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Themeless Saturday Puzzle by Christopher Adams

Chris got his Masters at Iowa and is now sitting out before tackling his Phd. He is still in Iowa City as a "townie"and is working in test scoring for The Pearson Education Company there although that is "iffy" these days.

Chris's response to my gmail was very interesting and detailed and I have posted it in full at the bottom of this write-up because you should have an opportunity to read it in its entirety. Highlights:  Most of [my] puzzles are originals for [my] site, though some are just puzzles that didn't find a home elsewhere. In fact, this puzzle was almost one of those, until I realized while looking through my files that I hadn't actually sent this to the LA Times like I thought I had. Definitely thought Rich and Patti would like this puzzle, and that it was worth publishing, and I'm glad they agreed with me on that. I think this is my seventh LA Times puzzle (and fourth freestyle), and it might be my favorite of the freestyles (although this October 4th puzzle was pretty much built as a freestyle, and was originally scheduled as a "themed themeless").


This puzzle dates back to at least 2018, if not earlier; at the very least, it's definitely an older freestyle, and people that have been solving my puzzles for awhile can probably spot that. The puzzle was built around the intersecting pair of THIS IS JUST TO SAY and ETIQUETTE, which I had clued as "Not eating somebody else's plums that were in the icebox and which they were probably saving for breakfast, for example". That's the sort of clue that I wrote because I could; I don't mind writing longer clues, and still do that for my site, although I've gotten better at writing shorter clues for puzzles I send to mainstream outlets.


Let's see how you would score this puzzle and be sure to read Chris's full, insightful remarks at the bottom!

Across:

1. Pureed condiment: FISH PASTE - C.C. told me that she has used anchovy paste and that this condiment is more common in Southeast Asia


10. Boot: EXPEL - I had to EXPEL evict, egest and eject


15. "Gracie's Choice" Emmy nominee: ANNE HECHE Anne Heche was previously married to Coleman 'Coley' Laffoon (2001 - 2009)She has been in relationships with Liz Brixius (2018 - 2019), James Tupper (2007 - 2018), Ellen DeGeneres (1997 - 2000), Neal H. Moritz (1996 - 1997), Steve Martin (1994 - 1997) and Lindsey Buckingham.


16. Inner determination: DRIVE 


17. Dangerous bar: THIRD RAIL - High voltage bar to drive subway. Don't touch!




18. Selected: TAKEN - College players TAKEN in the first round of the NFL draft will make big bucks


19. Jersey chew: CUD - Not HAY


20. Virtual citizens in a video game: SIMS - A SIM hospital for your SIMS




21. Cristina __, Sandra Oh's "Grey's Anatomy" role: YANG - Beautiful, talented and arrogant 




22. Iowa Department of Transportation city: AMES - Home of the arch rival of Iowa U


24. Kurosawa's "Ran," for one: EPIC - A retelling of King Lear. Ran is Japanese for Chaos





C'mon Dover, move your bloomin' arse!
26. Cravat cousin: ASCOT - Freddie wears an ASCOT at the ASCOT races but non-pretentious 'enry 'iggins  opted for another cravat cousin - a tie

27. Campfire exchange: TALES.

29. Five Pillars faith: ISLAM.


31. "Come again?": HUH.


32. Esther who co-founded In-N-Out Burger: SNYDER - Harry and Esther in 1948 founding




34. Court service: JURY DUTY - I once reported for JURY DUTY at 8 am on the 9th when it was supposed to be there at 9 am on the 8th. I got away with it.


36. Proprieties: ETIQUETTE and 
47. Polite gesture: HAT TIP.




38. Breaks up: DISRUPTS.


41. Best of the bets: SAFEST.


45. __ Energy: PepsiCo drink: AMP - Over 2x the caffeine in my coffee




46. Australian city named for a Scottish city: PERTH.




48. Muslim face veil: NIQAB - Perfectly legal but not on Driver's licenses 




49. Beaufort scale listings: GALES - Wind velocity scale 


51. Shot: STAB.


53. Robin portrayer Ward: BURT - Holy Sidekick, Batman!


54. "Midnight in Paris" actor Wilson: OWEN.




55. Chica's "other": OTRA - Por OTRA lado (On the other hand)


57. Get better, perhaps: AGE.


58. Exchange, as words: BANDY - We do BANDY back and forth here 


60. Winter : hibernates :: summer : __: ESTIVATES - When animals slow their activity for the hot, dry summer months. 


62. Intensity: ARDOR.


63. Title bout, say: MAIN EVENT - Whatever happened to that Clay kid?




64. Gets wind of: HEARS.


65. Gives a fitting role: TYPECASTS 23 TYPECAST actors



Down:


1. Wealthy donors: FAT CATS - Pols decry them but cash their checks


2. Barbaric: INHUMAN.


3. Dudley's nemesis, in toons: SNIDELY.




4. Part of HRH: HER - Elizabeth II has been a dignified "HER Royal Majesty". Her kids...




5. Advanced degs.: PHDS - Many are crossword constructors and Chris will get his too


6. Aptly named American Eagle store: AERIE.


7. Seafood order: SCAMPI.


8. "I'm writing so you'll know ... ": THIS IS JUST TO SAY - uh, that job didn't come through


9. Sushi order: EEL.


10. Fort Sumter summer hrs.: EDT - The South Carolina Militia (there was no Confederate Army or Daylight Savings Time yet) starting firing on Fort Sumter at 4:30 am EST on 4/12/65.


