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New York Times, Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Author: Michael Hawkins
Editor: Will Shortz
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Michael Hawkins
Puzzle of the Week

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 70, Blocks: 42 Missing: {JQXZ} Spans: 1 This is puzzle # 8 for Mr. Hawkins. Jeff Chen's Puzzle of the Week pick. NYT links: Across Lite PDF

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Michael Hawkins notes: Patrick Berry's use of stair-step blocks in his themeless puzzles inspired this puzzle's creation. The large block count forced ... more
Michael Hawkins notes:

Patrick Berry's use of stair-step blocks in his themeless puzzles inspired this puzzle's creation. The large block count forced me to keep the word count lower than a typical early week puzzle, a constraint that challenged the balance between visual appeal and clean fill.

Since the acceptance of this puzzle I have become much more familiar with ESCALATORCLAUSEs, which have so far failed to make a difference in the ultra-competitive Seattle-area real estate market. If you're a crossword fan with a craftsman-style Everett home you'd like to sell, please let me know!

Jeff Chen notes: My first impression was that this puzzle had so many — too many — diagonals of black squares rising from left to right. ... more
Jeff Chen notes:

My first impression was that this puzzle had so many — too many — diagonals of black squares rising from left to right. Kvetching alert! Those middle diagonals break up the solving flow! All those pyramid blocks around the perimeter felt like cheating to this constructor (they make a grid way too easy to fill)! Forty-two total black squares is too many!

Boy, did I feel silly when I realized that the black squares were thematic. I didn't catch on to the theme until very late, and I loved when the switch finally flipped on. STAIRCASE WIT, ESCALATOR CLAUSE, ON THE UP AND UP made for a simple concept, but the black square patterns — every single one of them rising diagonally — made for an elegant touch.

Excellent craftsmanship, very little crossword glue anywhere. Some people may complain about SCRY, but I think it's a fair word, even for more novice solvers. Then again, I do love sci-fi and fantasy novels ... if you haven't read the Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud, you're missing out on some awesome SCRYing! (More importantly, the crossing answers are all gettable; even REMY Martin ought to be at least familiar).

Great BANK clue, playing on Penn and Teller. How have I never realized that a BANK has both pens and tellers? Love those sorts of connections.

The puzzle did play hard for me, what with less common vocabulary such as TRICORN, ANTEHALL, ASYLA (that really is the plural of "asylum"!) to go with SCRY. I happened to be familiar with all of them, but I'd understand if these answers left an odd taste in solvers' mouths — I think it's better to stick to just one or two of these potentially head-scratching words.

But with great bonuses like COSPLAY (I happen to look a great deal like EVIL Spock to begin with), EVIL EYE, CHALLAH, ICE CUBE TRAY, I thought Mike executed well on his grid on the whole.

Great visual with all those STAIRSTEPS in black squares. I didn't immediately know what STAIRCASE WIT was, but even then, I liked learning the term. Neat idea, an inability to come up with the perfect comeback until one is at the bottom of the stairs and needs to rush back up to use it.

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© 2017, The New York TimesNo. 0718 ( 24,724 )
Across Down
1. Braided Jewish bread : CHALLAH
8. Some punches : LEFTS
13. Fill to the gills : SATIATE
14. Stay faithful : BETRUE
15. Takes stock? : INVESTS
16. Colonial-era headgear : TRICORN
17. Cleverness thought of too late to use : STAIRCASEWIT
19. "___ a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" (1963 film) : ITS
20. Country singer Keith : TOBY
21. Former inits. for Spike TV : TNN
22. Prefix with tourism : ECO
23. Department store founder R. H. ___ : MACY
24. Cost of admission : FEE
25. The "A" of I.P.A. : ALE
26. Place to find a pen and teller : BANK
27. Wretched : SORDID
30. Flexible contract provision : ESCALATORCLAUSE
33. Gets back together, as a class : REUNES
34. Wasteful government spending : PORK
35. Seating with hymnals : PEW
36. "As an aside ...," in a text : BTW
37. ___ Martin (Cognac maker) : REMY
38. It can go for a buck : DOE
39. "Golly!" : GEE
40. Cartoon character who explores with Boots : DORA
41. "Golly!" : MAN
42. Straight-shooting : ONTHEUPANDUP
45. Dessert brand : SARALEE
46. Dressing up as a fictional character with others : COSPLAY
50. Bathroom units : STALLS
51. Malevolent look : EVILEYE
52. Shelters : ASYLA
53. Leaves the union : SECEDES
1. TV show that spawned an exhibit at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry : CSI
2. ___ Solo : HAN
3. Off-road ride, for short : ATV
4. Gives a false story : LIESTO
5. Endures : LASTS
6. Lead-in to boy or girl : ATTA
7. Wondering "Should I? Should I not?" : HESITANT
8. Floral necklaces : LEIS
9. Latin phrase used listlessly? : ETCETERA
10. Discouraged : FROWNEDUPON
11. City NW of Genoa : TURIN
12. Posted : SENT
14. Hee-haw : BRAY
16. Dessert chain : TCBY
18. The Who's "Tommy," e.g. : ROCKOPERA
19. Freeze frame? : ICECUBETRAY
22. Otherwise : ELSE
23. Peter who wrote "Serpico" : MAAS
24. Ordinary people : FOLK
25. ___ Lingus : AER
26. Played, as a trumpet : BLEW
27. Foretell the future by using a crystal ball : SCRY
28. Stereotypical response from a shrink : ISEE
29. Overnight delivery? : DEW
31. Entrance room where guests wait : ANTEHALL
32. Good date movies : ROMANCES
37. Need for tug-of-war : ROPE
38. Rounded patch of color on an animal coat : DAPPLE
39. Small annoyances : GNATS
40. Cost of membership : DUES
41. "That's ___ to my ears" : MUSIC
42. Mount of Greek myth : OSSA
43. Jazz great Fitzgerald : ELLA
44. Peace symbol : DOVE
47. Had the helm : LED
48. Affirmative vote : AYE
49. Affirmative : YES

Answer summary: 2 unique to this puzzle, 1 debuted here and reused later, 1 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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