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New York Times, Friday, July 4, 2014

Author:
Patrick Berry
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
2297/11/199911/4/20182
SunMonTueWedThuFriSatVariety
741241679512
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.54980
Patrick Berry

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 66, Blocks: 34 Missing: {JQXZ} This is puzzle # 187 for Mr. Berry. Jeff Chen's Puzzle of the Week pick. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Jeff Chen notes:
I pity the poor fools who have puzzles near Patrick Berry. (Cue the sad violins.) Some thoughtful readers have told me that they don't ... read more

I pity the poor fools who have puzzles near Patrick Berry. (Cue the sad violins.) Some thoughtful readers have told me that they don't like the fact that I pick a Puzzle of the Week, and I appreciate that feedback. But 1.) I like pointing out fantastic work and 2.) that's what some (many?) daily solvers tend to do anyway. For me, it's a good reminder that there are other people out there with much, much better construction skills than me, and if I want to be one of the greats, I need to keep working at it by studying, practicing, improving.

This PB was no different, giving me such unadulterated pleasure. So instead of qualitatively analyzing the puzzle as per my usual, I'm going to do something different: attempting to QUANTIFY why this work is so good.

People often ask me how they can get a themeless puzzle into the NYT, so I've given this a lot of thought. I've come up with a formula that I'll revise and evolve over time, hopefully keeping it simple enough for the non-mathy types. As a finance guy most recently, I liken the evaluation process to the decision whether or not to acquire a company. You buy something for its ASSETS, ignore the neutral stuff, and discount for its LIABILITIES. You can then put a price on ASSETS minus LIABILITIES, yeah? (Roughly.) For me, I think the odds of an acceptance become high when:

  1. LIABILITIES < 5 and
  2. ASSETS minus LIABILITIES > 10.

What do I mean by ASSETS? Stuff that sings. This is subjective, of course, but here's my assessment of the snappy answers Patrick provides us today, each of which I'll count as one point each:

  • ON A LEASH
  • IM BUSY
  • AGRICOLA
  • MARGIN OF ERROR
  • BEFORE I FORGET
  • BATTLE SCARRED
  • I ROBOT
  • IRISH PUB
  • PET PEEVE
  • BATTER UP
  • VIES FOR
  • HAVE A NICE TRIP
  • TURNED RED
  • ESCARGOT
  • RYE BEER

And the liabilities? Things like partials, abbreviations, esoteric foreign words, pluralized names, etc. Each one will count as one point, except for "puzzle-killers," ug-ug-ugly answers which effectively take a puzzle out of consideration all by itself (RSI, for example, which killed one of my themeless submissions). Here's my assessment of Patrick's liabilities today:

  • (insert sound of crickets)

The final count: ASSETS = 15, LIABILITIES = 0. So, Patrick meets the first criteria with flying colors. And the second criteria? ASSETS minus LIABILITIES = 15. As an analyst, I'd put a STRONG BUY recommendation on this one. (Never mind the fact that there's no price already set, you smart-aleck broker/analyst types.)

Will, if you're reading this, perhaps you could comment? Am I close in my assessment methodology or way off?

It's a thing of beauty, especially considering it's a wide-open 66-worder. (That's another point in the ASSETS column, actually.) And the cluing for IRISH PUB, ESCARGOT, BIPED, POT... For all those constructors looking to get published in the NYT, I'd suggest studying this one in detail. Try deconstructing and reconstructing it to see what you can learn through the process. Many of the great artists copied the masters for years before finally coming into their own, and that process was key to their emergence, right? Well done, Patrick, another beauty from the master.

Will Shortz notes:
Hi Jeff, While I don't award 'points' to crossword entries (as in your example), your general way of assessing crossword quality is ... read more

Hi Jeff,

While I don't award "points" to crossword entries (as in your example), your general way of assessing crossword quality is the same as mine.

When I look at any crossword submission, which I prefer to do on paper, I mark up the answer grid — a check mark for an entry I like (on rare occasions two checks for one I really, really like), a minus for an entry I don't, and an "x" for one that's wrong or truly awful. The size of the mark indicates the depth of my feeling about it, so a bit of crosswordese might get a small minus, a stupid obscurity a big one.

