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Puzzles for October, 2020
with constructor comments

Thu 10/1/2020
EPICUNPCDLATE
NANONORADELVE
GRAONTROLOFFAL
TAOISMGIRDS
SADIESINGES
TRUEBETMIA
EGGSUMOOGRES
TOUCHTONEPHONES
SPOOLICETLAP
NEECONTALU
MANTRASTIED
SAVERFILMIR
TRICETWEENAGER
AGATEROARCAKY
GENGSANDSKLEE

The idea came to me back when I started my puzzle "career" umpty-mumble years ago. I was working for the phone company back then, in a job that called for staring at a telephone keypad for hours on end and having nothing to do, so I guess it was destined to be. I've long loved the idea, but it took me a dozen-odd years to actually make it work, which means I either have great foresight or need to get out more. (I have my suspicions on that count.)

This was the fourth version of this grid I submitted. For the first one, I used buried spellings for the numbers as well as the letter combos (the TWO in NETWORK, for example); Will and team thought this was one trick too many, and suggested treating the numbers as straight-up rebuses instead. This also allowed me to add a fifth theme square, which is one of those horrid curses that tastes suspiciously like a blessing.

I stumbled through two more rejected drafts trying to cram everything in, a challenge in the same way that backing a school bus into your breakfast nook is a challenge, but I finally got it so the grid wasn't too disjointed and the fill wasn't too cringeworthy. I think fewer proper names would be a vast improvement, but beggars, choosers, and all that. Either way, it's done, it's decent, it's Autumn, life is grand.

Fri 10/2/2020
AMBERRELYBETA
CAIROAXIOMATIC
MINEOZENMASTER
ENGFROCKCAUSE
SCOOTERSSAL
ONLOWSCUTTLE
QUIDPROQUOHIT
URGEIDBETDIVA
ISHTESTSCORES
KETTLESMOLDS
WESPRECEPTS
AMBITPLANKARA
JAILBREAKPORES
ANKLEBONEIOTAS
RYESGNARTHYME

I submitted this puzzle in October of 2019. The seed entry was QUID PRO QUO which was in the news a lot at the time. I also like the entry JAIL BREAK which has been in the puzzle before, but not with this meaning. I like the new clues for 3-Down and 19-Across (new fun fact). I did not know when I wrote this puzzle is how relevant the LIVE STREAM entry would become, or how timely RBG would be.

I am donating my fee for this puzzle to VoteAmerica a nonprofit, nonpartisan, charitable 501(c)3 organization that assists voters to make registering to vote, requesting mail-in ballots and interacting with their local election officials easier.

Sat 10/3/2020
SILKBOXERSATVS
ONEFINEDAYUHOH
PETCARRIERDELI
SSTNESTICICLE
FCCHEARTIES
PHARAOHSNOOTY
LUCYRUSTCRABS
AMTADSPEAKDAH
NAIADTARNPELE
NORMALSTROLLS
SENTINELEEL
ERVINGLOLASFO
TRESECOLOGICAL
TORTROSEPARADE
ORBSSTAGENAMES

BRAD: With this puzzle, my New York Times tally draws even at 27 solos and 27 co-writes. I have more collaborations in the queue, too, so the total will soon tip in favor of shared labor. It's nothing I ever planned, but I've come to see the crossword community as very familial, and co-writes are one of the ways that plays out for me. Doug was my first constructing partner ever, and we made our debut as a team ten years ago. This puzzle took shape in January 2020, and I like that the ROSE PARADE is in here, given that Doug lives in that vicinity. (Did you know that the early days of the Rose Parade included ostrich races?) The clue for HUMAN ERROR is one of two I submitted; I'm sure the other one had to do with the use of Hawkeye in pro tennis.

DOUG: I'm always thrilled to share a byline with Brad! I love the clue for PELE at 43-Across. And now I want to be the Extraordinary Minister of something.

Sun 10/4/2020 YOU'RE TELLING ME!
ADMIREACTUPHOTDATE
GODSENDDIANETRUEDAT
OCTOBERMAKINGMEBLUSH
MUMBAIEQUALSALTO
OUTOFYOURGOURDBYTES
WHARFBLARNEYOJOS
LUMPALISHOOGAS
SHAHSMISSINGTHEPOINT
THATDERAILROAR
BOOHOOSFLOWERPETCO
INFORITNOWDARNTOOTIN
GEHRYIROBOTOURSONG
TOESHANGRYSTET
ONLYASGOODASTHEAMITY
PEPBIOSAHAACRE
FLAGDIALINGCREEL
CAMRYCOMPANYYOUKEEP
OTOESAIDNONURSES
SOMETHINGELSEOATMILK
TWOPAIREXAMSSKIAREA
ANARCHYSTRUTAPNEWS

Welp, I hope the puns landed, because I found myself shaking my head with one goofy grin on my face during the brainstorming stages. These were a true delight to come up with! They especially amused me as I tried to imagine each exclaimed in the context of the puzzle.

