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New York Times, Thursday, July 11, 2019

Author:
Alex Eaton-Salners
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
272/2/201711/14/20191
SunMonTueWedThuFriSatVariety
125411013
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.54240
Alex Eaton-Salners

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 78, Blocks: 38 Missing: {JQY} This is puzzle # 22 for Mr. Eaton-Salners. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Alex Eaton-Salners notes:
I'm surprised to see this puzzle published so close to my Tuesday crossword from April 9, 2019. Both puzzles rely on the same ... read more

I'm surprised to see this puzzle published so close to my Tuesday crossword from April 9, 2019. Both puzzles rely on the same linguistic oddity (semordnilaps), though the rest of their gimmicks are very different. Even so, spacing the two puzzles further apart might have allowed the previous theme to fade a bit more from solvers' collective memory. On the other hand, there's only one overlapping semordnilap pair: the NAME TAG/GATEMAN combination. Fortuitously, that's also the last one a solver would encounter if solving top-to-bottom.

Today's grid was made six months before the April puzzle. It's interesting to me that solvers are encountering them in an order opposite their creation. Though perhaps that fits perfectly with the semordnilaps theme. ;-)

For this puzzle, I focused on long (6+ letters) semordnilap pairs that exhibit changes in spacing. I think it's much more exciting to find TO ORDER hidden in RED ROOT than REPAID hidden in DIAPER. Of course, there aren't a lot of long semordnilaps to choose from, so my options were pretty limited. Some of the other pairs that didn't make the cut include STRESSED/DESSERTS, DELIVER/REVILED, NO TIPS/SPIT ON, NO PETS/STEP ON, and WONTON/NOT NOW.

One ding for the puzzle is that the theme answers (CUSTOMIZED, STUDENTS, etc.) are somewhat prosaic. That's due to (1) terse clues (similar to a classical definition theme); (2) limited options on the semordnilap front; and (3) symmetry and length requirements. Hopefully the fun of the puzzle isn't in the theme words themselves – it's in deciphering the clues and figuring out the backwards answers.

Jeff Chen notes:
We've seen dozens of backwards puzzles, enough for us to compile a list. I can't remember another one where the entry is backward, and ... read more

We've seen dozens of backwards puzzles, enough for us to compile a list. I can't remember another one where the entry is backward, and the clue is too, so I appreciate Alex's attempt to go above and beyond.

(Shout out to Mike Shenk of the WSJ, who while editing one of my backward puzzles, came up with the idea to flip the print clues such that they looked as they'd appear in a mirror. That was brilliant.)

I'm a big fan of Alex's gridwork. With five themers – three of them shortish – you have a fantastic opportunity to add in sparkling bonuses, while keeping the short fill smooth. Alex did just that, with smart positioning of his long downs. Note how WHEN IN ROME / SWIM CAP / OX TEAM / BLURTS / LETS NOT / CHATTERBAG alternate down up down up down up, for best spacing.

(Not sure why I entered CHATTERBAG instead of the correct answer. It ought to be a thing, I tells ya.)

A lot of constructors try a "parallel downs" structure, like WHEN IN ROME / HUMANITIES. It's not hard to do when you don't have many constraints in the area – there's just GNITSIXE nailed into place. It's more a matter of willingness to put in the time to find a stellar solution. Too many constructors give up around attempt number 20, unwilling to iterate into the hundreds to come up with a winning set as strong as today's.

Huge props for craftsmanship. I'm glad Alex tried to make this concept stand out from the muck of backwardsville, but it wasn't quite enough.

