I enjoy puzzles that play with idioms — often by making them literal and thereby skewing their meaning entirely — so I look for idioms that give me such opportunities. I particularly enjoy finding idioms or phrases that can be depicted graphically in a puzzle. So I have made theme answers aptly cross each other, I arranged theme answers that create images, and I presented other idioms visually in their own lines. This can make it difficult to fit together a solid grid, but that's my fun, challenging part of the puzzle.
Initially, I thought I would include the complete raised/lowered words in an atypical grid with squares protruding above and below, but that would have made 1-, 2-, 3-, and 4-Down all theme answers, and the grid itself would have revealed the theme pretty immediately. So instead, I left it to the solver to discover the need to write the extra letters above or below the grid. (I do, however, have friends who aren't crossword solvers but who enjoy hearing that I've had another puzzle published. Special for them, I made the easier version with the more obvious grid. It helps to have connections!)
Playing with up and down idioms and phrases, there were lots of options to work with. I could have "put down roots," "dropped anchor," "lifted weights," or "pulled up stakes." I hope that this puzzle "lifted your spirits" without "raising your hackles," even if you needed to ask a friend to "drop a hint."
Each winter, in the depths of January, my family attempts to gather for Fondue Night. First, we dip all manner of vegetables along with fresh French bread into our wine-y cheesy mixture. Then, of course, we follow it up by dipping cakes and fruits into hot, rich chocolate. (There is no better use for coconut macaroons that have been in the freezer since Passover!) All of this is in my mom's bright orange fondue pot, circa 1965. Very retro and delicious!
Such was the inspiration for this puzzle. I made this puzzle before the winter, but we already knew that COVID would keep the family apart, and fondue-by-Zoom was not going to be worth trying. So, I turned the concept into a puzzle instead. Like making lemons into lemonade, or leftover macaroons into chocolate delicacies! I hope you enjoyed dipping into this puzzle.
It probably comes as no surprise that the biggest challenge in making this puzzle was creating the grid. There was a lot of thematic material to fit in: seven actual theme answers and five additional geometric elements. And to maintain symmetry, I couldn't place any blocks symmetrically opposite any circled letters. All in all, this made for a lot of constraints to work within.
Will and his team's first response to the theme was quite positive, if only I could improve the fill. We went back and forth several times as I tried to maximize the number of interesting words and minimize the number that I would have preferred not to use at all. I hope that the balance we achieved satisfies most solvers, and I hope that the graphic reward at the end more than compensates for a few unappealing entries.
It is always fun to see how the editorial crew tweaks the clues and comes up with some gems of their own (89-Across!), but of course, I enjoy seeing my favorites appear in print. In particular, I'm happy that [S as in soup?] for NOODLE and [Event that's a bit off?] for SALE made the cut.
Finally, to my artist friend who — when a broken ankle immobilized me — urged me to take up painting and couldn't accept crossword construction as a similarly creative pursuit: look, I did both!
I don't know when I first became aware of Hemingway's 6-word story, but I was in awe that such heartbreak could be expressed in so few words, and the story stayed with me. Sometime years later, I thought to count the letters of this famous ultra-short story, and I was delighted to discover that it broke tidily into segments that fit a puzzle's symmetry, and that ERNEST HEMINGWAY just happened to be 15 letters long!
When I got the acceptance note for this puzzle, Will, Joel, and Sam told me that they were planning to run it on a Thursday as a "straightforward" change-up to the usual Thursday offerings. I was pretty surprised since I had thought of it as Tuesday fare. I had figured it was indeed straightforward and that for solvers who were already familiar with the famous short story, it would be an overly easy puzzle. (I had thought I was getting pretty good at correlating my themes with the day of the week, but I clearly still have much to learn!)
I had, therefore, submitted the puzzle with easy clues, few of which would have been appropriate for a Thursday puzzle. Will and his team would have had to rewrite practically all of them to make the puzzle Thursday-worthy. Mentioning this to Will, he kindly offered me the opportunity to rewrite the clues myself so that the published puzzle would feel more like my work than his. (Of course, he and his team always add their editorial polish to make my work shine more brightly!) I'll be interested in seeing how solvers with Thursday expectations respond to this puzzle.
My clue for 58-Across had referred to SIX-WORD as what is now an actual genre, probably inspired by Hemingway's brief opus. As a genre, it seems to combine drama with poetry. People have been quite creative, dealing in six words with all sorts of issues: from romance and gender transitioning, to violence and war injuries. They aren't my stories to reprint here (though I'm tempted, since they're so short!) but googling "six word story" will lead you to some good examples.
