The spark for this was hearing "Burning Love" on the radio. In a flash, I jotted down a few more theme candidates. I hope the relatively adventurous vocabulary for a Monday kindles some interest for solvers. My thanks to Will, Sam, and the NYT puzzle team for fanning this particular flame.
I was visiting a local college campus a year ago, and I saw a sign in a dorm for a student mixer at a Mexican restaurant — the teaser was "Let's taco 'bout it." I just needed to come up with three more like that with matching lengths. I had to modify "You wanna pizza me?" a little to make it work.
I find that as time goes on, I gravitate more toward puzzles that I find humorous — even if they don't get published they are just more fun to make!
If you like punny puzzles about food, consider buying Erik Agard's "Food for Thought Crosswords" available at Amazon.com. I did, and I found it very entertaining.
Hello solvers! This is my second published puzzle, and I'm pretty excited about it. I had the idea late last year in the context of "pointers" in computer programming: a chunk of memory that doesn't store relevant data itself but instead, points to another location in memory where the data can be found. Seemed an interesting concept to use as a trick in a crossword, so I got to work.
While thinking of words with "digit sounds" in them to cross the location answers, 4WARD popped into my head, which led me to 4WARDING ADDRESS — a perfect metaphor, and it was 15 characters long. Eureka! The 4 and S both fitting into the xxACROSS answers was a nice bonus, and really tied the theme together.
What made this a bear to construct was that only some digits work as sounds in other words, and adding or removing even a single black square could totally change the entries' numbering. Furthermore, the "forwarded" answers had to be reasonably interesting on their own (thanks to Jeff Chen, who took a look at an early version, for pointing out the importance of that last bit). Put that all together, and you have a lot of constraints to deal with.
It took a ton of work to get it into shape, but eventually, it was ready to submit. Will liked the concept, and after a bit more work it was approved. There was one significant editorial change worth mentioning: originally I had actual clues for the "forwarded" answers, marked with an asterisk, e.g. "Granted access*" at 38-Down instead of "Allowed in". The destination locations were clued with just an arrow, and the revealer clue was "Something to leave at the post office... or what the answers to the four starred clues each have". Will felt it would be a little too difficult to make that large a mental leap in solving, so it was changed to what you see now. I'm happy with the result, and proud of the puzzle. Hope you enjoyed it!
9-Down and the first half of 10-Down... sheer happenstance. Unforeseen. They just fell into place. Good — it's done, no need to squeeze WHITENED into a future puzzle.
I started with SMACKDOWN, cluing it as a verbal broadside that might elicit an "oh, snap." But the wrestling reference seems more mainstream. Glad to see Will (and Joel and Sam) cluing TOTES as it's now sometimes used. Like WHATEVS in a puzzle from last week. Is OBVS very far behind? I do check with some of my kids now and again for fresh words and phrases they view as legit. Oh, and 28-Across is a debut for me, either singular or plural, finally breaking my commitment-to-self never to use it.
I do attempt to mix spoken phrases and sentences (AM I TO BLAME, et al.) into the grid, minimize abbreviations (3 here, I think), and allow one partial max per grid (WALLA). I've been to both my place names: WALLA Walla twice — beautiful town, orchard country, with a colorful display of murals; OPORTO also (for ten days or so), where you can cruise through samples of vintage Quinta Do Noval, about the finest thing ever to emerge from a grape.
Fun note: SECRET WORD was originally MADE-UP WORD, which I loved (like nearly anything from "Jabberwocky"), but it was nixed in a previous draft as a, you guessed it, "made-up word." Minds may change about that down the road.
This grid layout has become something of a go-to for me, with a similar one published about two years ago and another being written as we speak. It offers good opportunities for a variety of stacks, is reasonably wide-open, and can accommodate edits without sacrificing the entire puzzle. This one appears to hold up even years after its original creation, so it'll likely continue to be a staple on down the line.
