I love hiking and camping in the National Parks; 19 down, 43 to go! For months, I had been trying to find a way to create a theme around them. When I finally hit on the revealer phrase, I tried a number of parallel schemes before settling on this one. Triple-checked squares are a construction challenge, and many of the parks had to run through the central revealer. So, as much as possible, I emphasized cleanness over sparkle. Hope you enjoy!
JOHN: Michael usually gets the ball rolling by sending a corner. This time, it was the SE corner, though it was a little more closed off, with "condor" where GRYFFINDOR sits now. Over about three months of back and forth, which seems about average for our collabs, the grid slowly took shape. Also, I do love me some SRIRACHA.
The original set included apple, tomato, lemon, and lime, but what sounded good for juices didn't come out so well in theme phrases, and so the NYT editorial team came back with great suggestions in pear and mango. I appreciate their help with the set, and with polishing the grid. Hope solvers enjoy!
This crossword was submitted in June 2018. I was trying to think of ways to write a clue for 10-Down that would be a good example, like "'Bum bum buuuum, bum be dum, bum be duuuuuum' for Darth Vader." But that probably doesn't cut it. Hope solvers enjoy the puzzle!
While working on this idea in April 2018, I tried to make the Greek letters break across a two-word phrase, and I tried to use as many four- and five-letter Greek letters (THETA, ALPHA, OMEGA, ZETA, IOTA) and as few three-letter Greek letters (RHO) as possible. But to make it work, I had to break the rule about not sectioning off the grid with a single pair of blocks, and I had to let in some bits of fill I wish I could have avoided (ESSO, YEO, ANSE, ARTE, ANIS, and SECY) some of which pile up in the middle bottom in an ugly way.
The interlock dictated much of the grid design, so a 72-word count was a necessity, not something I was shooting for! I hope I included enough good stuff in the long answers to make up for the short fill. I also wish I could have made them all look like perfect plus-signs, but I hope just the general notion of "Greek letters crossing" will work in solvers' minds.
Oh, one more thing: I hope solvers won't be thrown by the word PITA hiding in PIT AGAINST directly beneath GREEK CROSS. I worked for a long time to remove that, but in the end, couldn't eliminate it.
I submitted this puzzle in early 2018, and I hazily recall it was one of my early efforts to try working with open corners. On the other hand, I very clearly recall what a relief I felt to get an acceptance. From March 2017 to February 2018, not counting collabs with Mike Hawkins, I had an unbroken streak of 29 NYT rejections! I only say this to offer words of encouragement to constructors in a drought. Keep trying!
Oh, and I couldn't figure out why the editorial team had changed the original 16-Across / 6-Down ANEMIC / ETC to ANEMIA / ETA. Then I noticed 40-Down ET AL and realized the Latin ET dupe. Just shows how closely they are paying attention. Good catch!
FOR THE WIN was our seed for this crossword. The greatest difficulty with themeless puzzles is finding the balance between liveliness and cleanliness, and we believe we did well, with the only major dings being SSNS and perhaps SAWII. The editorial staff made many of our clues less tricky, but hopefully solvers will still get enough of the challenge they expect from a Friday.
We submitted this in August 2017 and it was accepted in November 2017, our fifth published collaboration.
I mailed this puzzle late 2016, back when I was using this type of grid layout for themeless submissions. It's a good way to get nice 3x10 and 3x11 spaces, but these days I start elsewhere, especially to avoid the triple stack of three-letter answers.
THAT'S GENIUS was the only seed. I tried it in every 11-letter slot until it finally seemed at home all the way at the bottom. Hope you enjoy!
For about five years, I've managed to take annual trips to Zion. It must be my favorite place in the world to explore (and my kids have been good sports to come along.) So 1A seemed like a natural seed entry. It's funny that my clue, "Place for the narrows-minded explorer" was changed to mention Zion.
My original grid had a cheater square at the A of APPS, but I noted the possibility of changing it and waited to see what the final decision would be.
When I submitted this puzzle in 2016, MACRON was not the President of France. I'm glad to see that improvement in the clues, as well as several others.
This puzzle was one of my early efforts at dropping the word count and working with the stair-step pattern. Since then I've demoted HORS and ET ALII, tried to make sure that at least two long entries punch into isolated sections, and avoided blocks of 3-letter answers. Still, I'm pretty happy with how this turned out, and hope others enjoy!
