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Puzzles for January, 2016
with constructor comments

View these same grids with comments from:
Constructor (25)Jeff Chen (31)Jim Horne (4)Hide comments
Fri 1/1/2016
BASSSWERVEMRS
RITEHALOEDYEW
ORDERAROUNDWVA
WHENIMSIXTYFOUR
NONAMECRED
IRISFAREWELLS
ENSLAMINATED
RICEPILAF
LOVEBEADSBRA
POLEDANCEDRIP
SOULNLEAST
PERSONALOPINION
ETETOMATOPASTE
LIEORISONLETS
LCDHASHEDIDOS

Happy 2016, everyone! I constructed this crossword in May 2014 #TBT as a companion puzzle for my BASE themeless that appeared in August . . . because even crossword puzzles deserve to find true love, of course! In all seriousness, I was pleased with how my BASE themeless turned out, so I decided to recycle the grid pattern.

My seed entry for the center stack was POLE DANCE, which I picked for its liveliness and relatively easy letters. One trick I frequently use when building themelesses like this is blocking off areas of the puzzle I feel will be easier (and thus don't want to focus on) by inserting what are called bars in Crossword Compiler. For this particular puzzle, I initially put bars around the first five letters of SHAME-FACED/the last five letters of WALDEN POND and next to the last four letters of WHEN I'M SIXTY FOUR/the first four letters of PERSONAL OPINION. In doing this, I was able to "tell" the Compiler that I cared most about generating the center stack; in other words, the pair of 15-letter entries and the upper left/lower right sections could wait till later.

Anyway, I soon noticed that LOVE BEADS could potentially fit on top of POLE DANCE, so I temporarily typed it in. At that point, I could see that the stack had little flexibility, so I did a quick Autofill to see what possibilities existed for the top three entries. I was thrilled when RICE PILAF popped up; even though LAMINATED and FAREWELLS didn't do much for me, they both struck me as solid, and I very much liked the two 10-letter crossers (SHAME-FACED and WALDEN POND). Also, the short crossers seemed pretty good, though I can't say I was thrilled with AMEBA. But I realized there probably wasn't a better POLE DANCE/LOVE BEADS stack, so I decided to just roll with what I had.

My next exciting break was discovering that WHEN I'M SIXTY FOUR could work as the upper 15-letter entry! I liked the Scrabbly letters of this entry—the only problem was that I didn't actually know what it referred to, because my tastes in music at the time were very contemporary. Some quick research showed me that I was dealing with a Beatles song (and yes, I've definitely heard of the Beatles!), though just to make sure it was a well-known one, I checked with my trusty Boomer parents. Reassured, I finished filling the puzzle!

PERSONAL OPINION seemed a bit dry to me, so for good measure, I threw in some moist TOMATO PASTE and RISOTTO. In the upper left, I was pleased that BROWNIE and ORDER AROUND didn't require a significant number of tradeoffs. One of the toughest areas was actually the upper right, because I just couldn't seem to find a good balance between lively midlength entries and clean short crossers. Then I came up with MY WORLD, which was music to my ears, and the rest was history!

I hope you enjoy solving this puzzle and have a happy and successful new year.

Sat 1/2/2016
SPRAYAVALANCHE
KOALANINEHOLES
IWILLNBAFINALS
NESSESESTARIE
TRIPHASTJMAXX
IGNITEDRUSE
GRECOACERBMSN
HATERSGONNAHATE
TBSQUESTCARET
RUNSETHICAL
POSIESSROREDO
ACHEHSTWILLIS
STASHAWAYNILES
TAKEADIVEINUSE
ADENYEMENTESTS

When constructing a themeless, one thing I like to do is design my black square arrangement around an interesting entry. If done correctly, I feel this technique can help to squeeze in a few unusual letters, avoid the temptation of a prefab grid, and perhaps even create a unique solve.

For this puzzle, TJ MAXX was the entry of interest. Once I had placed black squares around TJ MAXX (a few under the X's and one above the J), the resulting NW and SE sections seemed to want to form stacks. But, placing a black-square finger in columns 5/11 meant that what is now 27D would've been either a long entry starting with "J" bordering a stack (would this be fillable...?...I pondered) or a stumpy 3-/4-letter entry starting with "J" (if I added another black square). Since I didn't like either of those options and wanted to avoid stacked 11's in the NE/SW, I opted for stacked 9's all around (with extra 8's in the NW/SE). Lastly, I tried to place the remaining black squares in such a way to give solvers multiple opportunities to enter each corner.

Of the entries in my original submission, Will and Joel liked the NE/SE but disliked a buildup of proper nouns in the SW and the (non)phrase LEAVE LATE in the NW. After a little more back-and-forth, we settled on the fill you see. Stuff like NESSES and ANAS aren't that great, but they're relatively isolated and don't have too many bad crossings IMO.

As for clues, Will and Joel changed quite a few to bring this puzzle up to Saturday difficulty. [Auto racer Luyendyk] became [Part of "Die Fledermaus"], [Widow's peak, e.g.] became [Plugs can move it forward], and [Figures in red] became [Red menaces?], etc. Fortunately for my ego, Will/Joel kept one of my favorite original clues--[Still the most?] for STEADIEST--and even felt that a question mark was warranted. At any rate, I hope solvers appreciate the added "crunchiness" in their Saturday puzzle; make sure to thank your tireless editors! =)

That's it from me. I'll have Ms. Swift lead you to the Sunday puzzle. Happy holidays and happy solving!

