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ALADDIN

New York Times, Sunday, June 1, 2014

Author: Tom McCoy
Editor: Will Shortz
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3111/14/20139/2/20180
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1.61352
Tom McCoy

This puzzle:

Rows: 21, Columns: 21 Words: 140, Blocks: 70 Missing: {JQXZ} This is puzzle # 2 for Mr. McCoy. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Tom McCoy notes: I'm thrilled to have my first Sunday published! The larger size presented a whole new world of difficulty to fill, but it was extremely satisfying to get a completed grid. This puzzle began with a theme ... more
Tom McCoy notes: I'm thrilled to have my first Sunday published! The larger size presented a whole new world of difficulty to fill, but it was extremely satisfying to get a completed grid.

This puzzle began with a theme exactly opposite the current one. I planned for the revealer to be WITHDRAWAL, with theme answers that were common phrases missing the letters AL, such as ICE IN WONDERLAND, FLOUT BOYS, or FAT ATTRACTION. I had just finished a course in computer science, so after I made a list of themers, I wrote a program to make sure I was not missing any juicy potential theme phrases. The program was designed to output a list of all English words that became different English words when the string "al" was removed, and my plan was to look over the list to see if it contained anything interesting that I had not thought of on my own. At the top of the list was the pair "Aladdin" and "add-in," and I realized that ALADDIN would make a great title for a puzzle that involved inserting "al" rather than deleting it, so I decided to change from WITHDRAWAL to ALADDIN.

There were a couple of reasons for the switch. First, ALADDIN makes a better title than WITHDRAWAL because ALADDIN is unrelated etymologically to ADD-IN whereas WITHDRAW and WITHDRAWAL have the same stem. Secondly, subtracting letters can make it difficult to tell what the base phrase is, but this is less of a problem when letters are added because then the base phrase is still present in its entirety. Therefore, I turned the theme on its head, and the result is what you see. (By the way, thanks to Mrs. Prosser and Lori Levin for teaching me the requisite programming skills!)

I always struggle to balance cleanliness with liveliness. In this grid, I was especially happy to fit HIPSTER, PUSSYFOOT, and APLOMB, but there are also a few entries I would rather have done without; if I'm ever brave enough to attempt another Sunday, I would like to include more interesting non-theme answers. In addition, my favorite Sundays usually have extra theme layers (for an example, see pretty much any Sunday by Elizabeth C. Gorski), so I would also love to try my hand at adding extra elements to the theme.

Jeff Chen notes: Straightforward 'add a letter(s)' theme today, ALADDIN parsing as AL ADD IN = add AL to phrases to produce wacky results. As with these types of puzzles, the keys are 1.) whether or not the base phrases are snappy ... more
Jeff Chen notes: Straightforward "add a letter(s)" theme today, ALADDIN parsing as AL ADD IN = add AL to phrases to produce wacky results. As with these types of puzzles, the keys are 1.) whether or not the base phrases are snappy and 2.) if the resulting phrases make the solver smile or laugh. I think Tom did a nice job in picking strong base phrases; all of them very solid. The resulting phrases generally didn't do a lot for me — humor is so subjective — but A FAREWELL TO ALARMS gave me a nice image of that kooky alarm clock programmed to roll away when it goes off, thus making the owner chase it a la Benny Hill. (cue Yakety Sax music here)

For just his second NYT puzzle, Tom does a nice job. The leap from weekday to Sunday puzzle is dramatic — I remember staring at a blank 21x grid for the first time, wondering if I could actually do it. It was a simple "add an R" puzzle so wasn't accepted (hey, you gotta start somewhere), but it was a giant step for me to realize that a Sunday NYT was within my grasp (well, with a LOT of additional practice and training). Congrats on the Sunday debut, Tom.

Ah, big corners. Check out the NE and the SW, 6x6 chunks of white appearing almost themeless in quality. These are tough to fill, especially when bordered by two long answers. I appreciate the care Tom took with the SW corner — it turned out beautiful. LONG PANTS is a nice enough answer, and Tom puts in PINKIES / RAN DRY / PLANAR with a great Flatland clue. Not even one tenuous answer! That's the way to care and feed for a subsection.

Moving to the NE though, once you throw down IDEALS OF MARCH and PUSSYFOOT (great entry, BTW!), filling that subsection can be brutal. So often they require glue like UNIATE and SO MUCH, which seems to me a six-letter partial, not something that's generally acceptable. I wonder if PUSSYFOOT was just too enticing to leave in the grid. It's one of my favorite entries in the grid, but for me personally, it's not worth the price of UNIATE and SO MUCH.

These big corners are tricky. They can be hard to avoid when your first entry (CHANGE OF PALACE) leaves exactly six white squares to its right. Might have been nicer to break that chunk into a much more easily fillable 6x3 or a 6x4, by shifting black squares around.

Finally, a nice clue to end this post. I was pretty stuck in the SW corner, and I stared at [Lines at a theater?] for the longest time. Turns out putting an "S" at the end wasn't so smart! I liked the a-ha moment of figuring out that it wasn't talking about QUEUES but a SCRIPT. I find these types of clever clues are essential for holding my interest when a Sunday theme is straightforward. Brought a smile to my face.

