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New York Times, Thursday, July 13, 2017

Author:
Lewis E. Rothlein
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
46/11/20154/4/20190
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
0000400
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.63100
Lewis Rothlein

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 this ... read more

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 ... read more

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
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
Down
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
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Eight fluid ounces : ONECUP
45
Affect, as humidity might a piano : UNTUNE
46
Got misty, with "up" : TEARED
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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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