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New York Times, Friday, June 1, 2018

Author:
Andrew J. Ries
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
168/13/20073/31/20190
SunMonTueWedThuFriSatVariety
31111432
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.56020
Andrew Ries

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 68, Blocks: 36 Missing: {JKQWZ} Spans: 1 This is puzzle # 9 for Mr. Ries. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Andrew Ries notes:
7-Down was the first entry in this grid, and then I built the central stack of 11s around the long crosser. This is a common approach ... read more

7-Down was the first entry in this grid, and then I built the central stack of 11s around the long crosser. This is a common approach I have when writing these stagger-stack freestyles. Other than the central stack, I don't work with a pre-set grid design; the grid will gradually build around the stack based on what I can do with the crossings. This organic approach to grid design is one of the more compelling aspects of writing freestyles from the center outward. Here the unplanned bonuses are the two additional long downs that flank TEACHABLE MOMENT.

There are drawbacks of working the grid design as you go, however, and this grid is a good example. The corners here are too dry, especially that southeast corner. The main reason for this is the glut of 3-letter words. In general, I don't think sixteen 3s is "too many" for a freestyle, but it can become tedious for the solver when every corner of the grid is so heavily reliant on 3s. What's more, bland entries like IMITATING and TSARINAS take up such valuable grid real estate, and don't add any sparkle to offset the surplus of short stuff.

If I were writing this puzzle today, I'd like to see if upping the word count to 70 would improve this situation. Specifically, I'd like to see if adding a block at the P of ICEPALACE (and its symmetrical partner) would make for a better overall fill, or at least allow for a grid design that opens up the corners a bit. It's possible that I tried these things and hit a dead end — I counted over 90 .puz files I've written since I wrote this last year, so apologies for my fuzzy memories of this one.

It's frustrating to revisit old work that doesn't quite meet your current standards, as is the case here. I do hope, however, that there is enough here for solvers to enjoy, and thanks as always to the editing team for making the clues better.

Jeff Chen notes:
Andrew creates a lot of indie puzzles, making 'stair stack' arrangements one of his calling cards. I really like this puzzle's stair ... read more

Andrew creates a lot of indie puzzles, making "stair stack" arrangements one of his calling cards. I really like this puzzle's stair stack, CEREAL BOXES / YOU CALLED IT / SPIDEY SENSE a great triple. CEREAL BOXES is already pretty good by itself, but getting a delightful wordplay clue – [Life preservers?], playing on Life cereal – makes it even better.

Stair stacks usually have a couple of long answers running through them, but it's unusual to get a grid-spanner right down the middle. TEACHABLE MOMENT makes that stair stack even better. Weave in PINA COLADA and HOLY SPIRIT – along with PTEROSAUR and COUSIN ITT – and that's a great center of the puzzle.

I also enjoyed some of the other entries, like GO TIME and PRECALC. However, the featured center took up so much real estate that Andrew was forced to use so many short answers in the periphery of the grid.

Three-letter words ... yeah, 16 is definitely high for a themeless. It's not a problem in its own right, but having them concentrated in the four corners gave the puzzle a choppy feel. Jumping from ORD to PTL to SCH to SAS to SEN messed with my solving feng shui.

Some potential left on the table, too. ICE PALACES is a great use of a precious long slot. But ADDERLEY is okay, but not flashy. Similarly, TSARINAS, ELENORE, IMITATING. Glad to see that Andrew and I agreed on this.

Beautiful center of the puzzle. If the periphery had matched in quality, this could have been a POW! contender.

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© 2018, The New York TimesNo. 0601 ( 25,042 )

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Across
1
Résumé datum, for short : GPA
4
Shaggy do : MOPTOP
10
Grill bit : ASH
13
Former fort named for a Union general : ORD
14
Gets situated : ORIENTS
16
Crowd noise : BOO
17
Producer of 18-minute talks : TED
18
Handcuff : MANACLE
19
___ Chernow, biographer whose "Alexander Hamilton" inspired "Hamilton" : RON
20
Winter carnival spectacle : ICEPALACE
22
Sharp : ACUTE
24
Emporium : MART
25
Athletic conference member: Abbr. : SCH
26
Something hoisted in celebration : TROPHY
27
"Oklahoma!" aunt : ELLER
29
Hanauma Bay locale : OAHU
31
Natives for whom a state is named : UTES
32
Life preservers? : CEREALBOXES
35
"Spot-on prediction!" : YOUCALLEDIT
37
Intuition, jocularly : SPIDEYSENSE
39
Prime rater, for short : USDA
42
Blocks off : DAMS
43
"The Ascent of Money" historian Ferguson : NIALL
45
Health care coverage providers? : SCRUBS
47
Black ___ : OPS
49
Mango or persimmon : TREE
50
Smartphone setting : ALARM
51
Skill of many "S.N.L." cast members : IMITATING
53
Masterpiece : GEM
54
Proposed : OFFERED
56
Academy recognition, informally : NOM
57
#MeToo ___ : ERA
58
Be intriguing? : CONNIVE
59
What the French "es," "sont" and "sommes" all mean : ARE
60
European carrier : SAS
61
No-good : ROTTEN
62
Booker's title: Abbr. : SEN
Down
1
Crucial hour, informally : GOTIME
2
Course introducing functions and limits, for short : PRECALC
3
Hall-of-Fame cornerback Herb : ADDERLEY
4
Home of Dalí's "The Persistence of Memory," informally : MOMA
5
They're all talk : ORALS
6
Poolside drink : PINACOLADA
7
Opportunity for a lesson that wasn't planned : TEACHABLEMOMENT
8
Without repeating : ONCE
9
Old TV's ___ Club : PTL
10
Sudden : ABRUPT
11
Give relief : SOOTHE
12
Dears : HONEYS
15
Put a quick crust on : SEAR
21
Extinct flying reptile : PTEROSAUR
23
Hirsute character on "The Addams Family" : COUSINITT
26
Ball togs : TUXES
28
Go back for more, in a way : REUP
30
One manifestation of God : HOLYSPIRIT
33
Counterparts of tannins, in wine tasting : ACIDS
34
"This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, / This other ___, demi-paradise": "Richard II" : EDEN
36
Bygone sovereigns : TSARINAS
38
Satirical 1968 hit for the Turtles : ELENORE
39
Some dictionary notes : USAGES
40
Eyeball cover : SCLERA
41
Netflix category : DRAMAS
44
Errand runners : LEGMEN
46
Interfraternity council pres., e.g. : BMOC
48
Madden of fashion : STEVE
51
"Otherwise ..." : IFNO
52
Arabian port : ADEN
55
Pro : FOR

Answer summary: 7 unique to this puzzle, 1 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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