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New York Times, Saturday, November 5, 2016

Author:
David Phillips
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
207/24/20148/5/20171
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1021277
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1.57000
David Phillips

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 64, Blocks: 28 Missing: {JQZ} This is puzzle # 16 for Mr. Phillips. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
David Phillips notes:
From a constructing standpoint, I like this puzzle quite a bit. Even with its chunky corners and low word count, the puzzle (by my ... read more

From a constructing standpoint, I like this puzzle quite a bit. Even with its chunky corners and low word count, the puzzle (by my count) only has 3 objectively "bad" entries: ANTA (a relatively obscure org. at best), AHS (plural sounds/utterances = blech), and TIRO (second banana to Cicero = not famous enough IMO). I'm sure the more pessimistic among us might argue for COHERER's or TYNE's inclusion in that list, but those entries strike me as more neutral.

...which brings me to the aspect I dislike most about this puzzle: all of the neutral answers. As a solver, I'm not certain that I would like struggling with a Saturday NYT only to uncover swaths of ho-hum. Does the challenge of the wide-open grid make up for this? Will the few interesting long entries (as always, your mileage may vary, but I'm including STREET SMART [probably my fave clue in the whole puzzle...an-n-nd...my original clue stayed...hooray!], SHOPLIFT, SCABBARD, SHALL WE, and MEGATRON in this category) and some tough, (hopefully) entertaining clues be enough to provide a satisfying solve? I have a feeling the answer is "for some solvers, this challenge will do just fine; others (speed solvers maybe...?) will likely be bored."

At any rate, the grid pattern/filling challenges/puzzle solving experience will be new, which is something I strive for. Like Jeff, I also admire Patrick Berry's/others constructors' continued efforts to produce puzzles that do not fit the typical themeless cookie-cutter mold, and, thus, I make it a priority to attempt the same.

Hope you enjoyed the puzzle and notes. I'm anxious to gauge solvers' reactions to this one. Happy Guy Fawkes Day!

Jeff Chen notes:
I usually get nervous when I see a puzzle this wide open, wondering how many bizarre entries I'll have to figure out, including but ... read more

I usually get nervous when I see a puzzle this wide open, wondering how many bizarre entries I'll have to figure out, including but not limited to esoterica, words made up by adding RE- or -ER, and standard short crossword glue. What a huge relief to sail through this puzzle with not much of the aforementioned at all!

My favorite was the upper right, what with MEGATRON (leader of the evil Decepticons in "Transformers," and also the awesome nickname for former Detroit Lions WR Calvin Johnson) featured, plus STEPSONS and ICE CAP pretty good too.

And really just one gluey entry up there! SPINET is a perfectly legit musical instrument (a small piano, basically), but like David mentioned, TIRO is a toughie. I'm on the fence whether or not Cicero's longtime servant is crossworthy, but the other, much more common definition of TIRO [Newbie: Var.] makes for a clearly gluey answer.

The bottom right is a good example of the struggle to achieve both snazziness and cleanliness in these type of big corners. I really like how careful David was in avoiding any sort of glue — it's so hard to do in space like this. And STREET SMART was really nice. But nothing else was very notable — STRESSED, PRESERVE, PLANES, etc. are more neutral space-fillers to me than assets.

I did like that COHERER turned out to be all right. At first I wondered if it was one of those odd -ER words, but it does appear to be a real, albeit outdated, piece of radio technology. AMEN AMEN … I'm not a churchgoer, but do people really repeat the word in this fashion? Something more like AAA-MEN! feels more spot-on to me.

But overall, there were more good entries than I expected out of an ultra-low-word-count puzzle like this — the ones David mentioned, plus STARDATE and even FLAT RATE BOX — and very few of the ANTA (American National Theater and Academy) gluey bits. Pleasantly surprised.

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© 2016, The New York TimesNo. 1105 ( 24,469 )
Across
1. Take stock? : SHOPLIFT
9. Undergoes downsizing : SLIMS
14. By hand : MANUALLY
15. Small parlor piece : SPINET
16. Leave basically nothing to chance : OVERPLAN
17. Household : MENAGE
18. Walkman insert : CASSETTE
19. Martian feature : ICECAP
20. Support in a confessional : KNEELER
21. Caribbean island that Columbus visited in 1493 : STKITTS
22. Pollen repositories : SACS
23. Foamy drink : LATTE
25. Cicero's longtime servant and scribe : TIRO
26. ___ boy : ALTAR
27. English county whose seat is Exeter : DEVON
28. Flatten : SMUSH
32. Just make (out) : EKE
33. Breaking of a mirror and others : OMENS
34. Young studs? : COLTS
35. Slow-burning firewood : BEECH
37. Nonprofit Broadway production grp. : ANTA
38. TV character who said "Help always come when people fight for right" : TONTO
39. Raid target : PEST
43. Character in Uncle Remus tales : BRERFOX
45. Comment often preceding "Let's" : SHALLWE
47. Gail ___, inventor of condensed milk : BORDEN
48. Emphatic agreement : AMENAMEN
49. Start a bank, say : AVIATE
50. Other than the Nationals, only current Major League Baseball team never to have played in a World Series : MARINERS
51. Turned to anarchy : RIOTED
52. Conservationist's field? : PRESERVE
53. Has the gall : DARES
54. Under the gun : STRESSED
Down
1. Lab wear : SMOCKS
2. Premium cigar : HAVANA
3. "Hold it!" : ONESEC
4. Compact containers : PURSES
5. Big flap in the fashion industry : LAPEL
6. Threat from a rat : ILLTELL
7. U.S.P.S. option advertised with the slogan "If it fits, it ships" : FLATRATEBOX
8. Northumberland river : TYNE
9. Jot : SPECK
10. Entry in a legislative appropriations bill : LINEITEM
11. Idle : INACTIVE
12. Archenemy of Optimus Prime in "Transformers" movies : MEGATRON
13. Members of blended families : STEPSONS
15. Hit hard : SMITE
21. Not going by the book? : STREETSMART
24. Occupied : TAKEN
26. Sighs of relief : AHS
27. "Why did I do that?!" : DOH
28. Blade holder : SCABBARD
29. Only African capital named after a U.S. president : MONROVIA
30. Intentionally hidden : ULTERIOR
31. Enterprise standard : STARDATE
36. Device used to detect radio waves : COHERER
38. Not flabby : TONED
39. 2013 "Cars" spinoff : PLANES
40. Popular arts-and-crafts brand : ELMERS
41. Take a sudden turn : SWERVE
42. Prepared for impact : TENSED
44. Grand affairs : FETES
46. Black jellybean flavorer : ANISE
48. Hookups at a gig : AMPS

Answer summary: 4 unique to this puzzle, 2 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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