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New York Times, Friday, March 11, 2016

Author:
Martin Ashwood-Smith
Editor:
Will Shortz
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Martin Ashwood-Smith

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 64, Blocks: 34 Missing: {JQ} Spans: 5, (2 double stacks) This is puzzle # 81 for Mr. Ashwood-Smith. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Martin Ashwood-Smith notes:
The seeds for this puzzle were planted some nine months ago, based on the following rationale. It's well known that 15-letter answer ... read more

The seeds for this puzzle were planted some nine months ago, based on the following rationale. It's well known that 15-letter answer words (or phrases) are very common in daily-sized 15x15 crosswords. In themed puzzles, they are easier for constructors to work with than slightly shorter words of length 13 or 14. Alternatively, stacked arrangements of grid-spanning 15's can have an impressive appearance in unthemed crosswords. Unfortunately, quite a few of the 15s found in such puzzles suffer from from overuse.

It occurred to me that a richer and more varied assortment of entries could become available by drawing on somewhat shorter words of length 12 and 13, and set out to find five longish answer words that could be stacked "stair-style" through the center of a themeless grid. It took a steady 4 or 5 months of experimentation to come up with a grid that I liked enough to show Will. His response to the overall idea was enthusiastic, but he pointed out several specific long words that he felt were too rare to be usable.

Thus, an additional 4 months were required to develop the final grid that you see today. I would like to thank Martin Herbach and George Barany for helpful feedback and encouragement throughout the process. Surprisingly, Will scheduled the publication for a mere month after its acceptance. Happy solving!

Jeff Chen notes:
I appreciate MAS's effort to branch out from his usual triple-stack fare today. In many ways, a giant parallelogram(ish) block of ... read more

I appreciate MAS's effort to branch out from his usual triple-stack fare today. In many ways, a giant parallelogram(ish) block of white space in the middle of today's grid is more impressive than a triple-stack. I mean, five 12+ letter entries atop each other — that's crazy hard to do! Many themeless builders use a similar "stairstack" center, but people usually do it with just three long entries.

If you ever want to see Jim Horne riled up, compare the THREE STOOGES to the Marx Brothers

And what great entries! TAKE FOR A FOOL, BARITONE SAXES, MOUNTAIN BIKER, THREE STOOGES are beautiful. FEMININE WILES is definitely in the language, but it did make me hesitate, as it has an old-timey, patriarchical feel to it. I'm not sure I like it given the connotations it carries, but no doubt it's a genuine phrase.

Speaking of genuine, though … I had ???BOTTLE and wished so badly that it wasn't going to be the arbitrary ONE BOTTLE, which the clue seemed to be aiming for. MAS asked me last time if I thought THREE TENS, a similar sort of entry, was bad enough to warrant scrapping the stacked entries. My answer: yes, since we've seen a lot of quad stacks by now.

Today's puzzle is a little different, in that the center section is pretty innovative. Still, ONE BOTTLE ... ugh.

TAB BENOIT is a different story for me. I used to listen to a lot of blues guitarists, and although TAB BENOIT was not familiar to me, I think he's passable for a crossword in a non-featured spot. I don't personally find him to be crossworthy — tough to ask solvers to reach into the depths of a genre — but I think if he makes an incredible grid work, then I give him the thumbs-up.

As with many uber-wide-open grids, there was too much crossword glue for my taste — I personally would have preferred two fewer long entries at the top and bottom in exchange for less of ARMEE, TERNE, SCIS, ECOL, CTN, AS YE, etc.— but overall, I like it when constructors reach out for new territory.

Jim Horne notes:

"Head Stone" (41 Down) made me laugh.

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© 2016, The New York TimesNo. 0311 ( 24,230 )
Across
1. Phylicia of stage and screen : RASHAD
7. Reduce to tears? : LACERATE
15. Some highway conveniences : EZPASSTOLLLANES
17. Unwelcome war report : HEAVYCASUALTIES
18. French force : ARMEE
19. Back tracks? : BSIDES
20. ___-relief : BAS
21. Blood letters : ABO
22. Green org.? : PGA
25. Deem to be dumb : TAKEFORAFOOL
31. Quaint means of manipulation : FEMININEWILES
32. Common instruments in jazz combos : BARITONESAXES
33. Cyclist in peak condition? : MOUNTAINBIKER
34. Fine source of humor, with "the"? : THREESTOOGES
35. This was once "art" : ARE
36. U.P.S. unit: Abbr. : CTN
37. It may come with a price to pay : TAG
40. Cousin of a frittata : OMELET
44. Major tributary of the Missouri : OSAGE
46. Tamarack trees : AMERICANLARCHES
50. Didn't stand firm in negotiations : MADECONCESSIONS
51. "Fish Magic" artist : PAULKLEE
52. Get beaten by : LOSETO
Down
1. Aid for clean living : REHAB
2. Hyundai luxury sedan : AZERA
3. Blasts inboxes : SPAMS
4. Billionaire, for one : HAVE
5. "___ sow ..." : ASYE
6. Award since W.W. I : DSC
7. Outcome in Eden : LOSSOFINNOCENCE
8. His: Fr. : ALUI
9. Dressed : CLAD
10. Glamour rival : ELLE
11. Bad singers? : RATS
12. "Star Wars" saga nickname : ANI
13. Driver's aid : TEE
14. What makes a top stop? : ESS
16. Grammy-nominated blues guitarist in the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame : TABBENOIT
21. Husky cousins : AKITAS
22. Punt propeller, e.g. : POLER
23. Says, informally : GOES
24. ___ Toy Barn ("Toy Story 2" locale) : ALS
25. Alloy of tin and lead : TERNE
26. Just slightly : AMITE
27. Order to a sommelier, maybe : ONEBOTTLE
28. Bow out : RESIGN
29. Not out, but not necessarily up : AWAKE
30. Doctors : FIXES
31. Debussy contemporary : FAURE
32. 1922 Physics Nobelist : BOHR
33. 1959 Kingston Trio hit : MTA
37. Explorer alternative : TAHOE
38. Star seeker? : AGENT
39. Canvas primer : GESSO
40. City northeast of Kiev : OREL
41. Head Stone : MICK
42. Biol. branch : ECOL
43. The New Yorker film critic Anthony : LANE
44. +/- : ORSO
45. Biol. and others : SCIS
46. Concert piece : AMP
47. Kid's cry : MAA
48. College final? : EDU
49. It's sometimes shown in the corner of a TV screen, for short : ASL

Answer summary: 9 unique to this puzzle, 1 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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