I can't remember which inspired the idea, though I do recall the discovery of ONLY AS GOOD AS THE / COMPANY YOU KEEP hitting me with one potent "constructor's high" — at that point, I'd been searching for good symmetric counterparts to both OUT OF YOUR GOURD and MISSING THE POINT for days.

I've always loved pun themes like these as a solver, as it's neat to try coming up with bonus examples of your own. Can you figure out my favorite left on the cutting room floor?:

To an informant: "You're ..." (3,2,4)

(answer at the end of Jeff's commentary)

Mon 10/5/2020
PINPATENTFDIC
ESEOLIVERTERI
RAWFOOTAGEMBAS
PIERREASPER
SARIMITRAIMI
HALFBAKEDIDEAS
LIEGEWOEFUL
ANGTMIHERSIA
CORONAPOETS
COOKEDTHEBOOKS
TRUSSEDSDICE
PISANSOOTHE
PRIGBURNTUMBER
EDENBREYERAMI
PASSRENEWSGEE

I hope you find this puzzle to be ... well done.

*Rimshot*

Tue 10/6/2020
HISSPATYADDA
ACTIARCHELIOT
LEONSOLESAMOA
FRIGHTFULOWNER
SCOURMME
FRACKANDRUIN
CODTYPEIODINE
AVIDUSCSEXT
LEVIEDHAHASSS
FRANKAMATEUR
ERAIDEAS
FRISKYBUSINESS
PIANOTAFTARGO
ANJOUAMOSMOTH
MEANTGASESSO

ACME: It's been wonderful collaborating with Alan. I believe this is our third in a row. Altho the idea was Alan's, these particular themers resonate deeply with me.

We originally had FROCKCONCERT which still makes me giggle but initially cost us a potential rejection. Happily, Will and Co. let us substitute in FRACKANDRUIN which in the end I think is a stronger, appeals to my politics and a more timely phrase.

FRIGHTFULOWNER is all too real in my current landlord situation and FRISKYBUSINESS is a shout-out to my dearly departed love of my life, Blackjack.

ALAN: It was fantastic collaborating with the funny and talented ACME! This was actually the first collaboration we had accepted by NYT last December. It still feels like my debut puzzle, which is really exciting. This idea came out of a spitballing session on another idea and we both had fun making these theme entries and clues. We got three entries pretty quickly but the fourth one was elusive. We are very thankful to the editors for working with us on an improved fourth theme entry. Team Will also tweaked several clues, definitely for the better, including the very enjoyable clues for 39D and 62A.

I could not have made this or any other puzzle without Jeff Chen and Jim Horne's XWordInfo.com site, their wordlists, and all the help Jeff and others have given me. I do not know of a better place for a new constructor to start. The crossword constructing community is amazing, and so supportive. Now if I could get Jim to help me with some tricky RegEx searches :)!

POW Wed 10/7/2020
TWASPIGGYPITA
GALAOSHEAEROS
ITLLPLOTSREUP
FETALASSRINGS
RODENTHBLEH
NCOSADSONGACC
ALTGEHRYDRE
NORMERITEDLOO
ACURASPYENEWS
KEELSTBIRD
TEALBARN
LOOKMANOHANDS
MUIRBUENOIRON
MINTAGREEEASE
ASKSSHOTSSTOW

I hoped to include one more theme answer that had NO HANDS, but I just couldn't make EX-GAMBLER or BANKRUPT CASINO fit in the grid. Alas.

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 help I can to help you get your puzzles published. Contact me via Twitter (@trudeauross) or my personal puzzle site.

Thu 10/8/2020
ALOEHOWIESIS
BABEBARONYTMC
SPARECHANGEARE
SMIRCHADDSIN
PIANOACAONICE
STEEDHARDCASH
PURSEDNCR
PASSEDTHEBUCK
KEAWANING
TWOCENTSLITER
SHOALYAPSTREP
HORRORONACID
OUTTIMEISMONEY
UGHHOOPLASEED
THYSTPATTSPS

FRANCESCA: I'm so happy to finally have a puzzle published in the NYT.

I've been solving and constructing puzzles since I was a teenager, and when I retired, I decided to focus on getting them published. I was intimidated when I first reached out for help in this endeavor, but I was pleasantly surprised by the generosity and affability of the puzzle community, and the gracious (and helpful) rejections from the editors and staff of the publications. I'm not sure why I thought they'd be snooty — maybe because they are celebrities in my eyes.

Apart from Jeff, I've also been mentored by Vic Fleming and David Steinberg. They both patiently walked me through the dos and don'ts of crossword construction a few years ago. As a result, I published puzzles in the Orange County Register, the LA Times, and Mega crosswords, among others.

I came up with the basis for this theme well over a year ago and went in search of a collaborator. I was directed to Jeff Chen. He tightened up the theme and guided me patiently via 100's (I swear) of emails to this final crossword.

Thank you, Jeff, and thank you to the crossword community.

