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New York Times, Saturday, September 1, 2018

Author:
Randolph Ross
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
1115/12/19912/28/20190
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49103161824
ScrabRebusCirclePangramPre‑WS
1.486002
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
2
A
3
M
4
B
5
A
6
S
7
G
8
A
9
M
10
B
11
I
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A
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T
R
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E
D
O
14
N
15
C
U
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S
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16
I
T
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A
Z
O
O
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O
L
D
S
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18
M
I
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E
N
C
E
20
P
R
O
21
S
C
O
T
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22
H
A
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H
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F
A
T
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24
O
L
E
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25
M
I
S
O
26
S
E
R
I
O
27
N
E
S
28
C
E
N
T
R
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I
P
E
T
A
L
30
B
U
D
G
E
T
C
U
T
31
C
32
O
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N
A
N
O
B
R
I
E
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H
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A
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N
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A
P
E
R
Y
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U
N
O
S
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P
E
L
E
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N
E
E
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W
R
E
N
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P
R
A
D
A
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I
N
D
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T
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G
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S
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M
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B
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T
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51
E
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G
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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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