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Puzzles for October, 2021
with constructor comments

Fri 10/1/2021
KEGELDESTLOST
ITOLANDHOONTO
WAYNEMANORNCIS
ISAACAVENGERS
ITSERAT
MADRONALORETTA
ATERADARSCREEN
CRAPSGAMEMATT
RIDEMBASMRI
OASESIDOSMIC
IKEAGYMCLASS
SOLARCARMIGS
THEBATCAVEBCCS
ANNOELMERTOGA
TOTODUSTSQTIP
Sat 10/2/2021
SESAMESDOSAGE
ONLYONCERAISON
GREENTAXASLANT
LADDORISMILLER
AGGIETEASWPA
DEEMOBIESCAAN
SEDANSTRYST
COULDNTRESIST
SOURSDEEPEN
ERTECARDSGMOS
ANYSHIVMEANT
CHECKEDINTOMRI
ROLLIEECONOMIC
ALLIESWINERACK
BESORESETTLES

In January 2020, I saw a piece in the NYT announcing that the U.S. Navy was going to name an aircraft carrier in honor of Doris Miller. I had no idea who Doris Miller was, so I investigated. What I discovered was, first, that Doris Miller was a man, and more important, that he had been a war hero who sprang into action during the attack on Pearl Harbor. He tended to the wounded captain on the bridge of their ship, the USS West Virginia, and then fired on Japanese planes using an anti-aircraft gun that he, as a mess attendant, had never been trained to use. After ferrying many wounded soldiers to safety, Miller was among the last to leave the ship.

Miller was eventually awarded the Navy Service Cross for bravery. However, it seems clear that had Miller been white, his valor would have been recognized sooner and hailed more widely. Thanks to Erik Agard, crossword constructor extraordinaire, I found a wonderful lecture by Professor Robert Chester of the University of Maryland, which taught me more about Doris Miller's brief, eventful life.

Doris Miller was my seed entry for this puzzle — and I am delighted to shine a small light on his heroism. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Wyna Liu, who encouraged me to zhuzh up my clues and showed me what spicier clues would look like. Many thanks to Wyna, Joel Fagliano, Will Shortz, and the entire NYT team for making my puzzle livelier and more fun. I also want to give a shout out to the test solvers, who perform invaluable work ensuring that puzzles are solvable, interesting and current.

Sun 10/3/2021SNOOZEFEST
SAILSBFFBMAJOATER
OZZIELAIIAMAOLIVE
FUZZYWUZZYARROZHBEAM
TRYFREEZINGDRIZZLE
DRESSPOESYDEANERY
ZEROINGEOGGULLIVER
AGAZEGTERAZZLEDAZZLE
LAZEDLOEBPESETAOAK
EDENDITZESNANMANIA
SSSPATIENCEJADED
ZIZZERZAZZERZUZZ
MAINEDEERHIDEMAT
HOSTSSUERESINYCANI
ETSSAUTESSANGNANTZ
PRIZEPUZZLESTOYORTIZ
TISAPITYCHEZPAPACY
ANIMATOGLEANEARNS
BUZZFEEDQUIZZESOSU
HAZELOLLIEFORTYWINKS
BLAZENEILNAEELZIE
OPCITEDDAESCRLESS

The idea of interpreting FORTY WINKS as forty Z's is one that I'd had for a few years, but I just couldn't get it to work (imagine that). It's funny how sometimes the simplest of solutions can be the most elusive — somehow, I don't think I even considered the possibility of using a Sunday size grid until last year! After abandoning a mostly completed grid for a few reasons --- using both FREEZING DRIZZLE and FROZEN PIZZA, what I suspected was too high of a word count even for a 22 x 21 grid (151), and some obscure answers — and doing some rejiggering, I found a grid that ended up working out much better than I had anticipated. Once I had a layout that could accommodate my symmetrically paired long answers, it was smooth sailing… other than the fact that I still had to work 13 extra Z's into the puzzle.

The upper-right area presented the most difficulties, and though there are some compromises, that actually might be my favorite part of the grid — EVZONE is one of my favorite Scrabble words, YREKA has a fun clue, GULLIVER and JAZZ DUET make for nice bonuses, and despite some tough vocabulary, I think the crossings are all ultimately fair. Of course, the biggest highlight for me is finally being able to work ZIZZER-ZAZZER-ZUZZ into a puzzle (after more than a few attempts).

Hope you thought this puzzle sizzled more than it fizzled :) Happy solving!

Mon 10/4/2021
ABBOTMONTECOB
SAUNABROOMLIE
LABORDAYWEEKEND
GASXROOKS
CAPESIAGO
PUSHTHEENVELOPE
ARTIEDALISPAM
CARDIGRESSENO
ETASBELTOWNIT
DELIVERYSERVICE
DOTSLEANS
CHILIGLEE
HERECOMESMYBABY
ARKENOLAEAGLE
PBSDEISTSHOTS

CHRISTINA: I reached out to Andrea a little over a year ago to see if she'd be interested in a collaboration. I love the collaborative process and have learned so much from each constructor I've worked with, so it was fun working with a pro like Andrea!

