The theme for this puzzle came to me in December 2017, almost a year before I started constructing crosswords. In January 2019, after sitting on it for a while and making my first few puzzles, I was finally ready to try it out! The answer to 110-Across provided the inspiration for this theme.
The puzzle began as a 15x15 around the entries OPEN CCON, WORD TO THE YY, 22-Across, and 110-Across. After feedback from the Times editors regarding the placement of the double letters in the theme answers, I decided to expand the puzzle to a 21x21—I was excited for the opportunity to use more of the items on my list! (On the cutting room floor, for various reasons: PENNYYY THE CLOWN, JESSE OWNN, MAYONAA JARS, GIVE PP A CHANCE, TIP OF THE IIBERG, WHAT LL IS NEW, BELLY OF THE BBT, IN KK OF EMERGENCY, OONAP, and DD NUTS, among a couple dozen others. Also, sorry to Adam L. about GOODNESS GRHH.)
I'm very happy with the way this puzzle turned out. My favorite clues are for 67-Across and 114-Across; the clue for 46-Across was written after reading this comment from Kameron Austin Collins. The editors did a fantastic job here, and I particularly appreciate their flexibility and willingness to go back and forth on some of the clues. Thanks!
ERIK: This grid took a long time to come together (i.e., many iterations of us talking each other out of bad fill) and I'm so happy with the end result! One of my favorite themeless puzzles I've ever been involved in. Thankful to Wyna for the opportunity to collab and to the Times team for preserving many of our clues.
WYNA: This one took a while! I was inspired to start this grid by Erik's excellent DIA DE LOS MUERTOS, one of the entries from a word list we'd made. Probably went through about ten iterations before arriving at the grid we submitted, which is almost entirely different from what we started with. The editors (correctly) requested one more revision to get rid of USIE. In that process, we lost FAITH HEALER and gained A BIT STRANGE. I really enjoyed all the work we put into this grid, and I'm proud of the result!
Favorite clues in this puzzle are all Erik: 15A, 33A, 8D, and 34D. Thanks to the eds. for some great revisions, 49A and 29D in particular, though I was sad to lose our original clue for 16A [Watered-down drink].
WYNA: What can I say? Erik's the best. This was our third collaboration, and first puzzle in the Times. Erik sent me this grid with the NW and SE stacks filled in. I was so happy to see POLO PONY — my dog's name is Polo!
It took two days of back-and-forth revisions and a couple extra black squares to arrive at this grid. Love Erik's clue for 27-Down. Thanks to the editors for 4-Down.
ERIK: I'm happy with how this one turned out! You can always count on Wyna's themelesses for some lively answers and mindbending clues, and she definitely brought it for this one. It's been a pleasure to work with her and see her genius up close, and I highly recommend it if you ever get the chance.
PAOLO: This grid was the result of our first collaboration; I sent her the NW corner, with the three 10s crossing WHO WORE IT BETTER, to see what she could do with the opposite corner. Hours later, she sent me a fully-filled grid, filled more smoothly than I could ever make it. It's a serious privilege working with Wyna—her work ethic/commitment to quality/singular voice is enviable. Hope you enjoy the puzzle—this isn't the last collab you've seen from us!
WYNA: I had a great time working with Paolo on this one! He was the master architect of this grid. The process was unusually smooth, and we ended up with this grid on the first pass (I think it took one day).
We clued the puzzle together via Google Sheets. Paolo's clues are so good; some of my favorites here are 1A, 23A, 39A, and 14D. Thanks to the editors–I love 21A and 5D, and cluing 25A and 27A together was a great move.
It was a joy to work on this puzzle. Paolo is such a pro. Thanks to Erik Agard--for many things--but in this case, for connecting us. This was my first collaboration with Paolo, and happily, not the last. Hope you enjoy!
This is the first puzzle I've constructed and I'm thrilled to be making my NYT debut. The seed entry for this puzzle was 33-Across CRAZY RICH ASIANS, followed by 1-Across CATFISHES, a shoutout to Henry Joost and Supermarché, who made Catfish. I wanted to clue 41-Across ALL-PROS as "Like Newton and Watt," but WATT was already in the grid and I couldn't figure out how to replace it.
Fill-wise, I'm least happy with WOODMEN, T-NUTS, and T-SLOT, particularly since they sit so close together in the grid. My favorites are the multi-word answers OOPS SORRY, WIN AT LIFE, and SLEEP EASY.
I'm grateful to Erik Agard for inspiring me to start constructing and for being a fantastic mentor. He did warn me about the dicey black square configuration that almost trisects the grid, exactly the feedback I got from the editors. A near deal-breaker — thank you eds. for letting it slide!
I've been a crossword enthusiast for about ten years. Between solving puzzles, I spend my time making jewelry and magnetic objects, teaching yoga, and bothering my dog. I hope to keep the puzzles coming!