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33 puzzles by Tom McCoy
with constructor comments

TotalDebutLatestCollabs
3311/14/20139/29/20190
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1.61362
Tom McCoy
POW Sun 9/29/2019NOW WEIGHT JUST A SECOND
PUTTSSLEWWONTERGS
APRILEAVEAARONLEAP
SHIPOFTHEDESSERTFIDE
SIBETONOFABINGE
GLASSWORKNOBELMINDED
OLLIEEEKRITUALETE
DECOEELCTRLERR
THEMORALEOFTHESTORY
WHOSUDSPARESHOD
HERTREKSDENYISAY
ITSNOTROCKETTESCIENCE
MAYAFUNDSATANAHA
LISTBEDSRAJAPER
ICAMEISAWICONCURRED
ENOREDOEAUKNUT
ARMITALIANTHSEEME
SEMICOLOGNEDEATHSTAR
EPOCHLGAOARSHON
DONAMAJORTHOREAUFARE
USERALLOYURSAMINIS
PERECEOSESTSWREST

The idea for this puzzle came from a college course I took in Phonology (the study of sound systems in language), when the professor, Ryan Bennett, mentioned that very few pairs of English words are differentiated only by their stress. Most of the examples that do exist involve a noun and a verb that are related in meaning (e.g., you play a RE-cord, but you re-CORD a message), but he did bring up "canary" and "cannery" as a pair where the two words are unrelated in meaning.

I started trying to think of other such pairs, and eventually accumulated enough to build a puzzle! Embarrassingly, my initial submission contained the theme answer GREENER PASTEURS, clued as "The more eco-friendly descendants of scientist Louis"; but the editors gently informed me that I had been pronouncing "Pasteur" incorrectly, so that answer had to be scrapped. I had also planned to use MISSOURI LOVES COMPANY, but later found out that MISSOURI has a second standard pronunciation besides the one I am used to, and the joke does not work with this second pronunciation.

To help brainstorm theme entries, I used the CMU pronouncing dictionary, which is a great tool for finding words based on some property of their pronunciation (most word databases only enable searching over spelling, rather than pronunciation). Some of my favorite pairs that did not make it into the puzzle were JAVANESE/GIOVANNI'S, POPERY/POTPOURRI, and PLATO/PLATEAU.

Sun 10/7/2018MIND THE GAP
GURUSTREATYSEPTET
EPIZOAEENSIEUNREADY
RSAILSPLITTERTONEDUP
MELOCTAOUTQERSPACE
STSHEAVEDPLANET
TONIRISENSMARS
ROUOMDIVIDERDISPOSAL
ARMRESTNAASALCAVITY
TAPIRSEATITSUNEASE
ELSESORTRNAFBINOR
SECURRITYBREACH
SLOALTONELARSOHNO
TOWAGEPOIBEERBROOD
PAEPERCUTTERIPLANTO
AFTERALLSPAFECRACKER
TSOSOSOANONENE
NOBAMADOCOCKUSB
LUCKEYBREAKOVENNEE
ONLEAVEGRANGDOPENING
ADOPTERAGLARETSETSE
DOGTOYSHEERSSWEET

The idea for this puzzle came from the phrase HOLE IN THE WALL, although that specific theme entry did not make it into the final version. (I decided to avoid any theme answer with HOLE in it, to avoid repetition with the implied "IN A ROUND HOLE" that follows the bonus answer).

I always prefer when Sundays have something extra on top of the main theme, which is why I went for the bonus answer spelled out by the circled letters. At the same time, adding such a bonus can really constrain the puzzle: in this case, it required having nine theme answers to accommodate the nine-letter bonus answer, and nine theme answers is a lot to cram into a puzzle — it doesn't leave much room for long non-theme answers. I decided that the trade-off was worth it, but it's always tough weighing the theme against the non-theme fill.

Sun 9/2/2018GOING HEAD TO HEAD
STANDPAWNSBEDNERF
ARMORUHHUHECOSOLAR
SUESEHTMINOTAURTWICE
SENTITEMOIRAMBOWSER
TROTSSTOODSPHERE
LOIREWINNOWISE
NOTLIMAHBURRRODRBI
SCHSLIMBOEDRELEASE
AAACELTIDRISOWNER
LTCOLEKULDARTHVADER
ORKSUNENOYES
YPOONSREDBARONPRINT
DRAKEHAZELLAOSOAR
SATIATEUNIDEALOCTA
THEYAKDIVADGOLIATH
CAPSIDDRYHOLLY
ASSUMELAMBSSMALL
NAMTABJOKERATTAALGA
GLITZETOXIUQWINDMILL
ESTEEDOTBRUINUPSET
LAHRINAELATEOSTEO

Since starting grad school a year ago, I haven't had too much time to construct crosswords, but I was happy to find some time during a break a few months ago. This puzzle was inspired by the phrase "going head to head." It's only now occurring to me that, in addition to going head to head, enemies are also said to cross each other...there's probably another theme in there.

For some odd reason, my favorite part of this grid is the 2x2 box of L's in 99- and 106-Across.

With this puzzle, I've now managed to fit two of my sisters into crosswords (you're welcome, KUDZU). Two down, two to go!

Sun 11/19/2017COUNTERPRODUCTIVE
STATSHOPINSNLSLAP
ARDORWASHOETEATATE
MIDNIGHTHOUREVITABLE
ELMOLOHANDIVERSGOAL
LEAFEDEISNERPERSE
VIENOIRMOMAEER
OCEANTARTAREONMARS
VOTINGAGEINAMERICA
EVALORSONNODEGRADE
RELNLEOKRARIPLEY
TRIBADLUCKSYMBOLILE
IMAFANAPESOWLBUS
PEELEHISSTULSAIAGO
ARGONSATOMICNUMBER
RANSOMTROUPESBLADE
DERVETOUCSDCEO
ELISEMORITACARVER
REALLOOKERNADALIDES
MANALIVEANSWERLENGTH
ISNTLINTOARMSTIARA
SEASYESEMMYSSTROM

The idea for this puzzle came from reading the book "Number Freak," which is full of interesting facts about numbers. One of my favorite facts from the book was that 4 is the only number n that is n letters long. For years, I've been toying with ways to turn that fact into a crossword theme, which finally resulted in today's puzzle.

