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Puzzles for January, 2020
with constructor comments

Wed 1/1/2020
OHFUNARTCLIP
LEAFSRAMAAONE
MAKOCLINICLOLA
ODESEAUCAVIAR
SSNKELPREVIEWS
PARISEDEN
JAMALTHEEBLOW
ICEITY2KWAIVE
FESSDIOSELVES
EVENPALER
FINDINGDORKALP
ALOHASADOSLOE
MULEENDOFSTORK
EVILREARRANDO
DUELASSOBESE

CHRISTINA: I'm very excited that this will be the first puzzle of the new decade. May this be a year and decade with many more female constructors!

I had the idea for a Y2K puzzle but had no idea how to get started with finding a theme set. Staring at every word in the dictionary that has a Y didn't seem very promising. When I pitched the idea to Jeff, he immediately ran some code and sent back a list of every word/phrase that became another word when the Y changed to a K. Then we pored over the list and picked the words we thought had the most potential to be funny phrases. STORY to STORK had seemingly endless possibilities. BOY to BOK, not so much.

The initial puzzle we submitted came back as a no, with an invitation to resubmit a new theme set over e-mail. The editing team liked the idea, but only one of our theme entries — KELP REVIEW. We pored over the list again and came up with two whole new theme sets, which they also rejected. But, they suggested "FINDING DORK" which we liked, so then we just had to come up with two more. It was definitely worth all the work, and they finally accepted our theme with the set you see here.

My favorite rejected entries:

  • A LIKELY STORK [Result of unprotected sex?]
  • LAKER CAKE [What Magic Johnson might jump out of?]
  • KALE LAW SCHOOL [Where one goes to learn the ins and outs of leafy greens?]
  • ITS A LONG STORK [Description of a shoebill?]

JEFF: I realized a long time ago that my sense of humor and Will Shortz's don't mesh well. Kooky themers that make me giggle tend to elicit a "the theme didn't excite me" critique. Humor is subjective, no doubt. So it was a huge surprise that Will and I both liked KELP REVIEW, especially when said in a snarky, "It's too GREEN and SLIIIIIMY."

Not such a surprise that BIRDS OF PRE-K [Feathered friends starting school?] and LIKELY STORK didn't make the cut.

Admit it, Will, the unprotected sex joke made you laugh a little.

ADMIT IT!

And expect to hear from LeBron James and/or Anthony Davis, whose high-flying acrobatics make them OZONE LAKERs.

Thu 1/2/2020
SEALSCONESLET
PLIEEFFECTALE
AFRAIDOFTHEMAN
SPCASTOPGAPS
WAITUNTILHORSE
ORNOITEMPRES
MIAACMEUAR
BEINTHENSTORMY
AVEJAKEEEO
CASKZIONAGAR
AFTERCHOCOLATE
TRADESINURAL
NITTHEDARKSIDE
ACERESORBKNEW
PANOATERSAGEE

Working with short theme entries, I tried to have as many as possible, but eight plus a revealer did make for compromises on the fill, with a fair number of three-letter entries. The NW had to be changed to eliminate NARCISSI, and the only replacement was AIR SINAI.

Nyctophobia is one of many words used to describe the fear of darkness. This one comes from the Greek word for "night," thus "fear of the night."

I was happy to be able to introduce the entry DARK N STORMY, a nice concoction of dark rum, ginger beer, and a slice of lime.

I'm glad that Will chose to reference the revealer to Darth Vader and the "Star Wars" mythology. The puzzle begins with FEAR and ends with THE DARK SIDE, bringing to mind a quote from Yoda "Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering." Segue to the words of FDR, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," and we have a lesson for our time.

POW Fri 1/3/2020
AIMOPHELIAGUN
STAGFLATIONRNA
TUNATARTAREAFT
UNITSPARMUNRO
TEASETBINDI
ESCRITZCRACKER
ACHORUSLINE
BTWOCARETEDDY
THATSUNREAL
WETHEPEOPLEHUM
FEELSISMENE
LORRECOATALPS
ORBCROPCIRCLES
ACETAKEREVENGE
FEDSEERESSOSS

This was my first serious attempt at a themeless puzzle, and wow, they are a different beast constructing-wise than themed puzzles. Like playing free jazz after military marches, or Calvinball after chess.

Initially, I built this puzzle around a bottom pair of TAINTED LOVE and CHAOTIC EVIL. The editing team replied, saying they liked the puzzle except for the entries I thought were the best! They said both seed entries weren't well known enough, which surprised me, but I was happy to instead include TAKE REVENGE and CROP CIRCLES (my original corny clue: "Signs of a cereal killer?") — apologies to my D&D comrades for not getting CHAOTICEVIL into the Times.

Word notes from XWord Info:

  1. TEA SET was first clued in the Times in 1946 as "Tea-things," which wouldn't fly today.
  2. OPER was clued as "Music drama, in Berlin" prior to the Shortz era. Since 1994 it's been clued re: the telephone button.
  3. COKE was not clued in reference to the soft-drink for decades — presumably because that's too near a drug reference? COKE was "Industrial fuel" or "Carboniferous by-product" until "Pepsi rival" in 1996.
  4. IOR is easily my least favorite entry here (sorry!), but imagine if it were clued like it was in 1952: "Common suffix."

Thanks to my friend Saya for writing "Economic lose-lose" for STAGFLATION, and to XWord Info and Jeff Chen's Personal Wordlist for helping make this puzzle. Using Jeff's list has greatly improved my constructing!

Also, I think I'm the first to benefit from the new payment scale, in which a constructor receives the veteran's constructing rate on their third puzzle rather than their eleventh. This is my third puzzle, and I'm lucky enough to have it published right after the change. Thank you to everyone at the Times who made this possible, and to everyone in the crossword community who has been advocating for increased constructor pay.

Sat 1/4/2020
SWEARWORDACLS
HAMBURGLARBLIP
OCTOBERSKYFAKE
TOSSNETDRAPED
YESSIREEBOB
SPASMSNARFMUG
TILTATETCBETH
ALLEGESSUZETTE
BLAMCPRPIGEON
SOBSHEETTURNT
WORLDWARIII
SLUICEDIMLICK
CATSMISSSAIGON
ACMEONTHATNOTE
TEENTOADEGREE

I'm beyond thrilled to be making my published crossword debut, no less in the New York Times, and no less on the very first Saturday of the 2020s!

