So excited to bring you all a banger-filled 21x21 on 2/21/21! I made this puzzle this past August, and it was accepted in mid-December. The idea for the theme started with the clue-answer pair at 24-Across. From there, I wanted to make sure that I really stuck the landing on each themer — options like [Sand bars?] for MARGARITAVILLE or [Biker bars?] for THE CHAIN didn't feel like they worked quite well enough — and I ended up putting the idea on the back burner a few times before eventually rounding out the set with WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS. Once I realized that I could lay out the grid with the 17s and 15s interlocking, I was off to the races. My favorite clues of mine that made the cut are 74-Across and 110-Across, and the editing team delivered across the board — my favorites additions of theirs are 36-Across and 12-Down.
As is the case with almost every puzzle I'm proud of, I'm so thankful here for my friends Brooke Husic and Sid Sivakumar, whose feedback on early versions of this theme and grid were truly invaluable. I wholeheartedly recommend solving every puzzle that either of them ever makes, starting here and here. (If you're not all puzzled out by now, my stuff's over here.)
Lastly, I've learned a lot since making this puzzle in August, and if I were remaking it today, I would only consider theme sets with a wider variety of diversity among the ‘featured' artists. Our community has important work to do in diversity in inclusion, not only in puzzle content but also in terms of constructors (and editors). If you're a constructor from an underrepresented background in crosswords and want any pointers/feedback/other help as you make your way into puzzles (21x or otherwise), please don't hesitate to reach out.
Very surprised and excited to be back in the Times so soon! This puzzle was my first NYTXW acceptance, which came in March 2020. I love basketball and movies, so it was really fun for me to hit on a theme that combined the two. I'm happy to see the finished product out in the world!
When narrowing down a consistent set of themers, I decided to rule out any nonplural team name (Magic, Thunder, etc.) so that the clues could all be smoothly worded with a singular-player-focused play on words. I also enjoyed the added constraint of the "The ___ ___" pattern, which ruled out some options I had seen before, like "Raging Bull." If I were making this puzzle today, I'd definitely have wanted to feature at least one W.N.B.A. team in the mix as well, though I'm still pleased with how this early constructing effort turned out.
Many, many thanks go to Sid Sivakumar, who helped me lay out the lower word count grid with the two schnazzy 13s running through all three themers, and to the editing team for their thoughtful clue changes throughout (16-Across, 42-Across and 46-Down are my favorite additions of theirs). Hope you enjoyed!
If you're interested in making puzzles and want help getting started (or you're a crossword veteran who wants help getting connected with mentees), please get in touch! You can find me on Twitter (@1Matthew Stock) or on my blog.
MATTHEW/SID: Our pre-written construction notes are below, but our hearts are very heavy today. This is a dark time in American history — we can only hope that our puzzle brings some light.
MATTHEW (he/him): I'm so thrilled to be making my New York Times debut on a collaboration with Sid, who I met through the crossword community on Facebook last year and quickly became a very dear friend. Coincidentally, we both live in St. Louis and got to hang out IRL over puzzles and tasty food before social distancing and quarantining took effect. I'm forever grateful for our friendship, conversations (about puzzles and other stuff) and collaborations, which have made me a kinder, more thoughtful puzzlemaker and person.
A quick bit about me: I teach ninth grade algebra as part of an amazing Americorps program in East St. Louis, IL; I run my own puzzle blog, Happy Little Puzzles, where I post free 11x midis and full-size puzzles every week; and I help out at the Crossword Puzzle Collaboration Directory. If you're interested in making puzzles and want help getting started (and/or you want to collaborate with me)(and/or you're a crossword veteran who wants help getting connected with mentees), please don't hesitate to reach out!
SID (he/him): Excited for Matthew's debut in the Times! Matthew's far from a novice constructor — he's one of the most prolific puzzlemakers of the past year, having written and published something like a hundred puzzles in many venues, including his website and mine. I'm honored to be his collaborator, his fan, and of course, his dear friend.
Matthew and I independently came up with the same idea for this puzzle, so we decided to tackle it together. Usually, themers of lengths 10/8/15/8/10 can be positioned in any number of ways, but the Xs forced us to rethink our gridding strategy. We tested 160 arrangements of theme entries and black squares before finding just two grid skeletons that seemed feasible: the pattern you see today and a nearly identical one with PIXY STIX in place of THX / IBEX. The latter option didn't work out, but the former filled readily after placing the vowel-heavy EEYORE at 33A. Escaping with a few dabs of XIS (shoutout to the editing team for the A+ clue), SRIS, ALII, ERY was miraculous given the constraints. Hopefully the puzzle makes for a satisfying solve!