Fri 10/9/2020
ECONMAJORHANGS
MANOAMANOEXERT
OLIVEPITSLEVAR
BIOLOYALATE
ACNETSPNOIDEA
NODSTOOATMASK
DEICERFLITS
SPACESTATIONS
PHISHARMATA
GAMENEENEARER
WHODATWOKDYER
BIBGODOTAPE
USTENIRONCROSS
SEINESLEEPONIT
HEEDSHDSCREENS

Hi Solvers! Thanks for spending your Friday with this puzzle. I hope you enjoy the variety of entries, including the ON TOP OF THE WORLD crossing SPACE STATIONS. My original clue for SPACE STATIONS (Workplaces that are staffed on a rotating basis?) didn't make the cut, but I really like the one that the editorial team settled on.

The puzzle's construction started with the stack in the NW, and then grew down to the SE where I had to go through many iterations before finding a set I was happy with. I also enjoyed including the food crossing of OLIVE PITS and ONION DIP, as well as getting to include Taking Back Sunday in the clue for EMO BANDS, since it is one of my wife's favorites.

One note: The entry IRON CROSS was clued as an Award for the Red Baron. Sam Ezersky and the editorial team reached out last week to ask the upcoming constructors to look over their proofs and request any potential changes to clues. After having engaged in a discussion back in May in the Cruciverb Facebook group about the entry IRON CROSS, I asked Sam about cluing it relating to the gymnastics move, rather than the military award. After discussing it, they agreed that it would improve the puzzle to take a new angle on it, and I'm grateful that the editorial team has added the chance for constructors to have their voices heard in the final product.

Sat 10/10/2020
WHAPMAMASASIF
HOVERCRAFTRENO
EBOLASCARETITO
TONICAMONGJED
CYANBOOBIRD
SOFACEDEBIOME
PLANETJACUZZIS
AMTMOJITOSALE
CASTIRONITSWAR
ENDONEGANPANT
PROPELSISLA
RIMMACJRIMHIT
OVIDTHEBAMBINO
BENDIMSUREOFIT
EROSNOUSETITS

I typically don't worry much about getting Scrabbly letters (J, Q, X, Z) in my puzzles. I don't feel like there's much of a relationship between fun, interesting fill, and the specific letters that make up entries — and of course, Scrabbly entries make construction tougher. This puzzle was no exception — FOOD DESERT was the seed. Couldn't resist running JACUZZIS through SEIJI OZAWA & INTER MILAN, and built from there.

Gonna use the rest of my space to remind folks to register & vote!

Sun 10/11/2020 &pi;r<sup>2</sup>
DOTTEDISMOSTPUMPON
ORNAMENTALLENIGUANA
CONSPACYTHEORYNANTES
SEDALIAUSESSELA
HOMESENLACEPESTS
UNATWOTISHVAMPEBAT
BARGAINSATEANAEROBE
CULOTTESASSIGNSOBA
ATONEGOUTINLAWTIT
PONESPRUCEENOYES
RESPATORYSYSTEM
SPAMAOINNATEAMAL
HAWUSUALNAPSBRAVE
AREASEPTETSPOAGNEW
REIGNITELOCOINBOUND
PENNANTSLOOPTOYAGE
SURGEBITMAPABLER
TAPSSOUPFLONASE
OXIDESMISSISSIPPIVER
RENEWSALIKEELSINORE
EDGIERTSARREENGAGE
Mon 10/12/2020
BESTFRANBANAL
AVERLEGOALIBI
BARITONESNACHO
ENVOWEETDHON
ELLEBROILERS
RATEDRAINTI
AMITYBINGACDC
MMMAMALGAMRUE
POETALESAMINO
ACIDYGRATES
ENDZONESAGRI
KIAASABROCOE
EVILSGOODTHING
BERETLANEISTO
YAYASETONDMVS

I hope the gardeners out there appreciate this puzzle. I have a black thumb myself.

While constructing a different puzzle, I noticed that four circles surrounding a block, look like one of those hippy daisy stickers. Originally, I tried to make a puzzle using four-letter, flower names. However, there are not many options: IRIS, ROSE, LILY, and ... MUMS? When I added the stem, this allowed two more letters. I am pretty sure I exhausted all the six-letter options. Enjoy!

Tue 10/13/2020
EBAYBETAFALSE
BELAEPICETAIL
BLOWININTHEWIND
STENCILSALADS
EGOSSORE
KNOWINGWINKYOS
CONANEMODENT
USERCRAFTASEA
PEATHARBLOBS
SSNTOWINGWINCH
DROPNORA
LOONIESONATAS
WINWINSITUATION
EFLATPREPOMNI
STYNENAPSMEET

Even though this is my sixth NYT puzzle, I'm very excited to say that today's puzzle is actually my solo debut! Not only that, but it contains a whole lot of music references — now that's what I call a WIN-WIN SITUATION!

Puzzles are a funny world because, due to the often substantive queue times, a published puzzle can be something of a time capsule. It is both very cool and very humbling. Looking at this puzzle today (which I wrote over a year ago), I see a lot of things that I like and a few things that, if I were to make this puzzle now, I don't think I would include (I'm looking at you IMF and ELD)! These days I'm trying to take a bit of a Marie Kondo approach to puzzle making. "Does this word spark joy? No? Bye-bye!"

