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Trenton Charlson author page

38 puzzles by Trenton Charlson
with constructor comments

Trenton Charlson

37 Daily crosswords by Trenton Charlson

Sat 12/24/2022

The story of this puzzle goes back several years, when I became familiar with Schuyler Fisk through a collaboration of hers with Joshua Radin (who I got to see in concert a few years ago!) and was captivated by one of her songs called You're Only Lonely. Eventually I noticed it was the magical 15 letters in length, but lamented that it wasn't well known enough to feature in a puzzle. Of course, when I looked it up, I discovered that her rendition was a cover version of a song from 1979! I guess my constructor's brain is good for something (and though J.D. Souther's original is excellent, I have to say I still prefer Schuyler's version, especially with the incredible bass line).

I initially had my sights set on a triple stack, but when I discovered that the pair of DOOR TO DOOR SALES and EUCALYPTUS TREES intersected nicely with the other two 15s, I had hope of using the elusive double-stacked-15 frame layout that's rather uncommon in the Times (not used since 2015). I'm more than happy with the grid spanners, and with some fun fill elsewhere like HOYLE (I'm a huge fan of the Hoyle Board Games series of computer games) and MANGA (anime addict here), I think there's something for everyone.

Hopefully the puzzle serves as a pleasant companion over the holiday weekend, and for those of you for whom this time is particularly difficult, I wish you nothing but the best.

Tue 9/6/2022

A while back, I had the idea to build a puzzle around a few theme answers including an ellipsis (like WHAT THE… and …OR ELSE), with the ellipsis taking up three spaces. Words with the "iji" sequence would be directly below the ellipsis so that the dots would become the ellipsis. Like some of my more complicated ideas, this idea never came to fruition; the fact that I felt like I would also have to avoid extraneous i's and j's deterred me from ever even starting on a grid. Sometime later, I had the idea for this much simpler version of the theme. I guess sometimes less is more (and I bet there are some solvers out there who would agree).

I enjoy working with stacks of 7-letter answers, so it was nice to get the opportunity to do so here. I think this grid turned out quite well, and I was also glad to see my clue for ELOPING make the cut. Happy solving!

Fri 4/15/2022

This puzzle was a long time in the making. Back when I first started constructing, I had the idea to put XXX at 1-Down, as I thought it would be cool if I could stack three long answers starting with X. The resulting stack, and its symmetrical counterpart (which began with the two-X grid-spanner TEXTBOOK EXAMPLE), took shape early on, but the rest of the grid was a different story — I tried out many different arrangements of black squares before I found this one, which fortuitously also allowed for SOLAR PLEXUS and FALL EQUINOX. This might be the themeless puzzle I spent the most time working on, and I'm quite happy with how it turned out.

As far as clues go, I particularly like my clues for 1-Across, 17-Across, 37-Down, and 52-Down, and I think the editing team's clue for 3-Down is a fun addition. I'm also glad to see my clue for PHOBIAS, [Admissions to a counselor] in the final version. I have felt that some clues in past Times puzzles have not been the most sensitive when it comes to mental health concerns, so I think a clue like this is definitely a step in the right direction (in no small part because the clue doesn't come off whatsoever as judgmental, as some clues for PHOBIAS might). Anything that helps to remove some of the stigma from counseling — and getting help, in general — is a good thing.

Hope you enjoyed the puzzle!

POW Fri 2/11/2022

Like with its triple-stack brother that was published last July, I came up with this puzzle's top stack a few years ago, but it took until summer of 2020 to find it a symmetrical companion. I started with YE OF LITTLE FAITH, and remember being thrilled with the narrative suggested by the top stack — a spirited debate over Nessie's existence.

I had not found anything promising for the bottom stack for quite some time, so I thought it especially fortuitous that I was able to work in the appropriately thematic IS NOTHING SACRED, which felt particularly at home between two idiomatic phrases. I was also pleased with the mid-length fill and relative cleanliness, as well as the strikingly sinuous grid pattern.

It might be of interest that my original submitted grid differed by two letters: I had DESKS instead of DELTS at 25-Down, making TASE and SANKA instead of TALE and SANTA. Though I was somewhat surprised by this change, I can see why the editorial team might see TASE as unnecessary and SANKA as a potentially difficult proper noun. In fact, I had actually saved the version of the puzzle you see here in my files as a possibility; the deciding factor ending up being that I had a fun clue in mind for SANKA (Instant success?)

In any case, though, I am looking forward to this puzzle's publication, and I hope you enjoy it (and feel free to weigh in on the aforementioned debate — I of course, am pro-Nessie).

Thu 12/16/2021

As a lifelong fan of word games, I have been a force to be reckoned with at Scrabble and Boggle for about as long as I can remember. Though there have been a number of Scrabble-themed puzzles over the years, I had never seen one themed around Boggle. I got the idea for this puzzle several years ago, but that was about as far as I made it. I had a different set of synonyms and didn't think I'd even be able to come up with a hypothetical Boggle board on which they all could be spelled, let alone one that could be worked into a crossword grid.

Fast forward to last year, when in a sudden burst of inspiration, I was pleasantly surprised to get this grid working after a few attempts. This arrangement felt particularly fortuitous, as I was somehow able to build around the central 4x4 block, even though all of the answers passing through it were at least seven letters long!

I did have flexibility with a few letters that weren't used in any of the three theme words (and with something like this, I'll take any flexibility I can get.) Incorporating the three theme answers and revealer after the central block already locked down so much real estate was also a challenge. I'm happy with how it turned out, though, a few clunky short answers notwithstanding.

I hope you enjoy the puzzle — and if you feel so inclined, maybe even see what extra words you can find in the Boggle grid :)

Sat 11/27/2021

This puzzle began with a vague desire to embed a sort of mini-theme in a central "stair-stack" of long answers. Once I got the idea for an X / Y / Z stack, I had to see if I could make it happen — and sure enough, I found a workable stack remarkably quickly! This is a great example of why I so frequently start a themeless by trying to build a stack around unusual letter combinations: in addition to the distinctive effect it often has on the finished puzzle, it also helps to narrow down the seemingly infinite possibilities and gives me a concrete challenge to aim for while also keeping my options open enough for any potential creativity to shine through.

Similarly, when I found that working in two 15-letter answers led to the most promising grid skeleton, I thought it would be cool if they were related in some way, so I was pleased with the fortuitous pairing of UNDERCOVER AGENT and THE COAST IS CLEAR that you see here.

My favorites clues are the devious [Spot early on?] for PUP, the pair of [Collage application] and [Vice principle] for PASTE and SIN respectively, and what I thought was a particularly nice addition from the editorial team: [The book of numbers] for YELLOW PAGES.

I hope this puzzle provides a nice diversion over the long weekend. Happy solving!

Sun 10/3/2021 SNOOZEFEST

The idea of interpreting FORTY WINKS as forty Z's is one that I'd had for a few years, but I just couldn't get it to work (imagine that). It's funny how sometimes the simplest of solutions can be the most elusive — somehow, I don't think I even considered the possibility of using a Sunday size grid until last year! After abandoning a mostly completed grid for a few reasons --- using both FREEZING DRIZZLE and FROZEN PIZZA, what I suspected was too high of a word count even for a 22 x 21 grid (151), and some obscure answers — and doing some rejiggering, I found a grid that ended up working out much better than I had anticipated. Once I had a layout that could accommodate my symmetrically paired long answers, it was smooth sailing… other than the fact that I still had to work 13 extra Z's into the puzzle.

