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Puzzles for October, 2015
with constructor comments

View these same grids with comments from:
Constructor (26)Jeff Chen (31)Jim Horne (3)Hide comments
Thu 10/1/2015
WBODYETSLID
ULTRAARCHMINI
PATESRAREAMFM
MODSWSEYEVIEW
BEDDEDKEYSTRI
MOIREBNASCENT
INXSMESSEUROS
PASSWHINT
ARNAZTSOSEMIR
NAIROBITAPICU
TNTTEARWAPNER
FORTHERECRAUL
AVIACITIIDTAG
RELYHERAAMINO
MRESOLHEADC

This is one of the earliest puzzles I submitted, when I was trying to put twists on rebuses. I hope solvers will enjoy the theme. It might be a tad easy, which may explain why Mr. Shortz toughened up most of the clues in the upper half. As a Florida resident, I can only wish for the temperature change hinted at in the ladder. Our seasons are pretty much summer, summer, SUMMER, and summer. Then again, being able to go snorkeling and play ultimate on the beach in January has its own charms!

FWIW, when I first started submitting puzzles, I received two rejection letters which said, in effect, ‘Nice idea, but we are about to run this same theme.' I got into the bad habit of rushing to pop a puzzle into the mailbox five seconds after finishing the fill, to get a jump on the imaginary competition. I've learned to let puzzles cool off for at least a couple of weeks.

Upon a fresh solve of my own puzzle, I usually find many areas for improvement (and, of course, a couple of entries I wish I could improve, but just have to live with). This was perfectly illustrated when, a couple of months ago, I stumbled on the printout of this puzzle at the bottom of a stack, and realized I could do a better job. Actually, I think I gagged. The second row, for example, consisted of ULNAE, ALAE, and CAEN. I managed to decrease the word count by two, work in snazzier long downs, and improve the overall fill. It's not perfect, but it's better.

I must be a glutton for punishment, because this is my third Thursday in which I've used bendy or intersecting themers, which don't allow a great deal of flexibility. I'm thankful for Will and Joel giving me the opportunity to improve.

Fri 10/2/2015
GARBSHELFASTA
ALOUPALAUCHOP
STAGNATIONRAMS
MEDLEYGFORCE
ERREDMEDIABIAS
TEARLOVECRAFT
EGGSBENEDICT
ROEINTRUDEEBB
LETATCESTMOI
CLARINETSSANG
IRONCLADSTUNED
WENCESPANAMA
IAGOORIGINATED
STEMUNFITMEAD
HEREPASTYIDLY
Sat 10/3/2015
MINSKCUFFLSTS
SPYONOKIEATIT
DANTEFRONTPAGE
ONESELFSWEATER
SAXBEESASTERN
DECENCYFSU
SCENARIOSALEM
QUADRUPLEPLAY
CULLSSPOILAGE
HEMTHEREIS
RAIDERTWITRTE
IKNEWITHOEDOWN
STALEJOKENOBET
TOTOERIEDRIER
OYESTEALSANDY

For years I have posed the following puzzle to fellow baseball fans: can you explain how a QUADRUPLE PLAY can occur and why the fourth out would be necessary? (I believe this has actually never occurred in major league baseball.) No one I've asked so far has been able to answer this correctly. I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to solve it (or google it).

I thought this would be a cool entry in crossword puzzle (my seed entry) but thought that providing a good clue for it would be a challenge. Anyway, I guess Will Shortz thought it would be a fun entry also.

COLOR WHEEL and SQUEAK TOY were my secondary seeds.

Sun 10/4/2015 SOUND ARGUMENT
TATARAITTFIRJLO
IVANDODDERETOBLUES
FICKLETHERAPISTRAJAH
FATHOMDANCINGCUISINE
ISNOTSEETONESTEA
NYCARCSOLISSS
BEAASABEAVERDECKOUT
CALLONIFEVERTEED
BUYONEGETONEFRIZZY
SNONAHLAMERPLEAS
CODEDHARKPOORLEDGE
ABORCELENAICUSSR
MURRAYLOVESCOMPANY
ORELSATIVASKOKIE
PARDONSDIGUPDESSERT
YENMOATMSUNEA
ETALIATWISTISTOO
AUTUMNSPECTRUMHAGGLE
SNOREAREYOUFORISRAEL
TIMEDWETREOPENEMIL
YAYSPYESSEXSEAS

"Sometimes an idea will wait 20 years to be a puzzle."
- Merl Reagle

I dedicate today's puzzle to the late, legendary puzzle master Merl Reagle. This theme was first attempted and submitted as "IS TOO!" to the Times six years back, filled with phrases + the "is" sound. After getting rejected for some shaky theme answers, I kept it around in my hopper over the years, surviving a handful of theme redesigns. This year I landed on a riff on the back-and-forth argument: IS NOT! vs. IS TOO! Sometimes a theme needs some time to percolate before it finds its legs.

Merl Reagle carried around a notepad for brainstorming ideas, always ready for when inspiration strikes. I mostly use my phone to keep track of puzzle concepts. I imagine all of us crossword constructors have our own favorite place we keep our brewing themes, waiting for their chance.

I'm sad that Merl didn't have the chance to flesh out all of the fun and clever theme contenders that lined his notepad. But I'm grateful for all the genius he got to share with us. His wrangling of the English language was unrivaled, and I'll personally miss his raw creativity and witty voice in crosswords.

Thanks, Merl!

