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New York Times, Monday, May 19, 2014

Author: Michael Hawkins
Editor: Will Shortz
Michael Hawkins
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This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 78, Blocks: 38 Missing: {JQX} Spans: 1 This is puzzle # 2 for Mr. Hawkins. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Michael Hawkins notes: On a good day my commute to and from work is two hours, and if the traffic gods are conspiring against me I can be stuck in the ... more
Michael Hawkins notes: On a good day my commute to and from work is two hours, and if the traffic gods are conspiring against me I can be stuck in the car even longer. To maintain my sanity I listen to a lot of podcasts. During one of these long car rides, the fresh fill alarm went off in my head after one of the guests on "Doug Loves Movies" used the phrase "phone it in". I made a mental note to check it against the databases when I got the chance. Then, realizing that my mental note would likely fail by the time I got to work, I told Siri to make a note.

Over my lunch break, I found no previous uses of the phrase. It dawned on me that it would be a perfect revealer for a puzzle of "phone" phrases. After working my way through duller theme answer possibilities like ROTARYCLUB, I landed on the livelier ones you see in the final version. My favorite is the exasperated WHATISTHEHANGUP.

Not wanting to phone it in myself, I worked six 9-letter long non-thematic entries into the puzzle. I am proudest of the debut words CHINASHOP (and its clue) and ICEBRIDGE.

Jeff Chen notes: Fun theme, five colloquial phrases loosely related to phones. DIAL IT DOWN, OFF THE HOOK, and PHONE IT IN, those are some snappy ... more
Jeff Chen notes: Fun theme, five colloquial phrases loosely related to phones. DIAL IT DOWN, OFF THE HOOK, and PHONE IT IN, those are some snappy entries. Excellent material.

Michael gives us quite an ambitious grid, especially for a Monday puzzle. Not only does he give us five themers, all relatively long, but integrates SIX long downs, two pairs which are both adjacent to each other. I was really impressed by each of the six, ICE BRIDGE and SYMBIOSIS being really nice, and TATER TOTS easily my favorite. I don't see them around nearly as much these days, but TATER TOTS were a staple of my school lunches way back when. Nice to have good feelings evoked by a crossword.

This type of parallel down structure has its drawbacks, though. Let's take a look at ICE BRIDGE and COLOSSEUM. As with any sort of stack (as typical in themelesses), the crossings inevitably become difficult because of all the constraints. Here, RING A BELL and WHAT IS THE HANG UP already constrain this pair of long downs, so choice is restricted. And once you settle into a pair you like, there are often trouble spots with the crossing answers. Specifically, the ?RS? pattern has very few "good" entries to fit, OR SO or URSA being the only ones I'd personally be happy with. It's tough to avoid these types of issues with any stack of longer answers.

I would say that ORSK and KYL are a bit iffy in themselves. And when taken together, and in a Monday puzzle, are not my ideal. Nice to learn a thing or two from a crossword, but this little area felt a bit too much like work, for my taste. I'll note that my philosophy is shifting, in that I don't think Mon NYT puzzles should be accessible to ALL people. I do think that there's a balance though, and having ORSK and KYL in one little section could be a real turn-off for someone considering tackling the NYT crossword.

I did appreciate that Michael took care throughout the rest of the puzzle though. The opposite corner for example, is amazingly smooth for all the constraints. It's a small miracle anytime you can pull off a double-stack as good as CHINA SHOP and TATER TOTS with only a very minor price of UNES.

I liked the innovation in the theme. It's not often that we see a crossword that can't easily be classified into a theme type. I like the ones that stretch our ability to categorize. I think I would have loved it if the five themers cohered a little bit better, i.e. they all ended with parts of a phone or something, and if WHAT IS THE HANG UP had felt not as wonky. I wanted WHATS THE HOLD UP, especially given the clue, and I'm mixed on whether WHAT IS THE HANG UP is "in the language."

Overall, nice to see the boundaries for a Monday puzzle pushed. A little strained at points, but worth it to me.

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© 2014, The New York TimesNo. 0519 ( 23,568 )
Across Down
1. "___ all she wrote" : THATS
6. Poe bird that quoth "Nevermore" : RAVEN
11. "Disgusting!" : ICK
14. Opulent : RITZY
15. Without company : ALONE
16. Playfully shy : COY
17. "To recap ..." : INSUM
18. Sound familiar : RINGABELL
20. Suffix with orange or lemon : ADE
21. "See ya!" : BYE
23. Timber wolf : LOBO
24. "Stop being such a pompous jerk!" : DIALITDOWN
29. Russian city on the Ural : ORSK
31. Grassy cover : SOD
32. Aye's opposite : NAY
33. Get out of bed : RISE
34. Represent : ACTAS
37. "Zoinks!" : EGAD
39. Actress Sandra of "A Summer Place" : DEE
40. "Will you please hurry?" : WHATISTHEHANGUP
44. Physically strong : FIT
45. Multigenerational story : SAGA
46. Sonnets and haikus : POEMS
47. Some: Fr. : UNES
49. Gunderson on "The Simpsons" : GIL
50. One whose work is taxing, for short? : CPA
51. Meadow bird : LARK
52. Extremely cool, in slang : OFFTHEHOOK
57. Begin to come out of sleep : STIR
59. Play it by ___ : EAR
60. Hurry : HIE
61. Do a job with minimal effort : PHONEITIN
65. Daybreaks : DAWNS
67. Hooey : ROT
68. Dodge : EVADE
69. Came out of sleep : AWOKE
70. Special ___ : OPS
71. Train station : DEPOT
72. Full of the latest : NEWSY
1. Group of three : TRIAD
2. Language of Delhi : HINDI
3. Adrift, say : ATSEA
4. Lao-___ : TZU
5. Relationship between barnacles and whales, e.g. : SYMBIOSIS
6. Stood on hind legs, with "up" : RARED
7. Boxer known as "The Greatest" : ALI
8. ___ Trapp family of "The Sound of Music" : VON
9. The "E" of E.S.L.: Abbr. : ENG
10. Best Actress Oscar winner Patricia : NEAL
11. Frozen structure that facilitates animal migration : ICEBRIDGE
12. World's largest amphitheater : COLOSSEUM
13. Former Senate minority whip Jon : KYL
19. Lout : BOOR
22. Since Jan. 1 : YTD
25. Aspiring atty.'s exam : LSAT
26. 50% : ONEHALF
27. Hourly compensation : WAGE
28. When repeated, a child's taunt : NYAH
30. Play for ___ : KEEPS
34. Horrible : AWFUL
35. What may have a "no bull" policy? : CHINASHOP
36. Cylindrical alternative to French fries : TATERTOTS
38. Sharply dressed guy : DAPPERDAN
41. Kind of palm : SAGO
42. End-of-week cry : TGIF
43. 2014 biblical title role for Russell Crowe : NOAH
48. "Canvas" for tattoos : SKIN
50. "___-ching!" : CHA
53. Basic belief : TENET
54. "That's amazing!" : OHWOW
55. Pig sounds : OINKS
56. Ken who wrote "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" : KESEY
58. ___ instrument : REED
61. Expert : PRO
62. "Nobody Knows the Trouble ___ Seen" : IVE
63. Faucet : TAP
64. Words of commitment : IDO
66. Amazement : AWE

Answer summary: 4 unique to this puzzle, 1 debuted here and reused later.

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