Last summer I emailed a constructor friend of mine to share the news of my 3rd NYT Sunday puzzle acceptance. I said to her in the email, "I'm over the moon!!!! ...maybe there's a theme there? Synonyms for OVER THE MOON, sitting atop names of moons?? I'll have to investigate!"
...and here we are! Incredible.
This puzzle was a lot of work. I started with a long list of moons and a long list of phrases containing synonyms for OVER THE MOON. My original design used OVER THE MOON as an in-grid revealer, and I tried very hard to have the moons go in order (from top to bottom in order of the planets). I also wanted to use the more well-known moons as much as possible, and I knew that it was really important for the moons to be the exact same length as the synonym in each phase. Taking all this into consideration, it was quite tricky to figure out how to make it all work. Once I decided to give up on keeping the moons in order, and I realized that I could take the revealer out and use it as the title, things started to come together.
Now, the fill. Stacking theme answers is always rough for a constructor because of the constraints around the stacks. So while I did my best with this one, I know the fill is messy (I've mentored a handful of new constructors in the past year, and there are so many things in this grid that I would call my mentees out on!). But overall I hope you were able to look past the cringe moments and enjoy the puzzle.
Sometimes your puzzle gets accepted straight away. Sometimes it takes an unbelievable amount of revisions, which was the case with today's "Cake" puzzle. My original submission got an enthusiastic endorsement from NYTXW's Joel Fagliano on the theme material, but the fill needed a lot of work.
That first submission was a traditional 15x15 grid, with a 9-length theme entry at the center. Central 9s are tough to work with, and it was definitely a challenge here. I went through half a dozen versions of the 15x15 grid design, trying to keep 5 theme entries plus the CAKE revealer. At one point, I even played with the idea of PIECE OF CAKE as a revealer instead of just CAKE. I almost gave up on the grid entirely a few times before finally having the idea to extend it to a 16x15 with a central 8 (thus removing the tough central 9 issue). It was still quite hard to fill well - in fact, I thought it was another dead end until I discovered WIDE CUT to solve a problem in the bottom right corner. In the end, it took working on this off and on for about 3 months to get the grid into publishing shape.
I'm really pleased with the end product here. There's definitely some crosswordese (I'm cringing at ETUI), but I'm happy overall. I especially love how tight the theme is; there aren't too many combinations of cake types that work! The one entry I was bummed to lose was ROCK OPERA, but I got feedback that opera cake isn't well known enough (personally, I think it is!). I'm also happy with the long bonus entries, which I think are quite colorful and match the theme's fun vibe. I hope you enjoyed it!
I'm so thrilled to be back on a Sunday today! Sunday puzzles are where my heart is, as I have very fond memories of solving them each week with my dad. I know visuals in crosswords aren't for everyone, but it's something I always adored from before I started constructing. Liz Gorski's Sunday visual masterpieces are the reason I started constructing in the first place, so I'm incredibly proud to have three NYT Sundays on the books, all with visual elements.
This idea came from a discussion about grid art on the crossword Discord server where I used a butterfly as an example of something that was both symmetrical and simple enough to be represented nicely in a grid. When THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT popped into my head later, and knowing the success of other philosophical concepts as crossword themes, I knew I was onto something. Figuring out a way for the solver to have a part in demonstrating THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT — by placing that keystone "N" in the center to form the TORNADO - was the extra push I needed to make this special.
I realize this gimmick will work better on paper than online, as in the magazine, it's printed with a gray square in that spot, so my apologies to the online solvers. I hope you were able to get what I was going for anyway, and appreciate it all the same.
I hope you enjoyed this puzzle and took away a message of empowerment from it — we are each just one individual, but we can still have a massive effect on the world.
I'm so proud to bring you this puzzle today. I created it while sick at home with COVID-19 in late March (so the entire process is a bit of a blur!). I was inspired to try to bring a female-centric puzzle to the New York Times after reading Natan Last's article entitled The Hidden Bigotry of Crosswords that explores some of the biggest issues in the crossword industry today. So when I realized this momentous anniversary was coming up, I knew that I wanted to make a crossword about it.
I was pleased to see that most of my clues made it through the editing process. I'm especially happy with the clues for ARIA, ART, IRONIC, and the canine trifecta, MEME, SALT, and BARK. And a special thanks to the editing team for keeping my clue for DRAG... I've been obsessively rewatching Rupaul's Drag Race this summer! I highly recommend it.
Finally, here's a bit of an Easter egg: I'm a proud VASSAR ALUM! While I studied there, I always felt that you could sense in the walls (in the policies, approaches, and culture) that unlike most other colleges, it began as a school for women, not a school for men. I am incredibly grateful for my experience there, and I love that I was able to give them a shoutout in this particular grid.
