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New York Times, Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Author: Timothy Polin
Editor: Will Shortz
Timothy Polin
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3012/11/201112/1/20162
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42331602
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1.62450

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 74, Blocks: 34 Missing: {Q} This is puzzle # 6 for Mr. Polin. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Timothy Polin notes: As noted on the Wordplay blog, this puzzle was my first crossword construction and submission. It was accepted two and a half ... more
Timothy Polin notes: As noted on the Wordplay blog, this puzzle was my first crossword construction and submission. It was accepted two and a half years ago, in late 2011. I've come to realize that little motivates better than being your own fiercest critic, so with that in mind let's do an unvarnished, retrospective analysis of proto-me.

Jeff will probably point out that the puzzle's pinwheel layout allows for more control over the fill, while forgoing the opportunity to introduce longer — and presumably fresher — entries. Here, the presence of the central 7-letter bonus theme answer I think justifies that choice to some extent. The layout also produces some nice open areas in the four corners.

If I were to re-do this puzzle, the following entries would never be included: MTS, AGNUS, ESTES, I GET A, EINS, ESO, and SEGS. Nor is DEEPER (comparative form) ideal. While none of these is puzzle-breaking in and of itself, there is so much wiggle room in this low theme-count grid that there shouldn't be any blemishes like long partials, foreign words or ugly/plural abbreviations. The 8-letter entries SOBERS UP, BASS SOLO, OPIUM DEN and MAMA'S BOY are fine, but where I erred in construction is that I cemented those entries into place and then filled in from there, as though they were theme answers themselves. Nowadays I would still try all of them, but when they resulted in the aforementioned imperfections I would back those entries out and try different options until the puzzle sparkled everywhere. VIRAGO and MESTIZA are two other favorite entries, although I must confess to shoehorning in XZIBIT (who is not at all within my ken) without much consideration. Maybe others will disagree, but I wouldn't jump at the chance to use that entry today — irrespective of its effect on surrounding fill — unless nothing else fit.

It had been awhile since I'd looked back at the submitted clues. Several are cringe-inducing. Way too many contain obscure or uninteresting pop-culture references, and a lot my attempts at wordplay and misdirection, which at the time must have seemed clever and pithy, are anything but. I would have thought that there was no way Will could have used more than 5-10% of my clues, but I just totted them up and 26 out of 74 survived, with minor editing, for a hit rate of 35%. Which is shockingly high. {Light courses?} for EASY A'S was the one punny clue that made the cut.

Warts and all, I don't believe this was a terrible first attempt.

Jeff Chen notes: I'm terrible with anything that requires watering (local watering holes excepted), but I enjoyed learning some new terms. Who knew ... more
Jeff Chen notes: I'm terrible with anything that requires watering (local watering holes excepted), but I enjoyed learning some new terms. Who knew there was such a thing as a SNAKE PLANT or a GOATS BEARD? Fun phrases that thankfully were relatively easy to uncover. I liked how the clues related to the slang meanings, not the common meanings, of the theme words. [Billy's facial hair?] and [Crustacean's turf?] would have fallen flat, for example.

Tim's point about the pinwheel arrangement is generally true, and he doesn't get anything over eight letters of non-theme fill today. But that's okay. Weekday puzzles don't require super-long fill — I'll take a couple of snazzy eights any day over some average 10's or 11's. And it's not every day the solver SOBERS UP to a BASS SOLO, or sees a MAMAS BOY in an OPIUM DEN. Well done there.

I appreciate that Tim worked those entries in while still keeping most of the fill relatively smooth. I GET A isn't a great entry — I personally find the "five-letter partial spreading over three words" pretty ugly, to the level of random Roman numerals, but that's simply personal opinion. And one or two of those types of entries in a puzzle is totally fine. Tim makes a great point about not getting tied to anything particular in your fill — glad to hear that if he could do it all over again, he'd explore different options in those eight-letter slots. Flexibility is the name of the game when trying to fill a grid with both smoothness and sparkle.

