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Puzzles for January, 2015
with constructor comments

View these same grids with comments from:
Constructor (23)Jeff Chen (31)Jim Horne (5)Hide comments
Thu 1/1/2015
ASTUDENTPICKUP
CARPARTSIRAISE
THETWOHASLANDED
LYONSTENON
HEROEEGS
THEONEMANYAW
POOLPARTYHABLA
AULAITDELEON
STYNEWATERPARK
TETBYEBYEONE
EDENEARS
RANATIMAGO
PARFORTHECOURSE
GROTTOOVERRULE
ATRAINPEEKABOO

Jill: One of my most glaring puzzle-solving weaknesses is total ignorance of anything related to baseball. After Jeff tired of my repeated grousing about baseball clues, we started brainstorming about how to incorporate non-baseball sports into a grid. How we landed on golf, I no longer recall, as I am even more stymied by golf than by baseball. The over/under PAR idea seemed like a tidy theme that nodded to the game without requiring any knowledge of golfers or other trivia. As for the themers, I love free-associating with words, so it's fun to come up with phrases in a puzzle like this — feels like a game of Taboo.

We are honored to have the first puzzle of 2015, and we hope you like it!

POW Fri 1/2/2015
TEACHJETLIPAR
ADULTMOVIESODE
HISEMINENCETAW
ITSALLINTHEGAME
NOIRATAD
IREPINCUSHIONS
MINORPLANET
TATTLETALES
REDHOTPOKER
MINESWEEPERTEK
OPEDDYNE
DEMOCRATICPARTY
ENELEGERDEMAIN
LENINEXISTENCE
ARTPORTSESTES

I constructed this puzzle in September 2013, a time when I was experimenting with numerous themeless grids with low word counts. My first task in constructing this puzzle (after designing the grid, of course) was filling the center; I soon realized that filling this section was so challenging that even running my construction software for hours on end would be futile!

Remembering a construction trick I picked up during my quad stack phase, the next tactic I tried was seeding entries with friendly letter patterns into the bottom slot of the center stack before letting the construction software grind away at the rest of the grid. From a constructor's perspective, my intuition was to seed the stack with an S-heavy word, such as LAWLESSNESS; switching to my perspective as a longtime solver, however, I decided that such an entry would be dull and somewhat inelegant. Thus, my job was to come up with an entry that would both be lively and likely to lead to a fill for the center stack.

After many failed attempts, I came up with MINESWEEPER, a term with a more contemporary cluing angle that has appeared in just one other Shortz-era New York Times crossword. Although W and P are not ideal in terms of serving as ends to five-letter entries, S, E, and R are particularly nice; before long, I ended up with a center that was surprisingly junk-free! The clean center inspired me to make the rest of the puzzle as comparably smooth as possible; overall, I was (and still am) very satisfied with the final product, even though the grid is rather closed off.

Will/Joel changed fewer clues than they have in some of my older puzzles — as usual, though, they found ways to inject even more misdirection! My favorite new clue is "There's not much interest in them nowadays" for CDS, and my favorite original clue that made the cut is "It might change color" for RIPENER. I was a little disappointed to see that "Being . . . or not being" for IN EXISTENCE (which can also be read as INEXISTENCE) was rewritten, though I realize this clue was a bit of a stretch. I hope you enjoy solving this puzzle, and Happy 2015!

Sat 1/3/2015
BOTCHSEVENIRON
RHODAALANADALE
AINTIFULLTIMER
IFYKEELSOBIT
NODOUBTBACONS
GRAYBYTHEBY
AGNESBOOTYLES
MOZZARELLASTICK
ETAPILEDSAVOY
SOFTTOPRELY
BOGARTNEMEROV
ORLYGHANAAGO
TOYSTORESREDID
HUPMOBILETRASK
ATHEISTICSERTA

From a constructor's standpoint, it's always interesting to look at a puzzle that you haven't touched in seemingly forever. The one published today was constructed over 2 years ago, when I was in my novice stages of puzzlemaking...and as happy as I am with its acceptance and publication, I can see parts of the fill that I know I would have reworked, had I constructed this puzzle more recently.

For instance, the top-right doesn't feel like my normal work, with ELUL / VALS / ENL right next to each other, and nothing in the stack of 9's really sparkling. But hey, Will accepted this, so I must have done something right! The more fascinating part about looking at this puzzle now is noticing the development of clues over time. When I sent this puzzle in, I had SKYY VODKA clued as [Liquor with the slogan "Passion for perfection"]. Well, not only did another constructor debut this entry before me in a 2012 NYT puzzle (grr!), but the slogan in the clue was updated to "West of Expected," which I assume happened because the original one became outdated. Hence, as time flies, clue tweaks become necessary! Unless, of course, I had the slogan all wrong to begin with ...

Enough with my lamenting and scrutiny. What'd I like about this puzzle? Well, I like MOZZARELLA STICK, my seed entry. I like BRAIN GAME (for which Will made a nice clue). And I like the way this puzzle "talks" to the solver, with "OH, I FORGOT" and "SAYS ME" and "HOLD ON A SEC." Coming up with LIVE RADAR while constructing helped me out of a real bind in the bottom-right. Pleased with all the clue saves Will made for crosswordese-y bits. Most of all, I'm just grateful to be constructing for the Times, and I can promise many more puzzle in the future! Thank you all, and enjoy!