Ideas come from many different sources. Usually, once I have an idea for a theme, I search through lists of words, idioms, or phrases to find material that fits the concept. This time, remembering many years ago when my kids had to learn to pronounce "R"s, I sought out speech therapy worksheets! These offered many examples of legitimate words created when "S" and "Z" sounds become confused ("minimal pairs," to a speech therapist), and that was exactly what I needed.
Once I had a list of fun phrases, switching either "S" to "Z", or "Z" to "S", the challenge became finding a way to unify these theme answers with a reveal or a title. At first, I planned to use phrases that humorously changed "Z" sounds to "S"s, which in my mind was adding a whistling sound. I kept thinking of Lauren Bacall saying "You know how to whistle, don't you?" and I would have used that idea somehow in the title or reveal answer. But the quote didn't resonate with my test audience (a.k.a. my now adult children), and they didn't perceive the whistle. (Which is actually a good thing, in speech therapy terms!) It wasn't until I came up with "BUZZ CUT" that my theme felt coherent.
Then the puzzle formed around HISS AND HEARSE, which ended up being the only theme entry that included the S/Z confusion twice. That meant that either I couldn't use it or I had to put it in the center where you see it now. And from there, I picked too many of my favorite entries and tried to squeeze all of them into a puzzle. Alas, after several tries (Thank you Will, Sam, and Joel for your patience!) I faced the fact that I had to eliminate a theme pairing to get better fill.
Some of the many theme answers that were left on the "cutting room floor":
- LACE A GOLDEN EGG [Do an elegant Easter dye job?]
- LACY BOY RECLINER [Comfy chair for a guy who is unconstrained by social norms?]
- PACE HER OWN WAY [Marches to a different drummer?]
- FALSE IN LOVE [Unfaithful?]
- PASSING FACE [Asset for a teen with a fake ID?]
and my personal favorites:
- ASK FOR A RACE [Yell "Last one in's a rotten egg!"?]
- ICE IN THE BACK OF MY HEAD [Brain freeze?]
It was fun to make, and I hope it was fun to solve!
It took a while for this one to come together. I was trying to place NONOS in the lower right corner, but I couldn't get it to work. It wasn't until I played with putting it in the center that I came up with the idea of splitting it into NO and NO, thereby not only creating impermissibly short entries, but also impermissibly identical entries. Clear NONOS — perfect!
I first submitted the puzzle with FAULT INSURANCE [Second serve in tennis, essentially], but I hadn't realized that "no-fault" was hyphenated. That entry was deemed inconsistent with the others, and so LAUGHING MATTER was born.
Along the way, I enjoyed chuckling over such options as ROOM TO SWING A CAT [Dance hall with a jazz band?], CHILD LEFT BEHIND ["Home Alone" plot?], and MORE MR NICE GUY [Dr. Jekyll's thwarted goal?].
I also took particular delight in finally working TYPO into a puzzle. I had long ago come up with the clue that I loved [An aye for an eye, say?], and I have been trying to squeeze the word into a puzzle ever since. Of course I'm really glad that the editing team liked my clue — and kept it!
I hope the puzzle gave you an enjoyable break from the rest of life's tumult. Now on with the day!
The idea for this puzzle came to me while driving on the highway, en route home from NYC. I saw a billboard with a weight/wait pun, and it sent me searching for some fun puns of my own. There were plenty, so I was able to make a Sunday puzzle and still have some puns left over. If you take the train home after happy hour, for example, do you BOARD SILLY? Or if you had a few too many, do you BOARD OUT OF YOUR MIND?
Then, it was an appropriate fluke that I received the acceptance email from Will and his team while waiting for a connecting train in Newark. Apparently, this theme was meant to be! It has been decades since I left the job that required a daily commute, so now I make my CITY HAUL less regularly and for more casual reasons. And nothing perks up a train trip like a puzzle acceptance email!
I'm thrilled, as always, to have another Sunday puzzle in the beautiful, glossy pages of the Times Magazine! It makes my day, and I hope that it brightened yours a bit, too.