When I'm done, I pull back and look at the puzzle overall to make a decision. An "x," of course, almost always means rejection. If there are no x's, then I judge whether there are enough entries that excite me to outweigh the ones that don't.

You're right that too many minuses will sink a puzzle even if there's lots of good stuff. I don't set an arbitrary limit on weak entries, but more than five, especially if they're bad, will put the puzzle in dangerous territory.

The bar for acceptance keeps getting raised. Many of the puzzles I published 10 years ago wouldn't be accepted today. Even marginal yeses of a year or two ago might be nos now.

That said, to me crossword quality is a matter of balance. Unlike some other editors and commenters on the crossword blogs, I will accept some crosswordese and obscurity in a puzzle (assuming it's fairly crossed and clued), if the upside is strong enough. Sometimes I think it's worth having a subpar entry in order to set up other material that's great. The greater the great stuff, a little more subpar there can be. Squeaky clean isn't always best.

My bottom line is that a puzzle should be judged as a whole, as ordinary solvers judge puzzles, not on just the least appealing entries.

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© 2014, The New York TimesNo. 0704 ( 23,614 )
Across
1
Quickly gets good at : TAKESTO
8
Summer hat : BOATER
14
Restrained : ONALEASH
16
"This isn't a good time" : IMBUSY
17
First-century governor of Britain, whose name was Latin for "farmer" : AGRICOLA
18
Signer of the Kansas-Nebraska Act : PIERCE
19
Trade fair presentation : DEMO
20
It means "council" in Russian : SOVIET
22
Apprehend : NAB
23
Roofing material : SLATE
25
Cut short : END
26
Membre de la famille : PERE
27
Compact Chevys of old : NOVAS
30
G-rated oath : FUDGE
31
Poll calculation : MARGINOFERROR
34
"While we're on the topic ..." : BEFOREIFORGET
35
Marked by hostilities? : BATTLESCARRED
36
One of the Kennedys : ETHEL
37
Manhattan Project scientist : FERMI
38
Emblem on Captain America's shield : STAR
39
All you can take with one hand : POT
40
"Frida" actress Hayek : SALMA
45
Williams nicknamed "The Kid" : TED
46
Field strip : FURROW
49
Automaker that introduced heated front seats : SAAB
50
1950 short-story collection by Asimov : IROBOT
52
Cork bar : IRISHPUB
54
Dry up : RUNOUT
55
Cause for complaint : PETPEEVE
56
Phalanx weapons : SPEARS
57
"Through the Dark Continent" author, 1878 : STANLEY
Down
1
Witches' brew ingredients : TOADS
2
Being in heaven : ANGEL
3
Cosmic payback : KARMA
4
"I have measured out my life with coffee spoons" writer : ELIOT
5
Brief wait : SEC
6
Stop along the Santa Fe trail : TAOS
7
Four-time host of the Nordic World Ski Championships : OSLO
8
Upstanding one? : BIPED
9
Pass over : OMIT
10
Bart and Lisa's grandpa : ABE
11
Betrayed embarrassment : TURNEDRED
12
Not-so-fast food? : ESCARGOT
13
Amber-colored brew : RYEBEER
15
Send-off for the dear departed? : HAVEANICETRIP
21
To such an extent : INSOFAR
24
Register : ENROLL
26
Empty : PURGE
28
Creature outwitted by Hop-o'-My-Thumb : OGRE
29
Tries to win : VIESFOR
30
Columbian Exposition engineer : FERRIS
31
Addictive analgesic : METHADONE
32
Beauty magazine photo caption : AFTER
33
Bit of paperwork : FORM
34
Call from home : BATTERUP
35
Rouses to action : BESTIRS
39
Finishing strokes : PUTTS
41
Pasty : ASHEN
42
Name tag location : LAPEL
43
"Never trust a woman who wears ___" (line from "The Picture of Dorian Gray") : MAUVE
44
"The Name of the Rose" setting : ABBEY
46
Two by two? : FOUR
47
Veins' contents : ORES
48
Olympic skater Katarina : WITT
51
Burlesque accessory : BOA
53
Body treatment facility : SPA

Answer summary: 8 unique to this puzzle, 1 debuted here and reused later, 2 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

Found bugs or have suggestions?