To be honest, I was surprised that the New York Times picked up this grid with the explicit marquee entry GAY PORN. Though I often try to push the envelope a bit with my themeless puzzles, I kind of WENT OUT ON A LIMB with this one and was happy with the result. The final clue for GAY PORN is fairly mild, though I encourage the indie scene to think of some alternative cluing angles as a fun exercise. It's hard not to come up with puns now myself…
I enjoy making puzzles such as this one that capture a wide variety of the color and character in our world. As a result, I often include entries that are unfamiliar, topical, or a bit strange which make for a chewier solve. It's always been a personal construction philosophy to not oversanitize my grids with things everyone knows, especially for Saturday puzzles. So you'll get rarities like MECHA and MEATBAGS and AMAZON PAY (which also makes a painfully apt imperative…) It is worth noting that I've since retired NRA from my word list, so apologies if that entry caused any offense.
Excited that this is my 20th New York Times puzzle (and 10th straight Saturday!) I still have a lot to improve, but I'm really enjoying the journey so far. Hope you enjoy!
Happy July! I'm on a retreat with my a cappella group this weekend. This is at least the third time one of my puzzles has come out on one of our retreat weekends, so it's basically a tradition at this point!
This grid was built around the intersecting triple stacks, which I thought were all fun and colorful entries. I'm a guy who prefers crunchy over smooth when it comes to themeless puzzles (both solving and constructing), so mixing in relative rarities such as 10D & 36D and a taste of socioeconomics with 33A is my cup of tea.
If you're interested in more, I also have my own indie crossword site McGrids where I post puzzles every 17th (including today!) plus whatever else I have time for.
Hope you enjoy!
This grid came about after some noodling on variations of this stupidly crazy wide open grid pattern I liked (I'm a sucker for open grids). The design is also similar to my Boswords puzzle a few weeks back. With the center of DIRTY RICE, I eventually was able to build out the middle into what you see here. I tried to keep many of the longer entries as common nouns so this grid design would play a bit more nicely. Hope you enjoy!
I also just recently launched my own indie puzzle blog, McGrids! I'm exploring crossword construction in several parallel series, including asymmetrical grids, vowelless, wide-open middles (like today's), and others. If you haven't yet checked out the wealth of indie crossword puzzles out there, I highly recommend it! They've been some of my favorite discoveries during the pandemic.
Never did I think I'd have another themeless with SNOW CONE crossing HEW TO, but this is 2020, and anything can happen. I wanted to give an ultra-low word count grid another go, and after several attempts came up with this scrappy little guy you see today. In addition to being a construction challenge, the grid poses a different solving challenge from the standard themeless with its open middle and relative lack of shorter entries to use as toeholds. Hope you enjoy!
Also — register to vote! Or if you aren't sure if you're registered, do a quick check! Or better yet, help your family and friends register to vote! It probably won't take as long as this puzzle :-)
I tried a few seed entries for this middle pattern before finding JASON MRAZ, which produced stacks both horizontally and vertically that I liked all around. Looking back it's a bit prophetic to see TITLE DEED, given my husband and I are about to close on our first house! I also liked that several entries referenced places I've lived (Pennsylvania, D.C.), and HONOR CODE reminded me of the Princeton Triangle Club's catchy song for remembering all of the words that we had to write and sign before every exam.
This isn't an overly adventurous puzzle by my standards, but I hope you enjoy it all the same. Stay safe and healthy!
I'd been eyeing this grid design for a while before finally making an attempt at filling it. It was a long process, particularly with the open middle, and this puzzle was the eventual final output. The plural RADIUMS is the obvious, vomitous blight in the middle of the grid, but I thought the rest of the fill was exciting and colorful enough to offset that.
The inflexibility of the middle necessitated some interesting entries with rarer letter combinations leading into the corners, including CRY HAVOC and John WYCLIFFE (no not Wyclef Jean, though the rapper was apparently named after the theologian.) Overall, given the constraints, I'm happy with the variety of entries I was able to include, especially in the longer intersecting stacks.