The upper-right area presented the most difficulties, and though there are some compromises, that actually might be my favorite part of the grid — EVZONE is one of my favorite Scrabble words, YREKA has a fun clue, GULLIVER and JAZZ DUET make for nice bonuses, and despite some tough vocabulary, I think the crossings are all ultimately fair. Of course, the biggest highlight for me is finally being able to work ZIZZER-ZAZZER-ZUZZ into a puzzle (after more than a few attempts).

Hope you thought this puzzle sizzled more than it fizzled :) Happy solving!

Thu 7/29/2021

I guess I don't really have a whole lot to say about this one. The theme idea probably came from seeing a fill-in-the blank clue, and wondering if there was a way to subvert that ever-ubiquitous convention. For a while only "landfill" came to mind as a possibility; the other two presented themselves to me some time later, practically simultaneously. I liked the elegance of having those two clues both be in-the-language phrases without the blanks, and Will and company agreed.

I typically go with a 16-wide grid when I need an even number of columns, but here, with a 14, 12 and two 10s, it turned out that a 14-wide grid worked much better. I didn't have too high of hopes that the arrangement you see here would work out, but I was pleasantly surprised; using NEWSCASTER instead of JOURNALIST certainly helped.

In any case, I hope you found this puzzle ful-fill-ing :)

Sat 7/10/2021

Given that I'm drawn to puzzles that are architectural feats of construction, it's probably not a huge surprise that I've long been an admirer of puzzles with triple-stacked (and quadruple-stacked) 15s. This admiration only grew when I tried my hand at it myself: the top stack here was my first successful attempt at a triple-stack, back in 2018, but finding a symmetrical stack to mesh with it proved particularly challenging. As such, it took almost two more years (and quite a bit of assistance from my friend Crossword Compiler) to come up with a completed grid.

I started the top stack with ANANSI THE SPIDER, which seemed like an interesting, original 15-letter answer, and had promising letters for a second-row entry. I was pleased to find that it fit nicely between two more lively answers, both of which are also appearing here for the first time in the NYT puzzle. I originally had ANOUK at 2-Down, crossing EKES, but was concerned that the crossing of ANOUK and ANANSI at the N could be very challenging to many (especially with HUME up there too). I didn't notice the possibility of using AN OUT instead until I had completed the grid, and though the inelegance of that answer bothers me a bit, I decided (after much deliberation) that I wanted the crossings for the stack to be as unambiguous as possible, especially as the rest of the fill felt very clean for a triple-stack puzzle.

Though there wasn't a whole lot of room for longer answers apart from the triple-stacks, I think the two pairs of 8s are nice, and was glad I could also squeeze in some interesting 6s and 7s, like DHARMA, LAP DOG, RAPIER, I SWEAR, DIG DEEP, and ELM TREE. I thought ["Seriously!"] was a fun clue for "I SWEAR!", as it works for both meanings of the phrase, conveying either earnestness or frustration. I'm also glad to see my clue of [Hosts] for COMMUNION WAFERS survived, as I thought it was a nice, Saturday-worthy misdirection, and the editorial team even came up with the [Goof] clue for CARELESS MISTAKE to complement it.

It's a pleasure to have my 30th puzzle in the Times (and my 10th Saturday!) I hope it was enjoyable, and that the triple-stacks gave you something to feast your eyes on! :)

Thu 5/20/2021

This one came from the realization that SIX FEET UNDER would make a good revealer for a letters-below-the-grid puzzle, but my original idea was to have FOOT underneath the grid six times, until I couldn't come up with enough symmetrical theme answers. Once I eventually hit upon the solution of using FT instead, it was still some time later before I came up with the 17-letter IF YOU CATCH MY DRIFT to match the grid-spanning WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT.

Even then, I wasn't sure I would be able to get a grid to come together, given all the theme material in such close proximity at the bottom of the puzzle, so I was pleased to find a nice arrangement for stacking some of the themers. It was important to me to have the bottom part of the puzzle connected to the top by more than just the grid-spanners, particularly as the grid spanners appear incomplete until you understand the trick. Fortunately, running non-thematic 10s alongside them ended up working out, without having to make too many concessions. In the bottom portion of the grid, I thought SPY SWAP and ASH TREE were nice answers crossing three themers apiece, and I'm partial to the quirky lower-right corner where OAR and ORR meet ORZO and ORDER (I hope ORE and OREO don't feel too left out).

As far as clues go, a few of mine I'm glad to see make the final version are those for 27-Across, 32-Across, 44-Across, 61-Across, and 9-Down. I thought the new clues for 43-Across and 1-Down were nice additions from the editorial team. I'm also a bit impressed that they were able to come up with a colloquial equivalent for IF YOU CATCH MY DRIFT without repeating any of its words, which I found monstrously difficult to clue for that reason, resignedly going with the not-at-all ungainly [Colloquial phrase which suggests that there is an inference to be drawn from the preceding statement]. Yeah, I know, it rolls right off the tongue, doesn't it?

Until next time, happy solving!

Wed 3/31/2021

This puzzle dates back to summer of 2019. I have found that I enjoy constructing puzzles like this one which are built around groups of letters in some configuration relevant to the theme, rather than a handful of the usual long theme answers. It's an enjoyable challenge to figure out how to incorporate the groups of letters in a way that allows the surrounding fill to be both interesting and lively, and often can provide some interesting opportunities for stacks of longer answers.

With this grid, I started in the lower left, and was pleased to not only find a nice stack in GRIMACE / BIBLICAL / UNIONIST with clean crossings, but also to come up with a nice fill for the symmetrical corner. Though it's not always seen as a requirement for this type of puzzle, I was pleased to be able to place all of the shaded blocks in a completely symmetrical fashion.

Some clues of mine that I'm glad made the cut are those for 17- Across, 74- Across, 7- Down, 13-Down, and 49- Down. My favorite here is probably my clue [Like Sodom and Gomorrah] for BIBLICAL– I find misdirections that are actually simpler than they appear to be interesting, and I wonder what other adjectives came to mind for solvers. I could see this being the basis of a personality test (but you would have to be sure to take the results with a grain of salt, of course).

Hope you enjoyed the puzzle!

Sat 1/9/2021

It's probably not too surprising that I started this puzzle in the upper left, with JAZZ WALTZ. I was pleased to discover that JUNOESQUE fit nicely two rows down, and I thought the longer crossing entries for that stack were especially nice. I'm also particularly fond of the upper right, with something of a "positive vibes" mini-theme, what with JOY, NICE, and GOOD all in the stack of 8's, and UP ABOVE running through them all. Since I can write whatever I want here, let's say I did that on purpose.

The bottom left was the last to go in, and I remember trying countless options. I saved several versions, but still couldn't settle on a final fill for that corner. Maybe a year or so later, I remembered that I hadn't finished this one and looked through my saved files, and found among them the grid as you see it here.