ALL ABOUT ME: I'm a freshman at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, studying Computer Science with a minor in Linguistics. Originally from Deerfield, Illinois, I've been a puzzler for as long as I can remember. When I was little, I was obsessed with jigsaw puzzles and logic games, and I would create mazes and word puzzles for my friends at school. As I got older, I fell in love with trivia and found myself making Sporcle quizzes as early as age 10. My passion for crosswords only developed the summer before my senior year of high school, when I started solving the Chicago Tribune Sunday crossword with my family. It felt only natural to have a go at making one myself, so here we are now!

ON THAT NOTE, I made this puzzle this past summer in a mission to debut the almighty HAMBURGLAR. It was my first accepted puzzle after about a dozen rejections, and only my second go at making a themeless. After seeding the grid with HAMBURGLAR, I'm pretty proud of how many lively entries I was able to squeeze in! It feels good to breathe some Gen Z life into the crossword with entries like TURNT, LIKE BUTTON, and TECH DEMO, as well as the clues at 63-Across and 7-Down. Also, as an avid jazz trombonist, I was excited to see the jazzy clues at 34-Across, 53-Across, and 51-Down live on. My apologies to DAK Prescott and BETH Behrs, whose references fell through during the editing process—maybe next time!

I want to thank my friends and family who have test-solved my puzzles over the past year, my mom for her dependable quality assurance, and my dad without whom YESSIREE BOB would not have been in this puzzle. I also have to thank Katie, the wonderful woman who works at my local post office, for providing constant motivation and encouragement every time I came in to send in a puzzle.

I hope you all found my first crossword BEGUILING, and I can't wait to make some more!

Sun 1/5/2020 STRESSED OUT
LARDSSWAGFROGSNASA
AFOOTAIDEIONIAOPEC
PROJECTGUTENBERGHOAR
SOSORRYTVSALEESSO
ESTEARACHEERSALTON
DOGPRESENTCOMPANY
URGESUPONYOHOHOTAM
PERFECTSCORESUNREELS
SHEATHEDIFSTOOL
HEATERICDUMAULTRA
OASPRODUCELABELSHER
TRYTOEROSGENESEAR
WOLFSHOPANATOLE
MAHALIACONTRACTTERMS
ARETENSORCOLTTRYST
DISCOUNTSTORESEEN
ESSAYERADUGOUTSPSA
ATITADAPOITATTLES
BIASCONVERSEALLSTARS
EDNATUGONERIETONGA
TESTSTEWSRELYOPTED

It was really tough to come up with a good set of themers for this one. To be as consistent as possible, I wanted all the themers to involve words that become an etymologically-related word with a different meaning when the stress is switched from the first to the second syllable, and I wanted all those words to be at the beginning of a two-word phrase. I'm happy I was able to come up with seven themers that worked symmetrically — but at the same time, I'm not sure I'd still submit this puzzle today. Phrases like CONTRACT TERMS and PRODUCE LABELS aren't exactly exciting, so there's not as much of an entertainment factor as I'd like. Still, I hope there's enough good stuff in here for solvers to enjoy!

Mon 1/6/2020
VACATEGENTGEM
ARABIAELIAANY
RUBIESEMERALDS
GATTUNICGLUT
SUNSNARETORE
ELASTICASAPER
WASHEDUPFUSSY
AMETHYSTS
SCAMPDECREASE
COGEEGSHADIER
ACIDALLENLAG
NATORAISARES
DIAMONDSPEARLS
ANTWELTPANOUT
LEEEDYSSTINGY

We are a mother/daughter team. Tess, the millennial, does the Times puzzle online, while Kathy, the boomer, prefers pencil and paper. This is our first published puzzle ever — but our fourth submission to the New York Times.

The theme came to Kathy in the middle of the night, when she couldn't sleep — as do many of our themes. Note to insomniacs: this is NOT a very good way to lull yourself back to sleep. Why birthstones? The only thing we can think of is that Kathy had a costume jewelry business as a teenager and so memorized the birthstone for each month. But it turns out that if you Google "birthstones," each month has four or five, which gave us a scare after we had filled in the grid. "Wait, June's birthstone is alexandrite, not pearl?"

We originally had the word "schlepps" in the southeast corner but Will Shortz and Joel Fagliano pointed out that the proper spelling of "schlepps" only has one "p" and asked that we change it. It felt like a lost cause to Kathy — what other word ends with "pps"? But Tess immediately came up with a new fill using "schnapps," requiring minimal other changes.

We're thrilled to be making our debut! Hopefully it won't be our swan song as well …

POW Tue 1/7/2020
BBOYINITTRAP
REVUPNORAHUGE
ADELEMROCTOBER
THREEPOINTER
SOSPINBICIAM
GHOSTOFACHANCE
AWAYERSCTRL
BURNTCDSSHEET
ERIESOUECON
LANDSCAPEPHOTO
ALGPORLEIIPO
OUTSIDESHOTS
STEPNIECEMANIA
PAVEALESSLACK
AXEDNYETELSA

This puzzle is a good example of how cluing decisions affect the solving experience. The theme clues as I submitted them were:

  • THREE POINTER: Distance jumper?
  • GHOST OF A CHANCE: Vanishingly low probability of success?
  • LANDSCAPE PHOTO: Very wide snap?
  • OUTSIDE SHOTS: What point guards, dark horses, and exterior shutterbugs take, and a hint to 20-, 28-, and 42-Across

Will Shortz decided to clue the theme answers more straightforwardly (today is a Tuesday, after all), and to clue the ostensible "revealer" with simply "What 20-, 28-, and 42-Across are." This has the effect of turning the theme answers into a group revealer for OUTSIDE SHOTS, which creates a different sort of "aha" moment for the solver.

Also, if you're looking to get into crossword constructing, and especially if you identify as non-male, LGBTQ+, or as a person of color, I'd be thrilled to offer whatever assistance I can to help you get your puzzles published. Contact me via Instagram (@rosstrudeau) or Twitter (@trudeauross).