P.S.: If you're interested in solving more of my work, feel free to check out my "indie" blog, The Grid Kid. New puzzle every Monday with some zippy stuff!

Sun 1/4/2015THE DESCENT OF MAN
JANFBIPALMOFFISH
ANATURNATEAMPOUNCE
COMEONINXWORDEARTHY
OMENSNEGROIMONLYHU
BILDUNGSROBLASEEMI
SAYSROSEMARYCROWBAR
BEAUAGENDAPRANK
ASFARTHENOWARRAIGNS
NORRISELAPBRELS
OHOTERRAPUREEDTINA
DOYOUWANTTOBUILDASNOW
ETONSEAEARNAMIBATM
ECUNSCACSTALISA
CRASHPADKISHKACARON
AIMEEDOOLEYLAIN
SCATTEDTERMITESDOLL
SEZVESTSMORGANFREE
WONDERWOVENALSODOM
LINEARAMBITMACARENA
SNARFSPARERPSAMAIN
DESOTONOSYSSNLAS

A little Frozen cosplay

Unsurprisingly, the "Frozen" song was the seed here. I was brainstorming contemporary entries that might span a 21x grid, and my disappointment at finding it was three letters too long turned to opportunity when I decided just to make the extra MAN the theme. (This thought process happened on a canoe trip, so my original title was "Man Overboard.") Although five themers is a bit below average for a Times Sunday puzzle, the corresponding down answers containing "MAN" added a lot of constraints, especially as I tried to use the string M-A-N in contexts not meaning "man."

The SE corner was a bear to fill, and when Will accepted the puzzle he graciously gave me the chance to re-fill and re-clue it — twice! (Once on my own, a second time with an assist from Frank Longo, who found ALE GLASS as the silver bullet that allowed a clean escape from that corner.) I was surprised Will nixed my original NEYMAR at 105D, but he OK'd TALISA Stark, who's not even in the books, so go figure!

I'm pleased to be able to clue JACOBS as my idol Jane for the first time in the Times, and to debut BRUNCH for the first time since the Farrar era. Enjoy!

Mon 1/5/2015
SORERPEAFAQS
ENEROVIEWEMUS
LEGALEAGLELEAN
DWIELLAINT
OAFSOLDBUZZARD
MYTHSIRESTBAM
APUATEELIZ
SPRINGCHICKEN
AHATHOUTAN
LONTITLENIKES
BUDGETHAWKTIRE
TENDEATMAD
MOMASILLYGOOSE
OUISOPALINNER
ITCHPOXFOODS

Happy New Year, everyone! The fact that this simple theme featured animals made me worry that it would go straight into the editor's trash can. But, when I didn't see most of the theme phrases in the XWord Info archives, I thought it might make an entertaining Monday.

The fill was another story. The layout of the middle required DRACULA and AZTECAN, and so it locked in either crosswordese or partials. Personally, I like one or two gettable partials in early-week puzzles. They don't look so elegant in the finished grid, but they are pleasant enough when solving, even helpful (to me). But, having three intersect is pretty ugly, and these days, I would probably try to start from scratch with the grid layout.

Tue 1/6/2015
BOTTLEAMPSGYM
OHIOANMEATOOO
ONTOURYOGAOWN
POSTDOCWEDIDIT
HELLODISNEY
ATBARALPALA
BARNARDORATAD
IPADMINTYNUDE
TENNSCALEDRAW
DABEVEENEMY
GENIUSYALTA
REALTORFERTILE
ARMTRODGAINON
PIEETONIDOTOO
HESDATATENONS

One of my constructing idols is Patrick Merrell. When I was first solving and making crosswords, I admired how he was able to bend and stretch the conventions of crosswords while still making it entertaining for the solver. So when I come up with a simple theme like today's, I always try to think of an extra wrinkle that'll make the puzzle unique or different in some way.

For this puzzle, I had the idea for the DNA strand in the middle, but obviously needed to use other black squares. The problem was that the other black squares sort of ruined the visual element. I brainstormed some other ways to make it pop, and ended up with what you see in the print edition. If nothing else, it'll be a different solving experience, and in my book, different is always good!

Wed 1/7/2015
SOBPDAASTHMA
THESEUSTHREAD
INTEARSSHOULDA
ROSAAARPUTLEY
LABYRINTH
ISHCLERKSSCI
TWEETEDYAMMERS
SOAMIMARIEL
ARRIVALARTISTE
TDSNEWBIEMET
KINGMINOS
APRONODDSOOPS
LOADERSJETBLUE
ESCAPEARIADNE
SEEKTONSCSTP

Original concept My original submission for this puzzle included a maze drawn with black bars (see right). That did not survive, unfortunately. The maze began at the top of the grid and ended at the center, spelling M-I-N-O-T-A-U-R along the correct path. Will changed the circles and the cross-referenced clues — dare I say . . .

A-MAZE-INGLY.

