I'm pretty sure I pitched something like 18 theme answers for Will. He's a tough guy to please, but he eventually liked what we ran here.
All crossword constructors are in it for the records right? I'm hoping this goes down as "earwormiest NYT crossword". You do have that list, right Jeff & Jim? It was conceived while watching a local advert for I think Standard Bank that uses SHBOOM as its theme. Like every good (and not so good) constructor, I rushed to see if that answer had been used. As far as I could tell it hadn't. My next thought was that a whole puzzle of sound-effect songs could create a pleasing effect. It's a lot simpler and "listier" than most NYTs, but I think it works. I regret this puzzle's density, especially as, only the week before making it, I vowed never again to force too much theme into a puzzle! It was a bear to fill, especially all those accursed M's! The result, inevitably, is a puzzle that has little to offer if you don't enjoy the theme.
Lastly, I'm happy to have included a quasi-South African theme answer in DO WAH DIDDY DIDDY (the eponymous keyboardist of the British band is South African).
This is a relatively straightforward puzzle, but it reminds me how curious the whole process from construction to publication is. So, for example, this puzzle took 132 days from the time I submitted until it appeared, which seemed fast. Best ever for me is an incredibly quick 27 days; longest is 1377 days — just over 3 3/4 years! I have no idea why some puzzles go quickly and others don't; it just seems to be part of the process.
As always, many of the clues changed. I originally had [Con-dense?] for 46-Across, which I liked, and it took me forever to understand the clue for 9-Down, and I live there! As I often tell people, I can't do my own puzzles when they come out in the Times, and this one was no exception. Dr.Fill, however, had no such problem, solving it correctly in about 15 seconds. It had trouble in the southwest, but eventually managed to patch things up and get a perfect solve. I've put a video of the program solving the puzzle below, where you'll see Dr.Fill mess up the southwest and then fix it before spending the rest of its "ACPT minute" checking its work.
I hope everyone enjoys both the video and the puzzle itself.
My puzzle essentially had two seeds: EARTHRISE and GREENTAPE. I was inspired to use EARTHRISE in a puzzle after looking at a photograph with that name taken during the Apollo 8 mission. My original clue for EARTHRISE referred to the photograph. I ran across the use of GREENTAPE in an article about excessive environment regulations and thought that was would be a cool entry for a puzzle.
I don't recall the whole construction process for this puzzle, but when I fill a grid, I try to strike a balance between 'interesting' longer entries (BATSIGNAL, BIOWEAPON, e.g.) and high-scrabble value fill (GASTAX, CEREALBOX, QUARK, e.g.), although puzzle didn't turn out to be as scrabbly as I'd prefer.
In his notes for a recent puzzle, Joel Fagliano mentioned how it's useful to tinker with a theme until you find the best presentation for it. This advice was extremely applicable to today's puzzle, which began as three independent ideas that merged over about two years.
When a puzzle's theme is not so straightforward, I like to delay the solver's realization of the theme so that the epiphany happens gradually. For this puzzle, therefore, I placed the black I one space from the edge so that there would be a black square to the left of 1-Across (HOLES). Hopefully, when solvers realize that 1-Across should be BLACK HOLES, they'll notice this (seemingly unnecessary) black square and initially conclude that the theme is a rebus where black squares stand for the word BLACK. I don't know if this trick will work on many people, but I do like to delay the theme epiphany, and a trick or two can help to cause such a delay.
Thanks to Jeff Chen for advice on how to expand the selection of 4- and 5-letter words in my word lists. I fill by hand as much as possible, but a few of the wider-open sections would have been messy without computer aid. Also, as always, thanks to Will Shortz for all the encouragement and for making the puzzle submission polished enough to be published.
Not too surprisingly, this puzzle started with FUHGEDDABOUDIT, and I just needed to find three more entries that meant aboud the same thing. My initial impression was that I would need to use the FUHGEDABOUDIT (one D) spelling since that is the way it appeared in Daniel Kantor's NYT puzzle of 8/7/07 (unrelated theme). I had trouble finding another 13 letter theme entry, so I looked up FUHGEDABOUDIT and was happy to find that the "preferred" Wiktionary spelling has two D's! I wasn't familiar with the term "eye dialect" — a little embarrassing since I am an ophthalmologist — but apparently this is an "eye dialect" spelling based on colloquial or dialectal speech. I have to tell you this word-nerd stuff is really fascinating to me!
