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New York Times, Friday, January 2, 2015

Author:
David Steinberg
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
936/16/20113/23/201917
SunMonTueWedThuFriSatVariety
66681131232
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.645163
David Steinberg

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 64, Blocks: 36 Missing: {BFQZ} Spans: 2 This is puzzle # 34 for Mr. Steinberg. Jeff Chen's Puzzle of the Week pick. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
David Steinberg notes:
I constructed this puzzle in September 2013, a time when I was experimenting with numerous themeless grids with low word counts. My ... read more

I constructed this puzzle in September 2013, a time when I was experimenting with numerous themeless grids with low word counts. My first task in constructing this puzzle (after designing the grid, of course) was filling the center; I soon realized that filling this section was so challenging that even running my construction software for hours on end would be futile!

Remembering a construction trick I picked up during my quad stack phase, the next tactic I tried was seeding entries with friendly letter patterns into the bottom slot of the center stack before letting the construction software grind away at the rest of the grid. From a constructor's perspective, my intuition was to seed the stack with an S-heavy word, such as LAWLESSNESS; switching to my perspective as a longtime solver, however, I decided that such an entry would be dull and somewhat inelegant. Thus, my job was to come up with an entry that would both be lively and likely to lead to a fill for the center stack.

After many failed attempts, I came up with MINESWEEPER, a term with a more contemporary cluing angle that has appeared in just one other Shortz-era New York Times crossword. Although W and P are not ideal in terms of serving as ends to five-letter entries, S, E, and R are particularly nice; before long, I ended up with a center that was surprisingly junk-free! The clean center inspired me to make the rest of the puzzle as comparably smooth as possible; overall, I was (and still am) very satisfied with the final product, even though the grid is rather closed off.

Will/Joel changed fewer clues than they have in some of my older puzzles — as usual, though, they found ways to inject even more misdirection! My favorite new clue is "There's not much interest in them nowadays" for CDS, and my favorite original clue that made the cut is "It might change color" for RIPENER. I was a little disappointed to see that "Being . . . or not being" for IN EXISTENCE (which can also be read as INEXISTENCE) was rewritten, though I realize this clue was a bit of a stretch. I hope you enjoy solving this puzzle, and Happy 2015!

Jeff Chen notes:
My wife's favorite themeless experience is when you go through a first pass and turn up nearly empty. A feeling of despondence ... read more

My wife's favorite themeless experience is when you go through a first pass and turn up nearly empty. A feeling of despondence consumes you, but one of those toeholds suddenly trigger a thought, and you can enter another answer. And another! Chunks break open, and neurons fire. Ten minutes later (20 in my case), a seemingly impossible solve is cracked. Tremendously satisfying.

I had that experience today, daunted at first by those gigantic white spaces. I entered three answers in my first pass and wondered if 1.) I'd be able to finish and 2.) how much glue I was going to encounter — I often find that these wide-open grids require a lot of glue to hold them together. To my relief and amazement, I encountered virtually nothing ugly the whole way through. Yes, there's a HALER and a TEK from Shatner's esoteric "TekWar," but what else? The cleanliness is astounding.

Pluto and Earth, volume comparison

And what nice long entries. Often with this style of crazy-wide-open puzzle, you see neutral words depending on –NESS or –ERS. But to get ADULT MOVIES, HIS EMINENCE, PIN CUSHIONS, MINOR PLANET just to start? Really nice selection. If the worst of your 11 long answers is IN EXISTENCE, I call that quite the success.

As is usual with some of these types of stunt grids, I don't love the feng shui. The puzzle is broken so distinctly into three parts. I know from the constructor's viewpoint how much easier it is to make a low-word count puzzle when you can section areas off and work on them one at a time. But, as a solver, it bugs me to see such fragmentation.

Overall though, a puzzle in the Patrick Berry mold — uber-clean with a smart selection of long entries. I really like David's desire to experiment with themeless grids; it's cool to see the variety in his products. I don't always love the solving experience his more experimental stuff, but I thought this one was a big winner.

P.S. For those of you who don't get the brilliance of the CDS clue, it's referring to ultra-low interest rates. I work in investment management, so it got a big smile from me. Reader Greg Johnson points out that it can also refer to music CDs, which are falling out of favor — doubly cool!