I thought I'd struck gold with my original clue for 11-Down ["Family Matters" central character], but the whole "character" bit of wordplay for CAPITAL_ entries is old-hat at this point, so the revised clue referencing the Gmail logo is a nice alternative. Lots of other improvements in the clue department as well, with my favorite probably being 54-Across.
Hope everyone enjoys!
This puzzle has an unusual construction story: I didn't come up with any of the theme entries! At least not directly. All I had was an idea, which came from . . . wait for it . . . a Facebook chat! It all started when my bro Trenton Charlson messaged me an awesome hand-constructed vowelless he'd been working on. He ultimately got stuck on a couple corners, but fortunately, I was able to help: I put on my CS major hat and taught him what I know about regular expressions. After that, he was off and rolling :).
This whole interchange got me thinking. What if I made a puzzle whose theme entries had the same consonants but different vowels? I couldn't think of any long examples, but I figured there must be a way to write a program to find some (if they existed). A few hours later, I had a working program, and there were a lot of possibilities. In fact, there were so many that I decided to constrain the theme to entries where a) the vowels are in the same positions and b) all the vowels are different. The next challenge was figuring out how to present the puzzle. Should it be a crossword or some sort of variety puzzle? Definitely a crossword. Daily or Sunday? Go big or go home, dude! Separate or merged theme entries? Merged seemed more interesting. Schrodinger squares or rebuses? Rebuses, since I'd probably need slashed clues anyway.
Moral of the story: The hours I spend on social media are OBVIOUSLY worthwhile! Hope you enjoy the puzzle.
Yep, that's my byline above a Monday puzzle. *Rubs eyes* Is this real life?
The theme I came up with was friendly enough for beginner solvers?
There's nothing too crazy in the fill?
The clues are ... easy?!
I started where most constructors don't, and shouldn't: telling myself that I really needed to make a Monday puzzle with no ideas for it whatsoever. I decided to poke around XWord Info for past themes I enjoyed, and came across this Lynn Lempel gem, which contained eight phrases that all rhymed despite having different spellings. I thought the idea was so clever and wondered if I could vary it somehow but still introduce a novel concept.
I figured the long "A" sound was worth pursuing and noticed that MILO O'SHEA and ANCHORS AWEIGH stacked nicely together in a grid. From there, I refined the long "A" answers to have the "short-short-short long" cadence of the two above: CHINESE BUFFET, SO NOT OKAY, etc. But I still wasn't satisfied yet.
That's when CAFE AU LAIT emerged from the cobwebs to make a grand entrance: AU LAIT double-rhymed with both OKAY and O'SHEA, their associated phrases followed the same rhythm, and they were all spelled differently. What an "aha" moment that was! With OBEY and OJ proving viable as well, I realized that this was the grid I had to make.
As far as fill goes, I obsessively focused on keeping proper nouns to a minimum, unless they were truly zippy and worth knowing (TY COBB, ST. CLAIR). After watching my friends develop from novices into regular solvers, I now know that normally fine answers such as LETO and TULL may be tough early in the week.
Hope you enjoyed! Have you signed up for the ACPT yet?
Puzzle ideas can pop up in the strangest places. This idea for one puzzle was generated a little less than a year ago while doing the January 25, 2017 Los Angeles Times puzzle by my friend and sometimes co-constructor Bruce Haight. The first two themed answers I got in Bruce's puzzle were LIVE A LITTLE and MEET IN THE MIDDLE. For some reason the VEAL inside LIVE A LITTLE jumped out at me, so I thought to myself, "I see where you're going, Bruce!". I figured there would be various meats (like VEAL) hidden inside longer phrases, with MEET IN THE MIDDLE as the revealer.
As it turned out, Bruce's theme was entirely different. It consisted of five phrases that ended in the five fingers on one's hand: LITTLE, INDEX, MIDDLE, RING, and THUMB. So I took what I thought was Bruce's concept and turned it into this puzzle.
My original submission didn't have circles or shaded squares, but I guess on a Tuesday they're probably necessary.