The editing team kept a good portion of my clues, though DRAPER was not kept clued as the "Mad Men" character. However, I thought the clue for DELILAH was a brilliant improvement. Hope you enjoy the puzzle and stay safe! Χριστός ανέστη! (a day early)
I've always found crosswords with diagonal symmetry to be aesthetically equivalent to those with rotational symmetry, so I figured I'd try making a puzzle with it (and without gimmick otherwise!). I ultimately left it up to the editing team to decide whether a standard themeless puzzle with this more unusual symmetry was acceptable and was happy (and a bit surprised) that they said yes. The design allowed me to intersect longer stacks in the NW without necessitating the same in the SE corner, giving some more flexibility with the overall grid. I'm doubtful this will spur any revolution in grid design, but maybe we'll see a few more puzzles with diagonal symmetry than before!
Some with critical eyes might wonder why I went for the GIL/DECAL cross over GIF/DECAF. The reality is I didn't even see the latter option until a few days ago, though to me, it's objectively better. Funny how that happens. I had been excited to include GIL Shaham (one of my favorite violinists) in the puzzle, though GIL Scott-Heron is in no way a bad alternative. He, along with AL JARREAU and IRMA Thomas, make this a very soulful puzzle. The puzzle is also throwing a lot of shade, with four references in the clues. Hope you enjoy!
I worked for a while to get a trio of answers I liked across the middle of this odd-sized grid. When I came up with this option and the "fun" clue for TAXPAYER MONEY I knew it was a grid to pursue further and I fleshed out the rest. Since making this grid I had the opportunity to sing back-up for Hugh Jackman in his touring show, and one of the numbers we performed was You Will Be Found from DEAR EVAN HANSEN. It's always nice when crossword puzzle entries remind you of something meaningful in your life. Hope you enjoy!
I made this puzzle spring of last year, and you can see blazoned across the middle where my mind was amidst the whirlwind of planning a wedding. My husband and I recently celebrated our 1-year anniversary, and I couldn't be happier to spend my life with my intelligent, loving Gaeilgeoir.
As of the publish date of this puzzle, U.S. federal law does not include protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The Equality Act was introduced in Congress earlier this year to effect these protections — the bill passed the House and is currently awaiting consideration in the Senate. I'd encourage you to read the text of this act and contact your U.S. senators about it if this is something that resonates with you.
And if you're interested in crossword puzzles featuring LGBTQ+ rights, I'd recommend you check out Queer Qrosswords. Donations support a range of LGBTQ+ charities to help make sure the rights of marginalized groups are not terminated.
I spent several years and many failed attempts to try and get this grid design to work. It's in my mind the quintessential "gaping maw" puzzle, with what are essentially intersecting septuple stacks in that wide open middle. Anchoring the middle is BIT-O-HONEY crossing with BEEHIVE, which was a fun pairing and came by chance after playing around with several different (and ultimately disappointing) options.
The editing team nixed most of my "?" clues - no big surprise, given the tough grid design. They also changed my OUST/LUO to OAST/LAO (sorry Luo Guanzhong.) I'll be the first to admit that having both OAST and IRR in that corner is pretty cringeworthy, but hopefully not too much! The rest of the grid I'm pretty satisfied with, though undoubtedly it'll play a bit differently from your standard themeless. I was happy to fit in the color trio BLUE, GREEN, and RED in the middle. Also glad that some of the more obscure answers were composed of common words that made them more inferable (ARM BAR, FLOUR BOMB, SIN BIN, GREEN TAPE.)
This is also apparently the NYT debut of LESBIAN? Very surprising. Happy Pride!
Excited to have my 10th New York Times puzzle published today! I reused this elegant grid pattern from a Patrick Berry puzzle I loved from back in 2016. Starting out as a constructor several years ago, I took a lot of my inspiration from wide open grids like this, and would attempt to fill some of them myself as practice. Not all of my attempts turned out well, but some (like this one) I liked enough to submit.
