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BIRD PLAY

New York Times, Sunday, August 11, 2019

Author:
Alex Eaton-Salners
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
242/2/20178/11/20191
SunMonTueWedThuFriSatVariety
12549003
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.54240
Alex Eaton-Salners

This puzzle:

Rows: 21, Columns: 21 Words: 140, Blocks: 78 Missing: {JQ} This is puzzle # 23 for Mr. Eaton-Salners. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Will Shortz notes:
Alex Eaton-Salners is an in-house attorney for Western Digital, a technology company headquartered in San Jose, Calif. When he's not creating crosswords, he enjoys escape rooms, reading ... read more

Alex Eaton-Salners is an in-house attorney for Western Digital, a technology company headquartered in San Jose, Calif. When he's not creating crosswords, he enjoys escape rooms, reading and spending time in nature. He says the starting point for this puzzle was 84-Across, with the title coming shortly thereafter.

This is Alex's 21st crossword for The Times (not counting two diagramless puzzles) and his first Sunday.

Alex Eaton-Salners notes:
Here are three other theme pairings that weren't used in the puzzle: TOOK IT EASY – BOX KITE didn't get off the ground. ROBITUSSIN – ROUND ROBIN didn't advance past the ... read more

Here are three other theme pairings that weren't used in the puzzle:

  • TOOK IT EASY – BOX KITE didn't get off the ground.
  • ROBITUSSIN – ROUND ROBIN didn't advance past the group stage.
  • RETURNKEY – SLICED TURKEY didn't make the cut.

Likewise, crossword symmetry limited what I could pair with each "bird play." Here are a few examples more dynamic than EVANGELIZE that contain a SPREAD EAGLE. Unfortunately, their lengths didn't lend themselves to symmetric theme placement.

  • LED A DOG'S LIFE
  • THE MEANING OF LIFE
  • REGULAR GASOLINE

That said, I like how evenly the E-A-G-L-E letters are SPREAD out in EVANGELIZE and how the first and last letters are both included. It's very visually satisfying. So maybe that one's fine as is.

On a personal note, this puzzle is memorable because it completed my cycle of daily puzzle acceptances at the NYT (getting a standard crossword accepted on every day of the week). Unsurprisingly, this one came out before my earlier Friday and Saturday acceptances, since the queue times on those days are much longer than for Sundays. Hopefully, everything will get published on its slated day, and I'll be able to claim a real cycle!

Jeff Chen notes:
Total birdbrain of an idea! In a good way. Word play -> bird play -> riffing on bird-related figures of speech. Great find in THE PLOT THICKENS = HEADLESS CHICKEN. Easy to ... read more

Total birdbrain of an idea! In a good way.

Word play -> bird play -> riffing on bird-related figures of speech. Great find in THE PLOT THICKENS = HEADLESS CHICKEN. Easy to understand and clever.

SPREAD EAGLE worked well, too, as the letters E A G L E were so nicely spaced throughout EVANGELIZE. Pretty, that.

HILARYSK? Tougher to grok, since you have to figure out that the SWAN "dives" within the phrase, making HILARY(SWAN)K. Still works, though.

OFF on a LARK wasn't as interesting, since "X on Y" themes are somewhat overdone by now.

Master class in gridwork today, Alex such a consummate pro. He did everything right. Sticking at 140 words. Liberally using extra black "cheater" squares to smooth things out. Maintaining unyielding adherence to smoothness. With just ETDS as glue, this is a better product than most NYT weekdays, much less NYT Sundays, which on average, have enough gloop that solvers have to put on their waders.

Even better, so much bonus material. With such exacting detail paid to the short fill, you'd expect little to no sparkle. Nope! POPULAR KIDS, SLEEPER CAR, TAKES A KNEE, COCOA MIX, GOLGOTHA, RANCH DIP. So much sizzle and so little cruddy short fill shouldn't be possible.

There's no secret to it – I'm sure Alex set his minimum word score to a high level and never said good enough was good enough, backtracking every time he hit a problem spot. Every constructor can and should produce Sunday 140-word grids like this; it's a matter of practice and the willingness to spend dozens of hours finding a final solution with virtually no trade-offs.

The overall concept is tight in that it's all bird-related figures of speech, but the visuals are nothing new. While it wasn't nearly as interesting as I like for POW! consideration, the gridwork was easily in POW! territory. A much better Sunday than we've seen in a while.

Jim Horne notes:

The first theme answer I got was SWAN turning a corner to fall vertically, so I thought the theme was going to be BIRD DROPPINGS. Oh well. Excellent puzzle anyway.