Thu 1/8/2015
IMREMRTOADCAW
SOARFIANCEADO
LIVINGPPERSROW
ARETEWOKCHORE
SANREMOVEILED
ERABLANC
COMAHAROLDCCER
ARCTAHINISILL
REGGERATEDPDFS
INITSLUI
KARATSCYCLOPS
EXAMSEEOLEVEL
SISHALFMEASURE
HOPOYSTERULEE
AMYWRESTSPEST

This is a revision of the first crossword I ever constructed. The original version's theme answers were PINTZCRYSTAL, HAROLDCUPER, OCGILLATION and HALFMEASURES. After polite rejection letters from several publications, it sat untouched for nearly a year until I thought to rework it into a rebus. Keeping QUARTZCRYSTAL in the new grid was a challenge, and I ended up using LIVINGQUARTERS instead ... not ideal, since QUART and QUARTERS share a root, but (I reasoned) less obviously so than something like STRINGQUARTETS.

For those who struggled with GILL, I'll confess that I had no idea the half-cup measure(ment) even had a name until I looked it up while working on this puzzle, though that triggered a dim memory of a "Simpsons" episode where a sneaky gifted student offers to trade Bart "1000 picoliters of my milk for 4 gills of yours."

Favorite answers: the sepia-toned pairing of MRTOAD and TENTSHOW. RIPINTWO was also a fun challenge to clue without using any form of the word "half" (already used in the revealer).

POW Fri 1/9/2015
FLOTSAMCHEOPS
RARAAVISHELDIN
INEXPERTELMORE
SKIESRAHALMAE
KEDSGOTATBENZ
SRAPERILBATHE
BALMOFGILEAD
SPACEINVADERS
STARTERHOMES
TONESROLESNIL
ARIDFOULSCAPE
NYCCURSEALPHA
ZABARSEYECOLOR
ARARATSEANPENN
SCREWYDRESSES
Sat 1/10/2015
CTEAMSTHEMRS
ARABIANCHEROOT
SARONGSREYNOSA
UNTOETHANSNIT
ASHCHAITEALEI
LASHERDERSITO
TCCHENVAUGHN
ITISSWEDETHEM
EIEIOAMITETRA
SONARDUDASSIN
ONTEPIIVSOVA
FDICINICEONEG
WASHINGTONSTATE
ATTENTIONGETTER
RESTSONONESOARS

My last revision of this puzzle was submitted almost two years prior to the publication date, so when I sat down to solve this final edit I had long forgotten the fill, and Will had vastly livened up most of the clues. Hence, this would be as unbiased a solving experience as I could contrive for myself. For me, I had to confirm that a "No-Google" solver could indeed complete it, and I am happy to report that I did ... completely Google-free.

I consider the "No-Google" solvers to be one critical audience for a puzzle, and the best way to ensure their satisfaction is to minimize the density of unfamiliar content. My greatest concern during construction must have been the proximity of CHEROOT and REYNOSA in the Northeast and the crossing of TCCHEN with HSIA in the West, but they were only minor obstacles for my own solving experience. So, I'm satisfied with the way the puzzle turned out.

Just in case anyone was wondering, here are some of my own missteps while solving:

  • 13-A NOMADIC
  • 26-A MIS
  • 28-A DEY
  • 34-A SCALE
  • 50-A IDO
  • 54-A ONICE
  • 57-A ALEUTIANISLANDS
  • 3-D MARINEENGINEERS
  • 12-D PROGRAMDIRECTOR
  • 14-D CEDAR
  • 59-D CES

I'll be interested in seeing whether the regular solvers had a similar experience.

Sun 1/11/2015PERSONAL STATEMENTS
JAFAROLORDPRISMBAT
EPOCHMASAILOTTOIDI
SHARONSTONEASSINZAG
SIMONESLOGANPROTEGE
EDSDASENOSSLAUGHTER
BATHESHOOTPAR
ESAUEAVESENGMEWLS
BOBBYSHERMANTOYSHOP
BARBETEOSPAARHOPE
SPALLLOCKAOLMECLED
SYLVESTERSTALLONE
PEISEALEUHURANOMAD
AMOSANODLISENTIRE
PENCILSBEVERLYSILLS
ARSONAFRARNIEOKOK
RAPSHEETASLAN
MYLESSTANDISHPITROO
COLDWARLATTERFLOORS
IGAELENALORETTASWIT
NIMAMAINELOPESHANE
GSATSKEDDENSETANGO

I knew I was taking a chance with this puzzle, since the core concept — repurposing an initial S in someone's last name as a possessive S added to his/her first name — had been done before (for instance, see 9/14/2009). I was hoping that the added twist of cluing the answers in a fill-in-the-blank manner with two possible interpretations would sufficiently distinguish this puzzle from its predecessors. I also like the fact that one S (in BOBBY'S HER MAN) is repurposed as a contraction, and that three of the last names can be parsed into an S and two words (HER MAN, TALL ONE, and TAN DISH).

This puzzle rose from the ashes of a failed puzzle I wrote about a year ago. The theme-revealer in that one was BOAT PEOPLE. It featured the names of several people whose last names ended in a nautical term (Rhoda MorganSTERN, Tim TeBOW, etc). One of the entries was BEN STILLER. I noticed that one could interpret that name as "Ben's tiller", and I was off and running. Alas, poor Ben. Even though he inspired this puzzle, he didn't make the final cut. He's like one of those young geniuses that create a successful start-up company only to be voted out once the venture goes public.

Other names that didn't make the cut included BRITNEY SPEARS, ISAAC STERN, ROBERT STACK, LEON SPINKS, and KATEY SAGAL.

