Adam Wagner, originally of Long Island, New York, is a creative lead at Patreon helping creators get paid for their work. In previous lives, Adam has also been a writer for Jimmy Kimmel Live!, a viral YouTuber, a game show champion, and an applied math major at Brown University.
Adam currently lives in Oakland, CA, with his wife, son, and a few thousand honeybees.
Fibonacci's whole shtick is showing up in unexpected places, so I guess it shouldn't have been so surprising that his name has exactly nine letters, and there are exactly nine Fibonacci numbers that appear in a standard weekday crossword. And yet, when I first made the realization, I truly, audibly, nerdily gasped.
I'll be donating the $750 I'm making from this puzzle to Fund Texas Choice. Access to affordable, safe abortion shouldn't be a political issue; it's a medical necessity. Safe abortions save lives. I hope you'll consider giving too.
Today's theme was inspired by (warning: mildly NSFW) this scene from the 2003 superhero smash X2: X-Men United. The original idea was that the magnets in the grid were so powerful that they were pulling the letters I, R, O, and N out of the theme clues... like this:
9D: D_d CP_ __, say
10D: _ce c_eam c__e type
28D Del_ve_y _f tax payme_t
29D F__st, t_ a seama_
So you'd have to suss out that those clues were for the base words, PUMPED, WAFFLE, FILING, MAIDEN... and then tack on the 'extracted' IRON letters in the grid, stuck to the magnets.
Ultimately, the editors felt the quadruple dupe (qupe?) of IRON was too easy for such a late-week cluing gimmick (and I don't disagree), so it'd be better to just clue the theme entries straight and run it earlier on. That said, I'm still proud enough of this weird little idea to talk about it here!
A few other random thoughts:
And as always, if you want to commend, complain, or collab, my dms are always open.
A few years ago my wife Anna made cake pops for my birthday. When I asked how the heck she made such perfect, Paul-Hollywood-handshake-worthy treats, she texted back that she used a "cake baller." I assumed this was a typo that was supposed to read "cake batter," but no — apparently cake ballers are very much a thing. For a good few seconds though, I found it very funny and bizarre that a digital text could make such an analog mistake as "forgetting" to cross a pair of ts. And thus a theme was born!
Big thanks to my brother-in-law Jacob for writing code to help me find l/t pairs. (If you're looking for something similar, XWord Info has since added a letter replacement tool, and Adam Aaronson's Wordlisted has one too that lets you search multiple wordlists).
By far the hardest part of this puzzle, though, was writing natural-sounding *non* thematic clues without any extraneous Ls, Ts or capital Is. That means no "to" "at," "all" "with," "this," "that," or "the" "other" "thing." To use a millennial reference, it felt like playing QWOP, where something as natural as running (or in my case, writing), suddenly became a near-impossible task, where I had to be hyper-aware of my every move, and would constantly faceplant by typing "it" without thinking about... it.
If you want help getting started making weird Thursdayish puzzles like this one, or if you just want to be my xfriend, come find me on the bird app.
They say good artists copy, and great artists steal. I guess in that sense I am both a good and great artist because this theme was pretty directly lifted from — er, inspired by — this brilliant puzzle from Rich Proulx. I love the idea of a hidden word theme where the nested words are related to the bigger entries they're inside of — they feel so much more special and rare, like cruciverbal truffles. Which I guess makes me the... pig?
(Quick tangent — I have since had the good fortune of getting to know Rich IRL at a couple of Bay Area constructor gatherings, and am pleased to report he is as amazing as the puzzles he makes. I knew we'd be friends when he asked me what my favorite chess opening was. [Swoon!]).
The inspiration for this theme came early in the pandemic when I found myself thinking a lot about "America's Dad" Tom Hanks. One night as I was falling asleep, my brain decided to point out that Hanks starred in both BIG and BRIDGE OF SPIES. I leaped out of bed and spent six hours looking for more examples.
(Quick second tangent — I am now the dad of a seven-month-old, and I find it hilarious that there was ever a time in my life where I would voluntarily give up sleep to research crossword themes).
A few more theme examples if you're hungry for more (click links for answers):
My original idea involved answers like TALL DARK AND HAND, clued as [With part of 64-Across, conventionally attractive.] 64-Across would then be the sizzling revealer ALL, and you'd realize you have to use part of that, aka SOME, to complete the theme entries (i.e. TALL DARK AND HAND[SOME]).
I quickly realized that the concept needed [Part of 64-Across] work so I sent it to my island of misfit themes and went on with my life.
Fast forward a few months. I was solving this puzzle by John-Clark Levin and Jeff Chen, and landed on the entry GRIFFIN, shaded in grey. "Damn!" I thought. "They've cracked the ALL/SOME idea using mythological creatures! I bet EAGLE and LION will be missing elsewhere in the grid, and you'll have to break GRIFFIN apart to fill the gaps! Brilliant!"
Of course, that was not the theme of that puzzle, not even close. But the nice thing about whiffing on a theme guess is that you may end up with an original idea you can use yourself! (Also — the actual theme of that puzzle is incredible. I highly recommend solving it if you haven't already).
