SAM: I used to write novels. Hours and hours each day, sitting in front of a computer, moving words around, so when it became clear that I had gone past my expiration date in that field, constructing seemed like a good fit for my particular, if peculiar, set of skills. And I've done a bunch of these now — all co-constructed with Jeff Chen, who I see as the Ted Lasso of crossword puzzles (knowledgeable, supportive, encouraging) — but "Mocktails" was an especially valuable learning lesson: solving should be a fun, enjoyable experience! Challenging, sure, but no showing off, forget the snark — keep it light, playful, and ultimately satisfying. Which, whatever day of the week we're aiming for, is not an easy task. Hope we achieved it here.
As a side note, how fitting to see that one of the entries is [Top-selling Girl Scout cookies]. It's that time of year, after all, and there are four boxes of these in the freezer and another at my ... wait, make that half a box .... Nope, sorry. Hey, did you know that you can also eat them frozen?
Anyway, my wife buzzes through these crosswords every day and is the one who first got me interested. Next big challenge for me is to one day beat her in solving. Or in tennis. Or pickleball. Scrabble. Ping-pong....
Sam Koperwas: When our high school-age son was waiting for a friend to come by, we decided to whip out the chessboard. We both knew how to play — the horse goes like this, the castle (also known as a "rook") goes like this... et cetera. Friend comes in, sees me about to make a move, says, "Whoa! You can't go there. You do that, then he'll go here...." Son and I exchange a look. Hmmm, guess that's how you really play this game.
So after my first few submissions came back from the NYT with polite but blah responses, I reached out to Jeff Chen, who I was advised might be generous enough to work with and mentor a new constructor. Soon enough, after some trial and error — okay, much trial and error — wa-la! — my first puzzle in the Times! How cool!
That said, a word of warning. Do not get involved with this guy... unless you want to learn how to really play this game. So tip of the hat to Jeff (pun — couldn't resist), but to make a clean, tight, and enjoyable puzzle — it's a lot of work! And also highly gratifying. I'm glad to commit to the effort and look forward to the next opportunity.