Mon 10/5/2015
CRESTSTOPZEST
HOWTOTHORUVEA
ISAAKARLOLIAR
PENNYDREADFUL
ZOOELSEGNU
MATACOCARHEAS
ONERILEAMENRA
NICKELANDDIMING
IMHOMETIOSUIE
CANDOOPELPSAS
ALIRONIPSI
QUARTERHORSES
FOURLACELANZA
ADENOPENATARI
NESSNESTREGAL

Inspiration can strike anywhere. I was in the parking lot at Save-On-Foods when I noticed something different about the 1973 quarter I was using for the shopping cart. During that year, to commemorate the centenary of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the reindeer on the reverse side had been replaced by a horse and rider. Naturally I thought of QUARTER HORSES and the idea of a numismatic theme started to form.

Had I done my research I might have discovered Sherry Blackard's puzzle of Monday, August 13, 2001 and that would have been the end of it. As it was I went ahead and came up with three possible theme entries, but I knew that wouldn't be enough to impress the editors. Then the penny dropped: I found that THREE CENT PIECES would conveniently pass through my three theme entries. I had struck crossword gold! Well, silver actually. Anyway, that's what sold the puzzle, and that buys a cartload of groceries.

The three cent coin was proposed in 1851 mostly as a result of the reduction in postage rates from five to three cents. Over 74 million coins, silver at first then nickel, were minted from 1851 to 1889. The silver coins issued from 1854 to 1873 at 3/4 of a gram (about 1/38 of an ounce) were the lightest weight coins ever minted by the United States.

My first submission had no less than fifteen entries "that would make for unenjoyable solving," but the third attempt was right on the money. Of the published crossword, only 19 clues were totally rewritten by the editors while 18 were my originals. Each of the other 39 underwent a minor edit: small change, to coin a phrase.

POW Tue 10/6/2015
INFOCSISDOGS
PARRTRITERANI
OPEDWENTTOOFAR
DANECOOKILOST
CRYLIONEL
RAHNOENDSOCAL
IGOTITGOVVASE
CAPECODROBERTA
EVENHEFCURLED
SENDSFEDEXORS
EASTEROKS
STRUTLETMESEE
STEALAKISSSLAV
PANGGINSUHIRE
ANTEEDGYAMPS
Wed 10/7/2015
MARCDURANTDJS
AREAINALIEYAO
TICKLEDPINKNIL
TATERTOTSTALE
MORNDOOM
PRINCECHARMING
HOAXABMSCIA
USBPROBONODVD
BIBKOOLHUES
STINGOPERATION
TUSKEDEN
JOHNDRIVETHRU
EGOTRAINEDSEAL
ELLMADMENALGA
ZEEINSERTTMEN

I actually constructed 2 versions of this puzzle before deciding which to submit, one with and the other without the central theme entry. This is the one with 5 themers — it has slightly worse fill, but I think the compromises were worth it to get BONO into the mix. A set of mononymous singers wouldn't have felt complete without him.

Thu 10/8/2015
AHEADGAMGRAPE
SOCHIEXOLOMAX
SPOONFEEDASONE
TINSELDESSERTS
OTROSMINT
OHMOPTSMOORED
COILSOHOSPACY
UNCOPYRIGHTABLE
LEASEMLLEZBAR
IDLERSLEARITS
OMOODRIFT
QUEUEINGSTIFLE
USLTATORTUROUS
IMHOTALEAMOCO
PAINEPDFLADES

When I submitted the final manuscript of this puzzle to Will, it included an "Easter egg" — the longest familiar word that starts and ends in a vowel with no vowels in between.

Here is a lesson I keep learning: no substandard fill goes unpunished. SO TO, HEREAT, RESAT, US DO, ELIO, A TRIP; all gone. US DO may even qualify as a puzzle killer. Fortunately for you, the puzzle solver, Will and his team were able to remove all of the offending fill before it went to press. I did hate to lose RABBIT HOLE.

Fri 10/9/2015
RATAOPELBLOC
ADORNBODYGUARD
LETGOGENIUSBAR
PLAYBOYMANSION
HELLIONERGO
EDHLASERPEN
OPTSLAYMANOAR
SARCAHOOTSODE
ALAPLANKSBLED
METHLABSUZI
ASTIIMITATE
TOPLESSDANCERS
AIRHOCKEYGOTAT
ONIONROLLSINCE
LEAPURALNATE

I constructed this puzzle in March 2014, during my junior year of high school. Wait a second, what's high school? Oh yeah, that's so last year! Now that Stanford has started up, everything else has faded into a blur. Even though I've only had a week of classes, I can see that college is going to be much more time- and homework-intensive than high school was. I'm not sure how all my crossword activities are going to fit in with college, but I'll definitely make time to submit puzzles every once in a while!

My seed entries for this puzzle were PLAYBOY MANSION and TOPLESS DANCERS, which seems kind of weird now that there are girls living in close proximity . . . oh well, YOLO! I still think that symmetrical pair is pretty awesome, even though I'm obviously much more mature now that I'm in college ;).

And I was especially thrilled to be able to incorporate two of my nine-letter seed entries, AIR HOCKEY and GENIUS BAR, in the neighboring stacks. Speaking of AIR HOCKEY, my dorm doesn't have it for some reason, which is really frustrating! We have ping-pong and pool tables, but I personally prefer air hockey to both of these. Well, I guess I'll have to appeal to dorm gov at some point — alas, the struggle of being a college student!