This grid was a bear (or, half-bear half-human) to make, particularly in the central column where the themers intersect. I'm glad I was able to keep the animal theme going by honoring the GOAT Alex TREBEK, and my beloved HARIBO Goldbears. Big thanks to the editorial team for the many wonderful clues (though I will brag and say my favorite clue in the puzzle is my own, at 55-Across).
One last thing I'd like to share, and apologies for running long. My incredible partner Anna works as a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant trying to, in her words, "make corporate America less sexist and racist, among other things." One of the many great aspects of being married to her is that she always calls me out on my blind spots, and helps me learn from them. This puzzle had a few of those blind spots I'd like to address.
Firstly, is MANHOLE COVERS still a preferred term? I know some places call them 'maintenance covers' to use less unnecessarily gendered language. And for that matter, are all centaurs even men, anyway? Or is 'MAN' in that sense used like 'mankind'? But wait, is 'mankind' even a preferred term anymore? These issues may be small nits in the grand scheme, but even small issues are important to talk about. It's an ocean of drops, after all.
I've lost a lot of chess games in my day, so this theme is personal for me. And yet for all the chess I play, this puzzle wasn't inspired by one of my own games at all, but rather an episode of The Queen's Gambit where one of Beth Harmon's opponents lingers ever so slightly when knocking over their king in resignation. The theme flooded into my head immediately; the rest was history.
That's a lie, actually. The rest was not history. This theme set was a beast to assemble. I really wanted king T'CHALLA to work, but the only phrase I could find that hides him was CATCHALL ACCOUNT — like... an email account that all your other emails get forwarded to...? I also wanted SPORT UTILITY for TUT, but that wreaked absolute havoc on the fill.
Speaking of fill, well... listen. I don't like GARY, IN either. Or rather, I'm sure the city is wonderful. I just don't like any city + state abbr. in my grids. But if it lets me get away with WENTBYEBYE, HOTCOCOA, and OCTOMOM... get GARY IN there!
I had a couple clues I was sad to see go — "Priceless moments?" for SALES, "Dust that's meant to get in your eyes?" for CHALK ART, "Bounced playfully?" for WENT BYE BYE. The revealer was originally "Victory formation... that's often preempted by this puzzle's theme?" but I understand the need to make that one more on the nose, and overall I'm happy with editorial's revisions.
Lastly, while "Game Over" was my original title, I was holding out hope that they'd consider my ALT: "Topple The Patriarchy." Alas.
Hope you enjoyed the solve!
Until 2020, the only way to submit a puzzle to the Times was through the good old US Postal Service. I always liked submitting that way — it made me feel super cool to write "Will Shortz" on the envelope.
Only problem is, if you read the submission guidelines carefully, you'll realize you're not actually supposed to write "Will Shortz." You're supposed to write "Will Shortz, Crossword Editor." Which seems like a small difference... except I'm writing this envelope by hand, and I've already centered "Will Shortz" on the page. So now here I am having to cram "Crossword Editor" in increasingly tiny print off to the right as I hopelessly careen toward the margin, ultimately rendering the last few letters of "editor" so absurdly small that you'd need an electron microscope to decipher them.
I'm not sure what about this typesetting blunder screamed "crossword theme," but something tickled me about the idea of having to cram a bunch of letters into a rebus square at the end of a row because I couldn't adequately predict how much space I needed to fit a theme answer. And something tickled me even more about the futility of it being a haiku, as if writing a word small enough would somehow make it not count toward the poem's syllable limits.
Ultimately, I'm really proud of this one. I feel like there's a lot of "me" in it. Hope you enjoyed!
Few other things:
Fun fact: I found out this puzzle was accepted the same week my wife and I found out we were expecting our first baby! For nine months, I wondered which would arrive into the world first. In the end, baby didn't want to be upstaged; Miko was born on 4/7! I've been solving the puzzle aloud with him every night since — gotta start 'em young, y'know?
As for this puzzle — it actually wasn't inspired by a DOG at all, but rather by a Tweet that referred to a certain once-ubiquitous figure in American life as a CARNIVAL BARKER. This immediately set my crossword spidey senses atingling. Such a colorful 15-letter spanner (when pluralized) — I just knew I had to build a puzzle around it.
I was able to think up BEER GROWLER and SUBWOOFER pretty much right away and figured I should develop a full set in no time. Instead, I spent two full days spelunking the depths of canine onomatopoeia thesaurus.com pages. At one point, I remember coming up with a themer idea literally in my sleep, yelling, "I've got it!" and writing it down in my bedside notebook. When I woke up the next morning, I was amused to see that my sleepy self had scribbled down... KING ARF-ER (9). Thanks for that, sleepy Adam. Ultimately though, I hope you all agree that ELITE YELPER is enough of a thing to be crossworthy.
Big thanks to David Kwong for suggesting BOB BARKER instead of CARNIVAL BARKER, allowing for more traditional symmetry rather than the "Dog Paw" layout I had originally (three vertical themers spaced at the top of the grid, and then CARNIVALBARKER horizontal spanning across the bottom), and also for talking me out of cluing the themers as "Brewery watchdog," "Naval watchdog," etc. Sometimes it's best to keep things simple. Thanks as well to Sam Ezersky and the whole editorial team for all the help and for taking my last-minute suggestion for the clue on 3-Down!