I read that book about 8 years ago (well before I started constructing) and didn't look at it again until just now. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to realize that the author of the book is Derrick Niederman, a New York Times crossword constructor! Given that crosswords are mainly about wordplay, it's interesting how many constructors have a math background.

Originally I planned for the theme answers to be mathematical expressions such as THE SIXTH PRIME (13), TWO CUBED (8), or ONE THROUGH SIX SUMMED UP (21), but for the sake of variety I switched to the current theme, which uses numbers in non-mathematical contexts. I also considered cluing 110-Across as [This clue's 110-Across, for this clue], but I decided that would be a bit much. Thanks to the editing team for some other helpful tips that greatly improved the theme from my original submission!

Mon 9/18/2017
PAPERAPESETCH
LLAMAREPOTHOU
OPTICERICHEWN
WHITEKNUCKLED
SAODNAEUROPA
VIEFITSNON
GREENEYEDTRAIT
NUNSLODESELSE
ABETSREDHANDED
SIRAPEXAMT
HOGTIEAKAPRO
YELLOWBELLIED
ORBSTRAYGATED
NEATEGGSATALL
SPRYDYESMESSY

This puzzle was inspired by a Calvin & Hobbes strip that mentions the YELLOW-BELLIED sapsucker (in the context of a crossword puzzle, no less!) My private title for the puzzle is PARTICOLORED, which I considered using as a revealer; but I ended up leaving it without a revealer since PARTICOLORED doesn't quiiite work and is a bit obscure.

Mon 8/21/2017
SWEPTWENDYSSAD
WALLEIDIOTSEMO
URBANLEGENDSCPU
MEANALECBULB
KINDREDSPIRIT
BETTEYOUBET
HALOSSEALUPLUV
ASINTHEGAPBIDE
YEWTOULONTENET
RHESUSSULKS
QUICKTHINKING
UNTOTINSRAMP
INNGOOGLEIMAGES
LEEINFULLODORS
TRYSTAYATBEGET

The phrase "KIND RED SPIRIT" had been sitting in my brainstorming notebook for a while when I also thought of "GO OGLE IMAGES". To round out the theme, I wrote a python script that would find all English words consisting of two other English words smushed together, which gave me THINKING and LEGEND from which I found the other themers. (The script also outputted a bunch of compound words such as LIGHTHOUSE and FIREBRAND, but even after filtering those out there were still plenty of non-compounds such as THINKING and LEGEND to choose from).

The original submission clued the revealer with reference to the store, but I like the edited version better because of the "mind the gap" wordplay. The parenthetical word counts also weren't in my original submission, but I think adding them makes this puzzle much more appropriate for a Monday.

I've always enjoyed a type of puzzles called charade puzzles, which break words down into smaller parts and provide clues to the smaller parts, so such puzzles may well have inspired this theme. Here's one of my favorites, from Richard Lederer:

My first represents company,

My second shuns company,

My third assembles company,

My whole perplexes company.

(The answer is a 3-syllable word, where "my first," "my second," and "my third" refer to the word's first, second, and third syllables).

ANSWER: CONUNDRUM

Mon 7/17/2017
STRAWCDSHAM
SPEEDODREWIDO
AIRFORCEONETEX
INNSSUMOECOLI
LESSTRIKETHREE
RASLIAM
LATEXGIMMEFIVE
ALITMOVESISEE
GAMESEVENANSEL
ELANUGG
ONCLOUDNINERAM
BEASTIONSJUDO
EARODDSANDENDS
YTDMINEAUDITS
SOSENTGEICO

When constructing a crossword, the more flexibility you have in your theme answers, the easier it is to fill the grid. This means that this puzzle would have been much easier to make if the theme had been loosened up a little bit. For example, allowing any odd numbers (rather than using exactly the set of single-digit odd numbers) would have made construction easier because it would've increased the number of possible theme answers by allowing phrases such as FRESHMANFIFTEEN or FOREVERTWENTYONE.

The puzzle also would've been much easier to make if the numbers were not necessarily presented in order--for me at least, the start of construction usually involves lots of moving theme answers around to find the arrangement that works best, but having them in a fixed order removes a lot of the freedom in theme positioning.

However, I thought it was important to restrict the theme to being exactly the five single-digit odd numbers presented in order because a theme of "phrases ending in odd numbers" didn't seem quite tight enough without these extra features. Luckily, there are enough phrases ending with ONE, THREE, and FIVE to make the theme workable despite these constraints.

As always, thanks to the editing team for making this puzzle much better than the version I submitted!

POW Sun 6/4/2017ADVICE TO WRITERS
COMPASSCOSTAROMEGA
ADMIRALRETINALCANON
NEVERGENERALIZEADDON
RESEEDMEINERGO
SPECSPOOFREADCARFULY
COVETSEENANYONES
AGEDSPATETRACAR
NOSENTENCEFRAGMENTS
AORTALUTAHVOID
SBARROAMPSPOTUSA
PASSIVESMUSTBESHUNNED
RDSESOSASEANODES
YEAHAUDILOSTIT
DONTUSECONTRACTIONS
LEOAMINOETHCHAT
POWERUPACREPENNE
AVOIDREDUNDANCYABOUT
CERNSNOBTOOKTO
MRMOMAVOIDREDUNDANCY
AGENTLEAKIERTERRIER
NODESSTEEDSHEYDAYS

Many of my favorite crosswords are ones that break the rules in some way, whether they use one-letter answers, answers that extend off the grid, asymmetrical grids, or other crazy variations. It might be that I enjoy the variety, or it might just be that a puzzle that breaks the rules has to be pretty good to get accepted despite its transgressions, but in any case I also get pretty excited about a theme that allows me to break the rules a little, as this theme's repeated answer does.

