See the 150 answer words debuted by James Mulhern.
ASHTON: In the early days of the pandemic, James and I suddenly had some time on our hands to collaborate on a puzzle again, and today's offering is the result. I made the central stagger-stack and left James with the difficult task of filling the rest. Enjoy!
ASHTON: GOOGOOGAGA was the inspiration for this puzzle. One of the most rewarding parts of constructing puzzles for a long time has been discovering the kinds of answers I tend to like. I've found that part of my voice involves including nostalgic, child-like answers when I can. GOOGOOGAGA was the natural extension of this and seemed just crazy enough to seed a puzzle with.
JAMES: As in these notes, in our collaborations, I usually come in second to bat cleanup. After Ashton had fashioned this puzzle's somewhat daunting SW, I was a little nervous about filling the opposite corner in the NE. Given the constraints, I think it came out pretty well. From there, the two of us worked together to hammer out the final corners, which are trickier than they look. We were fortunate to find IPADAIR for the pivot into the SE, where initially we thought only DEADAIR worked. Sometimes a single tweak can be the difference between smoove and gnarly. Enjoy!
I made this puzzle way back in December 2014, so I don't remember too much about the construction process. I do remember building out the upper-left corner and beginning pretty appalled by the Tetris-style arrangement of black squares, but going with it because I thought the fill was worth it.
I actually had some back and forth with Will and Joel about KIND EYES in the bottom-right. I had seeded the corner with that entry, but they initially asked me to rework things to eliminate it. I wrote an impassioned, 300-word email to defend the answer, and they agreed to run it. I'm glad they did... I hope solvers agree!
This is actually a tribute puzzle, celebrating the world's greatest dog, Mickey, who passed away a few months before I constructed it. He was a one-dog breaker of stereotypes and melter of hearts, who had a hilariously expressive face, a special relationship with children, and a deep, loving loyalty. I miss him every day.
Please consider adoption for all your pet needs — shelter animals are the best!
I made this puzzle about two years ago. It's actually a rewrite; initially, I had a couple answers (FLASH ART, AN ITEM) that Will and Joel rightly nixed, all of which led to the version you see today. As a big fantasy sports fan, I was happy to include the grid-spanning FANTASY BASEBALL, as well as some other fun fill.
Hope this puzzle is a pleasant lead-in to a wonderful long weekend!
This puzzle started with FIXIE BIKE, which I'm less psyched about in retrospect — seems like FIXIE and FIXED-GEAR BIKE are more common. I have a feeling FIXIE BIKE might be more common in British English (?). This happens to me a fair bit. Despite self-identifying as a true-blue American, constructing has made me realize that the two forms of English are pretty jumbled in my head after living in London. Occasional hiccups like this are one symptom. I can't imagine how non-native American-English speaking constructors do it.
I think the SE corner is my favorite here. The stack is pretty nice, and a friend of mine often proudly cracks his XIPHOID process (or so he says), so that entry brings an extra smile for me.
Happy Boxing Day! I hope you get to enjoy today's puzzle with your loved ones this holiday season.
I've been looking forward to this puzzle's publication, as it's probably my favorite solo to date. Along with being pretty clean and fun, one aspect that stands out to me is the breadth of knowledge covered. Hopefully a little something for everyone.
I put this puzzle together during the height of the triple-stack center craze of the early 2010's, when some of my favorite constructors were producing gorgeous examples of this type of grid. Basically, I wanted a challenge and a slick way to accomodate a double-Q, 12-letter seed entry.
Other than some less-than-perfect short stuff I'd like back (sigh), one entry I fell out of love with in this grid is INTERNET ECONOMY. I'd been trying to push more "business stuff" in the grid for a while, feeling that it was a major section of the newspaper that's too often ignored in puzzles. I didn't properly account for the fact that it's often the most boring section, too. This phrase feels a little shaky and doesn't sparkle enough for the amount of real estate it occupies. A bit of a miscalculation in my opinion.
That being said, it's not a terrible entry, and I think there's some fun stuff in here. I particularly like the musical vibe throughout — I was a classical pianist in a prior life. Hope you all enjoy. Happy Friday!
