New York Times, Friday, October 25, 2013

Author: Martin Ashwood-Smith
Editor: Will Shortz
Martin Ashwood-Smith
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Puzzle of the Week

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 64, Blocks: 28 Missing: {QYZ} Spans: 9, (2 quad stacks) This is puzzle # 70 for Mr. Ashwood-Smith. Jeff Chen's Puzzle of the Week pick NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Martin Ashwood-Smith notes: Joe Krozel mentioned recently that the whole trick of constructing quad-stack grids was to create as many independent mini ... more
Martin Ashwood-Smith notes: Joe Krozel mentioned recently that the whole trick of constructing quad-stack grids was to create as many independent mini 15x4 stacks as possible. And from them, try to build larger 15x15 puzzles if possible. However, he was not talking about complete mini 15x4 puzzles, rather he was referring to 15x4 units that have some legit 4-letter crossers mixed with 4-letter sequences that look like they have the potential to get extended into real words. This is why computers (and the dreaded autofill) play a smaller role in constructing these puzzles than many solvers may think.

For example, if you look closely at the top stack in today's grid, you find some good complete 4-letter words (MELS, DOSE, TAME, ORES) along with some non-words: ENAC, IMGA, AFIR, and MONI. So this top stack can only work, if a grid pattern can be found that extends those non-words into real words (for example: ENACT-, I'M GAME, AFIRE/AFIRST/MONIED, etc.

Usually at this point, the puzzle goes in my unfinished "scrap heap" pile, because a (good) matching bottom stack is next to impossible to find. However, in this case I got very, very lucky and found an earlier orphaned lower 15x4 set that fit quite nicely. So I sent a 66-word version off to Will, who rejected it saying that the stacks were "lovely", but he felt the central area of the grid was too blocky-looking and closed off. Luckily I found a solution, and an extra 15-letter entry to boot as you can see in the final puzzle.

Finally, I know there are a few too many partials in the lower half of the grid, and the "ME AT"/"MINCEMEAT" dupe sucks. But, on the plus side the 15s are reasonably lively... and there are none of those dreaded "ONES" phrases... for a change!

Will Shortz notes: Any crossword with a 'quad-stack' is impressive, and this one has two. Amazing! On the downside, MEAT at 50D duplicates part of 1A, ... more
Will Shortz notes: Any crossword with a "quad-stack" is impressive, and this one has two. Amazing! On the downside, MEAT at 50D duplicates part of 1A, and ODE (21A) really shouldn't appear in the same puzzle as ODIST (47D). But I clued the short words carefully. And overall the construction was too nice not to say yes to.
Jeff Chen notes: A couple of months ago, a non-crossword friend of mine pulled me aside and said I had to see something. He took out a newspaper he ... more
Jeff Chen notes: A couple of months ago, a non-crossword friend of mine pulled me aside and said I had to see something. He took out a newspaper he had saved and held up a NYT crossword, a themeless with two triple-stacks and very few black squares. "This is the coolest thing ever," he said. That's a pretty powerful statement from someone who doesn't even like crosswords.

I realize some people are going to hate today's crossword, but I say, haters gonna hate. I'm not a fan of construction feats for the sake of record-breaking, but I was so wowed by the visual of today's puzzle, with those wide-open spaces, that I had to give it the POW. Well done, MAS!

The usual knock on triple-stacks is two-fold (and these apply even more strongly for quad-stacks). First, because of their construction difficulty, they tend to use phrases which aren't very snappy, use too many common letters (RSTLN E), or incorporate ONES (A LOT ON ONES PLATE being the most notorious). MAS shines here, using eight really nice entries. At first I was put off by CHANSONS DE GESTE, but after looking it up, I decided I enjoyed learning about a term that's gridworthy; a deficiency in my knowledge base. It's just amazing that MAS managed to find two separate sets of four good entries for his stacks.

