Word count: 72
Mean word length: 5.36
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I definitely try to avoid closed-off sections in grids, i.e. areas that you could completely isolate by adding a single black square. Unfortunately, there are two corner sections of this grid where that’s the case. I started with the two center 13-letter entries, of course, then went to the upper right to begin constructing in earnest. With the stack I formed there, I must have tried at least a dozen different block arrangements before relenting and settling on the arrangement you see here. I shouldn’t exactly say “relenting”, because the block arrangement I settled on gave me the best opportunity for the best fill. The up side of closed-off sections is that you have a whole swath of grid that’s rather isolated, and thus much easier to construct (and easier to put some sparkle in the section), but the down side is that solvers like you don’t have any “outs” if you get stuck in that section. I was very careful not to put any hard-to-infer proper names or obscure words in those two sections because of that.
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