ASHTON: This puzzle started off as a collaboration between me and David Quarfoot, but started to gather dust when we both got too busy with our respective PhDs. Later, I asked him if it'd be OK if I finished it with my partner in crossword crime, James Mulhern, and he said sure. The result is what you see today. James did the SE and I did the rest (except for DQ's seed at 1A, so thanks to him for that!).
The gem of this one for me is, without a doubt, James's SE corner. It's ridiculously fun and surprising and clean. It's a great feeling to collaborate with someone who can pull stuff like that off.
As my mom always says: if JOCK JAMS doesn't get your party started, check your guest list.
Besides 1-Across, I was excited to include MURSE, FAKE PUNT, REJIGGER, and OH GOD NO. JAI ALAI in its full form is kind of fun, too. Overall, I think the longer fill has a nice bounciness, or life, to it in this puzzle — lots of multiword phrases help give that feel. I hope you agree! ORLE else...
Ah, SKRILLEX. I can't say I'm the biggest fan of his music, but his name is too fun to ignore, and he's a pretty "important" pop musician. Definitely grid-worthy, IMO. Still, I was glad to get LIGETI in there to class up the musical selection a bit.
If I could take back one decision I made during construction of this puzz, I would opt not to cram REDDIT into the NW. It was a mistake to fetishize "freshness" at the expense of smoothness there — particularly since the answer has been scooped twice since I submitted this grid!
I'm quite proud of the NE. It's silky-smooth, with three fun down answers plus FOR NOW, FOODIE, SAME-SEX, and STRATEGO. That's basically what I'm striving for in every corner. Results may vary.
One aspect I find interesting about this puzzle is the unique vibe of each corner. The NW is a classic high word-count first corner, with a bold 1-A and a cool stack. The NE is all about smooth. The SE is the funky corner, with E-TILES and RSTLNE stacked. And the SW is the tricky vocabulary corner, with SCAPULAR and the challenging-to-parse OH YES I DO crossing LIGETI and AD UNIT. Hopefully that provides variety, and gives something for everyone.
Hope everyone has a great Friday night and Saturday. Enjoy!
I constructed this puzzle partially (ok, fully...) while sitting in my office at the PRU in Boston about a year ago. As of this week, I've moved from Boston to New York, so the timing is perfect for having a Times puzzle!
Looking back, I don't think I'd settle on this NW today — even great stacks can't really justify the ON ONE / ENT / REO / TAY and especially BSS (which I misguidedly tried to save with a risqué clue) pileup in the crosses. Squeaky-clean fill is more of a goal of mine today than it was when I made this. Still, the flipside is that it allows for what I think is a pretty cool stack.
I expect OCR to be divisive, but I'm a fan. It's fresh, (somewhat) modern, and quite common in a variety of circles. Seems like a fair Saturday entry.
Thanks as always to Will and his crew for the punch-up in the clues. I can take no credit for the brilliant clue for 1-Across.
Hope you enjoy!
This was the first themeless James and I collaborated on, around two years ago now. Our ideas about what makes a themeless great were starting to evolve towards a more "holistic" view, for lack of a better word. In the era of computer-assisted construction, a scattershot collection of great entries isn't enough — it becomes harder and harder to tell what's human and what's machine.
Instead of making themelesses that are simply lists of words (and judging them by simply enumerating their "good" and "bad" words), we focused on trying to craft puzzles with interrelations and echoes and interesting juxtapositions in them, so they could only be fully appreciated by considering them whole. Hopefully this puzzle's NW corner has this effect (relating the two long downs and joining a triplet of entries with identical clues were two other attempts at achieving something similar). The end result isn't perfect, but we hope the solver can feel the human effort that went into it.
What he said. Ashton did the top and I did the bottom. Hope you like it!
This is my first themed puzzle in five years, almost to the day. Although my main focus is the themeless form, I really enjoy making themed puzzles when the inspiration strikes. The challenges are different, but the reward is equally satisfying. I hope to make more in the future.
