My ears perked up when the radio announcer said with some fanfare that "The following is an encore presentation." A few seconds later I realized it was something I'd already heard. It was just a rerun! I thought that was like calling a used car a certified pre-owned vehicle. And then the penny dropped --maybe a crossword theme there.
After a final list of theme entries was settled on, designing and filling the grid proved to be very challenging. The long horizontal themers, including two 22-letter spanners, plus the fact that Will wanted them in a set order going from bad to increasingly worse events, greatly restricted options with fill. My first two attempts were judged to have too much unappealing dreck/glue. The third time around I started from scratch with an emphasis on keeping the fill as clean as possible and it finally made the cut. Whew!
This idea for this theme arose from thinking about Schrödinger puzzles, and wondering if I could potentially create one so that entries that contain more than one distinct stand-alone letter, for example, VITAMIN which can be followed by A, B, C, D, E, or K, intersect another such entry. Ideally, the shared possible letters for each pair of theme entries would be some combination of A, B, C and D, so that the revealer MULTIPLE CHOICE could be used. This didn't end up panning out, but it did lead me, through a somewhat stream-of-consciousness manner of contemplating crossword themes, to come up with the one you see here.
The first version of this puzzle had the theme entries VITAMINS, MUSICAL NOTES, CHEMICAL SYMBOLS, GREEK LETTERS, and ALPHABET, and was rejected on the basis that ALPHABET was too obvious, and GREEK LETTERS was inconsistent. It was tough to find a new set of symmetrical theme entries, but I'm pleased with the current set, particularly as in each case, the category contains other members besides the ones that are composed of a single letter, and the letters are the members of the category themselves rather than being abbreviations, unlike something such as L M S for SHIRT SIZES.
I spent a decent amount of time trying to remove the black square between TILE and GREEK and its symmetrical partner to allow for two pairs of long parallel downs, but I didn't like the compromises on the fill, so I decided to stick to 78 words. Given that this ended up as a Monday (I had expected it to be a Tuesday) and the importance of smooth fill for Monday puzzles, I stand by this decision, and though there aren't a ton of bonuses here, I'm fond of SHOT TO HELL and some of the mid-length fill like US NEWS and HANSEL (he's so hot right now).
I don't have a lot to say as far as the clues go, but a few of mine I'm glad to see survive the edit are 49-Across, 9-Down, 31-Down and 56-Down. Though I'm not sure it will be particularly applicable to this puzzle, I like the inside nod in the clue that Will and Joel came up with for AHA.
In any case it's great to be back, and I hope (fingers crossed!) that my puzzle will be a pleasant start to everyone's week!
It was a big goal of mine to get a puzzle accepted into the Times before I turned 21, and I just barely got there. And boy, it was not easy. With six theme clues in the puzzle, it was tough to get them all to fit nicely, and it meant completely changing the grid and reworking the fill many times during the revision process. I learned a lot from it though, and I hope my next submissions won't require quite so much tinkering. I'm very happy with the final result.
As for the theme, I'd had the idea floating around for awhile but didn't think it'd amount to a full crossword's worth of clues. The first one I came up with was BY ITSELF, and I at the time I couldn't think of any more. But I revisited the idea, brainstormed a bunch, and managed to get six in total. My favorite is definitely BENEATH ME. I hope you enjoy this crossword as much as I enjoyed writing it.
This one started out with HELLSCAPE. After I got a stack I liked in the NW (no 3's, yay!) I toyed with using FIRE ESCAPE (opposite GARAGE SALE singular) as an asymmetric minithemer, but I just couldn't make it work. But some failed attempt made me see that DRAMA might be a good ending in that slot. Rounding the corner at I WANT IT ALL was the hardest part. Thinking about I WANT CANDY for that slot helped inspire the clue for PINATA. Between that clue and CONDOM, I wouldn't say this puzzle razes the mansion of the breakfast test, but it does jump on the furniture quite a bit.
If you haven't noticed, I have a fondness for the non-question mark misdirection clues like [Dish transmitters]. They've got to pretty precise to avoid the punctuated caveat, so it's gratifying to be able to come up with several of them in one puzzle. But as much as I appreciate the diabolical nature of the [Early '60s] misdirect in the KENNEDY, I mean, LINCOLN ERA clue, that one wasn't mine. That one needs more than a ?-- it needs a horror movie audience yelling "Watch out! It's a TRAP!" Hope you all enjoyed the ride.
