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10 puzzles by Christina Iverson
with constructor comments

TotalDebutLatestCollabs
107/30/201912/26/20217
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
4231000
RebusCircleScrabblePOW
121.601
Christina Iverson
Sun 12/26/2021PEST CONTROL
ORDAINAPACHEIMIGHT
COULDAUSOTOURMOTHER
HORSEBACKRIDEROPPOSE
OMAHAPLSTIVOSRUSE
ATSEANORTHPOLE
REGRETTWIGYEAS
PREPATRAINGERMGEO
MITTPUBLICHOUSESOAP
SCHOOLTIESEWEBOOZE
INSETBRISKOBGYN
ARTTRUEFALSETESTLES
BOCCETRACTNICHE
ABHORIVEMAINTHEMES
COEDSPEARHEADEDDATA
ITDTEESENHALOGPAS
ANNASPASWRESTS
SOFTDRINKNANAS
PAIRLOOIETOPCANAL
ICLOUDWORKOUTTHEBUGS
CHEESEANTENNAAMENRA
SADDENNESSIEGETSAT

Like many of my puzzles, this was inspired by my son's interests. I thought it would be fun to put bugs in a puzzle, and "working out the bugs" seemed like a crossword-friendly phrase. I initially submitted a totally different interpretation on the phrase in the summer of 2020, where bugs were "worked out" of long phrases in the grid, leaving a garbled string of letters. Not surprisingly, they passed on it. After having the idea to put the bugs in the clues, I had two more rejected puzzles before the team agreed to workshop with me on the concept ... then multiple proposed theme sets before I got a green light to make this grid. So, it took a long time to work the bugs out of this puzzle!

Some of my clues that I had initially proposed were very contrived, and it took a while to get it in my head that the clues should read very naturally. My clues like, "Man tissues" hiding "mantis" and "Crick ethics" hiding "cricket" were nonsensical and confusing. I still kinda like my weird clue about Taylor Swift's hit song "Wildebeest Dreams," though.

The original title was Beta Version, and the clues with bugs were not italicized. I appreciated that the editing team was willing to share with me their thoughts on the changes, which I trust are for the better!

Mon 10/4/2021
ABBOTMONTECOB
SAUNABROOMLIE
LABORDAYWEEKEND
GASXROOKS
CAPESIAGO
PUSHTHEENVELOPE
ARTIEDALISPAM
CARDIGRESSENO
ETASBELTOWNIT
DELIVERYSERVICE
DOTSLEANS
CHILIGLEE
HERECOMESMYBABY
ARKENOLAEAGLE
PBSDEISTSHOTS

CHRISTINA: I reached out to Andrea a little over a year ago to see if she'd be interested in a collaboration. I love the collaborative process and have learned so much from each constructor I've worked with, so it was fun working with a pro like Andrea!

The idea I originally pitched was a lot more convoluted, with some wacky phrases relating to labor. She suggested doing a simpler Monday puzzle, and we came up with this. My daughter was a newborn at the time, so I clearly had birthing on my mind! I also had "Here Comes My Baby" stuck in my head for a long time while this puzzle was in the works!

ANDREA: As Prissy said in GWTW, "I don't know nothin' about birthin' babies!" But I do know this collaboration was a labor of love! Though virtual strangers (no more!) Christina and I discovered we share Minnesota roots and we had so much fun and laughter putting this together… And I love the idea of two making a baby without no men in sight … how 2020 is that?!

Sun 8/8/2021JIGSAW PUZZLE
CRUSTPERMJANEGOOFS
TUSHYASIAODORADMEN
RECAPRAPSSOTSMISDO
PICKUPTHEPIECES
ARLENELEAPTOTTAWA
TEAGOOVERTHEEDGEREC
OPIEKIDSSEGOBATH
NORMARAEOLDBETSY
PLAYWITHMATCHES
PIGEONSRAITTELATION
ADORESEEDIERUPDOS
YOLOHOTBEDIRAALFA
FREEDOMOFASSEMBLY
SERENEPOSIES
BAMGETITTOGETHERPAR
ARIASTEARSINTOGNOME
LENDPARTIESDOWNEPIC
SWERVEALLPRO
AERIESPICTURENOSEIN
MOVEITPERFECTABORTS
NANNYMOMENTSSENSE

CHRISTINA: This puzzle came very far from my initial idea! I wanted to make a domino themed puzzle for my domino-obsessed son, with pieces that toppled over in the grid. I asked Jeff to work on the idea with me because he is so good at tricky concepts like this. We threw around all sorts of ideas. Sometimes an idea would seem great in writing, but when we'd try implementing it on a grid, it would be total chaos. We tried other moving parts ideas, like magnets and puzzle pieces, and eventually settled on this.

