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New York Times, Saturday, July 5, 2014

Author: David Steinberg
Editor: Will Shortz
David Steinberg
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This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 62, Blocks: 28 Missing: {QWXZ} Average word length: 6.35 This is puzzle # 29 for Mr. Steinberg. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
David Steinberg notes: I constructed this puzzle very recently (in early March, to be exact), and Will accepted it just two weeks ago — thus, I ... more
David Steinberg notes: I constructed this puzzle very recently (in early March, to be exact), and Will accepted it just two weeks ago — thus, I was surprised and thrilled to see this one appear so quickly! This puzzle is, in my opinion, the strongest themeless I've ever constructed. I started with BIKER CHICK and JIM BEAM at the center of the puzzle; not surprisingly, the grid refused to fill with my cleanest word list.

I ordinarily would have started from scratch with a different pair of theme entries, but I had a good feeling about this arrangement, especially since I had been able to produce a partial fill that looked pretty good. Using one of my crunchier (not yet sorted and scored) word lists, I was able to produce the fill for the center of the puzzle; it turned out that the only reason the grid hadn't been able to fill originally was that I hadn't yet added BAD AREAS, OVIFORM, or BIKEL to my clean list, all of which I feel are fair game and have since added. I was particularly pleased with FAKE IDS, DIVE BAR, NO MERCY, GAMEBOY, and GENDER BIAS (in addition to the seed entries, of course), and I didn't end up with any real stinkers, so I moved on to the upper left and lower right corners. I noticed in hindsight that the central three across entries pertained to alcohol, so don't get any wrong ideas (at least until I'm 21)!

The lower right corner was a bear to fill — I soon discovered that I, C, and K, when put together, accurately reflected my sentiment about the difficulty of the corner! Nevertheless, I was pleased to be able to squeeze I CALLED IT, HOT DATES, and ARSONIST into that region, and the only minor blemish I perceived was CEN. I originally had HINGED ON at 30-Down, but I was really struggling to come up with a clue for this entry that was accurate but that didn't repeat the word ON. Luckily, BINGED ON (which wasn't in any of my word lists and struck me as a more interesting entry to boot) popped into my mind, and I was able to quickly patch up that corner. The upper left was also tough — although I liked COOL HEAD and ALL SORTS, SCARF RING was new to me (one of the downsides of being a California boy!). My mom had heard of SCARF RING, though, so I went ahead with that corner.

As always, Will made my clues a lot better, though I was particularly glad to see that he preserved "Ignition technician?" for ARSONIST and the plays on minor documents and cheap shots in the FAKE IDS and DIVE BAR clues, respectively. I hope you all enjoy this puzzle (which, by popular demand, is free of rappers and proper names with creative spellings), and here's to a great summer of puzzles [toasts with root beer bottle]!

JimH notes: This is Mr. Steinberg's third 62-worder in the past year including one in May with a similar shape. On the other hand, he had an 80-word grid in February.
Jeff Chen notes: Another 62-worder from David! Impressive. These low-count grids are extreme challenges. The huge amount of white space in the two big ... more
Jeff Chen notes: Another 62-worder from David! Impressive. These low-count grids are extreme challenges. The huge amount of white space in the two big corners is daunting to think about filling. It's pretty unusual to be able to cleanly fill a region of such size while stuffing it with good material.

I was particularly delighted by the center section. I smiled upon uncovering DIVE BAR, and then further tickled to see it crossed by BIKER CHICK. Then when FAKE IDS and JIM BEAM and RATED R came into place it felt like I had stumbled upon a real treasure. It's tough to jam in that much great (and related) material into one place. And doing it without any real compromises is very impressive. That entire center section sings.

I might disagree with David on BIKEL though. Perhaps it's "clean," but I would argue that it's not "preferable." The difference to me between the central area and the NE is pretty big, perhaps because of how lively and clean the center is, but perhaps because BIKEL and BOMBE feel a bit esoteric to me. It's one thing to have some basic knowledge of a lot of different subjects, and another thing to know a specific area in such detail. Because it's a Saturday puzzle I believe that area is fair. It just didn't feel as fun to uncover as the central section, to me at least.

Like Will mentioned in his comments yesterday, I think that if having that BIKEL and BOMBE made the central area possible, that's well worth the price.

I expect that a NYT audience ought to at least have some knowledge in most areas. A Renaissance man/woman, right? If BIKEL had been a more famous Tevye player, like TOPOL (who got nominated for an Oscar in the role) or if BOMBE had been a more prevalent dessert, like TORTE, I would have liked that corner better. As it was, I had to guess whether it was BOMBE or BOMME or BOMTE, all of which looked French(-ish) to me. Totally subjective, of course. There are undoubtedly people who are indignantly reading this while watching a video of BIKEL or eating a BOMBE.

