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New York Times, Thursday, August 24, 2017

Author:
Neil Patrick Harris and David Steinberg
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutCollabs
18/24/20171
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
0000100
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.64000
Neil Patrick Harris
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
936/16/20113/23/201917
SunMonTueWedThuFriSatVariety
66681131232
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.645163
David Steinberg

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 78, Blocks: 40 Missing: {JQVZ} Spans: 1 This is the debut puzzle for Mr. Harris. This is puzzle # 67 for Mr. Steinberg. Jeff Chen's Puzzle of the Week pick. See all the celebrity crosswords. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Notepad: CELEBRITY CROSSWORD
To mark the 75th anniversary of the New York Times crossword, which debuted in 1942, we are publishing a series of puzzles co-created by famous people who solve the Times crossword, working together with regular Times puzzle contributors.
This collaboration is by the actor, comedian and emcee Neil Patrick Harris - the star of TV's "Doogie Howser, M.D." and "How I Met Your Mother" - working together with Stanford University student David Steinberg, who has been editing a weekly puzzle for the Orange County Register since he was 15. This is Mr. Steinberg's 66th crossword for The Times.
The celebrity collaborations will continue periodically through the year.
More information about the making of today's puzzle appears in the Times's daily crossword column (nytimes.com/column/wordplay).
Constructor notes:
NEIL: I must say, I was beyond flattered to be asked by Will to participate in a NYT puzzle creation. I'm a big fan of games and ... read more

NEIL: I must say, I was beyond flattered to be asked by Will to participate in a NYT puzzle creation. I'm a big fan of games and puzzles (And Will, as well) and I work through the crosswords every week (I'm really just a Monday and Tuesday guy — Wednesday through Sunday is for people a lot smarterer). With all of this acquired knowledge, I thought that crossword creation would be challenging, yes, but attainable.

How very wrong I was.

The process of designing a crossword puzzle is a futile exercise in utter frustration. Staring at a blank grid was daunting. Finding a list of random yet interesting words was its own challenge. But just when I thought I was nearing completion — just when I figured I was starting to figure it out — I realized how wrong I was. Changing one word meant two others needed to change, requiring further changes. My house of cards collapsed remarkably fast, as did my spirit.

In short(z), creating this puzzle was very difficult. And this is a relatively easy one..! My respect for puzzle masters and creators has increased, ten thousand-fold. I'm forever thankful to David Steinberg for mentoring me through it all. And by mentoring I mean pretty much creating this magical grid on his own and fixing my frequent mistakes, all the while supporting me as if I was smarter and more helpful than I actually was.

I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

DAVID: Still can't believe I had an opportunity to make a crossword with Neil Patrick Harris (somebody pinch me!). Will asked me last summer about doing a puzzle for this series, but I didn't happen to know any celebrities who solve the NYT crossword. I was a bit bummed at the time but figured I'd just plow ahead with other crossword projects. Earlier this year, though, the stars aligned (pun intended): Will had just gotten in touch with Neil Patrick Harris, and Neil liked the idea of co-constructing a puzzle. He just needed a NYT regular to work with him, and I happened to be in the right place at the right time!

Neil and I knew from the get-go that we wanted to do a magic-themed puzzle, because Neil is seriously as amazing at magic as he is at acting and emceeing! Neil sent me a list of his favorite magic tricks (minus explanations, of course, because what kind of magician reveals his secrets? ;) ), and I sent back a bunch of ideas for how to turn these tricks into crossword themes. Of the various ideas, Neil picked this one as his favorite. After a few back-and-forths with Will, we settled on the current set of theme entries and set to work on the grid.

Getting all the disappearing letters to work required some serious wizardry, and I don't think I could've done it without Neil's enthusiasm and encouragement! At one point, I was convinced the idea was impossible and was ready to scrap the puzzle altogether, but Neil's excitement inspired me to keep trying on the grid. We finally did end up with something we liked, though, and I have to say I'm pretty proud of the resulting puzzle!

I even threw in NPH at 1-Across as an homage to Neil, clued as "Drs. Horrible and Howser," but Will wasn't fond of that, so NPH did a disappearing act of his own in the upper left corner for the final version. Once the grid was done, Neil took a stab at the clues, and then I filled in the gaps. We hope you enjoy!

Jeff Chen notes:
Of all the celebrity collaborations this year, this might be my favorite. Not only am I a huge Neil Patrick Harris fan, all the way ... read more

Of all the celebrity collaborations this year, this might be my favorite. Not only am I a huge Neil Patrick Harris fan, all the way back to his Doogie Howser days, but I love it when a crossword contains a little magic. HARRY HOUDINI, the famous ESCAPE ARTIST, pulls a real-life DISAPPEARING ACT in the today's crossword!

I was confused as to what was going on at first, but what a smile I got when I realized that 1.) you're supposed to skip over the letters in HARRY HOUDINI for the down answers, and 2.) all those down answers look innocuously like real words in the grid! To an outside observer, it might appear to be a straightforward HOUDINI tribute crossword. But with things like ACHING actually being ACING and LOANER being LONER, it's deviously clever.

