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UNTHEMED

New York Times, Sunday, November 4, 2018

Author:
Patrick Berry
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
2297/11/199911/4/20182
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741241679512
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1.54980
Patrick Berry

This puzzle:

Rows: 21, Columns: 21 Words: 126, Blocks: 55 Missing: {JQX} This is puzzle # 229 for Mr. Berry. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
JimH notes:
What's this? A Sunday puzzle with the clearly deceptive title, 'Unthemed'? You're not going to fool me! And yet, that grid looks unusual for a Sunday. It has fewer blocks and more open ... read more

What's this? A Sunday puzzle with the clearly deceptive title, "Unthemed"? You're not going to fool me!

And yet, that grid looks unusual for a Sunday. It has fewer blocks and more open squares by far than any NYT Sunday crossword ever. Could it actually be unthemed?

Why yes it is, and that makes it a rare treat. Themes are fun — they let you uncover hidden connections between answers, and they often help you solve the puzzle — but they have a downside. All that thematic material constrains the grid, forcing the rest of the answers to work around inconvenient letters in awkward locations. Then people like Jeff complain that "the fill" is suboptimal.

Themeless puzzles don't have that excuse, but then they have to deliver with great answers and clever clues. It takes a constructor with special skills to pull that off in a big Sunday grid. Patrick Berry has special skills.

I love this puzzle, and I hope it starts a trend. I wouldn't want this every Sunday, but now and then would be appreciated.

Today, we get great clues right from 1-Across. ARE WE DONE HERE is an evocative phrase. "Shade in the woods" is a terrific clue for FOREST GREEN. It goes on and on. Even the odd ars MAGNA, Latin for "great art," gets a fair clue with the anagram hint.

Jeff and I have decided to do "Jeff and Jim Cross Words" only on puzzles where we disagree, and he doesn't share my enthusiasm today. Let's see what he has to say.

Jeff Chen notes:
'Themes are fun.' To me, that's a drastic understatement, especially when it comes to Sunday grids. There's so much space in a 21x21 grid for creativity, for artistic license, for dreaming ... read more

"Themes are fun." To me, that's a drastic understatement, especially when it comes to Sunday grids. There's so much space in a 21x21 grid for creativity, for artistic license, for dreaming up the bold. We've seen so much audacious grid art, visual puzzles, even standard theme types taken so beautifully to the grand stage.

Sunday grids have so many squares that I think it takes a lot to hold a solver's attention through the entire solve. I've seen many friends walk away from a puzzle halfway through because they figure out roughly what's going on … and then there are more interesting things to do. I felt a touch of this today.

No doubt, there were more clever clues than a typical Sunday puzzle — probably by a factor of two. I was particularly taken with the ONE WAY STREETS / [You can't go back on them] pairing. That's brilliant!

But for me, it wasn't enough to hold my attention through the entire solve.

Perhaps a less ambitious grid – say a 136-worder? – would have allowed for more jazzy feature entries, and for even more clever clues? Maybe that would have made up for the lack of theme for me.

I'm in full agreement with Jim about the uniquely Berryesque craftsmanship. I'm a huge admirer of Patrick. And I think experimentation in anything is generally good. But man oh man do I appreciate a fantastic theme that's able to carry me through a 21x21 grid with gusto. There's a huge world of untapped themes floating around in the ether, and I hope that Will doesn't let unthemed Sunday puzzles intrude upon that.

Jim and I enjoy comparing reactions to a week's worth of puzzles, and I've found that much of the time, he enjoys the Fridays and Saturdays more than the others. For me, I'm always in search of the next great theme. Vive la différence!

