Thursday, May 7, 2015

Fifteen squared (Puzzle No. 3,362)

I spent my lunchtime last Friday on the New York Times straight crossword.  Typical Friday construction, showing off a stack of three fifteens at the top and bottom.  But wait—there’s something unexpected in the top right corner: a “16.”  This puzzle is 16 by 15 instead of 15 by 15. Besides giving David Steinberg a chance to use a half dozen answers that haven’t been seen in the puzzle before, it got me thinking about how convention has given us 15 by 15 weekday crosswords and block cryptics, along with 21 by 21 Sunday puzzles.  The consistent size might have been something newspaper publishers called for: once they laid out the diversions page (puzzles often appeared on the same page as the comics), it would be the same every day with no additional work necessary on their part.  And with an odd number of squares on each side, it’s easier for constructors to apply the conventional rotation symmetry, or even 90° symmetry.  15 by 15 has the same kind of natural “fit” as 90 feet between bases on a baseball diamond.

There’s a little less convention in bar cryptics, though 12 by 12 is the most common (it works out to be pretty close to the 15 by 15 block in number of letters to fill in).  They don’t even have to be square.  Mark Halpin might be the constructor who’s dispensed with convention most often, but plenty of other constructors have felt free to make unusual grids.

Link to puzzle

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): easy, even easier than last week

Agility factor: mild

This week’s cluing challenge: FIFTEEN

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