My first thought upon seeing the lower left was something like "If I came up with this, why on earth did I think I hadn't found anything good enough yet?" I think I somehow convinced myself that having both AFTER YOU and IOU was an unforgivable dupe (?), or that something was wrong with CROAKY just because it had never been used in the NYT before, or something else equally ridiculous (No one has ever said "After you!" to a mastodon?). The moral of the story: Sometimes when you feel stuck or indecisive, it helps to take a step back, give it some time, and then take another look with fresh eyes.

Or — less poetically but more accurately — forget all about the puzzle and then wonder later why you never submitted it.

Until next time, happy solving!

Fri 10/30/2020

This puzzle started with JASON FOX, for reasons both Scrabbly and sentimental. Foxtrot is a favorite newspaper comic of mine, and growing up, I found Jason a bit too relatable at times. Like Jason, I made my own Jumbles, and I think Jason would have approved of the elaborate code in which I wrote a message for my fourth-grade teacher.

Overall, I think this grid turned out quite nicely; I was particularly pleased that though there is certainly no shortage of rare letters, the short fill seemed remarkably clean for a 68-word puzzle. I enjoy working with themeless patterns heavy on 7-letter entries, and I think the selection here complements the longer answers well.

Though it feels like significantly more clues than average for one of my themeless puzzles were changed, I'm glad that my clue for Mitch HEDBERG survived. He has so many great one-liners that I'm tempted to try and work his name into every puzzle I create. The man used to be a comedic legend (he still is, but he used to be, too).

Hope you enjoyed the puzzle!

Thu 9/24/2020

The germ idea of this puzzle dates back to 2016 when I first started constructing. My original puzzle lacked the homophone element, so it had clues like [M, e.g.] and equally contrived answers like ACTRESS RYAN. I didn't have a great revealer, either, so while I thought the concept had potential, I didn't feel like it came together well enough to be worth submitting.

Over two years later, I came up with the version of the theme you see today, made a draft, and sent it off to Will and company. It was rejected because my clue for 18-Across, [Cay, e.g.] didn't work for them, as some people pronounce "cay" like "key." I had never heard this pronunciation, but as it seemed like they otherwise liked the concept, I suggested [Kay, e.g.] as an alternative. The change was approved, and that's how I turned a rejection into an acceptance by changing one letter of one clue!

I'm pleased with how this grid turned out, with the stacks of long answers in the upper-right and lower-left corners, and some other nice entries like INK SAC, BAD VIBE, and TRUST ME. My favorite clues include 15-Across, 11-Down, 16-Down (a slightly altered version of a previously used clue that I thought was wonderfully devious), 37-Down, and 58-Down. I'm also glad that my clues for 2-Down and 3-Down both survived, as it's fun to have back-to-back clues that echo each other when the opportunity presents itself, and I thought this pairing was particularly amusing.

I enjoy puzzles that play with crossword conventions both as a constructor and solver, so I hope you have a good time with this one. Happy solving!

Sat 8/22/2020

This puzzle started with PAWN PROMOTION, and its 13-letter length gave me an ideal opportunity to try working with a "stair-stack" layout for the first time. I was pretty excited to discover that BARNEY STINSON fit nicely underneath it, and once I found my third answer for the middle stack, I was off and running.

The upper-right and lower-left corners quickly fell into place, but I was unsure what I wanted to do with the remaining corners, so much so that I created two versions — one with 68 words and one with 66 (left). I really liked the three stacked answers in the upper left of the latter, though I wasn't as confident about the three cheater squares or the high density of short names in that corner (six in total). I even had my friend/collaborator David Steinberg weigh in (he liked the 66-word version too). After more deliberation, I submitted it, and it was rejected on the grounds that — you guessed it — there were a few too many short names, and it "felt a bit heavy on black squares".

I eventually came up with a fill I liked for the revised 68-word version. This time, it was accepted, undoubtedly because I addressed the concerns while keeping the best answer of the puzzle, HENRI, in the same place in the grid. (Just kidding, it was purely unintentional — which reminds me, no offense intended by the bottom row, Mr. Agard).

As far as the clues go, I'm particularly glad to see my clue of [Flipper] for SASSIER make the cut, which surely must be in the running for the most devious one-word clue of all time. Happily, my clue for IN YOUR FACE also survived (all previous NYT instances were clued as the adjective).

So, there you have it — a puzzle three years and several versions in the making. Hope you have fun with this one!

Sun 7/26/2020 MADE-TO-ORDER

I don't remember how I came up with this theme, just that the concept came to me suddenly. (Perhaps I ought to learn how to go into such a "crossword theme trance" at will.) However, I distinctly recall playing CHINTZ in a Scrabble game a little while afterwards, which reminded me of the theme idea and inspired me to start working on the puzzle. I wanted the anagrammed words to have at least four letters, and found that there didn't seem to be too many options for theme answers. The only potential theme answer I remember leaving on the cutting room floor, ironically enough, was GINSU FORCE [Army wielding knives from infomercials?]

I'm proud of how this grid turned out, with answers like ACQUIESCE, ALCHEMIST, VOLCANIC ASH, ALEC BALDWIN and I'M IN LOVE among the longer fill, and nothing that feels like a major compromise. I also think it's nice that the puzzle ended up being pangrammatic, especially given its theme.

I wasn't sure whether or not to include a revealer — ALPHABETICAL ORDER lacks subtlety, and takes up lots of space — so I began constructing the puzzle without one. However, close to the end of the process, I noticed I fortuitously had EASY on the bottom row and could make a minor change elsewhere to include ABC (at 47-Down). I clued EASY as [____ as 47-Down (Like the theme of this puzzle?)], though I guess Will preferred using just ABC as the revealer, to complement the title (which, happily, is the one I submitted).

Speaking of the clues, I'm glad that most of my original clues for the theme answers made the cut, especially those for ABET AROUND THE BUSH and BELOW MACARONI. My original clue for OCEAN DEIST mentioned Poseidon (though perhaps a devout follower of Ægir was among the test solvers, and objected to my favoritism toward Greek mythology?)

Until next time, happy solving!

Sat 6/13/2020

The inspiration for this puzzle was noticing that although SHOGI has been in the NYT crossword multiple times, XIANGQI had yet to appear, despite — or perhaps, because of — its strikingly unusual arrangement of letters. I probably wouldn't be much better at it than I am at chess, but I still think it looks pretty cool in the puzzle. [Side note: I'm more of a Scrabble guy, myself, but when it comes to abstract strategy games, the GIPF Project games are awesome.]

Once I had built the two intersecting stacks of sevens in the lower-left corner, I considered my possibilities for branching out, and when I found the FAST TRACK / TOM SWIFTY combination, I knew I was onto something. I remember trying to build the upper-left corner and coming up with something that was clean enough but just felt lackluster to me, especially in comparison to the lower-left. Eventually, I tried moving a black square and changed WWII to SAW II, which wasn't my favorite answer, but along with ORGS, it allowed for what you see here, which feels like a pretty lively way to kick off the puzzle.

