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New York Times, Thursday, May 1, 2014

Author:
Brandon Hensley
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
35/1/20142/12/20160
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0000120
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.71100
Brandon Hensley
UFO

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 76, Blocks: 44 Missing: {JQYZ} This is the debut puzzle for Mr. Hensley. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Brandon Hensley notes:
Aside from thinking about other-worldly things on a daily basis as an astrophysicist, this puzzle started by noting how good of a ... read more

Aside from thinking about other-worldly things on a daily basis as an astrophysicist, this puzzle started by noting how good of a revealer SPACE INVADERS would be. The ET rebus idea came immediately afterwards, and I thought about making a little "Space Invaders" alien from the ET squares. That didn't work so well, so then I tried making a UFO, which turned out much better. However, all of my theme real estate was in the middle of the grid — I needed something else. When the COW idea hit me, I changed SPACE INVADERS to ALIEN ABDUCTION and was off to the races.

Having the revealer at the top of the puzzle helped my theme material span the whole grid, while putting it through the middle or at the bottom made for really tough construction. This of course ran the risk of giving away the theme too early, so I made the clues in the Northwest as tough as I could. As for the rest of the grid, having immovable ETs everywhere proved best accommodated by amping up the black square count. Hopefully I struck the right balance between having too many short words and having a junky grid. I was particularly pleased to work two rebus squares into ETICKET.

I feel that so much of this puzzle hinges on the COW square, and was happy that Will preserved my approach not to indicate its presence in any way but rather let it be discovered as the final touch to the theme. He did add the fantastic descriptor "an eerie rural legend" to my original 1-Across clue, which motivates it a little more.

This puzzle is my first (but hopefully not last!) in the NYT. I'm still a little surprised this screwball of a puzzle was accepted, but am thrilled to have the opportunity to share it.

Jeff Chen notes:
A debut! Nice work from Brandon today, a visual puzzle representing an ALIEN / ABDUCTION of a... cow? I wasn't familiar with this ... read more

A debut! Nice work from Brandon today, a visual puzzle representing an ALIEN / ABDUCTION of a... cow? I wasn't familiar with this particular urban legend, but sure enough, the truth is out there. At least according to the Google. How or why this all started still mystifies me. Sure is amusing what stories people will tell!

Fun concept, forming the shape of a UFO with ET rebus squares. I also liked the fact that Brandon mixed it up with the single COW rebus — too often a rebus puzzle with a single type of rebus square can get a little boring to fill in. Man oh man though, did I struggle with that COW square (the last one I filled in). I imagine if I had heard of cows being abducted before, it wouldn't have been a problem?

Overall a smooth product, well done for Brandon to have avoided most of the crosswordese that debut authors tend to let slide (especially given the high constraints). Not only does he have to put his nine ETs in the shape of a UFO, but he has to put a COW in as well. That in itself takes up a lot of his black square allotment (to make the middle of the grid fillable), so the NE and SW are forced to be themeless-like subsections. All in all, a pretty good effort of filling those tough areas. The SW is really good, but the NE does suffer slightly with the OSOS/NSC/UPA trifecta. Not that the NSC is bad or anything (to all NSC eavesdroppers, I LOVE the NSC more than pudding!), but among with the other glue-y entries, it tends to be more noticeable.

I'm usually of the opinion that cheater squares should be deployed whenever they help smooth out a grid's fill, but today I paused when I first opened the file. Two pairs of cheaters, like in the very left and right of the puzzle, hardly ever bother me. Likewise, I usually shake off a pair in the center, hardly even noticing. But when there are four pairs (two on the perimeter, two in the center), those eight extra black squares become noticeable for me. Personal opinion, but the overall effect looks not as elegant as I would have liked, especially given that you don't want to overwhelm the UFO what with all the black squares. It all becomes clear when you connect the ETs, but ideally the UFO would be a stronger visual.

