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New York Times, Saturday, June 6, 2015

Author: Jason Flinn
Editor: Will Shortz
Jason Flinn
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Puzzle of the Week

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 70, Blocks: 35 Missing: {JXZ} This is puzzle # 5 for Mr. Flinn. Jeff Chen's Puzzle of the Week pick NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Jason Flinn notes: When submitting this puzzle I was aiming for a Thursday, but I suspect that the overall difficulty of uncovering the trick moved ... more
Jason Flinn notes:

When submitting this puzzle I was aiming for a Thursday, but I suspect that the overall difficulty of uncovering the trick moved the puzzle later in the week. Hopefully, the shaded squares will clue solvers into the fact that there is something unusual going on.

The idea for this puzzle started with that trick, of course, and the trick itself forced a lot of the grid design. I wanted to center the mirror(s) on a diagonal. It would have been awkward to start or stop a reflected entry on a mirror square, so I could not start a mirror in the top left corner or end one in the bottom right. Using a single mirror would have required a 14x14 or 16x16 grid, so I settled on the two-mirror design in the puzzle.

Next, I wanted to embed some hints for the solver in the grid. I went through a few possibilities (e.g. NARCISSUS) but SNOW WHITE and EVIL QUEEN kind of jumped right out once I considered the MIRROR MIRROR on the diagonal. As a bonus, the convenient equal word length let the entries fit nicely in opposite corners. The grid was getting pretty constrained at that point, so DWARFS didn't make it into the final product (though SEVEN remains with a non-theme clue).

Filling the center was hard, but not for the reason you might imagine. The MIRRORs are no more constraining than fixing a particular answer in the grid. However, all the reflected answers are at least 5 letters long and they intersect with each other, making this, in effect, a pretty open section.

Jeff Chen notes: Wow. Just wow. I love when a puzzle surprises me. I got the entire SNOW WHITE corner in my first pass, so filled in MIRROR MIRROR ... more
Jeff Chen notes:

Wow. Just wow.

I love when a puzzle surprises me. I got the entire SNOW WHITE corner in my first pass, so filled in MIRROR MIRROR without hesitation. In my second pass I got the EVIL QUEEN corner without much difficulty. Just a mini-themed themeless, with MIRROR MIRROR sitting in the diagonal = nothing to write home about, right?

Mirror mirror, in the grid ... how the #$%#? did Jason do what he did?

But that central swath remained oddly blank. I had IM OUT and NOIRE plunked in at 1-D and 2-D, but nothing else would fit. Finally, I wondered if MIRROR MIRROR was contributing to my confusion. [Small tower on a castle] had to be TURRET — maybe it fit in the mirror spot, 18-A?

Then came one of the best a-ha moments in recent memory. NOIRE doesn't go straight down, it doesn't start at the reflected position … it reflects along the MIRROR, as if it were a ray of light bouncing off! Same with TURRET reflecting at the second R, same with IM OUT reflecting at the M … same with ALL THE ENTRIES HITTING MIRROR MIRROR. EVERY ONE OF THEM.

Now, some people may scoff at this tour de force, but when a handful of words turn at a 90 degree angle, the surrounding fill gets harder. When you have this constraint all along a full corridor — that's dozens of tough intersections to work through — it's an absolute gem to only need OF MAN. Otherwise, it's so clean and colorful, working in THE MASTERS and Erik ESTRADA and a PRISON RIOT.

And to do this in a 70-word puzzle? Amazing. Check out the bottom left corner, which stacks four long answers atop each other. Sure, you can complain about EEE, but this is a wonderful corner pulled off with a tough constraint. Constructors usually never stack four long words (8+ letters) atop each other for good reason — areas like this are nearly impossible to get both colorful and clean. Jason does a nice job with both of them.

The concept did make me think that MIRROR MIRROR might be even better if 1-D and 14-A started with the same sequence, so they were truly "mirrored." But even this is a sign that the puzzle did its job plus a whole lot more, spurring me on to think about it well after I finished solving.

Bravo, one of my favorites this year.

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© 2015, The New York TimesNo. 0606 ( 23,951 )
Across Down
1. Some safety stats: Abbr. : INTS
5. She queried a magic object named twice in this puzzle's shaded squares : EVILQUEEN
14. Black cats and comets : OMENS
15. Vied (for) : MADEAPLAY
16. Hang in the balance? : WEIGH
17. 1980-83 Stanley Cup winners : ISLANDERS
18. Rivet : ENGROSS
20. Cuttlefish feature : TENTACLE
21. Less than : SHORTOF
23. Didn't budge : SAT
24. Impassive : STONY
26. 1992 Prince song or its peak position in Billboard : SEVEN
30. Stir stir : PRISONRIOT
33. Tempestuous talent : DIVA
34. In good order : AOK
35. Header on many a forwarded email : FYI
36. She may give you the coat off her back : EWE
39. Press for change? : BEG
40. Annual charge : DUES
42. Darwin's "The Descent ___" : OFMAN
45. Step up : STAIR
47. Parts of one's inheritance : TRAITS
48. Pol. affiliation of British P.M. William Gladstone : LIB
50. Implores : ENTREATS
53. Go from here to there instantly : TELEPORT
57. Lecture : SERMON
59. Heavy, durable china : IRONSTONE
61. Lorenzo's love : AMORE
62. Winning line : TICTACTOE
63. Former Yankee skipper in the Hall of Fame : TORRE
64. Answer provided by the magic object named twice in the shaded squares : SNOWWHITE
65. Bygone sticker : SNEE
1. Poker player's words of concession : IMOUT
2. Bête ___ : NOIRE
3. Small tower on a castle : TURRET
4. Third class on the Titanic : STEERAGE
5. Former Big Four record company : EMI
6. Like Russia, of all countries : VASTEST
7. Having a day off : IDLE
8. Tends (toward) : LEANS
9. Longtime sponsor of the Socceroos national soccer team : QANTAS
10. Given the latest : UPDATED
11. Monthly bill: Abbr. : ELEC
12. English title : EARL
13. Business page heading : NYSE
14. Not be settled with : OWE
19. Many an "I Ching" user : TAOIST
22. Tailor's measurement : GIRTH
25. Annual Augusta event : THEMASTERS
27. Mood : VIBE
28. Continually : EVER
29. Hounds or badgers : NAGS
30. Launch locations : PADS
31. Thrash : ROUT
32. International company with an acronymic name : IKEA
37. John with the 1984 #1 hit "Missing You" : WAITE
38. Latino star once named one of "The 10 sexiest bachelors in the world" by People magazine : ESTRADA
41. Wrong start? : SILENTW
43. Words of reassurance : FRETNOT
44. Speeding (along) : TEARING
46. Shop tool : RIPSAW
49. Mess up : BOTCH
51. Certain bulb component : DIODE
52. Man: Prefix : ANDRO
53. Small songbirds : TITS
54. Home of the Lia Fáil : ERIN
55. Unhinged : LOCO
56. Pita-like bread : ROTI
58. Former G.M. make : GEO
60. Having a large footprint? : EEE

Answer summary: 3 unique to this puzzle, 1 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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