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New York Times, Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Author:
Howard Barkin
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
87/23/20144/12/20190
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
1202111
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.64100
Howard Barkin

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 76, Blocks: 36 Missing: {FJX} Spans: 2 This is the debut puzzle for Mr. Barkin. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Howard Barkin notes:
Hello, Howard Barkin here. When I'm not filling in these waffly grid-like things, I'm having some family time, reading, or playing ... read more

Hello, Howard Barkin here. When I'm not filling in these waffly grid-like things, I'm having some family time, reading, or playing league floor hockey (ice hockey rules, played without skates, and with a ball instead of a puck). I do this in a futile attempt to reassure myself that I am in the same age and physical condition as I was in college.

This puzzle started some years ago as a lunch-hour scribble on an office notepad of a list of words that could precede CHECK. I have no idea why I did this; I suppose it seemed like a good idea at the time. Much later, I tried pairing these up until a promising puzzle idea emerged. The 15-letter entries were a pleasant surprise, but were by no means a seed for the puzzle. Many puzzles with this theme type don't lend themselves to longer answers, so this was a nice bonus. After many, many versions and revisions, what you see finally came into being.

Although I have a personal preference against Roman numerals in puzzles, I unfortunately ended up including one in there anyway. It just proves what an art it is to construct smoothly, and how much I have yet to learn!

Having been on the solving side of the cruciverbal community for quite a while, it was nice to try my hand at construction. Believe me, it is a completely different perspective. The next time you have some difficulty with a particularly frustrating puzzle, try crafting your own to fully appreciate the process. This was a rather challenging grid design to work with for my level of experience, and in retrospect, perhaps some alternative designs may have worked more effectively. Live and learn!

Jeff Chen notes:
Howard! What a pleasure to see this nicest of guys get his debut. Howard finished 3rd at the 2014 ACPT, performing admirably on a ... read more

Howard! What a pleasure to see this nicest of guys get his debut. Howard finished 3rd at the 2014 ACPT, performing admirably on a tough final puzzle. I'm not sure I would have completed it using the "B" level clues. And to solve using the "A" level clues in front of hundreds of people... impressive!

This is one of the best revealers I've seen in the "both words can follow X" type of themes. At first I didn't quite understand it. But when you look at BLANK CHECK more like: "___ CHECK" it really sings. Not only is it an apt description of the theme (BODY check, DOUBLE check, etc.) but it's a nod to the fill-in-the-blank nature of many crossword clues. Beautiful.

And to top it off, it's always fun to get some of the constructor's personality and life in the puzzle. I smiled to see BODY check in there, knowing that Howard is a hockey player. (I'm also in the "futile attempt to capture the sporting ability of my youth" stage of life.)

It's an impressive debut. The layout of the themers looks good, and generally the fill is really smooth. There's bits of ATRA and ANS and AS AN, but that's all normal stuff. Most everything else is quite well done, and the addition of a natural-feeling Q and Z in the NE is such a nice touch. Often those Scrabbly letters feel shoehorned in, but that's one beautiful, flowing corner.

TOCCATA in the center sure is a nice little piece of fill, but having a seven-letter word sandwiched in between two grid-spanners can often cause difficulty (hello AMB!). Perhaps shifting a few black squares or even going up to 78 words would have made that easier to fill. And I'm glad Howard mentioned the RRN (random Roman numeral). There's a huge range of opinions among constructors about these. I'm with Howard in that I would take almost anything else besides a RRN, but some people like the fact that they can make a devious but gettable math clue (IV * CLI anyone?).

Constructing has definitely improved my (still sorry) solving skills, because I end up looking up and debating things like which is better: DOREN or DORAS or DORAL? Looking up all these esoteric bits tends to stick in my brain and spill out when I see a clue like [R. J. Reynolds brand]. Scary to think how much constructing might improve an already elite solver's times!

1
B
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O
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A
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R
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T
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A
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L
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L
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Z
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D
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B
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M
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S
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W
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V
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N
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P
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G
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K
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W
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N
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© 2014, The New York TimesNo. 0723 ( 23,633 )
Across
1
Truffle-seeking beast : BOAR
5
Like some orders or tales : TALL
9
Bits in marmalade : ZESTS
14
Works of Goya, e.g. : ARTE
15
Utah skiing mecca : ALTA
16
Words after "You can't fire me!" : IQUIT
17
Speed Wagons of old autodom : REOS
18
*Movie stand-in : BODYDOUBLE
20
Toddler's banishment to a corner, say : TIMEOUT
22
Talkative bird : MYNA
23
It may be bid in the end : ADIEU
24
Singer/songwriter Corinne Bailey ___ : RAE
25
ZZ Top, for one : TRIO
29
*Crowd noise, for example : BACKGROUNDSOUND
33
Devoid of wool, now : SHORN
34
Keep in touch, in a way : WRITE
35
Palindromic girl's name : AVA
38
Bach work : TOCCATA
41
iPhone data: Abbr. : NOS
42
Join, as a table : SITAT
44
End of a Greek series : OMEGA
46
*One's physical or emotional burdens : PERSONALBAGGAGE
52
Love-letter letters : SWAK
53
A "little word" in charades : AND
54
Enjoy to the max : EATUP
55
Like a soufflé's texture : AIRY
57
What the moon does during a lunar eclipse : DARKENS
59
Complete freedom ... and a hint to each half of the answer to each starred clue : BLANKCHECK
63
Sign of virtue : HALO
64
Tilter's weapon : LANCE
65
Anthony's longtime partner on satellite radio : OPIE
66
"___ option ..." : ASAN
67
Where sailors go : TOSEA
68
Like odor-indicating lines, in comics : WAVY
69
The latest : NEWS
Down
1
Tippler's account : BARTAB
2
Tater Tots maker : OREIDA
3
Superprecise, as some clocks : ATOMIC
4
Tries for again, as an office : RESEEKS
5
Fragrance name that's forbidden-sounding : TABU
6
Jillions : ALOT
7
Old Ford model : LTD
8
Nonprofessional : LAYMAN
9
Promised Land, to Rastafarians : ZION
10
Where it's always zero degrees : EQUATOR
11
Benchwarmer : SUB
12
Up to, briefly : TIL
13
Fr. woman with a 63-Across : STE
19
Got away from one's roots? : DYED
21
Should : OUGHTTO
24
What your blood may do when you're frightened : RUNCOLD
26
Completely screw up : RUIN
27
Infatuated with : INTO
28
Praiseful works : ODES
30
Pal of Pooh : ROO
31
Humanoid monster of myth : ORC
32
Walk with an attitude : SWAGGER
35
Nile reptiles : ASPS
36
Asset of an oceanfront home : VIEW
37
First razor with a pivoting head : ATRA
39
Diplomatic fig. : AMB
40
Word before set or service : TEA
43
With suspicion, as a look : ASKANCE
45
Shiite leader who claims direct descent from Muhammad : AGAKHAN
47
Buster? : NARC
48
"As I was saying ..." : ANYHOW
49
Anxiety-free : ATEASE
50
The Brady Bill is one : GUNLAW
51
Popular printers : EPSONS
56
Certain superstore : IKEA
57
604, in old Rome : DCIV
58
Solution to the classic riddle "What force or strength cannot get through, / I, with gentle touch, can do" : AKEY
59
Crunchy sandwich : BLT
60
Mekong Valley native : LAO
61
T or F, perhaps: Abbr. : ANS
62
Water-quality org. : EPA

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

Found bugs or have suggestions?