Thanks to all of the English teachers over the years who have taught me the rules as well as when it's okay to break them!

Mon 3/27/2017
XRAYSCAWLETUPS
MIXERAMOUTOPIA
ALLSIKNOWCHOSEN
SEEMNONTKOS
ALONGWAYSOFF
STRAITANYOLAF
TRUMPARGONAIL
EONSTAKEOUTGLO
MISOOARSOBOES
SKIDPHOTRENDS
ANDTHENISAYS
SEEDHOGTREE
HAVANAHOWSABOUT
IMPROVAPEGUARD
MISERYLEDTYROS

For the past few years, I've been a member of the Yale Grammatical Diversity Project (YGDP), which studies how grammar varies across dialects. The idea for this puzzle came when I was researching the for the YGDP; I'd been looking for a way to use the interpretation of STAKEOUT as S-TAKEOUT, and seeing the phrase ALLS I KNOW gave me an idea of how to do it.

When people think about dialectal variation, they usually think in terms of which words are available (e.g., whether you say soda or pop) and in terms of pronunciation (e.g. whether you pronounce caught and cot the same or differently). The YGDP studies a third type of dialectal variation, namely grammatical variation. An example of this is with the word anymore: In most dialects, anymore typically has to follow a negative word such as not ("Gas is not expensive anymore"), but in some dialects it can occur without a negative word ("Gas is really expensive anymore"). This usage is called positive , and it's pretty common where I'm from (the Pittsburgh area).

This puzzle touches on one of the core beliefs of most linguists--namely, that non-standard linguistic features such as "alls I know" should be embraced rather than disparaged. Language naturally varies across speakers and across time, and if you ignore its fluidity you miss much of its beauty. For a better explanation of this viewpoint, check out the op-ed "Our Language Prejudices Don't Make No Sense" by Raffaella Zanuttini.

A sincere thank you to all the members of the YGDP, both for inspiring this puzzle and for being such a big part of my undergraduate career!

POW Sun 12/11/2016RETRONYMS
AMERICAADIEUSASHA
PAPISTSONETONMUTUAL
BRITISHENGLISHARMING
CUTNULLSAGUETOA
ABBACEASESSNAILMAIL
REALNUMBERETDSYAN
EFTOBOLSTRUSTSYDS
PETCRATESHINROBOTIC
ALLMINEBLACKLICORICE
SLEDSAYITICKYEKE
RHOREDHOTSSSN
ABCANTIUBOATACTS
FLATHEADSCREWISADORA
TOPRANKCITYGETSAWAY
CRYDERATSWARESTIS
IMPSALESILENTFILM
PAPERCOPYITLLDOIPSE
ALAEONSECOLIARP
GENRESORGANICFARMING
EXTENTNOONESALIENEE
RASPSGISTSDEARGOD

For this puzzle, it was fun to brainstorm a long list of potential theme entries. Some of my favorite answers that didn't make the grid were CONTINENTAL US, BRICK-AND-MORTAR STORE, SITDOWN RESTAURANT, and BLACK-AND-WHITE TV.

The grid might look pretty unconstrained, but in fact it does have the constraint that there need to be black squares above the E in BRITISH ENGLISH, the M in SNAIL MAIL, the N in REAL NUMBER, etc. (because, without these black squares, there would not be numbers everywhere that they are needed). Having eight black squares cemented in place from the get-go has a surprisingly large effect in terms of making the overall construction difficult. In general, flexibility in black square placement is very helpful in cleaning up messy grid sections, so having some black squares fixed in place can be a challenge.

As always, a huge thanks to Will and Joel for getting the puzzle into its final form!

Sun 10/16/2016EMOTION
ALLTALKHAIRCARELIAM
COALCARTHREATENINDO
TRICKSOFTHETREADECRU
SENSNAPLOTILAGOON
SPOOKBALANCEDEDIT
ISSUEREMINDUSDETS
SHALLITENDGOESUP
MINUETHANDERISPRIMA
SETSANMALTAOCTS
RASCALGREATSALTLEAK
SUBJEERIELOEB
MALESONWHEELSSOPSUP
OLAFBOARDAWWCEE
SIPONKRISMATEMARKET
RIDINGPONEELDERS
ICKCIDBRONCSPATSY
THECHOSENEONREDOS
SELLERVERBAONEMVP
BEVYATEALOFTWOCITIES
ARIDMARTINETROBERTS
DYNEAUTONOMYARMREST

This puzzle started with the title, with the specific theme developing from the word EMOTION (it's more common for me to think of a theme and then later to find a title fitting the theme, but the other direction definitely happens too). It also contains one of my favorite pieces of wordplay trivia in the clue for 115-Down--thanks to my dad for teaching me that!

Sun 9/4/2016ONE BY ONE
ELANSLAPINFIRMSWAG
LIVEALONEMOOMOOMATE
BRAILROADSTOPITASST
WASNTSTILETTOOBLATE
SSTEYEATOMSRALBUM
PROSHOPWEEISAID
KEANUOPENONIKE
GETSALITTLERQSESSION
RECTONSPEYOTESENDO
OLEMISSMIDNAEHIVES
TOVEMANAGERTUNA
THERELAWLOSAIMEDAT
AEROSETSAILBAJAETA
PEANUTMSSFIVEHUNDRED
NRADETAILAROSE
SEGUEAIRTITANIC
TEXASASLUSHSAGEST
RAPPELHASASHOTHALLE
ERIEINATUBAROOTBEER
SARANODEALKEROSENES
STETEDERLESOSOLAKE

[SPOILER ALERT FOR THE AUGUST 14 DIAGRAMLESS]

Ever since I read "Figgs and Phantoms" in elementary school, ampersands have been some of my favorite characters, so I'm glad to finally work a few into a puzzle. Excited as I am to show some ampersand love, I have to say that Sam Ezersky's insanely cool diagramless from a few weeks ago far outshines my ampersand-related efforts.