My first try at this puzzle had NINE entries that Will did not like — mostly plurals like SEPTS, CDRS, GRRS, and LSTS. My impression is that Will is not really enamored with plurals or abbreviations, so plural abbreviations might be a good thing to avoid when possible. This second try at filling the puzzle has slightly harder but more interesting words, and a lot less "glue." The only clue I was sorry to see on the editing floor was "trips the light fantastic" for DANCES at 46-Down — Wikipedia attributes that phrase to a Milton poem of 1645 and says it's been hackneyed since 1908, but NO WAY! I think it's a classic.
I don't remember starting with any desire to make my first pangram, but when I got down to just the northwest corner and all I needed was a J...
This is my first themed puzzle in five years, almost to the day. Although my main focus is the themeless form, I really enjoy making themed puzzles when the inspiration strikes. The challenges are different, but the reward is equally satisfying. I hope to make more in the future.
I'm a big poker player, and somehow DOUBLE UP revealed itself as a neat revealer in my mind. The reason I went for it with this theme is not so much that the core concept is overly thrilling, but rather that the resulting phrases are all fun. Combined with some cool fill, I hope this makes for an enjoyable Tuesday!
The impetus for this puzzle was a desire to break something. I looked through the archive and discovered that hearts and promises had been broken before, in several different ways, and even "bad" had been broken multiple times (in other venues). So I settled on RECORD.
Almost immediately after I mailed this puzzle in, about a year ago, I experienced a severe case of constructor's remorse; I regretting submitting a puzzle with so much short ugliness and crosswordese, especially in the "theme rows" (all of my more recent puzzles are cleaner than this). But when I was notified that the puzzle was accepted, it was very instructive: Will didn't comment at all on the bad fill, but rather on how he liked some of the long Downs. It made me think, "Hey — I liked those long Downs too!" but I had forgotten that as I was brooding over the fill.
So I guess the point is that there are different ways to assess a crossword puzzle. (I think that was my point...) Anyway, enjoy!
The idea for this puzzle came to me right off the bat … Baton Rouge, that is, which my constructor mind parsed as BAT-ON-ROUGE — two legitimate words separated by "ON." I then found many other phrases including JACKS-ON-FIVE, WAG-ON-TRAIN, NIX-ON-TAPES, and DICED-ON-IONS, and I began building my grid with the first word literally (over) "ON" the second word.
In a perfect constructing world ☺, I would have been able to keep some of my favorite phrases. But, with the constraints of five stacked theme entries and symmetry, I struggled with the fill and had several grids going at one time, moving the location of the theme letters above and below each other and swapping out various theme entries. Eventually, I was able to fill a grid successfully but still decided to beef up the center of the grid and changed my seed entry BATON ROUGE (3 over 5 letters) to SURGEON GENERAL (5 over 7 letters).
I want to thank Will for keeping my original wording of "literally" in the cluing of the theme entries, but for editing them all to a Thursday level difficulty. For example: My cluing for CARSON CITY was "Literally … capital of Nevada" and Will edited it to "Literally … a Western state capital," which is definitely more Thursday-appropriate.
Also, with the recent discussions of how long it takes to get from acceptance to publishing, here is the info: mailed 7/16/14, accepted 9/10/14, published 11/13/14. Thanks, Will and Joel!
No surprise that Bb5 jumped off the page of a chess book and reminded me of B flat expressed by an old typewriter. Not long after that, 31-A, 34-A and 35-A emerged, and their lengths suggested a puzzle with left-right symmetry. I only stacked them out of curiosity, but soon decided that the hardest crossing sequences ACS and LLM would eventually work out: 5-D was already in my word list, but I had to devise 7-D to match it in length. The rest fell into place with the usual amount of shuffling black squares around.
I was undeterred by cheater squares as long as the grid remained open and the fill stayed clean: I prefer the short fill to contain common words like 30-A and 36-A which are most receptive to word play clues. My other favorite clues are 4-A, 9-A, 52-A — my originals — and 46-A and 56-A — supplied by Will.
