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STELLAR WORK

New York Times, Sunday, May 1, 2016

Author:
Joel Fagliano and Byron Walden
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
6510/22/20096/16/20196
SunMonTueWedThuFriSatVariety
16911910325
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.64351
Joel Fagliano
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
9311/23/20012/20/201914
SunMonTueWedThuFriSatVariety
1101292617
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.59321
Byron Walden

This puzzle:

Rows: 21, Columns: 21 Words: 130, Blocks: 70 Missing: {QXZ} This is puzzle # 48 for Mr. Fagliano. This is puzzle # 80 for Mr. Walden. Jeff Chen's Puzzle of the Week pick. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Constructor notes:
BYRON: The idea for the puzzle was Joel's. I was psyched when he asked me to collaborate on it, because I like puzzles which play with crossword conventions, and I am a big fan of Joel's ... read more

BYRON: The idea for the puzzle was Joel's. I was psyched when he asked me to collaborate on it, because I like puzzles which play with crossword conventions, and I am a big fan of Joel's puzzles generally. For an easy puzzle, you want the structure of the theme to be evident right away. For a trickier puzzle, you want the revelation to come right at, or possibly just after the end. For this one, I envisioned the typical solver getting it somewhere in the middle, maybe just past halfway through. Too soon, and it becomes just a slightly odd themeless. Too late, and the joy of the joke gets washed away. Hopefully, we found the right mix.

JOEL: Had a ton of fun putting this together with Byron. One thing we debated in the theme stage was whether a clue like "*Search party?" for ED MCMAHON was fair game — after all, it completely eliminates the quote marks used in the show "Star Search," not to mention the space between "Star" and "Search". We agreed it might be a little cheap, but that hopefully it would add an extra "aha" layer for the solver.

We both favor wide-open grid patterns and constructing challenges, so our styles meshed pretty well when it came time to fill the grid. I've always felt that Byron is one of the best themeless constructors, so the task of working on a Sunday with him with big chunky corners like this was very cool. In the end, I think we kept the compromises to a relative minimum while working in some nice longer fill, but I'll be interested to read how solvers felt.

Jeff Chen notes:
The first thing I noticed was that a incredibly wide-open grid, so I checked how many words it was. When I counted only 130 words, a nearly record-breaking stat, I worried. Joel and Byron ... read more

The first thing I noticed was that a incredibly wide-open grid, so I checked how many words it was. When I counted only 130 words, a nearly record-breaking stat, I worried. Joel and Byron are two of the best in the business, but people can't just pull off the impossible. Even they would have to resort to plenty of crossword glue, making for a clunky solve.

STARZ ... or *Z!

I didn't get very far very fast in my solve. I kept on looking for a revealer to help me figure out why answers were starred. It got frustrating when I couldn't break into so many of the huge swaths of white space.

But the click finally happened ... and what a click! The starred clues aren't really starred … they represent the word STAR. (STAR)Z is a CABLE CHANNEL, for example, and (STAR)ted talks = BROKERED A SETTLEMENT. Great concept. I remember similar-ish theme ideas, but this one felt fresh.

Even better, all of their theme answers were phrases in the language. Sometimes with themes like this, you might see things like EMCEE MCMAHON (instead of the normal ED MCMAHON) — entries sounding like dictionary definitions. I love that Joel and Byron took the care to make their entire grid appear as if it were just a normal crossword.

And the theme clues! Each one looked so normal that they kept me totally in the dark. My favorite was [*Z, for one], which made me think about a letter, a chemical symbol, a physics particle. STARZ to *Z is brilliant.

Finally, to do all that in 130 words … just astounding. Sometimes I hem and haw about some of Byron's entries sounding made up, but only OPERA CRITIC sounded a bit funny (are there such specialists these days?). RUBY SLIPPER, UNION STRIKE, NADERISM (think Ralph Nader), all great stuff.

PAUL PIERCE will be tough for some, but the crossings were chosen with care to make him gettable. And what a great story: a top prospect falling all the way to the number 10 pick of the 1998 draft, then dedicating his career to making all the GMs who passed him up rue their decision (almost all of them did).

There was one rough patch I didn't care for: the NE corner, with its concentration of SPEE/SMEE and the GARRET/FAROESE crossing. I couldn't actually finish the puzzle because of that corner. But I can overlook one small region because of all the goodness Joel and Byron worked in.