(Jeff: if you like diagramless puzzles, check out our thumbnails of all the diagramless grids listed together.)

POW Wed 7/13/2016
SPURSNAGLEMUR
OHNOSOURAROMA
COMMONERASEDAN
KNACKLAVEEMU
SENORALETERRIP
MATSPALIN
AVAOWIEANDES
DISAPPEARINGACT
SAYHIEMITYOU
METATLESS
MAMMAMIAMEANIE
USEPETSEVENS
LITHEPICKMEUPS
ACRESILIEAREA
NSYNCETSYSONY

This puzzle has a somewhat circuitous history. The idea came from a text conversation with my little sister (presented with her permission). I thought that this sort of joke had potential for a Sunday puzzle (which could be titled "DO I HAVE TO SPELL IT OUT FOR YOU?"), so I started compiling a list of abbreviations that were also words in their own right.

By the time I had done a pretty exhaustive search of abbreviations, I did not have quite enough possible theme entries to make a whole Sunday puzzle because there were not enough abbreviations that were spelled out letter by letter (like how ACT is actually pronounced "ay-see-tea"). However, there were many more abbreviations that were not spelled out letter-by-letter (like "sing." for "singular" or "in." for inch), so I ended up switching to that type of abbreviation to make the Sunday "THE SHORT FORM," which appeared a little less than a year ago.

I didn't want to waste the few spelled-out abbreviations I had found, though, and that's where today's puzzle comes from. So, a big thank-you to Sammie for taking the ACT and sparking two entire crossword themes for me!

P.S. If any of my other sisters are reading this, know that it was Sammie who entered her name into my phone that way.

POW Sun 6/5/2016WORD SEARCH
AWNUTSBASICSJUSTNOW
RHINOSORIOLEASTRIDE
FOLLOWINGSUITWHOOPEE
SEEDTAOISMBELL
ALSOBEFORELONG
CLOSETOHOMEBUNCIO
YOOHOOADORABLEMECCA
ROMEOPROVENVALUED
UMPSCHERIDNAEXALTS
SSAHUEEASYANITTY
BETWEENYOUANDME
SPACEGRIEFEOSMAE
STALKSGAGOWNERTILL
WEEKLYHARHARDHABI
ERASEFOOTSTEPSEAMUS
EENIRRAHEADOFTIME
POSTOFFICEEXES
ABETMASALAATMS
RELIEVENEXTTONOTHING
ICANSEETREATSBEARUP
POSTERNHYDRASIDTAGS

Crossword themes tend to work best when they are as symmetric and consistent as possible. For this puzzle, then, I put the lone "between" theme answer in the middle of the grid, while the top and bottom halves both have one "before" answer, one "after" answer, and one "close to" answer.

This theme has been sitting in my idea notebook for a while, so I was glad to finally implement it.

I hope you enjoy!

Wed 4/20/2016
TWOSWACOGHOSTS
AEROAFROOILCUP
GRANDSLAMODDONE
GETCHOMPEDERIC
IWOJIMAHATTRICK
NORAETATOIASS
GLINTROUGES
FOURTEENPOINTS
SEENATNORAD
ARCEAROOFWILE
FOULSHOTNONSELF
RATAONEPARTDOE
AREYOUTOUCHDOWN
MISERSROTERUES
ENTREEARODETRE

For most puzzles, one of the most time-consuming components is scouring word databases (both online and mental) to find a symmetric set of theme entries. For this puzzle, though, I got very lucky: The first three scoring terms I thought of were TOUCHDOWN, GRANDSLAM, and HATTRICK, and it was quick work to look up a 1-point play from basketball, which immediately gave me a set of 4 themers that added to 14 and that spanned (what I think are) the most widely-watched sports in the US.

Sun 3/13/2016DON'T SUE US!
DSTDEPTSOREOASKSTO
RNAAPARTPETASCOURS
POPSICLERSTICKNARNIA
HOPESOSIETHEREDS
ITEMTUPPERWARERPARTY
LYRICTAEOHYESIAM
OPUSMINEPESETA
VELCRORSTRAPDECODE
ASOFTENRUNCHEROOT
STOLEHEHEYOLOTOE
EEKXEROXRMACHINEMAN
EWSLONEPOLOCEASE
HIJINKSEKESTARTER
TABOOSFRISBEERGOLF
GOTSETTOROIDED
UBIBORERATASPASM
TEFLONRPRESIDENTALTO
FOOTERSMRIESPIED
GAUCHEPINGPONGRTABLE
OINKEDIDEAITISIILL
ORDERSNOOBTONERSAT

Initially, I thought about making this a two-way rebus that was the letters OR in one direction and the registered trademark symbol in the other, with the idea being that solvers would have to figure out to write the R inside the O. It seemed like a bit of a stretch to have solvers figure out the writing-one-letter-inside-the-other part, though, so I changed it to the current version.