ERIK: Music and wordplay are but two of Alex's superpowers (you can see some of her punny drawings on her Instagram), so when this puzzle's then-half-formed theme needed rescuing, I knew who to shine the Bat-Signal for. Through a couple of revisions and upwards of a hundred emails, the collaboration was always fun, and I'm looking forward to her next puzzle.
ALEX: Erik was the true superhero here — zipped nimbly through the bulk of the work and picked up after all my snafus. I'm a super-newbie to everything in the crossword world, but I do enjoy myself a good pun every now and then, so this was fascinating and foreign and exciting and daunting all at once! And I owe much thanks to Erik for inviting me to sidekick this mission in the first place.
For your enjoyment (we hope), here are some of the theme answers from the cutting room floor:
[Human Torch's favorite band?] (3,7,4)
[Blade's favorite band?] (7,7)
[Wonder Twins' favorite band?] (5)
[Storm's favorite rapper?] (6)
[Beast's favorite singer?] (6)
[Wolverine's favorite guitarist?] (5)
[Lady Deathstrike's favorite band?] (13)
[Banshee's favorite band?] (5,5)
I'm very excited to have my first puzzle published in the NEWYORK Times!
This started out as a puzzle about satirical news — that idea hit a SNAG and didn't end go anywhere, but I liked LASTWEEKTONIGHT as a grid-spanning entry and thought this could be another way to use it if I could identify additional theme entries. EIGHTDAYSAWEEK came easy, AMONTHOFSUNDAYS was less forthcoming.
This puzzle was submitted in February 2017 and accepted in June 2017 after being edited ATAD in the middle-right for the quality of the fill. Will and team further changed the bottom right corner from OWEN/RARE/MRED to OWIE/RAID/MRIS. About 15% of my clues survived intact and another 25% with some wording changes — looks like my clue-writing skills still need to MATURE. I very much appreciate the improvements from the EDS, particularly to the wording of the revealer.
I thought it would be interesting to make a puzzle where the entry numbers corresponded to the atomic numbers of elements. I played around with this concept for a while and realized that I could fit some of the noble gases into a grid in this way. I thought it would be cute if I could get all of the stable noble gases to fit (not radon, which is unstable and has an atomic number too high to fit into a 15x15 grid this way). This turned out to be very challenging, but I found a grid that worked and obeyed the usual symmetry and word count of the NYT. I'm not sure that this grid is unique, but I couldn't come up with any other sensible ones that work.
The grid is pretty restrictive in where I could place the revealer (initially "NOBLEGAS ELEMENT"), but I was able to get it into the grid without too much of a mess. In addition I could put the revealer ATNO in the lower right corner. Filling the grid was a bit challenging because of the asymmetric arrangement of theme words and I couldn't add any cheater squares as that would disrupt where the noble gas elements were placed. I originally had the theme words clued differently, but thanks to Will for the way he decided to present it — it's better than the way that I submitted it.
Hope you enjoy the puzzle!
I guess I can say with a smile that this is just an OK puzzle. This worked only because I was able to find four 4-letter synonyms for OK that could be clued otherwise, which is why "so-so", at first an obvious synonym, wasn't included.
I also wanted to include a gunfighter on each side. Fun fact: Kirk Douglas, who played Doc Holliday in the 1957 movie, celebrated his centennial last year.
Unlike many puzzles, I clearly recall the genesis of this one. While working on another grid, which will be appearing in a different venue next year, I came up with the clue "Mustered" for one of the entries. I found the similarity in sound between mustered and mustard amusing and contemplated using the clue "Mustard, say?" as a playful reinterpretation of the ", say" crossword cluing convention. I ultimately decided to just go with "Mustered," but I thought it would be fun to create a puzzle using that gimmick.
In my original manuscript, the across clues were all in the form "XXXX, say?," and I avoided using that cluing convention in the down direction. I hoped there would be a fun aha moment discovering that in this case "say" literally means to say the clue out loud, and I was a little disappointed that Will et al. decided to scrap that idea in favor of a note to the solver. Perhaps it would have been too frustrating as I originally designed it.
