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New York Times, Saturday, November 25, 2017

Author:
Kevin G. Der
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
403/12/200710/13/20182
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
122124118
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.65865
Kevin G. Der

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 60, Blocks: 29 Missing: {GJQWXZ} Minimum word length: 4 Average word length: 6.53 This is puzzle # 38 for Mr. Der. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Kevin G. Der notes:
I like ultra-tough Saturdays, so I tend to overshoot the difficulty of the clues. This grid has many difficult entries, so some clues ... read more

I like ultra-tough Saturdays, so I tend to overshoot the difficulty of the clues. This grid has many difficult entries, so some clues should be slightly easier than average. Together, these resulted in several clue changes. There's always room for clue improvement, and analyzing editorial changes can be instructive.

There are many ways to increase clue difficulty including:

  • misdirection (the clue appears to have one specific meaning, but actually means something else)
  • vagueness (the clue could mean a lot of different things)
  • open-endedness (the clue reads one way, but there are several possible answers)
  • trivia (the clue involves obscure knowledge)

Of those, Will and his team seem to favor misdirection while minimizing vagueness. Trivia is minimized to an extent if it's not intrinsic to the entry, though I enjoy trivia-based clues if they're interesting.

SPILL BLOOD: "Act the gladiator, perhaps" was changed to "Engage in warfare." I was hoping to avoid outright mention of killing. But I guess that original was a bit open-ended and too difficult.

ANTI-CRIME: "Like some urban initiatives" was changed to "Describing the efforts of Batman and Spider-man" which is much better. It's more interesting, and the new clue is less open-ended.

ACCREDIT: "Recognize, in a way" was changed to "Give a stamp of approval." The original was very open-ended, though I feel like that's the main context where I hear the word, as in an accredited university. I understand the change in the context of easing up on the difficulty.

LARIAT: "What a catcher might throw" was changed to "Rodeo ring?" This is an example of a clue that was too vague; it's too big a mental leap from "catcher" to "a person with a lariat."

EL MARIACHI: "Titular film character who carries a guitar case full of guns" was changed to "1992 western with a Spanish title". The original is interesting (and recalls an iconic film scene), but since this is a difficult entry, reducing the trivia helps solvers.

HOT CEREAL: "One getting mushy in the morning" was changed to "Oatmeal, e.g.," The original has misdirection and seems reasonable, but maybe seems forced. Another possible ding is that it uses the "it" style of cluing. Nothing pains me more than definition-based clues for long entries that could have been interesting. (My runner-up pet peeve is reusing clever clues, which I'll check aren't in the database beforehand.) But it's not reasonable to expect the editors to replace all my duds with zingers, so I only have myself to blame.

Analyzing clues that made it through is a helpful counterpoint: e.g., CALDER CUP, EMPANELS, B-MOVIE, TEA TASTER.

Jeff Chen notes:
I've run several half-marathons. They've all gone differently, but I've noticed similar patterns. They usually start out with a ... read more

I've run several half-marathons. They've all gone differently, but I've noticed similar patterns. They usually start out with a feeling of dread (only 60 words, wide-open grid; shudder), knowing that I'll be in for some pain. Not sure what kind, but there's sure to be some sort.

When the horn sounds, there's such a mass of people that you can barely move (my first pass through the clues, I filled in only one square). But when you cross the starting line and start picking up momentum, what a feeling of relief (OMG, so glad to have randomly known the MONSTER logo!).

And the first two miles? What a rush as you get into your rhythm (AMERICANA and SPEAKEASY crossing SAY PLEASE, awesome!). Even feeling decently good as you hit mile three and four (ANTICRIME … not bad).

Then come the first pangs (PACA). Whether a knee twinge or having that first sense that you might have to drop a sewer pickle (TREN), it's not good. You push right through though, and it's worth it because you have the satisfaction (SOMBREROS!) that you made it through the first twitches.

The halfway point brings a dread that you still have miles to go, and wait, what's hurting now? (That LALO / PEALE crossing, oof.) Another mile in, strange sensations erupt all over (EL MARIACHI, what? Who says TABLET PC? What's the CALDER CUP?). And then more flood through you(EMPANELS?).

