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New York Times, Saturday, February 15, 2020

Author:
Randolph Ross
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
1145/12/19912/15/20200
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50103171825
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1.486002
Randolph Ross

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 62, Blocks: 24 Missing: {BJQZ} Average word length: 6.48 This is puzzle # 114 for Mr. Ross. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Randolph Ross notes:
As a solver I love themeless puzzles with wide-open spaces and lots of uncommon entries. There's something about filling in areas of ... read more

As a solver I love themeless puzzles with wide-open spaces and lots of uncommon entries. There's something about filling in areas of intersecting longish words and phrases, and there's an aesthetic appeal of using relatively few black squares in symmetric fields of white. I go all the way back to classic constructor Jack Luzatto for my inspiration for constructing wide-open grids. As a themeless constructor, I strive for wide-open spaces with some interesting fill and a minimum of junk. A 62-word puzzle, such as this one, presents a particular challenge to balance fresh entries, fresh clues, not too many names, and few overused words.

The design of this puzzle has four chunky sections connected in the middle with a slightly less dense section. Since all four corners fed into the center, that middle area was harder to fill with good entries than it might look. I am pleased that each of the five sections had some fresh entries. SUCK DRY and SIT SHIVA anchored the top left corner; HASHEESH, DRAMEDY, KEESHAN, ITS A DATE, RED SEA, VEINY were pretty good too. CHRISSIE was probably going to be the way into that area, and INHERED and ADE were not great, but worth it to finish that corner — the best part of the puzzle, in my opinion.

In the upper right, TAN LINES and PHONE SEX were fresh. I didn't love ACTA, SELENE so much. In the bottom left ALEVEL, OPIOIDS, OPEN TAP, NO SEATS, HAVE ONE and RAILED AT were better than average — there was no junk in that area. The bottom right featured FREE LOVE, HAT PINS, ATE A TON, WILD PIG, TO DO LIST, but at the cost of PELAGE, HEL, and the overused ASSESSES. The center produce THE SMURFS crossing REMAX — pretty good since they were the last entries created.

The clueing of this Saturday puzzle, which is supposed to be harder than the rest of the week, is a collaborative effort between editor and constructor. I'm happy that many of my clues made it, but I'm not surprised, nor offended, that a number of the clues were changed. I have found that good crossword editors, with their knowledge of clues that work and don't work, usually improve the puzzle. That doesn't mean I agree with all the changes, but I defer to Will's prowess as a clue maker and someone who knows better than anyone what the NY Times solver likes in their puzzles.

In many ways, creating a themeless looks like the most difficult puzzle to make — I don't think it is. For me, coming up with a creative, novel theme poses the biggest challenge and the most satisfying outcome. IMO, the art of puzzle-making is tougher than the craft.

Jeff Chen notes:
Randy and I have different construction philosophies. He often chooses to build audacious grids that are far from standard, wanting a ... read more

Randy and I have different construction philosophies. He often chooses to build audacious grids that are far from standard, wanting a personal challenge to make it worth his time. As a driven, goal-oriented constructor, I understand that notion. He usually accepts too many trade-offs, though, leaving some of his puzzles with a less-than-optimal solving experience.

On a related note, I get why some themeless constructors try to build ultra-low word-count grids, flying close to the sun with their black and white wings. A vast majority of the time, the product is at best a crazy Saturday workout, and at worst, a miserable slog of a solve.

Add these two factors together, and you can understand why I wasn't looking forward to jumping into this one.

Hugely surprised that I enjoyed it! No doubt, there are many of the usual compromises in this stunt themeless — overreliance on common letters (ASSESSESS, RAILED AT, etc.), odd forms (CHANTER, INHERED), oddballs (PELAGE, PARLOUR, LEVERETS) — but there wasn't nearly as much short glue (ACTA, TSPS, YDS) as I expected.

More importantly, it's tough to get strong color in a grid like this. THE SMURFS, FREE LOVE, HASHEESH, IT'S A DATE, PHONE SEX, RIPTIDES, SIT SHIVA, TAN LINES, TODO LIST, DRAMEDY, OPIODS — that's excellent usage of long slots.

A couple of fantastic clues, too. The RED SEA having a major "part" in the Bible. STEED as a "knight mare." ERASES repurposing "get the lead out" — that's pencil lead. I smiled so hard at these; so delightful.

I don't enjoy experiencing ultra-low-word-counters more than once in a blue moon, but this is the type I want. You'll almost always have some compromises, but today's juicy long answers more than made up for the necessary unpleasantness.

1
S
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U
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C
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K
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A
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P
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H
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S
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V
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Y
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E
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T
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A
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R
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M
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X
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T
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A
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H
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W
O
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F
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T
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H
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N
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L
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© 2020, The New York TimesNo. 0215 ( 25,666 )
Across
1
Drink every last drop from : SUCKDRY
8
Give a sop to, maybe : APPEASE
15
Was naturally a part of something : INHERED
16
Street protester or Tibetan monk : CHANTER
17
Duds : THREADS
18
Largest of the British Virgin Islands : TORTOLA
19
Bad vibrations : SEISMS
20
Things picked up on beaches : TANLINES
21
Pipe filler : HASHEESH
23
Epoch when modern mammals arose : EOCENE
24
"See you then" : ITSADATE
25
Soft leathers : SUEDES
26
Like bodybuilders' arms : VEINY
27
Fruity and fragrant compounds : ESTERS
29
Ending with many fruit names : ADE
30
Competitor of Century 21 : REMAX
31
Marijuana, in older slang : TEA
34
Be in charge of : HEADUP
36
Subjects of baseless charges? : AWOLS
38
Food that's cured : SALAMI
41
Dangers for swimmers : RIPTIDES
43
Benchmark test for British students : ALEVEL
44
1960s catchphrase : FREELOVE
45
Young hares : LEVERETS
47
Takes stock? : LADLES
48
21st-century health menace : OPIOIDS
49
Millinery items : HATPINS
50
Source of running water : OPENTAP
51
Chanel fragrance with a French name : EGOISTE
52
S.R.O. : NOSEATS
53
Units in a horse race : LENGTHS
Down
1
Mourn, in a way : SITSHIVA
2
Cold : UNHEATED
3
Hynde of the Pretenders : CHRISSIE
4
Bob of old children's TV : KEESHAN
5
Theater portmanteau : DRAMEDY
6
It had a major part in the Bible : REDSEA
7
N.F.L. stat: Abbr. : YDS
8
Official proceedings : ACTA
9
Call on a hot line? : PHONESEX
10
British sitting room : PARLOUR
11
Draws in : ENTICES
12
Made up (for) : ATONED
13
Sister of Helios : SELENE
14
Gets the lead out : ERASES
20
What are depicted in some blue prints? : THESMURFS
22
Knight mare? : STEED
28
Jungle herbivore : TAPIR
30
Chewed out : RAILEDAT
31
Personal agenda : TODOLIST
32
Desperate hour : ELEVENTH
33
Judges : ASSESSES
34
"Here, try this" : HAVEONE
35
Title for a retired professor : EMERITA
36
Had plateful after plateful : ATEATON
37
Animal hunted in "Lord of the Flies" : WILDPIG
38
Site of a western gunfight : SALOON
39
Third-largest city of the later Ottoman Empire, surpassed only by Constantinople and Cairo : ALEPPO
40
Duties : LEVIES
42
Fur : PELAGE
46
Cough syrup amts. : TSPS
49
Daughter of Loki, in Norse myth : HEL

Answer summary: 5 unique to this puzzle, 1 debuted here and reused later.

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