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New York Times, Saturday, September 21, 2013

Author: Tim Croce
Editor: Will Shortz
Tim Croce
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333/12/20106/27/20151
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01332816
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1.56001

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 58, Blocks: 32 Missing: {JQXYZ} Grid has both 90- and 180-degree symmetry Average word length: 6.66 This is puzzle # 25 for Mr. Croce. NYT links: Across Lite PDF

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Tim Croce notes: So how did I do it? Well, I started with some graph paper, several mechanical pencils, a LOT of erasers, and a caffeine IV... ... more
Tim Croce notes: So how did I do it? Well, I started with some graph paper, several mechanical pencils, a LOT of erasers, and a caffeine IV...

...just kidding. I used pen.

No, honestly, I didn't set out to make a sub-60 grid. I went for an eye-catching grid pattern, and it happened to come out at 58 words. This grid started life as a 66-worder with the stair-step block pattern extended out diagonally one more. It was on a whim that I took out those four blocks to see if I could fill it.

I started with a power-fill to see if it'd work, not expecting much. I knew there'd be compromises (47/49A, 4D in the final product). Not only did it find a fill, but it came in only a couple minutes, and the center actually came out like this the first time I filled. So I had my framework (26-29-30-31-35A/14-17-20-23-27D) MUCH quicker than I expected. I don't know if this was the easiest sub-60 pattern to fill, but I've certainly not found any "easier" ones.

From there, the northeast most frustrated me. At first, I didn't like 8D because it seemed awkward. I was this close to scrapping the whole framework and restarting. But I searched Google and found it to be legit. With that, I found my fill and came upon 6D, which was, as of then, unused in the NYT (to my surprise). As a college football fan, I'm happy to see it go!

Will Shortz notes: With just 58 words, this grid design is an eye-opener. My favorite entries in it are 6A, 38A, 14D, 20D, 23D, 29D, and 34D. I didn't ... more
Will Shortz notes: With just 58 words, this grid design is an eye-opener. My favorite entries in it are 6A, 38A, 14D, 20D, 23D, 29D, and 34D. I didn't care so much for ADSORBS, BCS (especially that), SONDE, and one or two other things. But overall this is pretty handsome.
Jeff Chen notes: In addition to the usual criteria for judging a themeless crossword (lively entries, lack of crosswordese/partials/abbrs., fun ... more
Jeff Chen notes: In addition to the usual criteria for judging a themeless crossword (lively entries, lack of crosswordese/partials/abbrs., fun cluing), Will hits upon an topic we don't often have a chance to discuss: grid aesthetics. By itself, I found the grid stunning, not just because I shivered at how difficult it would be to fill cleanly, but for its sheer visual artistry. Jim put together a gallery of Grid Art that caught his eye, and this one's also a beauty.

Tim not just flirts with the lowest word count record but does so with a relatively clean grid. And compare it to the other 11 58-word puzzles, noting how much less segmentation it has. Low word-count puzzles often depend upon splitting the grid into four quadrants so each can be worked on individually, but this one has a massive middle white space with high connectivity to four swaths in the corners. Daunting.

Usually the knock on low-word count puzzles is that they're inelegant and/or no fun because they depend on too many "roll-your-own" words (carrying an artificial RE- prefix or -ER/-ERS suffix). There are some of these here (I see you, RESEES) but surprisingly few. I'm mixed on TOOLER — in my first career as a mechanical engineer, I worked closely with moldmakers who we occasionally called "toolers", but that seems pretty esoteric.

Finally, check out the good stuff Tim throws in: SOLO HOMER, LETTERMEN, SMART ALEC, KNEE PATCH, all intersecting in the center. To those who might argue that this doesn't have any super-snazzy answers (or call it a "stunt puzzle"), at the very least this puzzle is a great change of pace to the usual 68 to 72-word themeless puzzles. A close second for the POW!

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© 2013, The New York TimesNo. 23,328
Across Down
1. They aren't straight : LIARS
6. "Aarrghh!" : BLASTIT
13. Shove off : UNDOCK
15. Lures : COMEONS
16. "Oo la la!" jeans, informally : SASSONS
18. Preceder of John Sebastian at Woodstock : SANTANA
19. Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer" and others : TWOSTEPS
21. Chain : FETTER
22. Heralds : FORETELLS
24. Produces lush sounds? : SLURS
25. Heavily populated areas, informally : URBS
26. They adhere to brains : PIAMATERS
28. Temple inits. : LDS
29. Lieutenant colonel's charge : BATTALION
30. Students with outstanding character? : LETTERMEN
31. See 48-Across : CONCERTOS
32. Its arms are not solid : SEA
35. Difficult journey : TOUGHROAD
36. Gifted trio? : MAGI
37. Follow the party line? : CONGA
38. Round trip for one? : SOLOHOMER
40. Direction givers, often : LOCALS
42. Superexcited : FEVERISH
43. Delicate needlepoint lace : ALENCON
45. Is so inclined : CARESTO
46. Do some work between parties : MEDIATE
47. Brings in for more tests, say : RESEES
48. Fast parts of 31-Across : PRESTOS
49. Meteorological probe : SONDE
1. Like wolves vis-à-vis foxes : LUSTFUL
2. Not at length : INAWORD
3. Takes up onto the surface : ADSORBS
4. Susan's family on "Seinfeld" : ROSSES
5. The Father of the Historical Novel : SCOTT
6. Group of football games played at the beginning of Jan. : BCS
7. Dog it : LOAF
8. Pardons : AMNESTIES
9. Choose in the end : SETTLEON
10. Flawlessly : TOATURN
11. Areas next to bull's-eyes : INNERS
12. Strongmen of old : TSARS
14. Remedy for a bad leg : KNEEPATCH
17. Fastballs that drop sharply near the plate : SPLITTERS
20. Durable cover : SLATEROOF
23. Wise sort : SMARTALEC
27. 2002 Best Original Screenplay Oscar winner for "Talk to Her" : ALMODOVAR
29. Spotted hybrid house pet : BENGALCAT
30. 1980s Olympic star with the autobiography "Breaking the Surface" : LOUGANIS
31. Grant : CONCEDE
32. Geisha's instrument : SAMISEN
33. Expelled : EGESTED
34. Pressure gauge connection : AIRHOSE
35. Mechanic, say : TOOLER
36. Beyond that : MORESO
37. Shop keeper? : CLAMP
39. "___ Lucy" (old sitcom) : HERES
41. Florida's De ___ National Monument : SOTO
44. Wii ancestor, briefly : NES

Answer summary: 8 unique to this puzzle, 2 debuted here and reused later, 7 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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