The second knock is that the crossing down entries tend to be tortured, giving the solver an equally tortured solving experience filled with a gamut of partials, abbreviations, esoteric names, roll-your-own words, etc. On this front MAS doesn't do quite as well. In general, there are a reasonable number of ugly entries, but there are so many of one type, partials, that it was noticeable during my solve. It's unfortunate that ME AT had to be clued as a partial to avoid the dupe with MADE MINCEMEAT OF, as that would have helped the issue. Should we give constructors a break, allowing for extra ugly fill when a feat is as cool as clean quad stacks? I think a little leeway is reasonable to expect, but the high number of partials did detract from my personal solve today.

So overall, very impressive work and an enjoyable puzzle. I'm usually dead set against stunt grids for their own sake, but in my e-mail exchange with MAS, I really appreciated hearing how he tossed out a whole bunch of triple and quad-stacks before settling on something he thought solvers would enjoy. Solver first, constructor second, that's what I love to hear.

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© 2013, The New York TimesNo. 23,362
Across Down
1. Wiped the floor with : MADEMINCEMEATOF
16. Use of blockades, say : ECONOMICWARFARE
17. Western daily : LOSANGELESTIMES
18. Lobby : SPECIALINTEREST
19. Watch things : STEMS
20. Limited edition? : ISS
21. Suffix with electr- : ODE
22. Blasting, musically : FFF
24. Bay, say ... or bring to bay : TREE
28. Tempest, to Theodor : STURM
31. Bellyaches : BEEFS
33. ___ Rose : AXL
34. One may be tapped out : MORSECODESIGNAL
37. Brunch orders, briefly : OJS
38. McKinley's Ohio birthplace : NILES
39. Title priestess of opera : LAKME
40. Aim : GOAL
42. Setting of 10, maybe : MAX
43. Sony output : TVS
44. Bulldogs' sch. : UGA
46. Painter ___ della Francesca : PIERO
48. Certain advertising medium : COMMERCIALRADIO
55. It's not word-for-word : FREETRANSLATION
56. Old French epics : CHANSONSDEGESTE
57. Idolizes : SETSONAPEDESTAL
1. 1970s-'80s sitcom setting : MELS
2. "I'm ___" (Friday declaration) : ACOP
3. Doctor's orders : DOSES
4. Passing people : ENACTORS
5. What Hamilton called the wealthy : MONIEDMEN
6. "Sure, let's try" : IMGAME
7. ___ Arden Oplev, director of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" : NIELS
8. Mid third-century year : CCLI
9. Gershwin biographer David : EWEN
10. Guarders with droopy ears and pendulous lips : MASTIFFS
11. Some collectible lithographs : ERTES
12. It hasn't happened before : AFIRST
13. Sans spice : TAME
14. Sought-after rock group? : ORES
15. Fun or laugh follower : FEST
22. Send quickly, in a way : FEDEX
23. Finders' keepers? : FEES
25. What stars may indicate : RANK
26. Cause of a class struggle? : EXAM
27. Allure alternative : ELLE
28. Sun blocker : SMOG
29. Pearl Harbor attack initiator : TOJO
30. Polaris bear : URSA
31. Limb-entangling weapon : BOLA
32. Second-greatest period in the history of something : SILVERAGE
35. 1931 Best Picture : CIMARRON
36. Utility bill details : GASRATES
41. Light measures : LUMENS
43. Like much arable land : TILLED
45. "I ___ Lonely" (1954 hit for the Four Knights) : GETSO
46. Lead-in to deux or trois : PASDE
47. Particular paean penner : ODIST
48. Ozone destroyers, for short : CFCS
49. "What's Hecuba to him, ___ to Hecuba": Hamlet : ORHE
50. Sinatra's "Meet ___ the Copa" : MEAT
51. Biblical miracle setting : CANA
52. Police dept. personage : INSP
53. Touch : IOTA
54. Law school newbie : ONEL

Answer summary: 8 unique to this puzzle, 1 debuted here and reused later, 2 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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