POW Wed 2/3/2016
SPIELPUNTSSKI
GECKOALOHATOM
TAKECONTROLORE
SKYDIVERAREA
UMATHURMAN
REPELRANT
MIDDLECLASSARF
SCIFIAIDAGREE
SETCENTERFIELD
SILOEENSY
ALLATINGLE
RAIDEASTASIA
USEDEATHEATERS
BEGORBITSTEAK
ARECACTIEARNS

My worst fear as a constructor was realized when, as I was putting the completed grid into an envelope to submit it, I noticed that I had misspelled UMA THURMAN as UMA THERMAN. To fix this, the crossing answer would've had to become ERMINU. There was no good way to turn ERMINU into something that was actually a thing, so I redid the grid from scratch.

If Ms. Thurman is offended by the misspelling, I hope she will be mollified to hear that the song named after her is currently the most frequently played item on my iPod.

Tue 12/22/2015
ARDENTBLAHNILE
LIELOWROPEITEM
PAJAMAPARTYCHAT
SLAPSEWNCHIPS
SUNGLASSLENS
DIGESTWHISKEY
ETUDESINAIICE
PSISINGULARCOT
TUTDOONEOMANI
SPARSERAMENDS
TROUSERPRESS
HOHUMHOESSHOE
EYESSCISSORKICK
LOREPANSPOINTE
DUOSALOESETTOS

This puzzle was created roughly a year ago. Therefore, the message hidden in the twelfth row (highlighted below in green) is as seasonally appropriate now as it was during the puzzle's creation.

Sun 9/27/2015MARK MY WORDS
SPOCKOHCRUDBIANCA
RUSHATREROSEPANSOUT
INHEREGAINONUNCASES
ADAMARMFIGLEAVES
"OPENSESAME"NERTS
UNMAKESEAUNTWTVIN
NEARERTONBASTARPICO
MATASAP"ILLBEBACK"
ETAILHONOREEATREST
"ETTUBRUTE"WRITE
TRAIPSEAKACHALICE
IHOPS"HULKSMASH"
LACUNATOLEASESOWER
"NEVERMORE"CANTEMI
AGRAPILEUPSPARASAIL
METISLEETANOMERCY
ALAIN"MYPRECIOUS"
HIMALAYASNUNSCHS
HANDBAGCHROMEEROTIC
SITUATEHANGERRAMONA
TRYERSTWASNTYEAST

Like most Sundays I've made, this puzzle started as two ideas that merged together. I really liked the idea of having the same squares serve as quotation marks and ditto marks, but I thought it needed something else to tie it together. The "something else" came along when my professor Ryan Bennett mentioned the adjacent pairs of double letters in "bookkeeper" as an aside in an intro linguistics class.

At first I considered having the theme entries be types of titles that require quotation marks rather than underlining — e.g., the set of themers could include a poem, a song, a speech, a book chapter, an episode of a TV show, and a short story. I ended up picking the quotation approach instead because quotations seemed more fun than titles.

I've been experimenting lately with getting the word count down on Sundays. I still can't decide if I prefer low-word-count grids with more fill that is interesting but also more fill that is questionable, or if I prefer very clean but not as interesting 140-worders. I'll probably settle somewhere between the two extremes.

Wed 8/12/2015
BUTMAYTWIGSTY
UNOAREOHNOERE
RPMMRSPANGOLIN
MIASMAJETSOFF
ANYWAYAKASTRIP
TIMOMAHAEPA
GLORIOUSOPTSFOR
OUTLASTTOEHOLDS
LAOAWAITALE
FUMEDILLSTACHE
ALITTLETARTAR
MAHIMAHIMAWIRA
ACTERIEERAOPS
NEOSETSTRYNYE

Tom's mirror image To find themers, I wrote a program to generate a list of English words made entirely from the letters A, H, I, M, O, T, U, V, W, X, and Y. (I was conflicted about including U because my handwritten U's are not symmetric, but I decided to go with the letters that are symmetric in type.)

Then, since most of the single words were not very lively (with some exceptions, like HOITY-TOITY), I brainstormed phrases containing those symmetrical words. Probably the hardest part was making sure no two theme entries had any words in common.

After this puzzle was finished, I spent more time than I would like to admit looking at my computer in a mirror.

Sun 7/19/2015THE SHORT FORM
SAHIBTEMPGATEASHEN
IRAQIHAILAMURSTALE
FIRSTPERSONSINGSENSE
TARTAKETWOLISURGED
USERIDSNAANOMNI
ADMIRESDONTGIVEANIN
POPDENSITYDEUCETSE
ETHERSCHATSPINCHHIT
SOSOHEINOUSARENT
NORAINOCTJANEROE
ELITURNOFTHECENTEND
DEMOTEDUARPREYON
EMOTETRUSSUPTAFT
NEUTRALSLETUSPAULIE
INTTONNEAPTCOMPLEX
CUTQUITEAFIGORALIST
AUNTAMTSCENTRES
PSHAWIKEARALSEALOP
OTERILOOKOUTFORNOONE
LARKSLUNANEILTOSCA
OBESESTETERNEHOTEL

The original clue for POP DENSITY was [The stupidity of a cereal mascot?]. Although I like the new clue better, I thought I should mention the change so that my dad would not take umbrage at the answer.

Originally, the title was PULLING OUT ALL THE STOPS, but I think the name change was a good move because some non-theme entries (like AMTS) should still have periods in them.

Thanks to Jim Wood, whose lecture on "number one" inspired the theme (which started with 112-Across).

Sun 5/31/2015MAKING PROJECTIONS
TACOTEACHPILLSARF
ALBUMWANDAINDIADEL
ITSNOWONDERLOFTYIOU
TRESSKRONASKORT
TAMERPROFITIRONAGE
CIRCLERABIDRTEENS
AMOKGOTONSUHWEET
SEMIANNUALTOMFOOLERY
TRANSFATCOLOURSNOI
LILTSEAWORLDSNAP
ANDESKELVINSQUADS
TORYHOARSENSNOUN
OVODECRIEDVANISHED
MAPLELEAFSSMARTPHONE
DEFEATSROOMYIMAC
NOVNNELAPUPSTNICK
PAWEDATSENSEITWEET
ASNERRELICROUES
PAMALEXAHIBERNATION
ALEWINITEKEBYKASHI
SSNSECTSRELAXTOMB

The phrase DROP DOWN MENU was a lifesaver in constructing this puzzle. Every decent grid arrangement I found required a theme answer to end with a U, which was troublesome because U shows up so rarely in word-final position. Luckily, DROP DOWN MENU saved the day.