The idea I originally pitched was a lot more convoluted, with some wacky phrases relating to labor. She suggested doing a simpler Monday puzzle, and we came up with this. My daughter was a newborn at the time, so I clearly had birthing on my mind! I also had "Here Comes My Baby" stuck in my head for a long time while this puzzle was in the works!

ANDREA: As Prissy said in GWTW, "I don't know nothin' about birthin' babies!" But I do know this collaboration was a labor of love! Though virtual strangers (no more!) Christina and I discovered we share Minnesota roots and we had so much fun and laughter putting this together… And I love the idea of two making a baby without no men in sight … how 2020 is that?!

Tue 10/5/2021
PASTSAIRESGRU
ESTEEINAPPOOP
THEARTOFWARBUS
RENISLEIMAGE
INTHEAIRTONIGHT
EARALTO
IOWASARGETHU
SWITCHESPARTIES
HENHOWLSHERD
PELEMCA
HEADFORTHEHILLS
ATLASHALOIOU
LUGHEARTBROKEN
ADAAGREEDUEIN
LEETOMESSRSLY

Hi everybody! We're excited to debut/return to the NYT crossword today! A love of puzzles has always been a shared hobby in our marriage, but Jess honestly never even thought she'd get into solving crosswords, much less constructing, as she assumed being able to spell was a prerequisite. But crosswords became a perfect habit for us to do together right-before-bedtime; working through a puzzle really helped us both relax and clear our mind of the day's stress.

Like all things in life for Kim, he took a perfectly normal hobby and made it an obsession, and like all things in life for Jess, she couldn't let things go out the door without making sure they were perfect. So, we quickly found ourselves spit balling themes over the dinner table, something that became even more important during a pregnancy in a pandemic, when co-constructing was a great way to use our minds for other things besides worrying. This theme's genesis was during that time when there was certainly much despondency around. But as you may have guessed, its timing was ironic for us with our hearts fuller than ever before, as we welcomed our first child into the family. We apologize to her for not figuring out a way to get her name into the grid.

For the construction bits, we toyed with having the HEARTs follow a staircase down to the revealer, but those options for the fourth themer were less sparkly than HEAD FOR THE HILLS and if you turn the puzzle sideways, there's a rough heart shape that's also getting broken. Lastly, as with many of our puzzles, there are lots of favorite constructor bits in here — food, cities we love, world football, 80s and 90s pop, Star Wars. Hope you enjoyed it!

Wed 10/6/2021
MOLESIEGEWPA
IDESSACREDHAS
KEEPACLHEADALI
ASKANCECRAFTED
NOHOTTESSE
COMANECIOLDCTS
AWEDOLTAOK
NEWATATESNIDE
ARILYRANOD
DANGLECRSLIGHT
ONTOLENIAN
COCNINGPASSAGE
IRKPIGEONHOLES
LAIANODESLIMP
EKEDONUTETSY

I live in Blue Bell, PA which prior to 1840 was called Pigeontown for the sky-darkening flocks of passenger pigeons that once alighted there. A species that numbered in the billions was hunted to extinction until the last one died in captivity in 1914. However, that historical fact has nothing to do with the genesis of this puzzle.

That would be the fact of being around pigeonholes every day of my 30-year career with the USPS, both at Fairmount Station, where the clerks sorted mail into them, and in the mailrooms of the high-rise apartment buildings I delivered to. It was during a fallow creative period in late 2019, that I finally saw the crossword potential of those ubiquitous little boxes.

Hope you found it to be a pleasant diversion, especially those solvers who've found themselves cooped up this past year.

Thu 10/7/2021
DEWARSCOSTANZA
EXARCHAWAYTEAM
MARACAREARAXLE
EMPLOYEDBATTEN
ROLLING
ICEBALLDINGED
TITOASKANYONE
ROSETTA
CHESSGAMEHAND
AIRPOPALISTER
BLARNEY
STASISBEANPATE
EACHTIMEBOYTOY
ANHEUSEREUROPE
SKIPPINGSTONES
Fri 10/8/2021
AHAMOMENTSPLED
TOMATOSOUPAERO
IMPROBABLEPTAS
LILIESACCESS
TEENTANKARD
FORCETHING
ROCKIDOLSEAGAL
INHERITMARTINI
TEIGENWINESNOB
AGASPSOLED
STIPENDTSPS
TEATAXDMITRI
WHENITSMEAGAIN
MADDGOTOETOTOE
DISSEYEOPENERS
Sat 10/9/2021
VISAITSWARFAM
ALECCANADAECO
CLAUDEMONETACL
CEDRICBESEATED
IGUANASMUSS
NATSSPLITTERS
ELYSTRIKEONE
ALLABOARD
TRUECRIMENTH
FAIRSHAKELORE
PLIEOVOIDAL
LOLLIPOPEMERIL
OOFBOWLINGLANE
TRIORIENTOMEN
SSNSTEAKSWARE

