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.
Seeing this puzzle publish as a Saturday surprised me, not only because it was accepted as a Friday but also because some of the clues are pitched much more easily than my originals, particularly 1-Across which I had as "Splashy entrance?"
The change to ORCAS Island in 47-Across' clue brings back memories of our after hours visit to the island's only doctor to stitch up a large gash on my daughter's knee, acquired within minutes of arriving to our campsite after a lengthy ferry ride.
Aside from a rough start in the first couple of downs I'm pleased with how clean and varied the grid came out. I finished filling it in the middle and by luck of the Cruciverb gods I squeezed a bonus fashion icon into a pair of stacked answers.
This is by far my most resubmitted puzzle. The editors rejected my first try due to BSMETER which was "not usable, amusing as it is." (Constructor Sam Trabucco and I will have a legitimate complaint if someone snags it as a debut ahead of us.) The second attempt received an "Almost yes!" designation which requested that I scrub the "slightly dated term BRIDEZILLA." out of the top half of the grid. I emailed back a rewrite a few weeks later. After a couple of months of hearing nothing back, I reworked it again featuring a more interesting pair of answers in the top but a tough RZA/OROZCO cross. They suggested a tweak to a more solver-friendly cross which resulted in the final grid you see here.
Many of my clues were lost in the edit, but they kept my favorite at 20-Across: "They fall apart when the stakes are raised" so I can't complain.
ZOMBIE BANKS and PATENT TROLL have been gathering dust together in my notebook for a long time now. I was ready to give up on ever finding an entry to join them when I decided to take one last pass through a financial glossary. When I spotted UNICORN STARTUP, I knew I had found it at last. A clickbait article gifted me the FINANCIAL MYTHS revealer soon after.
The layout is more closed off than I usually like, but theme entries 14 and 11 letters long proved constricting. Still, I was able to get the grid down to 76 words to open the corners a bit and kept everything relatively clean, aside from longest abbr. I've ever put in a puzzle: ATTY GEN.
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.
At a mini-conference last year, the first speaker of the day used the term BUZZKILL, which I connected to my battle earlier that morning with the alarm clock. By the end of her presentation, I had worked out the rest of the theme.
This puzzle is dedicated to Katie, my wife of fifteen years, whom I married in 18-A and who may never forgive me for introducing to the 49-A.
We're not hitting the stairs again today, though it may look that way at first glance. The lengthiness of the theme entries limited my options, so I settled on this grid shape which provided the most bonus fill and kept everything else clean.
The theme entries are arranged to create a narrative about a fashion mishap which is sewn up in the end with an emergency fix. Don't leave home without your mini sewing kit!
Today's puzzle is my first solo themeless puzzle after collaborating with John Guzzetta on my first three. Because we received some editorial pushback on previous portmanteaus, I worried a bit about stacking HACKTIVISM and STAYCATION in such close proximity. Will liked both, so perhaps these entries are regarded as more common.
Many of my favorite clues survived the edit, including "DC area?" for KRYPTON and "What has a lot in store for you?" for ONESTOPSHOP. "Long Division?" for AFCWEST did not make the cut however, likely because Howie has been too long out of the game.
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.
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.
Patrick Berry's use of stair-step blocks in his themeless puzzles inspired this puzzle's creation. The large block count forced me to keep the word count lower than a typical early week puzzle, a constraint that challenged the balance between visual appeal and clean fill.
Since the acceptance of this puzzle I have become much more familiar with ESCALATORCLAUSEs, which have so far failed to make a difference in the ultra-competitive Seattle-area real estate market. If you're a crossword fan with a craftsman-style Everett home you'd like to sell, please let me know!
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.
I constructed this thinking it was a hard Monday or easy Tuesday, and that was when the theme clues weren't plumber-specific, but here it is popping up on a Wednesday. Hopefully the puzzle presents enough of a midweek challenge for everyone!
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.
Despite my employment as a librarian, this puzzle's theme did not originate from my day-to-day work. As it was not my intention to perpetuate the shushing librarian stereotype, there is no need to revoke my membership, American Library Association.