I've seen this "skipping" trick many times before in crosswords, so I appreciate a good rationale as to why it should be done. This one is just perfect to me, HARRY HOUDINI mysteriously "vanishing" out of the grid.

Smart construction, too, David and Neil using black squares to segment the regions around HARRY HOUDINI, so that they don't have to fill any giant spots in the lower half of the grid. Notice how they only had to work around HAR- in the SW, -YHOU- in the south, and -INI- in the SE. Wise choice to break things down into manageable chunks.

(Once you chunk the puzzle up into bite-size pieces, it's not as hard to pull off this "down entry is still valid with or without one letter" trick as it might seem — just takes a TON of trial and error. And time. And willingness to deal with soul-crushing frustration.)

Using so many black squares meant that they weren't able to include as much great bonus fill as David usually works in, but with some RED SOX, PHREAK, SEX TAPE, it's fine by me. With a standout theme, you don't need very many bonuses.

A bit of INS, DOA — and the TAXCO / ESSEX crossing may be tough for some — but overall, so well crafted. One of my favorites of the year so far.

Jim Horne notes:
Mr. Harris is a fine Sondheim interpreter. Here he is singing 'Barcelona' from Company with Christina Hendricks. We count this as Mr. ... read more

Mr. Harris is a fine Sondheim interpreter. Here he is singing "Barcelona" from Company with Christina Hendricks. We count this as Mr. Steinberg's 67th puzzle because we include this diagramless.

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© 2017, The New York TimesNo. 0824 ( 24,761 )
Across
1
Not so exciting : MEH
4
Purchase that can be deleted : APP
7
Spongy sweet : TRIFLE
13
It may contain gold : ORE
14
Sigh of relief : PHEW
16
Billy : HEGOAT
17
Film technique - or a bad thing for it to get? : PAN
18
Apex predator of the ocean : ORCA
19
Like, so cute! : ADORBS
20
58-Across, notably : ESCAPEARTIST
23
Road sign animal : DEER
24
Elsa's sister in "Frozen" : ANNA
25
Able to run smoothly, say : OILED
29
Apt rhyme of "squeak" : EEK
31
Violator of YouTube standards : SEXTAPE
33
Bids "one club," say : OPENS
36
British Invasion band that launched Van Morrison's career : THEM
38
Swig from a flask : NIP
39
Part of a magic show : DISAPPEARINGACT
43
Tip-___ (easy baskets) : INS
44
All-vegetarian frozen food brand : AMYS
45
Like the smiling eyes of song : IRISH
46
Approach furtively, with "on" : STEALUP
49
51-Across, e.g. : SCI
50
Mexican silver city : TAXCO
51
Paris accord subj. : ECOL
54
Cartoonist who popularized Uncle Sam : NAST
58
Subject of this puzzle (who has himself done a 39-Across) : HARRYHOUDINI
61
Lily Tomlin's role in "All of Me" : EDWINA
64
Latin lover's love : AMOR
65
___ one-eighty : DOA
66
Total bore : YAWNER
67
Goes out for a while? : NAPS
68
Mess up : ERR
69
Asylum seeker, maybe : EMIGRE
70
Org. whose budget is classified : NSA
71
Lead-in to horse or lion : SEA
Down
1
Portmanteau ride : MOPED
2
Take out : ERASE
3
Therefore : HENCE
4
Individually : APOP
5
Old-style hacker : PHREAK
6
Kind of pie : PECAN
7
Cuisine with many curries : THAI
8
2013 World Series champs : REDSOX
9
"Success!" : IGOTIT
10
Pro : FOR
11
Chocolate ___ : LAB
12
A.P. exam inits. : ETS
15
Not punish just yet : WARN
21
Olympics venue : ARENA
22
They're shocking : TASERS
26
Hawaii's ___ City, on an island of the same name : LANAI
27
"Cleopatra" and "Spartacus" : EPICS
28
What a plane lacks : DEPTH
30
Mysterious gift? : ESP
32
Classic record label : EMI
33
Tribute writer of sorts : ODIST
34
Fastest of three historic ships : PINTA
35
Geographical name that comes from Old English for "East Saxons" : ESSEX
36
Home of Arizona State University : TEMPE
37
Part of a stable diet? : HAY
40
___ Gasol, six-time N.B.A. All-Star : PAU
41
Actor Cage, informally : NIC
42
D, in an emoticon : GRIN
47
Crushing, as a test : ACING
48
One who probably doesn't get out much : LONER
49
Spills : SLOPS
52
Recyclable item : CAN
53
Country whose national anthem is "Nashid As-Salaam as-Sultani" : OMAN
55
Picnic coolers : ADES
56
Needing Bengay, say : SORE
57
Reid of Hollywood : TARA
59
"r," in a text : ARE
60
Pretoria's land: Abbr. : RSA
61
Hieroglyphic symbol : EYE
62
Flow stopper : DAM
63
"A Farewell to Arms" setting, briefly : WWI

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

Found bugs or have suggestions?