XW Info

Saturday, December 7, 2013
by James Mulhern
Sat 12/7/2013
© 2013, The New York Times
Jeff Chen notes: Nice work today from James. A ton of great fill, highlighted by BUG ZAPPER and its associated clue. I wonder if SANDAL TAN is going to get criticized as "not a thing", but I really liked uncovering it. And having a risque clue made it even better to me. Tee hee.

This is a 72-word puzzle, the maximum number allowed for a themeless, and some constructors / critics will probably pooh-pooh it as the easiest type of themeless to construct. But what matters to me is the solving experience, and James incorporated enough long stuff (triple-stacked corners plus longer fill coming out of those answers) that I didn't notice the high word count. A win in my book.

The NE corner is a great example of the tradeoffs that themeless constructors must make at every step along the way. What a nice stack of BUG ZAPPER / GLEE CLUB / USER NAME, all intersected by OLD GEEZER! Four very nice entries crammed into a small space makes for a great solving experience. However, that ultra-high density of goodness usually means that there will need to be ugly bits to hold it together. Some will argue that OGEES is totally fine as an architectural term. Some will even say give me my BPOE or give me death! (Okay, maybe not.) But having both of those along with NES in a single corner is tough to swallow in a themeless.

A discussion on cheater squares. Typically I don't mind cheaters at all (Rich Norris at the LAT calls them "helper squares" for good reason as they usually improve fill quality a lot), but sometimes I pause on a high-word count themeless. It's of course a subjective call, but the cheater just before PUMA (and its symmetrical pair) makes the grid look less elegant to me. I don't mind the one after PROACTIV (and its symmetrical pair) as much. Again, a subjective call. Generally I highly value smoothness of fill in a themeless, so I appreciate James's choices here — I can only imagine JEZEBEL would have been tough to work in without incorporating that central set of cheaters.

Nice work today, good tough challenge.

Will Shortz notes: Originally this puzzle started as a Friday, but the three test-solvers found it so challenging that I bumped it up to Saturday. My favorite entries here include PROACTIV, BB GUN, HAS NO IDEA, EMMA STONE, OLD GEEZER, JEZEBEL, BOOK-SMART, SANDAL TAN, BUG ZAPPER, GLEE CLUB, USER NAME, and EASYGOING. Very handsome!
1.Big name in 25-Across treatment : PROACTIV
9.Air piece? : BBGUN
14.Shrugs, maybe : HASNOIDEA
16.Take it as a sign : PULSE
17."The Help" co-star, 2011 : EMMASTONE
18.Decorative moldings : OGEES
19.First of a succession of 13 : LEOI
22.Johnny-jump-up, e.g. : PANSY
24.Nude medium, often : OIL
25.See 1-Across : ACNE
27.90 degrees from ouest : SUD
28.Really : EVERSO
31.Area map : PLAT
32.___ d'âme (moods: Fr.) : ETATS
33.Alternative to 53-Down : PUMA
34.Secures : OBTAINS
37.She's no puritan : JEZEBEL
40.Farm sounds : BAAS
41.Station, e.g. : AIRER
42.Repulsive : ICKY
43.Get out of practice? : DISBAR
45.Sportscaster Nahan with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame : STU
48.Keel extension : SKEG
49.Unrefined type : OAF
50.Key setting : OCEAN
52.Like eggheads : BOOKSMART
56.Stockholder's group? : HERD
57.Universal work : MOVIE
58.Hack, say : BREAKINTO
60.Nonstop : ONEND
61.Evidence of having worn thongs : SANDALTAN
62.Little ones are calves : BERGS
63.Player of many a tough guy : STALLONE
1.Olympian on 2004 and 2012 Wheaties boxes : PHELPS
2.Bach contemporary : RAMEAU
3.Onetime pop star who hosted "Pyramid" : OSMOND
4.First name in erotica : ANAIS
5.Fortune subjects: Abbr. : COS
6.Stalin defier : TITO
7.Stargazer's focus? : IDOL
8.Street fair lineup : VENDORS
9.Lodge org. : BPOE
10.Fryer seen at a cookout? : BUGZAPPER
11.Harvard has an all-male one : GLEECLUB
12.Creation for many an account : USERNAME
13.Super Mario Bros. runner : NES
15.Backing : AEGIS
21.___ rating (chess skill-level measure) : ELO
23.So-far-undiscovered one : YETI
26.Name-dropper's abbr.? : ETAL
29.Aid in making one's move? : VAN
30.So-far-undiscovered ones, briefly : ETS
32.Like a type B : EASYGOING
34.Geishas often draw them : OBIS
35.Wimp's lack : BACKBONE
36.Wrest the reins : TAKEOVER
37.Crane arm : JIB
38.Ace's stat : ERA
39.Open love? : ZERO
41.To the degree that : ASFARAS
43.What mops may be made into : DOS
44.Feet with rhythm : IAMBS
45.Dealt with : SEENTO
46.Abercrombie design : TARTAN
47.Brought to ruin : UNDONE
51.Kick back : CHILL
53.Alternative to 33-Across : KEDS
54.Ripped : RENT
55.Drumroll follower : TADA
57.Group with family units : MOB
59.Actor Penn of "Van Wilder" : KAL

© 2017, Jim Horne