Sun 1/3/2016RECORD OF THE YEAR
TROJSLIFLOODADONIS
HANGERAMRADIOMINIMT
AMELIEDAIKONSPESTER
TAKENUPCLERKEDTESTS
ENDUSERSOBIT
CAISIANGCHATCAL
HINTATSOTOMORLIBIDO
OCTANEPASHTOCARLJG
SORDIDVALLEYSONRICE
ETATSWELCOMESINRATS
EPEEBAYS
BANJSTRUCTURALASTIC
AMOEBASLAHTERASHORE
DISPELONHANDSHOWER
ASASETFATNESSPARENT
THYREEFSICIALES
MSRPRAWSCORE
IDBETANGELICTAPEDKS
PEEREDCASANASTOKENS
ACACIAALAMEDAEDGIER
DORINEATWORSTESTES

I started writing this puzzle a long time ago and was convinced that 1) with 12 rebus squares, I couldn't fill it, and 2) couldn't keep it resembling a calendar while keeping the word count beneath 140 words. So I set it aside for a better part of a year before picking it up again. When I did, I found a layout where each month was relatively the same size, relatively rectangular, and not-too closed off from one-another, and forged ahead.

There ended up being three major challenges to filling this puzzle. First, the many straight edges. Constructors know that it is way easier to fill puzzle sections that have diagonal edges rather than straight edges. With straight-edges, it becomes difficult to avoid words that have terminal non-RSTLNE letters, so one ends up with a lot of fill that is, shall we say, STRUCTURAL. Second, there are very few three-letter entries in the grid, which are a constructor's best friend in otherwise hard-to-fill sections. Finally, I didn't want any of the rebused entries to share a common root with their corresponding month. This was particularly hard for July, which comes from Julius, as do just about every word and name you can think of that starts with JUL besides JULEP. BANJUL, then was my only other JUL-containing option, which as a world capital, is fully legit, but as a city of only 30,000 people, is pretty small potatoes. But so it goes!

I hope this Sunday puzzle — my first! — kicks off your new year on the right foot.

Mon 1/4/2016
HOPTAMALEROAR
ANISPINALEDGE
HUNPARTYFAVORS
ASKSTEESBERET
FIDOCURSES
PILLOWFIGHTS
SNOOTAFROEPOS
ICYHEROICSEWE
SADAMOLEOCTET
POUNDFOOLISH
REARMSUNIT
ARSONAUNTPFFT
POPPINFRESHOAR
IDEOBADGERUZI
DENSCRUSTSREP

This crossword comes almost one full year after my debut yet it was accepted just two weeks after. One clue from that puzzle ("Perfect night for a pillow fight") provided the seed for this one. I scribbled it down in my crossword ideas book and came up with a couple of dozen more P__F__ entries. By having a large selection to pick from, it made building and filling the grid easier — for the most part.

I realize that FARON might not be Monday fill but he was a big country music star in his day and is a nod to my dad who enjoyed country music. I can remember hearing Faron Young's songs on some "Decades of Country Music" collection that my dad had on 8-track. My music taste leans more to PINK FLOYD so I just had to include them to balance things out.

Here is what Joel had to say: "This sort of theme type can often be underwhelming, but your version of it works for a couple reasons. First, you have six theme examples, some of them interlocking, which is very impressive. Even better, though, you've chosen lively and fresh theme answers. The fill was very clean and easy, which was another reason we said yes."

Hope you agree with Will and Joel. Happy New Year!

Tue 1/5/2016
BLISSAGARSPA
AARONSCORETEL
TMOBILEHOMEIKE
HENPINEDDONOR
LEASTHICKET
TSQUAREROOTS
ROUSTEGOSCAM
OMITSABOTCODA
YETNILELASER
TBALLBEARING
MISNAMEITSY
EMITSGAMUTBIO
LOLTTOPBILLING
TUTAIRTOEIGER
STYRAYSGLAZE
Wed 1/6/2016
POSTCHADPJS
ENEROHIDECHOU
ZEROEDINONHOED
AUDIDRYREDS
TAGIMBUEPOBOY
ECLIPSELINEN
AEIOUGULAG
CROSSREFERENCES
ROTORONICE
TSKEDORNETTE
BRONXIDIOTYON
RILEAMOBOIL
OTOERADIOEDITS
COEDIGORDENSE
ANDDESKSEAT

What do you get when you cross the crossword-friendly OED with itself? You get a puzzle theme, that's what.

In choosing the theme entries I came up with two good long vertical themers which crossed CROSSREFERENCES serendipitously, so then I needed the two intersecting long horizontals. There was not a very large pool to choose from, ZEROEDIN worked nicely in the NW, but I originally had the so-not-in-the-language THEHOEDOWN in the SE which Will rightly rejected.

After coming up empty for a replacement, I decided to split the entry and look for two shorter words that would work when combined. After much trial and error I thought RADIO and EDITS might fit together, and lo and behold that was confirmed when I got back a gazillion google results for it. After acceptance, RADIOEDIT appeared in a 2014 NY Times puzzle. The themers in the NE and SW corners took a bit of finagling but they too fell into place, using a few cheaters to make it all come together.

