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New York Times, Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Author: Michael Hawkins
Editor: Will Shortz
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Michael Hawkins
Puzzle of the Week

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 76, Blocks: 38 Missing: {JQZ} This is puzzle # 6 for Mr. Hawkins. Jeff Chen's Puzzle of the Week pick. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Michael Hawkins notes: I constructed this thinking it was a hard Monday or easy Tuesday, and that was when the theme clues weren't plumber-specific, ... more
Michael Hawkins notes:

I constructed this thinking it was a hard Monday or easy Tuesday, and that was when the theme clues weren't plumber-specific, but here it is popping up on a Wednesday. Hopefully the puzzle presents enough of a midweek challenge for everyone!

Jeff Chen notes: Plumber-themed puzzle! Now that's something you don't see every day. I enjoyed how Mike related all these common phrases to a ... more
Jeff Chen notes:

Plumber-themed puzzle! Now that's something you don't see every day. I enjoyed how Mike related all these common phrases to a plumber's moods. Not sure why I was so amused — maybe because it reminded me of all the creative ad slogans I see on plumbers' vans around town? I pity the stool!

What made the puzzle stand out for me was the grid execution. 14- and 12-letter entries are hard to work with — they force placement of black squares right off the bat, and they force you to squeeze themers toward the middle — but Mike did great.

First, he incorporated nearly flawless "parallel downs" in TOLL ROADS / SEE DOUBLE and IM NOT SURE / GAG WRITER. All are good phrases, with GAG WRITER being a standout. And he avoided crossword glue almost completely, which is a usual problem for parallel downs.

Now, he did incorporate odd-looking cheater squares at the end of HERO and before TRIO. But I‘d take that visual imperfection any day when it leads to solid to fantastic long downs without any crossword glue.

He also managed to work in a couple of other extras in PSYCHED, LIKE NEW. I wasn't sure about STOKERS, but they do appear to be real positions in a steamship.

I breezed right through the puzzle, meaning that the short fill did its job beautifully. Okay, an OER here, an ENG there, and some may take issue with EBSEN. (I'm okay with him since he seems to have been a relatively famous actor in his day.) Mike clearly filled his grid with a lot of effort and iteration to produce a top-notch product.

I would have loved 1.) more playfulness out of the themers, maybe having them tell a story about the poor plumber's day, and 2.) to have it run on a Monday. Something this smooth and straightforward would have filled that critical early-week slot so beautifully, much more approachable for newbies than the average Monday puzzle these days.

Still, I thought the execution was top-notch. Maybe wishing it had been more playful is a *rim shot* pipe dream.

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© 2017, The New York TimesNo. 0524 ( 24,669 )
Across Down
1. Rio dance : SAMBA
6. Not dull : SHARP
11. Body-scanning grp. : TSA
14. Corners : TREES
15. Places to hang holiday lights : EAVES
16. Poetic contraction : OER
17. Audibly appalled : AGASP
18. Person who's all pretense : PHONY
19. Give the O.K. : LET
20. Vacillates, as a plumber? : RUNSHOTANDCOLD
23. Caps Lock, e.g. : KEY
24. Dazzle : AWE
25. Recipient of a ticker-tape parade, maybe : HERO
26. Exhausted, as a plumber? : ALLTAPPEDOUT
31. Black ball : EIGHT
34. Choice for a par 5 hole, often : WOOD
35. Homer's father : ABE
36. High-airfare season, for short : XMAS
37. Place across the back of a chair, perhaps : DRAPE
39. Loafing around : IDLE
40. Lang. course : ENG
41. Whiskey drink : SOUR
42. Comes up short, say : LOSES
43. Wasted, to a plumber? : DOWNTHEDRAIN
47. Athos, Porthos and Aramis, e.g. : TRIO
48. Type : ILK
49. Broadway's "Mamma ___!" : MIA
52. Anxiety, to a plumber? : SINKINGFEELING
57. Rabid fan : NUT
58. Outlook function : EMAIL
59. Give the O.K. : NODTO
60. "___ You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?" : ARE
61. Major river starting in SE Switzerland : RHINE
62. Actor Buddy of "The Beverly Hillbillies" : EBSEN
63. Part of r.p.m. : PER
64. Furniture store display : SOFAS
65. How sloppy kissers kiss : WETLY
1. "Game of Thrones" family name : STARK
2. Squabble : ARGUE
3. Nasty person : MEANY
4. Mrs. Truman : BESS
5. It's used to pave the way : ASPHALT
6. The deadly sins, e.g. : SEPTET
7. [LOL] : HAHA
8. Makeup maker : AVON
9. Tear to pieces : REND
10. Gung-ho : PSYCHED
11. Booths are set up in them : TOLLROADS
12. Have some trouble focusing : SEEDOUBLE
13. Part of MoMA : ART
21. Letter carrier at Hogwarts : OWL
22. Voluminous ref. work : OED
26. Sounds made during medical checkups : AHS
27. Espy or Emmy : AWARD
28. ___ psychology : POP
29. "Annabel Lee" poet : POE
30. Aids for football kickers : TEES
31. Marked (out) : EXED
32. "Maybe ask someone else" : IMNOTSURE
33. One doing sketch work? : GAGWRITER
37. Exclamation from Homer : DOH
38. Lament : RUE
39. Atom in any salt : ION
41. Steamship workers : STOKERS
42. Used, although one can hardly tell : LIKENEW
44. 20th-century author famous for her journals : NIN
45. Some armory contents : RIFLES
46. Sierra Nevada, for one : ALE
49. In the ___ of : MIDST
50. Contents of a presidential briefing : INTEL
51. Having one's wisdom teeth pulled, e.g. : AGONY
53. Initialism whose third initial often isn't true : IMHO
54. Babe in the woods : NAIF
55. Actress Lollobrigida : GINA
56. Brain part : LOBE
57. Brief siesta : NAP

Answer summary: 4 unique to this puzzle, 1 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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