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New York Times, Friday, June 27, 2014

Author: Peter A. Collins
Editor: Will Shortz
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Peter A. Collins

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 70, Blocks: 30 Missing: {JQVX} Spans: 4 This is puzzle # 81 for Mr. Collins. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Peter A. Collins notes: About two years ago, in an email exchange with Amy 'The Crossword Fiend' Reynaldo, I mentioned that it was HOT AS BLUE BLAZES ... more
Peter A. Collins notes: About two years ago, in an email exchange with Amy "The Crossword Fiend" Reynaldo, I mentioned that it was HOT AS BLUE BLAZES that day in Ann Arbor. I then mentioned in the same email that that phrase would look good in a themeless puzzle. Shortly thereafter, I wrote this. Actually, this is version 2 — I needed to do a minor fix-up before it was officially accepted.

I often like to fool around with themeless grids while I wait for inspiration for a themed puzzle. Many of those themeless puzzles either fizzle out unfinished, or never get submitted even if I do finish them. And even if they do die on the vine, they're still valuable exercises in that they force me to increase my wordlist.

Jeff Chen notes: It's not easy making a themeless with multiple unstacked 15's. Often, the grid-spanners take over the entire grid and don't leave ... more
Jeff Chen notes: It's not easy making a themeless with multiple unstacked 15's. Often, the grid-spanners take over the entire grid and don't leave very much room for other good stuff. I like what Pete's done today, not only giving us four super-strong 15's, but finding a way to incorporate two 10's (STRIKE ZONE and BOOK RETURN) as well as a couple of 8's. Nice work.

It's a heck of a skeleton, for starters. It looks to me like Pete chose his favorite three grid-spanners, placed them into locations, and tried to see what might run through all three of them. BARON MUNCHAUSEN is a great one fitting those constraints! Having the flexibility to swap TAKE MY WORD FOR IT, DOUBLE ENTENDRES, and HOT AS BLUE BLAZES gave him the ability to move things around until he found a really nice central down entry.

And then those two tens. STRIKE ZONE and BOOK RETURN are both such great answers, and they fit so nicely. That's a difficult task, considering that you need answers that 1.) cross two grid-spanners and 2.) allow for smooth surrounding fill. So now we have the skeleton fixed in place.

Some constructors would be okay with just that, deploying blocks up to a 72-word grid. But not Pete! Why not stick with a 70-worder by opening up those SW and NE corners, allowing for two pairs of 8's? Those two corners would be daunting for most constructors, such big swaths of white space. BASS ALE running straight through that chunk of white makes it even harder to fill smoothly. It's a tough and ambitious goal.

There's a lot to admire in the fill today. There aren't as many marquee answers as usual, but the 15's and the 10's do a lot of heavy lifting. And NAKED EYE helps out too. Everything else tends to be a little shorter, just because the long answers have eaten up so much space. So I appreciate the clues picking up the slack, elevating a lot of the short answers.

SCREEN, for example, could be a pretty blah word if clued as [Projector ___] or something. Getting a misdirection with [One getting the picture] makes it stand out. MENDEL is already pretty good, but punning on his work with genetics through peas makes it even better. And my favorite, [Easily taken in?] has nothing to do with being a fool, but everything to do with foods that are TASTY. There is so much great cluing here today.

It might be a little much for non-baseball fans today. For those of you still confused on the clue for STRIKE ZONE, "battery" is slang for a pitcher / catcher combination. I liked the idea behind that clue, but I don't think of portable batteries having halves. Perhaps something more along the lines of [What a certain battery terminal is next to?] would have been more devious? Alas, if you don't know baseball lingo, the clue's cleverness will be lost. Along with PNC Park (who knew?), and ON BASE, it felt a bit baseball-heavy to me. Then again, Pete's a baseball fan, and why shouldn't a constructor favor his/her hobbies and interests? It is nice to get the variety.

