New York Times, Friday, January 17, 2014

Author: Kevin G. Der
Editor: Will Shortz
Kevin G. Der
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
363/12/20075/29/20162
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112124115
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1.67855

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 66, Blocks: 25 Missing: {QXZ} This is puzzle # 30 for Mr. Der. NYT links: Across Lite PDF

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Kevin G. Der notes: I am a perfectionist. My mind fixates on anything suboptimal. When constructing a puzzle, this habit can be helpful as hundreds of ... more
Kevin G. Der notes: I am a perfectionist. My mind fixates on anything suboptimal. When constructing a puzzle, this habit can be helpful as hundreds of judgements are made — whether a partial is worth it, are there too many plurals in the grid, etc. And since a submission can be rejected for a single flaw — e.g. one entry is deemed too obscure — diligence is needed. The trap is that the mind can go too far in this direction, dwelling on the smallest imperfection while forgetting the merits. I once spent days agonizing over a themeless with a single entry I disliked — FDR — before I came to my senses.

The company I work at is researching methods for peer feedback. We learned the greatest factor in whether a team is thriving and successful is the ratio of positive to negative feedback. The best teams used 5x as many positive comments to negative — while average teams only used 2x. Sometimes the human brain works in unintuitive ways. Since then, I've tried to apply the 5x to rule to myself when constructing. It's helped me remain objective about imperfections while still remembering the merits. I've found myself happier and more motivated to construct. As is commonly said, perfection is impossible to achieve.

Onto the puzzle. I became interested in 4-stacks while observing Patrick Berry's puzzles (even his 5-stacks are smooth) and wondered if mere mortals could do it. Began at the top right corner with 6-A and 16-A as fresh entries. 18-A is a plural not ending in S, which adds some nice misdirection. 11-D was a serendipitous discovery for BLACKO??. And I liked some other lively entries in the grid. But I wish I could change KIEL. While not totally obscure — it hosted Olympics events as recently as 1972 — many people won't know it. I personally didn't. For a painful time I considered scrapping the entire corner because of it. Now I feel the grid as a whole is good enough to accept it. Hopefully, solvers will get the crossings and be satisfied by learning a word. Finally, I noticed that Will kept many of my favorite clues, but also changed some to make the puzzle easier. It's helpful to know my instinct is writing clues that are a bit too difficult. Overall, I'd like to improve several entries, but the result is okay and I hope the next is better, even though it will be imperfect.

ADDED NOTE: This puzzle was used in the 2014 MIT Mystery Hunt. See this blog post for more details.

Will Shortz notes: Kevin Der makes a crackerjack themeless. Entries here I like include HOTEL BARS, ANIMAL FAT, AS I RECALL, GYM CLASSES, DIME STORES, ... more
Will Shortz notes: Kevin Der makes a crackerjack themeless. Entries here I like include HOTEL BARS, ANIMAL FAT, AS I RECALL, GYM CLASSES, DIME STORES, BEETHOVEN, STORM DOOR, HONEYBEE, OPEN MIKE, NO BOTHER, BLACK OPS, OP ARTIST and EYES ON ME. That's a lot of nice stuff! Nothing really bad either.
Jeff Chen notes: A nice construction from one of the best in the business, Joon. Er, Jeff. Darn it, I mean Kevin!*. One aspect I like best about ... more
Jeff Chen notes: A nice construction from one of the best in the business, Joon. Er, Jeff. Darn it, I mean Kevin!*.

One aspect I like best about Kevin's work is that he's always pushing the envelope, trying to figure out what he can do new that others haven't done before. Look at the NE and the SW today: beautiful chunky white sections, smoothly filled. Typically themeless constructors stay with triple-stacked areas, because moving to quad stacks exponentially increases the difficulty. It's definitely been done many times before, but check out how snazzy and clean he makes them. HOTEL BARS / ANIMAL FAT / AS I RECALL all crossed by BLACK OPS? Must have taken days, perhaps weeks to figure out that one subsection.

