VICTOR: This puzzle, for me, is a great example of why everyone should collaborate. I'm a reasonably clever and creative constructor, but I am not a great filler, and this puzzle's idea — with the quincunx pattern of crosses in the middle and the anchor entries QUINCUNX and PLUS SIGN — was nice but demanded superior filling. I took on the challenge and failed utterly, but fortunately, Brad was available to work on it, and in a matter of days, he turned it into something better than I could ever have produced on my own. It was awesome, and it was fun to see my initial idea turned into such a clever puzzle.
I had long enjoyed my interactions with Brad when he was editing the puzzles for the Chronicle of Higher Education, and it was a pleasure to work with him on this. I hope that people enjoyed solving it as much as we enjoyed constructing it.
BRAD: Victor has a record of producing some very satisfying high-concept themes over the years, and I was grateful to give some of them a home at the Chronicle throughout my time there. When he asked if I wanted to try and "grid-doctor" his quincunx pattern for the Times, I was hoping I wouldn't let him down. My main curative idea was to create a couple of 15s out of two 6-letter / 8-letter pairs. Two good 15s showed promise early on and settled in. Some of Victor's original fill stayed but together we were able to add a few more multi-word entries in the corners and devise a slate of tricky clues.
I remember working hard to get things "just so" for the clues for 3-Down and 36-Down (I love to bake), and lo and behold, they appear here just as I submitted them. And Victor had the nifty clues you see for THOR, NUISANCE, and ONE LEG.
ACME: As a Libra, I'm very familiar with the phrase, "I've changed my mind" so decided to see if I could literally do just that within the confines of a puzzle. When I realized LEONARDNIMOY contained the word MIND reading backwards I got very excited about trying to do a MINDMELD puzzle. Then I found the matching-in-length FINDMYIPHONE and I was off to the races.
MIDNIGHTCOWBOY, one of my favorite films of all time, morphed into MIDNIGHTINPARIS...fittingly, as it's the only Woody Allen film I've enjoyed in the past 20 years. He was my idol as a young girl (ahem) and I had a long correspondence with him (see photo) after we met in the 70s.
I approached Victor Barocas whom I coincidentally saw made a CHANGEDHANDS puzzle for the LA Times while I working on this one. We had met through a puzzle tournament in Minnesota, where he is a professor at the U of M, just as my dad had been decades before. Victor is phenomenal with dense material (just look at those nice sixes: ACIDIC MERMAN BENIGN SLIPUP... that's a short story in itself!) and was able to wrangle my all-over-the-place-ness with a nice grid.
Actually, our initial attempt was rejected b/c of the weak fill, I blame myself, but we were given a chance to start from scratch on the strength of the not-in-a-grid previously themers. Glad Will Shortz and company CHANGEDTHEIRMIND and let us redo to a much better puzzle all around! As per usual, not originally intended as a Monday (given the anagramming and the theme density), but there you have it!
VICTOR: I had the privilege to work with Andrea for a few years on the (sadly, now gone) Minnesota Crossword Tournament sponsored by the Friends of the St. Paul Public Library. Andrea is both delightful and professional, and she always brings a combination of joy and flair to her puzzles. It was a pleasure to work with her on this puzzle, and I hope that the solvers enjoy it as much as we did.
My initial idea for this puzzle was MAILMERGE, and I even got to the point of filling a grid with things like AIRMAIL, CHAINMAIL, etc., merging them diagonally (similar to the GENEs in the final puzzle). When I made it, though, it just felt lousy. The puzzles that I hate most are when the constructor is saying "look at how smart I am to have made this" rather than "look at how smart you are to have figured it out." At least it was not one of those, but it felt like the next worst kind, the big slog.
When GENESPLICING came to me, it was like "oh, yes, this is the right way to make this idea happen." Then I made a 21x21 grid that I thought was pretty good, so I sent it to the Times even though there were some very real flaws (it did have PROVENANCE clued as "Art history," but that didn't save it). The good news was that Will Shortz liked the idea in principle. The bad news was that he correctly identified certain flaws and deemed them unacceptable. The good news was that he not only gave me a chance to correct them but let me expand the grid to 22 columns, which gave me more room to maneuver and also let me put GENESPLICING in the middle where it caused much less trouble, and eventually we got to the puzzle that ran.
The Favorite Clue I Wrote That Got Replaced Award goes to "Drum line?" for EARCANAL at 29-A, which became "Hole in one's head." A fine substitute, but I'm sad that "Drum line" didn't make the cut.
