Relative difficulty: Medium
Word of the Day: TELESIS (14D: Progress by intelligent design) —
Telesis (from the Greek τέλεσις /telesis/) or "planned progress" was a concept and neologism coined by the American sociologist Lester Frank Ward (often referred to as the "father of American sociology"), in the late 19th century to describe directed social advancement via education and the scientific method. The term has since been adopted as the name of numerous groups, organizations and businesses. (wikipedia)
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Took one look at the grid and thought "well, this is going to suck." Given that expectation, the puzzle was not so bad. As stunt puzzles go, this one was about average. Passable, but with seriously ugly stuff in the margins. One huge plus: the eight interlocking 15s are all remarkably solid. And not a SCARLET TANAGERS or A LOT ON ONE'S PLATE in sight. The rest of the grid is predictably mediocre-to-weak, with a particularly bad patch in the NE (think TELESIS / LAE / CCXII / SERACS). Lots of names no one really knows, like EHLERS (30A: Longtime Guiding Light actress Beth), and DUPRE and ODETTE (16D: Proust's Parisian courtesan) and DWAYNES (34D: Hockey player Roloson and wrestler Johnson) (OK, I've heard of DWAYNE Johnson, aka The Rock, but "Johnson" isn't exactly a giveaway name). Also, WAS OLD!? Yeesh. That is some LESSER OF nonsense. Also, two COURSEs!? Two REDs, OK, but Two COURSEs?! Ugh. But still, as I say, as this kind of low-word-count, "hey ma, look at me"-type puzzle goes, it holds together, mostly.
It felt hard at first, when I couldn't get many of the short answers (where I usu. start with a puzzle like this). But after putting TRY AS and ICER next to each other, I decided to actually look at the clues for the long answers, and off the "-YE-" I got STAYED THE COURSE. From there I got TACIT and ECON, which gave me access to the whole west and (eventually) south sides. Had some trouble moving up the central alleys to the NE (where I eventually finished things up). SERACS (29A: Glacial pinnacles) was a mystery, and I couldn't remember the exact boiling point of water, or that damned Papua New Guinea port (which I've seen in several, usually weak, puzzles), so I was blocked there. Never heard of a CAT BOAT (8A: Craft with one mast and one sail), never heard of "A COOL Million, though some muscles and tendons were ROPY ... so, yeah, access to that NE corner was tough. But I made out the COURSE part of EXTENSION COURSE, and eventually brought DEAD AS A DOORNAIL back across, which then let me work all the kinks out. TELESIS was a Hail Mary, but looking at it now, I don't see how it could've been anything else. I know TRIREME from various ancient Greek stuff I've had to read over the years, so I figured BIREME must be ... something (31A: Hellenistic-era galley).
- 36A: Waterwheel parts (VANES) — well, of course. Who doesn't know their waterwheel parts. Elementary school stuff.
- 11D: Frank's place (BUN) — had this as DOG at first, then realized the DOG *is* the "Frank." BUN followed shortly.
- 28D: Wack, in hip-hop (ILLIN') — "Wack" has far more currency than "ILLIN'," which peaked adjectivally in the mid '80s.
- 43D: Brooklyn Park setting: Abbr. (MINN.) — oh sure, right next to COON RAPIDS. Who doesn't know this? Child's play.