As you might guess, creating this puzzle was a very time-consuming (and manual) process. Perhaps I'm a glutton for punishment — all but one of my published NYT puzzles to date have required unusually labor-intensive construction techniques.
I started by locking in some of the longer across entries and then gradually building out the grid from there. Due to the homophonic cluing constraint, I repeatedly had to redo completed areas when I couldn't get them to work with the rest of the grid. Notably, there are only four three-letter words in the across direction. Somewhat surprisingly, these three-letter slots were the hardest to fill. It turns out that, relatively speaking, slots of length four or more are much more amenable to homophonic shenanigans.
While it may not necessarily be my magnum opus, this is my favorite puzzle I've ever created.
That's because the puzzle is me*. I'll shamelessly admit that I've listened to "TRAP QUEEN" at least 1,738 times. I'm equally obsessed with Pink Floyd, and "US AND THEM" is a classic. I graduated from UVA's engineering school this past May, though I was an ECON MAJOR as well. CHOCO TACO as a crossword entry feels animated yet quirky, and that about sums me up. LEFT BRAIN? My right brain doesn't exist. LOGARITHM? I'm a numbers guy. ATTIC DOOR? Eh, I'm weird and have my flaws, I suppose.
I could go on and on about how much I enjoyed making this thing, but like talking about myself, it just feels awkward. I guess it's worth noting that on top of everything else, this is my first true crossword publication since I became the Times' new assistant puzzles editor!
Thanks to Will for letting me edit this with him, to Joel for checking this out over a text conversation two years ago, to you solvers for dealing with me in grid form...and to just everybody in general for giving me a shot.
*With the exception of EGOMANIAC, I hope! Also prefer a mojito to a PINA COLADA any day.
JOHN: A few years ago, Michael and I decided to start a friendly competition, a race to see who could hit for the cycle first. I'm thrilled to say that it's a tie! We worked for a few weeks on compiling a list of themers. I've gotten rejections on similar puzzles because the themers just weren't funny enough. So, we waited until Michael was back in Florida and basically focus-grouped the list to both our families at a July 4th picnic, calling them out to kids and adults and seniors alike, to see which got good groans and which got bad groans.
MICHAEL: We trashed many drafts of the layout before we arrived at this one. I'm pleased with how much bonus content we managed to pack into the fill, so that even if the theme isn't your cup of tea, there's plenty to keep you interested. Many of the theme clues were edited for style or space. We had some colorful entries, like "Results of fire hydrant negotiations" for 61-Across and "They might automatically ease out after a big meal" for 98-Across and "Collection featuring 'It Came from the Deli' and 'Clean Up on Aisle Two'" for 114-Across.
This puzzle was inspired by Paula Gamache's 3/8/17 crossword, which included the entry "indoor cat." I noticed the hidden "orca" and started looking for other "orca" phrases. There aren't many, but it turns out that six (including five orcas plus the "killer whale" revealer) is enough for a small pod. And, luckily, both "radiator cap" and "killer whale" contain eleven letters.
My mother-in-law's name is Patsy, and I'm a big fan of Patsy Cline — "Walkin' After Midnight" is one of my favorites. Not hard to see where I got the idea for the puzzle.
What is hard to see is PATSY CLINE in the grid. She could have gone where PIGEON COOP is, but my mother-in-law in a crossword where PATSY is associated with CHUMP, SUCKER, and MARK ... hmm.
JOHN: Not long ago, Will Shortz found out that I solved the puzzle daily and thought to link me as a "Celebrity Collaborator" with Brendan Emmett Quigley, one of his best puzzle constructors. By good fortune, at the time I was shooting DADDY'S HOME 2 in Boston, where Brendan lives. He and I met for dinner in a South End restaurant, just to get to know each other. A hyper-alert, excitable man, Brendan could barely contain himself. Before the main course even arrived, he lurched down, took a laptop out of his bag, and began my lightning-quick education in how to construct a Times crossroad.