MICKEY: I am delighted when my puzzle appears in the New York Times so I always try to maintain three puzzles in the queue to feed that addiction.
Puns and quips are my favorite crossword puzzle themes. We should all know by now that it is difficult to shoot a quip puzzle idea past Will Shortz. I keep trying. Many of my recent puzzles including this collaboration with Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly are themed puns. Some of these puns made me laugh out loud. See 18 across.
It was a pleasure to work with Senator Joe Donnelly. I am not making a political statement here, but I was not surprised to learn that Senator Donnelly was recognized as the 2nd most bipartisan Senator since 1993 by the Lugar Center, McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University. He is easy to work with. I had originally intended to hide his name in the puzzle (don, nelly) but those letters didn't mesh well with the theme clues.
We chose a basketball theme for Indiana, a basketball crazy state that produced Oscar Robinson, Larry Bird and George McGinnis. McGinnis was recently enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (2017). You do not need a deep understanding of the game of basketball to enjoy this puzzle. I hope you like our effort.
I had the idea to do a play on line breaks a while ago, but the extent of that was pretty much "line break puzzle?" in my Notes app. Then one day I was sifting through said Notes app (which is just a bunch of half-baked theme ideas and things I want to add to my word list) and thought some more about it, eventually arriving at the idea of repurposing the hyphen from the line break as part of the crossing downs. Then I thought, hey, all the broken lines should be things you say when you're interrupted! Then I thought, hey, the remnants of the broken lines should still form valid entries! Then I thought, hey, no way in hell that'll work. But sometimes you just get lucky (though the brainstorm on this one was long).
I've really gotta stop making puzzles with crossing theme entries because they force a lot of constraints on the grid. In addition, this puzzle has six theme entries of length 3-5, which probably don't seem like they'd be tough to incorporate, but they do force specific black squares, as well as demanding longer entries in the fill. It took a while to put together, but I am happy with the end product (absent ABLUSH). Otherwise, I'm just happy to have gotten wordplay dependent on both fixed income products and the term "body shot" into the same crossword; I'm easy to please like that.
Always wanted to do a quad stack. Probably won't go for the quint. Love and appreciation to the stack god Martin Ashwood-Smith, one of my favorite constructors to solve.
My first themeless in the New York Times! O happy day! After having numerous ones rejected you'd think I would now have a better idea of what Will Shortz and company are looking for, but sadly I don't. Looking over the grid, it looks like a normal themeless of mine, but something must have caught their eye. I do remember in Joel's acceptance letter he said there were a lot of assets in the puzzle with little dreck. One interesting thing is that it doesn't appear that this grid pattern has ever been used in the New York Times before. Maybe its different look helped get it accepted? Enjoy!
$%#* %&*@ #^$*! Er, I mean "four-letter words." But seriously, how many times do you get to start a piece of writing with cuss words? My favorite of the theme entries I discovered was SENSELESSNESS, but as you can imagine, there aren't exactly a ton of 14-letter words that use just four letters. So that one ended up on the chopping block.
Next came the challenge of building the grid. I'd normally stop at four theme entries plus the 15-letter reveal, but I decided to go big and use six. I must say I'm pleased with how the fill turned out. Not a lot of room for bonus material, but with OTTO I and OMOO as the only fill on my "this entry is %$^*" list, I'd say the extra theme entries were worth the price. I also tried to capitalize on the little flexibility I had by sticking in some fresh short entries (K-TOWN, ZUMBA, BAD PR, SLEAZE, etc.). Hope you enjoy!
The inspiration for this puzzle was bird poop, (I was going to end my blurb there, but I'll go on), which morphed into the more refined bird droppings, which became the original revealer for this puzzle, in which 4 five letter bird names are embedded in long down entries. I mailed in the completed BIRD DROPPINGS grid, and then at the 2017 ACPT I broached the subject with both Will and Joel. There seemed to be a positive vibe from both (well maybe more from Joel than Will), but alas when the email arrived it was along the lines of: We like the idea, but having a puzzle revolve around bird droppings might not sit well with some solvers.
