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New York Times, Saturday, July 12, 2014

Author:
Tim Croce and Alex Vratsanos
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
333/12/20106/27/20151
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
01332816
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.56001
Tim Croce
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
176/13/20115/23/20193
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
3142313
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.60040
Alex Vratsanos

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 66, Blocks: 30 Missing: {JQXY} Spans: 6, (2 double stacks) This is puzzle # 30 for Mr. Croce. This is puzzle # 9 for Mr. Vratsanos. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Constructor notes:
This is the result of collaboration between members of two parties long thought to be incapable of mutual agreement. Those parties ... read more

This is the result of collaboration between members of two parties long thought to be incapable of mutual agreement. Those parties are, of course, Red Sox Nation and Yankees Universe.

The meeting was by chance: we had puzzles published back-to-back (11/10/11 and 11/11/11), and we were thus able to see each other's email addresses. You must know that I (Tim) am very shy by nature, so the thought had never entered my mind to contact anyone to collaborate with. Despite that, we got in touch over nine months later... I (Alex) wrote to Tim on August 31, 2012, seeing as he was the constructor for the next day, the day of my mother's second wedding, at which I was best man.

In summer 2012, I (Alex) came up with the combination of TAPPAN ZEE BRIDGE and LIBATION BEARERS in rows 3 and 4 and CUTLETS and LIP BALM (the latter not yet having been used in the NYT back then) crossing them. At one point, Tim and I tried 4-5-4 across the top and bottom two rows, but sticking with 3-7-3 made it much easier to work with those 7's. We agreed on either SEMIGLOSS PAINTS or SEMISOFT CHEESES for the third span. The top left and middle fell into place because there were few other options for those sections; once we discovered that –SES presented more options than –NTS, CHEESES it was. There was some debate over the fill in the NE, but, once we found ORESTES, a tie-in to 20A, that was it.

The bottom was harder. The age-old debate arose: pangram or smoother fill? We tried a number of stacks: STREAK FREE SHINE / IT'S THE LATEST FAD, LEAVES A BAD TASTE / INCOME TAX RETURN, SPACE SATELLITES / AEROBIC EXERCISE — here we abandoned Scrabbly fill — FAST EDDIE FELSON / IMPERIAL MEASURE, then this one. There was some hang-up over SPANG, but we thought the fill in the bottom center to be much better with than without it. And I (Alex) feel fortunate to have still been able to use one Scrabbly letter in the bottom half, as I thought the Z in TAPPAN ZEE BRIDGE might feel lonely with no other Scrabbly letters in the grid.

As for cluing, we agreed to both write full sets and chat over Gmail, going clue by clue and deciding which one was better. We found that to be better than splitting the clues in half, because deciding between two clues for each entry would make a better product. Of particular note is the one for ELBE, not being able to decide between referring to the Vltava and the border between West and East Germany (which the Elbe formed part of) and thus putting both in our manuscript.

Thanks, Will, for the terrific job you've done editing this and all our puzzles. And thank you, reader, for enjoying our puzzle!

Jeff Chen notes:
Crosswords are like cars. There are some universal assets for both: great themes and strong fill for crosswords, and gas mileage and ... read more

Crosswords are like cars. There are some universal assets for both: great themes and strong fill for crosswords, and gas mileage and reliability for cars. But it makes a lot of sense for car makers to create "concept cars" to show off what might be possible. These concept cars may not be very practical, but they sure are cool to look at. It wouldn't be much fun if EVERY car were a concept car, but one every once in a while creates a lot of buzz.

Today's puzzle is in that vein for me. It's crazy-looking pattern. Eye-popping. Those giant white spaces in the top and bottom scream LOOK AT ME! As a constructor, I look at that and shudder for fear of execution difficulties, but for most of the NYT audience, I bet more of a "hey, you gotta come take a look at this!" is in order.

With any themeless featuring a lot of 15's, those grid-spanners must pull their weight, since they won't leave much room for other good fill. If you hit the "Analyze" button down below, you'll see that the longest entries after the 15's are only seven letters long. It's generally harder to come up with great IM IN AWE type entries when you're constrained to only seven letters. More often than not, more neutral words like SCOWLED or INSEAMS will fit in better.

Out of those six grid-spanners, I thought LIBATION BEARERS and I DONT FEEL LIKE IT and EARTH SHATTERING were fantastic. SEMI SOFT CHEESES and ARIZONA CARDINAL lean more toward neutral for me. And TAPPAN ZEE BRIDGE... yikes! It took every cross to figure out, and even then, TAPMANZEE (with MATTI) sounded reasonable. (I think too much about all the fun practical jokes I could pull if I had a chimpanzee. Even better if I had a tapmanzee.) Overall, not bad on this front.