I hope it was an enjoyable solve.

Thu 1/7/2016
TRUEDATPREDEM
WINSOMEOERUTA
IASSUMEPOOLBOY
NAHBANTUSOLID
ATTNOPTGILA
ROVESHUSHMONEY
OPEDDOCTORS
DENWITHOUTCHE
BORDERSBOOT
ANDREGIDEBRAND
LORIEGOSEAT
IVINSGNAWSTKO
BENGALIRITEAID
ILKGETASININE
SSSANYTHEOLDS
Fri 1/8/2016
DREAMGIRLSPOSH
DOGGIEDOORASTO
ANOINTINGSSCAM
YANNIDDSSTARE
COSMOSHORTO
PHONEYPSIWSW
LIEUABSORPTION
ALARMEECSOLVE
COTTONSWABODER
ETEVETHUSKER
RENNETCOSTA
ARGOSPANUSEME
TRIMLETTERTRAY
EONSBREAKDANCE
DREGJERSEYBOYS

As you might imagine, this puzzle started with the two entries that afford it the slightest hint of a theme — DREAM GIRLS and JERSEY BOYS.

Will Shortz kept my Indiana University-based clue for PSI. He returned the favor by keeping "Collins" in the next clue. In fact, one of my post-retirement projects (someday when I retire) is going to be researching to see if I'm related to Col. William O. Collins, for whom Fort Collins is named. William Collinses are rife in our family (we currently have a string of at least seven generations of them, the first one having served in the Civil War), and both William O. and my ancestors hail from southwest Ohio.

If I'm related to William O., then I'm also related to the man for whom Casper, Wyoming, is named. Caspar Collins was William O.'s son. The different spellings of Caspar and Casper arose from a long-ago typographical error.

This concludes today's history lesson.

Sat 1/9/2016
THESISSTATEMENT
ROSIETHERIVETER
UPPERPALATINATE
SPANISHOMELETTE
TINASIRSILT
SNOCHESSASEA
GLAREATNOMSG
NEXTOFKIN
EAPOEMAITAIS
NSAKGBBAABEA
SORBRADYELL
INTIMATEAPPAREL
LAIDITONTHELINE
ENTERINTODETAIL
STATEASSISTANCE

As a solver, I enjoy the occasional stacked puzzle. Normally, double stacks have short vertical entries crossing the beginning and end of the longer answers. So, a good strategy is to knock out a few of those shorter answers, then use the footholds to solve the grid-spanners. My idea in creating this puzzle was to make it more challenging by leaving the corners open and instead having the short crossing answers in the middle. So, solvers will need to work from the inside out.

1-Across is a fun answer for me: I have served on a large number of thesis committees and I always focus on helping students craft a crisp and accurate thesis statement for their defense. Actually, the whole puzzle is fun to see in print, because this was my first themeless submission. Plus, the grid reminds me of a big approximately equal sign, which is just happenstance but it's a neat effect.

POW Sun 1/10/2016POLITICAL PROMISES
BOARDSABASESHELSEW
UNCORKDRILLTEAMSADO
FORMEIFIAMELECTEDINK
FROABANWINTERRNAS
IMUSSCOOTIMIT
JUSTMOREOFTHEOLDONES
BONDETOSMUSTILT
OSSOAAMILNEBSSACEY
WHENOPPONENTSATTACKME
TUNEUPSDECALDDT
OATGLOWSEMBERSSN
PHIHULASONADATE
DONATETOMYCAMPAIGNNOW
ANEWDAYECLAIRSADOT
LYONSLOSIMPLEGS
EXPECTCUTSINMEDICARE
HEIRAPNEAADAB
JOYSARAMISCRIPSPA
ANTIVEGOTALOTTOLEARN
ICEHEATSENSORMERGED
LESSLRSSETHSSTRAYS

Puzzle and a film: After solving, try the 1972 movie "The Candidate," starring Robert Redford and Peter Boyle. It won an Oscar for best original screenplay and rates 95% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

Some Will/Joel clues: 86A (ADOT), 123A (STRAYS), 6D (SKIBUM), 12D (SECT), 49D (NNE), 63D (WHOYOU), 67D (SANDER), 97D (DART).

Mon 1/11/2016
GIFSEBBEDOPEL
OREOSAUNAKANE
BOULDERDAMOPTS
INDIESMACKERS
DADSETAREO
ASKROCKLOBSTER
WINGSPANSIR
ECOLERICAFAIR
WOOFORATIME
PEBBLEBEACHLOX
ELYERETHOR
LONESOMERAISE
OPALDUSTJACKET
SEMIESTERKENT
IDESDEANSSADE

This puzzle's "rocky" theme and its long answers occurred to me after seeing a highway sign warning of falling rocks. The goal here was to merely make an accessible, early-week puzzle. As far as fill, ROCK LOBSTER is a musical guilty pleasure; it still brings a smile when I hear it and I was glad to fit it in the grid.

Insider note: the inclusion of ERODED was not in my initial fill (I tried EVADES/EVADED at first). The obvious connection with the theme didn't occur to me until halfway through a later fill attempt. Although I didn't feel a "reveal" was necessary, it's a nice little bonus.

