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New York Times, Thursday, September 8, 2016

Author: Joanne Sullivan
Editor: Will Shortz
Joanne Sullivan
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
22/23/20109/8/20160
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ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.56010

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 82, Blocks: 41 Missing: {QZ} This is puzzle # 2 for Ms. Sullivan. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Joanne Sullivan notes: Here's a brain-teaser: How did Will Shortz and Joel Fagliano increase this puzzle's total word count (i.e., the number of ... more
Joanne Sullivan notes:

Here's a brain-teaser: How did Will Shortz and Joel Fagliano increase this puzzle's total word count (i.e., the number of across and down answers) from 74 to 82 without changing any letters or the pattern of black and white squares?

There are several ways to format this puzzle. Will and Joel debated how to present it and chose a different approach than the one I submitted.

This grid's edited version is numbered as though all the black squares are regular blocks. The version I submitted treated the five black squares used in the theme answers as white rebus squares that were colored black to complete the theme words. (Rebus squares have pictures or multiple letters in them.)

Instead of treating COAL and FEET as two words (17 and 18-Across), I combined them into one long 17-Across answer reading COAL BLACK FEET (as in a "Wheel of Fortune" Before & After style answer). I used wacky clues for the combined answers. (Result of firewalking? = COALBLACKFEET). I'd also considered using two straightforward clues separated by a slash for the combined theme answers.

I treated the five black theme squares as rebuses hiding in plain sight. Another option would've been keeping them white and letting solvers color them black (or squeeze in the word "BLACK" in tiny letters).

Since my version treated COALBLACKFEET as one answer, the number 18 wasn't in the square with the F in FEET but was essentially hidden in the black rebus square between COAL and FEET. My clue for BLACKSHIRT was numbered 18-Down instead of 21-Down.

Since I regarded the black theme squares as letter squares and not black blocks, I avoided putting them in locations where white squares would've been invalid (e.g. between 1 and 5-Across). That constraint made constructing the puzzle more challenging.

Jeff Chen notes: Black squares get a literal interpretation today, five of them used as the word BLACK (see illustration below). I had some great a-ha ... more
Jeff Chen notes:

Black squares get a literal interpretation today, five of them used as the word BLACK (see illustration below). I had some great a-ha moments, struggling with how FEET could possibly be [Montana Indians]. Very cool click to realize it was (BLACK)FEET. Same with [Driveway covering], which had to be TAR … except it was the much more interesting (BLACK)TOP.

Neat to have so many theme answers squeezed in. We "fix up" answers so they match the given clues, so there was quite a bit of work today — 18 answers to correct for our word list / database! That's a ton of theme material to squeeze in. Granted, much of it is just three or four letters long, but when you intersect so many of them, a grid quickly becomes inflexible. We highlighted all the theme material to demonstrate how many crossings Joanne had to work with.

Pretty nice job, filling around so many constraints. There were very few entries that made me hitch — I even liked YOSHI, as back in the day, I played many a Nintendo game all the way through. Even scanning through a second time, I couldn't pick out much that disturbed me.

I did notice that there were a ton of short answers; very few long themers / pieces of fill. I like a few long entries here and there, which helps a grid to breathe; to not feel constricted. A main reason for the slightly choked feel of the grid is that Joanne went up to 82 words, four past the normal 78 limit. Understandable given all the constraints she put on herself, but there is a good reason that most 15x15 crosswords rigidly adhere to the 78-word limit.

(I read Joanne's commentary with great interest. Such a different original intent; not sure which I like better.)

I would have liked some way of making the five special black squares stand out more, as there didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason as to why those five squares acted as BLACK and the others didn't. Using logic like "black squares that don't touch any others are the special ones," or better yet, a visual within those special squares? But overall, uncovering all those theme answers in unexpected places entertained me.

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N
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M
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B
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C
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J
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F
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© 2016, The New York TimesNo. 0908 ( 24,411 )
Across Down
1. Given to eavesdropping : NOSY
5. Cry made repeatedly while slapping the forehead : DUMB
9. C in shop class? : CLAMP
14. Gets to : IRKS
15. Big brother's victim, once : ABEL
16. Like perfect games vis-à-vis no-hitters : RARER
17. Jet : COALBLACK
18. Montana Indians : BLACKFEET
19. Post with many rules : EMILY
20. One rushing to work, for short? : EMT
21. Manner : SORT
22. Google ___ : MAPS
23. What babies do in their first two years : TEETHE
25. "Nacho Libre" star, 2006 : JACKBLACK
27. Driveway covering : BLACKTOP
30. Nintendo dinosaur : YOSHI
31. Elf's foe : ORC
32. "___ la Vida," #1 Coldplay album : VIVA
33. Lead-in to long : ERE
35. Where waves come in? : EAR
36. First place : EDEN
37. 1966 #1 Rolling Stones hit : PAINTITBLACK
41. People holding on to secrets : BLACKMAILERS
43. Second : AIDE
44. Many a metrosexual : FOP
46. It might have a street name: Abbr. : ENV
47. J. follower : CREW
48. ___ diavolo (sauce) : FRA
49. Assays : TESTS
53. Football player's application : EYEBLACK
54. Ingredient in some chili and burritos : BLACKBEAN
55. Words sometimes followed by "It's nothing" : OHTHAT
56. When leaves 56-Across : FALL
58. Info for a dating site : TYPE
60. Napoleonic ___ : ERA
61. Director Kurosawa : AKIRA
63. Person whose work shines : SHOEBLACK
64. Ban : BLACKLIST
65. Comments from ones who are all thumbs? : TEXTS
66. Bygone Broadway critic Walter : KERR
67. Like Cookie Monster and Grover : BLUE
68. Cast out : EGEST
69. Flooring calculation : AREA
70. Cheek : SASS
1. Fine point : NICETY
2. Cry from a Veronese lover : OROMEO
3. Carefully avoids, with "around" : SKATES
4. Haute couture inits. : YSL
5. Actor Willem : DAFOE
6. There's an app for that : UBER
7. 1998 Brad Pitt film : MEETJOEBLACK
8. Crispy lunch : BLT
9. What old knees may do : CREAK
10. Product from soot : LAMPBLACK
11. Former Haitian president : ARISTIDE
12. Man's name that's Latin for "honey" : MEL
13. Wrest open : PRY
21. Italian Fascist : BLACKSHIRT
22. "In Flanders Fields" poet John : MCCRAE
24. What orange is said to be : THENEWBLACK
26. Biblical region from which the name of a language is derived : ARAM
28. High, as a guess : OVER
29. Frittata equipment : PANS
32. 1990 #1 hit for Alannah Myles : BLACKVELVET
34. Gustave with a tower named after him : EIFFEL
37. Tempo : PACE
38. Like an atrium : AIRY
39. Obsession : IDEEFIXE
40. Part of a battle cry : TORA
42. Solvent : INTHEBLACK
45. 1960s-'70s radical : BLACKPANTHER
50. E. preceder : SHEILA
51. Set of ankle bones : TARSUS
52. California and Baja California : STATES
54. Really good time : BLAST
55. Grammy category : OPERA
57. Witchcraft : BLACKARTS
59. Bygone days : YORE
61. Took in : ATE
62. Gunpowder holder : KEG
63. Some music of the Wailers : SKA
64. Reduced weight? : LBS

Answer summary: 9 unique to this puzzle, 2 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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