This puzzle is my sixth publication in the New York Times. The initial version of the grid was completed some three years ago, but it was a deficient draft to say the least. The puzzle sat dormant for a few years before I resurrected it from my crossword puzzle wasteland and performed some reconstructive surgery on it. The operation was a success. With eight theme entries, it is the first puzzle of mine Will has accepted without the need for further editing on my part.
"Bear Down, Arizona!" ARIZONAWILDCATS served as my seed entry and a form of homage to Tucson, where I met and married my wife. Our first date was a Wildcats basketball game during their NCAA championship season. Initially, I considered constructing a themeless puzzle, but the A & W theme emerged quite readily so I ran with it.
ABIGAILWILLIAMS made for a solid, 15-letter, vertical anchor in the center of the grid. Discovering a home for APPIANWAY and ALTARWINE as symmetrical crossings was serendipitous and somewhat of a coup. At that point, I knew I was on to something (OK NOW!). ACIDWASH and AIRWAVES worked nicely for the northeast and southwest corners, making for five theme entries crossing the central down entry. Finally, I placed ADWAR to offset the reveal, AANDW, as a bonus entry and clincher in opposite corners.
This puzzle, which I called "Pool Cues" during construction, was one I began brainstorming several years ago. The expression DIVE IN HEAD FIRST was my point of departure. From there I attempted to develop a theme with four or five different expressions with action verbs (jump, leap, etc.), but that did not pan out to my liking. The "get in the pool" theme came to me relatively easily, once I had GO OFF THE DEEP END to match up with the 15-letter count of the first one. TAKE THE PLUNGE soon followed and worked out nicely as a 13-letter entry for the center.
My first filled grid was unsatisfactory, so the puzzle sat on the back burner for probably six months before I resurrected it for completion. Looking at it with new eyes, I realized that the theme was a strong candidate for a NYT Monday because of those three lively expressions.
The grid underwent several more iterations until both Will and I were satisfied with this version for publication. It has some solid but easy fill entries like SEVEN DWARFS, HANG IN THERE, MEDIEVAL, and a fun new entry, TWIST TOP. As it stands, the puzzle is quite solvable, as a Monday crossword should be, to allow new solvers to stick a toe in the water without much trepidation. (This leads me to my new formula for measuring the degree of difficulty for NYT puzzles: Monday = Stick a toe in, Tuesday = Wade in the water (children), Wednesday = Take the plunge, Thursday/Sunday = Dive in head first, and Friday/Saturday = Go off the deep end).
In the end, the puzzle also acts as a reminder that the Summer of 2015 still has some life left in it.
"Much Ado About Something" was a working title I used for this puzzle. It had its germination last spring as I was watching the NCAA basketball tournament, a.k.a. MARCHMADNESS. As a sports fan, I decided to use the term in a puzzle and work "bracketology" into the clue. With that foundation, I thought about the crazy state of the human condition and the behaviors that demonstrate our passions and madness (said the cruciverbalist, knee deep in crossword puzzles). I considered lots of other possibilities during the theme development phase (Beatlemania had been used recently, e. g.), but eventually MEDIAFRENZY and KLEPTOMANIA paired up nicely as 11-letter entries, and FASHIONCRAZE matched up with MARCHMADNESS as 12-letter ones.
Those four terms were probably enough for a decent early-week puzzle, but I wanted a fifth to give it more clout. It was serendipitous when CATSCRATCHFEVER aired on a local radio station. Ted Nugent's rock euphemism provided an interesting 15-letter expression to sandwich in the middle of my puzzle. Longer, unique entries like BICKEROVER and ARTHISTORY added some depth beyond the theme as I began to fill the grid. I must be mad about geography, too, because my fill ended up containing a veritable world tour from RENO and the OZARKS in the USOFA to HAITI, TROY, and MECCA.
A year after its inception, I am pleased to have the puzzle published during the 2015 basketball tournament and in the week leading up to the other form of March Madness — the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Stamford, Connecticut.
My interest in the R.M.S. Titanic surfaced in my youth when I read Walter Lord's "A Night to Remember." Years later, I lived in St. John's, Newfoundland for a spell. This placed me in the proximity of Iceberg Alley, the frigid stretch of the North Atlantic which spans from Greenland to Newfoundland. On several occasions icebergs would appear "out around the bay," as the locals say. Experiencing such natural phenomena firsthand fueled my fascination with icebergs and the maritime disaster.