So, I came up with a few alternatives including a fifth themer: CAJUN COOKING while trying to fit BIRD(S) somewhere in the grid, without success. Eventually, I suggested DOWNFEATHERS as the revealer, which was the one accepted. A quick reworking of the grid and voila, today's puzzle. Thanks to Will and crew for really polishing it up, as usual.
When I got word last week of the impending publish date, I took a look at the puzzle again, and for some reason, the phrase FLYING SOUTH popped into my head which I liked, but alas it was much too late, for at 11 letters it would have required a complete reworking of the grid.
Well, that's the inside POOP on this one, I am disappointed that BIRD DROPPINGS didn't make the cut, but one can never POOH-POOH the fact of having their puzzle published in the N.Y. Times. Hope you liked it.
RYAN: Alan and I met in college where we sang in several groups together, notably in our a cappella group the Princeton Nassoons. He was actually the person who first got me interested in crossword puzzles! After graduating we decided it would be fun to collaborate and create a puzzle together.
Alan came up with the theme idea for this one, and we worked together to manually fill the grid and create clues. Based on the theme, we had clued this around Tuesday/Wednesday difficulty, though the NYT team accepted it for a Thursday and many of the clues were adjusted to be more challenging.
Looking back it would have been nice to get a couple juicier longer down answers in the NE and SW, and perhaps some better short fill, although I liked how they used some atypical clues for a few (ONO, ERE, ANO). Nevertheless, the puzzle was fun to make together, and I hope you enjoy it!
ALAN: Very excited to be my making my NYT Crossword debut today! A bit about me: I'm a 25-year-old energy market consultant/singer-songwriter/marathoner living in New York City. I found my way into the crossword community through a lifelong love of word games and puzzles (I grew up playing Scrabble and Boggle with my mom and solving Sudoku and Ken Ken before bed) but didn't really get into crosswords until college, where I met my collaborator, Ryan McCarty. Ryan and I were members of the Princeton University Glee Club and the Princeton Nassoons, the university's oldest a cappella group, before beginning our crossword collaboration.
For today's puzzle, I started writing down crossword theme ideas in the "Notes" app on my phone during my commutes to work in 2015. Many of the early concepts I came up with revolved around phrases that lent themselves to literal interpretations involving a letter addition or removal ("DROP THE F" BOMB luckily never came to fruition…).
But then NO WAY came to me and I realized dropping an entire word might result in some fresher "wacky" phrases. RUN A TRAIN was the first potential theme answer that I thought of, and with Ryan's expert grid construction skills and some more theme answer brainstorming, I knew we were on the right track, so to speak.
Side note: as a runner, I was excited to use "Marathon leader?" as the clue for ULTRA, but I wasn't sure if the Ultramarathon reference was too obscure for the general public. After a quick Google search eased my initial worries, I noticed the following blurb in the Wikipedia article for Ultramarathon:
Since 1997, runners have been competing in the Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race, which is billed as the longest official footrace in the world. They run 100 laps a day for up to 50 days around a single block in Queens, NY, for a total distance of 3,100 miles (5,000 km)
This absurd race has been the topic of many conversations since finding out about it during my crossword research. Just thinking about the fact that Suprabha Beckjord ran the race 14 times (i.e., she spent over two years of her life running around a high school in Queens) makes my legs hurt...
When I first wrote this puzzle, I had BRIGHTMAN (as in Sarah) crossing BEETHOVEN; the idea was to pair a classical composer with a "cross-over" artist. Will, tho, liked EARPHONES, which could also be paired with Beethoven better, so I reworked some of the original grid. I think gimmicks like this in a Friday or Saturday are fun and add something to an otherwise-themeless puzzle.