I decided maintaining this level of liveliness in the rest of the puzzle would be well worth a few compromises in shorter fill. I think the upper-right corner especially exemplifies this, with APTS and AGUE allowing for ODD DUCK (next to TANAGER), and the flashy crossing of XEROPHYTE and X-FACTOR. I think this one turned out pretty well, and I particularly like how it has a nice mix of multi-word phrases and interesting one-word entries.

My favorites clues that survived the edit are those for 63-Across, 1-Down, 5-Down, 7-Down, and 12-Down. My clue for TOM SWIFTY was ["I'll never catch Moby Dick!" Captain Ahab wailed, e.g.], which I thought was fun, though I can certainly see why a more straightforward clue was used instead. I guess the puzzle's probably difficult enough as it is, and I hope it provides an enjoyable challenge for you this weekend!

Fri 5/1/2020

As you might have guessed, this puzzle started with the upper-right corner. I thought that I might be able to build around the double-stack of FIZZLES OUT and FUZZY WUZZY, as the letter combinations seemed rather promising. I did not think that I would be able to come up with such a smooth corner— and especially not one that also works in other long answers as nice as JAINISM and RIVER STYX, or that bookends a section that already has seven Zs with a J and an X. I guess I must be doing something right (besides evidently being a practitioner of black magic).

In completing the rest of the grid, I strove to elicit the desired feelings toward the majestic upper-right corner by incorporating as many positive subliminal messages to solvers as possible, such as BODE WELL, IN AWE, "DAMN!", and "NICELY DONE!" Seriously, though, I really liked the fun, light, and uplifting vibe of this puzzle when I submitted it, and it looks just as good to me now — in fact, I think this might be my favorite themeless puzzle of mine to date. It feels quite cohesive to me, and from the GIN SLING / OENOLOGY pairing to REVERSI above EN PASSANT, hopefully there's something here you enjoyed. The inclusion of PRECALC might put a bit of a damper on the fun, positive vibe for some (I speak from experience), but hey, at least it means that FUZZY WUZZY isn't the only bear in this puzzle.

I feel like the tone of the cluing here only adds to the fun, and in particular, there are several clues of mine for shorter entries that I am glad to see make it into print. As an avid Scrabble player, I thought my ZZZ clue was especially fun (and easy enough to infer). My clue for LINE takes an angle that the NYT has never used before, and is evocative of the unfabricated mirth of blooper reels. I also think that the clues for ADA and LEO X include some interesting pieces of trivia (who needs a Popemobile when you can have an elephant instead?).

It brings me joy to have this puzzle published, and I hope that it will brighten your day as well. Happy solving!

Sat 2/22/2020

One day, while at the gym, the phrase DEN OF INIQUITY wryly came to mind in regard to one of the… let's say, infelicitous… conversations I happened to overhear in the sauna (thankfully, I wear headphones the rest of the time). I noted that it was 13 letters, and I thought of QUIZZICAL LOOK as another interesting 13 containing a Q shortly afterward.

Later, I recalled a grid pattern with stacked 13/14 pairs that had been used a couple of times recently (one of which I helped edit the clues for). I thought it would be cool if I could put QUIZZICAL LOOK in row 2 with a 14 starting with Q underneath it, though to be honest, I wasn't expecting too much.

I was pleasantly surprised when the top stack took shape but wasn't celebrating yet, as I know all too well the feeling of having one section come out nicely, only to have the symmetrical section refuse to cooperate (I have many half-finished themelesses haunting the abyss of my files). So, I figured it was more than pushing my luck to not only put DEN OF INIQUITY into the bottom half, but also to try to place a Q above the U so that all four long entries would contain a Q.

Fortunately, it turns out that the exhilarating phenomenon of having the logistics of a theme simply work out perfectly sometimes applies to themeless puzzles too. I sometimes agonize over which option for a section of a themeless feels like the ‘right fit'— not so much here. I don't think I've ever had a themeless feel more "meant to be" than this one.

In addition to the featured long answers, I was pleased to incorporate a nice set of 8-letter answers, and also some fun shorter fill like ROYALLY and IO MOTH.

In terms of the clues, it feels like more of my clues were changed than usual, and that the new clues are almost exclusively easier than mine—maybe test solvers found it hard. I'm particularly glad that my original clue for ARSENE made it through. However — I came across the title of the collection while reading up on Arsène Lupin and thought it was hilarious that a certain detective's name was spoonerized for copyright reasons. On that note, I hope you thought this was a peat nuzzle! (sorry)

POW Tue 1/28/2020

I'm not exactly sure how I came up with the idea for this theme, but I do distinctly remember two things from the process of compiling the set of theme entries. Firstly, I was pleasantly surprised that the crossword symmetry ended up working out, as there were not many possible options for themers (I was fortunate to find even one possibility for both W and Y), and they had to fit in a fixed order.

The other thing I remember is being particularly pleased with the revealer. I liked that FINAL FOUR not only alludes to W, X, Y, and Z being the last four letters of the alphabet, but also to the fact that each letter is the final part of its respective theme answer. It's also a snappy phrase in its own right, and I like how the revealer lends a slightly unexpected sense of playfulness to what would otherwise be a more straightforward theme.

A word count on the lower end (74) was a natural fit for this theme set, and it allowed me to work in quite a few entries in the 6-to-8 letter range. I had thought this might be considered a Monday theme, so I tried to ensure that the puzzle was as beginner-friendly as possible while still including interesting longer fill. I'm proud of how it turned out, with no real obscurities and a limited number of proper nouns, and some nice answers like HOODOO, OPEN MRI, GRANDEUR, SOLO CUP, and even a (COY) COYOTE. I don't have too much to note as far as the clues go, but I do like the rhyming clues for 17-Across and 49-Down, and I'm glad that the mentions of the Möbius strip and Klein bottle in my clue for TOPOLOGY made it into print.

One other noteworthy thing about this puzzle is that with its publication, I now have had a puzzle published in the NYT on every day of the week, and have thus "hit for the cycle" (per constructor jargon). Looking back on all my published work, it's amazing to think that I got into this hobby just three years ago, and I'm inspired to reflect on how much I have grown, both as a crossword constructor and otherwise, since then. Happy solving!

Thu 12/26/2019

The theme of this puzzle bears more than a passing resemblance to that of my Battleship puzzle from approximately two years ago, although the relative elegance of this one does make me wonder a bit why I didn't come up with it first. I liked that SPARE, STRIKE, and TURKEY are each the first word of their respective theme answers and that I was able to put them in what feels like the most logical order. I do think it's interesting that both puzzles even involve X's standing in for parts of theme entries, although this one also includes a slash mark to mix things up.

In constructing the grid, I focused first on the region around the three X's, and when I noticed the possibility of threading ORTHODOX JEW through two theme entries, I pretty much vowed to make it work. I had to REJIGGER (and re-rejigger) the arrangement of black squares, but ultimately, I think that section turned out quite nicely, and the rest of the puzzle looks pretty good as well. I tried to work in some nice bonus fill, including RIVER SEINE, ROLEPLAY, and the BATCAVE / SPELUNK pairing, without making too many compromises — hopefully, I managed to STRIKE THE RIGHT BALANCE.