In general, it's tougher than it looks to make a puzzle with clean fill that also avoids semi-obscurity. I'm not as pleased with ELY, ESTER or SADE, but they were fair costs for smoother areas. (LESSOR could have been LESSER for example, but REE just didn't work for me as anything common).

POW Tue 1/12/2016
LONGBAREDEBAY
OBOEEMOTESLIRA
FARMANIMALSSTIR
AMTLEDAATETAD
TAEBOSNOWANGELS
OMITPARLOR
MUSCATPEROEDS
INTERIORDESIGNER
REELSESTOLDYA
ALSACERUNE
RADIORANGEIDSAY
AMYSYRISLAAAA
DOJOANKLEINJURY
ARODNOODLEATOM
REBSDIALSGENE

This puzzle was accepted on Sept 6th, 2014. As you can see from my original grid, Will removed the circles and re-did the upper left corner. Maybe he did not like ADOBO (26-A) on a Tuesday?

Wed 1/13/2016
SARISSKAGUCCI
CHINASHOPOSRIC
ROCKYHOARABATE
AMISAWSOWZIT
PENNAMESNOSY
CLERICALHEIR
TABOODUIHYDE
ICUTHREERSELI
EMMAOATOGDEN
REARVIEWMERE
SKISOUTCLASS
POMETASHETCU
ADOLFSHEERTEAR
TOKYOISUREWILL
SNEERATMRANDY

CLERICALHEIR was the seed of the theme. And then HORROR, ERROR, MIRROR, and TERROR came together as a nice quartet. There's something reassuring as a crossword constructor when only a handful of words fit a restrictive word pattern: here, *RROR. I rest easier when not leaving out other possibilities.

I considered a reversal of the puns, where HOAR FROST becomes HORROR FROST, MERE MORTALS becomes MIRROR MORTALS, etc. But ultimately couldn't nail down a strong, consistent theme set I liked.

I found a reduction of "THREE R's" more satisfying — instead of revealing the common word pattern in every theme answer. Chopping off the last syllables of *RROR words seems closer to how most people pronounce them anyways. HOAR, HEIR, MERE, and TEAR pack more of a familiar punch when read out loud.

Being from Texas, I can assure you: these are spot-on pronunciations when spoken with a drawl. "Hold on. Gotta adjust this here rear-view mere."

Hope this was a fun solve!

Thu 1/14/2016
LAPPABBESSRCA
AMESTELLTOAHI
TARTTRAYDIPPER
ERSWARNTAPES
PAPERRACKBITER
ANIMALOSERS
STRUTBEER
SHESHEAVINGLOAM
ATONAINTI
ORBACHMELTS
LEIGHSHOVESYOU
ADDERAVERORS
THEBEATLESANNE
MAYESCORTICER
STESHUNTSDEYS

The humble Spoonerism is such an endless source of wordplay — often unexpected, sometimes wildly funny — that it's no wonder that it has become the inspiration for so many crossword constructors. I presume that my puzzle developed as had many other such puzzles — a random thought "spoonerized" a phrase, and the phrase was intriguing enough to encourage a search for other related phrases. Once I saw that TRAY DIPPER had the same letter count as THE BEATLES, the challenge was irresistible.

I literally looked through a list of every song by the Beatles to find the three remaining Spoonerisms. The viable options, through sheer luck, provided a matching letter-length set, plus a 15-letter center, and I was fortunate that Vivien LEIGH's last name does indeed rhyme with "Lee", not "weigh".

For me, it is interesting that the seed entry here, TRAY DIPPER, is not (in my opinion) the most elegant (I vote for PAPER RACK BITER with its clue), the funniest (SHE'S HEAVING LOAM, I'd say), or most successfully wacky (to me, LEIGH SHOVES YOU) of the theme entries. However, the overall combined result pleased me a great deal, and I hope solvers enjoyed it too.

Fri 1/15/2016
PAWNSTEALTHIER
EPEEWALLAWALLA
RENOINMEMORIAM
UNCLOGSRATS
NEAPZIPCODE
SISTERSINLAW
ONLINEPOKERMEW
DEANNINJARONA
ASSLADIESFIRST
HOMESTEADACT
PRETERMVETO
ARALSEASONS
WINESELLERORCA
OZONELAYERFIEF
LENSCOVERSFADE
Sat 1/16/2016
PHOTOBOMBSTAID
ROBREINERLITRE
OOLONGTEAALTOS
MTAPOATLPLANK
PETECRUELGIS
TRESLIPSERVICE
GOOSNEERAT
ISSUESSPELLS
THINNEDECO
CINDERELLASLOT
AVGSCOOPTUBA
NESTSLAPFATTY
TROUPADINITIUM
BENDYRENERUSSO
EDGESERGOMETER

I knew that if I wanted to get a themeless published I'd have to make it sparkle, and the fill would have to be exceptionally clean. I think I basically succeeded here, and this is actually the first puzzle I've had published with no revisions or edits to the grid. I was hoping to debut PHOTOBOMB, but Barry Silk beat me to it while this one was in the queue.