My goal for making the puzzle was to get six lively and varied answers in the intersecting staggered stacks in the middle. Overall—and after a lot of iteration—I'm pretty satisfied with the end result, KNEECAPPING's general unpleasantness notwithstanding. Other than those center stacks, it was fun to get a food stack in the SW with SNOW CONE, NEST EGG, and OREO O'S, and I was also happy to use IRRUPT, which is such a cool little word that needs more love. Hope you enjoy!
I started this one by playing with a number of options at 32-Across and ended up with SCULPTED ABS working out best, and only then after running through a number of more normal options for 33-Down and ending up with the unusual C SCALE. I don't love this answer as a musician because the scale itself is ambiguous (Major? Minor? Mixolydian?), but it helped pull together the middle. I originally had BAYONETTED for 29-Across before finding that it was more commonly spelled with one T in American English, so I ended up switching to BAYONETING and redoing the NE corner. Unfortunately, there weren't as many stellar fill options here, so I threw in TEA EGG for some interest. I'm sure the critics will love it.
Overall the editing team did a good job tempering my clues, some of which I'll admit were a bit too difficult. I was sad to see a couple of my favorite clues go, including "One-man band?" for ID BRACELET, and "Public display of confection" for DESSERT CASE, but I'm glad they kept my unassuming clue for MEN. Hope you enjoy!
This was my first attempt at a 15x16 grid — I wanted to try an open middle design with stacked 14s, which I quickly found was much more difficult than the stacked 11s and 12s that I'd been more used to working with. BOTOX INJECTION was the seed entry and is the obvious highlight of the puzzle, along with its cutesy "head shot" clue that pairs with the clue for SOCCER STARS. BROGRAMMER is a term I'd seen out in the wild and found interesting, though I'm not entirely convinced it'll stand the test of time. Otherwise, the grid is pretty conservative compared to my typical puzzles, though not without some tricky clues.
This odd-looking grid was the result of an experiment to find some new themeless grid shapes. It began with the thought, "what would happen if I cut the grid almost entirely in half?" and morphed into the vaguely circular shape with wide open quadrants you see today. But boy was this puzzle a chore! It was one of my first attempts in sub-64-word grids, and as such took many, many hours to fill cleanly.
I submitted the grid, and got an acceptance contingent on replacing an entry in the SW quadrant. I worked to fix this and was able to get an OK-looking bottom half after needing to replace a good chunk of the grid due to the high interlock of the entries. The editing team initially accepted the changes, but challenged me further to make the bottom half more interesting, which had gotten duller in the redo. So, I went back and ended up tearing out and refilling the entire bottom half of the grid…again…to finally get the puzzle you see today.
The grid itself is unusual in that it only really has 4 long slots, yet a metric ton of 7-letter entries (24!) With that many mid-length words in this limiting grid design, they couldn't all be winners. Though, the SAT tutor in me enjoyed the preponderance of vocab words (NEONATE, APPARAT, IGNOBLE, STYGIAN.) The longer slots could have been a bit more exciting, but overall this grid was very instructive for me in learning to work with constrictive grid designs. At the time I said I wouldn't attempt another sub-64-word grid for a while, but I've since broken that several times over…
I hope, if anything, you enjoy the variety that a weird puzzle like this provides, and the story of its somewhat painful journey to fruition.
This puzzle started its life as an overly ambitious 62-worder before I found I was having trouble getting a clean and interesting grid, so I added the squares under FAT and over OED to make it more manageable in the middle. I did keep the quad stacks in the NW and SE corners as a challenge that I hadn't tried before. ADIEU ADIEU masquerades a bit as zippy fill, but in all I was happy with how these stacks turned out.