1
O
2
F
3
F
4
S
5
S
6
W
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A
8
B
9
B
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C
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C
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S
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D
R
A
W
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A
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S
L
15
E
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B
O
H
O
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D
E
Z
I
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M
O
T
S
U
C
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C
R
A
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S
E
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M
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H
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D
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N
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H
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C
A
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B
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S
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D
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W
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H
A
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F
31
S
O
L
A
C
E
32
W
H
U
P
33
K
O
34
I
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T
H
O
R
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N
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H
E
M
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D
E
G
N
39
E
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V
A
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P
B
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O
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A
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I
R
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C
S
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L
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N
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N
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T
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O
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P
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L
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A
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G
N
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E
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L
O
T
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A
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S
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A
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O
S
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A
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K
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A
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D
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T
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R
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P
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O
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S
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O
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M
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T
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© 2019, The New York TimesNo. 0711 ( 25,447 )
Across
1
Takes out : OFFS
5
Deckhand : SWAB
9
Covertly drops a line to : BCCS
13
Make faces, perhaps : DRAW
14
Window's counterpart : AISLE
16
___-chic (hippie-influenced style) : BOHO
17
RED ROOT : DEZIMOTSUC
19
Groan-inducing dice roll : CRAP
20
Note below F, perhaps? : SEEME
21
Judean king : HEROD
23
Undefined degree : NTH
24
Certain red wine, to connoisseurs : CAB
26
SLIP UP : STNEDUTS
28
Kind of scenario : WHATIF
31
Comfort : SOLACE
32
Give a good beatin' : WHUP
33
Ornamental pond fish : KOI
35
One of many in Jesus' crown : THORN
37
Line of clothing : HEM
38
DIAPER : DEGNEVA
41
Org. whose members meet in an alley : PBA
42
Live in a studio : ONAIR
44
"___: Cyber" (2010s TV spinoff) : CSI
45
Symbol of England : LION
46
Altogether : INTOTO
49
Long-handled weapon : POLEAX
51
WENT ON : GNITSIXE
53
Fortune : LOT
54
It "lives from constraints and dies from freedom," per Leonardo da Vinci : ART
55
Went after : SETAT
57
Tennis star Naomi : OSAKA
61
"I dare you!" : DOIT
63
NAME TAG : RETEPTNIAS
65
Blood moon, to some : OMEN
66
Slightly brown : SAUTE
67
Old Dodge : OMNI
68
Cause of class struggle? : TEST
69
Video file extension : MPEG
70
Handful of golfers? : TEES
Down
1
Figures at a racetrack : ODDS
2
Let go : FREE
3
Rattle : FAZE
4
Stretchy headwear : SWIMCAP
5
___ João de Meriti, Brazil : SAO
6
Employed by : WITH
7
They may be packed for a trip in the mountains : ASSES
8
Says quickly without thinking : BLURTS
9
___ World Service : BBC
10
Thanksgiving centerpiece : CORNUCOPIA
11
One talking on and on and on : CHATTERBOX
12
They outrank frosh : SOPHS
15
Affordable, in company names : ECONO
18
It may be well done : MEAT
22
"Keep Climbing" sloganeer : DELTA
25
Need for a triathlon : BIKE
27
- : DAH
28
"Well, I guess if everyone else is ..." : WHENINROME
29
History and literature, e.g. : HUMANITIES
30
Problem for a mariner : FOG
32
"Am I supposed to know this person?" : WHO
34
Close of business? : INC
36
Old ___, "Game of Thrones" caretaker : NAN
38
Rubbish : DROSS
39
Subj. of some thought experiments : ESP
40
Six-stringed instrument : VIOL
43
___ Tech, notable bankruptcy of 2016 : ITT
45
"I'd rather we skip it" : LETSNOT
47
Strata : TIERS
48
Yoked pair : OXTEAM
50
Pillage : LOOT
51
Gal in "Wonder Woman" : GADOT
52
Gobble : EATUP
56
Place for un béret : TETE
58
"Je t'___" (French for "I love you") : AIME
59
Xanadu resident : KANE
60
Without change : ASIS
62
It may be placed in mines : TNT
64
Coatroom item : PEG

Answer summary: 6 unique to this puzzle, 1 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

Found bugs or have suggestions?