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© 2018, The New York TimesNo. 1104 ( 25,198 )
Across
1. Goes to grab a bite, say : BOBSFORAPPLES
14. What a crop top exposes : MIDRIFF
21. "Anything else, or can I go?" : AREWEDONEHERE
22. "1984" superstate that includes America : OCEANIA
23. Early reel-to-reel devices : WIRERECORDERS
24. Expired IDs? : TOETAGS
25. "Marriage Italian-Style" star : LOREN
26. Give mouth-to-mouth to? : KISS
27. Donny who won "Dancing With the Stars" : OSMOND
29. Construction on Broadway : SET
30. Speak sharply : SNAP
31. Stockpot addition : BONE
32. Stickers forming a patch : BRIARS
33. Keep it under your hat! : HEAD
34. Petulant expression : POUT
35. Leaves mystified : BEFOGS
36. Soda brand with more than 90 flavors : FANTA
37. Ancestry : DESCENT
41. Picks up : LEARNS
42. Tommy or Jimmy of jazz : DORSEY
43. As a whole : INTOTO
44. Two for one? : HALVES
45. Case workers? : PORTERS
46. Golfing hazards : TRAPS
47. ___ pasta (farfalle) : BOWTIE
48. 2018's debate over "Yanny or Laurel," e.g. : MEME
49. Joey Potter's portrayer on "Dawson's Creek" : KATIEHOLMES
51. Travel on-line? : PARASAIL
55. Receptive to new ideas : OPENMINDED
56. Party of 13? : BARMITZVAH
58. Home arena of the Bruins and Celtics : TDGARDEN
59. Painter's roll : MASKINGTAPE
60. Overflow : TEEM
61. Trunk fastener? : CORSET
62. Lets out : RENTS
63. Ringo Starr's real first name : RICHARD
67. Palate cleanser in a multicourse meal : SORBET
68. Reptiles that can walk on ceilings : GECKOS
69. Casanova's intrigues : AMOURS
70. Ran into in court? : FOULED
71. Wigs out : GOESAPE
72. On the take : DIRTY
73. ___ the Great (ninth-century English king) : ALFRED
74. Cereal ingredient : BRAN
75. Places to crash on road trips : INNS
76. Very : PRETTY
77. Purely academic : MOOT
78. Striker's replacement : SCAB
82. Copa América cheer : OLE
83. Century in American politics : SENATE
84. Brewery sights : VATS
85. In the ballpark : CLOSE
86. Old "It cleans your breath while it cleans your teeth" sloganeer : COLGATE
88. Awfully large : ASBIGASAHOUSE
91. Takes to the sky : AVIATES
92. Paprika lookalike : CAYENNEPEPPER
93. Forerunners of combines : REAPERS
94. You can't go back on them : ONEWAYSTREETS
Down
1. Cries loudly : BAWLS
2. Greek hero killed by a giant scorpion : ORION
3. Who once said "You wouldn't have won if we'd beaten you" : BERRA
4. Win every prize in : SWEEP
5. Green housewarming gift : FERN
6. Wordsworth wrote one on immortality : ODE
7. Crank up the amp to 11 and go wild : ROCKOUT
8. Name, as a successor : ANOINT
9. Essentially : PERSE
10. Many faculty members, in brief : PHDS
11. Stan who co-created Spider-Man : LEE
12. Presented perfectly : ERRORFREE
13. Courtroom periods : SESSIONS
14. Travels by car : MOTORS
15. Touchscreen array : ICONS
16. Document kept in a safe : DEED
17. Untrustworthy sort : RAT
18. Sort of : INASENSE
19. Shiny beetle disliked by fruit growers : FIGEATER
20. You should avoid feeding on them : FASTDAYS
28. Food & Wine and Field & Stream : MAGS
31. Rock musician with a knighthood : BONO
32. Deadbeat student at TV's Highland High : BEAVIS
33. "The Lady Is a Tramp" lyricist : HART
34. Stephen King novel with a misspelling in the title : PETSEMATARY
35. Like some tires : BELTED
36. Shade in the woods : FORESTGREEN
37. Steve who co-created Spider-Man : DITKO
38. Absorbed : ENRAPT
39. Express : STATED
40. Muddling through : COPING
41. Wearers of white hats : LAWMEN
42. Sphere : DOMAIN
44. Game featured in 2006's "Casino Royale" : HOLDEM
45. Department of Buildings issuance : PERMIT
47. Became inseparable : BONDED
48. Selling point? : MARKET
50. Companies that need help : HIRERS
51. Didn't bid : PASSED
52. Ancient Mexicas, e.g. : AZTECS
53. Sister of Tiffany : IVANKA
54. It may be open for business : LAPTOP
56. Unkind, as criticism : BARBED
57. German-Swiss author who won the 1946 Nobel in Literature : HESSE
59. Safer of "60 Minutes" : MORLEY
61. Satine's profession in "Moulin Rouge!" : COURTESAN
63. Copper wheels? : RADIOCAR
64. Torch carrier's announcement : IMINLOVE
65. Julius Caesar's first wife : CORNELIA
66. Calls from quarterbacks : HUTS
67. Its shell doesn't crack : SOFTTACO
68. U.S. Naval Academy mascot : GOAT
70. Small jumper : FLEA
71. Show's earnings : GROSSES
73. James of TV's "How the West Was Won" : ARNESS
74. Field with lots of growth? : BOTANY
76. Pan resistant to aging : PETER
77. Ars ___ (anagram of "anagrams," aptly) : MAGNA
78. Slaloming spot : SLOPE
79. Ford Mustang, for one : COUPE
80. Valuable possession : ASSET
81. Round units? : BEERS
83. Stuff : SATE
84. What an essay presents : VIEW
85. Her 2018 album "Dancing Queen" consists entirely of Abba covers : CHER
87. Break : GAP
89. Word spoken while waving : BYE
90. Well-chosen : APT

Answer summary: 13 unique to this puzzle, 2 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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