That being said, there are a handful of classical music references in here plus a musical theater reference, so things are still deeply on brand. SONATAS and CHOPIN feel particularly special to me since it was a Beethoven SONATA that got me into the performing arts school where I went to high school and then, four years later, both a Beethoven SONATA coupled with a CHOPIN ballade (plus the obligatory Bach) got me into music school at IU (Go Hoosiers!). I also happen to have Chopin's signature tattooed on my side next to my heart, so I'm definitely not deeply emotional about the fact that I got his name into an NYT puzzle with my name on it.

I did have GROUPS clued as "Possible therapy settings" since I also worked as a therapist until about a year ago, but alas, it did not make the cut!

I hope you enjoy the puzzle!

POW Wed 10/14/2020
ASSAYALPPLAZA
CHUTESHEOATES
TANTOHANGLOOSE
IMGAMESARIPTA
VULCANSALUTE
AKNOTEGGON
MOSSKUSHLOIRE
OKSVICTORYVEX
ARESOKYRANEST
BASICAFROS
CANIGETALIFT
APULYLESPITON
HOPEFULLYIMAGO
OLDERBIODIGIT
KOOKYEDUSTONE

One aspect of this idea I thought might be fun for solvers is, in some cases, needing to actually place fingers as described in the clues to decode the answers. I certainly stared at my hands a lot in making this puzzle. Does [2nd, with 1st extended out] work, or only if on a forehead? My original idea for [2nd and 3rd crossed] only works behind one's back. Here are a few other clues from the cutting room floor: [1st — 5th]; [2nd and 5th]; and, [2nd — 4th] (answers below).

As a fan of The Big Bang Theory, it's hard to see a series of hand gestures that include VULCAN SALUTE without thinking of the game "Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock." The expansion of the original game includes rules such as "Lizard eats paper" and "Paper disproves Spock." If you are ever challenged to play, I suggest paper as your first move — it can be hard to resist an excuse to make the VULCAN SALUTE.

Erik Agard's Facebook group (Crossword Puzzle Collaboration Directory) to increase constructor diversity has paired almost a hundred aspiring constructors with mentors. If you have ever considered giving construction a try, come join the party!

(Answers: LOSER; JUST KIDDING; STOP or HELLO; HOOKEMHORNS; and, BOYSCOUTSALUTE)

Thu 10/15/2020
EFLATSPECBOAS
PLATYNADALIME
SESUPAUSTRALIA
OUTLIERSTUB
MRSFREEDOMMEA
EISFAYKANG
COFFEEPOTSOORA
AWORDTRUTAROT
VEGETRAMPOLINE
ETIMHAMSRA
SONREPOMENTAP
OAKMACARONI
DOWNUNDERDIDGE
OPRYOINKOODIR
STYXTOTSSTYES

Very happy to make my Times crossword debut! I've been a daily solver for many years but only decided to try a hand at constructing in the last couple of years. After many failed attempts (I can't say exactly how many, because it's far too embarrassing to look back at my earliest submissions — my sincere apologies to the editorial team, who kindly reviewed them and gave thoughtful feedback for each), I finally hit on something with this one.

The idea came to mind back in January when Australia was frequently in the news as a result of the massive wildfires happening there — feels like ages ago now! Using DOWN UNDER to indicate theme answers that literally move down and then under seemed like a great premise for a puzzle, and miraculously, most of the potential theme answers I came up with also worked well in that structure. The puzzle went through several iterations, thanks to the editors and feedback from other constructors, and is much the better for it.

A shout out to my crossword mentor, Ross Trudeau, and the folks at the Crossword Puzzle Collaboration group for their incredible support for underrepresented constructors!

Fri 10/16/2020
HONORSORSEDAM
AMAZONBATFLIPS
LADYDIIMALLSET
THEMSTHEBREAKS
SARAISLES
NEEDEDHELMS
HEADTRIPMORE
ACCIDENTSHAPPEN
NCAAACIDTEST
SEISMICETSY
UTAHNSASS
JUSTASITHOUGHT
ZEPPELINEMIGRE
ENCODINGENTREE
EASTAGEDISOWN

The three greatest BAT FLIPS of all time (as ranked by me):

3. Bret Boone off Mark Wohlers, Game 3 2001 ALCS
2. Jose Bautista off Sam Dyson, Game 5 2015 ALDS
1. Tom Lawless off Frank Viola, Game 7 1987 World Series

Sat 10/17/2020
QUINCUNXCAIRNS
UNDERSEAANTEUP
EMOTICONSALTII
BANSGNASHLUST
EDTADARAT
CELTSTUDSANNA
IRATERESTOCK
ICKIERLABFEE
CLEMSONNEWAT
EATSPUMASTHOR
CFONIHENE
HOBSENSUEDJED
EUROPEHATFIELD
STALAGATTENDEE
TIGERSPLUSSIGN

VICTOR: This puzzle, for me, is a great example of why everyone should collaborate. I'm a reasonably clever and creative constructor, but I am not a great filler, and this puzzle's idea — with the quincunx pattern of crosses in the middle and the anchor entries QUINCUNX and PLUS SIGN — was nice but demanded superior filling. I took on the challenge and failed utterly, but fortunately, Brad was available to work on it, and in a matter of days, he turned it into something better than I could ever have produced on my own. It was awesome, and it was fun to see my initial idea turned into such a clever puzzle.