Hello Cruciverbalists, I'm excited to make my New York Times debut! I'm only fourteen, but it was inevitable that I would get into solving and constructing crossword puzzles. From an early age, I watched my entire family solve the NYT puzzles, including my grandmother and grandfather. At nine, I started solving the puzzles with my dad. More accurately, I would sit and watch him fill them in. Now, I can solve the Monday and Tuesday puzzles on my own, and portions of the rest of the week. At ten, I started constructing crossword puzzles with my dad, and at eleven, I made my first solo crossword.

During the first summer of the pandemic, I had a lot of free time and made 10-15 puzzles, including my first themelesses. My strategy for constructing a themeless is to find a manageable looking grid (68-72 words) and then try to fill it with as many of my favorite words as possible, making NO compromises. My basic approach for themelesses is that any liability, especially if it's four or more letters, means the puzzle needs reworking. I have the same basic approach for themed puzzles. Overall, I would say that I prefer constructing themed puzzles, but filling a puzzle with my favorite words can be just as fun as a great theme.

Thanks to the Times for greatly improving my puzzle's clues (I've gotten better!) I have a Thursday waiting in the queue, so see you again soon!

POW Sun 10/10/2021CLUE: THE MOVIE
LASATOMSEEKLADIES
ASASARAHELLEORONYM
PSYCHOANALYSISGIJOES
CUSHYOREOMONSOONS
ACMEISWEARITSISEHS
THEREDCARPETPANELSAW
PIERSCPAEDDA
PELOTONTSHIRTCANNON
ALOUMEANIEGLUEDAWK
CLAIMSNONETABOOS
KANJISIMONSAYSBORON
ATHOMEOKIEMORALE
AMARADARTOLDTOENDS
BINGEWATCHERORESTES
UNTOOYEIDIOT
JOBOFFERCHANELNOFIVE
AREALSUKULELESONED
RESTUPONMORTBASTE
GOTHAMFLYMETOTHEMOON
ALLELETIMEIRAILLEI
REESESTADAORTAESC

I'm thrilled to be back in the NYT with my first Sunday puzzle.

My initial submission had "Mystery Date?" as one of the theme clues and LIFE ON MARS as the answer for "Space Jam?", but there were concerns these might not be well-known enough. While I might give solvers more credit re Bowie songs, I suppose it's fair to assume not everyone recalls Ethan Hawke vehicles from 1991 that grossed $6M worldwide. It was for the best though, as this version is much improved.

While short-listing movies for theme potential, I noticed that a solid 20% of my options contained "man" (without even including compounds like "gentleman," "Englishman," "Superman," etc.). Out of curiosity I did a count of each unique word across a sample of 10k or so films, omitting articles, prepositions, and conjunctions. It should surprise no one that "man" was the most common word by far, almost doubling each of the runners-up ("night" and "love"). I obviously capped it at one.

I'll leave you with a few of my favorites that didn't make the cut:

  • Hot Shots? FLAMING DR PEPPERS
  • Batman Forever? DESIGNATED HITTER
  • Boyz n the Hood? MECHANICS
  • Edge of Tomorrow? MIDNIGHT

Thanks, as always to the editing team for all their great work.

Mon 10/11/2021
CONCHSAMCLOUT
AKIRATIOHENNA
TAKEITORLEAVEIT
EYEDROPENLIST
TOGAGEN
LOVEITORHATEIT
ANISETAGSCUE
LEDETABLEBALM
APENONOFARSI
MOVEITORLOSEIT
OWLKEEL
BOWSERDADBODS
MAKEITORBREAKIT
EARLEWOORHINE
GLASSSEXSTEEP

I'm jazzed to return to the pages of the Times after *nine* years away. A lot can change in nine years. Back in 2012, I was a high school senior who wrote puzzles in between homework assignments and college applications. Today, I'm a 26-year-old software developer who writes puzzles while waiting for code to build ...

Like me, crosswords have also grown up in the past decade. More kinds of people make and enjoy crosswords than ever before, there has been an explosion of indie crossword content, and the subject matter of the puzzles themselves has gotten better at keeping in lockstep with today's culture. It's an honor to make my contribution to this new and improved era of crosswords.

Today's puzzle's journey began when I was brainstorming straightforward Monday themes to flex my constructing muscles. My mind wandered to one of the puzzle's seed phrases and I wrote down as many as I could that followed the pattern. I'm never satisfied with a theme if it's too broad — my rule is that if I can think of 50% more candidate theme entries than I need, I probably need to narrow it a bit or add an extra hook.

