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New York Times, Thursday, September 8, 2016

Author:
Joanne Sullivan
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
22/23/20109/8/20160
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
0010100
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.56010
Joanne Sullivan

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 across and ... read more

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 ... read more

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.

1
N
2
O
3
S
4
Y
5
D
6
U
7
M
8
B
9
C
10
L
11
A
12
M
13
P
14
I
R
K
S
15
A
B
E
L
16
R
A
R
E
R
17
C
O
A
L
18
F
E
E
T
19
E
M
I
L
Y
20
E
M
T
21
S
O
R
T
22
M
A
P
S
23
T
E
E
24
T
H
E
25
J
26
A
C
K
27
T
28
O
29
P
30
Y
O
S
H
I
31
O
R
C
32
V
I
V
A
33
E
R
34
E
35
E
A
R
36
E
D
E
N
37
P
38
A
39
I
N
T
I
40
T
41
M
A
42
I
L
E
R
S
43
A
I
D
E
44
F
O
45
P
46
E
N
V
47
C
R
E
W
48
F
R
A
49
T
E
50
S
51
T
52
S
53
E
Y
E
54
B
E
A
N
55
O
H
T
H
A
T
56
F
57
A
L
L
58
T
59
Y
P
E
60
E
R
A
61
A
62
K
I
R
A
63
S
H
O
E
64
L
I
S
T
65
T
E
X
T
S
66
K
E
R
R
67
B
L
U
E
68
E
G
E
S
T
69
A
R
E
A
70
S
A
S
S
© 2016, The New York TimesNo. 0908 ( 24,411 )
Across
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
Down
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.

Found bugs or have suggestions?