Originally, MOUNT MCKINLEY was going to be MOUNT VESUVIUS. I made the switch to MCKINLEY so that you can view the grid as a map of the US with Florida and Alaska in roughly the correct places.

I thought it might bother some people for SHARK FIN to have no symmetrical partner, so I put the answer RANCHER opposite it. RANCHER is another term for a ranch house, which explains why it does not stick out of the grid—ranch houses often lack basements.

Mon 4/20/2015
TSKTSKPLOYCBS
APIECEHEROOUT
JANEANDDICKUNE
LYEEASYA
MARYANDWILLIAM
MODETOADINNS
TOUSLEWRAP
GRETELANDHANSEL
GILTOTOOLE
OREOOBOEAMMO
JULIETANDROMEO
INALLGAH
BLTLADIESFIRST
WOEECONPURINA
AWSNECKSNAPON

I originally made this puzzle for my parents, whose names are in adjacent theme answers. (You guessed it — I am the son of Gretel and Romeo.)

Sun 4/5/2015THE CAPTAIN GOES DOWN WITH THE SHIP
SAJAKHAJANTCABALS
TAHITIEREADERAFLCIO
ONAGERCENTIMOPRIMLY
WEBSKATGONOWROGETS
ESPBETACAMNEWISH
RTEINTROSALESBDAY
QUOTIENTLUSTLOUIE
TAUNTERSADATSHOULDA
WHOCARESCUPIDOUNCES
PADPDASHOLEOPTED
CURGMSNUBKEY
FARSIAILSSUBJLAM
ROGUESSTEADGLOAMING
EVENBETHEWEDALMONDS
PERCYHTTPMELBLANC
SASHLEWISBABYSOBI
GROMITRATTERSLOP
VALUESNANOSEDOANNO
ELAPSEKNOCKONGERUND
TEMPERIINSISTERASES
OXEYESECONUSRABAT

This puzzle was born out of a desire to make a crossword based on Moby Dick. While brainstorming possible Moby Dick-related themes, I had some music playing in the background, and the song "White Flag" by Dido came on. This song contains the line "I will go down with this ship / And I won't put my hands up and surrender," and the theme idea quickly followed.

My favorite Sundays usually have multiple layers, so I spent a lot of time debating whether to give this theme any more elements (An anchor made out of black squares? A revealer within the puzzle? Two unchecked squares, both containing the letter "i," for "Aye Aye, Captain?") However, I decided that the theme entries were disparate enough that adding more complexity might be distracting, so the current version prevailed.

Thanks to Mr. Morris and Professor Roffman, both of whom have guided me through the murky waters of Moby Dick.

Sun 3/8/20153.1415926 ...
ACTPUMAPROTEARREM
PLYESAUREPERIEAYE
ROTENEGGESEMADHATER
SCUDGUILTRIPSADDS
DEARSIRRITABLEBEFOG
OSLOSESAMESEEDSLIRA
NELSONTHERES
STYNEILKFCHAIRESP
SATERIOAWLS
CHATKITELMPALALPS
HOWIWISHMLIPIEASILY
EGOMANIALINETRUSCAN
CAKEDLYINGONTOKYO
KNESSETANGSTPROCEED
SSNBOARISEEDRS
ICOULDCALCULATE
ASCENTSADASTIRSUP
MUTINYOSMOSISRECTOR
ERUCTCRAPSHOOTAROSE
TATLEHAREETUIDOTED
ELDERENIDDATESWAYS

Martin Gardner

This puzzle is dedicated to Martin Gardner, one of my all-time favorite authors. It was in his book Hexaflexagons and Other Mathematical Diversions that I learned about the sort of mnemonic found in this puzzle. He also created an annotated version of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, so I associate any Lewis Carroll reference (including my favorite theme answer, 26-Across) with him. I highly recommend his work to anyone who likes brainteasers, math, or wordplay.

Wed 12/10/2014
LEWISDADDWARF
AMISHELIRIVAL
SUNNIBIGATONE
THORIUMWHITE
OATTRIPIEDOT
UTEZEESMRS
CESIUMFORESTER
HULLECOOAHU
PALLADIUMJAMES
SICONEAETE
KGBQEDDAWSTS
MERCURYWELLS
ANIMELAYINERT
RIDOFAGENIGER
TEENYNEDEPOXY

It came as quite a (pleasant) surprise when this puzzle was accepted because I worried that too few solvers would enjoy both aspects of the theme (the chemistry and the literature). My original submission had the theme answers THORIUM WHITE, MERCURY WELLS, CESIUM LEWIS, and OXYGEN HENRY, but Will asked for a revision because O. Henry only uses one initial while the other authors use two, and the result is what you see here!

I was glad for the chance to revise the grid. Although I like the original theme set and the new theme set roughly the same, the original submission only had two long non-theme slots, which were filled by the somewhat boring entries PATHLESS and SALT LICK. In my revision, I tried to work in more interesting long downs so that solvers could still enjoy the puzzle even if the theme did not strike their fancy.

