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Puzzle of the Week

New York Times, Monday, September 11, 2017

Author: Erik Agard and Paolo Pasco
Editor: Will Shortz
Erik Agard
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
911/6/20129/11/20172
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
1111203
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.60020
Paolo Pasco
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
107/17/20159/11/20172
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
1200043
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.62010

This puzzle:

Rows: 16, Columns: 14 Words: 75, Blocks: 42 Missing: {BJQVZ} Spans: 1 Grid has mirror symmetry This is puzzle # 9 for Mr. Agard. This is puzzle # 10 for Mr. Pasco. Jeff Chen's Puzzle of the Week pick NYT links: Across Lite PDF

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Constructor notes: ERIK: Earlier this year, Paolo mentioned he'd had an idea for a LA LA LAND puzzle; he had WALLA WALLA and LAKE PLACID but ... more
Constructor notes:

ERIK: Earlier this year, Paolo mentioned he'd had an idea for a LA LA LAND puzzle; he had WALLA WALLA and LAKE PLACID but was having trouble finding more theme answers. Feeling like a genius, I quickly rattled off what I thought were some solid additions: DALAI LAMA? LAPIS LAZULI? BLACK FLAG? SOLAR FLARE? He responded "ooh those are good" ... and then very gently and casually hipped me to the fact that his themers were both LANDs and not just LA LAs. Woah.

This illustrates two things I know to be true about Paolo: one, that his puzzling brain has access to levels of holistic awareness that few others are capable of reaching (you can now see this on display every week at his website, Grids These Days); and two, that his emotional intelligence is comparably enviable. If I were starting some sort of Crossword Thing and needed someone to put in charge of editing or wrangling or what have you, Paolo would certainly make my short list.

Big thanks to Will et al. for getting this thing into Monday shape. It's hard to write clues that are evocative and concise and accessible all at once, so I appreciate the help. The 35-Across clue is maybe a tad more derogatory than the one we submitted (a Larry Bird reference), but maybe that's our bad for putting it in the grid? That aside, I'm very satisfied with the way this one turned out, and I hope you enjoyed it.

PAOLO: As a longtime Glutton For Pun solver, I am overjoyed to be collaborating with Erik Agard himself. After solving his excellent 2017 Oscars-themed puzzle, I went to Twitter to flood him with praise via direct message. Somewhere in the ensuing conversation, I brought up my idea for a LA LA LAND-themed puzzle (with only the entries WALLA WALLA and LAKE PLACID at hand). Thankfully, Erik was open to collaborating, even though making a puzzle inspired by "La La Land" may have gone against every fiber of his being. It says something about his graciousness, and I'm grateful for that. He found MALAY PENINSULA and TORTILLA FLAT to round out the theme, and so it went.

Another note: I almost feel like there's a "Moonlight"/"La La Land" situation between the GFP and NYT puzzles. As with the two movies, I feel like both of the puzzles have their own merits. This puzzle is like "La La Land"; it's meant to appeal to general audiences, and it'll be consumed by more people than its counterpart. Fun, breezy — mass appeal. Erik's solo puzzle, on the other hand, is like "Moonlight"; more independent, and consumed by fewer people, but absolutely mold-breaking.

I will say this about both "Moonlight" and Erik's Oscar puzzle: if you haven't experienced either, you need to remedy that post haste. This is to say: Erik Agard is an absolute cruciverbal artist, and I am honored and humbled to have been able to work with him. Hope you enjoyed!

Jeff Chen notes: Great start to the week, a solid offering from two of my favorite people in the crossworld. I've seen a couple of LA LA ... more
Jeff Chen notes:

Great start to the week, a solid offering from two of my favorite people in the crossworld. I've seen a couple of LA LA LAND puzzles over the years — especially after the Oscars brouhaha — so (probably like Erik) I was a tad underwhelmed to get "phrases containing LA and LA." What a nice a-ha moment when I realized that it wasn't just any old phrases, but actual LANDs containing LA and LA. Beautiful!

Mirror symmetry can be a godsend. I don't imagine there are many place names containing LA and LA. As a constructor, it can be supremely frustrating to find great theme answers, only to realize that they don't pair up. Lengths of 14, 12, 10, 10, bleh! Except that mirror symmetry handles some kooky theme set lengths perfectly. Good trick to have in one's arsenal.

