MELINDA: To understand how much of a thrill it is for me to co-author the New York Times crossword today, you should also know I'm a lifelong lover of puzzles. That's one of the things that first brought Bill and me together. When we were dating, I brought a more than 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle of the Eiffel Tower to his house. I thought we'd do what my family used to do and leave it on the table for the next few months, occasionally adding a few pieces here and there. It turns out I overestimated our ability to walk away from a challenge. Bill and I finished that puzzle in a single weekend.
Over the years, I've come to realize that our shared love of puzzles is more than just a hobby. You might even say it's part of our worldview. I think there's a lot of value in throwing yourself into problems that seem daunting and reminding yourself that with time and effort, they, too, become doable. Find that one edge piece, and the whole bottom corner begins to arrange itself. Get that 1-Across hint, and the name of that Eagles song comes rushing back. You simply begin applying what you know until you wear away at the edges of the things you don't. In other words, you just start. And the more puzzles you solve, the more confidence you have to tackle the next one.
This crossword is full of answers that mean something to me: a former president who is also one of my heroes, the mascot of my alma mater, and, most important, a reminder of the dividends we reap when we invest in women and girls.
I hope it does what puzzles do best and gets you to look at challenges—even tough ones—not with resignation but with determination."
JOEL: The genesis of this puzzle is a Melinda Gates tweet in which she stated that "anyone who knows me knows I love puzzles". Naturally, that piqued our interest in including her in our celebrity crossword series. I jumped at the chance to be the one who got to collaborate with her, as I'm a huge admirer of the selfless work she does for the world.
We started by brainstorming themes based off of her various initiatives, which included one on women's empowerment titled "The XX Factor." Well, that got my constructor wordplay brain whirring, and I was able to generate some other puns in a similar vein, and we had our theme. For constructing the grid, I gave Melinda three or four options for potential fills in each corner, allowing her to pick and choose the words she connected with most. BLUE ROAN was an example of an entry I didn't know much about that Melinda loved, as equestrian is a big deal in her family. Finally, Melinda wrote most of the clues — and came up with some real gems, I should add. "Hoppy mediums" for ALES was my favorite of hers.
One final shoutout to Melinda's indispensable aide Beth Giudicessi, who helped immensely with putting this together. Hope solvers enjoy the final product!