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New York Times, Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Author:
Heather Valadez
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutCollabs
16/24/20140
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0010000
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1.63010
Heather Valadez

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 76, Blocks: 36 Missing: {Q} Spans: 1 This is the debut puzzle for Ms. Valadez. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Heather Valadez notes:
The second puzzle I ever made and submitted to the NYT had the theme COVERT RELATIONS with family members hidden in the theme entries, ... read more

The second puzzle I ever made and submitted to the NYT had the theme COVERT RELATIONS with family members hidden in the theme entries, but it was not accepted for publication. So I tried again with something similar but better in this puzzle, my third submission, and it was really exciting to hear that Will liked the theme for this one! He immediately spotted some terrible entries and crosses, and we went back and forth a couple of times improving the puzzle. This process alone was so instructive. I had thought that including some bad fill would be somewhat inevitable due to the constraints of the grid. I did not realize how hard constructors work to exclude the chaff. Ripping out and remaking most of the puzzle with better fill vastly improved it. Will was impressively patient and gentle while giving excellent, targeted advice.

I have always enjoyed solving puzzles. When I was a child, my dad used to give me copies of Games magazine and let me take the first stab at the NYT Sunday crossword when I was lucky to get one or two short entries. I even recall making a cat-themed logic puzzle as a present for my mom once. I never had any idea how to make a crossword puzzle however, until a few years ago when reading an online article by Matt Gaffney that discusses some rules of construction ("It Themes Somehow Familiar"). After browsing the Cruciverb and XWord Info sites (which are both such outstanding, essential resources), I tried making my first grid. Trial and error were good teachers and confirmed the reasons typical construction methods are the way they are. Constructing, like solving, is a skill mostly learned by just doing it!

I'm thrilled to be able to contribute to something as wonderful as the NYT crossword and hope to have the free time to make more puzzles in the future!

Jeff Chen notes:
Really nice theme, Wish I had Thought of That (WITT). COVERT OPERATION being re-imagined as 'math operators hiding within longer words ... read more

Really nice theme, Wish I had Thought of That (WITT). COVERT OPERATION being re-imagined as "math operators hiding within longer words / entries" is clever. And a debut! Congrats on a well-executed puzzle, Heather.

I uncovered SUBCONTRACT first, and really appreciated how SUB and TRACT break up so nicely. The other ones felt a little less elegant, as there have to be dozens of words / entries that include A D D or D I V I D E. It's probably not possible to find answers that break up into words like SUB and TRACT, but even a split into two pieces like MULTIPL / Y felt a bit more elegant than the A D D randomly hanging out within STANDBY MODE.

Good choice of themers otherwise, though. STANDBY MODE is a snazzy one, and I liked both DRIVERS SIDE and its clue quite a lot. MULTIPLAYER with its WoW clue was nice too. Amazing that Heather was able to incorporate such nice long themers, considering she needed five of them.

Not an easy task of construction, and Heather executes well. I appreciate the extra mile in leaving enough space for the long RATS NEST and RAMPED UP, with ICE MELT and SO TO SAY in close proximity. Heather could have broken up a pair of entries and gone up to the max of 78, which would likely have gotten rid of EWER and EA POE, but both of those are very minor blips. I like the trade-off a lot. For a first construction, it's amazing how smooth she kept her grid, really only the esoteric KENAI being forced by the awkward ?E??I pattern. Heck, what am I saying? It'd be smooth for most people's tenth construction! Clear that a lot of polishing went on.

Hoo boy, I had a rough time with the last square, the X of REDUX. I should have known it from "Rabbit Redux" by John Updike, but apparently I've been reading too many children's books. Darn it Updike, get with the program! Along with my blanking on the fact that Simone de Beauvoir was a prominent French feminist, I ended up with a mistake. Perhaps making one of those clues a tad easier would have been preferable. But as Will says, this is the NYT, not USA Today. So it's tough to say if the clues for those two entries were "fair" or not.

Finally, a beautiful clue in [What covers many blocks?], making me think about SMOG or COPS or something before realizing the clue was talking about MORTAR holding blocks together.

Impressive debut; looking forward to many more from Heather! As a reminder, the split in crossword constructors is heavily skewed toward males, so anything we can do to encourage female constructors, yeah? If you have thoughts or want help in putting together a grid based on your idea, don't hesitate to get in touch through our home page.

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© 2014, The New York TimesNo. 0624 ( 23,604 )

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Students & seniors
Across
1. "Oh, so that's it!" : AHA
4. Impetuous : BRASH
9. Norwegian tourist attraction : FJORD
14. Tease : RIB
15. Author of Gothic short stories, in short : EAPOE
16. Slave away : LABOR
17. Music producer Brian : ENO
18. Sleep state for an electronic device : STANDBYMODE
20. Fesses up : ADMITS
22. Ruckus : ADO
23. Tidbit for a bird : SEED
24. Outsource, as part of a job : SUBCONTRACT
27. Still-life subject : EWER
28. SXSW festival setting : AUSTIN
33. Blossom support : STEM
36. Really cool, in slang : SICK
39. Hooch : BOOZE
40. Secret military mission ... or a hint to the circled letters in this puzzle? : COVERTOPERATION
43. Oscar winner for "Skyfall" : ADELE
44. Yemen's capital : SANA
45. Ye ___ Shoppe : OLDE
46. What covers many blocks? : MORTAR
48. Gremlins and Pacers : AMCS
50. Like World of Warcraft and other fare for 66-Acrosses : MULTIPLAYER
56. Coin whose front varies by country : EURO
60. Stable diet? : HAY
61. Mopey donkey of children's literature : EEYORE
62. It's on the left in the U.S. and the right in the U.K. : DRIVERSSIDE
65. Boy : LAD
66. See 50-Across : GAMER
67. Doughnut's shape : TORUS
68. Wildcats of the N.C.A.A. : KSU
69. Kagan of the Supreme Court : ELENA
70. Potter's potions professor : SNAPE
71. Simone de Beauvoir's "The Second ___" : SEX
Down
1. Fields : AREAS
2. One who believes in karma : HINDU
3. Weapon of mass destruction in '45 headlines : ABOMB
4. Confer (upon) : BESTOW
5. Tangle : RATSNEST
6. Therapists' org. : APA
7. Submarine sensor : SONAR
8. ___ Gabler, Ibsen heroine : HEDDA
9. Really cool, in slang : FLY
10. Copier malfunctions : JAMS
11. Instrument that tunes an orchestra : OBOE
12. Cycled, say : RODE
13. Great Scott? : DRED
19. ___ Raton, Fla. : BOCA
21. Magnesium chloride, e.g. : ICEMELT
25. Nirvana and Destiny's Child : TRIOS
26. Big horn : TUBA
29. In a manner of speaking : SOTOSAY
30. Slave away : TOIL
31. Preppy clothing brand : IZOD
32. Protected bird in Hawaii : NENE
33. Grift, e.g. : SCAM
34. ___ list : TODO
35. Of all time : EVER
37. One working overtime in Apr., maybe : CPA
38. Alaskan peninsula : KENAI
41. 20 quires of paper : REAM
42. Increased, as production : RAMPEDUP
47. German coal region : RUHR
49. "Monty Python" actor John : CLEESE
51. Persists : LASTS
52. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse ___ : TYSON
53. They provide richness in batter : YOLKS
54. Wipe away : ERASE
55. Brought back : REDUX
56. Sharp part : EDGE
57. Eurasia's ___ Mountains : URAL
58. Frost : RIME
59. Place for a roast : OVEN
63. Historical interval : ERA
64. Flatow or Glass of public radio : IRA

Answer summary: 5 unique to this puzzle.

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