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"Midrash" by Martin Ashwood-Smith (August 2014)

I sent an earlier version of this puzzle to Will Shortz over a year ago. He returned it, saying that the puzzle didn't "... excite him quite enough" (or words to that effect). He didn't single out any particular entry as a deal-breaker, but I suspect that having several full 15-letter words in the stacks didn't exactly up the "wow" factor by much.

Now if this puzzle had been the first "kid on the block" as far as double-quadstacks go, it's possible that Will may have accepted it, or at least, accepted a variation of it. But times have changed: quadstack crosswords are no longer as novel as they used to be 4 or 5 years ago. Now, just about all of the 15-letter entries have to be decent "marquee entries," as Will calls them. For example, while 60-Across may be a perfectly good word that can be found  in every dictionary [not that you'd really need to look it up anyway], it hardly sets the world on fire when it comes to exciting crossword answers.

Eagle-eyed solvers may notice that two "cheater" black squares in this grid are not strictly necessary. An earlier version of the grid had ETIENNES (11-Down) and MENORAHS (38-Down). The problem was that I already had two plural proper nouns in the grid, EKLANDS and SLYS [neither of which is exactly a top-tier entry], so I thought that a third might be a bit much. Moreover, I felt that the French first name ETIENNE (English equivalent "Steven") may not be overly familiar to solvers, especially when pluralized. So it seemed clear to me that the capital city of Loire, Saint-ETIENNE, was more suitable. [While I'm on the subject, I  would have liked to have clued ETIENNE in reference to the British techno trio Saint Etienne, but I felt that they might not be familiar enough to US solvers, alas. Click here for a representative song (4 min) of theirs.]

Finally, actor John DALL (57-Down) is best remembered from the Hitchcock classic "Rope." From the technical point of view, this is a very unusual film, even by present-day standards. For more about this remarkable movie, please click here, regardless of whether or not you have previously seen it.

Happy solving!

GB adds: This was a fun puzzle to edit. When I test solved Martin's original version, I couldn't quite get all of the letters of ANTEPENULTIMATE. Ironically, that very word appeared in blog comments (see pmdm at 8:41 AM) the very same day that we were finalizing the present midrash. For those not patient enough to click on the link, it was asserted that a grade of A- is antepenultimate, by comparison to grades of A and A+. It is a testament to Martin's high personal standards that he continued to work to improve the grid and the clues in response to suggestions from our beta testing team.

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