The majority of my clues made in into the final version of the puzzle. Some of my favorites of mine are those for 4-Across, 32-Across, 5-Down, 31-Down, and 59-Down. I also am glad to see that the clue [Prefix with –phyte] for both NEO and XERO survived the edit, and I think that [Letter in the NATO alphabet] for X-RAY is a nice callback to yet another one of my previous puzzles for the Times.

I hope you found this to be an enjoyable solve, and that the theme was… up your alley (I'll show myself out).

POW Sat 11/23/2019

This puzzle draws some inspiration from a classic grid pattern, one that caught my attention when Roland Huget used it back in 2017. As a solver, I enjoyed wrestling with the vast expanses of white space, and as a constructor, I had become fond of working with themeless grids heavy on 7-letter entries. So, when I set my sights on constructing a low-word-count puzzle sometime later, a certain layout naturally came to mind, and I started playing around with the grid on Crossword Compiler. Not really expecting much, I tried crossing AQUAMAN with AQUINAS, and miraculously stumbled upon an upper-right corner that stood out to me as particularly clean and lively. I wasn't having that kind of luck with the other quadrants. When I noticed that GARAGES could be extended into PARKING GARAGES, allowing the puzzle to breathe a bit more, I tinkered with the grid pattern, settling on the layout you see today.

I was fortunate to find a nice fill for the symmetrical corner, anchored by HILARITY ENSUES, and moved onto the middle region. Filling both remaining corners well with the middle in place was difficult — I remember trying countless iterations of the lower-right in particular — but I eventually prevailed and came up with something I was happy with. I'm proud that despite the low word count and daunting layout, the puzzle seems pretty clean, as well as being rather free of esoterica and proper names. This allows more of the focus to be on wordplay, which, in my opinion, is never really a bad thing.

Speaking of which, there are several clues I am glad to see in the final version, especially [Who's first?] for SILENT W, as I think it repurposes the innocuous-looking question mark rather nicely. My other favorite clues of mine include the other question mark clues at 17-Across, 10-Down, and 34-Down, as well as the clue for 57-Across, as to my knowledge, this is the first time such a cluing angle has been used for ESSENES, and I think it's an interesting piece of trivia (a crossword has to have at least some trivia, right?)

I hope you enjoy the puzzle, vast expanses of white space and all. Happy solving!

Sat 10/5/2019

This puzzle dates back to around the time I finished reading the Harry Potter series (fashionably late, I guess). I started with QUIDDITCH, had the idea to line up a few Q's on a diagonal, and aimed to work in three other interesting nine-letter entries with Q's branching out from the center. The grid began to come together when I found the nice arrangement of QB SNEAK crossing BYZANTINE EMPIRE.

I was pleased to come up with the stack in the lower-right, along with IT HAPPENS running through it, with IDIO- as the only real trade-off. Finding a suitable stack for the upper-left took more time, but I think it turned out pretty well, especially with MESONS fortuitously positioned near ANTIQUARK.

I also like the connection that can be drawn between the two fifteen-letter entries, with the first even clued as an adjective. And although I don't typically worry about the number of three-letter entries in a themeless puzzle as long as it's less than, say, twenty, I think it's a nice change of pace to have none at all here.

I feel like the tone of the clues here suits this puzzle well, and particularly like my clues for 51-Across, 6-Down, 20-Down, and 28-Down. Although I'm a bit disappointed that my clue of [ ___ box] for both JURY and JUICE didn't survive the edit, I do like the new clue for TENSES.

Hope you enjoy the puzzle (AT your LEISURE, of course).

Sat 9/7/2019

I started this puzzle off with RAPUNZEL, which I thought might make a good second-row entry. Of course, being me, I saw the presence of ‘UN' as an invitation to place ‘QU' above it. That got me to J.V. SQUADS, which stacked well on top of RAPUNZEL, with the exception of the JR combination. I then came up with the idea of using JR. PAC-MAN, creating two intersecting stacks of 8-letter entries, which I would say seemed just crazy enough to work, but to be honest, it just seemed crazy. I was pleasantly surprised when that corner somehow ended up coming together (and pretty nicely, to boot—go figure).

PIXY STIX was the first entry I placed in the lower-right, and I was glad to be able to incorporate NOT QUITE and SPHINXES crossing it without too much difficulty. The upper-right and lower-left, however, were different stories. It's very challenging to connect a section that large to the rest of the puzzle, especially when you have to work around a long entry like 19-Across that runs straight through it, and already has four letters locked in. Overall, though, I thought those sections turned out pretty well (after much iteration), anchored by nice long answers in PRICKLY PEAR and especially IMPROV CLASS — which might be my favorite entry here — and I'm glad my clue for it survived.

Though the tough grid layout meant I had to make a few compromises, this puzzle still looks pretty good to me, with some interesting entries, fun, unique letter combinations, and more than a few rare letters (although it's NOT QUITE a pangram, despite a bit of eFFort …) Hope you enjoyed it!

POW Fri 7/26/2019

This puzzle was sparked by a love of rare letters (I'm an avid Scrabble player who studies the J, Q, X, and Z words for fun) and the discovery that AQUAMARINE seemed to fit rather nicely on top of FUZZY NAVEL. I began to create a potential grid skeleton around the double stack with ZEBRA on top, when I excitedly realized that I might actually be able to make it into a triple stack by using ZEBRA FINCH instead! This stack still remains one of my all-time favorites from my themeless constructions — I think getting four Z's and a Q into that 4x4 block is pretty cool, all four of the long answers up there seem pretty nice to me (especially ZEBRA FINCH, which is my favorite entry in the puzzle), and I'm especially pleased with how cleanly that corner turned out.

Once I came up with a rough grid skeleton, ALL THAT JAZZ seemed like it might work well at 27-Down to smoothly work in a few more rare letters, and it turns out it did. Construction often feels like it's all about compromise, so it's always nice when things just seem to fall into place — here, even allowing for a fortuitous pangram! With that in mind, though I admit that there was a not-so-small part of me that wanted to find a way to fit in ten more Z's (I might have a problem), I decided to prioritize filling the rest of the grid cleanly while trying to incorporate some more nice long entries. I think the puzzle turned out pretty well — it seems to me like one that can be enjoyed by a wide range of solvers, as there isn't much in the way of esoterica, current pop culture or niche references here, just some interesting entries, Scrabbly letters and some unique — and perhaps even mildly entertaining — clues.

Speaking of which, some of my favorite clues of mine in this puzzle are those for 42-Across, 50-Across, 27-Down, 43-Down, and 44-Down. Some might be interested to know that I originally clued CHALK LINE as the carpentry tool; to be honest, the new clue feels somewhat arbitrary to me. However, I was pleased to see that all three of my clues for the stacked entries in the upper-right survived, as I thought they were particularly… color-ful. On that (admittedly groan-worthy) note, happy solving!