I had long enjoyed my interactions with Brad when he was editing the puzzles for the Chronicle of Higher Education, and it was a pleasure to work with him on this. I hope that people enjoyed solving it as much as we enjoyed constructing it.

BRAD: Victor has a record of producing some very satisfying high-concept themes over the years, and I was grateful to give some of them a home at the Chronicle throughout my time there. When he asked if I wanted to try and "grid-doctor" his quincunx pattern for the Times, I was hoping I wouldn't let him down. My main curative idea was to create a couple of 15s out of two 6-letter / 8-letter pairs. Two good 15s showed promise early on and settled in. Some of Victor's original fill stayed but together we were able to add a few more multi-word entries in the corners and devise a slate of tricky clues.

I remember working hard to get things "just so" for the clues for 3-Down and 36-Down (I love to bake), and lo and behold, they appear here just as I submitted them. And Victor had the nifty clues you see for THOR, NUISANCE, and ONE LEG.

Sun 10/18/2020 TITLE BASIN'
YOSHIMAUDETOAST
ASTONSLUGFESTSELBOW
LSATSLIFEOFPIEADORE
LORDDEAFICEDCUTE
TENDERISTHEKNIGHT
INASNAPNUKESIDEATES
MONKEYSNOMTOEPICK
ARECANDIEDMRI
YAWNSORLYNUITTEEUP
OHSTOPROOMED
INSEARCHOFLOSTTHYME
ADOEGOAWRAPEVEOOF
ROVERSNIDEELENA
FLAXGAPILLAVAETSY
THELITTLEPRINTS
SWEARSTOHEADSLAP
HEARSTSPEEDOSSHIRAZ
ENSNAREGOTONSCIENCE
ISAJULIUSSEESHEROKS
DEBODEONSPENTLET
IIIBEANALESDRY

This crossword is a little light on theme squares and a little heavy on black squares. The upside is that it should make for a zippier solve and a more accessible puzzle.

The fitting title comes from Erik Agard. The alternative clue for 43-Across comes from Cookie Monster.

Mon 10/19/2020
BUSHCAIROSAM
ANTEALDERWINE
STORMCLOUDARTS
AIRDATEPEEVISH
LEERUNSRAY
LASOVERLOAD
CIVICSAIDIDLE
OMEGACNNSNIPE
MATHFADETENOR
EMOTIONSSOS
BAROPELGAP
LEGUMESEPITOME
OVALSWEATDROPS
LIMBEARLEOSLO
ALEEGRETTEES
Tue 10/20/2020
ALDASTUSTRAFE
PORSCHESPREPAY
TOOKHEEDYUPPIE
EMOELMOSEAR
SPLIFFTROLLED
TASKBLEEPLSU
EASYALATETO
BACKORDERED
SIESTAGOTTA
ARFITSONMIAS
WOOKIEEROOMBA
NUNTIMIDASU
TOLIFESPOONFED
PREFERSATRIANI
SEDERSAASANTS
Wed 10/21/2020
BEEFPHOBIALIE
AGRABARUCHOCT
BERNBRIDGESCAR
USOFAMELCANE
TRIBEREDEALT
CANNESOPENER
GTEHADGENEVA
REVDABESEWEI
ALISONKOISNL
DELHICOUNTER
TWOTERMSLEWS
IHOPIQSSTOOP
MOMSEOULSEARCH
UNAAULAITIMHO
SSNPRETTYLYIN

It's a dream come true to be making my debut in The NY Times. I received the acceptance email last December while eating breakfast burritos with my friend on a trip to San Diego. Coming from the breakfast burrito desert that is New York, I was confident that our visit to cojito's would be the highlight of my day, but clearly the editorial staff had other plans.

This was my third submission to the Times, and I truly could not have gotten to this point without the incredibly helpful feedback from Will, Joel and Sam on my first two rejections (and my next few after this one was accepted). I also want to give a shoutout to the crossword collaboration group on Facebook and specifically Erik Agard who steered me in the right direction for this puzzle by advising me to make each theme answer valid as a stand-alone phrase (nixing my original idea of CANNES OF WORMS). On that note, I welcome aspiring constructors to reach out with any questions or just to talk shop — you can find me in the aforementioned Facebook group.

POW Thu 10/22/2020
STRAPACDCWOW
ERODESLIEUOOH
LABORUNIONSUZO
LYETABLES
DUVETSCAD
BOASDRUNKDIAL
WANTEDJETE
HYPEATONEOVEN
IOUSTAJTAKEIT
GURUNANAKDERN
SNIPES
PEPPERLAXJUG
OXORUNSONEMPTY
OPSVEILSCREAM
FOEESPYSIGHS

I distinctly remember the "aha" moment I had solving David Kwong's brilliant blank square puzzle from 2013. Years later, when I started constructing, I vowed to write a blank square puzzle of my own. It was one of the few times when I searched for a revealer entry with a particular gimmick in mind, rather than the other way around. Luckily, RUNS ON EMPTY popped up while mining for potential answers, and I think it provides a solid raison d'être for this Thursday crossword. (I additionally stumbled upon the revealer to this puzzle.)

