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New York Times, Saturday, October 15, 2016

Author:
Mark Diehl
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
7511/11/19849/6/20193
SunMonTueWedThuFriSatVariety
3214720362
ScrabRebusCirclePangramPre‑WS
1.573038
Mark Diehl

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 64, Blocks: 24 Missing: {FJQZ} Spans: 1 Average word length: 6.28 This is puzzle # 64 for Mr. Diehl. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Mark Diehl notes:
Started with this nice wide open grid and settled on WATERMELONJUICE as the lengthwise 15 through the middle, but the resulting SE ... read more

Started with this nice wide open grid and settled on WATERMELONJUICE as the lengthwise 15 through the middle, but the resulting SE corner didn't quite work for Will. Luckily, the entry point into that corner is somewhat "pinched off" and only needed a different 5-letter ending for WATERMELON to salvage. As requested, I floated a half dozen alternative refills for the section incorporating -PATCH, -JELLO (yes, it is a legitimate flavor), -SALSA (also legit), and -SEEDS.

Really enjoyed Will/Joel's clue for 1-Across in lieu of my pedestrian [J J Abrams genre]. Much more opaque and out of the box and a devilish start to a Saturday challenge!

Finally, here's another reason I dig XWord Info stats — it compared this grid to Byron Walden's beautiful creation of May 16, 2015.

Jeff Chen notes:
I admire people who can make good, low-word-count themelesses without using cheater squares. These extra black squares are a ... read more

I admire people who can make good, low-word-count themelesses without using cheater squares. These extra black squares are a tremendous tool that I often employ — I would have found it so tempting to put a black square where STRONG POINT and SCRAWLS intersect, because those extra squares make it so much easier to construct lively, smooth grids. Each pair of cheaters makes the task maybe 10-20% or so easier.

I personally use them liberally, and I generally don't think they hinder a grid's visual appeal, unless there's a whole bunch of them. (Compare today's grid to yesterday's.) Most of the time, I encourage newer constructors to use more of them, because the end product is almost always better. But there's something striking about a Spartan grid like today's, when it comes out this smoothly.

Now, there are a few head-scratchers like RONDELLE and the DRAGONET, along with some neutral space-filling entries like EXAMINEE, RUNS LOOSE and AT A COST. But there are also many colorful ones like MODEL ROCKET and STRONG POINT right through the middle, crossing the lovely AD SPEAK / WATERMELON SEEDS / TABLOID (over MORONS!). What beautiful work in that center.

Another interesting point from a constructing perspective: check out the relative amount of sizzle between the NW vs. SW corner. They look so similar, but they're worlds apart in terms of constructing difficulty. A stronger result in the NW than the SW comes as no surprise.

Why? Because while the beautiful NW corner only really has to work with WATERMELON SEEDS, the SW corner must coordinate with both CAMBODIANS and MODEL ROCKET. That extra layer of constraint greatly reduces flexibility, so instead of great answers like THAT'S HOW and TV DRAMA, we get more neutral EYE TEST (used a lot in crosswords), UNCLOAK, PRACTICE, LALANNE.

It's a common trade-off — more interconnectivity means less flexibility.

I thought Mark did a really nice job with his grid, given his non-use of cheaters. It would have been interesting to see if a pair or two of extra black squares might have given us a little more great RATHOLE and STEPKIDS kind of material.

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© 2016, The New York TimesNo. 1015 ( 24,448 )
Across
1
Something that might be built around a police station : TVDRAMA
8
Hen tracks : SCRAWLS
15
Came aboard, in a way : HIREDON
16
Long-running Joel McHale show on E! : THESOUP
17
Not free : ATACOST
18
Seedy place : RATHOLE
19
Bengali who won the 1913 Literature Nobel : TAGORE
20
Small glass disk used as an ornament in a stained-glass window : RONDELLE
21
Melted munchie : SMORE
22
Kind of bean : MUNG
23
Follower of a team : SLED
24
Rear : HIND
25
Source of anago sushi : CONGER
27
Golf units: Abbr. : YDS
28
Roughly half of all binary code : ONES
29
"Friendly staff" or "For a limited time only" : ADSPEAK
31
Swallowing worry in an old wives' tale : WATERMELONSEEDS
36
Potential libel defendant : TABLOID
37
Next ___ : EXIT
38
Latin trio leader : AMO
41
No-brainers? : MORONS
42
Call from the lobby, perhaps : PAGE
43
"Utopia" writer, 1516 : MORE
45
"___ thou love me?": Juliet : DOST
46
Completely block : DAMUP
47
"The difference between ordinary and extraordinary," per Vladimir Horowitz : PRACTICE
49
Steve Buscemi's role in "Reservoir Dogs" : MRPINK
50
Reveal : UNCLOAK
51
Triple-platinum Lady Gaga hit of 2011 : YOUANDI
52
Longtime fitness guru Jack : LALANNE
53
Keep close relations? : INBREED
54
Part of a physical : EYETEST
55
Common dorm room decorations : POSTERS
Down
1
Words of explanation : THATSHOW
2
Something sweet potatoes provide : VITAMINA
3
Brightly colored marine fish : DRAGONET
4
Three albums bound together, e.g. : RECORDSET
5
Hero-worship, say : ADORE
6
Jazz pianist Allison : MOSE
7
Raid target : ANT
8
Forte : STRONGPOINT
9
Directive in tennis after odd-numbered games : CHANGEENDS
10
On a pension: Abbr. : RETD
11
Lent symbols : ASHES
12
Unclear, as thinking : WOOLLY
13
Put off guard : LULLED
14
Blender settings : SPEEDS
20
Goes without a leash : RUNSLOOSE
22
A child can have a blast with it : MODELROCKET
25
People ruled by an elective monarchy : CAMBODIANS
26
___ al Khaymah (one of U.A.E.'s seven emirates) : RAS
30
Isolate : KEEPAPART
32
Go head-to-head with? : RAM
33
Doctor's patient, e.g. : EXAMINEE
34
Create a tunnel beneath : DIGUNDER
35
"The Brady Bunch" bunch : STEPKIDS
38
Shot glass? : AMPULE
39
Béchamel sauce with Gruyère added : MORNAY
40
Font of knowledge : ORACLE
44
Brilliance : ECLAT
46
Easily outscores : DRUBS
48
What calisthenics improve : TONE
49
One up front? : MONO
51
High-pitched cry : YIP

Answer summary: 11 unique to this puzzle, 1 debuted here and reused later, 2 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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