I did a little clue analysis on this puzzle, which I've never done before. I went through clue-by-clue and rated each clue Exact (if it was the same as my clue, with a possible tiny modification), Almost (if the gist was nearly the same, but the wording significantly different), or Different (if the clue went in a completely different direction from mine). Of the 140 clues in the puzzle, I rated 86 (61%) Exact, 15 (11%) Almost, and 39 (28%) Different.

Mon 1/12/2015
PITHONTIMEAND
SOHORAIDERLEI
STEMTOSTERNPGA
TASERHALTHEN
CRADLETOGRAVE
WARYOUETUI
AGESGSANAPS
SEATOSHININGSEA
EMMAMOMEYES
ASAPTILCPA
STARTTOFINISH
HAZYHOELEONI
APUTOPTOBOTTOM
PERAMECHETISH
EREREDHOTOCHO

Bleak House I find that a theme idea often has to percolate for a while and undergo many changes before it's good enough to work on. This puzzle is a great example. The seed came from reading "Bleak House" and encountering the phrase "from pillar to post" (I had to look that one up in the dictionary!).

This started me thinking about a puzzle containing interesting phrases of the form "from x to y" (of which there are certainly a lot). But, after enumerating theme possibilities, the original idea felt too loose and the most interesting entries were just a bit too obscure.

So, the idea sat for a while until I noticed that several of the phrases denoted completeness from some perspective: a much tighter theme possibility! This led to today's grid, with the "from" dropping out due to grid/symmetry constraints. However, in my submission, I clued the theme entries too literally; e.g., CRADLE TO GRAVE was "all, from a lifetime's perspective".

In editing, Will and Joel made another big improvement by introducing more wordplay; e.g., changing the above to "... for a life insurance agent". So, that's a further theme evolution I should have made. They also toned down the difficulty to Monday-level by changing a relatively large percentage of the clues (lesson learned, hopefully).

All in all, I'm happy how this one turned out. I like that it has a pair of long downs (THE SCREAM and PSYCHOTIC) that fit well together despite the need to cross a lot of theme entries. I hope it starts your puzzling week off on the right foot.

Tue 1/13/2015
MISOOCEANCLOT
ARIASUSIEHASH
MONTICELLOINTO
ANGDATOLDER
AMERICANBISON
TAPASPATIO
ABOUTRELEASED
NERDATIMEECRU
GLEECLUBAIRED
TABOONOISE
EPLURIBUSUNUM
QUILLASAMAD
URGENICKELBACK
ASHEFRIARAGIN
LETSLEANSHEDY

I'm not too good at either pop culture or sports, and this NICKELBACK theme owes much to serendipity. I was in a gym locker room, trying to tune out the football commentary on the TV, when I thought I heard someone say "nickelback" and I figured it was some defensive lineman or something. But then I got to thinking about the word, and quickly realized it had the same number of letters as MONTICELLO. Thanks to Google, I learned it's actually a Canadian rock group. And after looking at images of nickels, I happened on the coincidental symmetry of AMERICAN BISON and E PLURIBUS UNUM.

It's a pleasure to see the final version in the NYT and compare my clues as submitted to what Will published. As Manny Nosowsky (the first cruciverbalist I ever met!) told me years ago, despite the pride-of-ownership howls from constructors, Will almost always improves on the original clues. This was certainly true in this puzzle. I love "Run out of rhythm?" for AEIOU. I had "Plains buffalo, more correctly" for AMERICAN BISON, and I think it's much better to avoid the word "buffalo." Best of all was the clue for 25-Down, which brings together the Canadian and the coin concepts: "Image on the reverse of a Canadian quarter" for CARIBOU. Wow — and it runs right down through the center. Don't I wish I'd thought of that!

Wed 1/14/2015
BOMBSQUASHPRE
AWOLKETTLERUG
LEMONADEMIXIPA
INANESPAWNED
DEGASICES
MAXEDOUTBAKE
INXSOLEIBISES
LOXIVDRUGSSEA
ENRAGEELMIDOL
AMORONASTICK
JUTESACHA
CHINESEALCOA
RUNXLTEESHIRTS
ERGPOTATOCARA
WASOPERASSWAP
Thu 1/15/2015
CULTSEASTTSAR
ATEAMUGLYOLGA
NIMBICHOPMEET
ICOULDHAVEBEDS
TANEERESTOP
LOVEDNEWYORK
UNPINALTOVEE
HAILMARYSPEND
USEDORYSORTS
HADINOTLOVED
PLANTKIACAM
BAILBALTI-MORE
REPSOTOHDINGY
AREAOUSEONCUE
GORYTMENOTHER

I am thrilled to make my NY Times crossword debut today. I live on beautiful Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada.

Crosswords have been a part of my life for a long time now but only recently have I taken a more serious approach to puzzle construction. There are three women who I want to thank: my mom for buying crossword books and letting me fill in a few, Jenni for introducing me to "Wordplay" and suffering through my early constructions, and Nancy Salomon for mentoring my first few submissions.

Today's theme came about while I was cluing my first accepted crossword (that first "Crossword — Yes!" email put a grin on my face for days). I wasn't too sure if Will would accept a quote puzzle but I loved the quote and its required punctuation (with an emphasis on 'pun'). And as luck would have it, it split perfectly into 4 long symmetrical entries.