Mon 11/17/2014
STRAPENJOYMAT
POACHLOIREOBE
YENTAKOFIANNAN
RISKISTO
PACMANSAUNTER
ASHTONKUTCHER
THIGHIVANSOPS
TECSPLUMEISLE
IRKEARLEPRIAM
MARIOANDRETTI
IMAGERYYESYES
RAGESPEC
VINDIESELEMPTY
IZECRONEPOSER
NETYALTATWINS

One of the biggest surprises for me in the Sherlock Holmes series was the fact that Sherlock has a brother. Sherlock is such a distinctive character that I find it intriguing to think of there being someone else like him. It's even more surprising to find out that a real-life friend has a twin, and that sense of surprise was the inspiration here.

I made this puzzle a while ago, and if I were to do it again, I would try to change the entry MONSTROSITY. At the time I constructed this puzzle, I counted myself lucky just to find fill that worked. Now that I'm more comfortable with filling grids, I try much harder to find entries that are not just acceptable but also entertaining. Although MONSTROSITY is a perfectly cromulent word, it's not very pleasant. Therefore, I would rather have found an entry more likely to bring a smile to the solver's face.

Sun 11/9/2014COLORFUL CHARACTERS
HOLESBLUEJAYBRICK
WAHINEYOTEAMOETHANE
AGASSIFEELBADLEONID
TARTSLAWTEALPANE
TRAILMIXESMILLIHELEN
NEILTOEPEAS
MAGICACETATESTONE
YIPPROMINENTELI
ASPENYELLOWSEAEDGER
ONSTAGEBESETBTWELVE
MOTHERRESELLSRELIEF
IMOSITARSLANAISGNU
NERDFESTBULBSETS
GREENTEAHAPBLACKEYE
LOSSATLASELOI
LIGHTHARMONICABERRY
ALAIFORMLETTERSDIEU
RIBMOTELBASALBEL
VULGARNEONGASLIABLE
AMELIAATPEACEEMBOSS
SONYSTORKMOON

In his notes for a recent puzzle, Joel Fagliano mentioned how it's useful to tinker with a theme until you find the best presentation for it. This advice was extremely applicable to today's puzzle, which began as three independent ideas that merged over about two years.

When a puzzle's theme is not so straightforward, I like to delay the solver's realization of the theme so that the epiphany happens gradually. For this puzzle, therefore, I placed the black I one space from the edge so that there would be a black square to the left of 1-Across (HOLES). Hopefully, when solvers realize that 1-Across should be BLACK HOLES, they'll notice this (seemingly unnecessary) black square and initially conclude that the theme is a rebus where black squares stand for the word BLACK. I don't know if this trick will work on many people, but I do like to delay the theme epiphany, and a trick or two can help to cause such a delay.

Thanks to Jeff Chen for advice on how to expand the selection of 4- and 5-letter words in my word lists. I fill by hand as much as possible, but a few of the wider-open sections would have been messy without computer aid. Also, as always, thanks to Will Shortz for all the encouragement and for making the puzzle submission polished enough to be published.

Mon 7/28/2014
WASTETREEDLGA
IDEASHOWIEOAR
ZEROPERCENTSUM
ALAWUSSOMEN
RIPSAWSGUILTY
DEEPSHEYARNOLD
ATOSOLUSES
STRINGQUARTET
JERKEAUSUE
ANYLONGERBLAND
BEHELDASSYRIA
SARIALMAICU
NCRVOCABLESSON
BEDERROLKNELT
ADSREESEELSES

This puzzle was quite literally a labor of love because it originated as a present for my mom! She's an avid quilter, and this was the best quilting-related theme I could think of. In fact, for a while I had QUILTS at 27-Across instead of GUILTY (with QATAR at 27-Down), but I decided that QUILTS was not worth the price of SDS at 28-Down. Some other theme answers I considered were BA(THREAD)ING and YOUCAN(TWINE)MALL.

This was the first time I constructed after my debut came out last November, so I made a big effort to adapt to the critiques of that puzzle. First, many had said that the debut would have benefitted from a revealer, so for this puzzle I started with a revealer and built the rest around it. Secondly, many thought the debut's non-theme fill was clean but boring. Therefore, for this puzzle, I decided to allow a few less-than-desirable entries such as LGA, NCR, and ASTI in order to accommodate a few more exciting entries like TRYHARDS, LOSE-LOSE, and SPARKLER.

The grid was tough to fill because it was my first attempt at more than four theme answers and because the Q of STRING QUARTET had to sit inconveniently in the center of the grid. I'm glad the theme necessitated five components because otherwise I would have been tempted to trim down the theme in order to make the filling easier.

When I realized this puzzle could be a pangram, I got pretty excited. However, after reading many crossword blog posts that were decidedly anti-pangram, I realized that including every letter of the alphabet does not increase the solver's enjoyment. Therefore, I gave up the pangram idea, and that certainly improved the puzzle because it brought the word count down from 78 to 76 and removed the need for some cheater squares.

Merry Christmas again, Mom!

POW Sun 7/13/2014WE HOLD THESE TRUTHS TO BE SELF-EVIDENT
CADREGOTLAWABIDES
UNREELORRENERECENT
BOYSWILLBEBOYSORELSE
IDEOGODVANTOMEANA
CERNATMIYAMWHATIYAM
AUNTIERAIDSMERE
WHATSDONEISDONESIDED
EAREDERSTGAMUT
ESTARFMAMAREMARK
VASTELMSRARENOTING
ITAINTOVERTILLITSOVER
LILTERPITAOKRARISE
TERRORSEWSALAESA
ADDERARKSACRES
SLOTSHATERSGONNAHATE
WIRESETONBLOUSE
ITISWHATITISAVGWABE
VEGHURLROERAGSMUT
ERAGONENOUGHISENOUGH
LAMESTRIPEAUTOUSLE
SLIMESSPYRPMSTEER

I constructed this puzzle while staying at my sister's house, so a big thanks to her for the hospitality! Another shout-out goes to Doris Day, whose recording of "Que Sera Sera" I played many times while filling the grid. (The song didn't make it into the puzzle, but its tautological refrain and circular storyline fit with the theme).

