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FOUR BY FOUR

New York Times, Sunday, September 28, 2014

Author:
Todd Gross
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
179/13/20097/23/20185
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
4211513
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.54130
Todd Gross

This puzzle:

Rows: 21, Columns: 21 Words: 136, Blocks: 68 Missing: {QZ} This is puzzle # 11 for Mr. Gross. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Todd Gross notes:
I sent Will the initial version of Four By Four in early June. I heard back in late July, saying he liked the puzzle but wanted me to change two entries that repeated words: BADA BING BADA ... read more

I sent Will the initial version of Four By Four in early June. I heard back in late July, saying he liked the puzzle but wanted me to change two entries that repeated words: BADA BING BADA BOOM and KISS KISS BANG BANG. Those were the two entries I liked most ... which is why I put them in the upper left and lower right. Sigh. But that misplaced enthusiasm meant they were easy to exchange for two replacements Will suggested. First time I recall him doing that.

I mailed the updated grid in early August, and got this e-mail about a month later:

Hi Todd,

This is Joel Fagliano, writing on behalf of Will.

Thanks for sending us the revision to your "Four x Four" 21x. The theme looks good now, and you've done a great job with the fill. We've made a few changes to the grid to remove GHAT and GARS.

So, this is a yes. This should run relatively soon, as our Sunday files are pretty low.

--Joel

GHAT was at 42 Down and GARS at 97 Across.

I was happy I could include a fair number of nice entries, starting with MAHARAJA and ending with WILDCARD. Also happy I could use NOGOODNIK.

Thanks for the "relatively soon" publication, Will and Joel! This was a lot faster than I expected.

Jeff Chen notes:
After finishing the puzzle, I was itching for BADA BING BADA BOOM to be in there, so I was glad to see Todd's notes (this is partially why I run constructors' notes above my own). Too bad, ... read more

After finishing the puzzle, I was itching for BADA BING BADA BOOM to be in there, so I was glad to see Todd's notes (this is partially why I run constructors' notes above my own). Too bad, but I can understand Will's hesitation to use repeated words in this particular theme, which might act to cheapen the feat.

Speaking of the feat, I was curious how hard it would be to find other 4x4s. My first impression was that it should be pretty easy. BADA BING BADA BOOM, nope. I came up with ALLY ALLY OXEN FREE, CAN'T STOP WON'T STOP, DON'T MESS WITH BILL (awesome song), GOOD LUCK WITH THAT, ONLY TIME WILL TELL, TURN LEAD INTO GOLD, and a few others, but it's a oddly tough constraint, especially if you throw out any with repeated words. So to my pleasant surprise, it made for more tightness than I had first thought.

Nicely laid out grid. Interlocking two pairs of themers really opens up the rest of the grid, leaving plenty of space for snappy fill. Only 136 words makes for a very tough task, but Todd pulled it off quite smoothly. There are plenty of neutral words in there (ANABOLIC, NEGOTIATE eating up two precious long slots) but JOAN OF ARC, NOGOODNIK, WILDCARD, MAHARAJA do add a lot of spice. There's not that much glue required — what's SMEW with you? — less than we see in a typical Sunday. I did really appreciate the smoothness of the solve (especially given how hard that is to do with a 136-worder), although I would have been okay with a little more glue if I could have experienced more great entries in the vein of JOAN OF ARC. Trade-offs, as always.

It did seem odd to me to have a dupe of WITH ARMS WIDE OPEN and OPEN SHOTS. I wonder if that was an oversight or it was considered a necessary evil to enable the 136-word grid? To dupe a word like this in a single grid is a usually big crossword no-no.

A final thought. The title seemed perfect to me when I uncovered the first themer. Four four-letter words = four by four, yes! Then the mathematician in my head (the devil, of course) whispered into my ear about how inaccurate the title was, more appropriate to 4x4 matrices. Alternately, FOUR by FOUR should indicate a single four-letter word next to another single four-letter word, or four of them next to four more (for a total of eight). Luckily, the angel came out and smashed the devil on the head, appropriately with a 4x4.

And they say you'll never use math in real life.