This crossword's first entry was reverse engineered in a sense, as "So that's it!" often serves as the clue for AHA. I'm hoping dedicated solvers appreciate that little inside joke!
Looking at this puzzle again, it reminds me that I'm a fan of constructing themeless puzzles with mid-sized entries of about seven to ten letters. That length is about the minimum for having a wide range of interesting, compound phrases to choose from, and simple math says more of those can fit into a grid compared to one loaded with fifteen-letter entries.
Someone mentioned to me a couple years ago that they once had a dentist named Dr. Hurt. That was the inspiration for the theme, but it was a little tough to come up with enough answers for a Sunday. I wanted the last names to not be homophones (no LINDA TRIPP being a bad dancer, e.g.), and the toughest part was getting symmetrical partners for everyone.
I submitted the puzzle with GLORIA ALLRED as a bad tanning-salon owner; I think I like that better than the current clue. Either way, seeing as Ms. Allred is probably the least well-known member of the bunch, it's probably the weakest theme answer. I noticed the RED dupe with RED SEA far too late for it to be excised from the grid; apologies for the inelegance.
For the STEVIE NICKS clue, I gave the option of using mohel or barber. I preferred mohel for the humor (which is why I put it at the end, a page out of the Merl Reagle textbook). Honestly I thought that the safer barber choice would be used, so I'm pleasantly surprised that mohel "made the cut" (pun intended).
If you want to solve more of my puzzles, you're in luck. I currently run two email-delivery puzzle subscription services. I write a weekly standard crossword with varying difficulty at www.ariesxword.com and a bi-weekly Rows Garden variety crossword at www.ariespuzzles.com. There are some freebies on each site too; check them out!
One of the biggest surprises for me in the Sherlock Holmes series was the fact that Sherlock has a brother. Sherlock is such a distinctive character that I find it intriguing to think of there being someone else like him. It's even more surprising to find out that a real-life friend has a twin, and that sense of surprise was the inspiration here.
I made this puzzle a while ago, and if I were to do it again, I would try to change the entry MONSTROSITY. At the time I constructed this puzzle, I counted myself lucky just to find fill that worked. Now that I'm more comfortable with filling grids, I try much harder to find entries that are not just acceptable but also entertaining. Although MONSTROSITY is a perfectly cromulent word, it's not very pleasant. Therefore, I would rather have found an entry more likely to bring a smile to the solver's face.
In the original version of this puzzle, I made the rookie mistake of placing NONAHEDRON at 56A without considering that I'd eventually have to write a clue for it. As I soon realized, there just aren't that many familiar nine-faced objects (and the preferred term is "enneahedron"). The best clue I could come up with was the unwieldy "Pyramid with an octagonal base, perhaps." Thanks to Will for changing 56A to the more clue-friendly NOMINATION, which I wholeheartedly accept.
The NAZI / DEICIDE crossing, which was by far the best possible fill, looked particularly morbid to me, so I tried to clue both entries in an oblique way that would make them interesting, rather than depressing.
The NAZI clue, I think, helps to camouflage the inherent distastefulness of the word itself, and is less heavy-handed than one such as "European jackboot."
As for DEICIDE, there was a pair of Maleska-era clues in the database: "Murder of a god" and "Destruction of a god." Dictionary-like clues of this nature felt too straightforward and explicit for this entry, though, given its crossings; I thought a specific mythological clue would work better, and there were two to choose from.
The first option was the story of Baldur and Hodur from Norse mythology. Baldur, one of the sons of Odin, is beloved by all living creatures—including the gods' bitter enemies, the frost giants. Having heard a prophecy foretelling Baldur's death, Odin's wife Frigg has every last thing in the world swear never to hurt Baldur. The mistletoe plant, believed to be harmless, is the only thing that fails to take this oath. The jealous trickster god Loki, however, takes a sprig of mistletoe and fashions it into a dart. The other gods have made a game out of throwing their swords and axes at Baldur, which all bounce off harmlessly, as even metal has sworn him no harm. Loki gives this dart to Baldur's blind and innocent brother Hodur, who has been unable to participate in the fun because he lacks a weapon. With Loki's guidance Hodur throws the mistletoe straight at Baldur, killing him.