Wed 1/8/2020
ISHMRTOADFETA
MOEMORRIEAMAN
ALARMBELLSVICE
COLOMBOSORROW
AGEADELE
AURORABOREALIS
BASSOMATTULNA
RNADABESCASP
EDGERIALAGNUS
AWESOMEBLOSSOM
STYNECTU
ETCETCHALIBUT
YARNABPOSITIVE
EXECMARLINREN
SIDEPHOTOGDAN

joon: Back in late November, Amanda emailed me with the idea she had of having a crossword be a part of her wedding reception since a crossword had played a key role in her engagement back at the Westchester tournament in September. She had the AB theme idea already, and just needed help putting a grid together (she also wanted to write the clues). We went back and forth a few times about the best way to hide the two names (Easter egg #1, you might call it); I had mentioned that the least constrained way was to just include a message in the first letters of the clues, but breaking up the names into chunks (as we ended up doing) or hiding them along diagonals could also possibly work.

One of the other things we had discussed in the early exchanges was payment; normally I would charge for a job like this, especially one on relatively short notice (the turnaround time was about two weeks), but I thought this was a special case. I was pleased to be a part of it, so I just asked Amanda if she could donate / make a donation to a charity of her choice instead. When she told me that she wanted to donate to pancreatic cancer research, because she had just lost her dad to pancreatic cancer, I thought that it would be a lovely way to honor him at the wedding. But then the wheels kept spinning, and Amanda knew she wanted to use the hidden message in the clues to remember her dad, leaving me to hide the names in the grid.

At a very late stage, I asked Amanda if we should put any hint anywhere that might nudge wedding guests (who were mostly not crossword addicts) to find the message hidden in the clues, but she said 1) she thought Brian Cimmet or Will Shortz — the crosswordiest guests at the wedding—would notice; and 2) if nobody noticed, she would reveal it herself and thus set up a toast to her dad. My only regret about this whole experience is that I wasn't there in person for that toast! It must have been quite a moment.

AMANDA: Not to be outdone by my now husband who proposed to me via a New York Times crossword, this cruciverbalist bride wanted to make her own special puzzle for the wedding. I immediately came up with the AB POSITIVE theme based on our first initials. I then made a list of about 20 possible themers of varying lengths. In addition, I was determined to hide our names somewhere in the grid, as well as somehow create an attribution to my father who passed away over the summer — more on that last part in a bit.

Given the constraints (not to mention the time-sensitivity), I enlisted my friend and genius constructor Joon Pahk, who agreed to help me actualize my lofty idea. He would make the grid, and I would do the cluing. His first grid contained theme answers I wasn't wild about (ARMY BRAT, ALL BETTER), so I had the nerve to ask him to redo it, as I had my heart set on more sparkly fill like AURORA BOREALIS and AWESOME BLOSSOM. Joon generously obliged and then showed me where he had hidden our names, which leads me to how the published puzzle is a little different than the one we had at the wedding.

At the reception, guests were all given a copy of the puzzle at their seats, but Will also let me borrow one of the big whiteboards for the event. As guests completed their grids, I invited them to come up and fill something in because doesn't every recreational solver want to feel like a finalist at a crossword tournament, even if just for a moment? As for the puzzle itself, I gave it a title on the page: "Marriage is as easy as...see?" and a hint: "When read in order, the answers to the starred clues will reveal the ultimate 60−across." (Those starred clues are 16-across, 36-across, 65-across, and 68-across.) During the party, I cryptically told Will (yes, Will Shortz was at my wedding!) that I was counting on him for something, but he'd have to figure out what it was. He nodded, grinned, and accepted my challenge. (None of my five test solvers had grokked this last layer, so I deemed it best to offer the prompt, even to the puzzle master himself). When the big board was completed I talked about the puzzle, the theme, the title, and our names, much to everyone's delight. And then I asked if anyone found anything else worth noting. Will raised his hand and addressed the crowd explaining that what he found was the difference between a good puzzle and an amazing puzzle. He rightly discovered that I had coded the clues acrostic style, meaning that reading the first letter of each clue in order would reveal a message. I won't spoil that bit here, but now you know where to find it. It was my stealthy way of making sure my dad was at my wedding after all.

Thu 1/9/2020
PCHELPCOSELL
BROODERONEREEL
HEROINEPICANTE
ALORAIIMS
JUNORIPLEREES
IDESUGBOAANGO
SETTEESTRENTON
ANDOMS
MISREADRUPIAHS
INOROUROU
ASCORAPSEIMID
STOUOPTHARESS
MARLOWEDURANTE
ALROKERIRONIES
LONELYENDEAR

This tribute to "T" took tremendous toil. Thankfully, tallying the terms that T triggers/terminates transcends trifles. The textual tightness that "T" traces transfers terrifically too. Therefore, T's tailor-made to tie together this theme (tentatively titled "Tee Time").

Tossing the T's, (t)ROU(t)/(t)ROU transforms to twin trigrams. Traditionally taboo, today's thematic tenet terms this twosome tolerable. Torpedoing this tradition tends to trouble "team tetchy" (though this transcriber thinks that truculence tiresome).

Trigrams tend to triteness. Typically, tackling ten to twelve trigrams thoroughly taints the thrill. Truncating the thematic terms, today's trigramatic tetrad trounces that trend.

Tricky Thursday themes that thrill through tough-to-twig techniques take twice (to tenfold) the time to tack together. Though taxing, this task's terribly tempting to try (thirteen through today!). Translating twisty Thursday turns to text takes tenaciousness. Transporting thinkers to temporary titillation — that's the true test. The thornier the territory, the tastier to tackle.

This Thursday trade thrives through technology: tightening the theme, throwing together the template, tweaking the terms, tailoring the textual tips. Thunderous thanks to the trailblazing techies tendering terrific tools to transform this titanic task to tractability. Though these tools trim the tedium, turning them to trenchant Toledos takes tireless training.