Our first challenge was to come up with a theme that reflected my public persona and profession. We hit on one that I thought was pretty clever, involving a rebus of the word "act": "infraction", "factotum", etc. That was when I learned just how involved Will Shortz was in every single Times crossword: Brendan ran the "act" rebus by him, and he damned us with faint praise and said that we could do better.
In a few two-hour sessions in my Back Bay hotel room, with Brendan pacing around and staring at the traffic on Commonwealth Avenue, we hashed out the puzzle that appears in the October 18 edition of the New York Times. Brendan taught me volumes about the dark mysteries of puzzle creation as if he were giving me a backstage tour of the Met Opera House after a production full of dazzling stage effects. Our handiwork arrives about four months after we finished it, a period when I have had to keep its clues a secret from all my puzzle pals. This has been a task even harder than creating the puzzle itself. I'm that excited and that proud.
I hope you enjoy solving it one tenth as much as I enjoyed creating it. Well, co-creating. I'm nothing without the remarkable Mr. Quigley.
BRENDAN: It was a joy to work with John. It felt at times that he was tackling this project much like a method actor would tackle a juicy role. He went from learning about the characters in the crossword world and their philosophies behind puzzles to taking this information and imbuing it with his own experiences to make a puzzle himself. He had a hand in everything from theme development to grid construction to cluing.
In regards to the grid, I spaced the theme answers in a way that each corner would have flexibility, and so we crammed them with as much theater-related content as possible. KATISHA is possibly my favorite answer that's appeared in all of my puzzles this year, and it was all John.
An earlier version of this puzzle went over the word limit, so was essentially DOA with the Times. It also crammed far too much theme material into the grid, forcing some pretty ugly fill in places. In short, it was a bucket of bolts. Solution? Rethink it, keep the same theme idea, but scale back on the theme material and keep things as clean as possible.
The main challenge, of course, was stacking good theme answers — and the central HEAD OVER HEELS revealer provided extra challenge since it doubled as a pair of theme entries in its own right, and needed its own set of accompanying head and heel. DIRTY RAT dovetailed nicely, but I struggled with 36-Across until I kept digging and chanced upon BIG WHEEL.
62-Across was originally POTOK, and I loved the curiosity that both author Potok and 47-Across actor TOPOL shared the same first name — CHAIM. But it forced some unwieldy and convoluted cluing, so I'm glad Will and company changed Potok to NOT OK, which was very OK to me. Another one: 31-Across was RUMI in my version (a debut), with MIR at 32-Down, but I noted to Will they could choose RUDI and the abbreviation DIR if they wanted. And they did. But RUMI, an oft-quoted 13th-century Sufi mystic (and a favorite of my wife), has to be acceptable in future puzzles. You think?
It's pretty rare that I build a puzzle around a single, central marquee entry, but if there were ever to be such a case, GUYFAWKESMASK is about as good as I can muster. It must have been deemed too tricky for the Friday audience, but I had my fingers crossed the original clue of "Anonymous symbol?" would make the final cut. My clues have been saved on many past occasions by the editorial team, so I can certainly respect their judgment. Maybe this is a late makeup for my "Stone work" clue for JFK on a Thursday puzzle all those years ago...
Rest of the puzzle appears to hold up, even if the quadrants are a little closed off. They all feel pretty smooth, but maybe could have used another splashy modern entry or two. Perhaps a little more crossword glue might've done the trick. It's always tricky to strike the right balance. Hope it's a pleasant solve regardless.
BRAD: As I recall, this collaboration started when Sam sent me a dense and ambitious block at the middle of the grid. EMOJI and ROGUE ONE were the clear stars. It was mostly beautiful, but I think there was some plural that set off my Hinky Meter.
SAM: What, ALGEBRAS is bad? More importantly, I now want to make a puzzle containing HINKY METER.
BRAD: I sent back something that kept ROGUE ONE and crossed it with a specific EMOJI that we thought lent verve in its debut.
SAM: Yes, credit to Brad for the use of a particular EMOJI, and double (nay, triple) credit to him for the [Sext symbols] clue. One of my favorites.
BRAD: Sam supplied another great pop-culture 15, and helped me out with the nice SET MENU in the NW, as I wanted to recycle COSMIC JOKE from an abandoned draft of something I did with Byron Walden. Sam was crushing it on the cluing front, too: 39A, 10D & 11D echo. We submitted two clues for 17A, both his, and I was hoping maybe to see the other one, which poked fun at an urban myth about their shelf life.