Interesting to me is that this isn't the first time ET has been used for a rebus, but the other time (in the Shortz era), Liz Gorski used it for something completely different. That one had perhaps the most perfect title (FRENCH CONNECTION) I've seen for a puzzle.

And finally, a couple of beautiful entry/clue pairs. [Site of many hangings] is often used for ART or MUSEUM related answers, but here it's talking about a CLOSET. Nice! And even better is FIREEATER, whose clue made me laugh. Gave me a warm feeling inside, that it did. (wah wah)

Congrats again on the debut!

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© 2014, The New York TimesNo. 0501 ( 23,550 )
Across
1. With 6-Across, subject of an eerie rural legend ... illustrated by connecting nine identically filled squares in this puzzle with a closed line : ALIEN
6. See 1-Across : ABDUCTION
15. Member of the chordophone family : VIOLA
16. Bisectors pass through them : MIDPOINTS
17. Whizzes : GENII
18. Far south? : ANTARCTIC
19. Site of many hangings : CLOSET
21. Some Spanish zoo exhibits : OSOS
22. Some glass paperweights : PRISMS
24. Tolkien's Prancing Pony, e.g. : INN
26. Texted, say : WROTETO
27. Not believe in spirits? : TEETOTAL
32. Viscosity symbols : ETAS
33. Big, big, big : OBESE
36. Any of the Four Noble Truths : TENET
37. Join with : TIETO
39. Confident, ambitious, loyal sort, supposedly : LEO
40. Guillotine targets : TETES
41. "Cómo" follower : ESTA
42. Purchase on delta.com, e.g. : ETICKET
44. M.D. grp. : HMO
45. Raising a stink? : REEKING
47. Focus (on) : HOMEIN
50. "I'd rather not" : NAH
51. Mother who appeared on two covers of Time : TERESA
52. Former Saudi king : FAHD
55. Some runners : COWARDS
56. One feeling warm on the inside? : FIREEATER
59. Ethyl acetate, e.g. : ESTER
63. Push too far : OVEREXERT
64. Currency worth about 1/36 of a dollar : RUBLE
65. Clean-shaven : BEARDLESS
66. Fit : SPASM
Down
1. Batting fig. : AVG
2. Fiction : LIE
3. It's charged : ION
4. Call up : ELICIT
5. Tool used with a hammer : NAILSET
6. Accumulate : AMASS
7. Intelligence researcher Alfred : BINET
8. Chemical restricted by the Stockholm Convention : DDT
9. ___ tree : UPA
10. Ornamental headpiece : CORONET
11. Nerves may cause them : TICS
12. Loving : INTO
13. Mayberry town drunk : OTIS
14. Foreign policy grp. : NSC
20. Polynesian term for an island hopper : OMOO
22. Some positive reinforcement : PRAISE
23. Flower-shaped decoration : ROSETTE
24. "No worries" : ITSOK
25. Wedding announcement word : NEE
26. Like Seattle vis-à-vis Phoenix : WETTER
28. Baseball great who had a career batting 1-Down of .304 : OTT
29. Gets choppers : TEETHES
30. Weakness : ANEMIA
31. Pretends : LETSON
34. "Mutiny on the Bounty" captain : BLIGH
35. Intl. trade org. : EEC
38. Charter ___, symbol on the Connecticut state quarter : OAK
42. Noted stratovolcano : ETNA
43. Heavens : ETHER
46. "Absolutely!" : INDEED
48. They may be barked : ORDERS
49. Goof : MESSUP
51. Goods stolen by the Knave of Hearts : TARTS
52. "Lincoln" : FIVE
53. An integral can compute it : AREA
54. Munich mister : HERR
55. Reacts fearfully : COWERS
56. Waistcoat item : FOB
57. Rose in the music world : AXL
58. Texas has a big one : TEE
60. Not yet on the sked : TBA
61. Loop takers : ELS
62. Band with the 1991 hit "Shiny Happy People" : REM

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

Found bugs or have suggestions?