The story behind the wicked god Set's murder of his brother Osiris is equally fascinating. Envious of his brother's position as king of Egypt, Set arranges for a beautiful sarcophagus to be made conforming to Osiris' exact measurements. At a gala celebrating Osiris' return from travels abroad, Set brings forth the sarcophagus and proclaims that it is a gift for the one who fits inside. Everyone in turn tries the sarcophagus, to no avail. Osiris is the last to climb into the box, which of course fits him perfectly. Set and his attendants thereupon slam the coffin lid shut, sealing it with nails and boiling lead (killing Osiris), before throwing it into the Nile. Osiris never again walks among the living.
It's curious that both of these tales qualify as fratricide as much as they do deicide, even if they occur under wildly differing circumstances (although both involve jealousy). As it seemed less obscure, I went with the latter story.
If you take nothing else from this brief discourse, take this: If you're ever offered a glass slipper to try on, go for it. If you're ever offered a coffin to try on, decline politely and find the nearest available exit.
Oh, and keep away from mistletoe. Dangerous stuff.
All NYT crosswords have grid patterns that are symmetrical when you rotate them 180 degrees. For this puzzle, I decided to start with a grid that would also be symmetrical when rotated 90 degrees.
The longest answer has length 8, which is kind of short, but there are 12 of them. I keep a list of words and phrases that have never been in a NYT crossword, so I pulled that out and looked for length 8 possibilities. My three favorites on that list were JONESING, BUTT DIAL, and LOCAVORE, so I started with those.
I seeded the puzzle by putting JONESING in the NW, BUTT DIAL in the NE, and LOCAVORE in the SE. I didn't seed a 4th entry in the SW because I figured the fill would flow into that area, kind of like squeezing a tube of toothpaste, so I waited to see what entry would go there naturally. I felt lucky when it turned out that HOW'S THAT would fit there.
I like the intersecting 7's in the middle of the puzzle (PASSION, BAY AREA, LOBSTER, DESIREE): BAY AREA is nice for me because I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. DESIREE is a good one because I'm a big Neil Diamond fan. He's one of the few musical artists that my dad and I both like, and we've been to see him in concert together a few times.
A few more things: LET ER RIP is fun, as my son plays baseball and it sounds like something you would say to a kid when you're telling him to swing away. I find EPIPHANY to be a colorful word. I like ARIZONA because I have two sisters, and one lives there now, and the other used to live there although recently she moved to Florida. EMOTICON and USER NAME are nice because they both evoke the computer driven world we live in.
Overall, I'm happy with how this puzzle turned out, and I'm glad I was able to get the pangram without doing anything too unnatural.
I built this puzzle at the end of 2012; when it was accepted in June 2013, I was stoked that I'd be the first constructor to use FO SHIZZLE in a New York Times crossword . . . until James Mulhern swooped in with his awesome FO SHIZZLE themeless from April! FO SHIZZLE engendered strong reactions from many solvers, though the one that stood out to me the most was Jeff Chen's: "One across is going to be divisive, methinks. On one hand, it's fun slang, with the crazy IZZLE ending. On the other, it feels to me about 10 years old, sort of like me showing off my Motorola Razr." I find it fascinating that Jeff immediately associated FO SHIZZLE with "Motorola Razr," which is strikingly similar to DROID RAZR! I suppose Jeff is right that both of these entries are rather dated — does this mean I'm getting old and behind the times ;) ?
Anyway, my favorite entries in this puzzle (aside from FO SHIZZLE and DROID RAZR) are EXCUSE YOU, WARMONGER, WIIMOTES, REDDI-WIP, and the insanely Scrabbly ZEPPO MARX. The grid has more compromises (ELIE, EERO, RRR, SERO, CRAN, etc.) than I'd be inclined to use nowadays, but I still feel that these compromises are sufficiently offset by the zip. I hope everyone enjoys this puzzle and has a happy Thanksgiving! I know I'll be busy enjoying my last few days of being 17 years young. . . .
I think the one thing interesting about the puzzle is the emails Will and I had back in forth debating whether ROFL stood for "Rolling On Floor Laughing" or "Rolling On the Floor Laughing." Google has more listings for "Rolling On Floor Laughing" (i.e., without "the"). As such, my original theme answer at 28-Across was "On bended knee." That being said, there are some definitions for ROFL that include "the." After some debate, I decided to switch the answer to "On the down low." A side benefit is that this answer is clearly more contemporary. Also, the solver can choose whether or not "the" is used in the theme.