SAM: I love me a Wilber-Walden collaboration--a guaranteed thirty hours of staring and erasing (and fun).
BRAD: Sam and I both worked on all the remaining corners after the SW went in, trying out combinations off the Z, voting Version 1 or Version 2 like at the eye doctor. Always a joy to see Sam's mind and craft going on all cylinders.
SAM: Brad is one of the great collaborators in crosswords. I believe this is his 25th collaboration in the Times, a testament to how well he plays with others. (Hey, I now have something in common with Emanuel Ax!) He is forgiving and supportive, but his keen eye also gets you to perform at your best.
In this social media age of posting, tagging, hashtagging, tweeting, sharing, and TMI, I was inspired to create a crossword that would be interpreted as my Facebook newsfeed, with status updates and selfies chronicling my imaginary life as I traipsed across the globe. I pored over lists of tourist attractions, theme parks, World Heritage sites, landmarks, museums, sporting and concert venues, bucket list locations, etc. looking for side-by-side "ME" letters and tried to garner a varied and fun list of places where a selfie might be snapped. In fact, I googled every one of the locations I used in the puzzle and not surprisingly, there were scores of selfie images of those who had beaten me to the punch.
Some of my selfies that didn't make it to the grid included visits to TIANANMEN SQUARE, TRANSAMERICA PYRAMID, HOLLYWOOD WALK OF FAME, METROPOLITAN OPERA, NOTRE DAME CATHEDRAL, and all but one of every MEMORIAL and MONUMENT you can think of.
Many thanks to Will, Joel, and Sam for their editing, and for coincidentally running the puzzle on the day when I will be visiting 106-across — and yes, taking a selfie!!
I saw a puzzle in WSJ just a few weeks ago that had a very similar concept — the progression POINT, LINE, PLANE, SPACE. Thankfully, I didn't get totally scooped because my puzzle has ANOTHER DIMENSION.
The idea for this puzzle came during the election season of 2016, the revealer was heard and seen quite often at many campaign rallies, and it's 15 letters long! It was quite natural then to try to turn it into a puzzle theme.
I first thought to use the names of some banks in phrases but found that really wasn't working so I quickly settled on types of banks instead. What you see are the theme entries I first came up with, I'm pretty happy with the 4-1; 1-2-1; 1-4; 1-2-1 break patterns.
After acceptance I sent Will a version with all the theme entries spanning the grid, but he felt the fill had been too compromised, so he stayed with this version. Thanks to Will, Joel and team for polishing it up. I hope it was a pleasurable solve.
Today's theme began as an attempt to create a "meta-rebus" puzzle—i.e., a rebus puzzle in which every rebus square contained the letters REBUS. While searching for potential theme answers, I happened upon MT. EREBUS and realized that it could serve as a tricky revealer in its own right. Favorite answer: GROWUP, whose original clue, "Response to a playground insult," appropriately aged into "Response to a sophomoric joke" en route to publication.
This puzzle dates back to September 2015, right before I started college. The seed entry was PINK VIAGRA . . . give me a break, I was still a teenager ;). I originally had LINKED at 3-Down, which stayed in there for a while until I realized I could knock out a pair of blocks and extend it to LINKED-IN PROFILE.
The corresponding 15-letter slot on the right constrained things a lot more than I'd initially expected it to, which is why 67-Across ended up being a neutral entry rather than an asset (in the words of the miniature Jeff Chen who lives on my shoulder). Despite that, I'm pleased with this grid overall. Not my flashiest puzzle ever, but the amount of zing seems about right for a Friday, and I like how there aren't any major clunkers. And to all my fellow Nintendo junkies, don't worry, I still haven't given up on getting Will to clue MII as "Personalized Nintendo avatar" instead of as the Roman numeral :).
In other news, I'm now editing a daily crossword 15x15 crossword for Andrews McMeel Universal! The puzzles, which go live in a few weeks, will all be Tuesday-Wednesday NYT in difficulty (including two Wednesday-level themelesses at the end of each week). Hope many of you will give them a try.