I don't remember exactly when I came up with this grid, but the seed for it may have been planted all the way back in summer 2011, when Todd Gross showed me the grid of his puzzle that went on to be published on February 23, 2013. At some point in the year or two after that, I came up with the MAJORITY RULES / HOME THEATER / TEXAS-SIZE combination, and went with SISTER SOULJAH after many attempts with ZIP-A-DEE-DOO-DAH failed. I then continued going clockwise through the grid, getting particularly lucky with PACHINKO, and am very thankful for the feedback I received from my fellow constructors on both the fill and clues.
Had I come up with this grid today, I probably would not have pursued it, because it can be cut in two by turning the A of MAJORITY RULES and the corresponding E into blocks (this also violates one of the Chronicle of Higher Education's style guidelines). But it is always a pleasure to see the effects of Will's editing acumen, and this puzzle is no exception, some of my favorite new clues being those for 10A, 47A, 8D, 11D, 13D, and 46D.
I hope you enjoy solving this as much as I enjoyed making this!
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.
Hi to everyone. It's great to have a crossword in the Times again. I built this puzzle back in the fall of 2016. The published version looks very similar to what I originally submitted, but with some clues simplified for a Tuesday-level solve. (Clue that survived: "Rear admiral's rear" for STERN. Clue that did not survive: "TX separatists, loosely speaking?" for UVW.)
I remember reworking the bottom of this grid just barely pre-submission, once it occurred to me that I could not only have the SPREAD revealer but could reuse its "E" to unfold a BEDSPREAD in the bottom row. Somehow, that "aha" moment made the puzzle an extra-fun one for me to have constructed.
Hopefully, the slowly appearing circled answers will result in spreading some fun "aha" moments among the solvers, somewhere around mid-solve.
I'm excited to submit constructor notes for my "At Issue" puzzle because that means...I'm published in The NY Times! The seed entry for this puzzle was CAVE(AT). After searching for other words that changed significantly in both meaning and pronunciation when AT was appended, I was surprised to find just five others (SAD and WOMB were the other two). So I thought I had a fairly tight theme and continued.
My initial submission had BUMPER CARAT in the grid, but cluing it was problematic. I was asked to replace it and liven up the grid. Only about half my submitted clues survived the editing process. Will and team definitely polished a lot of clues. I thought my clue for MAMMOTH CAVEAT (Proviso about extinct elephants?) was pretty good, but theirs is much funnier.
I enjoyed creating this puzzle and I hope you had fun solving it.
Now for some long overdue props. More than 3 years ago my husband and I started constructing by hand. After several crash and burns, we reached out for help. Our mentor, whose family was expanding at the time, graciously found time to assist us. Not only did he offer advice and guidance, his optimism and creativity inspired us. We really enjoy constructing, and we have had over 20 puzzles accepted by 6 editors in the last 2 years. So Jeff, many thanks to the hardest working and nicest guy in the XWord world!
Unsurprisingly, there aren't too many words or phrases that (1) contain the name of an island; and (2) spell something else after removing those letters. Luckily there were enough to make a workable theme set.
Along the way, I also considered using words that can precede ISLAND such as LONG (e.g., BELONGING, ALONGSIDE, or PROLONGS) and/or islands that aren't commonly known as single words (such as the Isle of MAN). In the end, I decided to limit myself to single-word islands, which I find the most satisfying.
One somewhat unusual feature of this puzzle is that the islands are hidden within single words rather than spanning the ending/beginning of multiple words, which is the more common (and elegant) approach to hidden word themes. Hopefully the added bonus of creating new words with the remaining letters makes up for this shortcoming.
As more of my puzzles run in the NYT, it's been interesting to see the fluidity of Will's publication queue. For example, my first seven accepted Thursday puzzles have been published in a different order than the one they were accepted in. So far the progression has been 1, 4, 3, 5, 7 with the second and sixth puzzles still unpublished (today's grid was my seventh accepted Thursday). I'm only considering Thursday puzzles here because each day of the week has a different queue whose length varies depending on inventory levels.
From what I've read elsewhere Will likes to space out certain kinds of puzzles (e.g., rebuses) while also accelerating debuts and grids that particularly catch his fancy. I suspect puzzles are also more likely to get bumped around in the queue when a constructor has multiple pending grids of the same difficulty level versus a situation where a constructor only has one.