Ah, puzzle flow. One puzzle Jim points out help demonstrate my point. Note the seemingly small difference between the similarly shaped one from May? Today's puzzle stymied me in the NW corner, as there's only a single answer that can help you break into it (GENDER BIAS). If you can't grok that, like I couldn't, you're forced to work a mini-puzzle completely separated from the rest of the puzzle. That's not always a bad thing, but for a themeless puzzle, I feel it's much more elegant to have a high level of interconnects all throughout the puzzle.

Now check out the previous puzzle again. If you can't crack a single answer in the NW, you have multiple shots on goal to work into it — EMBEZZER and NOGALES both give you opportunities to uncover a little bit, giving you a hint to what LATE AUTUMN might be.

But today's arrangement does allow for some impressive fill. That center alone is gold. And both big corners are quite well filled, if not star-studded with marquee answers. I liked the NW in particular, even though I couldn't actually solve it (I gave up after 40 minutes). And I appreciated David's note about how he came up with BINGED ON, a great entry. Too often people think crosswords are generated by computers, but I find that a mix of computer assistance and pattern recognition (and trial and error) produce the best results.

Today was a tale of three cities, with one mini-puzzles that I solved (the SE), one that I loved (the center) and one that asked me to practice TOLERANCE. Still, a well executed puzzle overall.

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© 2014, The New York TimesNo. 0705 ( 23,615 )
Across Down
1. Neckwear slider : SCARFRING
10. Domed dessert : BOMBE
15. "The highest result of education is ___": Helen Keller : TOLERANCE
16. Purpose : AVAIL
17. Continuing in its course : ROLLINGON
18. Hardly smash hits : DINKS
19. Part of the Roman Empire in modern-day NE France : ALSATIA
20. One forced into service : DRAFTEE
22. Bit of illumination : PHOTON
23. Tooth coating? : GEAROIL
24. 1994 Peace Prize sharer : PERES
25. Eschews money, say : BARTERS
26. Reduces the fare? : EATS
27. Big brand from Clermont, Ky. : JIMBEAM
28. Drill specialist, for short? : DDS
29. Minor documents? : FAKEIDS
30. "Poppycock!" : BAH
33. Producer of cheap shots? : DIVEBAR
34. "The Farm" painter, 1921 : MIRO
35. Dances with sharp turns : BOLEROS
36. Biblical verb : CANST
37. What ruthless people show : NOMERCY
38. Apollo, e.g. : SUNGOD
39. Greek city where St. Paul preached : CORINTH
40. Los Angeles suburb once dubbed "Berryland" : GARDENA
41. ___ rock : ARENA
42. "See!" : ICALLEDIT
44. First name in the 1948 presidential race : STROM
45. About 90% of cotton fiber : CELLULOSE
46. "Magister Ludi" writer : HESSE
47. Old-fashioned duds : KNEEPANTS
1. Greatly wanting : STRAPPED
2. Good thing to keep in an emergency : COOLHEAD
3. A little of everything : ALLSORTS
4. Connects : RELATES
5. Crunchy snack : FRITOS
6. Took for booking : RANIN
7. "Young Frankenstein" girl : INGA
8. Drill specialist, for short? : NCO
9. Male issue? : GENDERBIAS
10. Slums, e.g. : BADAREAS
11. Not quite spherical : OVIFORM
12. Winged prayer : MANTIS
13. Theodore of "The African Queen" : BIKEL
14. Computer programming command : ELSE
21. Rather violent, perhaps : RATEDR
23. Old Pokémon platform : GAMEBOY
25. Woman in a leather jacket, maybe : BIKERCHICK
27. Broadway inspector : JAVERT
29. Dot preceder : FILENAME
30. Consumed in copious amounts : BINGEDON
31. Ignition technician? : ARSONIST
32. Much-anticipated outings : HOTDATES
33. Company with a game piece in its logo : DOMINOS
34. 1993 Peace Prize sharer : MANDELA
35. Orchard menaces : BORERS
36. Get comfortable, in a way : CURLUP
37. Acapulco-to-Monterrey dirección : NORTE
38. Château chamber : SALLE
39. ___ crop : CASH
40. It's a blast : GALE
43. 800s, e.g.: Abbr. : CEN

Answer summary: 10 unique to this puzzle, 2 debuted here and reused later, 2 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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