Showy concept cars often have compromises in order to fit everything under the hood, and that's seen in some entries like DERAT, SOLFA and ARRAS and their crossing, the little corners filled with CPL / URI and MTA / SSN. Not what I'd like to typically see in a themeless. Additionally, the puzzle's flow wasn't ideal, being broken into three mini-puzzles: top, center, bottom. I was stymied by the top (which is fine, as I'm sure some people will know the TAPPAN ZEE BRIDGE off the top of their heads), without any way to break in.

That said, the overall effect is still pretty neat. I wouldn't want to see this type of puzzle every week, but a few times a year it provides for a great visual effect.

Finally, a few notes on clues. [They run up legs] for INSEAMS is awesome, exactly the type of clue that resonates for me, personally. (I was thinking about spiders running up legs, or better yet, miniature tapmanzees.) The clue for SCOWLED was less interesting to me, going for an esoteric definition of "scowl" (I looked up "scowl," and one of the last definitions was "lower." Then I looked up "lower," and one of the last definitions was "scowl." Some help, stupid dictionary.). This kind of cluing feels too SAT-ish and unsatisfying for me, but I'm sure others will enjoy it. Even prefer it.

Personally, it was a really nice touch to end on [Bright spots], which I thought were going to be something like HIGHLIGHTS, but was indeed, SOLARIA. Nice misdirection.

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C
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A
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K
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© 2014, The New York TimesNo. 0712 ( 23,622 )
Across
1
Army equivalent of a leading seaman: Abbr. : CPL
4
Lowered : SCOWLED
11
Man on the street? : BRO
14
New England state sch. : URI
15
Football helmet feature : EARHOLE
16
Preposition with three homophones : OER
17
Span since 1955 : TAPPANZEEBRIDGE
20
Middle of an Aeschylus trilogy, with "The" : LIBATIONBEARERS
21
Classic label in classical music : ERATO
22
Try to pull off, say : TUGAT
23
Camera movement : TILT
24
Unwelcome neighbor : SNOOP
29
Get on board : LADE
30
Gouda and Muenster : SEMISOFTCHEESES
33
Greeting at the head of a procession : ALLHAIL
34
Selfish response to a request : IDONTFEELLIKEIT
42
River that passes by the Hermitage : NEVA
43
Wall hanging : ARRAS
44
Saint who is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers : ELMO
45
Squarely, informally : SPANG
47
First name in late-night TV : CRAIG
48
Monumental : EARTHSHATTERING
54
Pro athlete in a red-and-white uniform : ARIZONACARDINAL
55
Subway inits. : MTA
56
Bright spots : SOLARIA
57
One being shepherded, say : EWE
58
It's double-hyphenated: Abbr. : SSN
59
Like many a sports car : TWODOOR
60
Brutus' "but" : SED
Down
1
Schnitzels, e.g. : CUTLETS
2
Plain variety : PRAIRIE
3
Stick in a purse? : LIPBALM
4
1950s-'70s defense acronym : SEATO
5
Request often accompanied by "please" : CANI
6
Pasta eaten with a spoon : ORZO
7
"That's enough," to a server : WHEN
8
Banker/philanthropist Solomon : LOEB
9
River into which the Vltava flows : ELBE
10
Clear of vermin : DERAT
11
Some corner shops : BODEGAS
12
Move from A to B, say : REGRADE
13
Hero of 20-Across : ORESTES
18
Stanger a.k.a. Bravo's "Millionaire Matchmaker" : PATTI
19
"You can't beat me!" : IRULE
24
Sight-singing technique : SOLFA
25
54-Across, e.g., for short : NFLER
26
Gender option on modern forms : OTHER
27
Onetime center for the distribution of oranges : OCALA
28
2008 World Series winners, to fans : PHILS
31
Didn't get snapped up, say : SAT
32
Laura Nyro album "___ and the Thirteenth Confession" : ELI
34
They run up legs : INSEAMS
35
Skips : DEPARTS
36
Reproductive, in a way : OVARIAN
37
Sportscaster Jim : NANTZ
38
Olympic gymnast Strug : KERRI
39
Manhattan eatery referenced in Billy Joel's "Big Shot" : ELAINES
40
"Wow!" : IMINAWE
41
Turned off and on : TOGGLED
46
Shade : GHOST
47
Ohio's ___ Point, home of the Top Thrill Dragster and Millennium Force roller coasters : CEDAR
49
Kind of day or job : SNOW
50
Headlight? : HALO
51
Part of A.M.P.A.S.: Abbr. : ACAD
52
Arum family member : TARO
53
TLC, e.g. : TRIO

Answer summary: 3 unique to this puzzle, 1 debuted here and reused later, 3 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

Found bugs or have suggestions?