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New York Times, Friday, March 6, 2015

Author: David Phillips
Editor: Will Shortz
David Phillips
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
207/24/20148/5/20171
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1021277
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1.57000

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 70, Blocks: 29 Missing: {JQV} This is puzzle # 5 for Mr. Phillips. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
David Phillips notes: Before submitting crosswords to the NYT and other venues, I tried filling a number of what I call 'practice grids' to ... more
David Phillips notes:

Before submitting crosswords to the NYT and other venues, I tried filling a number of what I call "practice grids" to empirically find the limits of my fill capabilities. Many of these practice grids still (rightly so) remain unclued and unsubmitted mostly because my early fill attempts were not up to par. Despite the "wasted" effort, this practice served as a valuable learning tool and helped form the foundation for one of my personal constructing mantras: YAHOO (which I'm using as the backronym You Always Have Other Options). A revision can be as simple as a cheater square or as involved as a total revamp; regardless of the way one finds it, great fill always waits for those resourceful enough to seek it out.

Today's puzzle, a revamp of one of my "practice grids," serves as a nice example of YAHOO. In my "practice grid," I tried to fill the black square pattern in this grid to mixed results. After some analysis, I felt that the fill was a bit heavy with proper names and crosswordese-y stuff, e.g. TARTE, O-CEL-O, NEN, LEONORE etc.; however, I did like the stack in the NE corner and used it as a starting point for another iteration. It was at this point that I added two symmetrical cheater squares to (1) help eliminate LEONORE and (2) segment the grid just a skosh to allow for a little more fill flexibility.

If the filled NW section, particularly GAHAN, NESS, and the dreaded EMAGS (inelegant in the singular and just plain awkward in the plural), of that iteration had not bugged me so much, you would have likely solved this second grid. However, even after submitting that version and receiving Will's acceptance email, I still tinkered with the NW until I eventually found the fill you see in the published version. Incidentally, this new NW, which contained the word ONES, also meant that I needed to scour for a new SE (since the SE section in the previous version had the entry ONE AM). Fortunately, because I was only dealing with triple 8 stacks, that section wasn't too difficult to rework.

Looking back, the SW section, in particular SML, ABOU, and MEDI, stands out as a slight sore thumb, but I hope my extra efforts in other parts of the puzzle still make for a delightful solve.

Lastly, in case you're curious, Will/Joel didn't really change many of the clues this time around. I counted at least forty clues that went completely unchanged and only eleven new clues that went in a totally different direction from my original submission. Not all of the unchanged clues are "originals," but I will gladly take credit for 15A, 16A, 17A, the 33A/12D combo, 37A, 4D, 14D, and 46D. However, IMO, Will/Joel take the cake with 25D's clue. Until next time, YAHOO(ooohoooh)!

Jeff Chen notes: Some beautiful clues today: [Upper cut?] is perfect for PRIME RIB, playing on 'upper' as 'higher quality.' TENURE is a form ... more
Jeff Chen notes:

Some beautiful clues today:

  • [Upper cut?] is perfect for PRIME RIB, playing on "upper" as "higher quality."
  • TENURE is a form of [Fire safety?], in that getting TENURE gives you keeps you from getting fired.
  • PET NAMES are indeed [Love handles?], when you think about "handles" as another word for "nicknames."
  • [Part of the Hollywood crowd?] had me stumped for the longest time. Perfect way to brighten up EXTRA, an otherwise neutral word.

It's rare that we get quite so much fun wordplay in a themeless. Much appreciated.

Beam me up a good deal, Scotty!

Construction involves so many trade-offs. The NW and SE regions run the risk of stranding the solver, since they both have just one way in. But it's precisely this quality that makes construction easier.

Take the SE, where the MUTT / TRESS region doesn't have to connect to anything above. That may seem like a minor issue, but it's not. If even one square opened above it (i.e. the black square between TOME and MEDAL were changed to a white square), the difficulty level goes up by a factor of maybe two. It's a tough call — as a constructor you want both 1.) the solver not to get stranded and 2.) the fill to be sparkly and clean. Those two goals are often diametrically opposed.