POW Thu 6/20/2019

Back when I first starting solving the Times crossword, I discovered that different constructors actually write these things, and thought, "Hey, that could be my name in tiny print in the corner!" One of my earliest theme ideas was to have theme entries that consisted entirely of consonants. Like most of my early ideas, it never left the drawing (constructing?) board, as it became clear that the theme entries would have to be rather short, meaning that they wouldn't stand out. The idea of starting every entry with a consonant came much later—perhaps it was having written a vowelless puzzle that eventually gave me the subconscious inspiration for this one.

I chose this grid pattern as it allowed for some longer entries, with its stacks in the upper-left and lower-right, while still being doable; the stair-step pattern in the middle definitely facilitated connecting the two stacks cleanly. Overall, I think the puzzle turned out well, with some nice long fill, some Scrabbly letters, and not too many compromises—I particularly like the four long Across entries stacked in the upper left. I think it's fun to have SMTWTFS at 1-Across, with the numbers 1 through 7 in the corresponding boxes, as it resembles the first row of a calendar for a month beginning on Sunday (too bad this wasn't published this September).

When I submitted this, I honestly had no idea which day of the week it would end up on. It seemed a little difficult for a Wednesday, and it didn't really feel like a Friday (though I went down to 72 words to allow for the possibility), so in hindsight, I think Thursday is a good fit. This perhaps isn't as tricky of a theme as might be expected on a Thursday, but to me, that's okay. I don't think every Thursday puzzle necessarily has to feel the same—I think there are enough Thursdays on the calendar for a quirky quasi-themeless puzzle every now and then, and I hope you agree.

Happy solving!

Fri 5/3/2019

This one takes me quite a ways back! Although this is my sixth themeless puzzle in the Times, it was the second one I constructed, over two years ago—I enjoyed working with the layout of my first themeless and decided to try another similar one. I started in the upper-right with IZOMBIE, as I had just watched the first two seasons (and fittingly, its fifth season premiered yesterday!) I remember being quite pleased with how that corner turned out, and it still stands out to me now—I especially like how the J, X, and Z are each at the intersection of two 7- or 8-letter entries.

I think the rest of the puzzle still looks pretty good; it's perhaps not my flashiest puzzle ever, but I think it's solid all around, and filled with some nice entries that are accessible to a wide range of solvers. And what's not to like about the three instances of ‘AO' in down entries in the lower-right section?

Some of the clues of mine I'm particularly fond of in this one are those for 18-Across, 30-Across, 7-Down, 36-Down, 38-Down, and 40-Down. That said, I'd like to give a special mention to my clue for 22-Across, which I am delighted to see in the final version of the puzzle. Not only is "The Bottle Imp" one of my all-time favorite short stories, there's also a devilishly diabolical trick-taking card game of the same name that somehow manages to capture the feel and tension of Stevenson's story perfectly. Both are highly recommended!

Sun 3/24/2019 CODE SWITCHING

As a constructor, I never know what will spark the idea for a puzzle; the only consistent factor seems to be the rewarding feeling of having that breakthrough that makes a puzzle possible. Here, the tiniest seed of an idea was planted while I was pre-editing clues for a themeless. I was trying to think of an interesting clue for DELTA, then suddenly realized that it is a letter in both the Greek and NATO alphabets. This connection must have lying dormant in my brain, waiting for its next big moment, because seeing the clue again some time later immediately gave me the idea of replacing individual letters in phrases with letters of the NATO alphabet.

This seemed like it might have potential, but I had difficulty coming up with theme answers. I reflected that using homophones for letters instead might allow for better themers, and then eventually realized I had inadvertently found the perfect way to tie my theme together— by replacing words of a "phonetic" alphabet of sorts with the letters of an actual phonetic alphabet! And just like that, I had the theme for my first published Sunday puzzle. TOO EASY, right?

The title I proposed was "Forming an Alliance", but I think the new title, "Code Switching," works remarkably well. I also had originally clued NATO and PHONETIC ALPHABET separately to explain what is replacing / replaced in the theme answers, but the new clue simplifies things. My revealers did seem a bit convoluted, and hopefully it will be enjoyable for solvers to piece together the inner workings of the theme without as much assistance. After all, epiphanies should be not just for constructors, but for solvers too!

It was interesting to have the opportunity to incorporate so much 7 and 8 letter bonus fill into a themed puzzle— enough to fill a themeless!— and I'm proud of how it turned out. I was pleased to work in entries like BEAR PIT, JAKARTA, JUJITSU, OOH LA LA, PROSPERO, and SISYPHUS, and I think the puzzle is pretty clean overall. I also like a lot of the clues of mine that survived— my favorites here are those for 19-Across, 33-Across, 67-Across, 120-Across, 88-Down, 99-Down, and 107-Down, along with the clue echoes of 15- through 17-Down.

It's exciting to be making my Sunday debut today, and hopefully it will be the first of many. Until next time, happy solving!

POW Wed 1/9/2019

When I first started solving the Times crossword, I was fascinated by some of the stunt puzzles. I remember being amazed by the puzzles with no vowels except for ‘A', E', or ‘O', and making a mental note to my aspiring constructor self that ‘I' was still on the table. It turns out that this probably should have been a warning sign — that and the fact that any Scrabble player can attest to the abject horrors of a rack laden with I's.

Still, I was undeterred — until I tried grid layout after grid layout with no luck. Most of them wouldn't fill at all, let alone even remotely well. I began to accept that my odyssey was doomed to failure and set the puzzle aside. A few months later, I had the idea of using a grid layout similar to the one you see today. Though finding a suitable grid was half the battle, there was still the other half left to go. The process took much trial and error, and dupes seemed determined to do me in. Eventually, though, I managed to emerge (mostly) unscathed.

Overall, I'm really proud of how this puzzle turned out. There are a few more abbreviations than I would normally use, but I much prefer them to egregious obscurities, and feel they are more than offset by the good stuff here. In addition to longer fill like TIGHT-KNIT, MINISKI and "BRING IT!", I'm glad I was able to include the cross-referenced WII / FIT and GIN / SLING.

I also really like the vibe of the cluing here, and am pleased that most of my clues survived. I'm rather partial to those for 20-Across, 43-Across, 44-Across, and 47-Down, as well as the clue echo between 45-Across and 51-Across. I also included the clue for 39-Down to showcase the fact that I somehow managed to avoid having to use any random Roman numerals (but for some reason still felt compelled to reference one in the clues).

This puzzle has a special place in my heart, and I hope that it appeals to those of you who delight in this sort of thing, as I do. Happy solving!

(And by the way, for anyone who can't get enough of univocalic wordplay, Christian Bök's Eunoia is an excellent read.)

Sat 12/8/2018

TRENTON: To be honest, I was surprised at how long it took David to get in touch with me after my debut puzzle came out online (about fifteen minutes). So, naturally, when David mentioned the idea of collaborating on a themeless, I was quick to jump on board. I started with everyone's favorite font, COMIC SANS, and once I had the stack of 9s built, I noticed the enticing possibility of fitting OONA CHAPLIN and PG THIRTEEN underneath! I made a potential grid skeleton and sent off what I had to David, and unsurprisingly, what he sent back was full of fun stuff — I especially like the lower-right, with lively fill like THANKS OBAMA and DETOX DIET.