Fortunately, Will liked it too but asked me to revise the fill since it had quite a few undesirable entries. I like that he works with constructors to improve the fill if he likes the theme. My original crossword had the author's name split over 2 entries and it was suggested to remove the name to allow for cleaner fill. After a few email exchanges, Will gave his grid approval and okay to clue. The final result is so much better than my original grid.

This has been quite the learning experience and I am grateful to Will and Joel (and Paula and Anna) for their feedback on accepted and rejected puzzles. This may be my first puzzle in print but it won't be my last.

And you can quote me on that!

Fri 1/16/2015
INTERROBANGLES
SEEYOULATERAGA
SWEETPOTATOPOI
OTSTARESTIRIN
FEUDFATTEST
AWHIRLSOLOISTS
DIALSPINESMID
ANNEJILTSPICA
MEDTUSKSVEDAY
ACCLAIMSSIGILS
NORELCOMOBS
DOABLEDYERSAP
ELFOBSERVANTLY
VETNATURETRAIL
ERSERYTHROCYTE

I first constructed crossword puzzles in the late 1960s, using pencil and graph paper. To cut down on erasing, I set portions of grids with letter cubes — dice with letters on all six sides. I sold several puzzles to Master and Quality puzzle magazines. Considering the time it took I was earning about 50 cents an hour. I gave up until the 2000s, when I discovered Crossword Compiler.

I have a varied publication history:

  • For several months I constructed the daily crossword puzzle in Metro, Canada's largest independent newspaper.
  • I have a collection at Puzzazz, "Crosswords, Eh?," Canadian-themed puzzles — Canadian spelling and usage in entries and clues.
  • I did 20 puzzles for "The Everything Crossword Challenge Book."
  • For four years I constructed a monthly poker-themed puzzle for Poker Player Newspaper.
  • For five years I did a monthly crossword for PokerPages.com.
  • For two years I was the crossword constructor for Advance for Nurses and for three for LA Direct.
  • For five years I contributed several crosswords a month to the online portal Puzzle Planet.

I have also been a columnist for Card Player magazine, the best-known poker publication and online poker portal, since its inception in 1988. I have written seven books on computers and on gambling, most of which can be found on Amazon.

As for this puzzle, I've used this grid before. I chose it again because it's particularly hard to fill cleanly and I like a challenge. I maintain a list of fresh words, phrases, and expressions that I hear in conversation and on TV and that I see in my reading, entries that I think may not have previously appeared in mainstream puzzles. I try to fill my grids with as many of these I can. While I am using Crossword Compiler to fill the grid, as words suggested by the app pop into place that I feel are less than sparkly, I lower their scores such that they are less likely to appear again or even that they will never appear in my puzzles. I constructed six variations of this puzzle before I felt it was good enough to submit.

Sat 1/17/2015
BUFFSUPSIDEBAR
APRIORIUPCCODE
SHOGUNSBACKSUP
KELLSASADAPLO
ERIESNITBOOTS
DECAMPROKBRET
FORCEMAJEURE
BBSLIONIZESYD
RICHTERSCALE
AGRORIOKLATCH
SMACKANKHTALE
SOBMUNGONEPAL
HUBBARDJAINISM
ATLARGEACCURSE
THEATERKEEPSAT
POW Sun 1/18/2015CHANGELINGS
BOSSSTEAMCHOPADREP
OATHTURBOLULUDEANE
THAIANTEDOLINUPFOR
HUGELUGELUGSLOGSLOTS
LOBOLIEEATS
MAIDSAIDSANDSANKSINK
ISLCLEATSANTITOUR
SCOTCHCEEVANONE
CANALSANRIBALDASIF
PALEPALSPASSLASSLESS
ERASRTESCAM
KIDSKISSMISSMOSSMOST
ODIEDYNAMOANOONION
NEDADOLYEBADDIE
GASPALFANONAMEELS
LOUDLOUTLOSTLASTCAST
LUAUETACIAO
WILTWILLFILLFULLFUEL
HANOISEATTEASEFOXY
ONCUECAMIOAKENIMAM
PEATSKHANSNERTNOME

The six 20-letter theme entries in this puzzle contain roughly two thirds consonants ... with letters like H, G, K, W and F among them restricting fill choices. I normally like to infuse the fill with a few entries exceeding nine letters, but early attempts conjured up too many clunkers alongside the lively long entries. So, the grid was scaled back to the current design: one dominated by 4- and 5-letter entries. As such virtually no fresh fill could be introduced, but at least this short fill would be free of weak content.

In the end, the success of the puzzle rides mainly on the innovative theme concept.

Mon 1/19/2015
NEWTALCAPRES
AAHSUSSRPLAZA
GRINSKUANOTER
ATTACHEBREWSKI
THEIRWEBCAM
BLEWPASASHE
ZOOSYBILANNEX
ANATOUSLESOMG
HERBSNOSESWII
NADAINDGUAC
NOTYETMCATS
RANKLESOPENPIT
OUIJAUMPSEPEE
TENOFICESSEGA
SLABSTARTDSL

I came up with this theme in 2013 when I was brainstorming for the annual holiday crossword I send to family and friends. I had a few ideas to choose from, so I decided to send this one to the NYT instead. There were a lot of words and phrases that started with "snow" and I was amazed at how many of them fit together. The theme fell into place quite easily. I wish all of my puzzles were like that!