Sun 1/17/2016TWISTING ONE'S WORDS
DEBIOHSNAPBCCMERE
ALASTATERSLARPANEL
WINTERSPORTELEMENTAL
NTHSATANSHEMDRIES
SEMISHUACOPSESFRO
SINBELTOLSENTEENA
GELMETROATVSDIN
GOTORUINAIDAHEATING
LOANINGBOOEDERRING
OZSETHELLCDSSSN
BEEBTHEMIKADOYALL
ADDSAPSMSNBCMOO
PETARDREFISHEALERS
BOTTLERYGORAAABONDS
BLYEDAMFRETSNON
CAMRYMUSICRIDSESC
ROMTATTLEOAKISAID
BLITZTOEDINNERTRU
NEONDEIONMALFEASANCE
SAGASONEOVULESTALL
ARYLNYSDISUSEEVES

Back before computers, the military had to employ mathematicians to calculate projectile trajectories by hand, adjusting for such obvious factors as gravity, wind, friction, etc. But one factor that initially eluded some of the best minds was how the Earth's spin affected a long-range trajectory. Must have been baffling for these uber-educated professors to miss by a mile, scrambling to figure out why the heck they had been so far off course. It's stories like this that make the CORIOLIS FORCE so fascinating to me.

Aw, who am I kidding? I just like flushing things down the toilet.

Mon 1/18/2016
PITACZARCANDO
ATOMHOBOADIEU
RENEGADESDANES
MINORITYREPORT
AGAANT
PYROTECHNICAKA
ROADSEASEMENT
OUZOSHAPEASEA
OVERSEERKNOLL
FEDPARTYPEOPLE
SAMEON
POETRYINMOTION
SAVORMAELSTROM
STENOPINECEDE
THREWSLIDHOST

I am thrilled about my debut puzzle being published in the NYT. After solving these puzzles for over 30 years, I pursued my dream of writing a crossword puzzle after retiring from teaching kindergarten.

After deciding that I wanted to literally put "poetry" in motion, I worked on this puzzle for a long time. It was submitted in January 2015. When it was accepted in May, I was ecstatic that my dream came true. Constructing this puzzle gave me an even deeper respect for all puzzle creators. I am grateful to Will Shortz for selecting my puzzle.

The length of the theme entries in this puzzle created an opportunity to have more longer across answers than is normally seen. I hope solvers enjoy this feature and the puzzle.

Tue 1/19/2016
GEARRACKBETCHA
UTNEICEEAVALON
LCDSCARPEDABOUT
PERCHEDATOPURI
STEAMSINRAGS
CANOEISTSPIECE
EMIRTENANT
FLOUNDEREDAROUND
DELVESGASX
RODEOSALTDOMES
MANUALOROMEO
ECOSKATEDALONG
GONEFISHINGAPAL
ONEPINANNEROTE
SKYINGDYESSPED

Don't throw out your calendars — it is indeed Tuesday. Given the basic nature of the theme, I was shooting for Monday, but I couldn't resist the siren song of opening up the grid with extra connectivity. Hope you enjoy the result.

Wed 1/20/2016
STEEPSPAARPAP
PEARLEANNEOUI
EXTRAVIRGINPTA
ETSYENTLAMMO
DEAFRIVERMOUTH
ORTONVERSUS
RADIATEAINT
DIAPERSERVICE
HINTTAKESIN
IODIZEPEACH
DRYMARTINISTLO
ACEDREADERAW
AMAOLIVERTWIST
JARRAKEITISSO
ASSAVERSANKAS

When life gives you lemons you make ... a cocktail. After rejecting 2 different drink-themed crosswords, this one was finally accepted.

Initially, the first puzzle featured MIXED DRINKS (WATER hidden in DESERT WARFARE, e.g.) but it did not pass the bar. The second one was similar to today's puzzle but Will and Joel felt there was inconsistency with the entry OLIVER TWIST. When I explained why it was different they agreed to take another sip. They suggested changing the order of the entries as well as having the revealer come before the garnish. We knocked back a few different recipes before arriving at this one (and even then they added a few flavorings of their own). I tried to strain out most of the gluey bits so I hope the few that are left don't ruin the taste of this crossword cocktail.

A toast to Will and Joel for their invaluable input. Cheers!

Thu 1/21/2016
SPLICEAMSATM
NOUGATCUPSLOA
AWNUTSTRIMOTOR
CEDEFIREOPALS
KRISHNAALOE
SMELLYTRACT
DOHSIDESHALLI
IPADLOTTOSOAK
VENIALBARSTMI
ENGELSETTLE
TTOPEARLESS
STRETCHERNAPA
AAARATEDANIMAL
NCRBERGSENECA
DOETEELOOSED

This puzzle was directly inspired by the Andrew Ries Fireball puzzle "Straight and Narrow." Even though the puzzle was very well-executed as conceived, the meta aspect left me and other solvers a bit cold. IMO, Amy Reynaldo sums up the puzzle perfectly in her concluding paragraph: "I got this meta quickly, but it was extremely tough overall: just five solvers got the correct answer, a number so low that, for what I believe is a first for Fireball, editor Peter Gordon gave out a hint and an extra 24 hours after the contest had closed." For reference, I've seen Peter Gordon record upwards of a few hundred correct responses depending on the difficulty of the meta; so, Fireball's solving base is by no means small.

