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New York Times, Friday, October 3, 2014

Author: Tracy Bennett
Editor: Will Shortz
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Tracy Bennett

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 68, Blocks: 25 Missing: {QVXZ} This is puzzle # 2 for Ms. Bennett. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Tracy Bennett notes: When I constructed this puzzle a year ago, I was still a novice with grid work. As soon as I found a workable grid and started ... more
Tracy Bennett notes: When I constructed this puzzle a year ago, I was still a novice with grid work. As soon as I found a workable grid and started filling, I would feel locked into that choice. I remember the NE corner giving me problems, and not being flexible enough to start from scratch or move blocks around.

Today I might work to eliminate the clumping of proper nouns in the NE, in a grid that already has its fair share of propers. When I make a puzzle these days, I fill no fewer than 3 grids, usually more, using different block placements and rearranging entries. Then I'll evaluate and compare them to choose the grid that offers the best fill with fewest compromises for cluing. I'm pleased to get reacquainted with the variety of phrases I managed to work into this grid. The seed entries were GOAT RODEO and BOJANGLES.

Will kept an encouraging number of my favorite clues, in particular for 17A, 20A, 31A, 36A, 64A, 6D, and 36D. I especially admire the punny clues for 1A, 1D, and 55A that Will came up with. Some of my clues that didn't survive were not quite right or self-indulgently niche-oriented, like "Mighty foe for a gamer" for BOSS. Hey, my son helped me come up with that one!

It's a thrill to have my second NYT publication, and I sure hope to be back.

Will Shortz notes: Curiously, only 1%-2% of themeless submissions I receive at the Times come from female constructors. The genre is almost entirely ... more
Will Shortz notes: Curiously, only 1%-2% of themeless submissions I receive at the Times come from female constructors. The genre is almost entirely handled by men. No one knows why. I think it's healthy to have diversity, though, in all ways, and I welcome more female-constructed themelesses. It's unlikely a male constructor would have used the fresh and lively ALPHA FEMALE (55A) as a seed, which is a perfect example of why diversity is a good thing.
Jeff Chen notes: Tracy and I recently exchanged thoughts about themelesses, so it was fun to do her themeless debut. She uses a lot of nice ... more
Jeff Chen notes: Tracy and I recently exchanged thoughts about themelesses, so it was fun to do her themeless debut. She uses a lot of nice vocabulary, such entries as NOT SO FAST, a SURE HAND in leadership, and ALPHA FEMALE. The last one I wasn't perfectly familiar with, but it explains itself so well. Along with the brilliant clue [Leading lady?], that's the type of debut I love to see.

Tracy uses a variant on a standard type of grid, one with the stairstep going down one diagonal. More often we see the black bars in the middle row (on either side of MOHS and PONE) shifted up or down, in order to generate more 8+ letter slots. Today's arrangement leaves Tracy with only 12 of those 8+ letter slots, forcing her to choose those entries wisely. Seven-letter slots can be good too, but they often need to be more neutral entries like IN A LINE or PROMOTE to hold the puzzle together.

Although I didn't know the term GOAT RODEO, I loved uncovering it (thank goodness the crosses were fair!). It's so colorful and hilarious, it makes me want to start throwing it around during finance committee meetings. Well worth the confusion I had during the solve.

For me, REGGAETON didn't work as well. Part of it (REGGAE) is inferable, but I struggled mightily with the STASSEN crossing, debating whether REGGAE TOR, REGGAE-TOS, REGGAETOL, or REGGAE TON seemed least implausible. Ultimately that corner seems fair but not terribly satisfying.

It leads to a question Tracy and I discussed — what is desirable in debut entries? As much as I like that people have such esoteric interests — a huge part of what makes the world fun — it's hard to headline with these types of entries, given that the size of the NYT solving audience is somewhere in the eight digits. I will try to listen to some REGGAETON to get a feel for what it is, but I don't think most people are open to that next step. It's tough to be in Will's shoes, trying to keep so many people entertained and happy.