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© 2014, The New York TimesNo. 0928 ( 23,700 )
Across
1
Bygone potentate : MAHARAJA
9
Ottoman inns : IMARETS
16
Web starter : HTTP
20
Kind of steroid : ANABOLIC
21
Small thing to burn : CALORIE
22
"Fancy meeting you here!" : OHHI
23
1975 Tony-nominated play about an extended affair : SAMETIMENEXTYEAR
25
Spanish province : LEON
26
Rehnquist's successor on the high bench : SCALIA
27
New home loan deal, in short : REFI
28
Exclaimed : CRIEDOUT
30
"Guardians of the Galaxy" title characters, informally : ETS
31
Org. implementing the Protect America Act : NSA
33
Audacity : GALL
35
Chief justice during the Civil War : TANEY
36
Relationships : TIES
37
Skateboard jump : OLLIE
39
Private parts : LOINS
43
Clear-minded : SANE
46
The Crossroads of the West : SALTLAKECITYUTAH
51
Fields : AREAS
53
Early-millennium year : MII
54
Undermine : ERODE
55
Prop on "The Bachelor" : ROSE
56
What a bachelor might do : COURT
57
___ Watts, English hymnist who wrote "Joy to the World" : ISAAC
60
Uncontested basketball attempts : OPENSHOTS
62
Swarms : HORDES
64
Rockefeller Center statue : ATLAS
66
Go after : ENSUE
67
Irons, say : SMOOTHS
69
Encourage : EGGON
71
Like a good-sized estate, maybe : TENACRE
75
"Wait, you can't possibly think ...?" : WHOME
77
Writer painted by Velázquez : AESOP
79
Pre-Bill Hillary : RODHAM
80
Historic figure with a reputation at stake? : JOANOFARC
84
Shelfmate of Bartlett's, maybe : ROGET
86
Onion relative : CHIVE
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Go cheek-to-cheek with : ABUT
88
Lingo : ARGOT
90
Good source of iron? : ORE
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Exxon Valdez, e.g. : OILER
92
Warm way to welcome someone : WITHARMSWIDEOPEN
97
Millennials, informally : GENY
98
Unflinching : STOIC
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Be profligate, say : SPEND
100
Radio host John : TESH
102
Throat problem : STREP
106
Team of oxen : SPAN
107
"Say what?" : HUH
108
Brother : FRA
111
Not now : INAWHILE
114
Stats for Aaron and Gehrig : RBIS
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Deeds : TITLES
118
Goddess of marriage : HERA
119
Common slogan for a music radio station : LESSTALKMOREROCK
123
Kind of cavity : ORAL
124
Vatican City vis-à-vis Rome : ENCLAVE
125
"CSI: Miami" actress : EVALARUE
126
Take in some views? : POLL
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Some farms : DAIRIES
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Unpredictable one : WILDCARD
Down
1
Pool stroke : MASSE
2
Put on ___ : ANACT
3
Gaza group : HAMAS
4
Biblical brother : ABEL
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Corkscrew-shaped pasta : ROTINI
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George Orwell and George Eliot : ALIASES
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Parsons of "The Big Bang Theory" : JIM
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Taiwanese computer giant : ACER
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Flowing glacial feature : ICEFALL
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Mandible's counterpart : MAXILLA
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Not the main rte. : ALT
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The natural in "The Natural" : ROY
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Build : ERECT
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Sparkly topper : TIARA
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Relative of a canary : SERIN
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"Don't be ashamed" : HOLDYOURHEADHIGH
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Vincent van Gogh's brother : THEO
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G : THOU
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Pub order : PINT
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Haggle : NEGOTIATE
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Hard to grasp : EELY
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"Ditto" : ASAMI
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Valley girl's filler : LIKE
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Reagan's challenge to Gorbachev : TEARDOWNTHISWALL
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Architect Saarinen : EERO
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Langston Hughes poem with the lines "They send me to eat in the kitchen / When company comes" : ITOO
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Earliest-born member of the Cartoon Hall of Fame : NAST
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"___ Mine, All Mine" (1920s tune) : SHES
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Goldman's banking partner : SACHS
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"___ of One's Own" (Woolf essay) : AROOM
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Intro to science? : NEURO
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___ Leslie, three-time W.N.B.A. M.V.P. : LISA
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Get by : COPE
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Driver's lic., e.g. : IDENT
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Like overtime periods vis-à-vis regulation play : TENSER
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Prefix with -scope : STETHO
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Bit of seaweed : ALGA
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Cav or Mav : CAGER
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Brand with a red arrow through its logo : SUNOCO
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Synagogue instrument : SHOFAR
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Middlin' : SOSO
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Some smug comments : SMARM
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Bum : NOGOODNIK
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It has almost 4,000 miles of coastline : CHILE
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Lustrous black : RAVEN
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It might be at your fingertips : EMERY
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Work units : ERGS
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One picked out of a lineup, informally : PERP
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Classic movie shot on Martha's Vineyard : JAWS
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Dead reckoning? : OBIT
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Prefix with correct : AUTO
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Sights at 127-Across : COWS
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Baby ___ : TEETH
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Bar jarful : TIPS
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Pituitary gland output, briefly : ACTH
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Corrupt : DEPRAVE
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Activates, in computer lingo : ENABLES
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No one can drive in this : NEUTRAL
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Protect : SHIELD
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All worked up : RILED
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Justice Kagan : ELENA
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Oscar-winning actor whose name is Italian for "fishes" : PESCI
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Trees and shrubs : FLORA
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Come back : RECUR
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Posed : ASKED
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2007 purchaser of Applebee's : IHOP
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Nephew of Caligula : NERO
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Asia's ___ Sea : ARAL
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Duck that nests in tree hollows : SMEW
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Gillette brand name : TRAC
120
Olympus OM-2, e.g. : SLR
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___ chi : TAI
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Egg: Prefix : OVI

Answer summary: 10 unique to this puzzle, 1 debuted here and reused later.

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