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New York Times, Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Author:
Jeff Stillman
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
51/28/20145/22/20180
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
0032000
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.53010
Jeff Stillman

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 78, Blocks: 36 Missing: {KQVXZ} This is puzzle # 5 for Mr. Stillman. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Jeff Stillman notes:
I had always wanted to try to make a picture puzzle, so I brainstormed images that could be done with a very small amount of dots to ... read more

I had always wanted to try to make a picture puzzle, so I brainstormed images that could be done with a very small amount of dots to be connected. BIG DIPPER or LITTLE DIPPER was one of the first ideas I hit upon, though it was harder than you would think to get that asymmetric constellation positioned just right! I went with BIG DIPPER for the friendlier 9-letter count, along with its fellow 9-letter partners URSA MAJOR/GREAT BEAR.

I originally rounded it out with NORTH POLE, as in that's where you would always see the BIG DIPPER, but Will and Joel didn't think that was as strong a connection. Also, I had presented the themers in what I thought was a logical, sequential order (and all horizontal) but that presentation cluttered the grid, made for some yucky fill, and gave me triple black squares in the northwest and southwest corners.

Joel and Will suggested NORTH STAR, as in that's what the BIG DIPPER points to. That caused me to abandon the horizontal lineup and go to a pinwheel design of the grid, which improved the fill and cleaned up the blackness. I still had some ugly fill in the northwest until David Steinberg offered a very elegant solution of moving a couple of black squares.

What I'm curious to know from the solving community is how obvious the circles were as far as being in the shape of the Big Dipper in the unsolved grid. Since I started with that image, it always leaped out at me, but did others process it immediately? Our stargazing ancestors picked this pattern out of the sky (twice!), so maybe it's hardwired in our brains regardless of whether it appears in a cluster of stars or a grid of squares!

Jeff Chen notes:
Definitely check out the link Jim listed in his comment (below). That STAR rebus puzzle is stuck in my head, one of the cleverest of ... read more

Definitely check out the link Jim listed in his comment (below). That STAR rebus puzzle is stuck in my head, one of the cleverest of Sundays that got me hooked into the NY Times crossword.

I liked seeing the concept again, although the impact was lessened for me since I remember that STAR rebus puzzle so vividly. The perils of having a long memory! I bet most solvers won't have seen it, and will thus have a much bigger a-ha moment.

The BIG DIPPER is part of URSA MAJOR, the GREAT BEAR? Wha ... ? Huh. Apparently, it is! How is it that I never knew this? (Probably because I spent most of my childhood watching "Gilligan's Island." Fun fact, Mr. Howell's teddy bear was named Teddy.)

Jeff packs in a ton of thematic material, the NORTH STAR rounding things out. Now that one felt much more solid than URSA MAJOR. Yes, the BIG DIPPER seems to be a part of the GREAT BEAR, but that's more an incidental curiosity. I learned to find the NORTH STAR using the BIG DIPPER as a guide, linking them forever in my head.

I think I would have been happier with just BIG DIPPER and NORTH STAR, plus the visual. That would have also allowed for smoother fill, along with a more accurate representation of the BIG DIPPER. It looks kind of … skewed. Like it got shoved into a 15x15 box.

It may not seem so difficult to drop in seven extra letters to form the visual, but it's actually a (great) bear. So much flexibility taken away from that middle section, when you have to work around fixed letters! And if you shift a letter even one square, the visual starts to look all wonky. Not a surprise to get a bunch of odd entries in RONDEL, ORBIS, SERE, and a potentially lethal crossing in ESO BESO / ARABY. Oof.

A good concept even the second time around, and I understand the desire to toss in URSA MAJOR / GREAT BEAR to help bulk out the theme. It's a tough call – without them, some solvers might have considered the puzzle thin.

Jim Horne notes:

Our Visual Puzzles page collects grids you draw on. The earliest is this STAR rebus from 1996.