After a little more back-and-forth and some polishing, our grid was complete. Next came the clues — which were an absolute blast to write together! (In all seriousness, we might have had a bit too much fun.) It was a nice bonus that most of them ended up making the cut. Some of my favorites of our clues are those for 14-Across, 60-Across, 61-Across, 3-Down, 33-Down, and 49-Down.

I was initially a bit nervous to co-construct with a seasoned pro, but I needn't have worried. Collaborating with David was a fantastic experience — I'd say it was all CHILL and no PILL. On that groan-worthy note, over to you, David!

DAVID: Always a pleasure to work with Trenton! When he sent me an upper left/center packed with five long seed entries plus ultra-smooth short fill, I knew finding a similarly smooth and lively lower right would be a challenge. Once I had THANKS OBAMA and DETOX DIET in place, though, I knew I was in business. As Trenton mentioned, the highlight of the process was the cluing. There was definitely as much laughter as there was clue-writing!

POW Fri 10/19/2018

I started this puzzle with X-RAY SPEX, and once I built out the upper-left corner, I noticed BBQ JOINT might work well in the symmetrical location. From there, it was a matter of finding a layout which would cleanly connect the two sections, and then filling the remaining two corners.

Like with my last Friday puzzle, there are some aspects of this one that don't quite resonate with me now. For instance, I doubt I'd choose to intersect OREO THIN and EASY TEN in the lower-right corner, along with some tough proper nouns nearby, if I were making this today. The upper-left also feels strangely heavy on technology-related vocabulary for a puzzle I made (trust me). However, with regard to the upper-right, I remember not being thrilled with ONE-A or NYY but going with them because I thought that the six and seven-letter words in that corner seemed particularly lively and well worth the compromises, and I still stand by that decision.

One cool thing about themeless construction is that the constraints that have already been placed on the grid sometimes bring to mind lively entries that I most likely would not have considered otherwise. SNOWY OWLS was my favorite option for 32-Down, and is perhaps my favorite entry of the whole puzzle. They're such majestic creatures. I'd be glad to encounter one in real life— unlike the SCANTRON, which I wouldn't mind never encountering again now that I've graduated, but I think it makes for a fun crossword entry anyways.

I'm pleased to see that my favorite clues of mine— those for 1-Across, 13-Down, 14-Down, 25-Down and 36-Across— made the cut. I just competed in my first Scrabble tournament, so it's nice that my clue for STAR survived as well.

Finally, it might be of interest to some that I originally constructed this with SCANTRON at 1-Across, but flipped the Acrosses and Downs upon completing the grid as, for some reason, the layout of black squares looked strange to me, and I also preferred the top row of SIX-PACK and BOO HISS. I'm not entirely sure I'd do the same thing today. The longest entries in the puzzle are Downs, which is a bit unorthodox— but then again, so am I, so I guess I'm down with it. Happy solving!

Fri 7/13/2018

I'm not exactly sure how I came up with this idea, but I remember trying to brainstorm other possible theme material, though that came to an end quickly (What? You mean AA BOTTOM isn't a thing?) Fortunately, I realized that it might make for a fun mini-theme. Mirror symmetry seemed to be the way to go, and I decided on stacks of 8-letter entries as I figured it made the most sense to start off with the larger stacks. This decision was confirmed when I noticed that ZEROES IN and ZOETROPE stack rather nicely, and I worked my way from there. Once the top of the puzzle came together, I looked for interesting longer entries for the bottom that would fit well with the ZZ TOP revealer (which I guess could have gone anywhere in the stack, but it just seemed strange to not put it on the top).

To be honest, I have mixed feelings about this puzzle. I still like the mini-theme, especially as a sort of callback to the theme of my debut. Speaking of which, it's interesting to think about how my constructing philosophy has changed over time. I am finding that the more I construct, the more I discover about what makes my voice as a constructor unique, and this puzzle stands out to me as not entirely capturing what I currently recognize as my constructing "voice".

EVEN NOW, I really like some of the entries, especially ZOETROPE, WHIZ KID, HOW GOES IT, and the duo of ZOOMS OUT and ZEROES IN, but some of the other fill doesn't feel as much like me, so to speak. For instance, though POP DIVA and IRON MIKE seemed like entries that solvers / editors would find snazzy, they don't really resonate with me personally. NIMRODS, HAVE-NOT, WEIRDO and SEXPOTS in the aggregate also aren't as attractive to me now as they perhaps were when I made this.

The voice of a puzzle can also shine through its cluing, and though I don't have a ton of favorites from this one, I am glad to see that my clues for ELEGY, WHIZ KID and SIXES survived. Personal philosophical pondering aside, I hope that you got some enjoyment out of solving this odd duck of a Friday puzzle.

POW Sat 6/2/2018

Though this is the third themeless puzzle I constructed, it is the first one where I did not begin with a set grid pattern, but instead built the grid around my initial seed entry. I started in the upper-left corner with QUEEQUEG, and after a decent number of attempts to place it at 1-Across, I realized that as my favorite literary harpooner's name is 5/8 vowels, it might fit better in the second row. When I noticed that 1-Across would most likely have to start with A, E, I or S, my proclivity toward unusual letter combinations (and contrarianism) led me to wonder if I could get it to begin with something else. Seeing the possibility of 1-Down being GQ MODEL or GQ TYPE, I looked for a solid potential 1-Across answer starting with G, and once I found GODZILLA, the rest of the corner soon fell into place.

Though the corner is a bit more partitioned off than I would prefer (and AGTS isn't the world's best entry), it still stands out to me as one of my favorites from my themeless constructions for both its Scrabbliness and sheer unexpectedness. That said, the thing I like most about the upper-left is perhaps the intersection of the consonant-free entries OUI OUI and EIEIO—how often does that happen?

UNSUNG HERO came next, as it was by far my preferred choice for 19-Across. As I worked my way through the rest of the grid, I was pleased to incorporate, among other entries, XENON GAS, TRAVEL SIZE, TZATZIKI, and YES AND NO, as well as the complementary pair of COWGIRL and ALTAR BOY.

I was pleasantly surprised to see how many of my clues survived this time around. Of my originals, I was particularly glad that 1-Across, 12-Down, 19-Across, 33-Down, 46-Down, and 51-Across made the cut. My favorite, though, has to be "He had a heel that wouldn't heal" for ACHILLES, which I had thought might be a tad too cutesy to be allowed as a part of the imposing brain-buster that is the NYT Saturday puzzle— glad I was wrong! On that note, I hope you enjoyed your solving experience (and my ACHILLES clue).

POW Fri 2/23/2018

As I always look forward to the themeless puzzles each week, it's such a pleasure to be making my themeless debut today! I chose this grid in part for its pleasing symmetry, but also for its versatility. While it's true that there are no entries in the grid longer than 7 letters, the fact that there are 36 of these slots meant that I had a good amount of flexibility in placing my marquee answers. This 72-word grid also allowed me to incorporate some Scrabbly letters into lively entries without too much difficulty, and to maintain a nice grid flow throughout the puzzle while still being able to work on sections one at a time.

