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New York Times, Monday, May 28, 2018

Author: Alex Eaton-Salners
Editor: Will Shortz
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1.54210
Alex Eaton-Salners

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 72, Blocks: 32 Missing: {JQVXZ} Spans: 3 Grid has mirror symmetry. This is puzzle # 9 for Mr. Eaton-Salners. NYT links: Across Lite PDF

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Alex Eaton-Salners notes: Unlike most puzzles where the creative process begins with the theme and theme entries, this one started with the central ... more
Alex Eaton-Salners notes:

Unlike most puzzles where the creative process begins with the theme and theme entries, this one started with the central grid art. Making grid art is a nice diversion from typical crossword construction activities, and every once in a while I experiment with different block configurations to try to create something puzzle worthy. Even moving just a couple of black squares by a single space can often completely change the resulting picture.

Once I had the basic smiling face in place, I went looking for appropriately happy 15-letter phrases to accompany it. Although three theme entries is a bit low for a themed puzzle these days, the constraints imposed by the grid art made that choice the most promising. Likewise, because I wanted the grid art to stand out, I chose to leave large areas of white space around the edges of the puzzle. I would have preferred to leave off even more of the black squares, but I couldn't get the grid to fill as cleanly without them.

For experienced solvers that breeze through Monday offerings, I hope they enjoyed uncovering the six non-thematic NYT crossword debuts (SCHOOL DANCE, CAPITOL DOME, SO CLOSE, POOL TOY, PALAK, and GROWL AT). I think that's the most non-thematic debut entries so far this year in a Monday puzzle.

Finally, I was particularly happy to position BREAK INTO A SMILE so that it "breaks into" the central smiling face. I hope at least a few solvers notice and appreciate this touch.

Jeff Chen notes: So pleasant to start the week with a smiley face. Alex did a great job with his grid art, that grin coming right through, along with ... more
Jeff Chen notes:

So pleasant to start the week with a smiley face. Alex did a great job with his grid art, that grin coming right through, along with easily recognizable eyebrows. The black bars on the sides of the puzzle even look like rosy cheeks!

No?

Use your imagination, people!

I don't mind the thinnish theme, as all three were grid-spanners, all three were apt, and there was excellent grid art. The theme left me FULL OF GOOD CHEER.

What did not was the fill. Even on Mondays, I think it's fine to give solvers something to learn. If you don't know PALAK paneer, you don't know what you're missing, people!

But you can't cross that with DACHA, leaving a high chance that solvers will get that square wrong. I wouldn't blame them for complaining.

Similarly, see the AILERON / ALY crossing. Oof.

RECTO … this writer learned the term from crosswords. Not as tasty as PALAK, but hey, learning is good for you, right? At least the crossings felt fairer.

There's rarely a crossword that doesn't force constructors to make trade-offs. I understand why Alex decided to leave wide-open swaths of space all over the puzzle, as it made for beautiful grid art. However, the straightforward Monday theme wasn't served well by the fill that was so unfriendly to newer solvers. I would have much rather taken some compromises in the grid art, to produce a Monday-worthy fill.

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© 2018, The New York TimesNo. 0528 ( 25,038 )
Across Down
1. Trudges : TRAMPS
7. Billboard Hot 100 and others : CHARTS
13. Language spoken by Jesus : ARAMAIC
14. Hinged part of an airplane wing : AILERON
16. "Bye Bye Birdie" song : PUTONAHAPPYFACE
18. Partner of his : HERS
19. Untagged, in tag : NOTIT
20. "Star Trek" lieutenant : SULU
21. Ore-___ (frozen taters brand) : IDA
22. Inflatable item for water fun : POOLTOY
24. Bon ___ (clever remark) : MOT
25. Russian cottage : DACHA
27. Philosopher ___-tzu : LAO
28. Humiliate : ABASE
30. Super bargain : STEAL
31. Internet connection faster than dial-up, for short : DSL
32. More Solomonlike : WISER
33. ___ roaming (smartphone setting) : DATA
35. "Well, shoot!" : DANG
37. What you might do if you sing 16-Across : BREAKINTOASMILE
44. 500 sheets of paper : REAM
45. Most deals that sound too good to be true : SCAMS
46. 1 1 1 : ONES
47. Units of farmland : ACRES
49. Before, in poetry : ERE
50. Elizabethan neck decorations : RUFFS
51. Florida's ___ National Forest : OCALA
53. ___ four (small pastry) : PETIT
54. How you might feel if you sing 16-Across : FULLOFGOODCHEER
59. Prefix with center : EPI
60. Show hostility to, as a dog might a mail carrier : GROWLAT
61. Powerful cleaner : LYE
62. Medium strength? : ESP
63. No-goodnik : SOANDSO
64. Girl at a ball, in brief : DEB
1. Slangy "Amen!" : TRUEDAT
2. Corporate hustle and bustle : RATRACE
3. "Famous" cookie name : AMOS
4. Fellow : MAN
5. It has 88 keys : PIANO
6. Prom, e.g. : SCHOOLDANCE
7. Washington image seen on the back of a $50 bill : CAPITOLDOME
8. Aware of, informally : HIPTO
9. Prince ___ Khan : ALY
10. Ones whistling while they work? : REFS
11. Shocks with lasting impact : TRAUMAS
12. "Almost got it that time!" : SOCLOSE
13. Pests in the garden : APHIDS
15. Spay, e.g. : NEUTER
17. Travel aid made obsolescent by GPS : ATLAS
22. ___ paneer (Indian dish made with spinach) : PALAK
23. Expressions of boredom : YAWNS
26. Ate substantially : HADAMEAL
29. One who blabs : BIGMOUTH
34. "My country, ___ of thee ..." : TIS
36. Some small batteries : AAS
37. Undergarment with straps : BRA
38. Makes back, as an investment : RECOUPS
39. Bit of jewelry on the side of the head : EARCLIP
40. Roofing sealant : TAR
41. Area for six of the nine baseball positions : INFIELD
42. Part of the head hidden on the jack of spades : LEFTEYE
43. Curvy letter : ESS
48. Long, tiring jobs : SLOGS
50. Right-hand page in a book : RECTO
52. Big top? : AFRO
53. BlackBerrys, e.g., in brief : PDAS
54. Lawyer's charge : FEE
55. ___ long way : GOA
56. Possess : OWN
57. Antiquated : OLD
58. Yank's Civil War foe : REB

Answer summary: 7 unique to this puzzle, 1 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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