Initially we had the puzzle in the middle with puzzle related phrases around it, but once we settled on the idea of silly phrases describing putting a puzzle together, it made more sense to put them from top to bottom. I like the idea of someone yelling, "Come on man, get it together!" at someone solving a jigsaw puzzle.

One entry that didn't end up working due to mirror symmetry was "SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED" which is a shame!

Our original grid didn't have the puzzle piece outlines shown in the bottom, but it's probably a good addition from the editors. We thought it was funny to imagine people getting out tiny scissors and trying to put the puzzle pieces together.

JEFF: Christina is being kind to me — some of my early concepts were worse than "total chaos." Think John Nash in "A Beautiful Mind." The pieces ... didn't all fit.

Sun 2/7/2021TODDLER TALK
DOCKPOISEPSSTABIT
OPRAHASNERLASHTENS
UTILETAKEAWAYNECHECK
LIMERICKINAFLORAS
ANELEPHANTINTHEWOMB
SOYERASEBODEREK
SWEATWIGDOORSELI
HITWOKBOTTOMNODAWOL
ANNELOUSEWEAKADEPT
DEADHEATCASHSNORES
GETWITCHQUICK
PIVOTSEKESNCAAGAME
IVANVVIESPACERALOE
ZINEHOGTHEWHEELDEAL
ZENSACHAARMUSEBY
ADASTRASALSAOYL
WEEDBETWEENTHELINES
SCHWASLOLAIRALERT
WHISKEYBUSINESSBICEP
AUTOLEONLEVEEYUCCA
GMENLEWDLEASEMOTT

KATIE: I loved this puzzle idea when Christina pitched it to me. We both have young children (mine are 8 and 4), and the thought of the little one saying some of these phrases made me laugh a lot, especially LOCKER WOMB TALK, which didn't make the final cut in the end, but still makes me smile. Christina is a wonderful mentor. She is very easy to work with, and I am grateful to her for sharing her knowledge and collaborating with me. I couldn't be happier to have my debut with her and on a Sunday! Also, shout out to her dad for connecting us.

When I was a kid, I would take the books of Sunday puzzles that my dad always had around on summer vacations and fill in one or maybe two of the easiest answers on every page. This probably annoyed him, but he never said anything, and I felt very proud to have contributed. Now we solve the Sunday together over FaceTime most weeks. I wrote him a (non-symmetrical) puzzle for his 70th birthday a few years ago but didn't try serious construction until last spring, during the UK's first lockdown. As a stay-at-home mom trying to handle home-school, puzzle construction has offered a welcome distraction in the evenings.

CHRISTINA: Katie and I connected when she read an interview with me on my dad's blog. She reached out to him to see if I was interested in mentoring her. I gave her some feedback on some puzzles she had made, and we quickly ended up collaborating. Katie is a fast learner and a great brainstorming partner. You will definitely see more from her!

This might be my favorite puzzle I've made. It was inspired by a real miscommunication when my toddler (2 at the time) said he wanted to weed. I assumed he meant "read," and "weed between the lines" just popped in my head. I thought it was a good theme entry for a puzzle and pitched the idea to Katie. It turned out my son really did want to weed, though.

We had a great theme set picked out but then realized that some of the entries had extraneous R's and W's, and so we brainstormed more to make sure we didn't have any extras in there. We also tried to keep it to words where the sound changes, but it's more than just a letter swap (i.e., ROCK to WOK, and not RINK TO WINK). Some of my favorite entries that didn't make it for one reason or another:

  • THE WEST IS HISTORY [Headline after the Yellowstone Caldera erupts?]
  • LOCKER WOMB TALK [Little chat about pregnancy between classes?]
  • A CALCULATED WHISK [Beating the eggs at just the right second?]
  • ICE SKATING WINK [Flirty move after landing a triple axel?]
Tue 1/5/2021
POMNUBSGASPS
AMAONTOCOLLIE
PATSDOWNRESALE
ANCHOSUESOVER
HIGHCPADRES
DAWNSONIKEA
ASISRBIENDAT
FITJACKSUPICE
TASTEEARBEAR
ETTAWADESIN
CHASERSLATE
CHUCKSITDALAI
BIGHITWARDSOFF
GNOMESOLAYIRS
BASEDSEGOLOO

AMY: I'm so tickled to be making my NYT puzzle debut!

I'm a retired Broadway casting director currently living in Brewster, NY. My mom and I always solved the Sunday puzzle together. I started doing the weekly during a two-week jury duty stint (it took me the entirety of the two weeks to finish a Monday puzzle, but since I was a jury duty prisoner, I surely had the time). I only got interested in construction a few years ago through the JASA class. I attribute the origin of my love for words and wordplay to a childhood of watching Rocky and Bullwinkle, Fractured Fairy Tales, and Mr. Peabody and Sherman cartoons.