Anyway, my other favorite entries were HIPHOP, METH LABS, HELLION, OOH-LA-LA, and BITCOIN. I wasn't thrilled with LASER PEN (which doesn't sound as good to my ear as LASER POINTER), EDH, or RATA (mainly because of its position as the first across entry), but these three entries seemed like smallish tradeoffs, and I was certainly satisfied enough to proceed to the cluing.

Well, not quite! Before I clue a puzzle, I always check to make sure there aren't any dupes, which is a nerve-wracking process. My heart sunk when I noticed BAR at 35-Across, which was much too similar to GENIUS BAR. Fortunately, I noticed that the letter at 35-Across/29-Down could also be an S. SAR is kinda meh, but at least I was able to spice up the OSAMA clue!

Well, that's about all I have to say. Time to get back to tearing it up at frat parties . . . er, I mean getting ahead on my computer science and math assignments due next week! In any case, happy solving!

Sat 10/10/2015
HOMAGESDINGBAT
EPAULETALTOONA
REDDEERSAWTOIT
ENDINARATUTSI
ISAOSTINGPITA
AESWEENIESEON
MAHJONGGCESSNA
OKEYDOKEY
PARSECIPODNANO
ASONANNIESSED
LASESIGNSPKWY
ORALBPSIPHEWS
MULLETSONEIDAS
ALIENEENOTLIVE
REENTRYSWEENEY

I became interested in crossword puzzles fairly late in life. When your debut publication occurs in your early sixties, you aren't going to break any records in that area. Still, I have certain goals in mind that would give me great satisfaction to achieve.

This is my second crossword puzzle in The New York Times. This puzzle underwent several revisions. I will remember it as one for which persistence paid off.

The first version of this puzzle was constructed in the summer of 2013, when I had little experience with sub-72-word grids. It was rejected, but MAHJONGG, OKEY-DOKEY and WINGDINGS got a thumbs-up. I decided to re-work the grid, retaining these long answers (except that WINGDINGS became RINGDINGS). My aim was to create a smoothness that the original version lacked.

I re-submitted at the end of 2013 and was pleasantly surprised when Will expressed interest in the crossword. He requested that several short answers be replaced, which required revision to the SW and NE quadrants. A final revision of the NE quadrant was needed to remove an obscurity that I introduced in the previous revision. The crossword was accepted for publication in the spring of 2014.

I'm pleased with how this puzzle turned out. Having said that, today, with one more year of puzzle constructing experience, I would do the final revision differently.

My favorite clues in this puzzle are 24A: "Unpleasant surprise from a worker" (STING), and 3D: "Black Friday event?" (MAD DASH). I can take credit for the latter only.

I would like to thank Will and Joel for their fine work on this puzzle. Two tweaks got rid of an answer that was awkward to clue, and had a more subtle benefit as well. Their clues greatly improved the puzzle, in particular, the clever handling of a boo-boo, and the dialing of the difficulty level to "eleven."

Sun 10/11/2015 FOR VARIETY'S SAKE
PASSABEADTRASHIBM
ALTAALUMNAHAGUECEE
LIEFPORTABLESHELTERS
ENVELOPSSIRATTACKS
REELEDTAGALOGETAS
MYAMYAUTOBIOGRAPHY
EVASPINALELHIPIE
CORNELLSAIDMOCERA
ALTESNLGRANDSTANDER
STIESEEKAREATSU
HANDWARMERCARROTCAKE
NEIMREDTEEELLES
EASTERPARADESPAEELS
ANTTIOLEANARTICLE
RTEELMOSOFREEBIN
LIVEFROMNEWYORKTWA
DEARMETHANEBRILLO
CONTESTANYISLANDER
ITSSATURDAYNIGHTIWON
GEOKOREAETCHESNINO
SSNSANDYSHUTSGNAT

I wanted to focus on the show's talent, rather than specific sketches. I wanted to highlight a cross-section of performers who were with the show for a while. And I thought the pseudo-rivalry between Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin for the most guest host appearances was funny and deserved a mention.

POW Mon 10/12/2015
PROWSASSYJUDAH
LAVATITHEOZONE
AGERARIASKITTY
NURSERYRHYME
AUGOARSMAN
WRAPPUPEURO
ETAILBLIMP
APOCKETFULLOFRYE
LIBYAASBIG
PLEAAPTSMOG
SLYNESSETA
SPACESTATION
JAMESLOSEROSLO
ADAGEMAPLEREDO
BOTOXSTYLESEEK

When Will approached me with his "never been done" scheme, it seemed the perfect opportunity to do something I've long wanted to do — create a daily NYT puzzle with illustrated clues. (I created an illustrated Sunday puzzle in 2004.)

I latched onto a spoonerism angle to bring something a bit different to the mix, but I didn't want to regurgitate someone else's creation. So I started mulling phrases. At some point I turned to two-syllable words that might be spoonerizable, beginning randomly with bucket and ticket … then pocket. A theme ensued. Googling "rocket full of pie" afterward, I found only a few unique hits, one being a children's short story by Joan Aiken in 1955.

Will originally asked me for a Mon-Wed. When I ran the basics by him, he asked if it could be done up as a Monday. Since I'd set up the grid to allow a fair amount of flexibility, and Monday seemed like just the place for a puzzle with cartoons, I quickly said yes.

The central answer could have been done Schrödinger-like, so that the crossing answers would fit their clues no matter which phrase was entered. But Will felt that wouldn't be Monday-worthy, and I agree. Better to keep it simple. Plus, it would have made for more constrained fill (I know because I tried).