This puzzle was constructed in October 2016 and accepted for publication in February of this year. It is one of a series of open grids that I constructed in the late summer and fall of 2016.
This grid has the largest open square count of any I have constructed to date. The layout of the blocks was designed for that purpose. It is as close to being four independent mini-puzzles as you can get, and this fact needs to be taken into account in the cluing so that solvers can gain a foothold.
This grid took longer than most to construct and in the end required compromises, as has been my experience with many puzzles. The Scrabble average often suffers in grids like this because the friendliest letters in the open areas tend to be the ones with the lowest scores.
I hope solvers enjoy this one.
A couple thoughts:
1. "Going off script" includes lines from four white actors.
Moreover, the SHOW ME THE MONEY line was also spoken by Cuba Gooding Jr., a black actor who goes uncredited in this puzzle (despite upstaging Tom Cruise).
2. "Going off script" also includes lines from four male actors.
The original version did include WOODLINE / I FEEL PRETTY OH SO PRETTY, which got axed because it yielded asymmetric themers. But then again, Natalie Wood, an American with Russian parents, was cast to play Maria, a Puerto Rican. Dios.
Aside from Mrs. Wood, I only found revealers that referenced white males (PENNLINE, CRYSTALLINE, SHORTLINE, etc.), let alone ones that matched with legitimately iconic movie quotes.
So, open question: If Hollywood's gender/race representation problem means that, after an honest effort, you only get white male actors for your ___LINE puzzle, do you scrap it? Is doing otherwise cynical and opportunistic? Are your sins mitigated if you subsequently construct an UZI GAL GODOT puzz? (Very interested in collaborating on that puzzle. Let's chat.)
I originally set out to create a Halloween-themed puzzle that incorporated all the familiar characters associated with Halloween: witches, ghosts, skeletons, vampires, and zombies. But the theme never felt tight enough. After a while, I settled on a witch/BROOM HILDA-themed puzzle and sent it off.
While Will liked the idea, he felt young solvers might not be familiar with the character. So not only did I have to replace BROOM HILDA at 58-Across, I had to do some serious re-cluing, (CHARM SCHOOL, for example, was clued as "Educational institution attended by 58-Across?")
Here's where things got tricky. One of the original theme fills was WITCH HUNT, which meant I couldn't use the word "witch" in the clues. "Educational institution attended by a Halloween broom-rider" just didn't do the trick. It felt too forced. In the end, I dropped WITCH HUNT as an answer, and thankfully Will was okay with the puzzle having just four main fills.
As always, I can't tell you how much of a treat it is to see one of my puzzles in the NYT.
This puzzle was inspired by an issue of Spielbox, a magazine devoted to the German boardgaming scene. After reading about some Martin Luther-themed games released to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Ninety-Five Theses, I thought, "if someone can make a board game out of this, then why not a crossword?"
Since the anniversary falls on a Tuesday, I decided that a straight-forward tribute puzzle would be appropriate (it was either that or wait until 2117 for the 600th anniversary, which falls on a Sunday).
Tribute puzzles require interesting theme entries, and I wanted to pack in as many as I could. Fortunately, MARTIN LUTHER breaks evenly into two 6-letter words, which are much easier to deal with than a 12-letter entry. Likewise, ALL SAINTS CHURCH is a constructor-friendly 15 letters long — thereby filling an entire row without forcing the placement of any black squares.
Still, after locking MARTIN and LUTHER into the corners and putting ALL SAINTS CHURCH in the 8th row (since it lacks an equal-length counterpart), I had limited flexibility in positioning the remaining theme entries (especially since PROTESTANT and REFORMATION had to be consecutive). Fill options were also somewhat constrained because more than half of the down answers had to cross multiple themers.
In my original manuscript, I clued DOOR non-thematically. Although this editorial change brings the theme square count to a hefty 73, my constructor's brain is bothered that the symmetrically placed 21-Across is not likewise thematic.
Finally, in my ideal world, the puzzle wouldn't assert that Martin Luther posted the Ninety-Five Theses on the door of All Saint's Church on 10/31/1517 since the only thing he did for sure that day was mail them to the Archbishop of Mainz. Per recent scholarship, the church door posting likely happened sometime later.