XW Info

Thursday, October 17, 2013
by Gary J. Whitehead
Thu 10/17/2013
© 2013, The New York Times
Jeff Chen notes: "Add-a-letter(s)" type theme today, with APPENDAGE parsed as APPEND AGE as the revealer. Nice choice of revealer, although for the longest time I couldn't figure out why APPEND A GE wasn't quite working. (headslap) Also very nice was the inclusion of strong 7's: JEAN ARP, MACBETH, WHOS WHO, MY STARS. That all added to the quality of my solving experience.

The success of these types of themes hinges on the sparkliness of the base phrases plus the wackiness/hilarity of the resulting phrases. E STREET BANDAGE and CLASSIFIED ADAGE brought a smile to my face, but SCOTLAND YARDAGE and NEW YORK POSTAGE felt (to me) a bit too much like real things...only not quite. I would have loved to see more ridiculous clues for the latter two, something like "How caber tosses are measured?" and "Stamp showing a Brooklynite shouting 'Dem Bums!'"? Humor is so subjective (as my poor girlfriend/wife/barbarian well knows).

What I found most interesting about this puzzle was its layout. Note the 15-14-9-14-15 pattern. This makes construction very difficult, because the central 9 necessitates a block of three black squares on either side. Toss in the fact that the 14's must contain a single black square on one end or another, and that means that those single black squares must connect to the black squares at the ends of row 8 (in order to prevent a two-letter word in between). Tricky! The layout here certainly works, but the blockiness of the giant black L's feels a touch inelegant.

You might ask, why not swap the 15s and 14s to avoid that issue? Aha! Because 14-letter entries cannot go into rows 3 and 13 without forming an ugly block of three squares — the same issue as with the first layout. And if the 14s are placed in rows 4 and 12, that smooshes the theme answers together, making for a dense and difficult construction. That's the reason constructors often go out of their way to pick 11s and 15s, trying to avoid 12s, 13s and 14s if at all possible (especially when five theme answers are required).

Finally, an observation about the way the top section splits. Notice how BMW/NAMATH/LSAT break up in lengths of 3/6/4? This is less common than some permutation of 4/5/4 or 3/5/5, because those six-letter words add a level of difficult. Gary has done a nice job in the north section, with just ISIDRO being a slight outlier. The south section demonstrates how tough a set of sixes can be though, with a stack of REAIMS, EN FIN, TOILE, and BEENE all crossing MILNER (who may be more familiar to some, but not to me).

A tough challenge! Interesting to hear Will's comments about fill; I'm curious to see how different Gary would have made this puzzle today. We are blessed to be living in an age where crosswords are rapidly improving with each passing year.

Will Shortz notes: I accepted this puzzle in 2009, but held it for so long because I'd run similar themes in 2004, 2002, and 1997. Three of the four theme entries here are new, though, and I think they're all pretty nice. Curiously, there's more substandard/crosswordy fill here than I usually allow now — K-STAR, OMB, ORT, ANSA, RES, TRY TO, and others. On the whole, crossword construction has improved a lot over the past four years.
1.Z3 maker : BMW
4.Onetime N.F.L. star nicknamed Joe Willie : NAMATH
10.Challenge in "Legally Blonde," for short : LSAT
14."Phooey!" : BAH
15.San ___, Argentina : ISIDRO
16.D-Day objective : STLO
17.Distance at St. Andrews golf course? : SCOTLANDYARDAGE
20.Org. of which 18 U.S. presidents have been members : BSA
21.Hindu life lesson : SUTRA
22.Base figs. : GIS
23.Cost of mail from Manhattan? : NEWYORKPOSTAGE
27.Statue in the Parthenon : ATHENA
28.Itching : EAGER
29."___ Nature, red in tooth and claw ...": Tennyson : THO
30.Arcturus, e.g., spectrally : KSTAR
34.Places docs wear smocks : ERS
35.Wing, e.g. ... or a hint to answering 17-, 23-, 49- and 56-Across : APPENDAGE
38.White House fiscal grp. : OMB
40.Stuffed animal option : KOALA
41."The Beverly Hillbillies" dad : JED
44.One way to play something : BYEAR
47.One on a Facebook News Feed : FRIEND
49.First-aid supply for Springsteen? : ESTREETBANDAGE
53.Morsel : ORT
54.Summer camp sight : CANOE
55.Aunt in "Bambi" : ENA
56.Top-secret proverb? : CLASSIFIEDADAGE
61.Drain : TIRE
62.Actor Martin of 1960s-'70s TV : MILNER
63."___, non verba" (Latin proverb) : RES
64.Vase handle : ANSA
65.Looks bad? : SNEERS
66.Forerunner of Bach? : PDQ
1.Shot from a certain gun : BBS
2.Source of the line "Something wicked this way comes" : MACBETH
3.Elite group : WHOSWHO
4.Zip : NIL
5."___ reminder ..." : ASA
6.Capital whose main street is Nezavisimosti : MINSK
7.Tally : ADDUP
8."___ Remember" : TRYTO
9.Like a speaker with a 25-Down : HOARSE
10.Trip inits. : LSD
11.Reel : STAGGER
12.Locale of a 1956 fight for independence : ALGIERS
13.Low digits : TOES
18.Diggs of "Rent" : TAYE
19.Pro ___ : RATA
23.Writer Hentoff : NAT
24.Like a private peeling potatoes : ONKP
25.See 9-Down : RASP
26.Pulitzer winner James : AGEE
31.William Shatner's sci-fi drug : TEK
32.Year abroad : ANO
33.Dietary std. : RDA
35.Aid in a scam, e.g. : ABET
36.___ Romeo : ALFA
37.Only U.S. senator with a unit of measure named after him : GARN
38.Noted Ohio conservatory : OBERLIN
39."Good heavens!" : MYSTARS
41.Dada pioneer : JEANARP
42.Listening, say : ENGAGED
43.Onetime White House inits. : DDE
45.Slow pitches have them : ARCS
46.Adjusts one's sights : REAIMS
48.Picked out of a lineup : IDED
50.In conclusion, in Cannes : ENFIN
51.Decorative fabric : TOILE
52.Designer Geoffrey : BEENE
53.Numerical prefix : OCTA
57.One of two possibilities to Paul Revere : SEA
58.German article : DER
59."___ Poetica" : ARS
60.Abbr. after some professionals' names : ESQ

© 2017, Jim Horne