I'm very excited to have my first solo byline and my first themeless puzzle published! I decided to give themeless constructing a try after seeing the statistics about how few women have historically constructed Fridays and Saturdays for the NYT.
To start, I seeded this puzzle with POLAR BEAR PLUNGE because I love jumping in freezing cold alpine lakes. From there, I focused on converting as many of the long slots as possible into interesting entries and minimizing liabilities (including keeping the 3-letter-word count down.) I found that this grid offered a fair amount of flexibility since the entries in the middle diagonal (along the VEAL -> VERY axis) had several alternatives and could be swapped out pretty easily when I needed to rewrite a corner.
Since I'm still new to constructing, I wasn't surprised to see many clues changed in the editing process, but a few of my original ones (FIRST STEP, SKI SEASON, SARA, SPA, etc) made it through. SKI SEASON feels especially timely as the season is starting up right now (even though I prefer cross country skiing to going on downhill runs!)
Thank you to Robyn Weintraub and Peter Wentz for generously answering my many, many questions about how exactly one goes from a blank grid to a finished themeless puzzle. They shared useful technical tips and, most importantly, helped me keep my standards high. Thank you also to Erik and Will N for connecting to me Robyn and Peter, to Jeff and Jim for all the great resources at XWord Info, and to my mom and aunt for being my trusty test solvers!
ACME: Leslie Rogers was looking for a mentor and had forwarded many good ideas, and this one stood out to me.
We had a natural reveal in CAP AND GOWN, so it was a matter of hashing out details (e.g., caps should consistently come first. We needed matching 10s, etc.)
There are both metaphoric types of caps as well as physical ones (i.e., baseball vs. ice cap or hard cap) but there are only a few types of gowns, almost entirely physical (hospital, wedding.)
Leslie is a software engineer, so after we came up with initial lists, she made a program that generated every conceivable combination. New way of working for me!
Big age gap, but she learned who BILLY IDOL is, and I learned what a DATASET is. Fun and easy collaboration facilitated by the fact that we "met" online through the blogosphere but both live in San Francisco.
Happy to have played a part in her debut.
Leslie Rogers: It's a dream come true to make my debut as a New York Times crossword constructor! My mom introduced me to crosswords when I was young, and my obsession has grown in the last couple of years as I've discovered the NYT app, tournaments, and blogs. I'm a software engineer from Silicon Valley, and besides crossword puzzles, my hobbies include backpacking, scavenger hunts, trivia nights, board games, and cross country skiing with my team Aloha Nordic.
I originally met Andrea online when she posted a message that she was open to mentoring and I took her up on her offer. Coincidentally, it turned out that we live right by each other, which made collaboration easier! I sent her several theme ideas, and she picked CAP AND GOWN as having the most potential. We brainstormed dozens of caps and gown and I wrote a short script to print out all the combinations and filter them by entry length to help us choose. NIGHT-NIGHT came quickly, WHITE WEDDING was next after Andrea convinced me that Billy Idol is crossworthy, and after another round of brainstorming we finally came up with MUSHROOM BALL to round out the set. I hope you enjoy the solve!