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New York Times, Saturday, September 1, 2018

Author:
Randolph Ross
Editor:
Will Shortz
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1095/12/199111/22/20180
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48103151824
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1.476002
Randolph Ross

This puzzle:

Rows: 15, Columns: 15 Words: 66, Blocks: 28 Missing: {JKQX} This is puzzle # 108 for Mr. Ross. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Randolph Ross notes:
This one started with IT'S A ZOO crossing NOTHING BURGER, two entries I heard on the same day I started this puzzle. The former was a ... read more

This one started with IT'S A ZOO crossing NOTHING BURGER, two entries I heard on the same day I started this puzzle. The former was a response to the NYC subways on a particularly bad day and the latter was uttered on cable news at least five times that day, probably by defense lawyers for you know who.

I liked CONTORTIONIST because I had the clue (one who is bent out of shape) in mind for a while. I also really like the clue for CENTRIPETAL (a force of nature). It seems that many themeless puzzles these days don't favor long words instead of phrases or idioms; some think they're not as interesting. I think it's all about the clues — if they're clever, then the solver will enjoy the entry.

MIDSENTENCE occurred to me because I have the bad habit of interrupting others that way. My daughter has recently made a point of that to me. I was surprised to learn that this is the first time that word was in a Times crossword.

I'm pleased that this puzzle is mostly junk-free in a pretty diagram. After all the puzzles I've constructed over the years, I still get a kick out of a good-looking grid with a low word count. The aesthetics of an attractive array of black and white squares is not appreciated by all solvers, but it's a big part of why I like to solve and create themeless puzzles so much.

Jeff Chen notes:
I often tell constructors how important multi-word phrases are in themelesses – it was one of Rich Norris' major points to me, ... read more

I often tell constructors how important multi-word phrases are in themelesses – it was one of Rich Norris' major points to me, way back when I first started creating them. Not only do they tend to be more colorful than single words (which can often come across as workmanlike), but it's a neat challenge trying to figure out where the word breaks ought to be.

But as Randy points out, CONTORTIONIST is a strong exception to this rule of thumb. It's not something you hear every day, and what imagery it evokes! Plus, that fantastic clue – someone getting bent out of shape indeed. That's the type of wordplay that makes a themeless entry stand out.

NOTHING BURGER might also be an exception. It is a multi-worder, but I'm not positive it's that well known. (I personally find it amusing when Kevin O'Leary from "Shark Tank" says it.) It's reasonable to expect solvers to learn something new, but then the entry doesn't generate the same level of cleverosity as CONTORTIONIST and its clue.

Solid center of the puzzle, CONAN OBRIEN and CENTRIPETAL acceleration filling things out. So much goodness, I didn't mind a little ME DO / UNOS holding it all together.

I might have tried to rejigger the SW and NE corners, though. Those intersecting triple-stacks of 7s might not look that hard, but I think it's one of the most underestimated challenges in all of themeless construction. Looks so innocuous, doesn't it? But there's a reason why we get SERIO and MSS up top and WILEE and NEER in the opposite corner. All that glue, for what? BIT PART is nice, and this physics geek likes INTERIA, but overall, those corners hold more liabilities than assets.

Generally, I try to avoid this sort of grid pattern. Shifting some blocks around could have broken up at least one of those triple-stacked 7s.

Overall though, still a good Saturday challenge – especially that PROLE / PRIVET / PRADA region, with a ridiculously hard clue for PRADA. I wonder if fashionistas knew that the brand uses the same word as a luxurious Italian house? I was super thankful to guess the PRIVET / PRADA crossing correctly!

ADDED NOTE: Astute reader Mike Knobler pointed out that the PRADA clue meant "house" in the "place of business" sense. D'oh! Went over my head; I should have (eventually) figured that out.

1
S
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© 2018, The New York TimesNo. 0901 ( 25,134 )
Across
1. Lively dances in 2/4 time : SAMBAS
7. Smallest country in mainland Africa : GAMBIA
13. Had a fit? : TRIEDON
15. Indian or Mexican : CUISINE
16. Frazzled commuter's comment : ITSAZOO
17. One getting on : OLDSTER
18. How someone may be interrupted : MIDSENTENCE
20. Country club figure : PRO
21. Language with a trilled "r" : SCOTS
22. Verb in the first telegraph message : HATH
23. They're encouraged on a ketogenic diet : FATS
24. Encouraging words : OLES
25. Japanese stock holder : MISO
26. Lead-in to comic : SERIO
27. "Super" thing in games, once : NES
28. Force of nature? : CENTRIPETAL
30. Bit of belt-tightening : BUDGETCUT
31. Longtime talk show host with a degree from Harvard : CONANOBRIEN
34. Ethnic group that makes up about 18% of the world's population : HAN
37. Silly tricks : APERY
38. Ones on Telemundo : UNOS
39. Athlete known as "The Black Pearl" : PELE
40. "What, will these hands ___ be clean?": Lady Macbeth : NEER
41. Wee warbler : WREN
42. Luxurious Italian house : PRADA
43. Abbr. for those who don't like parties : IND
44. Bisector of the Fertile Crescent : TIGRISRIVER
46. Road Runners' race classification : TENMILE
48. Neighbor of an Austrian : SLOVENE
49. Part of an oven : BROILER
50. Money in the Bible : TALENTS
51. What's left : ESTATE
52. Prepare to go : GETSET
Down
1. Secretary of war to Taft, Roosevelt and Truman : STIMSON
2. First word of the Constitution after the preamble : ARTICLE
3. Messes up : MISDOES
4. Wild things : BEASTS
5. Shop shapers : ADZES
6. Any minute : SOON
7. Mean Miss of "The Wizard of Oz" : GULCH
8. Second : AIDE
9. Ed.'s inbox filler : MSS
10. Cameo : BITPART
11. Resistance to change : INERTIA
12. Kind of can : AEROSOL
14. Overhyped event, in slang : NOTHINGBURGER
15. One who gets bent out of shape : CONTORTIONIST
19. Connecticut Yankee, e.g. : EASTERNER
23. Pedal pushers : FEET
25. "Love ___" : MEDO
26. Emulated Rumpelstiltskin : SPUN
28. Hunter College is part of it, in brief : CUNY
29. Summer coolers : ICES
30. Attorney general before Reno : BARR
31. Disbeliever's question : CANITBE
32. Prelims : OPENERS
33. Is unobliged to : NEEDNOT
34. "My word!" : HEAVENS
35. Chewy, in a way : ALDENTE
36. Proximate : NEAREST
39. Dividing shrub : PRIVET
41. Toon with a middle initial : WILEE
42. Drudge : PROLE
44. List : TILT
45. Smeltery refuse : SLAG
47. Nowhere to be found, for short : MIA

Answer summary: 6 unique to this puzzle.

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