I hope you all enjoyed this puzzle, which celebrates the anniversary of something so important and so often taken for granted. So please, please VOTE this November.
This feels like the perfect day to signal-boost my favorite crossword streamer, ScootsBaboo (notice the O pairs!!). Most evenings at 6pm ET you can find him at the link above solving some of the day's puzzles, with the help of his viewers in the chat. It's a great way to get better at crosswords, and in these quarantine times it's been a very welcome social activity — it's been such a pleasure to be part of this growing community of crossword enthusiasts, getting to know each other and having a ton of fun. I hope you'll check out the stream!
As happens so often, the "seed entry" for this puzzle didn't end up in the final product. This started with AVOCADO TOAST, clued as "Celebration of a healthy fat source?" but as I found more puns in the celebratory area, it became clear that I needed to stay in a strict party-synonym place for the theme to work cleanly. Huge thanks to Andrea Carla Michaels for her advice on this theme set last summer! Great to see it come to fruition here.
Hope you enjoyed the puzzle, and got a kick out of the TRIED ON JEANS row :)
So good to be back in the Times!
This theme idea came to me a few years ago, and it went through quite a few iterations before landing at what you see today. This was a 21x21 (Sunday sized) puzzle first - examples of other theme entries include THE STAR OF BETHLEHEM, THE FOOL ON THE HILL, and THE MOON LANDING. I then pared it down to this 15x15 (daily sized) puzzle using the same TAROT CARD READER revealer.
As for cluing — I'm definitely getting better, as evidenced by fewer editorial changes this time around than ever before. I will say that there are a few clues that I was a bit sad to see changed: Modern-day disquietude, for short [FOMO]; "I can't ___!" (overwhelmed cry) [EVEN]; *express oneself like this* [EMOTE]. The emote clue was certainly a long shot, but as a gamer constantly surrounded by gamers I couldn't not clue it that way (maybe if the clue had referenced Fortnite...!). I also noticed I CANT EVEN as an entry in a recent puzzle by Debbie Ellerin, so, I can see why that was changed!
Anyway, a big thank you to Andrea Carla Michaels for catching a horrible in-grid typo before submission and to Patti Varol for her kindness, patience, and understanding.
Hope you enjoyed!
About a year ago I set out to create a puzzle that honored one of the most talented athletes of all time - Serena Williams. She had just given birth to a daughter, and was expecting a return to the tennis scene in the very next season. Absolutely incredible!! I figured the opportunity to run a Serena-centric puzzle may present itself.
Unfortunately, it wasn't in the stars. But Will et al. were intrigued by the visual elements I had included in the grid, and wondered if I could broaden the theme a bit. So I figured, for The New York Times — let's make a puzzle about one of New York's biggest sporting events of the year!
The visual elements of the puzzle went through some changes: originally, the racket was closed off from the rest of the grid - a big no-no in crosswords, of course. One draft had more shaded squares than just the BALL — two lines down the middle of the racket, with TENNIS RACKET spelled out inside, for example. I'm pleased with how it turned out, and hope solvers will enjoy it as well! I'm especially pleased with the fact that my title made it through edits - "To The Point" acting as both a toast to the sport of tennis and a nod to the pun-tastic spirit of crosswords.
This is only my second puzzle to be published in the New York Times, my first being an Ella Fitzgerald tribute puzzle — also with a cool visual element involved. This feels like a nice followup, but I do hope to one day have one of my non-visual puzzles accepted! If the next one is also visual, well, who knows. Maybe it'll just be My Thing!
I am so grateful and amazed that my first published crossword is with the New York Times... and on a Sunday no less. What a place to start!
It was during my college years at Vassar that I really got into crosswords, not on campus, but when I'd visit home. It became a ritual that my dad would hoard the Times Magazines so that we could do the Sunday puzzles together when I returned. We'd take turns, and each time I'd try to "crack" the theme before he did. In the beginning, I didn't have a chance at finishing one on my own, but I did so many that soon I was getting the themes before my dad even got a chance to look at them.
Solving Elizabeth Gorski's 2013 Secretariat puzzle was a turning point for me. I was completely floored by her ingenuity and wanted to know exactly how she pulled off such a cool trick. So I started looking into what it takes to make crosswords and made a few for fun.
Three years later, I found myself with a lot of time on my hands after finishing grad school. I started to wonder about the world of crossword publication and got in touch with Nancy Salomon, who kindly gave me a crash course in puzzle construction. I learned so much from her, and there is simply no way I would be here without her tough love and incredible patience. With her help, I went from struggling to find the right construction software to having this puzzle accepted by Will in just under six weeks. It's been one hell of a ride.
I'm very proud of today's puzzle, which honors one of my all-time favorite musicians. The grid went through many iterations, but once I decided on using a phrase as the connection points for the image (instead of alphabetical connectors), it started to come together. I hope you like it!!