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New York Times, Friday, December 20, 2013

Author: Ian Livengood
Editor: Will Shortz
Ian Livengood
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1.64371
Puzzle of the Week

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 72, Blocks: 30 Missing: {FJX} This is puzzle # 33 for Mr. Livengood. Jeff Chen's Puzzle of the Week pick NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Ian Livengood notes: I tried something different on this one. Instead of seeding the puzzle with longer entries, I locked in quality 3- and 4-letter ... more
Ian Livengood notes: I tried something different on this one. Instead of seeding the puzzle with longer entries, I locked in quality 3- and 4-letter entries (ATE, ASH, MUD, EAR, etc.). This method ensures smooth shorter fill, and, if you work at it long enough, quality longer fill, too. If you fill 3x7 or 4x7 sections the other way around, it's too easy to fall in love with one or two great answers propped up by junk. So ... yeah. FILL. It's all about the fill.
Will Shortz notes: Ian was my assistant from fall 2010 through the spring of 2011. Over the years he's turned into a crackerjack constructor. Easy, ... more
Will Shortz notes: Ian was my assistant from fall 2010 through the spring of 2011. Over the years he's turned into a crackerjack constructor. Easy, medium, or hard — any difficulty level is fine for him. Superclean constructions, too. In this grid I like MAN CAVE, MUG SHOT, USO TOUR, CROPLAND, SAM ADAMS, HOT TUB, IT WORKS, YES MA'AM, GAS MASK, and ED HELMS. And that's just in the Acrosses!
Jeff Chen notes: Another beautiful construction from Ian, the first constructor to earn his second POW! during my iron-fisted regime of terror. Er, ... more
Jeff Chen notes: Another beautiful construction from Ian, the first constructor to earn his second POW! during my iron-fisted regime of terror. Er, happiness. Same difference. Almost all themeless puzzles require trade-offs, with snazzier entries or lower word counts coming at the price of ugly fill. Today's is a beauty, a huge amount of lively long fill and almost nothing by way of subpar answers. Almost Berryesque, I daresay. Sacrilege, I know!

When Ian sent his commentary, I thought at first he was joking. Start with the short stuff? And fill in the longer stuff from there? Ha, that's funny! And then I started to wonder ... is this madness, or genius? (Such a fine line.) And to my surprise, Ian said indeed, he was being serious, trying a new approach to minimize ugly short fill. Heck, if the long fill is so nice with such a minimal amount of dreck, maybe he's onto something.

The only hiccup I saw was in the SW corner, with VAYA/VARIG/AGITA. I had to look up the last two, and was glad I did, as they seem like pieces of information I ought to have in my knowledge base. I knew VAYA (con Dios) from spending way too much of my 20s steeped in King of the Hill episodes when I could have actually been doing something useful (like watching Simpsons episodes). If a solver hadn't been exposed to KotH though, Dios help them in the VAYA/VARIG crossing.

One issue I had was it was over too quickly. Perhaps I'm simply on Ian's wavelength, but my solving experience flew by. I would have liked more wordplay clues like "Touch-type?" for BRAILLE (brilliant!), and it felt like too many clues were leaning too far into the straightforward side (SEATBACKS and LEATHER seem ripe for clever wordplay clues, for example). Oh well, if nothing else the variety in difficulty level is good. Great work from Ian today!

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© 2013, The New York TimesNo. 1220 ( 23,418 )
Across Down
1. Locale that often includes a wet bar and large-screen TV : MANCAVE
8. Picture with a number : MUGSHOT
15. Where it never gets above zero degrees? : EQUATOR
16. One going around the bases? : USOTOUR
17. Ends of some films : SUNSETS
18. Warm-up? : DETENTE
19. Greasy spoon order : HASH
20. Where a bud hangs out : EAR
22. Successfully lure : ROPEIN
23. Kind of figure : CARTOON
26. Highlighted, say : DYED
27. Toss : SCRAP
30. Mexican revolutionary of 1910 : ZAPATA
32. Moon of Mars : PHOBOS
34. Draft pick? : SAMADAMS
38. Electric ___ : EEL
39. Jacket option : LEATHER
41. "___ bad!" : NOT
42. Much of the Plains States : CROPLAND
44. Palliate : SOOTHE
46. Staple of the house in "The Real World" : HOTTUB
48. Still : INERT
49. "___ con Dios" : VAYA
52. Transport for Miss Gulch, in "The Wizard of Oz" : BICYCLE
54. What a chair needs : AGENDA
56. Hawaiian for "white" : KEA
57. PC whiz : TECH
61. Controversial 1715 measure of Parliament : RIOTACT
63. Touch-type? : BRAILLE
65. Infomercial testimonial : ITWORKS
66. Reply to a schoolmistress : YESMAAM
67. It clears the air : GASMASK
68. "The Hangover" co-star : EDHELMS
1. Go well (with) : MESH
2. Soft shade : AQUA
3. "The Sound of Music" chorus : NUNS
4. TV game show on the Discovery Channel, 2005-12 : CASHCAB
5. Loved, with "up" : ATE
6. Person behind a curtain, maybe : VOTER
7. Unreal : ERSATZ
8. Joe : MUD
9. Handles online : USERNAMES
10. Attend : GOTO
11. Edward Murdstone, to David Copperfield : STEPDAD
12. Sugar : HONEY
13. Certain belly button : OUTIE
14. What polling may reveal : TREND
21. Chinese restaurant staple : ROASTDUCK
24. ___ Belvedere (classic sculpture in the Vatican) : APOLLO
25. Great white shark prey : OPAH
27. Particular, informally : SPEC
28. "Clueless" protagonist : CHER
29. Hershey candy : ROLO
31. Distilled pine product : TAROIL
33. Places to find in-flight magazines : SEATBACKS
35. Advance on a table : ANTE
36. Actor Jay of "Jerry Maguire" : MOHR
37. Leave in : STET
40. Lock opener? : ANTI
43. Unreal : PHANTOM
45. Former : ONETIME
47. "So long" : BYEBYE
49. South American carrier founded in 1927 : VARIG
50. Heartburn : AGITA
51. Cries of pain : YEOWS
53. Nursed, with "for" : CARED
55. ___ Torres, four-time Olympic swimming gold medalist : DARA
58. Company that follows Shin Bet security procedures : ELAL
59. Tight-lipped sort : CLAM
60. Border lines? : HEMS
62. "Bad!" : TSK
64. Popular wood for wood chips : ASH

Answer summary: 2 unique to this puzzle, 3 debuted here and reused later, 1 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

Found bugs or have suggestions?