Tue 10/13/2015
SEISMICMANETS
ARMHOLECLOTHES
CRAYOLAFOGHORN
HOGNEEDYERGO
ARESSSEALLNEW
HISJANE
ASWANPASTEBOA
CHARLIEHERMANS
TEXORATEAUTOS
VILEETC
DOWSESALTHAMS
ERIEOMAHAMIA
LILLIANWASHING
INCLUDEANOINTS
TOSSESNETCOST

The basic idea for this puzzle came from a wordplay list I'd compiled much earlier: two-word phrases where the words were the same length and only differed by a few letters. (Actually, the original list was a little broader—it included phrases of three or more words that broke into equal pieces, like WARREN G / HARDING and THICK AS / THIEVES.) I compile a lot of lists like this, usually without knowing exactly what I'm going to do with them. In many cases, seeing the finished list helps me decide.

In this case, I finished compiling the list and didn't do anything with it. (I'm easily distracted sometimes.) Then Will asked me to make a puzzle for this twisty theme week, and I dug the list out of mothballs to see if I could get a 15x15 out of it. Overlapping the two parts and turning the nonmatching letters into two-letter rebus squares seemed like an interesting way to render the entries. For extra consistency, I limited myself to two-word entries of length 7. I also decided to nix entries with only one rebus square (like CULTURE VULTURE) or a hyphen between the words (like TRACTOR-TRAILER). My grid ended up slightly exceeding the usual black-square and word-count maximums, but I'd managed to sandwich in six theme entries, which seemed like an acceptable trade-off.

Wed 10/14/2015
CASACHEWSCLOT
OMENRENEWHERA
METAEAGLEIMIN
ONTHEDLFRYCOOK
DOESITHAVEANN
ISTHEREAG
BALMFRIOCHO
ERAIGUESSMAOL
AEROSOLMCENROE
DAKOTAHAIRDO
HOWABOUTH
NIKEANYASIMDB
SKIDYOURSLADY
FENCAT
WAGHANGMANEYE

So thrilled to be a part of this great week of puzzles! This theme actually came out of another special week idea Will and I were considering where every theme would be centered around a different game. Given the unusual nature of the seven unchecked letters, we figured we could repurpose it for this week instead.

The theme was tricky to create because I wanted each of the questions to take a different form. It wouldn't have been much fun if they had all been IS THERE A (blank). Coming up with five idiomatic ways to take a guess in Hangman required some verbal gymnastics, but I'm really happy with how it turned out. It also took some thought as to how to clue these — I think the response-as-clue gimmick I settled on sort of piques the solver's interest, like "What the heck could that mean?"

Overall, I hope everyone's enjoying "Do Something Crazy Week," as it's being called internally. There are some excellent puzzles to come.

Thu 10/15/2015
HOEDSPAMAMS
ITEESULNELEIE
TOSCASNAILSHEL
OTSTRCAOIK
YLELOGGLDES
ACESSATREV
RATFITTWLC
FLMBWILOORALY
NESAEITLAA
ROKPEETASY
SHDDRMILKWA
AMIMIDSTEO
GUGENHEIMGAUZS
AGSGATNAEMRLA
DTSDRYSSLAW

I submitted this puzzle about a year and half ago, and fortunately it ended up fitting into this special week. I tend to like the rebus puzzles that have a reason for the rebus squares to exist, and creating dense shapes in the grid with rebus squares was something I hadn't seen before. A spiral seemed like a visually interesting choice that contrasted with typical crossword symmetry, and it would require a rebus density that was much higher than usual.

The original submission didn't shade the rebus squares, only the black squares that were part of the spiral's path, with a note telling the solver to look for a shape indicated by the theme entries. I slightly doubted that the puzzle was solvable that way because the gimmick is so unexpected, but I just figured Will would make it easier if he thought the same. I think moving the puzzle from its original Saturday spot to a Thursday, and shading the spiral, makes it tractable. Hopefully there's still a challenge in figuring out the theme and that the disruption in pattern matching makes for a unique solving experience. (I'm not afraid that the puzzle is too easy because a test solver already let me know that it was "sadistic." My goal isn't sadism, it's merely to provide a challenge!)

It seemed necessary to include theme entries representing spiral shapes, and I chose ones that spanned a variety of physical scales, as well ones manmade versus found in nature. Unusually, the theme entries are symmetric but their lengths are not, due to the spiral shape. Overall, there were dozens of partially filled grids before arriving at this final result.

Fri 10/16/2015
PABRVHF
ROLLOVERANIRA
OOPSIDIDITAGAIN
CEOSSITPHIL
ZENTECATESSIX
DPTMILEYLIN
CURATEDREVENGE
RIVERTANGS
GEMINISMENOTTI
MASTACOSSHU
JARDAYRATEEDU
NIPASANGABE
QUEENSOFENGLAND
ASALASTRESORT
LKMYWTS

It seemed natural to build a puzzle with 26 unchecked squares — given my checkered past in the crossword world — so I did. (And in case some solvers didn't count the unchecked squares, the notepad made their significance clear.)

A key constructing challenge for me was ensuring that the short entries with the unchecked letters were fair. Hence, I did not allow acronyms, initialisms, abbreviations, Roman numerals, partials nor propers. Okay, so I eventually caved on that last one and allowed SAM and MENOTTI to creep in. Not too obscure.