Fri 1/10/2020
BITMOJISOPSUP
OMNIBUSOAKLAND
RAUCOUSPIRATES
ONTHELASTDAY
ESPISHAPR
ITALOOPICRIED
POPIDAHOCENSE
APPLESHORTCAKES
STLEOUNCAPINK
SEETHEOAKSETS
NTHALFEPT
AFROFUTURISM
SPYRINGCHRISTO
IDAGREESEEPIER
LAWYERBLESSME
Sat 1/11/2020
RUBYTINADEPTS
ONEONONEROARAT
ADSLOGANREVERE
DEMOTAPESESPN
MREESPEURTOO
AGARSPVCPIPING
POREGUARDDOGS
BEERLEAGUE
BOLTCUTTER
WERETHEREEGAD
ORANGEADEADOBE
MIRYRSCALFIB
ETCHEMILEZOLA
GELATOEPICURES
AMAJORNECKLINE
SEWINGUSEUTES
Sun 1/12/2020 STATE OF CONFUSION
MAZDASHERODHMOSEAS
ONEACTADOBEEELUCLA
ANSWERINGMACHINEROAR
NUTSEGGYMAUNASELMA
ALSORANSAFRICANLION
NEMOIRELEEWAY
PATAERATORSWINGBY
SQUIRRELEDAWAYLOOIE
AULDEMSEVESTOTO
TAILINGCROAKEDDEW
PERSUASIVEWRITING
PCBSALINASTAPERED
UHUHFROGAHAHILO
GALASSWORDANDSHIELD
SIBLINGEDUCATEFAO
FLORALASLMRED
AVOCADOROLLDIALECTS
SOLOSATEITWEANBOOP
ACLUKNOWSATHINGORTWO
HAIRLEIPLIESEDITED
IBETMRSSKEETRESALE

DAVID: It was a pleasure working with Evan on his first Sunday crossword! He initially proposed a 15x15 version of the theme with answers that scrambled Utah, Ohio, Maine, and Oregon. Curious to see whether it was possible to scramble states with longer names, I wrote a Java program to mine a large word list for options. When I discovered that the 12-letter West Virginia could be scrambled within PERSUASIVE WRITING, I knew we were on to something! Evan sifted through my program's output to find the other six theme answers, and he took the lead on designing and filling the grid. We considered several fills before settling on the one you see, which we felt had the fewest obscurities. Most of the clues are Evan's.

Will Shortz held our puzzle in his queue for a while to space it out from Alan Arbesfeld's somewhat similar Altered States puzzle from October 9 of last year. Speaking of somewhat similar crosswords, we also strove to differentiate our puzzle from Bruce Haight's May 16, 2017 offering as much as we could. Both puzzles use AFRICAN LION, though, since it's one of just a few possible answers that scramble the letters of "California" consecutively.

Finally, I'd like to take this opportunity to encourage any new/newish constructors who feel intimidated by Sunday-size crosswords to take the plunge. Evan was initially nervous about constructing his first 21x21, but he did so well on structuring and filling this larger grid that I would've guessed he'd been constructing Sundays for years if he hadn't told me otherwise!

EVAN: I was indeed quite nervous about making a Sunday-size puzzle. It's daunting: there's so much white space, and you want to get the fill silky-smooth. David wasn't willing to compromise on any sub-par fill, and the puzzle you see here is the result. I think we're both quite proud of it. The task of making a Sunday-size puzzle on my own doesn't seem so bad now. I hope to make some more when I have my summer off. Happy solving!

Mon 1/13/2020
MEATYPUMADAIS
ALPHAIRASONTO
PIPEWRENCHCYST
EELERNENWAH
SPACOMESOFAGE
ALLOTGAITRYON
DUTCHAIRLINE
EMOTEDBESTED
ALOTTOMANAGE
PIANOASPROMAN
ITSTOOLATEEDY
LAWPOLELFIN
OLEOMIDDLESEAT
TILLPEDIELSIE
SALEADENTESLA
Tue 1/14/2020
ANNETREESACED
PEONRURALCANE
PUTTANGRYBIRDS
TAOSNOTADAGE
GROUCHYHANMAR
MANRAYIDLEEMT
CLEARMAEALES
GRUMPYCAT
CODEHALWASTE
AVEROSYSENIOR
BUMAHHLADYBUG
ALIBIAHABREC
RAGINGBULLARAB
ETONALGAETINA
TEDSMEOWSEASY

This puzzle began life as my first serious attempt at a themeless. I had the idea of pairing GRUMPY CAT and ANGRY BIRD, but they were nowhere near enough for a theme, so I planned for them to be the basis of a mini-theme in a themeless grid. I added MAD DOGS to the mix, but It still wasn't enough for a full-blown theme, so I worked up a few (18 to be exact) iterations of grids with just those three.

Some months later (I tend to let grids ferment a while), I came upon GROUCHY LADYBUG, and that threw everything up in the air. I've read the story many a time to my kids, so I had to add it. And when I found RAGING BULL, everything fell into place, and I abandoned my themeless goal.

But of course, the entry lengths wouldn't cooperate, so I had to get creative. Breaking up GROUCHY LADYBUG and nixing the "The" makes it awkward as heck, but I wanted it in there, so I gritted my teeth and found a way. At least it split cleanly into a 7-7. In my view, having it there, even in such a disjointed fashion, is better than not having it. (Others may disagree.)

But I had to jettison MAD DOGS. You would think a shorter entry like that could be worked in somewhere, but it was not to be. I even tried putting MAD and DOG in opposite corners, but it resulted in too much dodgy fill and having two split-up theme entries was definitely over the top.

Aside from MAD DOG(S), I think I have all instances of well-known crabby critters. If you think of any others, please let me know. As for my themeless dreams, I guess it's back to the drawing board.

Wed 1/15/2020
SCOTACERSPIED
CHAILOWEMACED
HITBELOWTHEBELT
UMBERAAAS
SPARRINGPARTNER
SSRDOLESANO
ERITUANNUL
THEGLOVESAREOFF
HANGSPANSY
ATTKIOSKTMC
THROWINTHETOWEL
LOLLENOLA
PULLONESPUNCHES
AVOIDTHUGUIES
CAGEYSETHETSY

My original thought when I submitted this puzzle in August 2018 was that it might run on Boxing Day. That did not happen, so I'll put it out there for anyone who needs some fighting words. Just remember, "When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going." I know, wrong sport, but I hope it works for you and you enjoyed the puzzle.

On a more personal note, this puzzle is being published at a time when I am facing a challenging medical condition. So I'm going to use this opportunity to crowd-source for your prayers/positive thoughts. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

Thu 1/16/2020
FETASPRIGSCHAI
AARPTOETAPRODS
UTEPANGORAORAL
NIALONGBROWNIE
ATTENDELDERS
JOURNEYMAN
MEGAPEEWEEOTIS
EXECSSTOWPIANO
LANKATSKSASKUP
MESSYGREEK
ETAHONEYBEEATL
BALTDIRELYOKIE
OBOEUNITASANTE
OLGADECIDEFEUD
KEYSERASERSETS

JEFF: Once in a while, some oddity of the English language will strike me, and I'll have to stop whatever I'm doing to write it down. Genealogy to geology by "taking a knee" (the "knee" syllable removed)? Pretty sure I stopped somewhere awkward, like in the middle of an intersection.