Friends always ask me how long it takes to make a puzzle. There's no good answer to that question. Some ideas come together quite quickly, others involve lots of mulling, refining, and word-searching. This puzzle was of the latter sort, with months passing between first poring through lists of words beginning with "RE" and finally having a puzzle worthy of submission. I needed to find fun phrases involving "RE" words in which "RE" did not have the "do it again" meaning. (So REQUEST was in, and REPLAY was out.) However long it takes me, it is all part of the fun and the challenge! Doesn't everyone spend summer vacation evenings with a glass of wine in one hand and pages of words in the other?
I certainly learn a lot through the process of refining these puzzles. Not only do I get to scrutinize language, but I get to explore a tremendous spectrum of knowledge. As I attempt to assess whether a fill word is "good" or not, I often get caught up in a process akin to those childhood hours spent browsing through the paper-and-ink pages of our encyclopedia, where looking up one topic led to exploring a dozen others. I learn when I solve puzzles, and I learn even more when I create them! Not just about the content: as Will and Joel point out the shortcomings of one puzzle draft or another, I learn more and more about crossword structure and precision.
This puzzle required several drafts after Will first expressed his enthusiasm for the theme. As usual, revision forced me to leave some favorites behind, so I lost the memo re: cruise ship advertiser's subject line: MAINS TO BE SEEN! I truly appreciate Will and Joel's help and patience as I sought to create a revision that would pass muster. I hope you enjoyed it!
One of the things I am enjoying as I gain experience in the world of crossword construction is learning more about the technical details of the process. I discover a lot by trial and error, but I learn that others analyze the process, and they have interesting and helpful wisdom to share.
For example, this puzzle initially had EYESEEEYE in the middle. Including a fifth theme answer seemed like a good idea, but I did have way too many 3-letter words in my puzzle. I couldn't seem to reduce the number, and I didn't think to blame that on my innocent-seeming fifth theme answer. What I learned from Joel is that a middle 9-letter answer (which has to have 3 black squares — "blocks" — on either side of it) tends to force a lot of 3-letter words because the perimeter columns must either be side-by-side sets of 7-letter words or side-by-side sets of 3-block-3, which makes for a lot of 3-letter words. It seems so obvious, now that I've had it pointed out to me! So now that Joel and I SEE EYE to EYE, you don't see EYESEEEYE.
I also continue to be amazed at how crucial each fill word is. Nearing the end of the revision process, I had a solid draft of this puzzle, with some fun long fill. Alas, it included SANDH (as in Green Stamps, or Shipping and Handling), which Will called "a puzzle-killer," so that draft was officially dead. As solvers, we all know that unappealing words creep into puzzles with some regularity. But it isn't for lack of trying on the part of the constructor or lack of attention on the part of the editors!
While most solvers and I are unlikely to FACEMEETFACE, I do hope that this puzzle made some of you EARSMILEEAR!
While driving home one day, I heard on the radio news something like "This would affect France's chances of .....", and the rhyming phrase just jumped out at me. Home to the notepad, where "chances" quickly became DANCES. Then, it turns out that there are relatively few country names that are short and have comfortable rhymes that can make the pattern work.
Initially, I sent the puzzle in with GUAM'S PALMS (which appear on the Territory's flag and official seal), but Will rightly pointed out that those two words don't rhyme in everyone's pronunciation. I should have anticipated that. After all, I am someone who is routinely teased (by my children, of course) for my pronunciation in which "fire" and "wire" aren't exact rhymes, which always makes talking about "firewires" awkward. No problem: I liked CUBA'S TUBAS even better!
Of course, it is hard not to "fall in love" with certain answers or certain clues. In this case, while I didn't mind changing the theme answers, I did love some of my original clues. For CUBAS TUBAS: "Low blows at Guantanamo?" and for CHINAS MYNAHS: "Asian producers of counterfeit audio?" and for TOGOS LOGOS: "Items only seen on two Winter Olympians ever?" Careful editing has adjusted these clues to appropriate Tuesday puzzle level, but breaking up is hard to do.
I was first introduced to crossword puzzles in college when my friends and I would attempt to solve the NYTimes Sunday puzzle collaboratively, lingering over Sunday brunch in the dining hall, procrastinating instead of studying.
A decade later, by then fully accustomed to spending my Sundays with the NYTimes, I had this great idea (IMHO) for an essay that would have been perfect (IMHO) for the "Hers" column that ran weekly on the very last page of the NYTimes Magazine. But I knew that being published in the Magazine was a ridiculous fantasy, so I didn't even write the essay, let alone submit it. Well, it turns out that this dream actually did come true — I just had a few of the details wrong. I had imagined the wrong genre, and I was off by one page! (I'm excited — can you tell?)
