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New York Times, Thursday, July 13, 2017

Author: Lewis E. Rothlein
Editor: Will Shortz
Lewis Rothlein
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
36/11/20157/13/20170
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0000300
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1.63000

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 74, Blocks: 38 Missing: {JQZ} This is puzzle # 3 for Mr. Rothlein. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Lewis Rothlein notes: One day the phrase 'X marks the spot' just came to me; immediately, the crossword angel in my head interrupted to tell me that ... more
Lewis Rothlein notes:

One day the phrase "X marks the spot" just came to me; immediately, the crossword angel in my head interrupted to tell me that this could be a puzzle theme with X representing the word "spot". Then the crossword gremlin barked that surely it has been done before. And I looked and I looked, but never found such a puzzle. So I forged ahead.

Will/Joel liked the theme but had me rework several swaths, due to ugly fill. Because of this the puzzle was greatly improved. They kept most of my clues but substituted some excellent ones of their own, like the one for STIFFARM. I was able to balance the Xs in the theme answers, three at the end, three at the beginning, and one in me middle.

That's it from glint to print. May this puzzle bring solvers a hearty aha and some delicious headwork. I hope it hits the spot!

Jeff Chen notes: X MARKS THE SPOT has been mined for crossword plunder many a time, but I don't remember this exact implementation. Some colorful ... more
Jeff Chen notes:

X MARKS THE SPOT has been mined for crossword plunder many a time, but I don't remember this exact implementation. Some colorful phrases in OUT DAMNED (SPOT), the X working as a regular X in the down direction, and SPOT in the horizontal. (SPOT) OF TEA was another snazzy phrase. GUEST (SPOT) was pretty good, too.

I wasn't as hot on IN A (SPOT) and (SPOT) ON, as those are a bit too easy to incorporate. (SPOT)IFY (a streaming music service) to a lesser extent, too.

Tough to cram in seven of those special squares. It is true that in the vertical direction, the X is free to be a normal X, but working Xs into a grid can be challenging. Seven of them is a bear — that's not anywhere near the record of 13, but it does get this puzzle on our list.

Neat interlock, with OUT DAMNED (SPOT) intersecting X MARKS THE SPOT. Love it when those things can happen.

Some compromises to make this grid work. I've heard complaints about Jean AUEL but considering she's sold millions of books, I think she's more than fair game. What does bug me are variants like SHWA, never-written-this-way-in-real-life I-TEN, odd TYE, dir. NNE, partial IS UP, weird UNTUNE ("go out of tune" is more like it), abbr. ATTY.

I do like that Lewis went out of his way not to load up any one category of crossword glue. Next time I'd like to see fewer categories represented, though. I might have tried a less ambitious construction. I don't think the theme density is the issue since the blips aren't around the short (SPOT) themers. Going up to a 76-word grid could have helped, maybe by breaking up GAG REEL at the R. As much as I love that term — and AMBIENT is good too — rejiggering those two corners could have made the puzzle feel smoother overall.

I didn't mind the asymmetry of the theme answers that much, as it made finding those Xs unpredictable. Still, there's something so pleasing about themer symmetry.

Overall, nice take on a tried and true theme concept.

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© 2017, The New York TimesNo. 0713 ( 24,719 )
Across Down
1. Calvin from "Calvin and Hobbes," e.g. : IMP
4. Word file, in brief : DOC
7. Like London streets during Dickens's time : GASLIT
13. Much : FAR
14. Stuck : INASPOT
16. What precedes a terrible period? : AGEONE
17. Push aside for selfish ends : STIFFARM
19. One-time appearance on a TV show : GUESTSPOT
20. Refreshment for a Brit : SPOTOFTEA
21. Harangue : RANTAT
22. Uncontroversial : SAFE
24. Like a call from someone one just thought about : EERIE
26. 34th prez : IKE
27. "Bien sûr!" : OUI
28. Rug rat : ANKLEBITER
31. Oppressive rule by absolute power : DESPOTISM
34. They are often grain-fed : SILOS
35. Hebrew leader? : ALEPH
36. Actress Hagen : UTA
37. Kama ___ : SUTRA
41. Flooded : AWASH
43. Sparkle : ESPRIT
44. Command in "Macbeth" : OUTDAMNEDSPOT
48. Back on board : AFT
49. Dir. from Norfolk to Philadelphia : NNE
50. Count ___ : BASIE
51. Popular music streaming service : SPOTIFY
52. List shortener : ETALII
55. Tentatively add to the schedule, with "in" : PENCIL
57. Do some museum work : CURATE
58. Aid for a submarine captain : OCEANMAP
61. Like some bars : UNEVEN
62. Product whose jingle uses the "Dragnet" theme : TUMS
63. Neighbor of Wash. : IDA
64. Nitpicker : PEDANT
65. Sailing rope : TYE
66. Perfect : SPOTON
1. Uncertainties : IFS
2. Hair clump : MAT
3. Alternative to à la carte : PRIXFIXE
4. "What's the ___?" : DIFF
5. Like varsity or junior varsity players : ONATEAM
6. Turn at high speed : CAREEN
7. Closing credits feature, sometimes : GAGREEL
8. Requirement for un baño : AGUA
9. Attended (to) : SEEN
10. Became unhinged : LOSTIT
11. What's consumed : INTAKE
12. One who shouldn't be driving : TEXTER
15. Treasure hunt phrase ... or a hint to seven Across answers : XMARKSTHESPOT
18. Hostile : FOE
22. Six-pack purchase, maybe : SODA
23. "The Clan of the Cave Bear" author : AUEL
25. Largest pelvic bones : ILIA
29. Higher-up : BOSS
30. "Your time ___!" : ISUP
32. Big tablet : IPAD
33. Common symbol in pronunciation: Var. : SHWA
36. Its graduates include more than 50 astronauts, in brief : USNA
38. Backpack snack : TRAILMIX
39. Recurring snippet in a bass line, say : RIFF
40. Counsel: Abbr. : ATTY
42. Surrounding : AMBIENT
43. Japan, to the U.S. : EXENEMY
44. Eight fluid ounces : ONECUP
45. Affect, as humidity might a piano : UNTUNE
46. Got misty, with "up" : TEARED
47. Like cardboard jigsaw puzzles : DIECUT
51. Choose, as a questionnaire box : XIN
53. It goes with the flow : LAVA
54. Major thoroughfare through Houston, informally : ITEN
56. Something to try : CASE
59. Hubbub : ADO
60. Thumbs-down review : PAN

Answer summary: 3 unique to this puzzle.

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