There had to be more examples like this, right?

*crickets*

Think harder, dammit!

*more crickets*

Luckily, Erik had asked if I wanted to do a themeless with him, and I sent him this concept. Maybe his mind would turn up more.

Sure enough, HONEYBEE to HUBBY came to him quickly. Yes!

And JOURNEYMAN to GERMAN? Who could possibly think of that? Genius!

To round things out, he came up with NIA LONG to ALONG and BROWNIE to BROW, too.

The answer to every problem clearly is to get Erik involved.

Fri 1/17/2020
AVCLUBPROGTMI
MARINESULUHAN
OLIVIAWILDEEMS
REBECCAISSARAE
MOONNASCENT
ARIADNEGLENS
POSSESSSTREAMS
EARMOE
SMARTTVPREDATE
EERIEREDEYES
UMLAUTSASIF
BUILDUPTOTEBAG
OFTELECTRONICA
ATEAARPTUSKED
TISURSASTEERS

I've been a word nerd and puzzle junkie for almost my whole life, but my love of crosswords in particular blossomed when I was a high schooler. I fondly recollect sitting in the kitchen with my mom and tackling the weekend grids on her clunky desktop, the clatter of the keyboard a satisfying soundtrack to my solving. Veterans of the NYT's Wordplay column may remember me by my erstwhile forum handle "rpsmith"—I'll always be grateful to that community for encouraging my passion. Outside the "crossworld," I'm a voracious consumer of film and video games and a writer for both Smithsonian.com (for which I recently wrote a piece on crosswords, as it happens) and the World Bank's Connect4Climate division. I'm also starting to compete in screenwriting contests!

I got a number of puzzles published in the Stanford Daily during my time on The Farm (including cryptics, which I love), but this is my first submission to the Times to be accepted, and I'm over the moon to see it in print and online. I very nearly didn't send in this puzzle at all, as I was coming off a sizable string of rejections and felt rather demoralized. So glad I gave it a shot! I'll admit to being a bit bummed that Will Shortz EDITed OUT the second half of my 'Come before... or go after?' clue for PREDATE, but overall I'm quite pleased with how much he kept in place, including my shout-outs to David Lynch, Albert Camus, and the A.V. CLUB as well as the trivia I used to hint at THERESA MAY and Justin TRUDEAU.

It occurs to me now that the upper half of this puzzle is packed with nods to influential women whose domains range from international politics, acting and filmmaking, to the pages of fiction and mythology. I can't say that this was strictly intentional on my end, but I'm delighted with the way it panned out! I'm especially happy to be featuring OLIVIA WILDE, whose "Booksmart" I found to be a masterfully crafted and moving comedy.

I'm pleased to say I already have fresh grids in the submission pipeline, so with luck, you'll be seeing more of me before too long. Happy solving, and a fine New Year to all!

POW Sat 1/18/2020
SLIPSHODWINK
LAVALAKESIRAN
ICEPALACESNUDE
DEMPOPAWHEELIE
IDOSGILINTERS
NOVICESGILA
TIEDONANTISPAM
OLDENBLUESTONE
YOWTAJSTINTS
NAVIDADSNITS
LINDROSGERE
KICKSTARTERDAD
CROATTEARITUP
UMBRAEARFLAP
PASTSSUDSED

I've always found crosswords with diagonal symmetry to be aesthetically equivalent to those with rotational symmetry, so I figured I'd try making a puzzle with it (and without gimmick otherwise!). I ultimately left it up to the editing team to decide whether a standard themeless puzzle with this more unusual symmetry was acceptable and was happy (and a bit surprised) that they said yes. The design allowed me to intersect longer stacks in the NW without necessitating the same in the SE corner, giving some more flexibility with the overall grid. I'm doubtful this will spur any revolution in grid design, but maybe we'll see a few more puzzles with diagonal symmetry than before!

Some with critical eyes might wonder why I went for the GIL/DECAL cross over GIF/DECAF. The reality is I didn't even see the latter option until a few days ago, though to me, it's objectively better. Funny how that happens. I had been excited to include GIL Shaham (one of my favorite violinists) in the puzzle, though GIL Scott-Heron is in no way a bad alternative. He, along with AL JARREAU and IRMA Thomas, make this a very soulful puzzle. The puzzle is also throwing a lot of shade, with four references in the clues. Hope you enjoy!

Sun 1/19/2020 BIOTECHNOLOGY
REFIADSTHEROSEBLOB
ERINMINDVANUATUREPO
HEDGMOORPLANTAGOVER
ALEEARCANALEGGEWING
BOLEYNAFIRERERAN
SNIDEETTLESPADERETS
GOOBERSENSORSENTIRE
MADATSTELESLEROUX
CAFLOLASPADTIRANE
RURALUSAARISENJETS
ITORGENESPLICINGASHE
BONNUPTAKEATMINCAN
STOLESLARCODOROTT
MAPLESSANKASNORAD
EVADESENCYSTSDENIED
REGAERATEHOMOGINNES
ENDUPGMAILEASTLA
HAYDNBLULOTRIMINWET
AVOWERATIONKNEEEITY
TIKIWANNABESEMIONER
EDENSWEENEYSOONESS

My initial idea for this puzzle was MAILMERGE, and I even got to the point of filling a grid with things like AIRMAIL, CHAINMAIL, etc., merging them diagonally (similar to the GENEs in the final puzzle). When I made it, though, it just felt lousy. The puzzles that I hate most are when the constructor is saying "look at how smart I am to have made this" rather than "look at how smart you are to have figured it out." At least it was not one of those, but it felt like the next worst kind, the big slog.

When GENESPLICING came to me, it was like "oh, yes, this is the right way to make this idea happen." Then I made a 21x21 grid that I thought was pretty good, so I sent it to the Times even though there were some very real flaws (it did have PROVENANCE clued as "Art history," but that didn't save it). The good news was that Will Shortz liked the idea in principle. The bad news was that he correctly identified certain flaws and deemed them unacceptable. The good news was that he not only gave me a chance to correct them but let me expand the grid to 22 columns, which gave me more room to maneuver and also let me put GENESPLICING in the middle where it caused much less trouble, and eventually we got to the puzzle that ran.