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© 2016, The New York TimesNo. 0501 ( 24,281 )
Across
1
Grass and such : FORAGE
7
Lifesavers, e.g. : TORI
11
Turns off : DISGUSTS
19
Source of good fortune : AMULET
20
Tried to open, as a pet door : PAWED
21
Seaman's aid : OCEANMAP
22
*Z, for one : CABLECHANNEL
24
Behind : DERRIERE
25
"O grave, where is ___ victory?": I Corinthians : THY
26
Neither wizards nor witches, in Harry Potter books : MUGGLES
28
Language descended from Old Norse : FAROESE
29
Tiara accompaniment : SASH
31
Subject of the 1954 Nobel Prize in Medicine : POLIO
32
Eagerly unwrap : RIPOPEN
34
God whose name sounds like a word meaning "understated" : LOKI
36
Take its toll? : PEAL
38
*Board : RIGHTSIDE
42
*Alliance member : UNITEDAIRLINES
46
They may result in title changes, for short : TKOS
47
Dips made with olives, capers and anchovies : TAPENADES
48
Fragrant wood : CEDAR
50
Grain to crush : GRIST
51
Background check runner, maybe : EMPLOYER
52
Government org. in "Breaking Bad" : DEA
53
"Oh, that's clever!" : NICEIDEA
55
Something to be divvied up : PIE
56
Hundred, in Honduras : CIENTO
59
Stand in the shadows : LURK
60
*Ted talks, say : BROKEREDASETTLEMENT
68
Reebok rival : PUMA
69
Texas city in the movie "Friday Night Lights" : ODESSA
70
Bonn one : EIN
72
Pro-consumer ideology : NADERISM
76
In back : AFT
77
Jet fuel, mainly : KEROSENE
82
Stave off : AVERT
83
Good friend, informally : HOMIE
85
Find some advantage : GETANEDGE
86
Red giant in the constellation Cetus : MIRA
87
*Crossed pair : ROMEOANDJULIET
89
*Search party : EDMCMAHON
93
Drainage pit : SUMP
94
___ example : ASAN
95
Owl's prey : RODENTS
97
Browns and Blues : TEAMS
99
"House Hunters" network : HGTV
102
Bromine and fluorine compounds : HALIDES
105
Kind of band : ELASTIC
107
Move it : HIE
108
Boastful types : EGOTISTS
110
*Let's hope : ACTINGCAREER
114
Group with the 1985 #1 hit "Broken Wings" : MRMISTER
115
"___ about right" : SEEMS
116
Eyelike opening, in architecture : OCULUS
117
Ones breaking game rules? : POACHERS
118
Big buildup : HYPE
119
"Great" Eurasian region : STEPPE
Down
1
Almanac fodder : FACTS
2
Home of the daily World-Herald : OMAHA
3
Clicker for Dorothy : RUBYSLIPPER
4
Tie word : ALL
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"Well, fancy that!" : GEE
6
Abbr. that can be written with an ampersand : ETC
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The casino in "Casino" : TANGIERS
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Soccer goof : OWNGOAL
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Kite adjunct : REEL
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Goldbrick : IDLER
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The Pentagon inits. : DOD
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Crystalline weather phenomenon : ICEFOG
13
"___ of Heaven! too gentle to be human" (line from Shelley's "Epipsychidion") : SERAPH
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Unlofty loft : GARRET
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Labor pain : UNIONSTRIKE
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Pirate's mate, in literature and film : SMEE
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Besmirches : TARS
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German vice admiral killed in W.W. I's Battle of the Falklands : SPEE
20
Celtic who was the M.V.P. of the 2008 N.B.A. Finals : PAULPIERCE
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Kaiser Permanente offering : HMO
27
Begat : SIRED
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W, for one : HOTEL
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March 14, to math lovers : PIDAY
33
Fibonacci or Galileo : PISAN
35
Casino offering, derived from the Latin for "five each" : KENO
37
Revenue source for Fish and Wildlife departments : LICENSEFEES
39
Jocular disclaimer : IKID
40
Spoonful, say : DOSE
41
"Cómo ___ usted?" : ESTA
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Sch. whose mascot is Paydirt Pete : UTEP
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Coastal desert of southern Africa : NAMIB
44
Fruity drink : ADE
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Tops in handwriting, say : NEATEST
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Small stream : RILL
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Wheat ___ : GERM
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What sharpshooters take : DEADAIM
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Prompt : CUE
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Vow that's mostly vowels : IDO
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When golden goals happen in the N.H.L. : OTS
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Arts page contributor : OPERACRITIC
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Novelist Vonnegut : KURT
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Big Four record co. that broke up in 2012 : EMI
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Headlong or headstrong : RASH
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Striven : TAKENPAINS
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What rugged individualists seldom admit to : NEEDINGHELP
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Light shade : TINGE
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Classic hair removal brand : NEET
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Reputation : NAME
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Gung-ho : AVID
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Skin: Suffix : DERM
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Numbskull : MORON
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Posting at JFK or DFW : ETD
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Eastern royals : RAJAS
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Heavy load : ONUS
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Pause word in Psalms : SELAH
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Scam with three cards : MONTE
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Information on a sports ticket : GAMETIME
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Exceed : OUTSTEP
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Fashionable : MODISH
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Latin carol word : ADESTE
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Prynne of "The Scarlet Letter" : HESTER
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Question mark's key-mate : SLASH
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"Charlie's Angels" director, 2000 : MCG
100
Keep occupied : TIEUP
101
One of 1,288 in the book of Numbers : VERSE
102
Biodiesel fuel source : HEMP
103
Prefix with ecology or chemical : AGRO
104
___ Linda, Calif. : LOMA
106
___-deucy : ACEY
109
Some 112-Down retakers: Abbr. : SRS
111
Tan neighbor, on calculators : COS
112
Exam with a Science Reasoning section : ACT
113
Wish undone : RUE

Answer summary: 15 unique to this puzzle, 3 debuted here and reused later, 1 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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