1
T
2
E
3
A
4
C
5
H
6
J
7
E
8
T
9
L
10
I
11
P
12
A
13
R
14
A
D
U
L
T
15
M
O
V
I
E
S
16
O
D
E
17
H
I
S
E
M
I
N
E
N
C
E
18
T
A
W
19
I
T
S
A
L
L
I
N
T
H
E
20
G
A
M
E
21
N
O
I
R
22
A
T
A
D
23
I
R
E
24
P
25
I
26
N
27
C
28
U
29
S
30
H
I
O
N
S
31
M
I
N
O
R
P
L
A
N
E
T
32
T
A
T
T
L
E
T
A
L
E
S
33
R
E
D
H
O
T
P
O
K
E
R
34
M
I
N
E
S
W
E
E
P
E
R
35
T
36
E
37
K
38
O
P
E
D
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D
Y
N
E
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D
E
M
O
41
C
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R
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A
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T
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I
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C
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P
A
R
T
Y
48
E
N
E
49
L
E
G
E
R
D
E
M
A
I
N
50
L
E
N
51
I
N
E
X
I
S
T
E
N
C
E
52
A
R
T
53
P
O
R
T
S
54
E
S
T
E
S
© 2015, The New York TimesNo. 0102 ( 23,796 )
Across
1
One at the head of the class, informally : TEACH
6
"Fearless" star, 2006 : JETLI
11
Green yardstick : PAR
14
They may be marked with X's : ADULTMOVIES
16
Panegyrical lines : ODE
17
What to call a cardinal : HISEMINENCE
18
Shooter for kids : TAW
19
1958 #1 hit composed by Vice President Charles Dawes : ITSALLINTHEGAME
21
Rouge counterpart : NOIR
22
Slightly : ATAD
23
Burning sensation? : IRE
24
Stuffed accessories : PINCUSHIONS
31
Pluto, for one : MINORPLANET
32
Rats : TATTLETALES
33
Brand maker? : REDHOTPOKER
34
Classic computer game played on a grid : MINESWEEPER
35
Sci-fi narcotic : TEK
38
Leaning column? : OPED
39
10 micronewtons : DYNE
40
Group for people who are feeling blue? : DEMOCRATICPARTY
48
Sierra Leone-to-Burkina Faso dir. : ENE
49
Hocus-pocus : LEGERDEMAIN
50
Sportswriter Pasquarelli : LEN
51
Living : INEXISTENCE
52
"The proper task of life," per Nietzsche : ART
53
Modern connection points : PORTS
54
Newbery Medal-winning author Eleanor : ESTES
Down
1
Falafel topper : TAHINI
2
One with paper cuts? : EDITOR
3
Kiwi's neighbor : AUSSIE
4
Calculator button : CLEAR
5
Code with tags : HTML
6
Mitchell with the platinum album "Blue" : JONI
7
Like 2014 but not 2015 : EVEN
8
Salon job : TINT
9
Source of dirty looks : LECH
10
Roman "video" : ISEE
11
Fries things? : POTATOES
12
Disinclined to move : ADAMANT
13
Takes a second? : REWEDS
15
1,000 G's : MIL
20
It's a dive : GAINER
24
Hearts : PITHS
25
Tagging along : INTOW
26
People's 1992 Sexiest Man Alive : NOLTE
27
Brunch offering : CREPE
28
High-five request : UPTOP
29
Satisfy : SLAKE
30
Comparatively sound : HALER
31
Got by : MADEDO
32
Place where people lived in "How the Other Half Lives" : TENEMENT
33
It might change color : RIPENER
34
Detroit debut of 1927 : MODELA
35
Fist-pounding boss, say : TYRANT
36
Be coquettish with : ENTICE
37
Macroeconomics pioneer : KEYNES
39
Women, in pulp fiction : DAMES
41
YouTube upload : CLIP
42
Member of Clinton's cabinet for all eight years : RENO
43
New ___ : AGER
44
Part of 5-Down : TEXT
45
Long-stemmed flower : IRIS
46
There's not much interest in these nowadays : CDS
47
Best of classic rock : PETE

Answer summary: 2 unique to this puzzle, 3 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

Found bugs or have suggestions?