This means that at least 95% of Fireball solvers--which include many of the top-ranked crossword solvers among their ranks--may not have understood or even located the theme! This fact dismayed me--and not just because I was one of the Fightin' ">95%." To me, it signaled lost potential, which, as a constructor, frustrated me to no end. Frustration led to curiosity, and curiosity led to SIDE/BARS.

The biggest constructing difficulty for this one definitely had to be fixing parallel theme entries in the outermost columns. Many "bars," when placed next each other, didn't produce nice crossings. For the most part, I targeted "bar" pairs that had alternated consonant/vowel patterns; and, for the few spots that didn't yield favorable bigrams (e.g. NC at the start of a word or TM at the end of a word), that was where black squares and a few key three-letter entries came in handy.

As for cluing, my first impression is that Will/Joel eased up on the difficulty to help solvers better glean the theme...? At any rate, though the final edit has a few deceptive clues, there are no explicit pun ("?") clues. As sad as I am to see [Iconic line of computers?] for TOOL[BAR] get removed, solve-ability and the thematic "aha" are more important.

Anyway, I hope this was a fun, crunchy, Thursday outing! Get it? Crunchy...NOUGAT...oh, never mind. =)

Fri 1/22/2016
ASTRIDGETSAT
SWEEPEACLARICE
CASTOFTHOUSANDS
OTSDERALTEKEL
THENNOISEISLA
SERASITONSICS
DANTESINFERNO
EVAREA
POTATOPEELERS
SENTTRADELATE
KNEEONTAPITAL
ITOFRACTALEND
BACKINTHESADDLE
INATREESTRIPER
BETSEYADAGES
POW Sat 1/23/2016
AHBLISSNET
EARACHESFORE
GUIDERAILGASES
ILSREAGANOMICS
SITZKINDASORTA
NOOKREISSUES
LENTENCASE
SEARGAMA
PALLETREMO
BELLEVUEROBB
SARDINECANSTEM
MRFANTASTICRAY
EKINGLOSEATURN
LEDANICEIDEA
TRYTENNERS
Sun 1/24/2016INITIAL TURN
PARAMUSCARTEALRICH
OLEMISSABAACLUESAI
SDIANDNANCYBOOMALLY
EENSYNODEALTBACOLA
DNASAVAGECENATTYS
INALLASTHOUGHAHI
SOWNNIECPUOFNOODLES
CPAGUNSCHIPPERLUTES
ATLNATALIESEEPSOTO
MELFISUESSHAH
PDAOFPAPERRBITICKLER
RYANHEFTHUEVO
ANETHELMALFONSOTIC
MONEYMYOPIASGTOMILK
BTUSERIOUSLYSARETSY
IANLEANNESSTIERI
SCALPSTUBYOWONDER
TMICOOKEDITORAHORA
MAAMSLOTBYUONCREDIT
ANTETERNANNCLARICE
NYESSEGAREDRETREAD
Mon 1/25/2016
LEFTALSOABCS
IRISNOKIATOOL
MASKEDBALLTONE
ASHARESTAINED
STRESSALLEYS
MATESKARMA
AVIDTHENBAFOE
MICCHEWTOYUVA
ASKHERESYONES
DINERNANNY
SHRINESAFETY
LEONARDNEWBOB
EAVEVELVETROPE
EVEREMAILONUS
PESOOWLSWEST

Interlocking 9s and 10s with a 7-letter revealer today.

While a mid-grid revealer tips my hand, the placement far outweighs the structural challenges that arise by jamming a 7-letter entry into the final across spot. This isn't true for a Thursday-level puzzle that can accommodate stacked 7s in rows 1-3 and 13-15 (and more experienced solvers who expect a payoff at the end), but is perfectly appropriate for a Monday puzzle.

I added two cheater squares at 15- and 33-Down to shorten the longer, non-thematic entries and avoid any confusion with the vertical theme answers. Extra squares are always better than unnecessary confusion, I think.

Small ding: THE NERVE crossing THE NBA — both for the THE dupe and iffy THE [sports league, sports team]-type entry. But this wouldn't bother me as a solver, so I felt fine rolling with it.

Still, I was very pleased how this one turned out. Josie, my 6-month-old Lab puppy, agrees.

POW Tue 1/26/2016
YUKSITONSILKS
ABITPACECHAIN
NELLORCAHENNA
GROUNDOUTSACDC
CONTROLFREAK
LADIDAYAY
AURANEWTDAVID
MTATOTASTEELK
BOWIEANKANEIN
MAOBLURAY
MAJORPROBLEM
IDEDTOMFOOLERY
NOLIECALIOBOE
DPLUSCHADCAMO
STOMPOATSKNEW

First of all, a big shout-out to my father and stepmother, who are huge David Bowie fans, and thus indirectly inspired this puzzle by turning me on to such excellent music at an early age. When Bowie passed away on 1/10/16, all I could do to honor his legacy was play my favorite hits nonstop. His early "Ashes to Ashes." His late "Lazarus." And, of course, his timeless "Space Oddity."

