See the 51 answer words debuted by Sophia Maymudes.
MARGARET: Most themeless puzzles have a dozen or more answers with at least eight letters. This one may only have four, but I think they really pack a punch. Three of the four seeds were in the original grid skeleton. However, Sophia's addition of CONTENT CREATOR dramatically opened up the fill possibilities for the bottom half. As always, it was so fun to send edits back and forth, focusing on making the mid-length fill shine.
SOPHIA: I'm proud of how many of our submitted clues made it into this puzzle, although my favorite — "You shall not pass!" for BALLHOG — was tragically cut. It's always a blast to work with Margaret, looking forward to more collabs in the future.
SOPHIA: Beyond thrilled to be publishing with Margaret, whose work I've admired for years. She created a grid skeleton with KANGAROO POUCH and LOVER'S QUARREL crossing SORORITY SQUAT (her original clue of [Rushing position, for a snap] is the thing I was most sad to lose in the edit). From there, we took turns iterating on fill, and I'm very happy with the quantity of cheese in our final result.
MARGARET: Sophia is one of my favorite constructors, so getting to publish my first themeless puzzle with her is a dream. She has an exacting eye and a unique ability to fill open corners with the best combination of mid-length answers. Especially when "good" fill is so subjective, it's wonderful to find a collaborator on the same wavelength (especially about how much dairy you should fit in a grid).
SOPHIA: While bored in an online class last spring, I texted Kyra to ask for a good themeless seed entry. She suggested 33-Down, and thus this puzzle was born. We locked in the bottom half of this puzzle early on, but the top half went through several iterations before this final submission.
As usual, it was a blast to collaborate with Kyra — she's incredibly talented at both grid construction and writing clever clues, and she even puts up with my insistence on adding extraneous Disney references to all of our puzzles.
KYRA: Now that our online classes are over, Sophia and I need to find a new time to work on our collabs together! I loved making this one with her, and we're excited to do more together soon.
I wrote this puzzle almost exactly a year ago, during the week of my virtual-due-to-COVID college graduation. In response to the many difficult feelings I was dealing with, I focused on filling this puzzle with as many things as possible that brought me joy. I hope that y'all feel some of that same happiness as you solve the puzzle today (especially anyone who knows how appropriate it is that I get to debut 13-Down!)
In celebration of Juneteenth, I'll be donating my payment from today's puzzle to two Black-run nonprofits: Byrd Barr Place (located in my hometown of Seattle), and The Trans Justice Funding Project.
KYRA: The idea for this puzzle was inspired by Neil Patrick Harris and David Steinberg's HARRY HOUDINI puzzle from 2017. I really liked the disappearing entry gimmick and wanted to figure out some way to do the reverse of it. After workshopping some ideas with Sophia, we ended up turning that into the doubling concept in today's puzzle.
At first we planned on not using a revealer to make the "appearances" more subtle, but having only four doubled entries of pretty short words meant there wasn't enough theme, and having five made the grid near impossible to fill. It felt like serendipity when we thought of DOUBLE DOWN as a revealer because it could fill out the theme and still not constrict our grid too much (although it did mean we had to switch the orientation of our theme answers!).
SOPHIA: I want to shout out Patrick Blindauer's DOUBLE FEATURE crossword as another inspiration — I've probably been thinking about it since 2013 due to its unique use of rebus squares. This puzzle took longer from conception to submission than any other puzzle Kyra and I have written together, so we're happy to see it run!
KYRA: I'm very excited to have my first NYT crossword published! I met Sophia at Carleton College, and we've been constructing together for about a year and a half. Before we started, I liked doing crosswords but was not very good at them, so constructing had never even crossed my mind as an option. But Sophia encouraged me to go for it anyway, and (with a lot of help from her) I've made it to the big time! (And an added benefit to constructing is that I'm also a much better solver now too!)
Outside of crosswords, I'm a research assistant in a neurolinguistics lab in Abu Dhabi, and when I need a break from thinking about words, I like to bake, craft, and dance.
SOPHIA: I'm honored to be a part of Kyra's NYT debut. This puzzle was one of our first collaborations; when we began constructing it, we lived a five-minute walk from each other, when it was submitted, we lived in different states, and now at publication, we live 11 time zones apart! It's been great to stay connected via crossword construction even as our lives have physically moved apart.
DAVID: I have been test-solving Sophia's puzzles since she asked for crossword construction software six years ago and started making puzzles for her high school newspaper, but I had only watched over her shoulder as she built grids until last year.
Sophia came up with the first themer and the idea for a "restart" revealer while she was working on a different theme last summer, and we quickly came up with a long list of possible theme answers that clearly wouldn't fit into a 15x15 grid. Sophia came up with the original arrangement of theme answers and black-square placement, which is the one area of construction that seems like the biggest mystery to me still. When Will liked the idea but didn't like one of our theme answers, we ended up reworking more than half of the puzzle to replace it, and eventually lost the RESTART revealer to allow more flexibility with the fill in the SE corner.
I am very excited that our puzzle is coming out before we will be attending the ACPT for the second time, even if I still won't be as cool as Sophia and her young constructor friends!
SOPHIA: Given the huge array of possible theme answers, we wanted to choose themers where the "re" drastically changed the meaning of the first word. Once we had a final theme set, I built the grid around it. I'm glad we were able to incorporate a fair amount of long bonuses, even if there are a few more three-letter words than I'd like.
The process of constructing this puzzle involved a lot of emails with screenshots of partially filled grids and, um, lively discussion about what counted as good fill. I'm happy with the final version, although I'm still somewhat disappointed about losing RESTART as a revealer as I felt like it gave the otherwise arbitrary add-a-letter theme a deeper layer.
I always love collaborating on construction, but it was particularly fun to get to work with my dad on this puzzle!
Jeff and I connected after I sent him a crossword I'd written about our other mutual passion: bridge. When we decided to try co-constructing, I sent him this theme. It's one I'd been kicking around since a friend and I came up with the 23-Across clue/answer pair while solving a different puzzle, but I'd never found a set of theme answers I liked for a 15x15. Jeff was the one who suggested making a Sunday puzzle, which I'd never even attempted to create before, but Jeff was great about helping me out when I got stuck, and I learned a lot.
Thanks so much to Jeff for working with me on this puzzle and pushing me to make the grid the best it could be. Ironically, even though we live in the same Seattle neighborhood, we've yet to meet in person — I was studying abroad in Hungary during the entirety of this puzzle's construction!
Hello Crossworld! I'm Sophia, a junior at Carleton College studying computer science and math, and I'm beyond hyped to have my first puzzle in the NYT. I'm a Seattle native, musical theater geek, competitive bridge player, and the worst cook you've ever met. I've been solving crosswords with my family for as long as I can remember, and constructing on and off since high school.
This puzzle came together fairly quickly compared to others I've written — I finished a draft of the grid just a few hours after thinking of the theme. Originally, KITTYCORNER was the only revealer — It was truly a stroke of luck that I noticed in the midst of filling the grid that LITTERBOXES both fit symmetrically and described the same gimmick.
This was my first NYT submission ever, so I was truly stunned when I got the yes from the editing team (well, after a quick reconfiguration of the NE corner!) Since I write crosswords nearly exclusively for my non-puzzle obsessed classmates, my cluing tends to skew easy and modern, so thanks to the team for upping the difficulty level. Looking back on this puzzle, I do wish there was some more snazzy fill: DON'T PANIC is my favorite entry in the grid.
Enjoy the puzzle, and I hope to be here again soon!