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New York Times, Saturday, February 22, 2014

Author:
Evan Birnholz
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
810/3/201310/23/20150
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0001124
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.69100
Evan Birnholz

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 72, Blocks: 27 Missing: {FQZ} This is puzzle # 2 for Mr. Birnholz. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Evan Birnholz notes:
It's probably a blessing and a curse to have to follow Patrick Berry, but someone has to do it, so today it might as well be me. I ... read more

It's probably a blessing and a curse to have to follow Patrick Berry, but someone has to do it, so today it might as well be me.

I wrote this puzzle in March 2013 and it was just my fourth attempt at a themeless grid. At the time I hadn't been having much success with themed puzzles, so I turned to themeless construction. Now, I enjoy creating themeless grids the most since they give you the freedom to experiment with fresh, fun phrases in a way that themed puzzles don't.

DOMINATRIX was my seed entry and I built upwards. I like many of the long phrases I got in there, but this puzzle shows my impatience to submit it since it has more short, less-than-stellar entries than I would normally prefer today (things like RESOW, AREAR, SALMI, DE ORO, I SHOT, and SNEE). If I could rework the grid now I might try putting DOMINATRIX in a different position just to see if the fill would be cleaner. It's probably a little strange seeing her on the bottom rather than on top, no?

The gentleman whose puzzle will appear in tomorrow's Sunday Times (Victor Fleming) was my mentor on themeless construction. He was critical of my first couple of attempts, but his criticism ended up helping me a lot. It gave me the focus to keep striving to create the best grid possible. So while I have my own qualms about this puzzle, I still think it's good, and my themeless grids have gotten progressively better since I made it.

I'd also like to take a second to plug my brand new, independent crossword website Devil Cross. I release a new puzzle every other Saturday, and though I ran one last week, I decided to drop a new one on Friday, and it's a contest puzzle! (Fair warning: Devil Cross puzzles may contain some R-rated language that you won't see in a Times puzzle)

Jeff Chen notes:
One great thing about Evan is the raw enthusiasm he brings to the crossword game. Everyone is excited about their debut, but the ... read more

One great thing about Evan is the raw enthusiasm he brings to the crossword game. Everyone is excited about their debut, but the energy he brought to his NYT debut was above and beyond, totally infectious.

And now he debuts a NYT themeless! A traditional 72-word puzzle with four triple-stacks of 10's (one in each corner), this one features some beautiful entries. My favorite was actually one of the shorter ones, SHOW DOG, especially given its neat clue, "Well-trained boxer, maybe." I think I've been doing crosswords too long, because my first instinct was to fill the last two letters in with ER, thinking it would be PUNCHER or POUNDER or something. Great surprise to find out I had been bamboozled.

The themeless game is so much harder these days, given how many people are submitting to Will (I understand he gets proportionally many more themelesses than other types). In just a few years, the expectations have risen quite a bit, as everyone has upped their games. Having a small handful of ERNS, RESOW, DE ORO, I SHOT, etc. used to be the norm a few years ago, even desirable given the lesser state of the art back then.

But these days, it seems to me like there are more and more sparkly themeless puzzles with virtually no crosswordese. I do really like the raw amount of nice stuff Evan has in the puzzle, but for a 72-worder, I would hope for slightly less of the usual crosswordy suspects. I really appreciate his sentiments in his Constructor's Note — it's great to observe when a constructor humbly acknowledges he's working on his game. Looking forward to see how his career blossoms; I think we'll see greatness.

Finally, as with most Saturdays, the tricky wordplay clues make me smile. My favorite is "High spirits?", repurposing a common phrase to perfectly describe ARCHANGELS. A really good workout today; congrats on a very nice themeless debut, Evan!

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© 2014, The New York TimesNo. 0222 ( 23,482 )
Across
1
Ones who think things are good as gold? : ALCHEMISTS
11
Like metals used by 1-Across : BASE
15
Feared sight on the Spanish Main : PIRATESHIP
16
Obama's favorite character on "The Wire" : OMAR
17
Like some parents : STAYATHOME
18
Big long-distance carrier? : SEMI
19
Coastal fish consumers : ERNS
20
Much may follow it : HOW
21
Composer of the opera "Rusalka" : DVORAK
23
Deal with : SEETO
25
People might pass for them, for short : TDS
27
High line in the Middle East : EMIRS
28
Small cell : AAA
30
Brand of body washes : OLAY
32
Grp. with the Office of Iraq Analysis : CIA
33
Art that uses curse words? : BLACKMAGIC
37
Volt-ampere : WATT
38
Takes the plunge : RISKSIT
39
Peak transmission setting of old? : MTSINAI
41
Declines, with "out" : OPTS
42
Fall apart : COMEUNDONE
44
Score abbr. : ARR
45
First name of Woodstock's last performer : JIMI
46
Split second? : PEE
47
Golden, in Granada : DEORO
49
Hit with skits, for short : SNL
51
Get off the drive, say : ERASE
55
No-gooder : BADEGG
57
2012 baseball All-Star Kinsler : IAN
59
Some plans for the future, briefly : IRAS
60
Rackets : ADOS
61
High spirits? : ARCHANGELS
64
Land capturer, in literature : NEMO
65
"Bummer" : WHATASHAME
66
Tied : DREW
67
Whip wielder : DOMINATRIX
Down
1
Vaulted areas : APSES
2
Tall order at a British pub : LITRE
3
Big picker-upper? : CRANE
4
Frequent Monet subjects : HAYSTACKS
5
Projection in the air, for short : ETA
6
Kind of bust : METH
7
"___ a man in Reno" ("Folsom Prison Blues" lyric) : ISHOT
8
Well-trained boxer, maybe : SHOWDOG
9
Punk rocker Armstrong with a 2012 Grammy : TIM
10
Reached 100, say : SPED
11
Near to one's heart : BOSOM
12
First drink ever ordered by James Bond : AMERICANO
13
Do-gooder : SAMARITAN
14
Composer called a "gymnopédiste" : ERIKSATIE
22
Woe, in Yiddish : VEY
24
Symbols of might : OAKS
26
Scuzz : SLIME
29
Facebook connections in Florence? : AMICI
31
Start sputtering, say : ACTUP
33
Aid in fast networking : BROADBAND
34
One getting messages by word of mouth? : LIPREADER
35
Site of the 1992 Republican National Convention : ASTRODOME
36
Very small (and very important) matter : ATOMS
37
Like some missed field goals : WIDERIGHT
40
Weapon in "The Mikado" : SNEE
43
Telejournalist's item : MINICAM
45
Part of many a training regimen : JOG
48
Plant in subsequent seasons : RESOW
50
"Swing Shift" Oscar nominee : LAHTI
52
In the back : AREAR
53
Game stew : SALMI
54
Locale of London Stansted Airport : ESSEX
56
"Good ___ A'mighty!" : GAWD
58
Side in an Indian restaurant : NAAN
62
Certain sorority chapter : RHO
63
Tapping grp. : NSA

Answer summary: 4 unique to this puzzle, 2 debuted here and reused later, 2 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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