POW Tue 1/20/2015
PEROLDHATCMAJ
AXEROWENALANE
JOTCAESARSALAD
ADOSMESPHIAL
MURPHYBEDEMMYS
ASTROODDUZI
AGEENEETES
CRYSTALGEYSER
BAASCUDMOC
EMSCHEYARDS
LEHARROCKOPERA
ROBOTRANEVIL
COMICRELIEFEVA
HOODIRONERREM
ANNESANELYELI
Wed 1/21/2015
JUTSWATERFAQS
ANONABIDEAGUE
WIKILOGICRUIN
STEPKAHLOLAPD
PASTTENSE
AFTEROFTEN
BLATANTINUTILE
OASPEIMOLMEW
MRTAWNPUFENE
BEECHESAROUSAL
FORMATION
TITLEIDIDUTCH
ORRATSEAROO
LEADETHNBATEAM
ENCORESTAXRATE
TAKEINBESTIR

It's always my pleasure to have a puzzle published in the Times. I like to kid myself that my purely accidental inclusion of the "MR. T" entry in this puzzle's fill is what earned it a "yes" vote, on the third submission try.

My vision for this puzzle was originally as a hardish Thursday, where the ten-letter T-shaped themers were a little more resistant to discovery. But I think the more whimsical approach employed here is a good one. Quite a few of my Thursday-level clues didn't make the cut this time, however.

I am a big fan of left-right symmetry. It's great for drawing giant T's, and other stuff, with black squares. That smaller, upside-down T is just a reflection, by the way.

Thu 1/22/2015
JOSSAPPWAFT
UNTOCIAALOOF
PEELMESACARPI
ITEVERSUSNERF
TILDECAGESPAT
EMEEREDENHATH
RERUNBOASEWE
TEARNEAP
ATEDOGSMAGIC
BURRLSATBRUNO
OREOINGAEDSEL
ROANBARBERTRU
ORSONNULLMARM
NAOMILEMAVON
ENYAESSYERS

On Wordplay I said that the clue (not mine) for APP was the puzzle's best, inveigling solvers into confidently entering SPY (and never questioning it afterwards). What I failed to mention is that the shared P between APP and SPY makes the clue way more treacherous, as the solver will be able to solve 6d despite an incorrect crossing. Crossword jargon is not a strong suit—are these duplicitous letters called false friends? Or am I making that up? It'll be interesting to see if the shared P of two seven-letter planets gives anyone similar problems, especially since PEEL is the easiest crossing off 1d.

Herc as a kid, strangling Hera's snake assassins

Although Hercules ended up performing twelve labors in total, his original sentence only called for ten.

Angered by Zeus's innumerable infidelities, Hera drove her stepson Hercules mad, leading him to murder his wife and children. As atonement, the Oracle of Delphi advised Hercules to submit himself King Eurystheus, performing whatever services Eurystheus named.

Hercules' second task, the slaying of the Lernean Hydra, proved difficult. The Hydra, a multi-headed serpent who lived in a mephitic swamp, regrew two heads every time one was cut off. But Hercules' nephew Iolaus, who accompanied him on several of his labors, carried a torch and cauterized the stump of each neck as soon as Hercules had decapitated its head. After dispatching the mortal heads, Hercules buried the Hydra's single immortal head beneath a great rock.

The cleaning of the Augean Stables was designed to be an exercise in humility rather than strength. These stables, which held a massive herd of cattle, hadn't been cleaned in decades, and were overrun with waste. Confident that he was making an impossible offer, King Augeas wagered Hercules a tenth of the cattle if he could complete the task in one day. Hercules, not one to admit defeat, diverted two nearby rivers through the stables themselves, washing away the filth. Thus did Hercules accomplish his task in a single day, and so won the bet.

Despite completing Eurystheus' ten tasks, the King royally shafted Hercules by ruling that the Hydra and the Stables did not count. The Hydra, because Iolaus had aided Hercules; and the Stables, because Hercules had received payment for his work. He instructed Hercules to perform two replacement labors: retrieve the Apples of the Hesperides; and capture Cerberus, the three-headed guard dog of the underworld, unarmed.

Unjustly enriching oneself off the sweat and skill of underpaid athletic labor, and then harshly punishing said laborers for violating a petty, Byzantine regulatory system and accepting side payment? This must be where the NCAA got its business model from.

P.S. Most of the moons of JUPITER, of which there are 67, are named for the lovers or conquests of Zeus. So maybe Hera's jealousy was understandable, even if her revenge was misdirected, and slightly over the top.