The phrase "TITANIC SINKS" was part of the headline for the Boston Daily Globe, the London Herald, the Baltimore American, the Globe (of Toronto), and, of course, the New York Times after the historic wreck of 1912. In the spring of 2011, anticipating the centennial of the disaster, I constructed this puzzle with that headline as the reveal entry. MAIDEN VOYAGE and TIP OF THE ICEBERG were fairly obvious inclusions, but I really like COLLISION THEORY because in this puzzle it takes on a double meaning. Indeed, there have been many theories about what caused the collision and how it could have been prevented.
By the summer of 2011, the editor and I agreed upon this version as the best of several grids I had constructed. My puzzle was initially penciled in for the anniversary week in April of 2012. Later, when Mr. Shortz received several Titanic-themed Sunday grids from some great constructors, my publication date was justifiably delayed. My initial reaction to this news was akin to, "OH, BOTHER." Two years after that decision, I am thrilled to have the puzzle in print. Repetitive theme aside, the grid is pretty solid. 102 years after the shipwreck, I tip my cap to the survivors and say a prayer for the souls who perished in the icy waters off the coast of Newfoundland.
This is my second NYT puzzle publication (the first was Jan. 9, 2012). As an educator, husband, and father, I have to credit my loved ones and students as the inspiration for my puzzle ideas. My wife lets me bounce my crazy ideas off of her, my dad filled my childhood with puns, and my mom taught me to laugh at myself and to use humor when things grow uneasy. For example, awaiting the needle before donating at our school blood drive, I tried to cut the tension by saying, "PRESENT ARMS." Nearby students thought it was funny, but my phlebotomist was all business. Later on, I was in dad mode when I told my boys to "FORWARD MARCH" upstairs to bed. My oldest gave me a mock salute and said, "SIR, YES, SIR!" Et voila! The theme was born.
From there, the trick was to come up with the right combination of military commands with matching letter counts. COMPANY HALT worked nicely, but ABOUT FACE didn't make the final grid. I thought the fourth entry, READY AIM FIRE, added a little extra challenge because it contained three words instead of two. Plus that pattern gets echoed in the three-word response, albeit as separate entries.
Upon cluing, I already had "what blood donors do first" for PRESENT ARMS, and the others followed fairly easily. Will's editing bailed me out on 20-Across; originally, I had "Blunt month?" as the clue for FORWARD MARCH. The grid went through a number of iterations (I played with moving the two "SIR" entries around the grid) before Will gave his final stamp of approval. Kudos to him for his patience! I was also happy to place DIPHTHONG, PRESORTED, and IMPIETY (three new NYT puzzle words, if I'm not mistaken) into the grid. Lastly, I offer a genuine salute to all of our past and present military personnel. Thank you for the sacrifices you make to keep us safe! Peace to all.
This puzzle marks my first successful foray into the competitive world of NYT crossword publication. I am indebted to two other cruciverbalists who supported my puzzle solving and constructing over the years. The first is Molly Jackson, a grandmotherly friend who encouraged my intellectual curiosity as a child and reviewed my weekly attempts at solving the Sunday puzzle. The second is a friend and former colleague, Kristian House, who showed me the ropes of crossword construction, gave me a copy of Patrick Berry's Crossword Puzzle Challenges for Dummies, and patiently critiqued my early clunkers.
Having endured about twenty prior rejection emails, the puzzle represents a "Eureka!" moment for me as a novice constructor. FLYLIKEANEAGLE was the inspiration for the theme (thanks to the Psalms and the Steve Miller Band). SINGLIKEACANARY, a wonderful expression I first heard watching a Bugs Bunny cartoon parody of old gangster films, became the perfect central entry with 15 letters. My dilemma was to find a third entry exactly 14 letters long to offset the first symmetrically on the grid – not easy. There are only so many birds and far fewer "(act) like a(bird)" phrases out there, so unearthing WATCHLIKEAHAWK was a godsend.
Finally, editor Will Shortz taught this bird-brained NEOPHYTE about including more interesting fill words, especially in the longer entries of the grid. This was true in the northwest corner where I replaced some utterly forgettable word with the always interesting SCALAWAG.
In the end, I am both honored and proud as a peacock to have my work appear in the Times.