It’s a new puzzle from Sam Ezersky! SHOTS FIRED is a meta, and it closed on Friday, but it’s great, and you should still go solve it before reading on.
The meta asks for “two common English words that are missing from the puzzle”. Hm, okay.
The first thing I noticed about this puzzle was the shaded 10×10 area in the top left, which is clearly the reason it isn’t available as a .puz file. The whole grid is slighly oversized, at 16×15. For reasons that will become apparent, I wasn’t really getting anywhere in that shaded section, but I started making good progress everywhere else.
Six answers are clearly meta-related, as they’re clued as Unsuccessful guess (A-FOUR, C-SIX, and G-TWO) or Successful guess (H-SEVEN, H-NINE and H-TEN). Once I uncovered the H-NINE in the SW, it quickly became obvious what was going on, and I jumped over to fill in 59A: Game being played in this puzzle’s grid as BATTLESHIP.
Labelling the 10 shaded rows as A through J, and the 10 shaded columns as 1 through 10, you get a BATTLESHIP board (full confession: I was never much of a fan when I was a kid — I liked chess and Stratego). Eight squares turn out to be rebuses, containing either HIT or MISS. So, for example, INTERMISSIONS (18A: Musical pauses?) crosses REMISS (5D: Far from alert). The best rebus entry is MISS MISSOURI (32A: She was last crowned in a 2004 pageant), which is crammed into a mere six squares.
The central answer in the puzzle ends up being HIT HIT HIT HIT (59A: Depiction of a discovered 59-Across, in 59-Across) — novel, and smoothly crossed. Admittedly, it’s not ideal to have the composer SOLTI right underneath (double-clued with reference to the two notes that make up his name), but I didn’t care.
In something of a rarity for crossword puzzles, we end up with HITLER at 38D: He allegedly became a vegetarian at some point during WWII, which seems quite ironic if he did it to protest animal cruelty. I quite like the clue, and I’ve got no problem with the entry (any historical figure is fair game as far as I’m concerned, and it’s silly to draw the line at HITLER when plenty of constructors include IDI AMIN), but some solvers might be surprised by that one.
Oh yes, and that meta — there are eight rebus squares, but only six guesses in the rest of the grid. The two unpaired ones are G-ONE (miss) and H-EIGHT (hit), which give us the “two common English words” gone and height. Neatly done. It’s a shame there isn’t a way to link two words together for a less arbitrary answer, but I ran the possibilities and couldn’t find one. Minor blemish, I suppose.
This was fun and very clever — the grid’s rebus/meta-related entries are even symmetrical, at least in the Across direction. Impressive work as always from Sam.