To my surprise, there were not a ton of ___ IT OR ___ IT phrases. From there, it came down to eliminating duplicate words and finding matching pairs. I especially appreciated that while the phrase structure is pretty rigid, I was able to write clues that don't feel formulaic and show each theme entry in its own light.

Tue 10/12/2021
SALSABEETIWO
EMAILARCHRAPT
RUSSIANROULETTE
INSSFODINEIN
FRENCHFRYMERCH
ASIAASPLIU
ELEMENTBOAT
ALLITERNATION
DUESSTAINED
ETALYECELS
TODDYDUTCHDOOR
ESPORTNAHRUE
CHINESECHECKERS
TOPOPOLOPEACE
PERSNEEAGLET

When the pandemic shut down my UCLA dorm in the middle of my freshman year, I didn't think I'd be coming back, a year and a half later, with a New York Times crossword on my résumé. But with a sudden abundance of free time, I decided to make the leap from solver to constructor—how hard could it be?

Pretty hard, it turns out. A massive thanks to my test-solvers (i.e., my parents) for putting up with my quizzing them on Icelandic monetary units and Pakistani provincial capitals as my construction skills developed. Originally, I had FRENCH FRIES paired with DOUBLE DUTCH, but the change for consistency (having all of the nationalities as the first word) fortunately freed up the grid a bit and let me work in some much-needed revisions.

I'm pleased to put ESPORT and AUTO SHOP in the NYT for the first time — both related to hobbies of mine, although my original clue for the latter [Where one's body may be worked on?] may have been a little too devious.

The working title for this puzzle was "La La Land". I hope you enjoy it!

Wed 10/13/2021
CLEFTSODSTIRS
PALEOEVETONIC
LASTNAMESERICH
INDIRAGANDHI
HOLDEMCULLES
ESOAAHATREST
ISAMUNOGUCHI
ROMAPADTASK
ICHIROSUZUKI
SCALIANIPDOT
KATNRATSHIRT
ISAACMIZRAHI
BIRCHMAURITIUS
UNITEENDFTLEE
MOSESEYETOEYE
Thu 10/14/2021
LEGSKURTOMIT
ALOTDEFERNEMO
BLOODYNOSEETNA
MIDWEEKVIDEOS
ISIFREAKINGOUT
COEDNRAVERSE
ENSURETYPOSER
DARNSOCKS
CAMIEOHSERIFS
AMASSLOOSCAT
ROTTENAPPLEELI
WEIRDOTIKIBAR
ABLEBLASTEDOFF
SADEEERIEEWER
HEATLIENALLY

I am thrilled to be returning to The New York Times with a second puzzle! A lot has occurred since my Times debut. Back then, I was halfway through high school, and my understanding of crossword construction at that time seems rather naïve to me now. During college, my crossword productivity slowed to a trickle, but now that I've graduated, I have been able to return to puzzling more actively.

By day, I am working to become an architect, and in my spare time I'm pursuing several interests (puzzles included), such as studying French and creating art projects at a local glass studio just outside Washington, D.C.

The seed for this theme was the expression DARN SOCKS, which I realized could be interpreted as a funny expletive. This entry sat idle for a while until I managed to hunt down other phrases to complete the set of themers. In designing my grid, I tried maximizing the number of seven letter entries, because I've found them to be a sweet spot for evocative words and phrases (answers like TIKI BAR, I'M NO USE, LAB MICE, and CAR WASH appeal to me because they pack so much color into a mid-length slot and are ripe for clever clues).

I'm always excited to develop a new puzzle, so if anyone's looking to collaborate, feel free to email me here at mattfuchspuzzles@gmail.com. I look forward to writing and contributing more puzzles and hope it's not another seven years before my next appearance in the Times!

Fri 10/15/2021
AMENMASSTAMPS
FORESIGHTARIAL
GROWINGUPDINGY
HOTSTARTWADDED
ANIJOYCEGOO
NICHEORBPANG
EXSQUEEZEME
BIGSURPRISE
GODIHOPENOT
JONIARINOBEL
ETAPAEANENO
TOFFEEHEADINTO
SPILLWORKINGIT
KODAKALIENRACE
ITEMSNEEDEYED

I thought I'd never write another solo puzzle, preferring now to collaborate with my friends, but a burst of creativity between two COVID waves gave rise to my first in almost a decade. Having been out of the scene for a while, I took a look around and saw that themeless architecture had evolved from the humble four-corner, one-room cabins I grew up on to grander designs often built around a central stagger staircase. I tried my hand at the new style, and today's puzzle is the result. I seeded it with EXSQUEEZEME, an entry that struck me for its delightful silliness and collection of Scrabbly letters. I was happy to stack three colourful conversational phrases in the centre, with a 4th — my first 15 ever — running down through them. For balance, the rest of the puzzle is much quieter, but is hopefully still evocative in other ways.