For a while, the central three theme answers were going to be I YAM WHAT I YAM, IT IS WHAT IT IS, and WE R WHO WE R (a Kesha song), which I thought made a fun trio due to their parallel wording. However, two strangely-spelled pop-culture references seemed a bit much for one puzzle, so I scrapped WE R WHO WE R. (IYAMWHATIYAM is not too hard to parse, but WERWHOWER would look pretty strange to those unfamiliar with the song).

The central ring was a late addition; I had already filled and clued a version of the puzzle before I thought of it. Incorporating the ring made the overall fill much more difficult because it required extra black squares in the center, forcing a wide-open periphery. Wording the note was also tricky because most people know the line as "A rose is a rose is a rose," but Gertrude Stein first phrased it as "Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose." Therefore, the note does not mention where to start reading the ring, making both interpretations possible. I regretted leaving the note ambiguous, but a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.

POW Mon 6/9/2014
STOAMELTSPEED
CRUDARIAPOLAR
OATHJINXLOFTY
WIDERECEIVER
SNORESEENASH
EXTENDEDSTAY
ACTYEAPIERRE
PROMOLOWDEIGN
POWELLMARPEA
LONGDIVISION
ENSSANCRUMBS
STRETCHEDOUT
ITALYCOOTGOYA
MORALKALEEDIT
PEEVESTARDYNE

This puzzle is special to me because it was my first acceptance ever. Actually, it was not accepted immediately; the original version was 76 words, with the long downs of FREEZER BAG and SALINE DROP in place of the current 4-Down/38-Down and 31-Down/51-Down slots. However, Will said that SALINE DROP was not really crossword-worthy, so I added another pair of black squares to create the current version. I'm glad he asked for the revision because, in addition to removing the undesirable SALINE DROP, it made the overall fill much cleaner.

Sun 6/1/2014ALADDIN
ASFARSANROTCPULLER
NAOMICLERICALUNIATE
CHANGEOFPALACESOMUCH
HALETRIAGETANSIDEA
ORESANELEWINEYNETS
RADIIIDEALSOFMARCH
AGAINONENOEL
CIRCUSTALENTLAOSHEE
ACEANDEANSMATTERING
BYGONEMOPYMAUPTO
AFAREWELLTOALARMS
SELFVINYUPLUSTER
PRESELECTSRIBBONELL
YESCONKCANALOFWORMS
PONTPUNTOTAL
SPRINGFALLINGYEAST
CLANPUPALYALTAANEW
RANKALLYSAMUELNOVA
INDIANOFMALICEANDMEN
PARENTMONTANANBEING
TRYSTSBROSESSCRESS

I'm thrilled to have my first Sunday published! The larger size presented a whole new world of difficulty to fill, but it was extremely satisfying to get a completed grid.

This puzzle began with a theme exactly opposite the current one. I planned for the revealer to be WITHDRAWAL, with theme answers that were common phrases missing the letters AL, such as ICE IN WONDERLAND, FLOUT BOYS, or FAT ATTRACTION. I had just finished a course in computer science, so after I made a list of themers, I wrote a program to make sure I was not missing any juicy potential theme phrases. The program was designed to output a list of all English words that became different English words when the string "al" was removed, and my plan was to look over the list to see if it contained anything interesting that I had not thought of on my own. At the top of the list was the pair "Aladdin" and "add-in," and I realized that ALADDIN would make a great title for a puzzle that involved inserting "al" rather than deleting it, so I decided to change from WITHDRAWAL to ALADDIN.

There were a couple of reasons for the switch. First, ALADDIN makes a better title than WITHDRAWAL because ALADDIN is unrelated etymologically to ADD-IN whereas WITHDRAW and WITHDRAWAL have the same stem. Secondly, subtracting letters can make it difficult to tell what the base phrase is, but this is less of a problem when letters are added because then the base phrase is still present in its entirety. Therefore, I turned the theme on its head, and the result is what you see. (By the way, thanks to Mrs. Prosser and Lori Levin for teaching me the requisite programming skills!)

I always struggle to balance cleanliness with liveliness. In this grid, I was especially happy to fit HIPSTER, PUSSYFOOT, and APLOMB, but there are also a few entries I would rather have done without; if I'm ever brave enough to attempt another Sunday, I would like to include more interesting non-theme answers. In addition, my favorite Sundays usually have extra theme layers (for an example, see pretty much any Sunday by Elizabeth C. Gorski), so I would also love to try my hand at adding extra elements to the theme.

Thu 11/14/2013
CAROBREPSTVAD
AGAPEOXENHIKE
MODEMMETEEDAM
PRONOUNCEABLE
SANAGEKOMODO
UNHYPHENATED
ALIASHERDAMO
PONEQUAYSSPUR
PETOURSTIERS
TWELVELETTER
SERIESRELAHA
PENTASYLLABIC
HELDILLSARENT
ERATNEATLETGO
MAYOGEMSLASER

Since cross-referential clues are a staple of crosswords, I liked the idea of clues that refer not to other clues but rather back to themselves. Some other theme answers that I considered were ENGLISH, ADJECTIVAL, and HORIZONTAL. My first act after adding the black squares and the theme answers was to find a place for a Q, since Q is the most intriguing letter to me. Strangely, when filling the grid, I had much more trouble in the NW and SE corners than in the more wide-open parts of the puzzle.

This is my crossword debut. Special thanks to the people who have fostered my interest in crosswords: my mom, who has helped me solve many, many crosswords over the years; my dad, who solves jumbles and cryptograms entirely in his head; Mike Boehnke, a family friend whose visits always bring about group crossword sessions; and Jason Mohr, my European History teacher who kindly pre-solved my earliest attempts at construction.