In the end, this is one of my favorite constructions, in part because I find the SPLICEs visually reminiscent of cartoons of the DNA double helix. I hope that people enjoyed solving it as much as I enjoyed making it, and special thanks to Will Shortz for the chance to revise it and the flexibility on grid size.
VICTOR: I powered up the Wayback Machine to share some of the failed themers that Howard and I discussed. EE CUMMINGS (EEC) and DH LAWRENCE (DHL) both had nice initialisms, but we dismissed them so all of the entries would go by name-initial-name, not initial-initial-name.
I am of the perfect age to remember RICHARD DEAN ANDERSON as MacGyver and reading RDA's on labels, but, alas, a 19-letter name doesn't leave enough room to put the initials next to it, even if one can make a defibrillator out of two candlesticks and some microphone wire. Same problem for PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY.
MARK PAUL GOSSELAAR's 17 letters would have fit nicely with a block and a triplet next door, but we didn't have a good name to put opposite him, so no go, and we decided to skip all name-name-name types, which also ruled out JUNE CARTER CASH (not clear that everyone would know Jewish Community Centers well enough anyway, so also goodbye to JOHN C CALHOUN). DAVID O SELZNICK and JAMES A GARFIELD almost made it onto the list, and HARRY S TRUMAN might have been there had HUNTER S THOMPSON not beaten him to the HST punch.
So, after all that, we ended up with the set in the puzzle. I very much enjoyed working with Howard, and I hope that people enjoyed solving it as much as we enjoyed making it.
HOWARD: In short, I originally told Victor of a theme idea that I had based on initials that sadly never came to fruition (not even close, actually). Victor resurrected the idea and ran with it, coming up with a nice list of candidates. He developed a lot of solid fill and did some of the general heavy lifting on this puzzle. Co-constructing is fairly new for me, so this was a great experience -
VICTOR: I thought that I'd give a little history on the puzzle since especially new constructors might be interested in the timeline. The first communication I can find between David and me on this was from June 22, 2017, and it involved the idea of putting a word (such as BASE) in the puzzle twice, with a clue elsewhere like "Player positioned to the left of X-Across," with the answer SHORTSTOP, since the shortstop plays to the left of second base." Then there was some back and forth about possible "second ___" combinations. It took us over a year to get to something we liked, and it went to Will in late August 2018.
In December, we got a tentative acceptance from Will but with a request to remove the cross-reference clues and just clue the second word as (SECOND) ___. So, the second BASE became "It's halfway around the diamond." Of course, that meant writing a new puzzle, but after we'd come as far as we had, rewriting the puzzle was small potatoes. We got a new version done in about two weeks and shipped it off. Will sent back a few quibbles, and then we put together the final version in early January 2019.
It's still not flawless (I wrote in one e-mail that "no one is going to have a party about BEIGES"), but it came out reasonably well. All told, almost 16 months of constructing, three to four months in review, and five months in the queue make right around two years from conception to publication. I hope that people enjoyed solving the puzzle as much as we enjoyed making it.
DAVID: I feel like the experience of filling a puzzle is all about tradeoffs — some version of "is using entry X worth the cost of having to use entry Y?" asked over and over. One of the things that I appreciate about collaboration with Victor (in addition to his persistent generosity and good humor) is that, first, we both try to maintain high standards in the fill, and that, second, the hypothetical entries that I hate are quite different from the ones that he hates.
I know of myself that I tend to overweight the benefit of a long entry that I find lively and fun, even if it means several of the kind of short entries that Victor calls "crud" (the less good three-letter acronyms, partial phrases, ...). Meanwhile, Victor happens to be a serious Latinist who knows a great deal more about pop culture than I do (not a high bar!), so he's happy to use proper names and Latin words that are both like foreign languages to me.
Neither of us wants to end up with something that we hate, so a lot of our back and forth is about each of us trying to excise some personally hated entry from a corner. The grid did not (and never does) end up being perfect, but at least this version includes none of RERISEN, IRING ("Do you want me to knock, or should ___ the bell?"; IRE was also in that version of the puzzle), and MANOLO, all of which were seriously considered at some stage in this construction process. (And all of which might still be worth it sometimes, but not this time.) I'll echo Victor's wishes: this puzzle was great fun to put together over its long journey, and I hope that it was a fun puzzle to solve!
The triple-checked letters make for a fair amount of work to get everything to fit, especially with fairly long words as in here. That resulted in some sacrifices (TELIC next to ERENOW, for example), but, on the whole, I thought that it came out reasonably well.