I liked a lot of the longer Across answers in this puzzle, especially LOCAL COLOR, FAUX DIAMOND, and HOT DOG STAND for their upgraded dastardly clues. Looking back at DADDY ISSUES, despite it being common colloquially (and the title of a Fox pilot), I wouldn't include it in a puzzle I'd make today. Too unseemly. Also, GEODESISTS is such an odd duck in this puzzle, but it's so weird it almost works. I'd like to think that there is at least one geodesist in the world who does crosswords and is happy for the representation. Hope you enjoy!
Today is my wedding day! I am marrying the man of my dreams, Quinton Beck, at the Princeton University Chapel this afternoon. We both met at Princeton as undergraduates through various singing groups, and are currently living in Arlington, VA. Look out for a #TellUsTigers feature of us on the Princeton University Instagram account later this month if you want to hear more!
Our main wedding favor is a 40-page booklet of puzzles themed around our lives, all written by me with some contributions from groomsman Alan Southworth. The puzzles are mostly crosswords or crossword variations in a range of difficulties, with some variety puzzles mixed in. It was a lot of fun to make, and I hope the guests enjoy!
So on to the puzzle today — I started with WACKY TOBACKY crossing DANK MEMES, and then added THAT'S SO NOT OK, which I found highly amusing. This puzzle was a bit of an experiment in that I tried to mix "trendy" fill like the above with fill that has (as the editing team aptly called it) an "intellectual vibe" — more obscure, yet valid entries that my nerdy self found interesting (like APHERESIS, IDIOLECT, and BENJAMITE.) I don't recall seeing many themeless puzzles try this combination of fill, but the result is likely a bit of a tougher challenge than usual. Guaranteed this style won't appeal to everyone, but hopefully, it'll be an interesting and not-too-frustrating change of pace! Maybe we'll even see some DANK MEMOS...
I'm very thankful that the editing team could run one of my puzzles on this special day!
This puzzle is somewhat of a tribute to Patrick Berry's Friday puzzle from January 10, 2014. I fell in love with his puzzle's wide open grid, and it was after doing this puzzle that I decided to try making themeless puzzles myself. My version, now several years, later has a similar layout to his, with a "gaping maw" (as I affectionately like to call it) in the middle.
It took a lot of trial and error, as you might imagine, to fill the center. My goal was to make each of the longer entries in both the 5 stacked Across answers and the 4 interlocking Down answers interesting, as well as stay away from proper names, as I had had a habit of overusing them. Overall I'm very satisfied with the result here.
My effort to also keep the corners wide open came with some sacrifices. The NW feels a bit like Jenga with all of those interlocking shorter words, and the SE has the unfortunate plural HYSONS, which I only personally accepted because I had actually had hyson tea before. It allowed me to keep RARE JEWELS though, so looking back I still think it's justified. Even so, it may have been worth adding an extra black square to these corners to give some more wiggle room...
I enjoy making lower word count themeless puzzles, so I'll probably stick with these types for a while. Hope you enjoy!
By pure coincidence, this puzzle happens to run on my fiancé's birthday, so I'll take that as an opportunity to talk about him a bit. Quinton and I met as students at Princeton, both singing in the Princeton Nassoons (a cappella group) and the Chamber Choir. After graduation he spent a year in Tajikistan on a fellowship before joining me in the DC area, where we now both work on federal contracts. Although I usually enjoy doing the New York Times themeless puzzles solo, I love him enough to save some Fridays and Saturdays to solve together every few weeks. He especially helps with foreign language, geography, and vocabulary clues. We'll see if he can finish this one solo!
This puzzle is a bit un-millennial of me in that much of the grid is skewed toward older references, which may trip up some younger solvers. I've always been a fan of wide open grids with heavy intersection, even at the sacrifice to some overall zippiness and trendiness in the grid entries. It often makes it more of a challenge to both construct and solve, which I appreciate. This puzzle is an example of this constructing style: it doesn't quite have the youthful verve throughout, but I think the overall fill quality and intersection in the middle makes up for it. The side sections were a bit more flexible — only the unfortunate plural BEERYS which I didn't like, but liked better than the inelegance of adding a black square in the corner.