Instead, inspiration came on a drive home as my then-first grade daughter listed off all the words she knew that ended with the -SH sound. My brain sprang to action, compiling two-word phrases that contained a SHH string. Once I hit upon the revealer, which is itself a theme entry, I knew my backseat passenger had given me a winning Monday theme.
So if you're reading this, my accidental co-constructor, dinner's on me tonight. Your choice. But keep it HUSH HUSH, just between you and me.
I started constructing this puzzle on a cross-country flight to visit friends in California. If not for miscommunication between Ben and Suzanne over who was picking me up, I would have been denied the hours in an airport-adjacent Starbucks to complete it.
I'm happy with the mix of shows included and hopefully there's something here for everyone. My comfort food show is "Friends": it was the only item in "Recently Watched" from the time Netflix started streaming it in January to just a few weeks ago when I finished all ten seasons.
I can't say whether Will Shortz's cameo appearances in two of these shows played any part in this puzzle's acceptance, but if you liked this one you'll love my upcoming "Famous Ping Pong Enthusiasts" crossword.
On a good day my commute to and from work is two hours, and if the traffic gods are conspiring against me I can be stuck in the car even longer. To maintain my sanity I listen to a lot of podcasts. During one of these long car rides, the fresh fill alarm went off in my head after one of the guests on "Doug Loves Movies" used the phrase "phone it in". I made a mental note to check it against the databases when I got the chance. Then, realizing that my mental note would likely fail by the time I got to work, I told Siri to make a note.
Over my lunch break, I found no previous uses of the phrase. It dawned on me that it would be a perfect revealer for a puzzle of "phone" phrases. After working my way through duller theme answer possibilities like ROTARYCLUB, I landed on the livelier ones you see in the final version. My favorite is the exasperated WHATISTHEHANGUP.
Not wanting to phone it in myself, I worked six 9-letter long non-thematic entries into the puzzle. I am proudest of the debut words CHINASHOP (and its clue) and ICEBRIDGE.
The "Wordplay" documentary launched my interest in crosswords, but I never advanced past the "failed attempts on graph paper" stage until longtime friend John "DOUBLESAWBUCK" Guzzetta confided that he was getting published. Not content to let him hold that accomplishment over me, I vowed that day to get serious about crossword construction.
The Missing BLOCKs puzzle was the fourth puzzle I submitted, following three rejections. I was drawn to rebus puzzles, perhaps the result of many sick days spent watching Alex Trebek on "Classic Concentration" as a child. The use of a BLOCK rebus appealed to me since it existed as an element of the puzzle already. I compiled a list of all the BLOCK-related words and phrases and then hit the OneLook and XWordInfo databases to fill in the ones I missed. The perusal of XWordInfo revealed that the idea had been used before, first in 1999 and then more recently in 2010.
I pushed forward with the puzzle anyway, confident that my take on the idea would be unique enough to set it apart. The Thursday, October 21, 2010 grid had a 2x2 block of black squares which represented BLOCK in all the phrases that butted against it. In the Thursday, January 7, 1999 puzzle, the rebus BLOCKs behaved as cheater squares since they were placed against existing blocks and in corners. In my version, I wanted the BLOCKs to interact with the original grid construction, omitting numbering where there was not yet a BLOCK, hopefully to the befuddlement of the solver.
The close quarters of theme answers in the NE and SW constrained the quality of fill more than I would have liked, but there's nothing too egregious. Many of my original clues stayed in, but some were made easier (specifying "Star Wars" for LANDO, e.g.) or harder ("Mendes or Gabor" changing to "Deliver Us From EVA", a LL Cool J movie I barely recall). I was pleased to see that Will kept my "It might be under a tank" clue for BRA and "Mad Men" clue for UTZ, and not at all surprised that the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle" clue for OOZE got the ax. The best edit was "Settings for some escape scenes" to replace the dull clue I had for SEWERS.
It's been a pleasure! See everyone back here in the not too distant future, some Monday, A.D.!