Overall the fill turned out really clean, and I'm quite happy with the whole puzzle.

POW Sat 10/17/2015
ARCANALAPUTA
DOOWOPIRISES
LUNARECLIPSES
ITSYSOLSETI
BETOUTERNEZ
EERIEOUTRE
ALLSETASSESS
FALCOFLIER
CSASPACEPAM
EATSRIOARLO
ALIENINVASION
SLOGANELISHA
TENANTSINEAD

There have been a few recent puzzles with blanks as part of the solution. David Kwong's DRACULA. Jim Hilger's "Breaks." Even Miss Trunchbull — I mean, Jeff Chen (and his wife) — had SPACE BAR. Those were all great.

This basis for this idea actually came from a much older one: Manny Nosowsky's 2000 April Fools' Day puzzle, whose entire perimeter consisted of the letter T. Looking at that grid, I tried to come up with other tricky ways a perimeter might be utilized.

What about literal spaces, or blanks? BLANKS has lots of meanings, both as a noun and a verb. Better yet, it could be also clued as a proper. When the phrase OUTER SPACE, a fitting revealer, sprang to mind, I hoped I was onto something. Usually I'm not.

The best part about making this was generating a list of 13s and seeing what would interlock. That was loads of fun, because there was a huge reservoir to draw from. An earlier draft's successful interlock had "hard" science fiction entries like EVENT HORIZONS and GAMMA RAY BURSTS, but those were pretty literal, and not at all receptive to playful cluing. These four entries were the most colorful and varied set.

Some of my favorite new clues are those for LUNAR ECLIPSES, AD LIB and SLOGAN. Among the originals, I like CONSTELLATION, DOO-WOP, TENANT, ALI and ALIEN INVASION. It's cool that the Scrabble clue for BLANKS remains in a 6-letter slot, hinting at ?-TILES or a written-in BLANKS. ASSIZES is a word I learned on my first day of Torts. Well, my first day, and everyone else's second. Oops. Elle Woods I was not.

The five other puzzles this week have been fantastic. I'm thrilled, and very lucky, to have been included along with them.

Sun 10/18/2015 BIG NAMES IN E-TAIL
SCALIABASSOASSORT
LABORSCOCOONSHOVEIT
IDONTKNOWHOWESILENTI
MEDESALTYDEENREAM
STEWSHAILIGHTGREENE
OWNSECURESLEX
MGMLIONSOLONESTLES
CHEFSHATBUNSOFSTEELE
JAMESBRASITALINTOW
ONOKOOLONYXBVDS
BARSHOPPINGMALLELAB
INEZHAWSICETORR
DRAINMICAHEADEBOLA
VOLCANICASHENUTCASES
ROSETEAHAREPROCESS
POWIFATALLELK
JOKERSWILDEEEKEPCOT
AGROROSYSCREEACAI
CLAPFORLAYITONTHICKE
KEILLOROHENRYDENVER
STEAMYWANNASTEINS

After a week of mind-benders by several of the most noted crossword-makers around, hopefully NYT solvers are in the mood for something more conventional, as this puzzle has a pretty straightforward theme.

When I construct a Sunday puzzle, I always look for opportunities to interlock theme entries, which allows me to pack in more theme material while retaining enough space between the horizontal entries to avoid a lot of difficult constraints. When the available theme answers are limited, it's hard to pull off, but for this puzzle, I had many options, so finding symmetrical intersecting entries was relatively straightforward. As a result, I was able to include nine themers without having to make too many painful compromises with the fill. This made it a fun puzzle to construct—hopefully solvers enjoy it, too.

Mon 10/19/2015
EKGSALAMOSRAH
LEIAMORONSODE
CABLEOUTLETPIA
INBULKFAMDEER
DUSTSWIREFRAUD
ETALGOAD
PACTAIMSIWONT
EXHORTSKNEEPAD
TEASETAYEREBS
ISNTSPEC
LINEDANCEATSEA
ARMSTERERRORS
PEASTRINGBEANS
UNIOLDBAGAMIE
PALBESETSTIES

Vic: Bruce and I have collaborated off and on for many years, starting back when he and Stella Zawistowski (then Daily) were a prolific team.

Bruce: That's right. And continuing on through the period that Vic and Bonnie Gentry were doing great work together. Every so often, we just think of something we'd both like. We've maybe done about 50 so far. So, late last year I sent Vic a grid with a theme inserted that I thought he'd go for. I like the challenge of interlocking theme entries, and I knew that Vic did, too. I already had it filled, but knew that Vic might very well improve on it.

Vic: That's right. Bruce had done a fill, and I tweaked it some, And then he tweaked my tweaking. But the grid, the theme, and the fill was excellent from the get-go, as always. You want to see some fine Venzke grid work, look at the 1/28/2007 Sunday Times puzzle, "Having Pull," and a 2007 Schrödinger we did for Simon & Schuster called "You Be the Judge" — I forget which volume it's in.

Bruce: Vic is far too generous in his compliments regarding my contribution. Especially on that Schrödinger—Vic had a great gimmick on that one. On this current puzzle, yes, I did the grid, but a puzzle — especially a NYT puzzle — without good clues is like a two-legged stool. And I enjoy consulting with Vic on clueing puzzles like this one. He recommended we clue it to a Tuesday, I think ...

Vic: Maybe even a Wednesday?

Bruce: ... and took the lead by drafting a first set of clues.

Vic: Which Bruce tweaked.