But I will KEEP IT TOGETHER.
As I composed this puzzle, I set certain constraints on myself. First, I absolutely wanted to keep FITBITS and NITWITS. I liked the way their pairs of ITs were so tight, they were fun words, and FITBITS hadn't been used yet. They did, however, force pairs of longer theme answers to be only one row apart, with the IT locked in a fixed location within the longer words.
Also, I didn't want IT ever to be "it", except in the reveal. So the shorter answers that crossed the long theme answers couldn't be, for example, GOTIT or ITSME. That ruled out a whole lot of options.
I hope that these touches added some elegance to the puzzle, and perhaps some fun to the solving process. I am certainly delighted to have spent a Sunday morning with you, and I hope that you have enjoyed the company!
Naive constructor wanders unknowingly into the quicksand of a tricky-to-implement perimeter theme. Whichever path she takes, the theme idea leads to murky fill. Will responds in a manner that is simultaneously encouraging (i.e. he likes the theme) and discouraging (i.e. he says that perhaps it can't be done), and the constructor flails around for a bit, gasping for good fill, wearing down Will's admirable patience, until finally emerging safe and sound and published.
I know that you've read that story in these notes before. I am clearly not the first to discover that a puzzle with perimeter theme answers is really hard to fill! Having fixed letters all around the perimeter severely limits the options for words that can fill in the rest of the puzzle. I just didn't know that when I began this project, and it seemed like such a good idea. Will clued me in after my umpteenth revision attempt, and I think he probably wanted me to throw in the towel.
But a few months later, I couldn't help trying again. Will then brought in an expert, Frank Longo, to consult, and Frank offered some suggestions (Thank you, Frank!), some of which you see in the puzzle's northeast. At the end of it all, Will gave it his approval, and here we are. The story has a happy ending!
This puzzle began as a shameless attempt to pander to Will Shortz's love of table tennis. I had been making puzzles with themes that didn't amuse Will quite enough, so I figured that a table tennis theme might do the trick, if I could do it in some new way. Unfortunately, I wasn't finding word play that I liked for any related words except "game," so the theme evolved into what you see today.
In my original puzzle, I had tried to use the clues to link each of the long theme answers to one of the corner words. So, for example, the clue for GILGAMESH was "Ancient epic of Mortal Kombat?" referencing the VIDEO game of the same name. (And the clue for VIDEO was "How the hidden feature of 16-Across might begin.") Similarly, the clue for MAKINGAMENDS was "Saying ‘Sorry!'?" referencing the BOARD game. The clue for TORNLIGAMENT was "It might hobble a Horse?" referencing the BALL game. And the clue for AGAMEMNON was "Greek king who returned from War?" referencing the CARD game. I was pleased with how my clues had a one-to-one correlation with the corner words. But I also knew that the connections were pretty subtle, so it didn't quite work. I suspected that many solvers might finish the puzzle without even noticing my carefully chosen details! Would you have noticed?
Will obviously decided that the connections were better made by way of the note that he attached to the puzzle. I feel better knowing that he couldn't figure out how to do it within the cluing either. Thanks, Will for making it work!
I am quite excited to have my first puzzle published, and what began as a lark has become an engaging hobby. I solve the puzzle daily, and occasionally a puzzle takes a particular approach to playing with language that gives me an "I can do that!" feeling and sends me off in search of words and puns that fit my concept.
I no longer remember any particular puzzle that sparked the word-play part of my brain and led me to create this one, adding IST to familiar words. The challenge of course, was that the addition of IST had to change the meaning of the word entirely. There's no humor in changing "violin" to "violinist."
So to the word lists. I pored through lists of words containing IST, mentally subtracting the IST to find those words that could then be built into phrases that had the potential to win a chuckle once the IST was put back in. So from "cubist" to "cub" to "cub reporter" to CUBIST REPORTER.
I think my favorite answer has to be SLEEPER CELLISTS. Having played in the wind section of orchestras throughout my youth, I know what it is to count many dozens of measures of rests before an entrance, trying to maintain concentration, while the string players played without pause. It always seemed possible that someone might one day fall asleep, but I never thought it would be the cellists!
I was pleased with the phrases I was able to create, and even more pleased that Will (finally!) liked them, too. (I don't think I have to confess here just how many of my submissions have not made the grade...)
So now that I've met Will's standards and made my debut, am I a strict constructionIST?