Confession: Sometimes when I'm writing the clues for a completed puzzle I will overreach the boundaries of what is a sound and workable clue. This is more common for me while trying to be "cute and clever" in fashioning end-of-the-week clues. Fortunately for the solving audience, Will Shortz and his crew are experts at discerning solid clues and reining in this "creative" tendency of mine when it runs amok.
I always do a post-mortem comparison of the final clues against what I originally sent in as a means of honing my clue-writing skills. The results of this usually fall into various categories:
Here's hoping you found the polished puzzle entertaining.
PRIS: This is my second puzzle in the NYT — both collaborations with Jeff. My first one was a bucket list goal which took almost ten years to achieve. I honestly thought I was done after that, but I found I missed the daily mental wrangling with themes and words, so I started sending Jeff themer ideas. There were some very polite "I'm not sures ..." but sometimes I got a "very funny — are there others like this?" In spite of our best efforts, there often weren't more "like this" but the search resulted in new possibilities.
I have found that what appeals to me as a constructor is humor. I want to laugh when I'm making a puzzle and hope solvers do also. It's what keeps me engaged. I so enjoy working with Jeff and learning from him, and the pleasure that comes from sharing creative energy is a wonderful added benefit.
This was an idea that came together fairly quickly once it occurred to me. But it did undergo one major transformation. The obvious first thought was to have small, medium, and large in phrases going down, with the downsizing revealer as the final, fourth entry. But then MUMBO JUMBO came to mind and was too perfect to disregard. That left the revealer for the spot where you find it now.
The grid constraint was that I wanted the size words to go sequentially down the grid as well as just being down entries. Which meant finding answers and placing them such that each keyword was lower than the previous one.
The turnaround on this puzzle was astoundingly fast. I sent it in at the tail end of October and got an acceptance email on January 10. And here it is still January. Maybe a record.
In looking this over, I can see I made some compromises. LASSI, ESSES, and ET ALII, as well as good old IDI, would not be my pick of fill. But that was the best I could do without changing the basic grid design.
Will did make one teeny grid change. At 7-Across, I had BMI rather than TGI. Most clues were unchanged. As I looked them over, I did pause at the one he substituted for PARK, thinking, What the heck is PRNDL? I had to laugh at that one.
The idea for this puzzle stemmed from the first one I ever constructed which had "break a leg" as the revealer with different leg bones broken across my theme answers. At the time I thought it was sensational, but it was rejected, and I can see why. As with many of my early attempts, it was, to put it nicely, hot garbage. Looking back at it now is like the crossword equivalent of finding an old middle school yearbook photo.
Later, when the very talented Sam Donaldson made a much more successful broken bone themed puzzle (published on my birthday of all days) I took it as a sign that I should revisit the "broken" theme concept. I was hitting a brick wall until I tried breaking the houses over different answers as opposed to trying to find individual theme answers that would work. This also allowed for less constrained fill and some more interesting long non-themed answers. So overall I'm pretty happy with the result, but my eye always goes to LYCRAS which I hate and realize is a stupid plural, but marginally less not-a-real-thing than LUCRES which was my other alternative in that spot.
JEFF: Very cool to get a chance to work with Josh! My wife had just listened to a podcast about meditation in which he was featured, so that sparked conversation. Somehow, meditation got linked to premeditation — or PRE-meditation — and off we went. OM!
I like one of his quotes: "'How I Met Your Mother' might be my great popular success, I mean, it might be. I hope it's not. I suspect I'll have some other things that will be seen and noticed, [but] I'm just going to keep making things that light me up."
Love that attitude. I'm looking forward to hearing a lot more about Josh's projects in the future.
Co-created! I was the Garfunkel to Jeff Chen's Simon. A real thrill. Been doing the TImes crossword since college. https://t.co/vJmQu1oTfD— Josh Radnor (@JoshRadnor) January 31, 2018