Bruce: I doubt if I changed diddly squat. Maybe three! Anyway, Will liked the puzzle and accepted it as a Monday, which he said would get it into print within a year. So, Vic wrote another set of "Monday clues" ...

Vic: And I sent those first to Bruce, and he tweaked ‘em ...

Bruce: This time I changed two!

Vic: ... and I sent ‘em to Will. And, true to form, it looks as though Will may have used a third of them or so.

Bruce: The long and short of it is that we are always glad to be on the right side of a New York Times byline.

Vic: Right, Bruce!

Tue 10/20/2015
ABELDEALBEMAD
PANASONICOVINE
BLACKGOLDSEXTS
ABEAMTENTHS
SNLASTORHARE
ACERBTIPIAPAR
SEDERROUTNEXT
DOMELEAD
BOTSETTERENTS
ANINECONIDIOT
SANATHATSCUE
SNIPESPOKER
ADEPTODDISNTIT
LOSESDARKHORSE
ENTRYSMEEBYTE

I really enjoy puzzles that have a visual component to them, since it is something that adds an extra dimension to a crossword puzzle. In this puzzle, I first came up with the idea to have each word start with something you can bet on for a roulette wheel. I originally attempted to fit in a Zero theme answer as well, but couldn't work it in without sacrificing the fill too much. Without the fifth answer, I wanted to add something to it to make it stand out, and so I figured out that ROULETTE could be input as a visual center to the puzzle in a circle, around the black square.

Finally, I really enjoy working with larger corners, even in early week puzzles, which is where some of my favorite answers are found, including MIX TAPE, ANTHRAX and ON AND ON.

Hope you enjoy!

Wed 10/21/2015
ACDCGPSSMARTS
OHOHOOPKODIAK
LETAFOOLINIDLE
HOLDHISTONGUE
SIBTOOLEST
IMPTAZSWIT
TALERAGUTOLL
DUELSMREHUEYS
SALEBUMSTALL
EXPOEARKEY
KOASANETIA
ANDHEWILLPASS
PERILSFORASAGE
PAELLAIKEAVOW
ALMOSTNIPYEOW

MARY LOU: I happened on this Publilius Syrus adage while researching online. I find it very apropos today not only for what we say but especially for what we write online. I saw that it broke nicely into an 8/13/13/8 split and had the potential for a word ladder leading from FOOL to SAGE.

My original submission in December 2013 had a seven step word ladder. I heard from Anna Shechtman in April 2014 that Will liked the theme "which combines a quote and word ladder in a novel way. With that much theme material, though, it may not be possible to get completely clean fill." My additional attempts met with a reluctant no from Will, who added that if I could rework the grid with cleaner fill I could resubmit only my one favorite version. I contacted grid guru, Jeff Chen, at this point. Within a day's time he saw the possibility of adding an extra rung to the word ladder and came up with two versions he sent me, noting that the asymmetry of the original submission bugged him.

We both liked the same version. Jeff was a little hesitant to use the entry GRU but I convinced him that GRU along with ZAMBONI were the way to go. We received an acceptance from Will in May 2014. He noted that "GRU was new to me, but I think I'll go with it. It's more interesting than the best alternative I could see, GOA."

My thanks to Will, Anna and Joel for accepting and editing this puzzle. I hope you enjoyed solving it.

Thu 10/22/2015
LOLASTILIMITS
OSCRNODUNADON
ALDAMATOSEMITE
NOSCOREATABOIL
CREMECRAMEL
SLOESTANS
NOTPCOCOMECFO
APOTHECRYSSHOP
GEEORCASTAINT
BOSUNFADS
DALECRNEGIE
ARETHASTOMCATS
METEORPOTHOLES
ENBLOCUNTOTAN
SAYSSOPSATOKS

Imagine for one moment that it's finally spring in your neck of the woods. The sun is shining and life is good. You're driving in your car, windows down, music blaring, when suddenly ... WHAM! You drive into an axle-busting, teeth-jarring pothole that snaps you out of your reverie and back to reality. Such was the inspiration this past spring for today's puzzle and my crossword interpretation of driving into a pothole — with C-A-R dropping down one block on the "A" (into an imagined pothole of sorts) and then coming back up to the row it was originally on.

Two options I considered while constructing the grid were to have C-A-R spelled as R-A-C, as though the car was traveling forward in the phrase from left to right, or to have the letters C-A-R span two words. However, I finally decided that the theme would be too difficult to suss out so I used two-word phrases that contained the word CAR in either the first or second word of the phrase.

Lastly, I found a fun tidbit of info while I was cluing. The inclusion of former New York Senator, Al D'Amato, at 16-Across was totally by coincidence, not knowing that his nickname was "Senator Pothole" while he was in office!

Fri 10/23/2015
COWTIPPINGIHOP
AMENCORNERMAGE
FANTASYFOOTBALL
ENDNICOUSAGES
KNEESPACE
RADIOSDOORKNOB
OPARTJEANSDNA
LANKTURKSBARR
ORCFRIESSUZYQ
STEPBACKWUSSES
CRONYSENT
LARAMSSKIDDIP
PLAYBOYMAGAZINE
GAZEMEETHEADON
AWEDSWEETSPOTS

I'm a fan of themeless grids that make use of the staircase pattern in the middle, with multiple five-letter words crossing one another. It's a good feeling when every one of those words in the middle comes out cleanly and, as a side benefit, this grid pattern often helps me keep the three-letter word count low.