The northeast section (around and including CELSIUS) was the worst part, with several failed attempts. The original version that I submitted had DESECRATE at 12-Down and RADIO DIAL / EVACUATES at 40- and 41-Down, but that led to too much bad fill around it.
After Will and company sent it back, I also explored versions with NO SECRETS / ANTIDOTAL / THE TUDORS and CASH CROPS / ARTISANAL / THE TUDORS, but the MOSS CRABS / ANTIPAPAL / THE TUDORS version won out in the end because it gave the best fill around it and both MOSS CRABS and ANTIPAPAL, although not in most people's normal vocabulary, are guessable with some crosses.
THE TUDORS was critical - it had the right structure, used the forced U and put a T before it, so there was lots of maneuvering room with ????IT at 57-A, and was a nice entry.
Harold and Maude is among my favorite movies, so a chance to get Bud CORT into the puzzle at 71-D was a plus; Harold and Maude is not for everyone, but there's a lot to like about it.
Finally, I hope that people enjoyed solving the puzzle as much as I enjoyed making it.
We enjoyed creating the puzzle and coming up with possible pairs (WATER FOR ELEPHANTS / LARGE-EARED = "Like the water in Africa" and PAN FOR GOLD / LEPRECHAUN = "He keeps his pan in a pot" didn't quite make the cut). We were really happy with how the fill came out, and we hope that people were satisfied with the difficulty level and the amount of connection provided between the substitutes and the substituted clues.
VICTOR: I think that I am at my best as a constructor when I am coming up with new ways to play with how a puzzle works. I tend to write Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday puzzles as a result, and I think that this was among my better efforts. I also seem to like ideas that are difficult to turn into a viable puzzle, which makes working with Andy, who is an amazing grid constructor/filler, really nice. I like collaborating in general because everyone has different skills, and something good almost always emerges. Now, if I could just learn to nae nae …
ANDY: Victor always has clever and ambitious theme ideas. It's a fun challenge to try to make clean, interesting grids out of them without compromising on theme content. This one needed a lot of tweaking, but eventually, everything just fell into place. I'm really happy with all the fresh non-theme fill we were able to include (ACE OF HEARTS, WALK ON WATER, CARE BEARS, GAYBORHOODS, BOYS' LIFE, PIANO TRIO, TOTE BOARD, SEAN YOUNG, PET GOAT, etc.) with very little crosswordese or junk fill.
I think that the best puzzles I construct, and I think that "Rise and Fall" is one of them, are those in which the idea has a moment when it seems impossible to execute in a publishable puzzle. Triple-checked letters pose a particular challenge because they constrain the fill but do not reduce the number of words in the puzzle, so meeting the NYT's guidelines gets difficult quickly. In the case of "Rise and Fall," fitting the black squares around the mountains and valleys was tough, and then the sharp corners were messy, but it looked fillable when I started out with it (in mid-2014!). Of course, months of false starts later, I was still unsuccessful, so I asked Andy to co-construct it with me.
I like Andy a lot, he's a terrific filler and collaborator, and he seems to think a bit differently from me, which makes us able to find solutions together that we (at least I) might not find alone. The first thing he did was suggest adding MOUNTAINHIGHVALLEYLOW across the middle, which was a great addition to the puzzle — and which is a rather strange song (and not the one by Tina Turner that I suspect most people think of when they see it).
We went back and forth on a few iterations and finally managed to get something we liked with 144 words. Close enough, right? Wrong. Will sent it back for being too wordy, so we hacked at it for another couple of months and got it down to a 140-worder. I hope that people liked the puzzle. (P.S. I started with KILIMANJARO instead of SAINTHELENS, but that proved impossible. Such is life!)
I don't much to add, except that I always enjoy working with Victor. His theme ideas are always unique, which makes the process of constructing the puzzle much more fun.
WIZARDOFAAHS is one of Victor's favorite theme types — the dorky pun (see Victor's May 14, 2014 NYT puzzle to get the idea). It was nice that the three AAHs are different (amazement at the fireworks, comfort from the massage, and just a convenient vocalization to open one's throat for the doc).
We've found that we get along well and work well together. This seemed like a good opportunity to work together, which as expected, we both enjoyed a lot. We hope that people had as much fun solving the puzzle as we had making it.
I started with the punch line (conveniently 15 letters) and wondered whether there were good examples. MOSES quickly gave WINSOMELO(SESOM)E, which I liked. The other two themers came with minimal effort, and I loved SCHW(ARZE)NEGGER — I'll be back, and all that. The fill was not too hard, and I had all of those uncommon letters in SCHWARZENEGGER, so I decided to make it a pangram. It kind of screams "look at me, I'm a pangram," with QTIP and JINX in the corners, but I still thought that it was okay.
