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New York Times, Friday, May 16, 2014

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

This puzzle:

Rows: 16, Columns: 15 Words: 71, Blocks: 40 Missing: {JQ} Spans: 4, (1 quad stack) This is puzzle # 75 for Mr. Ashwood-Smith. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Martin Ashwood-Smith notes: A noted crossword blogger wrote recently that quadstack (15s) crosswords had officially become my 'shtick'. And you know ... more
Martin Ashwood-Smith notes: A noted crossword blogger wrote recently that quadstack (15s) crosswords had officially become my "shtick". And you know what? He's right... especially regarding my NYT contributions over the last couple of years.

Anyhow, today's puzzle almost never left the drawing board. Here's why. I'll start with a mini recap:

Solvers who've read my recent write ups, will probably be aware that quadstacks crosswords (at least for me, and as far as I'm aware, Joe Krozel too) are not constructed in the same way most other themeless crosswords are. So far, with every quadstack puzzle I've constructed, the stacks have always been assembled (for want of a better word) first. Then, any stacks that look like they may have potential, get moved on to the second stage: designing a custom grid that can fit symmetrically around the stacks.

However, this set of quadstacks featured a potential puzzle-killer: one of the 15-letter words "A TEENAGER IN LOVE", had been singled out by both blogger Amy Reynaldo and master constructor Patrick Berry (in his wonderful book "Crosswords for Dummies") as an example of a 15 that had been overused in stacked-fifteen style puzzles. Although I'd never used it in any of my NYT puzzles before, I shelved the offending stacks for a while, and got on with other projects.

Several months later, I decided to take a second look, because my "spidey" sense told me that this particular stack looked like it could work with practically no obscure crossers. It turned out that my "spidey" sense was right and the resulting grid was particularly clean. I mean how can you not like a quads with KITTEN CHOW running through them? Therefore I decided that the cleanness of the fill overrode yuckiness of the one overused 15.

Also couple of pluses this puzzle has that helped tip the scales from "shelve" to "send":

  1. Only three 4-letter words cross the stacks (as opposed to the usual gazillion), and ...
  2. it has none of those dreaded "ONES" 15s. You know, such as "SORT ONES ONES OUT" ("Do a cashier's job, maybe") ... OK I made that one up ;)

Also, for those readers who are still awake, you might be interested in an alternate grid I sent Will with two fewer cheater (black) squares. Which grid do you prefer?

Jeff Chen notes: I enjoy the variety, every so often getting a wide-open grid like this. Eye-catching to see so much white space — makes for a ... more
Jeff Chen notes: I enjoy the variety, every so often getting a wide-open grid like this. Eye-catching to see so much white space — makes for a very neat first impression. A friend of mine (a daily NYT/LAT solver) works at the coffee shop where I write every day, and he mentioned that these types of themeless puzzles are astounding (typically he can't quite finish them, but he enjoys the visual of it all). As Will once mentioned, I wouldn't want to have one of these mega-stacks every week, but once in a while it's a great change of pace.

Making a mega-stack amenable to crossword integration is hard enough in itself — coming up with three (or in this case, four = way harder) grid-spanners which work well enough together to produce clean crossings is very tough. I've tried my hand at it a few times now, just to see how difficult it is, and it's... well, difficult. Every time I think I have something in place, one single crossing will jut out with a strange letter pattern. When I eventually publish a famous book, the main character's name is going to be TKLED.

One aspect I appreciate about MAS's work is that these days, he pushes the envelope past "only" triple and quad stacks. The earliest of the triple-stacks tended to be extremely focused, in that besides the stack(s), there wasn't much else to spruce up the grid. Here's an example from the early days, by... any guesses? Note the differences between this one and today's. Night and day when it comes to the long fill outside the stacks. I really appreciate how MAS integrates MOLTEN LAVA and KITTEN CHOW straight through the quad-stack, and then tosses in LET IT BLEED, LAST HURRAH, ENTRANCE FEES, COAST TO COAST on the periphery. Snappy stuff.

In terms of the usual glue holding together a mega-stack, today's offering is pretty good. A RING is the awkward five-letter partial that jumped out at me, but it's impressive how clean the rest of the crossings are. Well done! So important to choose the right grid-spanners. Speaking of that...

