN
58
"There ___ 'I' in 'team'" : ISNO
59
After the whistle : LATE
60
"The heat ___!" : ISON
62
___ Paul's (seafood brand) : MRS
64
Bill : TAB

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

Found bugs or have suggestions?