My original submission looked like this, with the changed letters highlighted. At 53-Across, Keyser SOZE is the villain from "The Usual Suspects." At 11-Across, there's the former NBA guard Craig EHLO, a Cavaliers' fan favorite who guarded Michael Jordan when he hit "The Shot" in 1989 — maybe not the most well-known name if you're not a hardcore NBA fan like I am. They fit PELS in at 14-Down in the final puzzle; the fan in me approves.

So, Will and Joel changed 15 letters changed from the original submission, but I'm especially glad they agreed to leave F-BOMB untouched. I know Will once nixed that word from a previous puzzle, and it would have been a very, very easy change in this grid to A-BOMB. Hey, F-BOMB has been in the NYT itself, so I guess it's fair game.

POW Sat 10/24/2015
NIQABARABATMS
INUREDORASHOO
EVOKEUBERHERR
CITIBLEARSBAR
EVENBETSEOCENE
SODLDSALLHAIL
LATINLOVERS
VANITYPRESS
KICKMESIGNS
AIRACESNATGPA
GRINDSDENSEFOG
ESLSTEELSMOTH
OTISORCAPARTA
NETSROOKDICES
ENYAYOREALERT

I'm pleased to make a comeback after a single, rather controversial outing a few years ago. I soon realized that cutting your teeth on themeless puzzles is probably the most intensive way of getting better at construction in general. A phrase like VANITY PRESS is ideal to me, because 1) it's a new entry for a Times puzzle, 2) it has so much personality, and 3) it's decipherable as a phrase even without prior knowledge, meaning it passes my "learnable moment" test. As a musician who currently finds himself at a highly academic institution, I love it.

Jacques LACAN may seem obscure, but he is UBER-big in academia (I originally had "'Hysteric's Discourse' psychoanalyst" hoping some solvers would lay down FREUD). KICK ME SIGNS are ... also big in academic settings? (Although, honestly, more cultural trope than reality? Tell me, world!) NIQAB and ARAB conversing with each another at the top is nice, though I hope implication of any sort of one-to-one between them has been avoided.

My non-reliance on any sort of autofill — does that qualify these puzzles as "artisanal"? — has taught me to think creatively about longer entries. ADULT SITES and BLANK CDS came about this way — it is always my hope that the quality of the seed entries and non-seed entries are near to each other enough that it becomes hard to tell which came first.

Thanks to Will and Joel for most of the clues and for a mild redo of the SE corner. The isolation there isn't ideal, but opening it up a bit would have meant undoing the central weave. I'm happy to see Will stuck more or less to the flavor of my original clues for 1D and 34A. My clue for 21D (BEDTIME STORY) was originally "Its end is rarely reached," but the published one is more on point. The transformation of 27D (CHESS) is just hilarious: my original clue was "Speed ___."

Sun 10/25/2015 HALLOWEEN COSTUMES
VICARSINPIECESAMPLY
ORECARFOOTNOTENOLIE
WEREWOLFBLITZERGOALS
TIDOYSSWEAPRYAM
ISITAGOSINPRIES
SETTOMBSTONEPHILLIPS
SEURATLAVEREMYSTIC
UPDOADOLPHETAESTA
EYEOFNEWTGINGRICHAMP
SLALOMMAONYUFEE
SOLTIINITPOOHMIENS
TOANILNHLDROOPS
RMSGRAVEDIGGERPHELPS
UPTOOHOQUAINTNAIL
NATHANUSSCMDIODINE
GHOSTBUSTERKEATONDUD
LOLASONAENTRAPS
ROEERARENRUEHIN
TRALABLACKCATSTEVENS
EAVESLEGALAGEADAGES
SLEETEVENEDUPILLGOT
Mon 10/26/2015
WORKSSHABBYSAW
ADIEUOOLALAUMA
CITYBYTHEBAYPAL
ONAUTOOXENSENT
PLUGALCATRAZ
PEPEWOKJAM
OBOEINEPTAROAR
GOLDENGATEBRIDGE
ONAIRSNAPENERF
RBISEASLAS
CABLECAREMIT
ISEEORIGATRAIN
SKASANFRANCISCO
CURSTALINOBIES
OPSWIZENSMEATY

I live in San Diego, but I've always felt that San Francisco is the most interesting city west of the Mississippi. I wouldn't call myself a liberal but you have to be impressed with San Francisco's role in the hippie counterculture, the sexual revolution, the anti-Vietnam-war peace movement, and the gay rights movement. It was certainly fortuitous that CITY BY THE BAY exactly matches SAN FRANCISCO, and the two biggest tourist attractions match also.

I knew the puzzle had to have the bridge, so I worked out a suspension to the 15x16 size. I spent quite a bit of time trying to design some grid art that looked like a bridge, but that proved to be more difficult than dogs, fish, and birds. I considered trying to work Haight-Ashbury in there somewhere, but my heart wasn't in it.

Hope you enjoyed the puzzle!