A minor nit: it would have been great to have 3-Down (all the theme answers, actually) clued with the full [Nursery worker's suggestion for a grouch?]. While the clues would be much longer, I found it a little confusing as is, as I hadn't gotten to 18-across yet.

Wow, that SW corner was both brilliant and baffling. Not knowing XZIBIT or MESTIZA, an educated guess saved me there (I'll be trademarking both MESTICA and XCIBIT, thank you very much). I really like the way it all looks, now that I go back to examine it. And I did learn a couple of new terms. It's too bad EINS and I GET A are hanging around that region; otherwise I might have really admired it.

I really appreciate Tim's self-awareness; his drive toward continual improvement. Great to hear.

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© 2014, The New York TimesNo. 23,639
Across Down
1. Willy of "Free Willy," e.g. : ORCA
5. Kind of breath : BATED
10. Transportation for Mary Poppins or E.T. : BIKE
14. Bit of office greenery : FERN
15. Forge a deal, say : AGREE
16. How a sale item may be sold : ASIS
17. United Nations headquarters decoration : FLAG
18. Nursery worker's suggestion for a backstabber? : SNAKEPLANT
20. Gets more clearheaded : SOBERSUP
22. Pontius ___ : PILATE
23. Part of a place setting : GLASS
24. Killer bees and others : MENACES
25. Shrew : VIRAGO
27. Ones cutting in line, e.g. : JERKS
28. Tennis's Ivanovic : ANA
29. Former New York governor Spitzer : ELIOT
31. Deuces : TWOS
35. Peaks: Abbr. : MTS
36. ... for a scoundrel? : DOGWOOD
39. Physicist Georg : OHM
40. Ask, as a riddle : POSE
42. Run away (with) : ELOPE
43. The Tigers of the S.E.C. : LSU
44. Responds hotly? : SEXTS
47. Atmospheric phenomenon during low temperatures : ICEFOG
49. Mujer of mixed race : MESTIZA
52. Noted filmmaker with a dog named Indiana : LUCAS
53. Milanese fashion house : ARMANI
54. Overly devoted son : MAMASBOY
57. ... for a fall guy? : GOATSBEARD
59. Connecticut Ivy : YALE
60. Away from a chat program, say : IDLE
61. It's debatable : ISSUE
62. From the top : ANEW
63. Cartoon collectibles : CELS
64. Wheelbarrow or thimble, in Monopoly : TOKEN
65. Line parts: Abbr. : SEGS
1. Does a mob hit on : OFFS
2. Move, to a Realtor : RELO
3. ... for a grouch? : CRABGRASS
4. German chancellor Merkel : ANGELA
5. Extended piece by John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin or John Entwistle of the Who : BASSSOLO
6. ___ Dei : AGNUS
7. Snare : TRAP
8. Cry at a horror house : EEK
9. Like the diving end of a pool vis-à-vis the other end : DEEPER
10. Gas balloon supply : BALLAST
11. "Shaft" composer Hayes : ISAAC
12. Kunta ___ of "Roots" : KINTE
13. ___ Park, Colo. : ESTES
19. Rosy : PINK
21. Was fierce, as a storm : RAGED
24. "I second that" : METOO
25. Improvise musically : VAMP
26. "What's gotten ___ you?" : INTO
27. Features of a droopy face : JOWLS
30. Sinatra's "___ Kick Out of You" : IGETA
32. ... for a lothario? : WOLFSBANE
33. Extremely : OHSO
34. Self-satisfied : SMUG
37. Old-time drug hangout : OPIUMDEN
38. Bing Crosby's record label : DECCA
41. Millionaires' properties : ESTATES
45. One in Munich : EINS
46. Rapper who hosted MTV's "Pimp My Ride" : XZIBIT
48. Light courses? : EASYAS
49. Illusions : MAGIC
50. Wear away, as a bank : ERODE
51. Picayune : SMALL
52. Lash ___ of old westerns : LARUE
54. Purchase for Halloween : MASK
55. Designer Cassini : OLEG
56. Trees for making longbows : YEWS
58. Spanish "that" : ESO

Answer summary: 2 unique to this puzzle, 1 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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