The Favorite Clue I Wrote That Got Replaced Award goes to "Drum line?" for EARCANAL at 29-A, which became "Hole in one's head." A fine substitute, but I'm sad that "Drum line" didn't make the cut.

In the end, this is one of my favorite constructions, in part because I find the SPLICEs visually reminiscent of cartoons of the DNA double helix. I hope that people enjoyed solving it as much as I enjoyed making it, and special thanks to Will Shortz for the chance to revise it and the flexibility on grid size.

Mon 1/20/2020
GOBIGGAMEACTS
UMAMIAMENWORE
SATANGILDONYX
SNICKERDOODLE
YINGREDRESAT
COMEDYSKETCH
PAPAALIEEYORE
SEARSSANDIGIT
AIRACENETNADA
LOTTODRAWING
MUYTIESKAPBJ
GETTHEPICTURE
LEONWIREHURON
BREDARIAONION
JARSREEKSAMMY

Some nights the crossword goddess Cruciverba strikes you with inspiration, though in this instance she might have gotten an assist from an addictive Google Doodle. This progression came together pretty quickly, and I was pleased to include some fun mid-length fill. I had more punchy options for 11- and 34-Down, but I didn't like the trade-offs necessary in the short fill.

Tue 1/21/2020
ISMSCAMPUNCLE
MEATACAISEOUL
GENEPERTIAMSO
ASTERISKINLET
MALLETORGLSD
EWECABALSCAFE
SALINEETON
SIXPACKOFBEER
SECSALLOYS
FLEWFREEOFFED
OFTTABFAMILY
COREDQUARRELS
CANOEBURRBRIO
ARGONRIGAICON
TESTYSPEWGETS

My name is Carl Larson, I'm 56, retired and living in Studio City, California. When working, I was an electrical engineer and marketing manager in the computer industry. I'm very excited to have one of my crossword puzzles published for the first time in the New York Times!

I've been doing puzzles for as long as I can remember. I was a Games Magazine early adopter, sneaking in puzzle solving during high school classes. I've been doing the New York Times crossword for nearly as long, and have fond memories of sitting in the back of math class with a friend trying to finish the Sunday puzzle each week to the annoyance of our teacher. Win-win.

Near the end of 2018, I decided that getting a crossword puzzle accepted for publication in the New York Times would be a 2019 goal and bucket list item. I had toyed with crossword construction a couple of times in the past but was daunted by the difficulty of hand constructing. Today's crossword constructing software and online databases ease the task.

Today's puzzle was my 5th submission, and it was accepted for publication in May 2019. I came up with the idea when I was browsing through XWord Info for inspiration. Specifically, I was looking through the list of past puzzles with circled or shaded squares thinking about constructing a puzzle with one of those elements. I noticed that 3x2 blocks of circles had not been used in many puzzles. It occurred to me that a 3x2 block of circles looked like a six-pack of cans viewed from above, and a theme idea was born. As it turns out, there were plenty of 6 letter beer brands to choose from. STROHS, MODELO, LABATT, PERONI, MOLSON, and BUDICE were left in the cooler.

I'm guessing that Jeff will enjoy my puzzle. I know from reading his notes that he gets a kick out of pointing out when different constructors come up with the same theme. Today he gets to do it with one of his puzzles. Back on June 24th, 2019, Jeff and his co-constructor Ari Richter, scooped me with a Universal puzzle with a very similar six-pack theme, including 3 of the 4 brands I used. Doh! I enjoyed Jeff and Ari's added level to their puzzle with the JOE SIX PACK revealer and JOE-related theme entries passing through the six-packs in their grid.

Wed 1/22/2020
SNOBRIPSRACED
ABELORGYELATE
CARIBBEANCORAL
NEONCHINA
ADRIATICUPENN
LEENICOISETIP
BALTICICKWEAR
ILENEGNUTINGE
NEATLAOREINAS
ORSCASPIANARE
SENORSNIPESAT
DIODEEMIT
BLACKSEVENSEAS
LATHEOMENEDNA
TWEEDSORTQUAY

Conquering complex constraints compels careful crossword construction.

Here, the hardest thing to get right was the shape of the "7" created by the seven C's. Only a few well-known seas have a "C" in them. And, the location of the C's within those seas are fixed. Thus, it took many iterations to whip this puzzle into shape (hah!).

Of course, there's still always flexibility. I originally submitted a grid with CASPIAN and CHINA swapped and with BLACK one row lower. That version had some limiting fill constraints (e.g., _ _ LN in the upper-right from CORAL and CASPIAN), and I had to rework the puzzle to remove them.

That said, the current configuration is still pretty constrained. There are three downs (BEANIE, ROBOTIC, and RELEASE DATE) that intersect three themers and 10 more that intersect two themers. And in four of those 10, the two fixed letters are consecutive (which are typically harder).

I'm lucky that SEVEN SEAS and CARIBBEAN are the same length and that CARIBBEAN is a good candidate for the top-left point of the 7 glyph, which means SEVEN SEAS can be symmetrically placed as a revealer. If that hadn't worked out, I would have used a stacked SEVEN/SEAS revealer in the lower-right corner.

If you ever visit Horseshoe Falls, allow plenty of time to find parking. When we went, all the lots were full and it took quite some doing to find an open space. Unfortunately, we had a flight to catch that afternoon, so we could only run to the falls, take a quick peak, and then hustle back to the car. Next time, I'd like to meander over to the Canadian side, check out the "Cave of the Winds" viewing area behind Bridal Veil Falls, and ride the Maid of the Mist.

POW Thu 1/23/2020
OCULARETASAP
SONORAYURTILE
TRICEPERGOLGA
ROCKSTHEBOWTIE
INOUTAXISICBM
CARPBRANAMORE
HENGIMMEASINAI
ARKLTD
THEGOODWIFICPA
MAMASRARASHAM
CLIPEIRELAILA
FREEVERSAILLES
TWASIDESTILTS
EATSTUNSENATE
AYEEPSTREXES

I'm thrilled to be making my debut in the New York Times, especially on Thursday, my favorite puzzle day. I have been a word puzzle fan and occasional crossword solver for as long as I can remember. Four years ago, when my sons gave me a New York Times crossword subscription as a gift, I got hooked and started solving it daily. (My streak is 1,469 days as I write this.) At some point, I started reading XWord Info and enjoyed the inside look at the process of crossword construction. I decided to try my hand at creating crosswords about a year ago, and I'm really enjoying my new hobby. During the day, I work as an engineer.