I started in the lower-left with CAPTCHA, which I found yielded promising letter combinations when paired with AMIRITE. The discovery that CTHULHU, another entry on my 7-letter seed list, could fit at 61-Across ended up being the key to finishing the corner, despite its delightfully odd combination of letters (not that I ever doubted the power of the Great Old One, mind you).

I did the upper-left next, seeing as ST JOHNS was one of my few choices for 24-Down. I was glad to be able to fit in DAD JOKE and NOXZEMA, as well as DNA LABS, which I think makes for a nice 1-Across, what with the interesting DN- start and Will and Joel's fantastic clue. Among other entries in the upper-right, I thought it would be cool to incorporate BJ NOVAK, in order to highlight both his great performance in The Office and the unusual opening letter sequence of BJN- (see a pattern here yet?) As it was the last to go in, filling the lower-right took the most time, but I'm pleased with how it turned out, especially with the unexpected intersection of CAKE MIX and XS AND OS at the X.

AS I SAID, it's a joy to see this puzzle in the Times— though I've since constructed several other themeless puzzles, this one might still be my favorite. Hope you enjoy solving it as much as I enjoyed creating it!

P.S. Here's a bonus puzzle: purely by happenstance, one entry ended up in a particularly appropriate location — which one?
Thu 11/30/2017

The core concept behind today's puzzle has been seen before, as in these gems by Ashish Vengsarkar and Patrick Merrell, but I wondered if there was a new spin I could put on the idea. Perhaps, I thought, the squares themselves, rather than a letter sequence, could replace the word they represent.

Still, this was just a thought—I couldn't believe my luck when I discovered not only that DESTROYER, CRUISER, SUBMARINE, and CARRIER could all be incorporated into lively, non-nautical-related entries, but also that along with BATTLESHIP as a revealer, these entries could be arranged symmetrically when their respective boat names were replaced with the number of squares corresponding to the boat's length in Battleship! I briefly considered placing a HIT rebus in each of these squares but decided on X's to represent hits instead, figuring that I could only push my luck so far (and it doesn't hurt that I have a soft spot for the high-value Scrabble letters).

In designing and filling the grid, I started with the upper region, deploying my black squares to best accommodate the seven X's. Again, to my surprise, I got far better fill here than I expected— I'd like to give a shout-out to Pope JOHN X for his much-needed assistance. Interestingly enough, the bottom right was the toughest section to fill cleanly, despite the lack of X's. Overall, though, I think this turned out pretty well, and am glad I could incorporate some long bonus fill in JUKEBOX HERO and LOOSE CANNON, and some nice mid-length fill in LIKE SO and ROOMBA.

I was pleased to see that my favorite clue of mine, "Early form of airmail?" for CARRIER PIGEON, made the cut, and I like the opacity of Will and Joel's clue "Grinder" for SUBMARINE SANDWICH. Given its proximity to 17-Across, I thought it might be fun to clue BOOR as "Barbarian," but that didn't end up making it into the final version.

Finally, a note on circles. Although I wonder if the circled squares might give away the game a bit too easily for some, if they allow a mind-bending theme like this one to become accessible to more solvers, then I think they're a good thing. On that note, I hope everyone enjoys the puzzle!

Mon 10/2/2017

This idea for this theme arose from thinking about Schrödinger puzzles, and wondering if I could potentially create one so that entries that contain more than one distinct stand-alone letter, for example, VITAMIN which can be followed by A, B, C, D, E, or K, intersect another such entry. Ideally, the shared possible letters for each pair of theme entries would be some combination of A, B, C and D, so that the revealer MULTIPLE CHOICE could be used. This didn't end up panning out, but it did lead me, through a somewhat stream-of-consciousness manner of contemplating crossword themes, to come up with the one you see here.

The first version of this puzzle had the theme entries VITAMINS, MUSICAL NOTES, CHEMICAL SYMBOLS, GREEK LETTERS, and ALPHABET, and was rejected on the basis that ALPHABET was too obvious, and GREEK LETTERS was inconsistent. It was tough to find a new set of symmetrical theme entries, but I'm pleased with the current set, particularly as in each case, the category contains other members besides the ones that are composed of a single letter, and the letters are the members of the category themselves rather than being abbreviations, unlike something such as L M S for SHIRT SIZES.

I spent a decent amount of time trying to remove the black square between TILE and GREEK and its symmetrical partner to allow for two pairs of long parallel downs, but I didn't like the compromises on the fill, so I decided to stick to 78 words. Given that this ended up as a Monday (I had expected it to be a Tuesday) and the importance of smooth fill for Monday puzzles, I stand by this decision, and though there aren't a ton of bonuses here, I'm fond of SHOT TO HELL and some of the mid-length fill like US NEWS and HANSEL (he's so hot right now).

I don't have a lot to say as far as the clues go, but a few of mine I'm glad to see survive the edit are 49-Across, 9-Down, 31-Down and 56-Down. Though I'm not sure it will be particularly applicable to this puzzle, I like the inside nod in the clue that Will and Joel came up with for AHA.

In any case it's great to be back, and I hope (fingers crossed!) that my puzzle will be a pleasant start to everyone's week!

POW Wed 4/26/2017

I don't always construct crosswords, but when I do…

I'm a third-year English major at Ohio State with an emphasis on creative writing. In my spare time, I enjoy playing strategy board games and rearranging letters in my brain. Though I'm a lifelong fan of Scrabble and word puzzles, I wasn't really bitten by the crossword bug until a year or so ago. For some reason, 'words' such as QAT and ZA had always seemed second nature to me, but having to know the names of minor European rivers seemed frustratingly obscure. It's a good thing I finally came around, as crossword construction feels like a natural fit for me.

The notion of a theme that was inherently Scrabbly appealed to my inner Scrabble fanatic, and building a puzzle around double-X words seemed like an interesting concept. Because of the small number of possible theme entries and the restrictions of symmetry, as well as the constraint of positioning DOSEQUIS as the last theme entry, I settled on six themers of lengths 10, 8, and 6. The most challenging part of construction was designing a grid layout that allowed for 8 and 6-letter themers in the same row, while also working in the 10-letter theme entries with smooth crossings.

The first section of the grid I filled was the center, locking down GONDOLAS and ARRIVING early on. Though these aren't the most exciting long down entries, I was glad to be able to work in some snazzier seven-letter bonus fill in DIE-HARD, BOX SEAT, and VIN ROSE. I also am rather partial to the side-by-side juxtaposition of YES SIR and SAY NO, and the pairing of FRESNO and MADERA.

I had fully expected Will and Joel to change the vast majority of my clues, so I was pleasantly surprised that approximately three-fourths of my clues made the final cut, although some with minor improvements. Of the clues that survived, I particularly like 8-Across, 10-Down, 20-Across, 23-Across, and 70-Across. That said, my favorite clue of the puzzle by far is Will and Joel's ingenious "Shot blocker?" for ANTI-VAXXER, which I had originally clued as the less eloquent "One against taking a shot?" to echo the clue for TRY at 61-Down (which I was pleased to see also ended up making the cut).

Hopefully, you enjoyed your solve, and if you didn't find this to be the Most Interesting Theme in the World, I'll have something for you next time!

1 Variety puzzle by Trenton Charlson

Sun 9/9/2018