JOHN: A few years ago, Michael and I decided to start a friendly competition, a race to see who could hit for the cycle first. I'm thrilled to say that it's a tie! We worked for a few weeks on compiling a list of themers. I've gotten rejections on similar puzzles because the themers just weren't funny enough. So, we waited until Michael was back in Florida and basically focus-grouped the list to both our families at a July 4th picnic, calling them out to kids and adults and seniors alike, to see which got good groans and which got bad groans.
MICHAEL: We trashed many drafts of the layout before we arrived at this one. I'm pleased with how much bonus content we managed to pack into the fill, so that even if the theme isn't your cup of tea, there's plenty to keep you interested. Many of the theme clues were edited for style or space. We had some colorful entries, like "Results of fire hydrant negotiations" for 61-Across and "They might automatically ease out after a big meal" for 98-Across and "Collection featuring 'It Came from the Deli' and 'Clean Up on Aisle Two'" for 114-Across.
The inspiration for this puzzle came from looking in the mirror. I have a gap wide enough to stick a screwdriver through.
Initially, I laid this out as a Sunday 21x, wanting to have all the gaps exactly in the middle of the puzzle. Even when I tried some rebus ideas (like Delaware Water GAP and SinGAPore), and threw in the names of famous people with gaps, there just wasn't enough there for a Sunday, and I boiled it down to a 15x.
Initially, I had SPREADS TOO THIN where SEED PEARLS / ILES is now but chose to break symmetry and bump it up a row in order match the tenses of the verbs.
Michael provided the bottom to get us going, I did the top, and we batted around the east and west until we both liked it. We finished the grid just before a Sept 2016 hike in North Cascades National Park. So we worked on clues while charging up and down mountains. Even though few of the clues survived, it's definitely our favorite collaboration published so far.
I wish I had a great story about how I came up with this theme while coming up to bat at home plate, gritting my teeth and staring down the pitcher, but I was never very good at baseball. Scared of the ball, really! Ultimate and soccer are my team sports of choice.
No, the "go down swinging" idea just popped into my mind while sitting in the car in a grocery store parking lot. I came up with some synonyms for "strike" and fleshed out the list of theme phrases using XWord Info on my phone. I think the "go down swinging" revealer is the nifty part since it summarizes the theme two ways--by referring to the three strikes and you're out, and how the answers visually "go down" the puzzle. Perhaps solvers will have a pleasant a-ha moment at the end.
When I got home and laid out the puzzle, I paid special attention to getting good entries in the six long slots (four down, two across). Jeff's word list makes this work so much more interesting, but I still get lucky once in a while and come up with something that's not found there (PRE-ALGEBRA).
One final note of interest is that my original 55-Across/Down was BARF/BRA. My playful "gag me with a spoon" clue was not enough to allow this entry to pass the breakfast test.
JOHN: This was a fun puzzle to make with Mike! I think you see our diverse interests come through in various places — a little food here, a little math there, a movie or two. The last corner to fall was the NW, where we were completely stuck until we found something new to fit the ??????TOR pattern. I may or may not be a fast food fan, but BACONATOR certainly is a fun word, and allowed us to sneak in yet another pop culture icon with AUNT MAY.
We noticed that Will and Joel changed PBS/PELLA to BBS/BELLA; and fixed our unintentional dupe of DEAD SET ON at 13-Down and SET at 58-Across by changing PARTY to PARCH at 47-Down. How did we miss that?
MIKE: No idea, I guess that's why there are editors. They also reworked most of our clues, I suspect to make the puzzle a bit easier for those lacking intimate knowledge of the Star Wars, Marvel, and Wendy Universes. VOLUNTOLD is the portmanteau that brought us together but didn't make the cut in our last collaboration. I've heard it used at two different workplaces, but I hope it's inferable for those unfamiliar with the term.
JOHN: Michael and I go way back to 1994, when I married his sister's best friend. Our families still spend a few holidays together. During those get-togethers, we shared a common interest in word games, good books, and beautiful hikes. We've pushed each other along in crossword construction. Even though we have moved about as far apart as two people can get in the continental US, we bump crossword ideas off of one another via text almost daily. We have managed to hike occasionally, too!