My original had the biblical partial EATOF at 43-A and a bunch of other garbage in the S and W blocks (in its defense, it did have ZINGER crossing SUNDAE, which I probably tried too hard to keep), but Will nixed it as too clunky. The version you saw was much better. My favorite clue that Will didn't change was undoubtedly the RWANDAn 5000-franc note because any clue that mentions a large animal is better than any clue that doesn't. My favorite clue that Will inserted was probably "Put the whammy on" for JINX, but I liked his pairing of identical clues for YIPES and UHOH also. My favorite clues that didn't make it in? I'll save those for another day! I hope that everyone enjoyed the puzzle, and I'm sorry that I couldn't come up with anything with HAINAHPEZ in the middle.
The inspiration for this puzzle came from Matt Gaffney's meta-puzzles, which I enjoy very much. Every so often, he addresses the solver directly in the puzzle as part of the meta, and although at first I found it strange, it kind of grew on me, so I decided to make a non-meta puzzle that included direct address. I was rather pleased when I realized that the different GET phrases all exist. The big challenge, though, was that GET up and GET down aren't as symmetric as they feel like they should be, making it quite hard to construct a symmetric grid.
In spite of the initial difficulty, the fill came out okay, and I enjoyed the cluing. 10-A, 52-A, and 28-D were my favorite clues, along with the matched pair at 39-A and 34-D. Solvers might be interested to know that my original version was a bit more difficult, with the GET phrases not given but clued, so 18-A would have been clued as "Gripping read ['Don't stand so close']," 24-A would have been "Oil containers ['Show us your funky dance moves!']," etc. I guess that Will decided that it would be too difficult or weird that way.
As always, I hope that solvers enjoyed the puzzle.
Victor and I met at ACPT 2012, where he sat at the table behind me. We sat in the same seats at ACPT 2013, and he pitched the idea of this puzzle to me. I loved it, but he was still a theme entry short. Eventually, I came up with DATE BOOKS, and the rest is history!
This puzzle is a great example of collaboration in constructing gone right. Victor put together the symmetrical theme entries, then I designed the grid and took the first crack at the fill. We traded maybe eight or nine versions of the fill back and forth until we had something we were satisfied with. Then Victor clued it, and we sent notes back and forth on ways to improve the clues. The whole process took us about three months, and I think letting the puzzle gestate for that long really paid off. Victor is a really creative and skilled constructor, and it was a real pleasure working with him!
In the original version, six of the eight black bars coming in from the edge of the puzzle were four deep, and the other two were three deep. Just looking at the puzzle would make you start choking. It was like nine little 4x4 puzzles. I tried to rewrite it to give it some air, but just couldn't get it to work. Those pesky edge-themers are so uncooperative! So I did what any reasonable constructor would do: I called a friend. Victor fixed the grid and offered some new theme answers that opened up better fill possibilities. The end result was a much, much better grid.
You can thank Victor for NINE WEST — I had no clue. In our final iterations, adding a black square to change TWO-FACED to TWO-FACE (and EIGHT HOURS to EIGHT DAYS) got us over the hump with only AMAD and APIE to really grumble about. At one point we had DIRTY POOL crossing SMARTASS in the SW, and I was sad to give that up, but I love DEATH STAR.
This was a great project — Tom did most of the work, and I got half the credit! For those interested in the process, I think that 66-A is a marvelous illustration of how things evolve. Before the black-square change, it had NUDIST CAMP, and then in the revised version (final grid structure), it was SANTA CLARA, COMIC OPERA, and END OF AN ERA before settling on I AM A CAMERA. I hope that people enjoyed the puzzle — life is a cabaret!
Once I had the idea for this puzzle, I was pleasantly surprised to see that there are exactly eight six-letter state capitals (not counting my own STPAUL!), and that all of them had workable three-letter blocks. It was a bit of a challenge trying to make a grid with enough room for the L's all to fit symmetrically. I also didn't want any six-letter words starting with the first three-letter block because it would be too misleading. PIETAS at 116-Across is the one, and I decided that by then, the solver would probably have figured out what is going on and would not be inclined to write PIETAS like a normal entry.
The fill was difficult but ended up okay, and then Will cleaned up some weak spots. I tried some other things at various times (NITTANY for TIFFANY, DENTISTS for DENOUNCE), but this is where it ended up. If it weren't for Kaley CUOCO, I am not sure that I would have been able to unsnarl the NW quarter of the puzzle. I hope that people enjoyed it.