Glad that MAS commented on A TEENAGER IN LOVE already so I don't have to. I've gone back and listened to the song a few times now, and its excessive use in triple stacks... well, I need not say any more. It sure has a nice pattern of semi-alternating consonant-vowel (repeat), so it's understandable. A heavy price to pay, especially since it's been the source of much derision (along with A LOT ON ONES PLATE), but one I thought was reasonable given how much goodness it allowed for.

My favorite clue was [Stream on the side of a mountain, perhaps] which I was convinced would be something esoteric like RILLET. Beautiful misdirection; a stream of MOLTEN LAVA, not water. And finally, one clue that I really liked and didn't want people to miss out on. A HOSTILE TAKEOVER indeed often results in changes across the board, but also often results in changes across the Board (of Directors). A witty double-meaning that tickled me.

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© 2014, The New York TimesNo. 0516 ( 23,565 )
Across Down
1. Director in "A Chorus Line" : ZACH
5. Pistol packer in a 1943 #1 hit : MAMA
9. Make eyes pop and jaws drop : AMAZE
14. Paradoxical assertion, perhaps : ILIE
15. Writer of the 644-line poem "Ibis" : OVID
16. Stage : PUTON
17. Seasonal servings : NOGS
18. 1969 Rolling Stones album : LETITBLEED
20. Like some long flights : COASTTOCOAST
22. Part of une fraternité : FRERE
23. He called the U.S. pres. a "glorified public relations man" : HST
24. Abbr. on some clothing tags : IRR
27. Part of a filled-out survey: Abbr. : ANS
29. Admiral who bombarded Tahiti in 1914 : SPEE
30. It often results in changes across the board : HOSTILETAKEOVER
38. 1959 hit with the lyric "One day I feel so happy, next day I feel so sad" : ATEENAGERINLOVE
39. At any price : WHATEVERITTAKES
40. Not meant for specialists : GENERALINTEREST
41. Some Blu-ray players : RCAS
42. First of 66 books: Abbr. : GEN
43. Fix : SET
44. Couch problem : SAG
47. March Madness, with "the" : NCAAS
51. Charges at the door : ENTRANCEFEES
55. Swan song : LASTHURRAH
58. "Who ___?" : ISNT
59. Emmy-winning Ed : ASNER
60. The "O" in F. A. O. Schwarz : OTTO
61. Looking up : ROSY
62. Nelson Mandela's mother tongue : XHOSA
63. Sound heard during a heat wave : WHEW
64. Event with touches : EPEE
1. Corrosion-preventing coating : ZINC
2. Not very affable : ALOOF
3. With 56-Down, refuse to be cleaned out from a poker game? : CIGAR
4. Literature Nobelist before Gide : HESSE
5. Stream on the side of a mountain, perhaps : MOLTENLAVA
6. Car name that's Latin for "desire" : AVEO
7. McConnell of the Senate : MITCH
8. "Peace out" : ADIOS
9. Black-and-white transmissions, briefly? : APBS
10. Like most brain neurons : MULTIPOLAR
11. Had a beef? : ATE
12. Actress Kazan or Kravitz : ZOE
13. One may get a pass : END
19. Picture on a chest, for short? : TAT
21. They often spot people : TRAINERS
25. Withdraw : REVOKE
26. Minor parish officers : REEVES
28. Jason of "How I Met Your Mother" : SEGEL
29. Five to nine, maybe, but not nine to five : SENTENCE
30. Big bass, in fishing lingo : HAWG
31. Ones remaining : OTHERS
32. Activity that proceeds hand to hand? : SEANCE
33. Heart-to-hearts : TETEATETES
34. ___ Jon (fashion label) : TERI
35. "Give me ___" : ARING
36. Product for young string players? : KITTENCHOW
37. Ones remaining : REST
44. Good name for a worrywart? : STU
45. Achilles' undoing : ARROW
46. Wayne's pal in "Wayne's World" : GARTH
48. Extremely excited : AFIRE
49. Ancient master of didacticism : AESOP
50. Pick up : SENSE
52. Drag racers' governing grp. : NHRA
53. ___ Grey, alter ego of Marvel's X-Man : NATE
54. Extraocular annoyance : STYE
55. Like some oversight : LAX
56. See 3-Down : ASH
57. ___-cone : SNO

Answer summary: 5 unique to this puzzle, 1 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

Found bugs or have suggestions?