We decided to collaborate on themeless puzzles about a year ago. We are having better luck than we might have expected, but it helps that we have abandoned a lot of partial and complete grids. If we don't both agree that a grid is coming together cleanly, we trash it and move on.
It's impossible to remember which of us is responsible for which parts of this particular puzz—
MICHAEL: Let me stop you there. This collaboration started when you texted me to ask if a particular portmanteau word you were including in your grid was used widely enough to be crossword-worthy. I confirmed that it was: I had featured it in the puzzle I was constructing at the time. Rather than battle it out for the debut, we joined forces and collaborated from the grid you had started. The only entries from your initial grid that survived our edits were your central entry and 15- and 17-Across. Ironically enough we never managed to incorporate the portmanteau that had united us.
I mailed this June 2015, and it was rejected for a single three-letter word (VBS = Vacation Bible School). I guess it just shows how high the bar has become for themeless puzzles, and I'm thankful when I can occasionally sneak one through.
I was able to fix that word by changing two letters, and the puzzle was accepted in January 2016. The seeds were 17-Across and 25-Down. Other than that, I just tried to keep it interesting and clean.
I had no idea until I saw the preview puzzle that the spelling of 8-Down was the dreaded "var." I have since shooed it away from the pasture of my database.
When this idea popped into my mind, I was happy to discover four or five reasonable competing explanations for the etymology of Newport News, only one of which has anything to do with "news." So, fingers crossed that this first theme entry uses its base phrase in a different sense than the theme, consistent with the other three.
With that, I just needed an 11-letter revealer that did not itself contain the word "news." Which was harder than it sounds. I hope MORNING SHOW rings true.
I had a 74-word version of this puzzle that opened up the middle top and bottom with LAWNCARE and TELEPORT. But it required two ugly compromises in the fill (such as RETUSE at 49-across). As much as I would have liked to include two more snazzy long downs, I try to keep in mind Jeff's admonition about Monday puzzles and new solvers, and so I decided to focus on clean fill.
Since trying themeless puzzles, I've gotten really comfortable with rejection! Here I took a step toward simplicity, kept my two 15-letter seeds well separated, and tried to keep the liabilities to 0-2. It was sent in December 2014 and accepted in May 2015.
Thanks to Jeff Chen for his feedback on this grid! I don't know how you find the time to answer your emails, but you're a huge encouragement to new constructors!
The PRESERVES, JELLY, and MARMALADE themers are pretty much inflexible. So it was annoying that JAM, the one theme entry that had a few options, always seemed to land on an even letter count (TRAFFIC JAM, PEARL JAM, etc). Thus I had to go with a shorter theme entry (SLOW JAM) which introduces some confusion with 22-Across. But hey, the resulting pattern allowed me to focus on long fill. It was only after I finished that I realized it's a 69-worder.
Any resemblance to a space invader or Disney's Reluctant Dragon is purely coincidental.
I clued 41-Across (EPT) as "family planning brand" but I guess that didn't fly.
I had this math theme sitting in my notebook for a couple of years. Hope faded that I would ever find a phrase that started with INTEGER. One day the thought popped into my head, "why not make the missing phrase a revealer of sorts?" And that's what you have here.
I love what Will and Joel have done with the clue for the revealer, which strikes me as much more interesting than my original. Also, as more accurate, since it helps hide the fact that I didn't/couldn't do anything with irrational numbers. I'll hush now, before I reveal the true depths of my math ignorance.
This is one of the earliest puzzles I submitted, when I was trying to put twists on rebuses. I hope solvers will enjoy the theme. It might be a tad easy, which may explain why Mr. Shortz toughened up most of the clues in the upper half. As a Florida resident, I can only wish for the temperature change hinted at in the ladder. Our seasons are pretty much summer, summer, SUMMER, and summer. Then again, being able to go snorkeling and play ultimate on the beach in January has its own charms!
FWIW, when I first started submitting puzzles, I received two rejection letters which said, in effect, ‘Nice idea, but we are about to run this same theme.' I got into the bad habit of rushing to pop a puzzle into the mailbox five seconds after finishing the fill, to get a jump on the imaginary competition. I've learned to let puzzles cool off for at least a couple of weeks.
