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New York Times, Thursday, May 23, 2019

Author:
Alex Vratsanos
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
176/13/20115/23/20193
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
3142313
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.60040
Alex Vratsanos

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 80, Blocks: 37 Missing: {KQZ} This is puzzle # 17 for Mr. Vratsanos. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Alex Vratsanos notes:
I conceived of this puzzle five years ago this month, not long after the publication of two Tuesdays that would later factor into a ... read more

I conceived of this puzzle five years ago this month, not long after the publication of two Tuesdays that would later factor into a decision that may have made the difference between rejection and acceptance (more on that to come.)

At first, I tried making the themers as long as possible to fill out a 21x, but I quickly abandoned that, as it became clear that the single-word themers wouldn't make for an entertaining Sunday solve. Shortly after, I asked my friend Jacob McDermott, whom I'd first contacted several months earlier about a themeless (and is getting married on Saturday!) if he could breathe new life into this concept.

We both ended up making two lists of themers, each of which had between 74 and 82 total letters, which felt like "no puzzle's land." That was too few for a Sunday even with the revealer but too many for a daily without many compromises in the fill. Moreover, there were 22 different themers among the four lists, but only six of them appeared in all four, and this fell into development hell.

Trying 15x14 and 15x16 grids about a year later did not revive it... not directly, that is. It was while I was playing with one such grid that I hit upon splitting FOURTEEN and POINTS, making a symmetrical 15x grid possible. The two-part revealer stayed in its current place from the very start, as I immediately noticed that BROWNIE would work nicely crossing it, and coming up with TIPPING was indeed a tipping point for the puzzle, as it allowed not only PRESSURE but also GRADE and STAND to form theme crossings. I am also glad that Will kept my reference to Gladwell, as he was one of my sister Maria's favorite authors at the time.

Still, by spring 2016, it had become clear that packing in all this theme would indeed force many compromises in the fill. I had not yet found a complete fill by April 20, when Tom McCoy's puzzle with the same revealer ran. Grudgingly, I shelved this even though it was a very different take on the phrase, and I suspected that it might not be fair game for the NYT when I was able to bring it back out. But remembering the two Tuesdays from early 2014 (January 14 and February 18), which both had over a dozen themers that nicely justified going over 78 words, I split up 2-Down and the then 39-Down. That made all the difference in the world when it came to filling the NW and SE, in both avoiding those nasty 3's and 4's and opening up a lot more and livelier possibilities for the two remaining 8's — which Will said he liked when he accepted it last September 13.

Thanks as always to Will and his team for polishing this, both with the clues (I got a real kick out of theirs for 35-Across) and fill, specifically removing the Roman numeral I'd had at 65-Across. Seeing GREECE as the new 48-Down made me remember my Pappou (Greek for grandfather), who died at 93 in 2013, and my Yiayia (grandmother), who turned 91 on May 10. She solved crosswords almost every day for many years, but since this may be my last chance to do so, I dedicate this puzzle to her. And thanks as always to my fellow constructors, especially Jacob (congratulations again on getting married!), and to you, the solver. Hope you enjoy this!

Jeff Chen notes:
Wilson's FOURTEEN / POINTS played upon today. Can you imagine a president trying to lay out fourteen points today, the first worded ... read more

Wilson's FOURTEEN / POINTS played upon today. Can you imagine a president trying to lay out fourteen points today, the first worded as:

I. Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view.

People would get about three words in before they'd tweet #TLDR.

The idea works for a Thursday, 14 grid entries missing their final POINT. PIN is really PIN POINT, NEEDLE is NEEDLE POINT, etc. I liked that Alex chose mostly ones that made no sense until adding the POINT. For example, WEST is much better than PLOT, since WEST is clearly not a school, while both PLOT and PLOT POINT can fit the story-related clue.

Laying out 14 themers – actually, 16, including FOURTEEN POINTS – is no joke. I started to highlight them to better help them stand out, but the grid began to look fugly.

Note how many themer intersections there are – PIN / NEEDLE, BROWNIE / FOURTEEN, TIPPING / STAND, etc. – as well as pairs in close proximity. It's a nightmare of a gridding task.

I was pleasantly surprised to get some goodies in the fill; GUT PUNCH a standout, but also DEAR GOD and LAY ODDS, CRECHE, LOUVRE. As a constructor, I think that's pretty good.