Thanks, Christina, for your patience with this novice.

CHRISTINA: Amy and I connected through the Facebook collaboration directory. She had commented on the group that she was full of ideas but didn't really enjoy grid work. I love working on grid design and fill, but at the time, a year ago, I was really struggling with fresh ideas (I blame pregnancy brain). I also liked the idea of working with an unpublished constructor and sharing what I'd learned from my mentors when I started the year before. I reached out to see if she'd be up for a collaboration, and she emailed me a whole bunch of fun ideas. We ended up making three puzzles together, including one in The Inkubator earlier this year.

The theme set Amy sent originally included other longer phrases like BOBS FOR APPLES as "Mr. Dylan loves Granny Smiths," which I think is pretty funny, but we decided to make it more consistent with these two-word phrases. It was a fun challenge to make this grid with many short theme entries rather than fewer long entries.

POW Mon 5/18/2020
BARDGASUSMAP
OHIOPROINHALE
BOOTCAMPDIALER
SYSCOHATTRICK
OWENMASK
THIMBLERIGOSLO
OEROMNISNIPED
GAUDYANNOLIVE
ATLASTGUACEEO
SHEDIRONMAIDEN
SWAYSYNC
DOGTIREDDELVE
AURORAMONOPOLY
TRIBESVWSOBOE
ESTESSEAPEGS

This was my first accepted puzzle made without direct input from a mentor.

The original theme set had HORSE SENSE instead of THIMBLERIG. Will and the team liked the theme, but asked me to get rid of HORSE SENSE, since the token is really the "horse and rider," and is less iconic than the other tokens in the puzzle. I felt a little worried that I wouldn't be able to come up with a clean grid with their suggested replacement "THIMBLERIG," since it seemed like a fluke that I pulled off a grid with six theme entries as it was. I did end up having to do a total grid re-work, and looking back almost a year after finishing it, I wish I could get rid of some of the crossword-y fill like EEO and DIALER.

Thanks to the editing team for working with me on this one, with multiple drafts (including an embarrassing submission with the typo BOOTMAMP in the grid). A lot of my clues were changed (for the better), but I was glad to see AMY Klobuchar still represented, and my clue for RINGO Starr unchanged.

Tue 3/31/2020
ABBABASMAKEDO
DRABRIOEXITED
DISCGOLFNETTED
SEESAWAHSTAPS
UNOACHE
ROLLINGTHUNDER
BODEELLERHINO
ASIASOAMIENDS
LISPSORANEGOS
LETSTAKEITSLOW
EASELIL
GUACIRAMAITAI
ACTORSCLAPBACK
BLANCADOTICEE
SADDAYCUESODA

CHRISTINA: I reached out to Ross early last year when I saw his offer to mentor newbies. He provided great mentorship and really helped me up my construction game. I'd highly recommend finding a mentor if you are interested in construction! This was the third puzzle we made together, and my second acceptance in the NYT.

ROSS: ROSS is by far the worst friend.

If you're looking to get into crossword constructing, and especially if you identify as non-male, LGBTQ+, or as a person of color, I'd be thrilled to offer whatever assistance I can to help you get your puzzles published. Contact me via Instagram (@rosstrudeau) or Twitter (@trudeauross).

Wed 1/1/2020
OHFUNARTCLIP
LEAFSRAMAAONE
MAKOCLINICLOLA
ODESEAUCAVIAR
SSNKELPREVIEWS
PARISEDEN
JAMALTHEEBLOW
ICEITY2KWAIVE
FESSDIOSELVES
EVENPALER
FINDINGDORKALP
ALOHASADOSLOE
MULEENDOFSTORK
EVILREARRANDO
DUELASSOBESE

CHRISTINA: I'm very excited that this will be the first puzzle of the new decade. May this be a year and decade with many more female constructors!

I had the idea for a Y2K puzzle but had no idea how to get started with finding a theme set. Staring at every word in the dictionary that has a Y didn't seem very promising. When I pitched the idea to Jeff, he immediately ran some code and sent back a list of every word/phrase that became another word when the Y changed to a K. Then we pored over the list and picked the words we thought had the most potential to be funny phrases. STORY to STORK had seemingly endless possibilities. BOY to BOK, not so much.

The initial puzzle we submitted came back as a no, with an invitation to resubmit a new theme set over e-mail. The editing team liked the idea, but only one of our theme entries — KELP REVIEW. We pored over the list again and came up with two whole new theme sets, which they also rejected. But, they suggested "FINDING DORK" which we liked, so then we just had to come up with two more. It was definitely worth all the work, and they finally accepted our theme with the set you see here.