This puzzle was even more of a family affair than most of my puzzles. One day, my husband made a joke about ‘wife' and ‘Wi-Fi'. I got the far-off look in my eyes he's come to know. Later that day, I mentioned my theme idea to one of my sons, who was home for a visit. Over the next couple of hours, he came up with bow tie, Versailles, and Sinai. When I thought of ROCKS THE BOWTIE, my favorite theme answer, I knew I had to make the puzzle. To add to the family connection, my father was a valuable test solver.

I submitted this puzzle in June, and it was accepted in September. I'm pleased that Will Shortz and the team kept a good number of my clues. I also want to recognize the contribution of the crossword community. I've gotten feedback and encouragement from crossword editors for several other venues that have helped me to improve my skills. I'd also like to put in a plug for the Crossword Puzzle Collaboration Directory on Facebook.

Fri 1/24/2020
BLAMEGAMECHUCK
LOVESIMONHANOI
ICANTGOONEVICT
MAIDSIDETRACKS
ELLENYAHRYE
YESDEARDONTCRY
OLAVROILED
ATMPLEASEDELS
DRAWERCIAO
MIMETICAUGUSTA
AMASISSTOWS
BLANKETHOGALES
ARMIERIDESHARE
SUINGOVENRACKS
SNAGSNASTINESS

Hey, y'all! It's a joy to be making my NYT crossword debut. I'm Scott, a resident of Austin, Texas, where I work remotely for a global non-profit and am a leader of our city's November Project, a free and inclusive fitness movement.

My first ever published puzzle was with Queer Qrosswords, a wonderful collaboration of folks from the LGBTQ+ community making queer puzzles to support LGBTQ+ charities. The entry LOVESIMON was originally a theme answer in that puzzle, and while it didn't fit in that final product, I noticed that it alternated favorably between consonants and vowels and sandwiched nicely in a triple stack. Working on these two puzzles at the same time influenced my fill here. While my personal favorite Carly Rae Jepsen got swapped out and Brigham Young found his way in during the editing process, I'm happy I was able to include some other icons in the queer community.

About two years ago, I crafted a themed puzzle involving related idioms that were inspired by thinking of the clue "one who may leave you out in the cold?" for BLANKET HOG. I ended up scrapping that puzzle but was pleased to work the entry into this themeless. Funnily enough, that clue was left on the cutting room floor, though I am thankful for some of the much wittier clues that the editing team added elsewhere!

Looking back at this puzzle now with an extra year of constructing experience, there are some sections I wish I filled with extra sparkle. My end product could have benefited had I been less shy to ask more questions from the editing team during revisions or found a mentor in the "Crossworld." If any new constructors are ever doubting themselves and need a sounding board, or want to collaborate on a puzzle, I am happy to be a partner! For folks from underrepresented groups, I also recommend the Crossword Puzzle Collaboration Directory as a fantastic resource.

Sat 1/25/2020
DONTJUDGEMEAMI
EVERANDANONLAM
FIGUREEIGHTMGM
ANGERNEEMANE
TEASESILLTIMED
DOWNSAMATI
SLAGLAGSCOTIA
PALAVERLOOSEST
OBAMASAUSARME
ROBINPIXAR
TRANSFERDEFANG
SIMSLOBVALOR
BOADURANCEVILE
RUNEMILYBRONTE
ASSBEALESTREET

Given that I spend too much time on Twitter complaining that the NYT weekend puzzles have gotten too easy, it's only right that my comeback as a constructor, and my solo debut, should be on a Saturday. (Feel free to razz me if this one turned out easy for you.)

When I quit constructing in 2010, I was fine with my decision. I was pursuing a lot of other interests, and eventually, I started writing trivia, which scratches my itch for clue-writing but with fewer constraints. So, despite being part of the crossword community all this time, I didn't miss making puzzles. But over the past couple of years, as the conversation has turned more to the underrepresentation of women in puzzles, I started to feel a little guilty about not constructing. I also realized that I wanted the puzzles I solve not to be so bro all the time! In 2019 I decided it was time to be the change I want to see in the world.

When I worked with Bruce Venzke, our arrangement was that one or the other of us would come up with a theme (if any), he made the grids, and I wrote the clues. So despite having published many, many crosswords, I felt very unqualified to do it on my own at first. At the 2019 ACPT, there was so much great discussion about constructing and women in puzzles, and of course, placing the highest I've ever placed as a solver helped to light a fire under me to get started. I asked Andy Kravis over and traded him a home-cooked meal for a gridmaking tutorial, for which I am eternally grateful.

Don't call it a comeback. I've been here for years! But I'm thrilled to be back as a solo artist, making puzzles with my own womanly voice.

Sun 1/26/2020 FOOD ENGINEERING
MRPIBBSPURCARBATM
EARNERHIREACORNSIA
SKINNYJEANSTIMEFLIES
SEMINAANTENDALANIS
ANAITODAISSINE
BARGRAPHSRIPCURRENTS
AMYABUOBITSCHOREO
YODELERNAPESCOTS
ELSEAGEDMINEGRR
OBIEINTERRANDARIA
WHATASTEALLIZCAMBAGE
ANTEACESBONETARMS
DOETVADALOGSLIM
MOONSLENTTOOLATE
TWOBITFLASHHADRUE
CORNERBOOTHEYEPOPPER
HEADEUROAVERIO
ALPACASHOPLONECLIP
COPYPASTEUPANDVANISH
HOERACERFERNALICIA
APRAIDEFAMENICEST

I made a bit of a tactical error in building this grid around 62-Down. I construct most of my themed puzzles this way, starting with a seed answer that intersects one or more of the theme answers. I try for that answer to be something that makes people who don't see themselves enough in crosswords feel seen. The NYT puzzle is a big platform, so it feels like a wasted opportunity to not do that. Finding the right seed answer can be very time-consuming, but since clues (like 89-Down, which was originally [Orji of "Insecure"]) and even shorter answers (like 79-Down, which was the record label TDE) often get changed in editing, it's necessary. So that's what I tried to do here, except it didn't occur to me that the Beyoncé song at 62-Down could be reclued with a more general meaning. (In the words of the great Tiffany Pollard: "Beyoncé, sweetie, I'm so sorry.")