But you fight, because you know there's going to be a few last highs (TEA TASTER, LA SCALA) before the finish.

Then, everything begins to sear and burn as the final mile approaches (ANSE? ALFIO who? STET. BAAL?). But that finish line is in sight. Your legs have a strange leadlike quality (TRADES IN, ARE NOT) that you have to ignore. And when the crowd starts roaring near mile marker 13 (SLAM POETS!), that's all the rush you need to bring it home.

About two hours (39:33, about 3x my usual Saturday time) filled with mixed, powerful emotions, and you come away with the awesome sense that you finished something daunting. You've earned a well-deserved rest after the intense workout.

Now, where's my "I Finished the Kevin Der 60-word Crossword" shirt?

Jim Horne notes:

See this page for notes from Will Shortz on how he edited the clues in a previous Kevin Der puzzle.

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© 2017, The New York TimesNo. 1125 ( 24,854 )

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Across
1
Places for drivers to get around : LEFTLANES
10
Whom the children of Israel served, per Judges : BAAL
14
Baseball cards, campaign buttons and such : AMERICANA
15
Triangular body parts : SACRA
16
Bootleg seller : SPEAKEASY
17
Animal known to chase its tail : OTTER
18
Trophy named for the N.H.L.'s first president : CALDERCUP
19
Thoreau's "The ___ Woods" : MAINE
20
Devil ___ Hatfield, Golden Globe-winning role for Kevin Costner : ANSE
21
Engage in warfare : SPILLBLOOD
23
Chow line? : LEASH
25
Dress down : TEARINTO
26
"Cavalleria Rusticana" baritone : ALFIO
27
Portraitist with a Baltimore museum named after him : PEALE
28
Nissan offering : SENTRA
30
Ready to attack, say : SOREAT
34
Similar to: Fr. : COMME
36
Big name in scholastic philosophy : OCCAM
38
Consumers want to get their hands on it : TABLETPC
42
Super, slangily : SOCKO
43
1992 western with a Spanish title : ELMARIACHI
46
Autobús alternative : TREN
47
Tide pool locale : SHORE
48
Entertainers for whom lines quickly form : SLAMPOETS
50
Tony's mother on "The Sopranos" : LIVIA
51
Check on the passing of bills? : CASHAUDIT
52
Popular typeface : ARIAL
53
Describing the efforts of Batman and Spider-Man : ANTICRIME
54
End up leaving : STET
55
Producer of loose leaf notes? : TEATASTER
Down
1
Tourist attraction that faces a statue of Leonardo da Vinci : LASCALA
2
Picks for a case : EMPANELS
3
Have peace of mind : FEELSAFE
4
Buys and sells : TRADESIN
5
Fancy : LIKE
6
Alternatives to Toshibas : ACERS
7
Org. that publishes The Crisis magazine : NAACP
8
Directly connected, as a bathroom to a bedroom : ENSUITE
9
"Ask politely" : SAYPLEASE
10
One of the Iron Chefs on "Iron Chef America" : BATALI
11
Lure for a gambler : ACTION
12
Brief comeback : ARENOT
13
U.S. city that hosts the world's largest jalapeño festival : LAREDO
15
Cocktails with Kahlúa and cream : SOMBREROS
22
Contemporary of Saint-Saëns : LALO
24
Oatmeal, e.g. : HOTCEREAL
27
Striped or spotted animal named for its habitat : PAMPASCAT
29
Flatbread sometimes served with curry : ROTI
31
Safaris without guns, say : ECOTOURS
32
Give a stamp of approval : ACCREDIT
33
Not happen overnight : TAKETIME
35
Protagonist in the "Die Hard" films : MCCLANE
37
Beverage brand whose logo depicts three claw marks : MONSTER
38
Green cars : TESLAS
39
Musician with the 1963 gold-selling album "Honey in the Horn" : ALHIRT
40
Opportunity for people to act badly? : BMOVIE
41
Rodeo ring? : LARIAT
44
"___ Siempre" (much-covered 1965 song about Che Guevara) : HASTA
45
Cry in a dogfight : IMHIT
49
Prey for a jaguar : PACA

Answer summary: 10 unique to this puzzle, 1 debuted here and reused later, 2 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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