POW Sat 10/16/2021
SKASTIRNOVAS
CRIBNONAPOLOGY
RIRIITSHANDLED
ESCORTERIECNN
WHOSESCANWADE
UNOFILTHCONEY
PALMEDORFLOOR
AREWEGOOD
NINESPLUSSIGN
HINGEBEALECOO
ECHOWELDINERT
YEAFALLUNIPOD
NOSPOILERSTOGO
ONTHEFENCESPUN
WEEDSSTARSEE
Sun 10/17/2021COMMON CORE
OMITSSCHWABONSPEC
HADITTRAINORPREHEAT
SLIDEROGETSTHESAURUS
NADIROPSNEUROTIC
ALIENSWWISUNHEM
PATRONOFTHEARTSIMAGE
LLBEANOLEGONGS
STOICGISTBAEDEUCES
TOCCATASATANHATRED
ATHENAWINESLENIN
GOOTHEREINSPIRITUFO
MOONYGSPOTENURED
STONEDSHELLBLOGGED
ECHOESNETALOEWHETS
TRESSAOLHYENAS
TUTEECHARTEREDPLANES
ABEMRIISRFOMENT
ASSOONASSOUWOODY
BOACONSTRICTORSCECIL
ARCADESINPEACEABOVE
ASTRAYGASPARLANES
Mon 10/18/2021
MAINESLOTHBUB
ELMOSPATIOANA
STARQUARTERBACK
HOGFIDONOBLE
ODEONSEAAIR
MANIASRATTRAPS
EVENSCHAI
TARGETHEARTRATE
WETSHORAS
PEARTARTBOOTUP
RUPEESFLUFF
IRENAHALOOOH
DEMOCRATICPARTY
EKEUNHIPHIMOM
SANPASTSOLSEN

So I was in the gym one day (this was pre-COVID), and a chart on a wall of 33A vs. age that I had not paid much attention to previously, suddenly struck me of having an interesting property — and a puzzle was born. It was serendipitous that it developed into different ways of looking at ART.

With 69 letters dedicated to the theme, there wasn't much room left for bonus material, so the goal was to make the fill as smooth as possible.

As usual, the NYT team much improved the clueing — kudos for 46D, which was new to me.

Constructor logs: puzzle was submitted in Feb 2020, and accepted October 2020.

Tue 10/19/2021
JAMBMAASHAG
ALOECOUCHNORA
BESTENNUIOPAL
CHARLOTTESWEB
ALLTIEDUP
KEEPSHEARATSO
LAMPPEACHCHEZ
ERISSINCEKENO
ILLASNERBIN
NYYATTENDSROE
RSVPSSTODOR
PILEUPTURNIP
ASISITGUYOTTO
PESTCHAMPVEIL
ARTSSAYSOESSO

I submitted this puzzle in June of 2019, and kind of a lot has happened in the intervening 28 months. Not the least of which is that I no longer use answers like SST in my crossword puzzles. ("Bygone boomer?" More like "bygone crossword answer," amirite?)

Despite some clunky fill, I do love the tightness of the theme. CHARLOTTE'S WEB, AUNTIE ANNE'S, and EMILY'S LIST are on a very small list of common possessive phrases that use THE BRONTË sisters' names. (EMILY'S WONDER LAB didn't, you know, exist yet when I made this puzzle.) Even then, the set can't be laid out in standard rotational symmetry and only works in its present mirror symmetry layout since two of the answers just happen to interlock. Sometimes you get lucky.

For my *freshest* grids, visit my personal site, Rossword Puzzles, where I put out a new indie grid every Sunday. And drop me a line on Twitter if you're interested in learning about making crossword puzzles!

Wed 10/20/2021
EMSGALCHIAPET
SAIDIDOHENDRIX
ORLANDOORALIST
BREDISPOWEN
EINSSEAMARGUE
SETFANTASYLAX
ODDJOBACTMEET
ORANGERED
SHOTBAOEASTLA
TOVVAINESTRAW
PIECEFINSKAVA
RIGAARFAVER
ORDEALSORCHARD
DIURNALLEONINE
EMBASSYLEXLEE

This is my second puzzle in the New York Times, but it was the first one accepted. I sent it in while I was still filling my grids manually using an online crossword maker and submitting them in an envelope. So, this being a puzzle by a novice constructor, there are high points and low points. MARRIED and SAID I DO crossing is great, as are LAVERNE / COX, CHIA PET, and HENDRIX, but I don't think solvers need the nearly identical German words for 'one' and 'ice'. And while SILENT D (I think) was saved by the cluing, it's pretty arbitrary.

