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New York Times, Thursday, September 5, 2019

Author:
Alex Eaton-Salners
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
252/2/20179/5/20191
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125410003
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.54240
Alex Eaton-Salners

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 78, Blocks: 38 Missing: {FQVXYZ} This is puzzle # 24 for Mr. Eaton-Salners. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Alex Eaton-Salners notes:
I'm a bit surprised to see this puzzle running on a Thursday, as it was initially clued and slated for Wednesday. I suppose the ... read more

I'm a bit surprised to see this puzzle running on a Thursday, as it was initially clued and slated for Wednesday. I suppose the gimmick was harder for the test solvers than expected. That said, minor day-of-the-week publication queue changes are not unusual in my (admittedly limited) experience.

I enjoyed reviewing the editorial revisions to the theme answer cluing. Beyond minor adjustments like "less than a trade occupation" in place of the original "less than an occupation," there were a few more substantial modifications. For example, instead of "a jerk" cluing TWITCH, I had "a Nintendo console" cluing SWITCH. In general, the edits made the theme clues easier to decipher, which is consistent with the gimmick proving harder than anticipated for solvers.

Working with 55 theme squares spread over 11 short entries puts some strain on the grid. Every vertical word goes through at least one themer. Likewise, the puzzle doesn't contain any entries longer than nine letters and only has 15 words of length five or more, which makes for a choppy solve. If instead the 55 theme squares had been contained in entries of length 10, 10, 15, 10, 10, the grid could have been more balanced.

Another unusual feature is having across entries that are longer than any thematic material. Usually, that muddles a puzzle's theme. Here, however, with so many short themers, I had to include some longer, horizontal non-thematic material to keep the puzzle from exceeding the 78-word limit. For example, breaking GAS TANKS at the T would bring the word count up to 80. Fortunately, because the theme entries are apparent from the cluing, there's no danger of confusion.

I hope deciphering the 11 theme riddles is a fun change of pace and makes up for the puzzle's other shortcomings.

Jeff Chen notes:
Jim and I worried that solvers would miss all the symmetric, but short, theme material, so we've highlighted it below. ... read more

Jim and I worried that solvers would miss all the symmetric, but short, theme material, so we've highlighted it below.

Interesting concept, playing on "more than" and "less than." EMOTION is more than a MOTION, but less than a DEMOTION, for example. The concept reminded me of a genius puzzle by David Steinberg that won an award in 2015. Puzzles so rarely blow my mind, but seeing what David pulled off there required a hundred Q-Tips to wipe away the gray matter oozing out my ears.

It made me wonder how many words fit that double beheading possibility. Five minutes of coding showed there are hundreds of them, including many long ones — longer than EMOTION even. My favorite from that list was CHARMLESS HARMLESS ARMLESS. It would have been great to use at least one pair of long ones since all the shorties got lost in Alex's grid.

Obsessive as I am, I wondered how many triple beheading words there are. Surprisingly, also hundreds! My favorite: GESTATE ESTATE STATE TATE, although ISLANDERS SLANDERS LANDERS ANDERS was fun too, as was NASCENT ASCENT SCENT CENT.

We all know I can't leave well enough alone, so onto quad and quint beheadings! Dozens of quads, but just one notable quint: BRAIDING RAIDING AIDING ID'ING DING ING (the Dutch bank).

Overall, Alex's idea was solid, although it was unsatisfying to never see the missing letter, e.g., the D in front of DEMOTION. I wondered if they'd spell something out — now that would have been neat! S T was a good start, but then it all went to hell with S T P B, etc. Given how many double beheading options there are to choose from, having a secret answer would have been doable and would have elevated the puzzle concept.

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C
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© 2019, The New York TimesNo. 0905 ( 25,503 )
Across
1
More than a bird, but less than a facial expression : COWL
5
More than a symptom, but less than a jerk : WITCH
10
More than a card, but less than a track bet : LACE
14
Lawn measure : AREA
15
___ Gebrselassie, two-time Olympic running gold medalist : HAILE
16
"Don't worry about me" : IMOK
17
Bud, e.g. : BEER
18
Laura of "ER" : INNES
19
Number of worlds connected by Yggdrasil in Norse myth : NINE
20
More than a snake, but less than a bodily organ : LADDER
22
What filler necks connect to : GASTANKS
24
Classic auto with a so-called "floating speedometer" : EDSEL
25
Last words before starting : HEREIGO
26
Winter coat : RIME
28
Tee off : STEAM
30
The new girl of Fox's "New Girl" : JESS
33
Annoyance for an oyster eater : GRIT
36
More than a British islander, but less than a team symbol : ASCOT
38
Breakfast bit : OAT
39
More than a court filing, but less than a status change : EMOTION
41
Hoppy brew : IPA
42
More than a bagel, but less than a walk : TROLL
44
It's verboten : NONO
45
Calif. school that's home to the Aztecs : SDSU
46
Tartan pattern : PLAID
48
Smart : CHIC
50
Shoulder piece : EPAULET
53
Doing dishes, e.g. : CHORE
57
Grass with prickly burs : SANDSPUR
59
More than a color, but less than a trade occupation : LUMBER
60
Henry who founded Life : LUCE
61
Waiting in the wings : ONICE
63
Gain : EARN
64
Tax-advantaged investment tools, for short : IRAS
65
Kind of chip : NACHO
66
One of a Latin trio : AMAS
67
More than a boat, but less than an idea : PARK
68
More than a weather forecast, but less than a muscle injury : TRAIN
69
More than an insect, but less than a U.S. president : RANT
Down
1
Monthly charge : CABLE
2
Mountain nymph : OREAD
3
Complexities, metaphorically : WEEDS
4
Pantries : LARDERS
5
What rotors do : WHIR
6
Actor McKellen : IAN
7
Slightly influence : TINGE
8
Pre-defibrillation cry : CLEAR
9
Some bygone service stations : HESSES
10
Measures of newspaper ad space : LINAGES
11
Peptide part : AMINOACID
12
Crown : CONK
13
Squeezes (out) : EKES
21
The "E" of Ransom E. Olds : ELI
23
Saturn's largest moon : TITAN
25
Relative of a spoonbill : HERON
27
Big inits. in casinos : MGM
29
Cleans (up) : MOPS
30
Take (down) : JOT
31
1946 role for Fonda or 1994 role for Costner : EARP
32
Joyrider's ride : STOLENCAR
34
Midori on the ice : ITO
35
Lightly dye : TINCT
37
___ particle : TAU
39
___ Sports Bureau (stats record keeper) : ELIAS
40
"Isn't this fancy?!" : OOH
43
Portable writing surface : LAPDESK
45
Bagel topper : SCHMEAR
47
Big employer in Delaware : DUPONT
49
Post-op locale : ICU
51
Kind of calendar : LUNAR
52
Flowering plant that's also a woman's name : ERICA
54
2009 Nobel laureate : OBAMA
55
Printed again : RERAN
56
Big name in accounting : ERNST
57
Prelude to a fall : SLIP
58
Spiritual energy : AURA
59
Revolutionary Trotsky : LEON
62
Spiritual energy : CHI

Answer summary: 2 unique to this puzzle, 1 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

Found bugs or have suggestions?