Fri 1/23/2015
ESKIMODOGZILCH
ELIMINATEIDAHO
KALAMAZOOMINER
STOLEEECBODED
HORNSAGAMORE
PRESSONCOBS
LORENOSHOWROM
EXTRAICIEFILE
XYZNOSINGANEW
SAVEGERITOL
FACEPALMTERI
AGILEEISDINGE
LOAFSVALVESTEM
DROITEMAILLIST
OASESLIGAMENTS
Sat 1/24/2015
BYGOSHAWEANTS
LEANTOLETSDOIT
UNICUMALHAMBRA
STUDDEDDEFILER
HASIMEDLEXEME
LOAVESFAA
LOSTONESSHIRT
DETECTIVEWORK
KIDSTHESEDAYS
EVASONANT
NESTLENUTSUTA
TITHINGPINESOL
INREVOLTVELURE
STATELAWECLAIR
HOYAADOSKYLIT
Sun 1/25/2015TWIST ENDING
UPSWEEPSUBROSAFTDIX
NICEONEORIENTSTRUCE
ICANNOTTELLALEICIDER
TORTSTHUSMEETSREPS
ETESEERCOALCIERA
DOTARDYOUVEGOTMALI
BAYLORATASTEARSENAL
ENCOREDWWIREWCCL
LGARAISINGTHEBRAHEY
AISLESEATNEONSRA
YETIMUTEATEMROTC
DPSNEARIREMEMBER
EMSAQUARTERTOTOWTMI
LAMSURCUESLIPUPS
OPENSEAPLASMAANISES
ILLEGALALINEBURGLE
ELSOLMANEIBNLAST
STATSPENDARODSANER
ARRIDANNIEGETYOURGNU
KEANUCREEPINEDMEESE
SETGOSARDINEDOODLED
Mon 1/26/2015
GOERSRAPSKIP
AGREEAIDEELMO
FLIPWILSONNIPS
FEESALEPINES
ESCSMARTCOOKIE
APISHRUER
MONACOPERTPLUS
LOADAOKREST
BOLDTEXTBOOMED
YORECOSMO
FORWARDPASSNPR
ILIADLUCSTYE
SLAGFRESHSTART
TITOROBEPARER
SEANODEANTSY

Do solvers know Hieronymus Bosch outside of crosswords? I certainly don't. I do, however, celebrate Brennan Boesch's entire collection. BOSCH is a notch below some A-listers like Monet, Renoir and Picasso, but the highbrow entry should appeal to the NYT demographic, I think.

Hope solvers like it!

Tue 1/27/2015
FORMALDUMBCHI
AVIATEOVALHON
KILIMANJAROOWL
EDENROONOISE
DENISDIDEROT
MERITSEMER
ELISACLIPBCE
SUCHSWEETSORROW
ALEOLAYLEAVE
SPEESETTER
CENSUSBUREAU
ALIENSURRASH
BINJAMESMONROE
LOTAGARONEILL
ETHBEDSNODDED

I'm pretty sure that my inspiration for this puzzle was the 11/12/2012 offering by Randall J. Hartman. If you see him around, could you tell him that I NODDED in appreciation towards his work? His contribution to crosswords MERITS at least that much.

There's no doubt that there were many a CELEB to choose from for the "-MONROE" entry. Despite the fact that gentlemen prefer BLONDEs, I naturally found the ultimate choice to have a better ring to it than MARILYN. (Confession: I just now noticed the DUMB BLONDE crossing. No offense intended.)

Probably had the most trouble with the "–ROT" entry. Every attempt to make ROSS PEROT a possible candidate was met with resistance left and right. For motivation, I turned to the musings of a wise, French philosopher: "There are things I can't force. I must adjust." In the end, DENIS DIDEROT won by a landslide.

And so with that, painful as it is, I must take my LEAVE. Parting is… hard to do. Hope to see you all again soon.

Wed 1/28/2015
IVEGOTELKALL
RAHRAHROOMRIO
INLATERUNALONG
SEEPJUSTTHEWAY
ERESILO
IWANTTOTAKEKAI
ROGUESHAIRCOMB
AWETYOUODAS
TENSPOTSINNATE
EDTUNDERMYSKIN
IREIPSO
NEEDISLOVELSAT
IMPOSTERAPIECE
TIETEALCONTRA
AREPRYHIGHER
POW Thu 1/29/2015
ESASHAIGMACAW
SACKLUNCHALOHA
CUTOUTTHEROMAN
ADORNSRAIN
PINTAPEKINGMAN
ESETEATIMEALA
HITMANGTOS
THEICECOMETH
HELPMANANA
ERAALABAMAASS
MANFRIDAYRANCH
AGUAMODELA
MANDYMIDDLEMAN
EXCELEMAILLIST
GEODESARIEASY

Unlike some themes, which take plenty of fiddling with before coming into focus, the idea for this one came at once. I remember precisely where I was at the time — in the middle of our living room moving furniture — the very spot where I abandoned an armoire for several hours while I went to pick theme answers and fill the grid. (Question: What's the most valuable resource a crossword constructor can have? Answer: An understanding wife.)

I wanted to avoid words like MANIACS that leave non-words (IACS) after MAN was removed. I like that the threesome making the final "cut" included RAIN, ICE, and AGUA. That was a bonus — or you might say, as Walsh tells Gittes in Chinatown, "The guy's got water on the brain."

The biggest challenge was getting the Downs to play nice, with six of them crossing three theme answers and two of them crossing four. Though there were other grid possibilities, they had issues too. For the most part, I think it worked out all right.

Regarding clues: If you have a beef with the one for AXE, please take it up with Unilever. If you don't like the ones for ANT or ERA, you can blame me. (I do think it's fun to come up with new clues for short answers.) But if, like me, you find "Chapter seven?" for ETA to be so utterly diabolical that it takes longer than you want to admit to make sense of it, please send your letters to Mr. Will Shortz at The New York Times. (That's really a gem.)

As we used to say when honeymooning years ago in Fiji, "Bula!"