I do think the theme holds up better than the fill. ORANGE-RED was fun to discover. I couldn't include ORBITING in the grid, but it was equally fun to think of potential clues for that too. The theme's one downside is, since it involves wordplay over the entirety of each theme answer, those answers will tend to be short. I considered adding even shorter answers, such as "Who's your favorite ghostbuster? Winston ..." and "Who's your favorite composer? Liszt ..." (can you figure out what the latter options are?), but I was still in my phase where theme answers needed to be the longest across answers, and I can't imagine the effect on the fill if I had gone down that path.

In sum, I'm happy this puzzle got accepted because I was proud of its unique approach to a fairly simple theme, but I could have gone further with it.

(Answer: Winston OREGON; Liszt ORBACH)

Thu 10/21/2021
IRANSTATCOBB
NORAPOTHOLDER
GOONPRIMEVIDEO
OKCORRALTEN
TSKBEYPARKOUR
LOGSTABSAMA
SPINSKULLSTAG
HIVEUNTIEAHME
AXISROUNDSTIR
WINWETSRISE
NEGLECTLILSHY
OARPINKYTOE
GOFORAWALKVISA
BOOTYCALLEFTS
SHESKNEESYST

I hope you enjoyed this one. This was my first attempt at making something tricky, and I liked this particular idea because it allowed for colorful theme phrases that would be too long for a 15x15 grid if presented straightforwardly.

The major constraint was that I didn't want to use more than one phrase in which UNDER is followed by THE, and there are a whole bunch of those and not many others. I'm sure I missed some, but I found only four non-THE options that I really liked (COURAGE UNDER FIRE was the fourth, but I didn't use it because it's just basically the opposite of CRACK UNDER PRESSURE).

From there, symmetry dictated that I go with DRINK UNDER THE TABLE instead of WATER UNDER THE BRIDGE, FLY UNDER THE RADAR, SWEEP UNDER THE RUG, THROW UNDER THE BUS, HOT UNDER THE COLLAR, etc. DESIRE UNDER THE ELMS could have worked, but I think this theme type works better without proper nouns.

Regarding 17-Across, I am obligated to inform you that the 1986 BMX classic(?) Rad—my honest-to-god favorite movie of all time—is now streaming on PRIME VIDEO.

Fri 10/22/2021
AMPLEELLATHU
RELAXLEASTAOS
NAILPOLISHOKRA
INEARNESTEYES
ETSEONLASSES
MSNHEATAMY
CASEDISMISSED
LETTHATSINKIN
GENERATIONGAP
EFTANATAFT
STUPIDITOCHO
TRONPOKERCHIP
SOILGOONSTRIKE
EWOKOUZOWOVEN
ANNDREWOPEDS

A few things of interest in this puzzle (at least to me… ). Clues for 28 Across and 12 Down are bits of new knowledge I obtained while sharpening my trivia skills in the past few years. I find more and more that if I can't come up with a clever misdirect or punny clue, my next preference will be to find some interesting bit of trivia.

Over the last decade I debuted both POKER TABLE and POKER TABLES to the NYT crossword; today I add POKER CHIP to my collection. One might think that I actually played poker for all the times I've introduced references to that card game.

And speaking of card games I don't play, the clue to 31 Down clearly isn't mine. In my 2018 constructor profile, I was asked about entries I'd never put in a puzzle, to which I responded "I recently removed a common five letter word used in the card game bridge because it also happens to be the name of a certain current political figure, and I don't want to see that name while I'm in my happy place." Whether it's a reference to bridge or SKAT, or anything else, I wouldn't put it in my grid and I wouldn't put it in my clues. Fortunately, this term never shows up in my game of choice, mahjongg!

Sat 10/23/2021
POPQUIZEMIRATI
GROUCHYMASALAS
FIRELOGOILGLUT
INKAPOSTLESRI
LOREETHICSTIN
MCINGEACHTANK
SOBEITDOIDARE
RSVPNMEX
PIGTAILPRICES
DENYNEUFENACT
ATEITCLUBGROK
TUXDEALERSTRI
INAWINKLEADACT
NICEONEUVLIGHT
GATEMANPETFEES

I'm a THEMELESS JUNKIE (15). This isn't news to the real ones who've solved my stuff for years. According to XWord Info, more than 60% of my standard, non-variety crossword publications have appeared on a Friday or Saturday.

This puzzle today feels different, though. I'd always been so interested in the "How low can you go?" word count quests or asking myself, "How wide open can I possibly make this corner while still retaining good fill?" This pattern of so many shorter interlocking 7s, a classic grid skeleton, never appealed much to me as a constructor. Give me a challenge! Force me to use my imagination to pull off a technical marvel! My solvers deserve a formidable-looking Saturday, which would then be extra satisfying to solve!