My favorite rejected entries:

  • A LIKELY STORK [Result of unprotected sex?]
  • LAKER CAKE [What Magic Johnson might jump out of?]
  • KALE LAW SCHOOL [Where one goes to learn the ins and outs of leafy greens?]
  • ITS A LONG STORK [Description of a shoebill?]

JEFF: I realized a long time ago that my sense of humor and Will Shortz's don't mesh well. Kooky themers that make me giggle tend to elicit a "the theme didn't excite me" critique. Humor is subjective, no doubt. So it was a huge surprise that Will and I both liked KELP REVIEW, especially when said in a snarky, "It's too GREEN and SLIIIIIMY."

Not such a surprise that BIRDS OF PRE-K [Feathered friends starting school?] and LIKELY STORK didn't make the cut.

Admit it, Will, the unprotected sex joke made you laugh a little.

ADMIT IT!

And expect to hear from LeBron James and/or Anthony Davis, whose high-flying acrobatics make them OZONE LAKERs.

Sun 12/15/2019DOING A DOUBLE TAKE
POBOYSNIPERSMADAM
OHARASHONOREELAMESA
PITCHYUPGRADEPITCHY
TOSSSASEDIPSSITH
OAFTHEGEMINIDRE
PROTEAMKARATPROTEAM
TREATPINELOGENTRY
RRATINGTROTSKY
STRIPLINGSTRIPLING
HUELETHSTTONROO
ENEWSROSEPETALELATE
LEVITESTHECWLEVITES
FRERESGEEWHIZNICEST
IMCOOLNOODLE
HIDENAMESAKESNUMB
MOUSSESOMANIMOUSSES
MUDTIRESOCALALGEBRA
EATOFLANDS
BOXERSPIRATICBOXERS
MAITRETRITONEAMELIA
ITSSADSEALEGSYESMOM

CHRISTINA: I feel I can't take much credit for this one. It was the fourth collaboration I did with Jeff, and the first Sunday grid we've done. The theme idea was Jeff's, during a really long brainstorming session over email (easily over a hundred emails). Because of all the constraints and the mirror symmetry, the grid skeleton was a real challenge to make with fewer than 143 words (3 more than the typical max). I took many stabs at it, but Jeff came up with this one.

This was one of my first times filling a Sunday grid, and it was a beast! I couldn't believe how hard it is to fill a grid like this without any duplicates. Just when we thought we had a version we liked, we'd catch another one. Verbs like "run "and "eat" pop up in so many phrases, and with different tenses, they can be hard to catch.

Jeff and I have different methods of filling a grid, and I learned a lot from his style. He is highly methodical, and holds off on decision making until looking at every possible way to fill each section. I feel very lucky to have gotten the chance to work with him.

JEFF: Christina is being modest. An idea that comes out of a deep brainstorming session belongs to both people, 50/50. I often tell budding constructors that volume is an important factor in coming up with a good crossword theme, maybe one out of 20 concepts being a decent starting point.

Note that I said "starting point," not "idea." I find that the best constructors are the ones willing to work through difficulties and put in the time to let that seed of an idea grow into something crossworthy, and Christina is a perfect example.

Tue 7/30/2019
SLOTAXISBASKS
TASEPITTDINAH
RUINRIGAMAROLE
IRENEISAYWED
PARISHPRIESTS
STOOLSAUTO
CABARMSFOXIER
STARTUPCAPITAL
IMBUESDENTSLY
SOYSPROTIP
BERNIESANDERS
FLUHOLAGINUP
ROMEOROMEODELA
AMPEDTOTODRED
TESLASNAPYORE

I'm (obviously!) very excited to be making my NYT debut. I have only been solving puzzles for about a year, and pretty quickly got interested in construction. This was my first "real" submission after working with my very helpful crossword mentors, Ross Trudeau and Amanda Chung earlier this year. (I now know that my first two submissions, last year, were embarrassingly bad!) If anyone is interested in construction, I'd highly recommend finding a mentor.

I knew I wanted to do something relating to capitals, and I originally just had capitals hidden in rather boring words (comPARISon and anticLIMActic, e.g.). Amanda suggested that I needed a revealer and a "why" to my puzzle. Then I thought of using "CAPITALIZE" as a revealer and making wacky phrases by adding a letter to the beginning of a word, making it start with a capital, like "OSLOW JAMS" and "TUNISEXUAL" but they were hard to clue, and just a little too wacky. Once I thought of START-UP CAPITAL I put this puzzle together, and I think it turned out pretty OK. If I could go back, I'd try to get rid of ORLY and OSIER, which I don't think belong in an early-week puzzle. My favorite entry is BABY BUMPS, which I was excited to sneak in, as the mom of a 1-year old.