Hope you like this (unexpected) birthday present Quinton!
RYAN: Alan and I met in college where we sang in several groups together, notably in our a cappella group the Princeton Nassoons. He was actually the person who first got me interested in crossword puzzles! After graduating we decided it would be fun to collaborate and create a puzzle together.
Alan came up with the theme idea for this one, and we worked together to manually fill the grid and create clues. Based on the theme, we had clued this around Tuesday/Wednesday difficulty, though the NYT team accepted it for a Thursday and many of the clues were adjusted to be more challenging.
Looking back it would have been nice to get a couple juicier longer down answers in the NE and SW, and perhaps some better short fill, although I liked how they used some atypical clues for a few (ONO, ERE, ANO). Nevertheless, the puzzle was fun to make together, and I hope you enjoy it!
ALAN: Very excited to be my making my NYT Crossword debut today! A bit about me: I'm a 25-year-old energy market consultant/singer-songwriter/marathoner living in New York City. I found my way into the crossword community through a lifelong love of word games and puzzles (I grew up playing Scrabble and Boggle with my mom and solving Sudoku and Ken Ken before bed) but didn't really get into crosswords until college, where I met my collaborator, Ryan McCarty. Ryan and I were members of the Princeton University Glee Club and the Princeton Nassoons, the university's oldest a cappella group, before beginning our crossword collaboration.
For today's puzzle, I started writing down crossword theme ideas in the "Notes" app on my phone during my commutes to work in 2015. Many of the early concepts I came up with revolved around phrases that lent themselves to literal interpretations involving a letter addition or removal ("DROP THE F" BOMB luckily never came to fruition…).
But then NO WAY came to me and I realized dropping an entire word might result in some fresher "wacky" phrases. RUN A TRAIN was the first potential theme answer that I thought of, and with Ryan's expert grid construction skills and some more theme answer brainstorming, I knew we were on the right track, so to speak.
Side note: as a runner, I was excited to use "Marathon leader?" as the clue for ULTRA, but I wasn't sure if the Ultramarathon reference was too obscure for the general public. After a quick Google search eased my initial worries, I noticed the following blurb in the Wikipedia article for Ultramarathon:
Since 1997, runners have been competing in the Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race, which is billed as the longest official footrace in the world. They run 100 laps a day for up to 50 days around a single block in Queens, NY, for a total distance of 3,100 miles (5,000 km)
This absurd race has been the topic of many conversations since finding out about it during my crossword research. Just thinking about the fact that Suprabha Beckjord ran the race 14 times (i.e., she spent over two years of her life running around a high school in Queens) makes my legs hurt...
I'm very humbled and excited to be debuting in the New York Times, especially on my favorite crossword day of the week - Saturday! I'm a relatively recent graduate of Princeton University where I studied Music and Computer Science, and I currently work as a technology consultant onsite at the SEC in DC. I'm also an avid singer (baritone), composer (mostly choral music), and music snob (currently a lot of Roomful of Teeth and future bass.)
I began doing New York Time crosswords at breakfasts in college with some friends and quickly got addicted. Soon after I began trying to construct some of my own puzzles — I found the process had a lot of similarities to what I was studying at school with music composition and coding (I'll let y'all imagine why.)
My fiancé and I had been singing along with "The Schuyler Sisters" from the Hamilton soundtrack multiple times in a row one night when I thought it'd be a fun idea to use Angelica, Eliza, (and Peggy) in a new puzzle. I crossed SCHUYLER SISTERS with ELLIE KEMPER, a fellow Princetonian, and set off from there. I'm happy that I was able to reference several strong women and people of color, including Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose "Between the World and Me" I coincidentally started reading last week.
I'm proud to say that I made this puzzle completely by hand, which was a fun exercise. It took a long time to construct, but definitely made the whole experience much more palpable.
Lastly, I want to give a special shout out to Ariana & Drew whose wedding I'll be celebrating today! This puzzle is dedicated to them!