The NYT sends final drafts of crosswords to their constructors for one last review before the puzzles go to print. I rarely have any comments or changes at this stage of the process, but when I realized that this puzzle was running today I felt compelled to introduce an element that might honor Dr. King's legacy in some small way.
In scanning the grid, I came across 39-Down, which I had originally clued with reference to a character from "Back to the Future." That entry could be re-clued to reference an important figure of the Civil Rights movement instead. And given that he and his mother had been unanimously nominated by the House for the Congressional Gold Medal just days prior, it felt especially timely. I proposed the change to the NYT team, and they graciously agreed. For any solvers out there who aren't familiar with Emmett Till's story, I encourage you to learn about it.
"Pharaoh" is one of those words that I'm never totally sure how to spell, like "camaraderie," "occasion," and "hors d'ouevres." Hors d'oeurvres? Whatever.
In assembling my theme answers, I initially set out to find misspellings that occurred organically, like 39-Across, or Dan Quayle's "potatoe" (ask your parents, and then kindly see yourself off of my lawn). That didn't yield much, though, and while the rest of the themers are of the stylistic variety, I think they make for a much livelier set.
In other news — excluding a single Sunday puzzle, this is my fourth consecutive Wednesday puzzle. Nothing else, just Wednesdays. This hasn't been my intention, but evidently, I'm a Wednesday kind of constructor. Wednesday is also objectively the hardest day of the week to spell. Coincidence? Yes.
Special thanks go out to a 64-year-old registered nurse in a tiny central Missouri town, without whom this puzzle wouldn't have been possible.
Why are there random, non-theme-related animals in the grid, you ask? Those are the designated drivers. They're not happy about it either.
This puzzle was accepted in March of last year. A few months later, Alina Abidi's excellent debut puzzle ran in the Times with the same revealer (in the singular). I appreciate that Will and team spaced them out a bit, and I enjoyed seeing how the same revealer can yield very different puzzles. Some lower-brow than others, clearly.
I didn't intend for all four theme animals to be of the barnyard variety, and was pleasantly surprised to discover this well after the fact. #accidentaltightness #eieio
Enjoy! And please party responsibly.
I toyed with this idea for a couple of years, but it always stalled out at poppy. The theme doesn't work without it, but I struggled to come up with a suitable themer. Eventually, 17-Across came to me, and as bland as the entry may be, it was the spark that finally brought this puzzle to life.
The other key breakthrough was discovering that I could cross the main themer symmetrically with two other themers running down in the northeast and southwest, versus the usual approach of having all the theme answers running across. That created a lot more breathing room in the grid and allowed for some bonus fill that I hope enhanced your solve.
Other random musings:
I'd like to dedicate today's puzzle to two special ladies in my life — my wife Tara who celebrates a birthday on August 9, and my daughter Daphne who turned 3 months old on July 30. I'd also like to give a shout-out to all the first responders out there for their tireless efforts to keep us safe — and in particular to Engine 6 and Ladder 3 of the Elizabeth Fire Department. This one's for you.
Hi again, Crossworld! Excited to be back with a second puzzle, and especially psyched to publish my first Sunday. Very sweet, indeed.
This puzzle started as a 15x15 weekday puzzle, where I set out to find some grid-spanning themers to create a visual effect — the original theme set was PEANUT BUTTER CUP, MARSHMALLOW PEEP, CADBURY CREME EGG, and PEPPERMINT STICK. I was happy to find four solid 15-letter entries but didn't love that some were brand names and others weren't.
Then I noticed that two of the four were Easter candies, so I went searching for a third, but the best I could come up with was CHOCOLATE RABBIT. Close, but I couldn't get behind it in the end. "Chocolate bunny" feels so much more in the language and the fact that CHOCOLATE RABBIT had never appeared in a puzzle before convinced me that I was stretching. (Imagine my amusement when it debuted last month.)
Back to the drawing board. After a few dead ends, I started exploring the idea of allowing the stripes to include black squares, and it blew the whole thing wide open. Even after applying the constraints that the themers had to be a) words or phrases that could be clued in non-candy ways, and b) actual candies (no gum or mints) there were still plenty of options to work with. So many in fact that it practically demanded to be made into a Sunday puzzle. I had never attempted a 21x before, but it felt like the right time to try.
The final hurdle was the placement of the revealer. It became clear early on that it would need to cross some themers. The fixed vertical stripes didn't allow much room to maneuver, but eventually I saw that I could cross MOUNDS with CANDY at the D. That created a symmetrical 6-letter theme slot, second letter R. I went back to my candy list and had a Hail Mary moment while scanning the 6-letter entries, and there it was — the linchpin of the entire puzzle, and my favorite candy bar at that! You could almost hear an audible click. Or maybe it was a crunch.
I have to say — as gratifying as the "aha moment" can be as a solver, it's nothing compared to the moment when a tricky construction crystallizes into a reality.
Despite the original plan to make this an Easter puzzle, I hadn't intended for the final product to be tied to a holiday. Hats off to the Times editorial team for making the connection and running it today.
Hi Crossworld! Thrilled to be making my debut. My fascination with crosswords started at an early age; as a kid I cut my teeth on Newsday puzzles in my hometown of Baldwin, NY. At some point when I was 8 or 9 years old, I remember trying to construct my own puzzle. The only thing I recall about that attempt was that it included the answer OMS, which I clued as "Orange Mammal Society." I know - so many questions. None of which have good answers I'm afraid.
Years later I turned to crosswords as a diversion during a 90-minute commute to NYC every morning, but as a technologically-challenged Xennial, it never occurred to me that an NYT app existed. So there I was, crammed in with grumpy Long Islanders like a human rebus, bumping along towards Penn Station trying to write my answers legibly in a copy of Will Shortz's Wittiest, Wackiest Crosswords.
Eventually, I realized that I could be doing puzzles on my phone instead. I downloaded the app and was stunned to discover that I suddenly had access to 20+ years of NYT archives. After plowing through hundreds of puzzles, I started toying with the idea of making one of my own. Three years and seven submissions later and here we are.
I must take a moment to thank Will and team for their patience and encouragement along the way. It would have been easy to quit after multiple rejections, but they were always careful to call out some positive feedback and leave the door open for future attempts.
Once I settled on this particular theme, I set out to find the most colorful entries that would fit the mold but was constrained by a self-imposed rule that both sides of the [AD] be valid standalone entries. The four themers didn't end up as snazzy as I would have liked, but I hope that some of the livelier fill makes up for it. As a personal bonus, I was happy to be able to incorporate my wife's name (32D) and birthstone (15A). I was also pleased to see that roughly half of my clues made the cut, including my faves at 38A, 8D, and 27D.
One final note — I tried every which way to put the revealer at 63A or 64A and failed miserably. Three P's and a U in the bottom row = permanent dents in my wall and forehead. The 61A/62A row was no picnic either. Moving the revealer to 8A took all that pressure off and allowed me to load up on some interesting 7-letter entries, albeit at the expense of saving the revealer for last. From the solver's perspective, this seemed like a worthwhile tradeoff. I hope you agree.
Happy solving folks! Hope to be back soon.