Upon a fresh solve of my own puzzle, I usually find many areas for improvement (and, of course, a couple of entries I wish I could improve, but just have to live with). This was perfectly illustrated when, a couple of months ago, I stumbled on the printout of this puzzle at the bottom of a stack, and realized I could do a better job. Actually, I think I gagged. The second row, for example, consisted of ULNAE, ALAE, and CAEN. I managed to decrease the word count by two, work in snazzier long downs, and improve the overall fill. It's not perfect, but it's better.
I must be a glutton for punishment, because this is my third Thursday in which I've used bendy or intersecting themers, which don't allow a great deal of flexibility. I'm thankful for Will and Joel giving me the opportunity to improve.
This puzzle started when I stumbled on the revealer phrase. I wanted the turned words to be words themselves, yet with a different sense than the base phrase (thus, drama queen was out, etc). I made a list of Q words and then checked to see which ones could form the ends of longer phrases. I rejected a few such as quire, quirt, and quint, because I judged them too obscure. It wasn't a long list, but it contained some nifty entries. Tiger mosquito, Steve McQueen, mesquite, liquid, acquit, and various squads were some of the options that stayed in reserve.
The whole grid almost died with 58-across. The saga included trying to move black squares, dream up new themers, inelegantly split up the revealer to eliminate the interlock, justify random three-letter "words" with Wikipedia (OGA, it's a peninsula in Japan! That works, right?), and even expand into two different Sunday ideas. But in the end, I held my nose and used a word, OES, meaning "whirlwinds," which is probably known mostly to Scrabble players. I hope solvers can look past this blemish.
I wish I could claim credit for that clue at 35-down ([Vehicle that may roll over, for short] = IRA)!
Happy New Year, everyone! The fact that this simple theme featured animals made me worry that it would go straight into the editor's trash can. But, when I didn't see most of the theme phrases in the XWord Info archives, I thought it might make an entertaining Monday.
The fill was another story. The layout of the middle required DRACULA and AZTECAN, and so it locked in either crosswordese or partials. Personally, I like one or two gettable partials in early-week puzzles. They don't look so elegant in the finished grid, but they are pleasant enough when solving, even helpful (to me). But, having three intersect is pretty ugly, and these days, I would probably try to start from scratch with the grid layout.
Hello all! Landing in a Monday slot has been a personal goal for a while, with more failures than I care to admit. I really appreciate those who do it better than I do, with a near-perfect balance of smoothness and snappiness. REATA still irks me, but it permitted STIR FRY, ZEPHYRS, LIP SYNC, and SITCOM, so I went with it. Anyway, I hope the final product suits your fancy!
By the way, I still have a lot to learn about clues, because Mr. Shortz changed most of them. The only one I wished he had kept was 25 down — I had a pyrotechnician instead of an arsonist.
Crossword construction began for me as a stupid bet, which created a very steep unassisted learning curve. Then it became a bit of an obsession. At one point, my wife had to ask that I stop tracing letters into the steam (a grid of shower tiles is a decent place to figure out that pesky 4x4 corner). Finally, it has settled into a pleasant hobby, a friendly competition / collaboration with Mike Hawkins. I can always trust his smiles or scowls.
When I got this idea, I used OneLook to fill a sheet of paper with phrases that contained the word "silent," pared down to my favorites, and then made long handwritten lists of the words featuring an appropriate silent letter, to give me as many layout options as possible. As I worked, I noticed an opportunity to make HONEST and ISLAND into more interesting entries, though this required a great deal of daunting interlock (plus, 5d (HONEST WOMAN) gave me pause, but I think the clue handles it judiciously). Filling the puzzle was like fighting to wriggle into a sweatshirt with wet skin — I managed, though it remains twisted and uncomfortable in some places. It was a conscious trade-off, and I am prepared to be blog-skewered for an ugly abbreviation at 9d (DPT), a knot of e's and s's, and too many French words (except DEMESNE, which indeed has French origins, but which has stuck in my brain since reading it on the first page of The Call of the Wild in fifth grade).
As for clues, it was a more pleasant experience this time, since Mr. Shortz changed only a handful, and most of those to make the theme answers easier. I politely contest his clue for 29d (CDs), which should read "What there may be very very very little interest in, if your portfolio looks like mine." Anyway, I'm learning the art of clues, slowly. I did have 11d (MANON) as the phrase soccer players shout to one another when they are about to be slide-tackled, but I guess I'll have to keep my World Cup enthusiasm to myself. Go USA! Oh, wait…