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© 2014, The New York TimesNo. 0601 ( 23,581 )
Across Down
1. To the same extent : ASFAR
6. Something Pedro and Pablo might have? : SAN
9. Coll. program : ROTC
13. Tug-of-war participant : PULLER
19. Watts on a screen : NAOMI
20. Like some desk work : CLERICAL
22. One of a group of Eastern Christians : UNIATE
23. King's move? : CHANGEOFPALACE
25. Only what a person can take? : SOMUCH
26. In fine fettle : HALE
27. Process of sorting injuries : TRIAGE
28. Gets browner : TANS
30. Start of something big? : IDEA
31. Mineralogists' study : ORES
32. Anoint, archaically : ANELE
33. Like some French sauces : WINEY
34. Brooklyn squad : NETS
35. The two sides of Pac-Man's mouth, say : RADII
37. Principles espoused during Women's History Month? : IDEALSOFMARCH
40. Cry after a roller coaster ride, maybe : AGAIN
44. Together : ONE
45. Coward from England : NOEL
46. Ability to walk a tightrope or swallow a sword? : CIRCUSTALENT
51. Land in the Golden Triangle : LAOS
52. Part of a giggle : HEE
55. Pass with flying colors : ACE
56. Like the 10-Down : ANDEAN
57. Soupçon : SMATTERING
60. Olden : BYGONE
62. Finish (up) : MOP
64. Soprano Sumac : YMA
65. At the discretion of : UPTO
66. Dream for late sleepers? : AFAREWELLTOALARMS
72. Identity : SELF
74. Car antitheft aid, for short : VIN
75. Informal way to say 87-Across : YUP
76. Sheen : LUSTER
79. Chooses beforehand : PRESELECTS
83. It's all tied up with the present : RIBBON
86. Start to love? : ELL
87. "Certainly" : YES
88. Collapse, with "out" : CONK
89. Waterway leading to a SW German city? : CANALOFWORMS
92. Way to l'Île de la Cité : PONT
93. Feature of many a Ludacris lyric : PUN
94. Add up : TOTAL
95. Slinky going down the stairs? : SPRINGFALLING
101. Dough raiser : YEAST
105. Large family : CLAN
106. Postlarval : PUPAL
107. Crimean conference locale : YALTA
111. Over : ANEW
112. Captain, e.g. : RANK
113. Confederate : ALLY
114. Biblical book in two parts : SAMUEL
115. Star burst : NOVA
116. Neighbor of an 8-Down : INDIAN
118. Dissertation on people's inherent spitefulness? : OFMALICEANDMEN
121. Chaperone, often : PARENT
122. Treasure Stater : MONTANAN
123. Human or alien : BEING
124. Some cheaters have them : TRYSTS
125. Frat members : BROS
126. Drivers brake for it : ESS
127. Pungent green : CRESS
1. Hold down : ANCHOR
2. "The ostrich roams the great ___. / Its mouth is wide, its neck is narra": Ogden Nash : SAHARA
3. Gave birth on a farm, say : FOALED
4. Unlikely memoirist : AMNESIAC
5. Fix : RIG
6. Derision : SCORN
7. 1966 title role reprised by Jude Law in 2004 : ALFIE
8. Neighbor of a 116-Across : NEPALI
9. Inflame, with "up" : RILE
10. South American tuber : OCA
11. Touchy? : TACTILE
12. Tidies up : CLEANS
13. Not be bold : PUSSYFOOT
14. Commercial version of crazy eights : UNO
15. In-between : LIMINAL
16. Cosmetician Estée : LAUDER
17. And so on and so forth : ETCETC
18. Go over and over : REHASH
21. Lost it : RAGED
24. Letter between two others that rhyme with it : ETA
29. Like some care : NEONATAL
33. Lacks : WANTS
36. One who might stick his tongue out at you? : IGUANA
38. Long time : EON
39. Agosto or settembre : MESE
41. Ed of "Up" : ASNER
42. "___ be my pleasure!" : ITD
43. Burns's refusal : NAE
46. It's widely hailed as a convenient way to get around : CAB
47. Frozen over : ICY
48. Entertains : REGALES
49. Bemoan : LAMENT
50. Organic compound : ENOL
51. Monastery resident : LAMA
52. One parodied on "Portlandia" : HIPSTER
53. Fangorn Forest denizen : ENT
54. Inflatable thing : EGO
58. Reason for glasses : MYOPIA
59. Captain Morgan and others : RUMS
61. Does away with : OFFS
63. Layer : PLY
67. Action-packed : EVENTFUL
68. It has a light at one end : WICK
69. Roll of the dice, say : TURN
70. Up : ALOFT
71. Strip for a fashion show : RUNWAY
72. Secret collector : SPY
73. Before, poetically : ERE
77. The ___ City (New Haven) : ELM
78. Literary inits. : RLS
80. Nobel Prize subj. : ECON
81. Trousers : LONGPANTS
82. Racing boat : SCULL
84. Sandwich order, for short : BLT
85. Scary word : BOO
90. Young Darth Vader's nickname : ANI
91. Evergreen shrub : OLEANDER
92. Thumbs' opposites : PINKIES
93. Represent, sportswise : PLAYFOR
95. Lines at a theater? : SCRIPT
96. Like Flatland : PLANAR
97. Became less than a trickle : RANDRY
98. Composure : APLOMB
99. Spiral-horned antelope : NYALA
100. Mischievous girl : GAMINE
102. Social breakdown : ANOMIE
103. Common dice rolls : SEVENS
104. Elements of some accents : TWANGS
108. "American Graffiti" director : LUCAS
109. Frigid temps : TEENS
110. Like : ALA
114. Srs.' worries : SATS
117. Colony member : ANT
119. Telephone trio : MNO
120. Its logo displays all Roy G. Biv except indigo : NBC

Answer summary: 9 unique to this puzzle, 3 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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