I'm a big poker player, and somehow DOUBLE UP revealed itself as a neat revealer in my mind. The reason I went for it with this theme is not so much that the core concept is overly thrilling, but rather that the resulting phrases are all fun. Combined with some cool fill, I hope this makes for an enjoyable Tuesday!
CHICK-FIL-A was all over the news at the time I made this puzzle back in early 2013, and it felt culturally relevant enough to deserve a place in the Times crossword. I also hear it's delicious.
There's nothing like the freedom of the first corner in a themeless, where black squares can be deployed in all the optimal spots for your seed entries, creating a kind of custom-made skeleton filled with all the juicy words you can manage. As a (bad) chess player, it reminds me of the beginning of a chess game, when the possibilities are endless and it's on you to create something beautiful, memorable in the space in front of you. I started this grid in the top-left, and although I don't think that corner is perfect by any means (lookin' at you, YEH), I'm proud of it, in large part because the initial crafting phase promotes a deep sense of ownership. It makes it personal.
Something I'm learning as time goes on: 70-word grids are awesome. They seem to strike a balance between having enough spots for long entries, and being fill-able enough that mortals can work with them without needing to make too many compromises along the way. PINKY SWEAR and ROAD RUNNER probably would've been chopped in half in a 72-worder, and that would be sad.
As always, a huge thanks to Will (and Joel?) for his (their?) help with the clues. The PINKY SWEAR clue in particular is a stunner. I also love the clue for PUTS ASIDE. I originally submitted just [Shelves] — the genius [Tables or shelves] is exponentially cooler.
I hope you enjoy the solve!
We constructed this puzzle a little over a year ago. Ashton constructed the eastern half of the grid, seeded with my entry, CHA-CHING!, and I put together the west, seeded with Ashton's entry, THE CLOUD.
I think Ashton's NE is particularly good. We often rate entries on a scale of 0-10, with 0 being a "sale-killer," and 10 being reserved for what we consider explosive, top-shelf stunners. To stack two 10's (CHA-CHING and AI WEIWEI are 10's in my mind) and incorporate a ton of other entries that I consider 8+ is gorgeous work. His clue [Cash flow statement?] ups the ante in that section even more.
A final thought: although WSW isn't the best entry, I thought it was pretty cool that it fell in the WSWernmost spot of the grid. One of the clues left on the cutting room floor hinted as much. Oh well.
James's seed entry, CHA-CHING!, is one of my favourite entries in a long time. It's evocative, melodic, slangy, positive, and implicitly exclamatory. To sift through the language of daily life and unearth an ultra-rare gem-phrase that combines a lot of wonderful traits like this, and then start fashioning a freestyle grid around it, is the single greatest joy in puzzling for me.
It's not the prettiest-looking grid in terms of the arrangement of black squares, but hopefully the fill looks a bit better. I started this puzzle in the NW, seeded by OVERSHARE. The other main seed entries were TAKE A STAB / HERSTORY in the SE.
One thing I'm excited about here is the clue for ALES. Old Brown Dog is a great brown ale from Smuttynose, a brewery in my hometown, Portsmouth, NH. Pick one up to enjoy on your Friday evening!
As an economist and graduate of the one of the institutions with which Prof. 7-Across is associated, I'm pleased to debut his name in the puzzle today.
I made this back in 2012, seeded by KRUGMAN and MOT JUSTE / MUMBO JUMBO. I think many other answers are strong, with entries such as SHEER AGONY and NO HARM DONE in particular making for nice fill in some of the longer spots.
Since I constructed this puzzle, my standards and taste have evolved, mostly in response to feedback from you all. Partials, in particular, are something I now avoid obsessively, so it's a bit tough to look at the pile-up in the top half of the grid. I also anticipate backlash against some of the "crosswordese" in here (OLEO and ANIL stand out). Although I don't personally have a problem with this type of entry, in crosswords, the solver is always right, so I'll keep striving to give the people what they want! Hopefully today's puzzle meets that goal.
This puzzle began, as so many themeli (Jeff's note: what a great pluralization of "themeless"!) do, in the northwest, where a stroke of luck and some sage advice allowed me to extend 3-Down from SHARING to the awesome SHARING IS CARING. Unfortunately, from there the grid was already fairly constrained, and the compromises required to fill it are a bit too evident. There's definitely some other good stuff throughout the puzzle (I really like NOT MUCH TO LOOK AT, despite another "AT" dupe...), but there's also too much junk. The eternal constructing struggle!
