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New York Times, Monday, July 28, 2014

Author:
Tom McCoy
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
3211/14/201310/7/20180
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
17815100
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.61362
Tom McCoy

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 76, Blocks: 36 Missing: {FX} This is puzzle # 5 for Mr. McCoy. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Tom McCoy notes:
This puzzle was quite literally a labor of love because it originated as a present for my mom! She's an avid quilter, and this was the ... read more

This puzzle was quite literally a labor of love because it originated as a present for my mom! She's an avid quilter, and this was the best quilting-related theme I could think of. In fact, for a while I had QUILTS at 27-Across instead of GUILTY (with QATAR at 27-Down), but I decided that QUILTS was not worth the price of SDS at 28-Down. Some other theme answers I considered were BA(THREAD)ING and YOUCAN(TWINE)MALL.

This was the first time I constructed after my debut came out last November, so I made a big effort to adapt to the critiques of that puzzle. First, many had said that the debut would have benefitted from a revealer, so for this puzzle I started with a revealer and built the rest around it. Secondly, many thought the debut's non-theme fill was clean but boring. Therefore, for this puzzle, I decided to allow a few less-than-desirable entries such as LGA, NCR, and ASTI in order to accommodate a few more exciting entries like TRYHARDS, LOSE-LOSE, and SPARKLER.

The grid was tough to fill because it was my first attempt at more than four theme answers and because the Q of STRING QUARTET had to sit inconveniently in the center of the grid. I'm glad the theme necessitated five components because otherwise I would have been tempted to trim down the theme in order to make the filling easier.

When I realized this puzzle could be a pangram, I got pretty excited. However, after reading many crossword blog posts that were decidedly anti-pangram, I realized that including every letter of the alphabet does not increase the solver's enjoyment. Therefore, I gave up the pangram idea, and that certainly improved the puzzle because it brought the word count down from 78 to 76 and removed the need for some cheater squares.

Merry Christmas again, Mom!

Jeff Chen notes:
A classical music(-ish) theme from Tom today, STRING QUARTET reinterpreted as a foursome of different types of string. At its heart ... read more

A classical music(-ish) theme from Tom today, STRING QUARTET reinterpreted as a foursome of different types of string. At its heart it's a "hidden words" theme, and since so many of those have been done before, it's important to choose snappy theme answers. Although I don't know HEY ARNOLD, I've heard of it, and the clue was a nice bit of trivia. VOCAB LESSON was another strong one, and ZERO PERCENT sang to me. I can just imagine someone saying "Zero percent chance of that!" Good stuff.

I was a little mystified by the four strings. ROPE and YARN, definitely. NYLON felt more like a material to me, though. Perhaps it's my engineering background, through with I designed a lot of plastic parts to be injection molded from nylon? And CABLE I can see as a type of string… sort of. My first thought was to wonder what one of my computer cables had to do with string. I would have preferred if Tom had gone with THREAD and TWINE. A matter of personal taste.

Setting those qualms aside, Tom did a nice job putting together the puzzle, especially considering the difficult 11/9/13/9/11 pattern (central 13 = very limiting). I like the layout overall, with a lot of space between themers. I didn't quite find it as smooth as some of his other work, especially around those parallel downs: LOSE LOSE / GAUNTLET and SENESCED / TRY HARDS. Those types of parallel downs are notoriously difficult to execute with total smoothness. Tom does a great job in the NE, picking two strong entries, and filling around them with only an LGA and YDS, very minor nits.

The SW suffers a bit though, with SENESCED being an interesting VOCAB LESSON for some but not terribly snazzy for others. TRY HARDS… are they "a thing"? It could easily be some sort of really old (or really new!) slang. Just not something I've heard before, which is fine. But the crossing between NCR and SENESCED is going to be rough on some solvers. Arguably an unfair crossing, although I could see it going either way.

Finally, I really appreciated reading Tom's comments about 1.) holding the solver's experience as by far the most important factor and 2.) learning from solver feedback. I think it's important to remember that opinions are simply opinions, but I really like his process of data-gathering and reflection.

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© 2014, The New York TimesNo. 0728 ( 23,638 )
Across
1
Squander : WASTE
6
Like a cat in need of a firefighter, stereotypically : TREED
11
N.Y.C. alternative to JFK : LGA
14
Notions : IDEAS
15
Mandel of "America's Got Talent" : HOWIE
16
Galley propeller : OAR
17
Chance of an impossibility : ZEROPERCENT
19
666, for the numbers on a roulette wheel : SUM
20
In the manner of : ALA
21
Fraidy-cat : WUSS
22
Portent : OMEN
24
Cutters that cut with the grain : RIPSAWS
27
Innocent's opposite : GUILTY
29
Watery abysses : DEEPS
30
Nickelodeon show whose protagonist has a football-shaped head : HEYARNOLD
33
From ___ Z : ATO
35
Note between fa and la : SOL
36
Functions : USES
37
Classical music group ... or what the four sets of circled letters make up? : STRINGQUARTET
41
Yank : JERK
42
___ de cologne : EAU
43
___ the pants off : SUE
44
For even a second more : ANYLONGER
47
Insipid : BLAND
51
Observed : BEHELD
52
Nineveh's land : ASSYRIA
54
Indian dress : SARI
55
___ mater : ALMA
57
Critical hosp. department : ICU
58
A.T.M. co. : NCR
59
Component of a language class, informally : VOCABLESSON
63
Mattress's place : BED
64
Weasley family owl : ERROL
65
Prepared to be knighted : KNELT
66
Coupon bearers, often : ADS
67
Baseball's Pee Wee : REESE
68
Somebody ___ problem : ELSES
Down
1
___ of Menlo Park (Thomas Edison) : WIZARD
2
Penguin variety : ADELIE
3
Mexican wrap : SERAPE
4
"___ Te Ching" (classic Chinese text) : TAO
5
Psychic's "gift," briefly : ESP
6
Plump songbird : THRUSH
7
Birds in the "Arabian Nights" : ROCS
8
Rams' mates : EWES
9
German article : EIN
10
Roundabout route : DETOUR
11
Like a catch-22 situation : LOSELOSE
12
Knight's glove : GAUNTLET
13
One of eight on an octopus : ARM
18
"Gross!" : EWW
23
With great attention to detail : MINUTELY
25
Hand-held Fourth of July firework : SPARKLER
26
___ Spumante : ASTI
27
Black-tie parties : GALAS
28
N.F.L. lengths: Abbr. : YDS
31
Suffix with Kafka : ESQUE
32
Word pronounced the same when its first two letters are removed : YOU
34
Upright, as a box : ONEND
37
Grew old : SENESCED
38
Those who put a lot of effort into social climbing, in modern lingo : TRYHARDS
39
Joke : GAG
40
Chafes : RUBS
41
Short boxing punch : JAB
45
Dickens's "___ Twist" : OLIVER
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Talk on and on and on : RAMBLE
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Comes up : ARISES
49
Kidman who is neither a kid nor a man : NICOLE
50
Intimidates : DAUNTS
53
Mule on a canal, in song : SAL
55
Unit of farmland : ACRE
56
Thailand/Vietnam separator : LAOS
58
Org. for LeBron James : NBA
60
Rock with gold or silver, say : ORE
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Squeeze (out) : EKE
62
Sketch comedy TV series since '75 : SNL

Answer summary: 7 unique to this puzzle, 2 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

Found bugs or have suggestions?