As an editor, I understand the impulse to make things accessible to as many people as possible, and a general phrase is likely to be more widely known than a song title. Still, it's hard to imagine, say, the answer I'M A LOSER being "translated" in this way, which raises questions about who gets to be a part of the puzzle's intended audience. As a constructor, it hurts to have such an essential thing negated - but I'll take it as a reminder to always be as precise as possible in my efforts until the day I don't have to be.

Mon 1/27/2020
APPSMEALSARTS
TRIPAGLOWNOEL
BOLADRFUMANCHU
AVECLEILAKER
YOSEMITESAMYEP
CABSONAIR
ADWAROPTDOES
SNIDELYWHIPLASH
PANEEELLEDTO
ETAILSTAT
HASCAPTAINHOOK
IMAPCAVERUNE
MOUSTACHESETTA
ORCSNAOMIATON
MEETTWEENTAPE
POW Tue 1/28/2020
AHHSHAMUGATOR
COYRANONELOPE
COMPOUNDWLAPEL
EDNALEERSMONA
SOARMALCOLMX
SOLOCUPPROORE
LASERYOGIS
GENERATIONY
EGRETWASTE
NRAORCTHESAME
CONTROLZERIN
LADEBEAKSLENT
ONEALFINALFOUR
SEUSSTROVELEE
ERREDSEXEDATE

I'm not exactly sure how I came up with the idea for this theme, but I do distinctly remember two things from the process of compiling the set of theme entries. Firstly, I was pleasantly surprised that the crossword symmetry ended up working out, as there were not many possible options for themers (I was fortunate to find even one possibility for both W and Y), and they had to fit in a fixed order.

The other thing I remember is being particularly pleased with the revealer. I liked that FINAL FOUR not only alludes to W, X, Y, and Z being the last four letters of the alphabet, but also to the fact that each letter is the final part of its respective theme answer. It's also a snappy phrase in its own right, and I like how the revealer lends a slightly unexpected sense of playfulness to what would otherwise be a more straightforward theme.

A word count on the lower end (74) was a natural fit for this theme set, and it allowed me to work in quite a few entries in the 6-to-8 letter range. I had thought this might be considered a Monday theme, so I tried to ensure that the puzzle was as beginner-friendly as possible while still including interesting longer fill. I'm proud of how it turned out, with no real obscurities and a limited number of proper nouns, and some nice answers like HOODOO, OPEN MRI, GRANDEUR, SOLO CUP, and even a (COY) COYOTE. I don't have too much to note as far as the clues go, but I do like the rhyming clues for 17-Across and 49-Down, and I'm glad that the mentions of the Möbius strip and Klein bottle in my clue for TOPOLOGY made it into print.

One other noteworthy thing about this puzzle is that with its publication, I now have had a puzzle published in the NYT on every day of the week, and have thus "hit for the cycle" (per constructor jargon). Looking back on all my published work, it's amazing to think that I got into this hobby just three years ago, and I'm inspired to reflect on how much I have grown, both as a crossword constructor and otherwise, since then. Happy solving!

Wed 1/29/2020
BFFGASCAPLIMB
ELIIDEALSARIA
LONGFORNIABANK
LEERRIDTOQUE
PINEFORCHRIS
SOLESIOU
PHILSPOOLGRAB
JONESFORJANUARY
SOTSIKEAAMIGA
ODEIAMSO
YENFORDONNIE
TAROTEPAEAST
OHIOHOPEFORBOB
MOCKULTRONEFS
BOASHASAGOTAP

I really dig the quirky turn this puzzle theme took. After stumbling across themers "CHRIS PINE" and "DONNIE YEN," I found that last names LONG, JONES, and HOPE also fit the pattern "ACHE (for)."

I began by adding "S" to their names because cluing "CHRIS PINES" and "BOB HOPES" could be fun. But changing "JONES" to "JONESES" felt like it broke a tight theme pattern. So I tried flipping first and last names, and ultimately liked the wacky way that answers like "LONG FOR NIA" and "HOPE FOR BOB" look and sound in the grid.

Pretty pleased with clues "Single's bars?" (ARIA) and "Vow to get even?" (IOU). Always love finding fun ways to misdirect solvers on super common crosswordese.

Thu 1/30/2020
ICOUPLEGATEWAY
SUBTLERONELOVE
ARIZONACSHOWER
JAWDISSEEN
ORALNETTLECOD
BENINDAYSMOKE
BECTREAVIS
PLAYHIDEANDSEEK
LIMAOAFDOC
OMENSMAGNONPC
WONASPIRETARO
WUPREDHGOV
PARSNIPTITRATE
AGITATEELEANOR
LEGOSETLEANONM

There's some debate over whether rebus puzzles should have symmetric placement of the theme squares. Personally, as a solver, I like the challenge it adds when they don't because you not only have to figure out the trick, but you also can't predict where it's going to pop up. From a constructor's standpoint, it's much easier to put the rebus wherever you want and then fill around it, making symmetric rebuses is a more technically impressive feat. So I wanted to make a puzzle where asymmetry in the rebuses was essential to the theme and not just a construction crutch. And I thought the game within a game aspect of hide and seek would be fun and a little different than most crosswords I've done.

If I'm trying to be an objective evaluator, though, I think my execution lets down the creativity of this theme. Ambitious effort, but didn't quite stick the landing, and there's a lot of gluey short stuff holding things together. I hope the head-scratching this puzzle induces will be mostly the fun "what the heck is going on?" kind and less "how could anyone think EDILE, NEH, and TEHEES are good fill?" ...because I don't have a good answer to that.

Fri 1/31/2020
SRIRACHAMAMMA
PENDULUMECLAIR
ANDSCENEASKING
REITETRISALDO
SWAMISIMYLOB
COECOWGIRLS
ASWANFAKIRDOA
CHINESEANYNEWS
MELEMERYFERNS
ELDORADOAFT
LPNCMSDISSES
ASIFKEENONTNT
GOTIMEBOLDMOVE
EUCLIDUNFOLLOW
ETHELDOORKEYS

JOHN: Michael usually gets the ball rolling by sending a corner. This time, it was the SE corner, though it was a little more closed off, with "condor" where GRYFFINDOR sits now. Over about three months of back and forth, which seems about average for our collabs, the grid slowly took shape. Also, I do love me some SRIRACHA.