Whew, was this grid a challenge, all right. A challenge to make every last 6-, 7-, 8- and 9-letter answer fresh, peculiar and/or fun to clue. A challenge to pack so much juice into each corner without relying on overfamiliar, pedestrian answers like ESTATES or TSETSES, or short gluey bits to hold the longer pizazz together. I'm not saying every last one of these is so sparkly (looking at you, GATEMAN and CARTAGE … and, believe me, it hurts to use DERE!), but hopefully nothing here makes you deep sigh and say, "I'm so damn tired of seeing this in puzzles."

To aspiring constructors taking notes: My strategy mostly revolved around using answers in the middle of the stacks that, well, you'd be surprised to find in the middle while solving. Answers like A LA MODE and ENTENTE traditionally appear in slots like 15-Across, to hold together zippier 7s on either side. So I hunched that if I, for instance, stacked the Scrabble-icious™ GROUCHY under POP QUIZ, it'd lead to fresher results with rarer letter combos. Or, if I needed to use something vowel-heavy, I'd resort to a new, cool-to-learn word like ÉCORCHÉ.

Finally, I've brought this up before, but it was delightful to bake in common words like ETHICS, TAXING, ENERGY, PIGTAIL, PRICES, DATING / PETUNIA / INEXACT, etc. They allowed me to kick back and have a blast with tricky, evocative and/or wordplay-inspired cluing. I know many constructors are interested in highlighting flashy names and elements of modern pop culture — myself included — but this I highly recommend as well!

POW Sun 10/24/2021SPORTS NUTS
ALLAHDEBITCDCSPAT
MOIRATEXACOLAOHULA
OFFENSIVEREBOUNDITEM
STEWAMISSIBETCEASE
EDGESRAISEHELL
FLOOREXERCISEOLDISH
RILKESUITDUNEDEE
APAWESSTARTINGBLOCK
YOYOTRICKYOGISANTA
HONDAMADISONRIOT
SHAWSERVICELINEETRE
CODETRAILERTRIAD
ORALBOMANTEENMOVIE
UNPLAYABLELIEPSIINA
TITTADAOKRADOORS
SNAPONSEVENTENSPLIT
TANGERINEELATE
ROILSYURIDELISNEWT
AWOLDESIGNATEDHITTER
ZINEJUTMOUSSEMONAE
ZESTSPYARBYSPEARS

I think this is the best puzzle that I've written so far. I'm a subscriber to Ade Koiki's philosophy over on Diary of a Crossword Fiend that "sports will make you smarter." I know sports puzzles can be polarizing, but Ade has made some that are accessible to solvers who may be put off by the genre, and I wanted to do something similar.

My original idea for this puzzle was a bit too niche. It came from the phrase BAIT AND TACKLE, a fishing term that sounds like a football play. I thought of a bunch of phrases that could cross between different sports but quickly realized that the puzzle would have limited appeal. My brainstorming led me to OFFENSIVE REBOUND, which I thought was funny when clued as a dating term. From there, I found many pun-worthy sports phrases, and it was just a matter of narrowing it down. I wanted a wide range of sports and no repeats, so hopefully, there is something in there for everyone.

Once I settled on the theme set, the grid and the fill fell into place quickly (only two drafts saved, a record for me as I usually have about twelve). I was also determined that the rest of the puzzle did not have any other sports trivia or references. I need to say a big thank you to my good friend Georgia for test solving this one.

Ladies, please let 34-across serve as a reminder to do your Kegels!

Mon 10/25/2021
LATHSEALSTEAM
ACREURSATOPIC
PAULAZAHNIPADS
SCAMPIASEA
EINPETTINGZOOS
SATSORSOVCR
PESKYORBITS
PRINCESSZELDA
POINTYATEIT
IPATAILSEGO
POLISHZLOTYLEB
CHETHIPPIE
CILIAEASYPEASY
FRANKCRAMASHE
LEDGESTYETOAD

If you want to read some of my thoughts on crossword puzzles, including the inclusion (or exclusion) of controversial words, visit my blog.

POW Tue 10/26/2021
ADLIBSBBCREDS
MEADOWEEOOREO
AMOEBAEGOSURFS
NUTSANDBOLTS
ARSSEANPERCH
SEERSELIEOHO
ANARMANDALEG
BATSINGCLEFS
LIGHTNINGROD
AMIAREANOSED
BEFITACTSPLO
FRANKENSTEIN
ALLEYCATECHECK
LEIAIIIROADIE
BEERDRETWISTY
Wed 10/27/2021
FABLERUMORIWO
UNLETOPERAMRI
DAAAAABEARSPAL
DINPENNCOUPS
SCHWEDDYBALLS
IOSALASKA
CREDOTWINIIS
LIVEFROMNEWYORK
ACEYODAHUNTS
DENADASIR
WERENOTWORTHY
CIDERSRISYAP
ANOMORECOWBELL
FEUININKEENIE
ESTSECTSBAAED

Years ago, I wrote a puzzle as a tribute to Christopher Walken, but I had no idea what I was doing. Even so, Will, while nixing, was still encouraging.