As a solver, though, I felt like there wasn't enough snazziness in my solving experience. With barely any long themers, there ought to be more juicy long bonuses to keep me interested. Such is the challenge of a daunting theme construction.

I'd have preferred something less audacious, maybe SEVEN POINTS as [Score for a touchdown + extra point], allowing for more breathing room in the grid. Also allowing for a smoother product, not needing gluey bits like ANE ASTA CLU ORNE (yuck!) SWAGS (?), SCI THU, etc. to hold everything together.

I'd have even been okay with FIVE POINTS — the old Manhattan neighborhood featured in "Gangs of New York" — which might have allowed for longer POINT examples, like EXCLAMATION, INFLECTION, VANISHING, etc.

Maybe that's beside the.

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© 2019, The New York TimesNo. 0523 ( 25,398 )
Across
1
Game with a maximum score of 3,333,360 : PACMAN
7
Host Allen of TV's "Chopped" : TED
10
*The outcome of a story might hinge on one : PLOT
14
Get some air : INHALE
15
Hotheadedness : IRE
16
Brief, abrupt changes in direction : JOGS
17
*One might say "Home Sweet Home" : NEEDLE
18
*Important spot on the body for acupuncture : PRESSURE
20
Tempest in a teapot : ADO
21
Aid for making a sand castle : SPADE
22
Vineyard vessel : VAT
23
See 42-Across : BIT
25
"Victory is ours!" : WEWIN
27
Unlikely homecoming court members : NERDS
29
Contribute : ADD
30
*Viewing angle : STAND
31
White-petaled daisy : OXEYE
32
Vault : LEAP
34
___ boots : UGG
35
Who said "When I'm ready to fight, my opponent has a better chance for surviving a forest fire wearing gasoline drawers" : MRT
36
Bet (on) : LAYODDS
38
"My heavens!" : DEARGOD
42
With 23-Across, modicum : WEE
43
Nursing ___ : BRA
44
Vibe : AURA
45
Prominent 1990s Washington duo : GORES
48
*Kind of average : GRADE
50
C7H5N3O6 : TNT
51
Development centers? : UTERI
52
Comic actor Seth : ROGEN
53
Fairly small hail size : PEA
54
Subtract a year or two from one's age, say : FIB
55
Mentally goes [grumble grumble grumble] : STEWS
57
Gulager of old TV and film : CLU
59
With 61-Across, what President Wilson proposed for a lasting peace ... or what's missing from the answers to the starred clues : FOURTEEN
61
See 59-Across : POINTS
64
Fictional schnauzer : ASTA
65
Area of educ. : SCI
66
Nativity scene : CRECHE
67
*School overlooking the Hudson : WEST
68
Certain intersection : TEE
69
Drill command : TENHUT
Down
1
*Locate precisely : PIN
2
Good "Wheel of Fortune" buy for CHEESE WHEEL : ANE
3
Time to indulge : CHEATDAY
4
Grp. that trademarked the phrase "Helping Survivors Survive" : MADD
5
Provides (for) : ALLOWS
6
By birth : NEE
7
*Malcolm Gladwell best seller, with "The" : TIPPING
8
Something to run : ERRAND
9
Notarized paper : DEED
10
Attire not usually worn outdoors, informally : PJS
11
World's most-visited museum : LOUVRE
12
Sweet Rosie of old song : OGRADY
13
___ fly : TSETSE
19
Title usually abbreviated to its first, fifth and sixth letters : SENORA
21
Certain curtains : SWAGS
23
*Kind of pen : BALL
24
Flash of genius, say : IDEA
26
Conservatory piece : ETUDE
28
*Touchdown follower : EXTRA
33
*Aid in a speaker's presentation : POWER
35
Fort ___, Md. : MEADE
37
Let up : DESIST
38
Goes on and on and on : DRAGS
39
Visceral shock : GUTPUNCH
40
Author Sarah ___ Jewett : ORNE
41
*Part of a scatter diagram : DATA
43
*Sycophant's reward : BROWNIE
45
Hearty laugh : GUFFAW
46
Useless : OTIOSE
47
Counters : REBUTS
48
Homer's home : GREECE
49
Rerun : ENCORE
56
Certain cricket match : TEST
58
It might be attached to a car : LIEN
60
Animal feared by Winston in "1984" : RAT
61
Survey fig. : PCT
62
July 4, 1776, for one: Abbr. : THU
63
*Big moment in a tennis match : SET

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

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