Tue 10/27/2015
GRIDINCASCRUX
AUDITOALLHOSE
ISLEATRIAEYED
THEHOLYBIBLE
ALIEDRESS
DIRECTSUNLIGHT
BONDSTAUOGRE
ROWHEARTSIP
ADABIRKBEANS
GARLICNECKLACE
ADDONAGER
SILVERBULLET
BAGSEARLSYOGA
ALPOSNOOPODOR
TEAMTESTYNEST
POW Wed 10/28/2015
JIGRUSTSDART
ACESENNUIAMES
CANNEDCORNMALE
KNEELSTAXDOT
ATRASSPLITPEAS
SOAKBASEELUDE
SOLBONYCROSS
FOODCOURT
SWIGSHULAMOD
ANISEGISTRACE
DIRTYRICEMINOT
OPESETIODINE
NETSBAKEDBEANS
ARALENEROSCOT
ISPYLOYALSRS

One way to understand what goes into constructing a NYT-worthy puzzle is to follow this email thread (which has been considerably edited and shortened.)

Hi Jay,

Joel Fagliano, writing on behalf of Will.

Thanks for showing us your FOOD COURT 15x. Will worries about running a puzzle with BATTERED CHICKEN, as a pun on domestic abuse isn't likely to amuse many people.

Hi Will,

What If we rebuilt the puzzle using GRILLED PORK CHOP instead?

Hi Jay,

GRILLED PORK CHOP feels inconsistent, because the other entries all have to do with the offense committed (corruption, divorce, etc), whereas this only refers to what happens once the PORK CHOP enters the courtroom (what a weird sentence to write!). Anyway, we still like the core idea here.

Hi Will and Joel,

We worked hard to come up with a replacement to GRILLED PORK CHOP. Below are 3 options.

17-A Rolled tortillas prosecuted for being high? BAKED ENCHILADAS

17-A Fungi involved in a wrongful termination suit? CANNED MUSHROOMS

17-A Game fish suing for slander? BLACKENED SALMON

Hi guys,

Thanks for the reworked theme proposal.

None of your proposed new theme entries sounded terribly familiar. What if, instead, the theme consisted of the following:

BAKED BEANS (10)

CANNED CORN (10)

Hi Will,

We rebuilt FOODCOURT using the theme entries you proposed.

Hi Jay,

Thanks for the new version. While the grid doesn't have anything that's actually bad, it also doesn't have anything actually good — and overall it feels awfully crosswordy. Would you be willing to try this again with a little more oomph?

Hi Will,

Thanks for hanging in there with us. Have a look at this next draft.

Hi Jay,

Yes, much better! Clue this up for a Wednesday, and we'll be all set.

Thanks a lot.

--Will

Thu 10/29/2015
IHOPEASEDRIPS
POURSLABRADON
SOCIALIFESPIRE
OTHEREERIEONE
SKINSTRUCTOR
MYSTICASAP
UAENEPALSTRAP
CLEFDOVERSORE
HEIDIPIXAROIL
FINKNONFAT
CHICKENOODLE
LUCBLINDEPCOT
EMAILLIONSHARE
FORGOLOREEVEN
TREATANSEWEST

Hey all! Excited to be making my NYT debut today.

I came up with this puzzle during my last few weeks of college (I know, I was pretty wild). I'd only recently begun constructing seriously, and was brainstorming phrases I could literalize in some new way. I hit upon TIMESHARE, I think, and thought of the sharing mechanic you see here. In that version, just the first four theme entries would have had the sharing mechanism, but luckily I hit on the dual theme entry/revealer LION'(S)HARE at some point before getting too far along. This way is much more elegant.

This was actually one of the first puzzles I ever finished. Were I to redo this I'd definitely have put more effort into getting rid of some of the gluier bits of fill (IGA, LUC, UAE, AVI, ANSE, IPSO stick out), but overall I am happy with this puzzle. I like the long downs a lot, and the medium-length stuff is generally OK too. I wish my original clue for TENT [Pitcher's base?] had been retained, but I'll get over that (in time). The cluing was definitely improved overall.

Until next time, happy solving!

Fri 10/30/2015
ITSMAGICFIATS
CATALONIAARLEN
BPICTURESMOLTO
MEREDUNSENTER
GAITERPHAT
CARGONOTASYET
ASHRAMSSTARTER
SPEEDYSHIITE
SETTEESBOATMEN
ROADRAGEREESE
BURGSTRATA
ASIANYETILATH
LUCRERASPBERRY
SAABSSTUPEFIED
ALLOTSPITTAKE
Sat 10/31/2015
BERETFLAPJACKS
ALONEEASYASABC
SCALESWARMINTO
HADINSONETOON
EMTSREMAXWNYC
DIETSODASHESSE
INSNOUNFAR
NOTRUMPGENESET
ABSDRUGHUH
THUGSTIEDSCORE
VASEMOVESHOOK
IRAQAXONMITZI
DIGUPDIRTOLSON
OBEISANCEPLINK
LOSTATSEAESTES

I constructed this in early 2014, which I only mention because it's interesting to note how my style has changed in the past year or two, so to myself this puzzle is something of a time capsule. What I prioritize in constructing now is largely similar to a couple years ago, though it's changed enough for me to notice the difference. Certainly, almost all of the puzzle I still stand by. My construction started in the NE quadrant, and I'd still be pleased with a similar level of quality today, but would probably give the NW corner another go if I had the chance now. At the very least, I'd limit myself to one IN!

On a tangential note, as we know, an entry's inclusion is by no means an endorsement from the crossword's author, but it is in the case of 24-Across, it happens to be a ringing one! Despite living in Raleigh, I'm a huge fan of many WNYC programs (especially "Radiolab"), which I hear via podcasts. I'm a small-time sustainer for the station, but hopefully the boost from including them in this puzzle will supplement that in some way. As far as I can tell, this is their crossword debut as an answer ... Hopefully the first of many!