1
C
2
O
3
D
4
A
5
I
6
D
7
E
8
S
9
B
10
A
11
B
12
E
13
L
14
L
A
I
R
15
N
O
M
E
16
I
N
U
R
E
17
U
R
S
A
18
M
A
J
O
R
19
G
O
T
A
T
20
E
S
O
B
E
S
O
21
G
22
O
D
D
E
S
S
23
B
Y
T
E
24
T
E
R
I
25
N
E
G
26
G
27
E
E
28
C
29
H
E
30
S
P
31
E
E
D
O
32
A
R
Y
33
A
34
N
35
O
N
36
D
O
P
E
37
L
A
S
S
O
38
L
A
O
39
E
N
40
O
41
L
42
A
43
E
R
44
R
A
N
D
45
R
Y
D
E
R
46
T
47
R
48
E
A
T
Y
49
T
O
50
P
51
O
O
F
52
W
O
N
53
H
E
54
S
S
55
E
56
L
57
O
N
58
E
N
M
59
A
S
S
E
60
S
C
O
R
N
61
E
62
D
63
E
D
I
C
T
64
G
65
R
E
A
T
B
E
A
R
66
T
E
T
R
A
67
E
A
R
N
68
I
L
S
A
69
S
L
Y
E
R
70
L
Y
E
S
71
S
L
E
W
© 2018, The New York TimesNo. 0522 ( 25,032 )
Across
1
Sonata finale : CODA
5
Fateful day : IDES
9
Noted tower setting : BABEL
14
Villain's hangout : LAIR
15
City on the Seward Peninsula : NOME
16
Habituate : INURE
17
Constellation next to Draco : URSAMAJOR
19
Subtly suggested : GOTAT
20
1962 Paul Anka hit : ESOBESO
21
Widely adored woman : GODDESS
23
Part of a gig : BYTE
24
Garr of "Tootsie" : TERI
25
Original of an old photo, informally : NEG
26
"You don't say!" : GEE
28
2008 Benicio Del Toro title role : CHE
30
Diminutive swimsuit : SPEEDO
32
Indo-___ languages : ARYAN
35
Hopped up : ONDOPE
37
Calf catcher : LASSO
38
Language that becomes the name of where it's spoken if you add an "s" : LAO
39
___ Gay, 1945 bomber : ENOLA
43
Gofer's assignment : ERRAND
45
U-Haul alternative : RYDER
46
Part of NATO : TREATY
49
Outdo : TOP
51
Gut-punch reaction : OOF
52
Took the cake : WON
53
Dame Myra of piano fame : HESS
55
SpaceX founder Musk : ELON
58
How lemmings migrate : ENMASSE
60
Held in contempt : SCORNED
63
Authoritative command : EDICT
64
Another term for 17-Across : GREATBEAR
66
Prefix with -hydrozoline : TETRA
67
Make, as an income : EARN
68
"Casablanca" role : ILSA
69
More foxy : SLYER
70
Drain decloggers : LYES
71
Dispatched, as a dragon : SLEW
Down
1
What this is for 1-Down : CLUE
2
Galley equipment : OARS
3
Doesn't mind : DISOBEYS
4
Sheik's land, in poetry : ARABY
5
"Just hang on!" : INASEC
6
Martial arts school : DOJO
7
Music genre with confessional lyrics : EMO
8
Twilled fabric : SERGE
9
Part of 17-Across ... and what the circles from A to G depict : BIGDIPPER
10
Give ___ of approval : ANOD
11
Compound in synthetic rubber : BUTENE
12
Wiped clean : ERASED
13
"Come on already!" : LETSGO
18
Assembled : MET
22
Approximately : ORSO
24
Lease signatories : TENANTS
26
Hoedown partner : GAL
27
Victorian ___ : ERA
29
Hi, on Hispaniola : HOLA
31
Start of a decision-making process : EENY
33
What landlubbers don't like to be : ASEA
34
Thing located in the night sky by extending a line from circle F past circle G : NORTHSTAR
36
Numbskull : DODO
40
Former co-host of "The View" : ODONNELL
41
Zodiac constellation : LEO
42
Lab warning? : ARF
44
Bakery loaves : RYES
46
Responsibility for a social media manager : TWEETS
47
14-line verse with only two rhyme sounds : RONDEL
48
Antagonism : ENMITY
50
Flavorers of some pies and ice cream : PECANS
54
Jason of "I Love You, Man" : SEGEL
56
Auction grouping : LOT
57
Caesar's world? : ORBIS
59
Real estate unit : ACRE
60
Dried up : SERE
61
Heart's-___ (pansy) : EASE
62
Tournament director's responsibility : DRAW
65
Laser output : RAY

Answer summary: 2 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

Found bugs or have suggestions?