What with the rigid skeleton and those two big open corners, it's not surprising to get a bit of glue here and there. The WAITE / GIMEL crossing will be tough for some, and although I know TRANE well from my mechanical engineering days, it's also going to be tough. The constraints and trade-offs can be most strongly seen in the tough SW and NE corners, where we get a smattering of TPKE / AS AN / IT HAS, and the DRS / SSGT corner. And as much as I love "Casablanca," even I have a hard time putting UGARTE into puzzles.

Neat construction, nice to see all those 15's anchoring the puzzle. And delectable clues today, a filling palate. I'll finish with my favorite, [Drop in library use?]. It's a beautifully-written clue for a place books get dropped... a BOOK RETURN.

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© 2014, The New York TimesNo. 0627 ( 23,607 )
Across Down
1. Hoping to get home? : ONBASE
7. Borrows without intending to repay : BUMS
11. Therapy developers: Abbr. : DRS
14. In a slip : MOORED
15. Government groups : AGENCIES
17. Like many garments at the cleaner's : IRONED
18. Hit the road : RANALONG
19. "I wouldn't lie" : TAKEMYWORDFORIT
21. Some linemen: Abbr. : RTS
22. Get in on the deal : ANTEUP
23. Cross : MEET
25. Dreidel letter : GIMEL
26. It has a 30-min. writing skills section : PSAT
30. Mtn. statistic : ALT
31. Surprising words from Shakespeare? : ETTU
32. Ruined "rose-red city" of Jordan : PETRA
33. Much of Mae West's wit : DOUBLEENTENDRES
37. Line up : ARRAY
38. Mangrove menace, informally : CROC
39. It's often compounded: Abbr. : INT
40. Lots : TONS
41. "___ to be!" : ITHAS
43. Approved : OKAY
44. Language in which "talofa" means "hello" : SAMOAN
46. What I can be : ONE
47. Sizzling : HOTASBLUEBLAZES
53. Celebrates wordlessly : APPLAUDS
54. Ferrari or Lamborghini : IMPORT
55. It may not be able to pick up something tiny : NAKEDEYE
56. Bit of "Archie" attire : BEANIE
57. Elle's English-language counterpart : SHE
58. Bald-eagle link : ASAN
59. One getting the picture : SCREEN
1. Drop : OMIT
2. ___ Barnacle, James Joyce's wife and muse : NORA
3. Drop in library use? : BOOKRETURN
4. Will of "30 Rock" : ARNETT
5. Looks : SEEMS
6. Cause of some turbulence : EDDY
7. Storied storyteller : BARONMUNCHAUSEN
8. "Casablanca" crook : UGARTE
9. Pea-brained researcher? : MENDEL
10. Real mess : SNAFU
11. Gucci contemporary : DIOR
12. "Crucifixion of St. Peter" painter : RENI
13. Army E-6: Abbr. : SSGT
16. Hoofed it? : CLOPPED
20. Singer John with the 1984 #1 hit "Missing You" : WAITE
23. Ready to dress down, say : MADAT
24. Ecuadorean province named for its gold production : ELORO
25. Bygone telecom : GTE
27. What half of a battery is next to : STRIKEZONE
28. Concert itinerary listing : ARENA
29. Easily taken in? : TASTY
31. City on the Ouse : ELY
32. ___ Park (Pirates' stadium) : PNC
34. Its bottles feature red triangles : BASSALE
35. Big name in heating and air-conditioning : TRANE
36. Hyperion's daughter : EOS
41. Suffuses : IMBUES
42. Cry when rubbing it in : TOLDYA
43. Comparable (with) : ONAPAR
45. Carne ___ : ASADA
46. Like some ancient Mexicans : OLMEC
47. Weapons inspector Blix : HANS
48. Hawaiian menu fish : OPAH
49. No place for a free ride: Abbr. : TPKE
50. Restaurant attachments? : BIBS
51. It's at one end of I-79 : ERIE
52. Suez Crisis weapon : STEN

Answer summary: 5 unique to this puzzle, 2 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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