With few exceptions, blank square crossword puzzles are largely constructor-oriented, so I maxed out at 78 words to keep the experience smooth for solvers. Today, I'm fairly sure I could craft this grid smoothly at 76 or even 74 words. In retrospect, I'm glad I stuck to 78, so that folks can focus on the mystifying clues at 21A, 36A and 50A instead of some dauntingly wide-open section of the grid.

After mailing in the puzzle, I learned of a certain offensive connotation for 62D, and I promptly removed it from my wordlist. Recent discussions have brought up an important question: do offensive words that have alternate, innocuous definitions belong in crossword grids? I firmly stand by the answer "no," but without ever having heard of 62D's derogatory usage, I wasn't able to apply that judgment before submitting this puzzle; and, sadly, the Times editing team wasn't able to make my suggested revision (NAP / VEAL) before the puzzle went to print. This is not the first appearance of 62D in the Times, but I don't see that as any consolation, and I apologize for its presence here.

On a brighter note, I'm excited to debut GURU NANAK in the Times and to see that my clues for 24A, 2D, and 23D made it to print. I'm also enamored by the editing team's clue for 30A, which fools me every time I read it.

Lastly, a tiny metapuzzle: five non-theme entries in this grid have something interesting in common. What is it?

PERUSE, OOZE, WHOS, IOUS, and RUES all rhyme without sharing any final letter combinations.

Fri 10/23/2020
PANELMIMIAPBS
ASIDEEVERLSAT
TAKEABREAKLONE
SHORTLISTFORK
YINHOTARTIST
CEOACNEAHA
WORDPROCESSOR
PINSTRIPESUIT
FAKEEYELASHES
CPIAPPSTIS
CAPOTECOPAKA
BEDSSTARPOWER
REDORISKSITALL
PAIRBRAENOISE
IRASGIRDGETON

My favorite clue from the editing team was "Tree toppers" for ANCESTORS. My favorites of my clues is "Batting equipment?" for FAKE EYELASHES and "Grp. that watches TV" for FCC.

I will now interrupt this note with a public service announcement. As a board member of my local and county League of Women Voters. I'd like to remind everyone to vote, and VOTE EARLY if possible. Early voting in New York begins tomorrow, Saturday October 24. You can find out about early voting in your state, or what's on your ballot, your polling locations, or many other important election details, at the LWV website.

We will now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Sat 10/24/2020
RIFFSCOVERART
AVILAURBANAREA
ZONALNEATTRICK
ORGYGIMMEEASE
RYECOTEACH
STROLLCHASSIS
HOTRODDERICANT
AWINGANDAPRAYER
REPOSAUTODRIVE
PRSTUNTSOFTIE
PAYLESSPDT
ABCDSPADETREF
BREECHINGKRONA
BADBOUNCESOUCI
AGETOAGEUNDER

It's been a year since my last Saturday puzzle in the Times. But, really, not that much has been going on in the meantime. I submitted this one at the end of January, which explains why I didn't try to turn SOUCI into FAUCI.

The impetus for the puzzle was the [Intellectual property?] clue. The other entries with an academic vibe [CO-TEACH, VA TECH, KSU, EDU] were by coincidence. If you know I'm a math professor, the clue at 18-Across is a massive misdirection.

Since we're in a census year, a bit of trivia about URBAN AREAs I learned from researching the clue. The census defines an urban area as being either an urbanized area (50,000+ inhabitants) or an urban cluster (2,500-49,999). Per the 2010 census, there is only one urbanized area in the U.S. whose name begins with Z. Can you guess what it is?

(Answer at the end of Jeff's notes.)

Sun 10/25/2020 AT THE HALLOWEEN PLAY ...
SLEPTMMSAIMEMAILS
MANORSMYLANTANESTEA
AUDIENCEHISSEDGNAWAT
CRINKLEEPHEMERAPANE
KANTMARIOIRVSTE
BAREBONESRENDITION
DEBGENLTANGELO
AVARIETYOFPARTSLUCAS
SECONDBOLGERSERAPE
HUGPAIGEEATSLIE
SPEXWARTSANDALLGLAD
EELWARMSAUTEIRE
TROJANHATERSANORAK
HURONNOBODYTOACTWITH
ETAILERSIREDMZ
REFLECTEDONHISROLE
ELODOTOATESSAGS
TEXTLIVEOAKSERITREA
AVIARYATTHEWRAPPARTY
PEERATCARSEATMOTETS
ENRAGEALAMREDETOO

It was nice to get HURON (84-Across) in the grid. As Will mentioned, I've been teaching at HURON High School for over 40 years. The school gets its name not from the Great Lake but from the HURON River, which meanders through Ann Arbor — just a stone's throw from the high school. Due to that fact, our school has a rather unusual mascot name. We are the River Rats. Sadly, this year I've been teaching all my River Rats remotely.