11. Diagnostic tests: X-RAYS.


12. Title 2019 Pokémon film detective: PIKACHU.




13. Balance: EVEN OUT and 
42. Represents as identical: EQUATES.

14. Protracted: LENGTHY - I'm more of a "cut to the chase" kind of guy


23. Ritual in the month of Nisan: SEDER - A ritual Jewish feast celebrated on the eve of the 15th of Nisan


25. Footprint, maybe: CLUE.


26. "The Kitchen God's Wife" novelist: AMY TAN Want a signed first edition?


28. Stings: SETUPS - The coup de grâce in moviedom's most famous Sting


30. Liberal group?: ARTS.

33. Fully developed: RIPE.

35. Emergency treatment, for short: DEFIB here's an 
60. CPR specialist: EMT using an Automatic External DEFIBRILLATOR in the field



37. NBA periods: QTRS.

38. Swampy "Star Wars" planet: DAGOBAH  and 
50. Home of the Ewoks: ENDOR. You either know these Star Wars locales or you don't. I'm in the latter group but fill was easy 


39. "You don't need to tell me": I'M AWARE.


40. Low-calorie sweetener: SPLENDA.


43. Portraitist John Singer __: SARGENT All you need to know

44. Certain intradermal exams, for short: TB TESTS - I've got a scar on my upper arm from this


52. Pickle juice: BRINE - or for this purpose




56. "__ plaisir!": AVEC - You're on your own




59. Jr. and sr.: YRS - 2020 srs. got cheated out of a lot


61. "Queen Sugar" creator DuVernay: AVA - If you closely examine this info, you will see a very well known co-creator of this series




Here's the full text of Chris's note

What actually is, though, is that I've been in Iowa City since 2015, and have been making puzzles for pretty much the entire time I've been here. I've had my site since 2017, and have somehow managed to put out a puzzle per week (more or less) since then. Most of those puzzles are originals for the site, though some are just puzzles that didn't find a home elsewhere. In fact, this puzzle was almost one of those, until I realized while looking through my files that I hadn't actually sent this to the LA Times like I thought I had. Definitely thought Rich and Patti would like this puzzle, and that it was worth publishing, and I'm glad they agreed with me on that. I think this is my seventh LA Times puzzle (and fourth freestyle), and it might be my favorite of the freestyles (although this puzzle was pretty much built as a freestyle, and was originally scheduled as a "themed themeless").

This puzzle dates back to at least 2018, if not earlier; at the very least, it's definitely an older freestyle, and people that have been solving my puzzles for awhile can probably spot that. The puzzle was built around the intersecting pair of THIS IS JUST TO SAY and ETIQUETTE, which I had clued as "Not eating somebody else's plums that were in the icebox and which they were probably saving for breakfast, for example". That's the sort of clue that I wrote because I could; I don't mind writing longer clues, and still do that for my site, although I've gotten better at writing shorter clues for puzzles I send to mainstream outlets.


Anyway, the layout is a pretty typical one; turning the corners from triple nines to triple sevens is a little tricky, but not too difficult. I started with the upper corner and mostly felt good about the answers; that said, if I made this today, I'd probably either clue INHUMAN with a reference to the upcoming Marvel film or just not include it at all. The bottom stack was a little trickier, as was connecting it to the middle, where I already had two entries in place. Stuff like QTRS OTRA AVEC isn't the worst, but isn't the best; that part is probably the most obvious thing that hints at this being an older puzzle, and is something I'd like to improve on today.

I'd also like to improve on the lower left; YRS isn't great (especially with QTRS, EDT, EMT already meeting the abbreviation quota for this puzzle) but I couldn't resist including two Star Wars references in that corner. Honestly, I kinda expected ENDOR to get switched to AND/OR to make things easier; I realize all the crosses on ENDOR and DAGOBAH are fair, but if you don't know them, you're missing a lot of letters from the across entries (including the pivotal first letters) and that'll make it hard for some solvers. That said, I wouldn't think twice about this corner if it was running on my site, where it definitely fits the voice / intended audience better.

On the other hand, I like the NE corner a lot more: everything's fairly crossed and well-known, and it works in some interesting letters without hurting the fill. The SE corner kinda does that too; TB TESTS isn't the greatest answer, but I thought it was worth it to get DEFIB and NIQAB in there. Overall, as noted above, I think this is one of my favorite LAT puzzles to date, even if there's some things I'd try to change if I was making it again today. But that's just part of who I am as a constructor, always trying to get better, and always trying to make the fill as clean as possible.