This theme came about serendipitously. Luckily, I happened to notice the wordplay potential when the revealer phrase popped up in something I was reading. It might not be the most efficient way of generating theme ideas, but keeping your brain in "crossword mode" while going about your day can occasionally yield fruit.
Overall, the grid-making process was fairly smooth. As the themers only needed a single letter removal/addition, there were ample options to choose from. I did struggle a bit with the position of the revealer. For those purists out there who like their revealers to be in the final across slot, just know that I fought hard to make that happen, but couldn't quite pull it off. At least not without some ugly fill options that I wasn't willing to accept.
One thing that might be of interest to constructors is that the editorial team did a minor 4-cell rewrite in the southwest corner. Presumably, the motivation was to get rid of my original entry in 113A: OBESE. I don't think that is a purely taboo entry as it appeared in a puzzle last month, but it does violate the "good-vibes" principle, so it might warrant a lower score in your word list.
The idea for this puzzle came while watching one of Claire Saffitz's excellent cooking videos. After making a delicious-looking Tarte Tatin, she wrapped things up with a Julia Child quote: "a party without cake is (really) just a meeting." Like most viewers, I immediately thought "aha! a crossword theme!" and set about searching for a theme set.
In choosing the quotes, I was looking for both humor (which wasn't too hard) and ones that could split into a setup/punchline pairing with no repeated words in each part. The only entry that did repeat a word was 101-Across where THE appeared in both the clue and answer. I was a little worried about that, but I found a few examples of this in published puzzles, so I let it go.
I pay special attention to the clue changes made by the editorial team. For constructors who might be interested in the stats, this puzzle had 36% of the clues rewritten, 43% kept, and 21% tweaked. Not surprisingly, the changes were excellent. I particularly liked their fresh approach to EGG. My favorite that made the cut was BOO, but of course the best clues are from Julia herself.
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It is quite a thrill to have my NY Times debut. It feels like a long time coming — I wrote my first puzzle back when I was in college in the '80s. I became more serious about constructing in the early 2000s but took about 15 years off before I caught the bug again in 2019.
I don't have too much to say about this particular puzzle. Once I had the idea, the theme entries came quickly as it is not hard to mine for words ending in STONE. I did have an early iteration with a looser theme set that allowed names (e.g., SHARON, OLIVER) and phrases (e.g., STEPPING, KIDNEY) before realizing I could tighten things up and use only closed compound words. Luckily, there were just enough 6-letter options (if you count CHERRYSTONE, my least favorite) to cover the east and west edges and plenty of shorter entries to complete the border.
One noteworthy feature of this puzzle (at least to me) is that it is one of the first grids I designed with Crosserville, a new web app I've been working on. My puzzles from 20 years ago were made with a very simple program that I hacked together, and I decided that my pandemic project would be to turn that old code into a more complete and user-friendly crossword construction tool.