And sadly, this year, "wearing a Halloween mask" takes on a whole new meaning.

This holiday-themed puzzle is running a full six days before Halloween. I offered the editorial team the option of holding it until next year when Halloween falls on a Sunday. Their reply was, "It would be criminal to withhold this stupendous puzzle from the public any longer than necessary. It must run now!" Or something like that …

Mon 10/26/2020
WASIHOPESTATS
ALLMODELERNIE
SOYCODEBREAKER
PEAPODRAESLIT
SELLSATHENA
STANDUPCOMIC
CAFMARXCABIN
AROMACELKNIFE
NEXUSEDITTSA
CHIROPRACTOR
DASHESSADIE
IDEALASIAGREE
GETCRACKINGEVA
ALOHATEPEENES
TENONSEARSDRY

I'm excited to be back in the Times!

Making this puzzle made me wonder where the phrase GET CRACKING actually came from. A quick search online seems to say that the origin is unknown. I had always thought that it related to cracking open a textbook to study. I wanted to include this form of cracking, but alas, TEXTBOOK READER isn't a real phrase.

I hope you enjoyed the puzzle!

POW Tue 10/27/2020
KISSPLUSSLO
AMOKMIAMIUPON
POLITICSASUSUAL
UNOINCHNANNY
TIADUHJODI
TREASUREHUNTER
TELESMEAVA
PAILBRATSABET
ITSSAILDHL
GETTINGMARRIED
ARKSLIELUV
HENCEELSAIRE
TRAININGSEMINAR
TILTLUGESPENS
PEAKNOTANTE

LUCI: I'm absolutely thrilled to make my constructing debut, and couldn't have asked for a better mentor in David! I've enjoyed solving the NYT crossword for about four years, but it was a while before I found the Wordplay column and, through learning about the constructors behind the puzzles, realized anyone is free to write and submit them. After completing David's 8/18/19 Sunday puzzle "Revolutionary", I learned that he had just graduated from Stanford, where I was about to begin my sophomore year. Reaching out for advice and being met with the opportunity to collaborate on a Sunday puzzle (which evolved into this one) was a dream come true, and I thoroughly enjoyed the getting to know the process of it all.

As David says, we originally planned on a Sunday-length puzzle and had a few more theme entries to show for it, but I'm happy with how the Tuesday version turned out. Some other fun entries in this theme include CLOTHES / CLOSE TO THE CHEST, BATHES / BEATS THE HEAT, GRAND TIME / GETTING MARRIED, and CARTED IN / INCARCERATED. Also, a favorite clue I came up with for that original Sunday puzzle: TEMP [F, C, or K meas.] :)

I'm taking a couple of quarters off from classes, which at Stanford are all online for upperclassmen until the spring, and that's left me with lots of time to think of ideas — hopefully, you'll hear from me again!

DAVID: It was a pleasure working with Luci! She was a freshman at Stanford the same year I was a senior, but our paths never crossed. When Luci reached out last year asking for constructing advice, I knew we had to make a puzzle together. Go Cardinal!

Fortunately, I'd been thinking about a theme that seemed perfect for collaboration. I've always been fascinated by letter banks, and I figured there had to be a subset of them that were apt, so I wrote a short program to generate possibilities. Surprisingly, there were more than 11,000 options; not so surprisingly, almost all the pairings were completely random. I knew uncovering the apt ones would be like finding a needle in a haystack. Luci and I were able to divide and conquer, which sped things up significantly — she combed through all the letter banks starting with A to M, and I took N to Z.

We originally built this puzzle as a Sunday, but alas, Will and his team liked some of our finds more than others. On the bright side, building both Sunday and daily versions of this puzzle gave Luci lots of constructing practice, and we're both thrilled with how the puzzle turned out. Having my 100th crossword run in The Times is exciting, but nothing can compare to the thrill of making a debut! We hope you enjoy our puzzle.

Wed 10/28/2020
TRICKYTOPSTSAR
REMOVEOBOEHURT
IMARETMIKEPENCE
COMPLICATEDAND
ERALSATICEAX
ACREYOURENEVER
ODDZAPSIRA
GABEDEFINECLOY
EGOFALLEMU
REALLYSUREARFS
METOOETTUOPS
YOUGOTTHERIGHT
TRATTORIASEABEE
SORELEVILENORE
KIDDFOOLANSWER

Some nixed clues for 19-Across:

  • Noted fly catcher in the news?
  • Politician who was bugged during his debate?
  • Politician who was recently in a fly-over state?
  • Politician who clearly doesn't believe in no-fly zones?
  • A popular Halloween costume this year is a wig of his hair with a fly in it
  • Politician with a fly open for all to see
Thu 10/29/2020
FREEZESOTBACH
DARNITHURALOE
AMALGAMATEDIAL
ISLANDERBRO
BIASLEOODIST
INSTALLDAISES
DOTBEERODD
NOMATTERWHICH
USBPESOAAA
SCATHEPEGASUS
PAYEEAMOPALP
AVESUPERCOP
RIALFASTASLEEP
TAYEORSEMERGE
ARESSTYNOTNOW

Greetings from Australia! As you read this, I am likely to be FAST ASLEEP! Let me fill you in (pun intended) on how this Aussie came to have his crossword appear in your world-renowned newspaper.