Fri 1/30/2015
SHREWDCASBAH
HOTWIREBEDELIA
EPEEISTREAGENT
DESSCHOOLSOUT
PHARAOHS
CARTOONEDMOW
AWHIRLLANDLINE
FAINTLYXEROXED
FINESSESFUMING
ETEALLEMANDE
OFFHOURS
SACRAMENTOMEG
PANTERAGILMORE
ENTERINSTORAGE
PASTESISITOK

In my themeless solving experience, I've noticed that many constructors start with a seed entry. However, I'm not entirely satisfied mimicking what my predecessors have done before me. So, my goal for this themeless puzzle was to find two stack-able, seed-quality entries that wouldn't overly butcher the crosses.

I remember picking WII SPORTS early to fill one of those two spots, because (a) it would be an NYT debut, (b) it would probably be familiar to anyone who owned a Wii (the game was bundled with the console, after all, and even entered the pop culture sphere via a few episodes of The Big Bang Theory and the hilarious Tropic Thunder), and (c) I thought I might be able to form some nice bi-/trigrams from the crosses. After looking through a few candidates for the second entry, I latched onto DR SCHOLLS, because (a) that long string of consonants at the beginning seemed like it might just mesh with WII SPORTS and (b) the brand, though somewhat old, is still alive and (dare I say...?) kicking.

At this point, I modeled the black square pattern around these two entries and (what I thought would be) good potential bi-/trigrams. I immediately knew that the bigram "WD" would really only work at the end of a word or in between words (e.g. CROWD, LEWD, RAWDATA, SHREWD); however, once this crossing was dealt with, I had a few more versatile combos ("IR," "IS," and "SC") nearby. Anyway, long story short, if you had a slight inkling that the black squares in the NW area seemed conveniently placed, you have a strong intuition. = )

My original grid had some problem entries in the NE, and, though he didn't initially accept the puzzle, Will suggested that I fix the area and resubmit the puzzle. In addition to patching the NE, I also took some extra time to search for a more interesting south section. Fill quality can become subjective to a point, but I was happier with the trade-offs in the printed version.

As for the clues, Will and Joel changed quite a few — for the better. I'm happy to see my clues for 13A, 19A, 21A, 46A, and 42D survive with little editing, but Will's/Joel's clues for 26A, 48A, 2D, 32D, 35D, 38D, and 50D are undoubtedly awesome. I'd also like to highlight the clue for 14D. The clue [Hawke of "Boyhood"] looks innocent enough but actually serves a very important role: it solidly places this puzzle in the now. Not a year ago — which would be too early for a "Boyhood" reference, not a year from today — at which point "Boyhood" will have run the awards circuit and, unless successful, become slightly less relevant, but now — when the film and a few of its actors are currently up for Best Picture and (likely) all over the news. I believe this little bit of currency really adds to a themeless, and I'm glad Will/Joel agree, at least for this puzzle! =]

I hope your solve was enjoyable; if not, I'll try to get you next time.

Sat 1/31/2015
CARLSJRHEARTHS
AREOLAEORDERUP
NUTCAKEONADIME
AGEMELIKEYSOL
DULYIBMSCTRL
ALLESNEEBLAME
ASSADGUYLINER
BYOBPROP
OHBOOHOOSKOAL
NORSKDPTEFLAT
ETESBYESFOTO
MIACATCHOWHET
ITSEASYIMAWARE
LETSRIPRECROOM
EMSPACETROYENS

Yes, it's another one of those 7x7 freestyles. I construct 7x7s when I feel like a challenge; the shorter the entry, the lower number of "fresh" or "exciting" possibilities. The reason it's harder to build 7x7s is that not only do you have to find as many exciting 7s as possible, but you have to intersect them, and you have to do it in all four corners. With six-letter entries and shorter, you can get away with having any entry, as long as it's not ugly; I feel like 7 and above is where you have to start finding great entries to fill the space lest it feel like a "wasted opportunity".

Their slogan is "Eat it like you mean it." Seriously!

When I take on a puzzle of this shape, what I try to do is to load up the grid with as many "seed" entries as possible and see how many of those I can keep and how many I have to sacrifice during the fill. (In puzzles with 8, 9, 10, 11, or 15-stacks, I can get away with three or two seeds, or even one.) This is why I was very fortunate in building this puzzle: I don't remember ever being able to keep this many seeds that I started with. I started with 1A (CARLS JR), 8D, 20A, 33A, 24D, and 38A (among some others I don't remember that I had to throw away). I didn't even care that 8D (HOOK ME UP) and 20A (ME LIKEY) shared a word.

I'm very happy that Will kept my clue for 63-Across (REC ROOM); I had the toughest time out of all the entries thinking up a good clue for it. I'm glad that effort wasn't for naught.

Given recent events (that is, since I constructed the puzzle), I now consider 31A (ASSAD) off-limits when constructing a puzzle, up there with HITLER or IDI. I put it in then because it fit; now, I'll reconstruct a section completely rather than include it.

You'll notice that I included two pairs of "cheater squares". I can sorta see the appeal of not having them — the aesthetic value of the grid is reduced, I guess — but I never have qualms about using them. I value having that great entry without the expense of a bad one, or having a passable entry without the expense of a REALLY bad one, over pure aesthetic appeal. I understand that aesthetic appeal has value occasionally; but, given the choice, I favor content over look.