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© 2019, The New York TimesNo. 0811 ( 25,478 )
Across
1
Share on social media : POST
5
Blackens : CHARS
10
Screen org.? : TSA
13
William H. Bonney ___ Billy the Kid : AKA
16
Mathematician taught by Bernoulli : EULER
18
Most populous nation not in the U.N. : TAIWAN
19
Best Actress winner of 1999 and 2004 : HILARYSWANK
22
It's just part of the act : SCENE
23
Surname of Princess Leia : ORGANA
24
Midwest college town : AMESIOWA
25
"Curiouser and curiouser ..." : THEPLOTTHICKENS
28
Bother : EATAT
29
Grand onstage : PIANO
30
Place to swim or work out, informally : THEY
31
Business that has cut prices : SALON
32
Entertaining : OPENTO
34
Went over the limit, say : SPED
36
Major name in petrol : ESSO
39
Language from which "jackal" and "jasmine" come : FARSI
40
"La Traviata" composer : VERDI
41
Jeer : SCOFF
43
Bit on a book jacket : BIO
46
Part of a three-in-a-row : TAC
47
Greasy in the Pro Football Hall of Fame : NEALE
49
In-group at school : POPULARKIDS
52
Preach the gospel : EVANGELIZE
55
Rip off : ROB
56
Longtime "All Things Considered" host Robert : SIEGEL
57
Screenwriter Ephron : NORA
58
Anchor, e.g. : LEG
59
Chinese liquor made from sorghum : MAOTAI
62
"Consequently ..." : ANDSO
63
Verbal alternative to a shoulder tap : PSST
65
Beginnings of ideas : GERMS
66
Internet content typically viewed alone : PORN
68
Italian scooter brand : VESPA
71
What 1-Down has that 1-Across lacks : SHORTE
73
Part of the resistance? : OHM
74
Some pickup info on rideshare apps: Abbr. : ETDS
78
Stir : EXCITE
80
Man's name that means "my God" : ELI
81
What's depicted by the circled letters in 41-/49-Across : OFFONALARK
84
... in 52-Across : SPREADEAGLE
87
Rehearse a play from start to finish, in theater lingo : RUNIT
88
Swimmer in a Himeji Castle moat : KOI
89
Nursery floor hazard : TOY
90
Unfamiliar with : NEWTO
91
Informal "What if ...?" : SPOSE
93
Alter, as a manuscript : EMEND
95
Bird's home : NEST
96
Bird's home : CAGE
97
Places for speakers : DAISES
98
Common people : PLEBS
102
Close up, say : HEAL
104
Stylish ballroom dance : SALSA
105
Investigation : PROBE
106
... in 25-Across : HEADLESSCHICKEN
112
Brown powder : COCOAMIX
114
French cake : GATEAU
115
Nashville university, familiarly : VANDY
116
... and in 19-Across : SWANDIVE
117
Go to : ATTEND
118
Princess of Avalor, in children's TV : ELENA
119
Machiavellian : SLY
120
Tape deck button : REC
121
Oboes and saxes, e.g. : REEDS
122
Aid for a detective : LEAD
Down
1
Real pain : PEST
2
Reaction to pain : OUCH
3
Berth place : SLEEPERCAR
4
Bowling : TENPINS
5
Cause of a supermarket parking mishap : CART
6
Tripping : HIGH
7
Expected : AWAITED
8
Serving with carrots and celery, maybe : RANCHDIP
9
Meander : SNAKE
10
Lighter-air link : THAN
11
Virtual people : SIMS
12
Bitter, e.g. : ALE
13
Alternative to Times New Roman : ARIAL
14
Noncapital city whose name means "capital city" : KYOTO
15
City on the Nile : ASWAN
17
As (to) : RELATING
18
Band with the 1983 #1 hit "Africa" : TOTO
20
Far offshore : ASEA
21
Kit ___ : KAT
26
Dedicator of Iceland's Imagine Peace Tower : ONO
27
Ocelli : EYESPOTS
31
Challenges for movers : SOFAS
32
Habitually : OFTEN
33
___ Nurmi, 1920s Olympic runner nicknamed the "Flying Finn" : PAAVO
34
Bud of baseball : SELIG
35
Veep's boss : PREZ
37
Subject of lessons at an island resort : SCUBA
38
Roman sun god : SOL
40
Team at an upscale restaurant : VALETS
42
Brother : FRIAR
43
Cowboy's home, informally : BIGD
44
Middle of the month : IDES
45
Best Play Tony winner with a geographical name : OSLO
48
Jellied delicacies : EELS
50
Cry from Juliet : OROMEO
51
___ club (annual show presenter) : KENNEL
53
Diaper, in Britspeak : NAPPIE
54
Chef Lagasse : EMERIL
60
Crossword constructing, e.g. (no, really!) : ART
61
AirPod pairing target : IPHONE
64
"Paradise Lost" tempter : SATAN
65
Site of Jesus' crucifixion : GOLGOTHA
67
Prefix with directional : OMNI
68
Word with life or flak : VEST
69
Brand of markers : EXPO
70
See the future with a crystal ball : SCRY
72
Track meet divisions : HEATS
73
Worth keeping around : OFUSE
75
Peacefully protests, as during the national anthem : TAKESAKNEE
76
Flier on a mission : DRONE
77
Loses traction : SKIDS
79
Pristine places : EDENS
82
Fairy tale alter ego : FROG
83
Crushed in competition : ATEALIVE
85
Pronoun in a picture rebus : EWE
86
Increase quickly : ESCALATE
92
Mixing board : PALETTE
94
Wrongly predict, as an election : MISCALL
97
Dit's partner : DAH
98
Places for figureheads : PROWS
99
Not express : LOCAL
100
Magazine that named Barack Obama its first-ever Person of the Year (2009) : EBONY
101
Bit of sweat : BEAD
103
"J. ___" (2011 Clint Eastwood biopic) : EDGAR
104
Missile first used in the Yom Kippur War : SCUD
105
Non-Macs : PCS
106
Kind of mind : HIVE
107
Suit : EXEC
108
Number in brackets? : SEED
109
Without : SANS
110
Poet ___ St. Vincent Millay : EDNA
111
Diana who was the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without the aid of shark protection (2013) : NYAD
113
Russian for "peace" : MIR

Answer summary: 7 unique to this puzzle, 1 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

Found bugs or have suggestions?