Christmas holidays in Australia are for surf, sun and sand... and for myself growing up, puzzles! Tucked inside a caravan north of Brisbane at Coolum Beach, is where I found a love for crosswords, wordplay and puzzles. While the holiday high times were spent playing on the waterfront, the down times were spent snoozing in the cool breeze, reading a good book or huddling around the camp table with my family searching our collective mental resources for crossword answers. I also enjoyed creating word puzzles for my family to try. I remember my first as a child was a word search that I couldn't stop beaming about around the caravan park.

But as I aged, my love of crosswords waned somewhat. See, unless you enjoy a good cryptic crossword (which at times I do), my experience of crosswords in Australia is that they are quite straight forward. No themes, no intricate construction, no wordplay, just the satisfaction of a completed puzzle. You can imagine my delight when I came upon the New York Times crossword app two years ago! It wasn't long before I was hooked again. Not to mention my ecstasy to find out that anyone can write and submit a crossword for a chance to have it published!

I enjoy all the NYT crosswords throughout the week, but I love, love, LOVE the Thursday crosswords. The mix of wordplay, complexity, and tricky clueing is my kind of puzzle! The first one I attempted to solve two years ago involved rebuses. I admit I had to cheat and look up the solution. I remember thinking, "What?! There's more than one letter in these boxes!... Amazing!!!" In my mind, it's no wonder that my debut submission is a Thursday puzzle.

As many constructors do, I came up with the revealer first (and you'll see that great minds think alike if you tried Robyn Weintraub's puzzle from 7/23/20). I soon realised, though, that my ambitions of having numerous theme answers that hold symmetry would be difficult to accomplish. It's not as easy as I thought to add a "t" and a "w" to other words to create meaningful and misleading clues. Further to that, creating the remaining clues without using "t" or "w" was also a strain. The letter "t" feels like it's in everything when all you're trying to do is avoid it! But through persistence, a rejection, some early constructions with very ugly fill, and a little help from Will, Sam, and the team, I have something I am proud to call my debut NO MATTER WHICH way I look at it.

A big thank you to the team of editors for the feedback and crossword writing tips that come with each submission. I am sure to try my hand at many more in the future. From Down Under, enjoy!

Fri 10/30/2020
NAZARENERAJAHS
ORALEXAMAMULET
DOMINATEDESADE
RUBELTRAINTBA
ASEATESLADEEM
MEZZOROOTBEERS
ASIANSNEERING
LEISIT
DEEPSIGHSILEX
KALAMAZOOKEANE
AYESBOOTYSTAR
PTAMEDDLESEMO
LINTELJASONFOX
AMORALOVERHERE
NERUDABASELESS

This puzzle started with JASON FOX, for reasons both Scrabbly and sentimental. Foxtrot is a favorite newspaper comic of mine, and growing up, I found Jason a bit too relatable at times. Like Jason, I made my own Jumbles, and I think Jason would have approved of the elaborate code in which I wrote a message for my fourth-grade teacher.

Overall, I think this grid turned out quite nicely; I was particularly pleased that though there is certainly no shortage of rare letters, the short fill seemed remarkably clean for a 68-word puzzle. I enjoy working with themeless patterns heavy on 7-letter entries, and I think the selection here complements the longer answers well.

Though it feels like significantly more clues than average for one of my themeless puzzles were changed, I'm glad that my clue for Mitch HEDBERG survived. He has so many great one-liners that I'm tempted to try and work his name into every puzzle I create. The man used to be a comedic legend (he still is, but he used to be, too).

Hope you enjoyed the puzzle!

Sat 10/31/2020
BESTSELLERSCAR
ACCENTAIGUCANA
CHARLESTONARID
KORNARTSRAMI
EECALGERTAPAS
DREAMONICEBATH
COSAPAMCEE
MALLETSPEEDS
ALABIBSTUN
TOWPATHAEROSOL
TUNASULTRAVOL
RESTSTEPREDO
ETATCAERPHILLY
STLOUNDERRATED
SEENDISPOSSESS

I have a feeling this puzzle is going to be quite polarizing, and I hope that many solvers eventually have the same reaction to my seed entries (ACCENT AIGU and CAERPHILLY) as I did when I first encountered them: "This is a word/phrase I didn't know before, but now I am glad to know it." I guess I've known about CAERPHILLY longer than I've known how to make a themeless puzzle, since I love cheese. I'm also originally from Philadelphia, so the first time I saw CAERPHILLY (which has absolutely nothing to do with the cheeses commonly used on cheesesteak) I got a kick out of the name and its utterly (udderly?) non-Philly origins.

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