For our second Times collaboration, we sought a themeless grid with a novel architecture. Sid had the idea of a marquee central stack with each subsequent Across entry flush against the left or right side of the grid in an alternating fashion. It turned out that this constraint required an even number of rows, so we pushed to a 16-tall grid with six central Acrosses. The center forced wide-open corners in the top left and bottom right. We're proud of it!
We've had the great fortune to construct for many venues both together and solo! Notably, we've been known to collaborate on Sid's puzzle blog. Some other recent highlights: Sid has written puzzles for three crossword tournaments this year, including the Championship Puzzle for the Boswords 2020 Fall Themeless League … and Brooke is excited to be joining the Boswords team for their Spring 2021 Themeless League — find both the Fall 2020 puzzle packet and Spring 2021 info at boswords.org! Today's puzzle rounds out an exciting week for Brooke, which included her 22nd puzzle in the USA Today and her first puzzle with the Inkubator (puzzles by trans women, cis women, and women-aligned constructors). She also has her own puzzle blog (note from Sid: Brooke's experimentations with grid symmetry have changed the indie crossword scene, and ripple effects are starting to be seen in mainstream puzzles, too).
A closing message from Brooke: It was a little less than a year ago that I decided a goal for 2020 would be to construct (let alone submit!) a single crossword puzzle. If you're interested in constructing but are on the fence, I encourage you to go for it! You can get involved with the community through the Crossword Puzzle Collaboration Directory or the Crossword Discord Server.
We built this puzzle around MODEL MINORITY, a demographic myth we feel is important to highlight. We know, however, that this is a term that could elicit discomfort among some solvers, particularly those who look to puzzles to distract themselves from the world. As solvers ourselves, we notice our own tendency to conflate discomfort over an entry in a crossword puzzle with discomfort over the real-world phenomenon that the entry references.
By highlighting the MODEL MINORITY myth as a marquee entry in our puzzle, we hope both to introduce the concept to folks who aren't aware of it, and to make those who have experienced the social pressures associated with a perceived MODEL MINORITY — like Sid himself — feel seen. It's not the easiest topic to address in a crossword puzzle, especially given the practical limitations of crossword publishing (e.g., clue brevity). But it's prudent to shed light on racial bias at this critical time of societal reckoning—and crosswords are, undoubtedly, a reflection of our society.
This grid includes several other entries that we wanted to clue sensitively, and we're grateful to the editing team for their care and thoughtfulness. We're also glad that many of our original clues made it to print—some of our personal favorites are 58-Across, 3-Down, and 11-Down. Of course, the editing team came through with their own awesome takes; we especially love their angles for 22-Down and 52-Down.
In addition to our shared love of puzzles, the two of us share an alma mater and love for St. Louis: Sid is an MD/PhD student at Washington University in St. Louis, where Brooke went to college. We're also both academics in the sciences: Brooke is a postdoc in mathematics in Berlin, Germany, and Sid's PhD is in biomedical engineering. Finally, while this may be the Husic–Sivakumar team's debut in the Times, we've collaborated extensively in other venues, including the extremely-worth-your-time Grids for Good charity crossword pack (available for just a $10 donation to the COVID/racial justice fund of your choice!), and Sid's indie puzzle site, Sid's Grids. We're also both excited to be contributing individual puzzles to this year's Lollapuzzoola crossword tournament, which will be held virtually one week from today!