Usually going to 66 words in a themeless means you're going to have some compromises. But Kevin takes so much care in his work, leaving us with only ONE LS and KIEL as misdemeanors. And it was great to hear him say he struggled to see if he could eliminate KIEL somehow. But given the giant ell of white space up in that corner, it would be very difficult to do while still retaining BLACK OPS crossing all the long stacked answers. That NE corner has so many great answers though; they're easily worth the price of KIEL.

The one knock on today's puzzle might be that there isn't a marquee answer that jumped out at me with that hurts-so-good slap upside the head. I smiled when I finally pieced together DIME STORES — very cool clue — and I really liked the colloquial NO BOTHER, but I really appreciate getting at least one whiz-bang answer (usually themeless constructors place their best answer at 1-across).

Kevin took a stretch off of constructing for a while during his stint helping Obama get reelected among other pedestrian activities; very glad to see that he's in the kitchen again, mixing up more magic.

*I can joke about this, you can't. Ha.

JimH notes: The print edition of the NYT ran a different puzzle on this day. This is the one that was distributed electronically and was also supposed to be in the paper.
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© 2014, The New York TimesNo. 23,446
Across Down
1. Vacation destination : SHORE
6. Spots for thirsty travelers : HOTELBARS
15. Scooter : MOPED
16. It's rendered in the kitchen : ANIMALFAT
17. Group studying torts and procedures, typically : ONELS
18. Psychiatric hospitals : SANITARIA
19. Hardly a free spirit? : GENIE
20. "Thinking back ..." : ASIRECALL
21. They often precede showers : GYMCLASSES
23. German port on the Baltic : KIEL
24. Large bill holder : IBIS
25. Historical role in Spielberg's "Munich" : MEIR
26. Mrs. Lincoln's family : TODDS
27. Cry of surprise : EEK
28. Camp accouterments : BOAS
29. Dandy : FOP
30. Stage, as a historical scene : REENACT
32. Like a ballerina : LISSOME
36. Fox tribe neighbor : OTO
37. Operates, as a booth : MANS
38. Be useful : PAY
39. Cars whose only color until 1952 was bottle green : SAABS
42. One of the 12 tribes of Israel : LEVI
43. Just dandy : JAKE
44. Oscar-winning film based partly on the book "The Master of Disguise" : ARGO
45. Bowling splits in which the 5 and 10 pins remain : DIMESTORES
47. Big name in classical education? : BEETHOVEN
49. 1969 role for Dustin Hoffman : RATSO
50. Recovering : ONTHEMEND
51. It's written with a minus sign : ANION
52. Freebie often containing alcohol : TOWELETTE
53. "To conclude ..." : INSUM
54. Extra protection from the elements : STORMDOOR
55. Source of morning stimulation, maybe : LATTE
1. Harder to see through, say : SMOGGIER
2. Queen or her subject? : HONEYBEE
3. Opportunity for a singer or comedian : OPENMIKE
4. The Shroud of Turin and others : RELICS
5. Car that offered Polar Air air-conditioning : EDSEL
6. Disobeys standing orders? : HASASEAT
7. New York's ___ Cultural Center, promoter of Hellenic civilization : ONASSIS
8. Requiring greater magnification : TINIER
9. Some world leaders : EMIRS
10. Pregnant, maybe : LATE
11. Some C.I.A. doings : BLACKOPS
12. Yellow : AFRAID
13. Inveighed (against) : RAILED
14. Changing places : STALLS
22. Bygone station name : AMOCO
26. Put to waste? : TOSS
28. Some Quidditch equipment : BATS
29. End of story? : FINIS
31. "Don't worry about it" : NOBOTHER
32. Herb whose name is derived from the Latin for "to wash" : LAVENDER
33. One employing trompe l'oeil effects : OPARTIST
34. Pets : MAKESOUT
35. "Now, look here!" : EYESONME
37. It serves as a reminder : MEMENTO
39. Footwear similar to klompen : SABOTS
40. Childish retort : ARENOT
41. Terrible time? : AGETWO
42. Reach, in a way : LIVETO
43. ___ Gleason, Tony winner for "Into the Woods" : JOANNA
45. Like wigwams and igloos : DOMED
46. Have some catching up to do : TRAIL
48. Captain's place : HELM

Answer summary: 7 unique to this puzzle, 2 debuted here and reused later, 5 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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