Solid work from Tracy, just a couple of RUS / DC CAB (Adam Baldwin really is an actor?) / ROUEN crossing NEAME (fair but not very satisfying for those who don't know either) / OST minor dings. And conversing with her helped me to clarify some thoughts. I love contract bridge, but even with millions of active players and Rich Norris of the LAT a partner of mine, bridge terms are going to be too esoteric for a broad crossword audience. So much for the colorful marquee SPLINTER BID; sigh. Good thing there's the (warning, shameless self-promotion) self-publication route.

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© 2014, The New York TimesNo. 1003 ( 23,705 )
Across Down
1. Ones who get lighter sentences? : ARSONISTS
10. 1983 action comedy with the tagline "When these guys hit the streets, guess what hits the fan" : DCCAB
15. "Hold on one cotton-pickin' minute!" : NOTSOFAST
16. Band-Aid inventor Dickson : EARLE
17. Situation that's gone absurdly out of control : GOATRODEO
18. Car or cellphone feature : ALARM
19. Relative of Cie. : LTD
20. Exchange words : ILLTRADEYOU
22. Land of the poet Máirtín Ó Direáin : ERIN
24. Doctors' orders : DOSES
25. Order (around) : BOSS
26. City on the Seine : ROUEN
28. Ill-tempered : TESTY
30. Victor at Gaines's Mill and Cold Harbor : LEE
31. One whose word is gospel? : STMARK
33. Steadiness in leadership : SUREHAND
35. ___ scale : MOHS
37. Corn bread : PONE
38. Pfizer cold and flu medicine : DIMETAPP
42. Result of equal opposing forces : STASIS
46. Number of African countries with español as an official language : UNO
47. Mild cigar : CLARO
49. Pioneer of Dadaism : ERNST
50. Auto parts giant : NAPA
52. Pope Francis and others : ICONS
54. "There!" : TADA
55. Leading lady? : ALPHAFEMALE
58. Country with a red, white and blue flag: Abbr. : RUS
59. Dianne of "Parenthood," 1989 : WIEST
60. Musical "Mr." : BOJANGLES
62. Like much slapstick : ANTIC
63. Either way : ATANYRATE
64. Choice words? : YESNO
65. Combined Latin/Jamaican/hip-hop genre : REGGAETON
1. Casting directors? : ANGLERS
2. Horticultural problem caused by overwatering : ROOTROT
3. Kind of rock : STADIUM
4. Direction from Luxembourg to Nürnberg : OST
5. "Me neither," formally : NORI
6. Response to a lousy deal : IFOLD
7. Pitiful group : SADLOT
8. Sub-Saharan tormentors : TSETSES
9. Amasses : STORESUP
10. No longer working : DEAD
11. Carr who wrote "The Alienist" : CALEB
12. Company that makes Silly Putty : CRAYOLA
13. The Hebrew Hammer of Major League Baseball : ALROSEN
14. Puzzled : BEMUSED
21. Minute Maid Park team : ASTROS
23. Ronald who directed "The Poseidon Adventure" : NEAME
27. College org. for sailors-to-be : NROTC
29. Musical matchmaker : YENTE
32. Muslim name that means "successor to Muhammad" : KHALIF
34. Sympathy : HEART
36. Thumb key : SPACEBAR
38. "Chinatown" co-star : DUNAWAY
39. Queued : INALINE
40. Children : MOPPETS
41. Talk up : PROMOTE
43. Menace, in a way : SNARLAT
44. Results from : ISDUETO
45. Onetime Minnesota governor who ran for the G.O.P. presidential nomination nine times : STASSEN
48. Continuing obsessively : ONAJAG
51. Bret Harte/Mark Twain collaboration : AHSIN
53. Urban Dictionary fodder : SLANG
56. Record label for Cream and the Bee Gees : ATCO
57. "And Winter Came ..." singer, 2008 : ENYA
61. M.A. hopeful's hurdle : GRE

Answer summary: 8 unique to this puzzle, 2 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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