Well, naturally, I had noticed during this time that DAVID/BOWIE could be a symmetric pair in a crossword, and I whipped up a quick mini** around the entries. But the idea of making a larger tribute puzzle began to eat at me … so I experienced quite the "aha" moment upon hearing the opening lyrics of the last song mentioned above. Construction fell simply, as I had flexibility with pretty much all of the answers, although I really wanted TOMFOOLERY since it didn't employ the name "Tom" in the same sense as the song. As far as the fill goes, I didn't design my grid for many longer non-theme answers, so I tried to make the most out of the 6s, 7s, and 8s available: NUM LOCK, BLU-RAY, ST. LUCIA, IPOD NANO, etc.

To me, this puzzle alone was dear enough to my heart, and I was *this* close to cluing it up indie-style and posting it on my site. However, just for the heck of it, I shot Joel Fagliano—who I was already in contact with regarding mini** puzzles—a quick email that displayed the unclued grid, asking if he and Will wouldn't by chance have any interest in running the timely puzzle. To my surprise, I received a "Yes!" response from both individually, and excitedly reversed course. You know the rest!

Who knew that my 10th puzzle in the Times, a personal goal in itself, could be such an adventure? So. Incredibly. Grateful. :)

**Shameless plug: Joel has recently brought me on board with writing some of the 5x5 and 9x9 puzzle packs for the New York Times crossword app! If you're a relatively new solver, or are looking for some quick, fun puzzles, check ‘em out; they're meant to be super smooth and timely, and can be enjoyed by many different audiences. Happy solving!

Wed 1/27/2016
SMITEFEDITEMS
MANIATREAWARD
OTTERLIEMITES
OCHSSEEPAST
THETIMESRATIO
MOMAIMMENSE
APOASHESRDAS
LAMTHEYAREIGO
IDESREOILGES
TUNASUBCIAO
ATNOSACHANGIN
CIAGATETILT
EMITSONETHREE
LARUEADAMELDS
ITSMETEMIMSET

The inspiration for this puzzle was Bob Dylan's classic song of 1964, "The Times They Are A-Changin'," and the realization that the title could be split into three seven-letter sections. I knew that there were four common anagrams for TIMES (SMITE, EMITS, MITES and ITEMS), but I set out to find all the possible permutations and discovered the additional pair of two-word phrases, IT'S ME and I'M SET.

So, despite no long themed entries, the puzzle has a total of nine theme-related answers. This makes getting interesting non-thematic words in the grid a larger-than-usual challenge. I was very pleased to have been able to include IN THE MOMENT and INDIGO GIRLS (who appeared as NY Times crossword fans in the wonderful documentary "Wordplay") as the two long down words as well as the secondary entries of SEE PAST, TUNA SUB, CIA GATE, I AM SAM, SO I SEE, and A AND E.

There are a few crosswordese bits in the fill, but on balance, I feel the theme density and the many interesting side entries more than compensate for them.

Thu 1/28/2016
SNAPTOCOOPAMP
TELLONHNCELOX
ROLEOSRETRACTS
ICHATEDSEETH
PORTTRAITAMBI
SNEERITETRIAL
DUPLEHOISTS
RHABALLOONTHA
ONCALLINNES
ANICEREPSHAMS
RADOPEROTICON
HLIUMTUNAHRO
DEADSPOTNOTFAR
OKDTITHINSOLE
WESOLEOSOURED

This theme came to mind after spending a few hours inflating Mylar Halloween pumpkin balloons with canisters of helium. Since helium is a light gas, I envisioned a perfectly-round crossword balloon in an open, airy grid. I would need plenty of white space to hide the eight rebus squares.

Short rebus fillers (like HE) are tricky to work with because you need to restrict these common letter combinations to specific rebus squares — the combo shouldn't appear elsewhere in the puzzle. An "accidental" HE in the fill would go over like a lead balloon with solvers — I didn't want that! After more than a few versions, I was satisfied with the fill … which continued in an odd chemical direction (ACIDHEADS, ALCHEMIST, ON POT). I'm not channeling Timothy Leary. Please tune in to the puzzle, but don't drop out!

All in all, I think the grid vocab is accessible to first-time rebus solvers who are ready to scale the Thursday wall, as well as veterans of the craft. Happy solving to all — up, up and away!

Fri 1/29/2016
IMUPBLIGECAST
NANOOUTERACHY
SUNTANNINGKCAL
ONEPLEASEPEEVE
LARIATDRPEPPER
ELVESBEARCATS
NOESMACLEAN
TADDENIZENPTA
CELADONBARR
LEAVENEDROREM
WELLREADSERVER
UNITYBLONDEALE
RATETOYPOODLES
SPECBASEROUST
TESHSTONEMESS

If you couldn't already tell, I'm kind of a comic book nerd. (More specifically, I'm a graphic novel fan; I prefer the freedom of reading a complete story told in one volume better than having to read the same story via monthly comics. My impatience knows no bounds!) So, unsurprisingly, I started this puzzle with GENERAL ZOD--somewhat fresh from his appearance in 2013's "Man of Steel," and soon to make a cameo in the upcoming flick "Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice" (...but you didn't hear that from me).

My initial interest in ZOD was simply for the geek factor, but, from a cruciverbal standpoint, I also valued the entry for its (mostly) alternating vowel/consonant pattern, common letters, and the single Z. True to character, ZOD seemed to fit well among the wide-open spaces.

