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Puzzle of the Week

New York Times, Saturday, December 20, 2014

Author: Kevin G. Der and Ian Livengood
Editor: Will Shortz
Kevin G. Der
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
373/12/200712/25/20162
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
122124115
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.67865
Ian Livengood
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
554/12/20109/15/20164
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
617667112
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.64371

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 66, Blocks: 29 Missing: {JQVXZ} This is puzzle # 31 for Mr. Der. This is puzzle # 44 for Mr. Livengood. Jeff Chen's Puzzle of the Week pick NYT links: Across Lite PDF

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Constructor notes: KEVIN: Working with collaborators lately has been great fun. Ian's puzzle sense and high standards with skill to match are ... more
Constructor notes:

KEVIN:

Working with collaborators lately has been great fun. Ian's puzzle sense and high standards with skill to match are helpful assets when it comes to co-writing a themeless. We had originally guessed this grid would be run on a Friday.

Will's notes about the clue editing are fascinating. Receiving feedback this detailed is a somewhat uncommon opportunity, so for at least constructors it's just gold. When it comes to writing difficult clues, I've found it can be hard to grasp the difference between misdirection and vagueness, and a number of the comments indeed relate to clues deemed overly vague.

IAN:

Kevin is a rare triple threat in the game: fill, clues, themes. He's equally skilled with all of them. That's his awesome 1A answer/clue combo. So naturally it was a blast to collaborate.

Several marquee entries got scooped before this was published, so apologies if you've already seen entries like PALEO DIET and IPAD MINI in grids. Also, glad to see my clues for 30D (GEL) and 56A (HATE MAIL) made the cut!

Hope solvers like it!

Will Shortz notes: (Mr. Shortz's detailed notes are on a separate page.)
Jeff Chen notes: As a solver, I've come to fear the 64 and 66-word themeless. At 68 or 70 words, there's huge potential to cram a huge quantity of ... more
Jeff Chen notes: As a solver, I've come to fear the 64 and 66-word themeless. At 68 or 70 words, there's huge potential to cram a huge quantity of assets into a puzzle with not many liabilities. And grids with 62 words or fewer may not have as much in terms of spotlight entries, but they can look jaw-dropping, giving a tremendous visual impact with their wide-open tracts of white space. Too often, the middle ground means not enough assets, a slew of mostly neutral entries, and/or too many liabilities. So a puzzle like today's 66-worder packed full of assets and low on liabilities, is very welcome. Great feat of construction and a very enjoyable solve.

When I opened it up, I wondered how those NW and SE corners would turn out. Not many people attempt quad-stacked 8s, because they too often require pots of glue to hold them together. Kevin has done at least one before, and the experience shows, as both of those corners come out clean as a whistle. Better yet, the long answers are generally fresh and snappy, not at all the neutral types of entries I expected. POT FARMS, AFROBEAT, STARBASE, TENTACLE makes for quite a quartet.

The other corner is anchored by NET SALES, a bit dull since with its common letters, we see it quite often in themelesses. But otherwise, to get PRENATAL with its great clue, HATE MAIL, IPAD MINI with clean crossings is really impressive work.

Normally I'm not one who notices how Scrabbly a puzzle is. Patrick Berry quite often stays away from the Big Four (JQXZ), and his work is almost always standout. But he does usually pepper a grid with a few Vs or Ks to keep things interesting. With just one K, this puzzle did feel a bit "Wheel of Fortune" to me, leaning heavily on the RSTLN E.

Ulster coat

And there were a few entries that I didn't care for. UNO DUE TRE felt like a wasted slot, not nearly as in the language as UNO DOS TRES or UN DEUX TROIS, but of course I'm sure Italian speakers enjoyed seeing it. ULSTER was interesting to learn about — a type of coat worn by Holmes — but the clever clue was lost on me, as even after filling in the letters, it didn't make sense until I went to go look it up, and at that point I had forgotten what the clue was.

That's all nit-picking though, as my enjoyment level was really high. To get such a high quantity of assets and few liabilities in a 66-worder is an impressive feat. Along with Will's in-depth commentary of how he analyzed and edited the clues, it was a real joy from start to finish to post-game analysis.

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© 2014, The New York TimesNo. 1220 ( 23,783 )
Across Down
1. Where much grass grows : POTFARMS
9. Moolah : WAMPUM
15. Jazz/funk fusion genre : AFROBEAT
16. Creature with a crest : IGUANA
17. Enterprise headquarters : STARBASE
18. Tap : CALLON
19. Place for a sucker : TENTACLE
20. Faiths : CREEDS
21. Rosetta Stone symbol : ANKH
22. Betty's sister on "Ugly Betty" : HILDA
24. One ferried by Charon : SOUL
25. Plato portrayer in "Rebel Without a Cause" : MINEO
26. Org. seeking to catch 11-Down : DEA
27. Cork's place, maybe : POPGUN
31. Tameness : DOCILITY
35. In abundance : APLENTY
37. "Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme" playwright : MOLIERE
38. Positive response to "How ya doin'?" : REALGOOD
40. Sherlock Holmes cover-up? : ULSTER
41. Rugby four-pointer : TRY
42. Flying female fighters in W.W. II : WASPS
44. Orange side dish : YAMS
46. Hip, with "in" : CLUED
47. Lolcats, e.g. : MEME
51. Kind of bullet : TRACER
53. Before making one's debut? : PRENATAL
55. Photoshop command : ROTATE
56. Cross words? : HATEMAIL
57. Tip-offs, maybe : ALERTS
58. Nexus 7 rival : IPADMINI
59. "No doubt!" : YESYES
60. Important figure in business : NETSALES
1. Tagliatelle, e.g. : PASTA
2. A lot : OFTEN
3. One delivering a knockout, informally : TRANK
4. Into the open : FORTH
5. Ones repeating "I do" in 1976? : ABBA
6. Access, as a pocket : REACHINTO
7. Literary/film critic Janet : MASLIN
8. Girded : STEELED
9. Practice with the Book of Shadows : WICCA
10. Stabilizing kitchen supply : AGAR
11. See 26-Across : MULES
12. Faddish food regimen : PALEODIET
13. Italian count? : UNODUETRE
14. Murderer : MANSLAYER
23. Dr. ___ (archenemy of the Fantastic Four) : DOOM
25. ___ bean : MUNG
27. Caterer's preparation : PARTYTRAY
28. Figaro, e.g. : OPERAROLE
29. Ones with recess appointments? : PLAYMATES
30. What keeps a part apart? : GEL
32. Power outage? : COUPDETAT
33. Shangri-la's lack : ILLS
34. Symbol of purity, in Lille : LIS
36. Caterwaul : YOWL
39. Heir apparent to a French king : DAUPHIN
43. Wear for Clint Eastwood in "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" : SERAPE
45. Blood-curdling : SCARY
46. Garden ___ : CRESS
47. Her "little baby loves clambake," in a 1967 Elvis song : MAMMA
48. Cyber Monday activity : ETAIL
49. Home for Deer Isle and Moosehead Lake : MAINE
50. Dock ___, Pirate who claimed to have thrown a no-hitter on LSD : ELLIS
52. Novel's end? : ETTE
54. "___ Declassified" (old Nickelodeon show) : NEDS

Answer summary: 5 unique to this puzzle, 3 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

Found bugs or have suggestions?