Mirror symmetry typically requires more black squares than regular symmetry, and today's grid is no exception. It's usually necessary to deploy some black squares in the middle of the puzzle, and they tend to chunk up, like the "hat" sitting atop HICK. Some editors put a limit on black squares at 36 or 38, but I don't mind when a puzzle gets up to 40 or even 42, as long as it's still visually pleasing. This grid looked fine to me.

Tough to make one's voice heard in an early-week puzzle that calls for simple clues, but I love what these guys have done. OOPSIE! SLED clue referencing "Calvin and Hobbes." PERFECT GPA! Even a fun quote with LOW. (It's from Michelle Obama, taking the high road when others go LOW.)

I wasn't sure about AFROED, but it does have dictionary support. More importantly, Erik has been awesomely AFROED in the past, so I defer to him. Otherwise, not a single hitch in the short fill — such meticulous work in filling out their grid, not an OOPSIE in sight. Your effort and care are much appreciated, sirs.

A joy to solve; exactly how interesting, smooth, and snazzy a Monday puzzle should be.

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© 2017, The New York TimesNo. 0911 ( 24,779 )
Across Down
1. Pitchfork-shaped letter : PSI
4. Brillo alternative : SOSPAD
10. The drug acid, by another name : LSD
13. "!!!!," in a text : OMG
14. Hairstyling substance : POMADE
15. Animal whose name is a synonym of "parrot" : APE
16. Kuala Lumpur's locale : MALAYPENINSULA
19. College teacher, informally : PROF
20. "Calvin and Hobbes" conveyance : SLED
21. Getting little rainfall : ARID
22. Titular California district in a Steinbeck novel : TORTILLAFLAT
25. Have debts : OWE
26. Setting for much of "Moana" : SEA
27. Kind of diet regimen based on nonmodern eating habits : PALEO
30. Dominique ___, 1996 Olympic gymnastics gold medalist : DAWES
34. "Holy cow!" : EGAD
35. Hayseed : HICK
39. T. J. ___ (department store chain) : MAXX
40. Arctic bird : AUK
41. Counterparts of dots, in Morse code : DASHES
43. Vinyl albums, for short : LPS
44. Issa who stars on HBO's "Insecure" : RAE
45. "Fighting" N.C.A.A. team : ILLINI
46. "When they go ___, we go high" : LOW
47. 4.0, in school : PERFECTGPA
50. Happy accident : FLUKE
51. Shoulder garment : SHAWL
53. Pb, to chemists : LEAD
54. Not worth discussing : MOOT
57. Postal delivery : MAIL
59. California-based gas company : ARCO
60. Dad : PAPA
61. "Not guilty," e.g. : PLEA
62. Hideout : LAIR
63. "I don't wanna be ___ guy, but ..." : THAT
64. Musk of Tesla : ELON
65. Actor Alan : ALDA
66. Christmas season : YULE
67. ___ McNally (mapmaker) : RAND
1. "___ and Circumstance" : POMP
2. Intelligent : SMART
3. Ice pad? : IGLOO
4. Person wearing a trench coat and sunglasses, stereotypically : SPY
5. Mistake, cutely : OOPSIE
6. Odor : SMELL
7. Group of experts : PANEL
8. Nike rival : ADIDAS
9. Hideout : DEN
10. Mrs. George W. Bush : LAURA
11. Divorced : SPLIT
12. At 0% battery : DEAD
17. Sporting a natural : AFROED
18. Deep bow : SALAAM
23. A pair : TWO
24. Served dinner : FED
27. Fruit in a fruit basket : PEAR
28. Contents of el océano : AGUA
29. 1980 Winter Olympics host : LAKEPLACID
31. Washington city with a repetitive name : WALLAWALLA
32. Business fair : EXPO
33. Annual Austin festival, for short : SXSW
35. At 50%, to a pessimist : HALFEMPTY
36. ___ of Wight : ISLE
37. Fashionable : CHIC
38. University in northeast Ohio : KENTSTATE
41. N.B.A. star Nowitzki : DIRK
42. [Alas] : SIGH
48. Writer Welty : EUDORA
49. Treat really nicely : PAMPER
50. Wild : FERAL
52. Rest atop : LIEON
53. With 58-Down, head-in-the-clouds place ... or a hint to each answer that has four circles : LALA
55. Hawaiian island : OAHU
56. October birthstone : OPAL
58. See 53-Down : LAND

Answer summary: 3 unique to this puzzle, 1 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

Found bugs or have suggestions?