Now a lot of time has passed, I've learned a lot and tried again with this puzzle to feature all the most memorable lines from SNL, including my favorite spoken by Mr. Walken, MORE COWBELL.

I hope these classic lines make you laugh or at least bring a smile to your face.

And when the world gets you down, always remember, all you need is MORE COWBELL!

Thu 10/28/2021
BADPRABAFTTBS
AMORENOMASHOW
BERIGHTBACKACE
EXAMAIOLIINCA
ABSFLICKER
IFALLTOPIECES
MILTELLKEATS
URLSNEARSSTAT
PENALTIPSOPI
ITSANOBRAINER
OHGODNOEND
ZAHNGRAPEIDLE
ANTWEARESODEAD
ROEALIGNPINKY
KIRNANOSSTYES

Glad to be back in the Times. This was a really fun puzzle to make. I got the idea last Halloween while looking at some lawn decorations. Zombies only have a few specific features, ideal for four theme entries. The editorial staff was great to work with, we tweaked a couple of the theme entries and they improved several clues. Happy Halloween everyone!

Fri 10/29/2021
CHOCOTACOBASES
HELLTOPAYALEXA
UNDERWIREDIPPY
CDTONEGSASHES
KRISSCARYSTORY
LIMOSEMIRSRTE
EXEMPTEAUSASS
MAILLPGA
MDSETABSONICS
ERNCHIRPASNAP
DOUBLEDAREAFRO
INGOODVENARON
AEGISHUMONGOUS
NOISEIRECKONSO
SNEERMADHATTER

This puzzle was my attempt at making a grid-first puzzle. Sometimes I get locked into the same grid shapes, which means I tend to get locked into grids with the same size marquee answers. And I have a big backlog of fun marquee answers I want to fit in puzzles but the list isn't infinite! Sometimes you gotta mix it up and you end up seeing a whole lot of new words in your dictionary that you forgot were in there!

Sat 10/30/2021
VOCABSATEODDS
IVORYTOWERNOAH
SEATFILLERANTE
ANTASEHEARTED
TRACKEDDOWN
HASPIPESLAIN
LUMPFISHLALIGA
ALBATMGALTHY
BLURRYHIDEOUTS
SALEMCARYPPS
BASEBALLBAT
CATERERTIMTOE
ELIAEDGARAWARD
COOLFIELDHOUSE
EONSYOLKLETON

The original submission for this puzzle featured an entirely different northwest corner. The editors liked it, but felt one of the crossings would be unfair, and asked if I could tweak it. Unfortunately it wasn't a simple edit and my "ultrafresh 1A" (their words) was nixed in the process. That debut word must wait for another day.

I'm disappointed to see my clue for 22-Down (Part of a spotty work history?) get the axe, but I'm glad to see they kept some of my favorite clues, including 39-Across, 44-Across and 1-Down.

Sun 10/31/2021CHOICE WORDS
PATRASCALSPENSEP
ECOEMMYLOUWAGEAPE
THEWHEALBUMHITORMISS
FETASRODEPORTDIDIT
ODORSTNTREMEETABLE
OFTASISAYPETRIMOOR
DOORDIELIVERANDNIONS
READSMUNIPSST
METRESLOLTHRILL
IMPOSEONBEHEADODEA
MOUNTRUSHMMOREORLESS
POPEEASELSSURELETS
STASISNSANOSIDE
SHAHTHONADDTO
MARCHIGORDERSINOROUT
AVERARTIEHEPCATUTE
DAZETONNESSHESACHS
ERODENESTEAABCSHOT
WINORLOSEWHIRLWDTOUR
ACEAIMSUSROUTEFSU
YESSPYPOSSESSFEN

As sometimes happens, the starting point for this puzzle didn't end up in the final grid. While brainstorming on another puzzle idea involving the phrase UP OR OUT, I came up with the gimmick you see here. UP OR OUT describes career advancement in hierarchical partnership and tenure organizations, where workers either need to climb the ladder or leave. During the editorial process, UP OR OUT was replaced with IN OR OUT, erasing the link to the original inspiration. So, I guess that means the result was "OUT" rather than "UP" for UP OR OUT. ;-)

In some ways, this puzzle marks the end of an era for me. It was my last snail mail submission accepted by the editors (though not the last to be published as I still have a couple of earlier acceptances in the queue). Although the online portal is easier to use, I miss the ritual of printing, collating, and sending puzzles in by hand. And, unfortunately for me, I purchased a large supply of envelopes, stamps, labels, and paper clips just before the changeover.