In any case, I'm pleased with this puzzle, and I hope you are, too. Fo'shizzle.
A quick intro: I'm a Ph.D. student in computer science. James and I met during our undergrads at McGill, where he first introduced me to crosswords, and, later, to the idea of constructing them. I never thought I'd be a "crossword person," but it has turned out to be a weirdly perfect combination of many things I love (language, pattern, misdirection, etc.). I think of constructing as a craft, or a minor form of art, and it makes for a great creative outlet for me.
When James and I collaborate, I usually start off with the first corner (seeded with an entry from James), then pass it off to James who fills in the opposite corner (seeded with one of my entries), and we try to design the grid so that the 3rd and 4th corners can then be finished simultaneously. This is because I'm a hopeless puzzle perfectionist and love the freedom of the first corner (but my solo output is mostly a folder full of first corners), whereas James is much better at making shrewd compromises to squeeze great corners out of constrained situations — I open, he closes.
I did the top half of the puzzle (seeded by LEGALIZE IT) and James did the bottom (seeded by SHE SAID YES, although I was thinking of the ecstatic phrase). I'm especially excited about this one because it has a lot of answers that feel very "us," like I GOT YOU, MAKE BANK, DUCHAMP, and PATTYCAKE.
Despite almost ruining our friendship (PEELINGS led to a heated debate), it was a blast making this puzzle. Ashton's NE corner, in particular, is a beaut, with LEGALIZE IT crossing REEFER, and my favorite clue, [Drive to drink, e.g.] for the super-fun PRIMAL URGE.
Speaking of cluing, our cluing method for our collaborations involves each of us writing a set of clues without talking to each other, then brainstorming as we merge them. That way, we get two perspectives — that is, assuming we don't have the same clue... and that Ashton manages to finish his (3+ months to write clues is not unusual for him!).
And finally, a huge thank you to Will for agreeing to run this puzzle today. I reached out to him a few weeks back about the possibility of having it in the paper on the day I propose to Kate, my one, and he graciously agreed. 58-Across will be a keepsake for life.
This was my first attempt at themeless construction. It has some definite creakiness I'm not thrilled with, looking at it with today's eyes, but I still think it has some nice stuff in the longer spots. ZAGAT RATED / ZOMBIE, GLUTEN-FREE, and NUTELLA were the main seed entries, and many of the other long entries are strong (SURE ENOUGH, SWAMPED, ONE TOO MANY, SOBER UP, TACITUS, NUMBSKULL, STONER, WORD OF GOD). I particularly like GLUTEN-FREE, which is modern, fresh fill that isn't a proper noun (and therefore (hopefully) more familiar to more people). Enjoy!
I started making puzzles ("puzzin'") back in college with my good friend, Ashton Anderson. After some growing pains, we had a collaboration puzzle published on a Monday back in 2009. Following that, Ashton switched his attention to themeless puzzles, while I switched mine to altogether less important things. The constructing bug bit me again back in 2012, though, and I began trying my hand at themeless construction, which led to this puzzle (and a few more in the pipeline, including some co-constructed with Ashton).
This puzzle is brought to you by EMMA STONE. A friend of mine is a big fan and encouraged me to feature her in a puzzle. I was also pleased to have PROACTIV, BUG ZAPPER, GLEE CLUB, BOOK SMART, SANDAL TAN, and JEZEBEL in there. Somehow, these answers hit a sweet spot for me. They're evocative, modern, playful, and surprising, to my ear at least. It's difficult to pin down or articulate this reaction, but it's what makes me love crosswords, and particularly themeless crosswords.
I find the crosses in the NW interesting, and I'm eager to get solvers' feedback. It's quite a pile-up of names (5 of the first 6 downs!), but given that they are all from quite different parts of culture, I thought it wouldn't distract. I hope that's the case.
I'm honored to have this puzzle in the Times, and I hope everyone enjoys the solve.