Given the difficulty level of having more wide-open sections with two ways in, it's easy to see why the SW region had some of the rockiest bits. It's a beautiful triple-stack (if only the PRICELINE Negotiator had been invoked) but having to connect to the rest of the puzzle in two directions forces ABOU up above and MEDI / SML below.

The difficulty level makes me really admire David's construction in the NE. Having to fill the triple stack of LIZ TAYLOR / ATARI CORP / SYCAMORES such that it connected around with both the EYE COLOR and the DOTARD regions is admirable. Excellent construction work.

1
A
2
F
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C
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O
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H
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K
12
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25
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D
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O
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W
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33
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34
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O
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35
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B
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36
N
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© 2015, The New York TimesNo. 0306 ( 23,859 )
Across Down
1. Colts' division, for short : AFCSOUTH
9. "Murder in the Kitchen" writer : TOKLAS
15. Dip for mozzarella sticks : MARINARA
16. "A cozy lie," per Susan Sontag : SANITY
17. Upper cut? : PRIMERIB
18. Paxil alternative : PROZAC
19. Line at a movie premiere, maybe : LIMOS
20. Fancy food container : TIN
22. Part of the Hollywood crowd? : EXTRA
23. FiveThirtyEight owner : ESPN
24. Senile sort : DOTARD
26. Fire starter? : AIM
27. Fire safety? : TENURE
28. Toy company acquired by Mattel in 1997 : TYCO
29. Urban phenomenon : SPRAWL
33. Violet, for 12-Down : EYECOLOR
35. Classic work of fiction that popularized the Three Laws : IROBOT
36. "That's enough!" : NOMORE
37. One unable to adapt : DINOSAUR
40. Squirts : TWERPS
41. Almond-ish hue : ECRU
42. Bistro orders : CREPES
44. Lead (out) : SEE
45. Be in harmony : CONCUR
46. Labradoodle, e.g. : MUTT
50. Budget alternative : ALAMO
52. In place : SET
53. King Julien of the "Madagascar" films, e.g. : LEMUR
54. Crosses in a zoo : LIGERS
56. "I'll see you then!" : ITSADATE
58. Garland of old : ANADEM
59. Love handles? : PETNAMES
60. First of the five stages of grief : DENIAL
61. Schwarzenegger movie with an oxymoronic title : TRUELIES
1. Enough : AMPLE
2. Actress Anna of "Mom" : FARIS
3. Form ringlets in : CRIMP
4. Bespectacled chipmunk : SIMON
5. Register space : ONES
6. Grp. once led by Nasser : UAR
7. Moon photographed by Voyager 2 in 1989 : TRITON
8. Regular : HABITUE
9. Unit of volume: Abbr. : TSP
10. Stroked : OARED
11. Washington's first secretary of war : KNOX
12. "Success is a great deodorant" speaker, informally : LIZTAYLOR
13. Onetime 2600 Jr. maker : ATARICORP
14. Divine trees in the "Book of the Dead" : SYCAMORES
21. Hardly : NARY
24. Fast-food chain with the slogan "Unfreshing believable" : DELTACO
25. Come again? : REENTER
27. Pairings : TWOS
28. "Personally ..." : TOME
29. Alternative to soup at a restaurant : SIDESALAD
30. Expedia competitor : PRICELINE
31. Former Air America radio host : RONREAGAN
32. "___ Ben Adhem" : ABOU
34. Daunts : COWS
38. Some Bronze Age artifacts : URNS
39. It often says "Thank You" : RECEIPT
43. It helps when you get down to the short strokes : PUTTER
45. Jazz fusion artist with an "Elektric Band" : COREA
46. It's an honor : MEDAL
47. Supposed "fifth taste" : UMAMI
48. Alexander the Great, to Aristotle : TUTEE
49. Lock : TRESS
51. Start to care? : MEDI
53. Bike ___ : LANE
55. Letters on some racks : SML
57. Bassist Cook of Creedence Clearwater Revival : STU

Answer summary: 2 unique to this puzzle.

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