Trying to improve upon my past themelesses and those from my predecessors, I aimed for: (1) few three-letter entries, (2) long entries all around, and (3) a central spanner in addition to that sprawling center section. I'm also a sucker for connectivity, which might explain my puzzles' relative ease.

At any rate, I like how this puzzle turned out and hope solvers cotton to it as well. =)

P.S. Did anyone else notice the eerie number of dichotomies in this puzzle? GENERAL ZOD crossing SUN TANNING (Kryptonians love themselves a yellow sun), BEARCATS and TOY POODLES, KCAL and CALTECH (with two different meanings for CAL), and CALTECH bordering DEVRY, among others. All connections are purely coincidental, but you're free to think otherwise. =)

Sat 1/30/2016
MAMABEARDOUBLE
ALACARTEAUKLET
WORNDOWNWREATH
SPEEDDATINGCHA
EERBRACKEN
OBAMASPIANOS
BABELVISIGOTHS
INSTWIPEDPOOL
SATIRIZESTENOR
AMIDSTSHREDS
SPIEGELONE
IONVEALMARSALA
CREPEYONPATROL
ETRADESIPPYCUP
MOSSADSAYYESTO

SAM: In December of 2014 I sent a partially completed grid to Brad, asking if he wanted to collaborate. That's code for "I like what I've done so far, but I can't seem to make anything else work. HELP!" The grid I sent him had the northwest and southeast corners done. Not surprisingly, what he sent back was terrific. He balances my low-brow MAMA BEAR, SPEED DATING, and SIPPY CUP with the RIG VEDA, the VISIGOTHS, and (what now may be my new favorite word) CREPEY. The result, I hope, is a balanced puzzle that puts up a tough fight.

I always like to track how many original clues survive the editing stage. In this puzzle, 27 of our clues (about 40%) made the cut, while another 10 (almost 15%) were edited slightly, probably for length. Will and company came up with 31 clues from scratch (that's 45% of the total). My favorite new clues are [Following the beat?] for ON PATROL and [What isn't working?] for ME TIME. Of course, I mourn the loss of some clues resting atop the cutting room floor. Maybe we'll have another occasion to use [Turns to stripping?] for SHREDS and [It can be used to drop acid] for PIPET.

BRAD: People would not think me so highbrow if they could see me Facebook messaging with Sam during "Orphan Black," I don't think. Anyway, it's our second puzzle together, and as before, I really liked working with him on it. Sam's chosen grid designs are challenging (usually 68s like this one) without being too constricting, so we steer clear of most haggling over fill and worry that the fill is not clean enough. His corners with the nice 11s were impeccable (I was imagining drinking VEAL MARSALA sauce from a SIPPY CUP and a BAD DEAL or two that might result from SPEED DATING), so I pushed myself to come up with what I hope are relatively fresh SW and NE corners. Sam really goes for it with humor in the clues, so he gave me a lot of "wish I'd thought of that" moments as we put the manuscript together. That plus his nice clue echo at 47D and 49D.

I have to say, when VIZSLA went into the center of the grid, I had a flashback to about ten years ago when my friend Frank Longo put XOLOITZCUINTLI into a themeless grid for the New York Sun. This was well before John O'Hurley had occasion to talk about the XOLO on nationally televised dog shows, so I leaned on the Down crossings for that answer. But I thought it was time to fete our furry friend from Hungary.

Sun 1/31/2016MESSAGE TO BUYERS
FACETHATSSUBICSEAT
LEOVIAMATPRADAAXLE
ASSEMBLYREQUIREDLALA
NOTREALSMUTRADEMUS
KPSONEAINTELINSIDE
CUDSTATICEARNER
CABOTBSEDKEYSMEETS
AMOSREINASLAPPPRO
CONTAINSSMALLPARTS
HUMANSTEAMOSTOWSAD
EROSIONSNOWSSTILLER
DSTTTOPCAPERELAINE
BATTERYNOTINCLUDED
SPAOCTASITOUTDIAG
MARNEHENSNETSDENSE
ABODESGOATEERED
NOMONEYDOWNRHEAGEM
STOLTERSTARELDERLY
MATESTOREINADRYPLACE
AGERATSEATINOASTIR
NEROTOSIRELANNEEDS

From come-ons plastered on billboards to disclaimers and warnings in tiny print or read at lighting speed at the end of radio ads, we're inundated with ad and packaging copy. So why should the Sunday crossword be an exception?

I hope solvers enjoy the alternate definitions for some familiar phrases in this, my 6th NY Times puzzle.

One clue/theme entry I would have liked to fit: [Disclaimer on a poker school price list?] DEALER PREP EXTRA.

And one clue that didn't get in with the entry that did: [Audition notice encouraging forgetful actors?] CONTAINS SMALL PARTS.

My NYT puzzles have all been Sundays, and I've been asked ‘why only Sundays?'. Well, before embarking on the actual construction, I spend a lot of time gathering theme entries and possible clues, and I want to have 20 or more candidates from which to choose 6 to 9 entries that pair up and allow for a nice-looking grid, clean fill, and clever/funny clue-answer combinations. Having phrases up to 21 letters as opposed to 15 for a non-Sunday puzzle gives me many more phrases from which to choose.

Thanks to Will and Joel Fagliano for their editing and patience through two revisions.