I commend Will for the edits and research. The ultimate puzzle is better for the change, as one cannot challenge the correctness of the theme.
Sitting in class my third year in law school, I noticed the friend next to me solving a crossword puzzle, and I was envious. We were both bored with the lecture, but he had something else to do — something interesting, challenging and fun. I remember my mother used to work the daily puzzle from The Indianapolis Star, and I would assist her on occasion, but I really didn't get hooked until that spring morning in Bloomington, Indiana. Since that time, I have worked one puzzle a day with rare exceptions. I am addicted.
Many years ago, after completing a New York Times daily puzzle I found to be inane, I decided to create one and send it to The New York Times for publication. After waiting two weeks to receive notice of the acceptance of my masterpiece, the bad news came from former crossword puzzle editor, Eugene Maleska. My puzzle was a hopeless case. He said, "… the entries contain a plethora of esoterica. Frankly, I doubt that any crossword puzzle editor would accept such an amateurish creation." I don't know whether I was more let down by the blunt rejection letter or the fact that I had to look up the words "plethora" and "esoterica."
Eventually, I was accepted for publication in The New York Times. I loved the days when my puzzle appeared in the paper. I had to have more. I stepped up submissions to once a month. The addiction grew.
Maleska and I became friends until his death. When Will Shortz became the editor, he bundled up and returned to me six puzzles that had already been approved by Maleska for publication. I began to experience distress and dismay — withdrawal symptoms. Happily, I was able to adjust to the Shortz style and have been a regular, but not prolific contributor. It's great to be back in the Times after an absence of a few years.
Today's puzzle has a military theme. Construction was not difficult but I do regret not having room for more theme entries — "Arf" = CHOW LINE and "Bear hug" = ARMED FORCES, for example.
By the way, I lectured to a law school class a few years ago and I noticed one of the students working a crossword puzzle. Nothing's changed.
Thanks to this site, I see that this my fourth Times puzzle this year, the most for me since the five I had in Will's first full year as editor (1994). Having reread my previous author's notes of this year, I'm going to attempt to cover new elucidative ground with the following.
The "thank you very much" in different languages was in my Theme Idea Book for a while. What I thought might make it suitable for the Times was the lucky three-way theme answer intersection. For you Times Crossword History buffs, this "H-on-its side" is a theme configuration much favored by an eminent Times constructor of the past, Jack Luzzatto, who created many wide-open patterns of this sort.
So, totally unlike my last Times puzzle, where I closed off the grid to the max for easiness sake, I wanted to open up the grid as much as possible here to allow for many longer words, and managed to get the answer count down to 72, without having to resort to any obscurity/crosswordese compromises.
As for the cluing, not unlike acting, it really is more fun "playing the villain" and being mean-but-fair/accurate wherever it works. The three "Thanksgiving phrase" theme clues were obviously supposed to be of no help without quite a few crossing words. My two other favorite mean clues: The "music masquerading as cardiology" for PRESTO (15 Across), and "multi-keyword diversion" of "Counter with a sharp edge" for RETORT (42 Down). The seed for the RETORT clue was the word "counters" in its Random House Unabridged definition.
The nuanced approach I aim for with my tough factual clues is: a fact you probably don't specifically know, but with enough context to put you on the right track toward the answer. Which, when you get it, will make complete sense based on "general knowledge" only, which most people can be reasonably expected to know. Such as: the POTOMAC River (34 Down) meeting the Shenandoah at Harper's Ferry, Jean AUEL (49 Down) writing about Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals, and the admittedly not well-known Grand Duchess OLGA (23 Across), eldest daughter of Czar Nicholas II, though eminently inferable as a female Russian name from "Anastasia" in the clue. A factual morsel that couldn't fit into the puzzle: JUDGE JUDY (31 Across) is 2014's highest paid TV star by far ($40+ million) because her show is syndicated and she gets paid for each station that runs it. And of course, because of the high ratings her show receives.
Finally, to paraphrase Will himself in a post he made to xwordinfo earlier this year, there are many editorial approaches to crossword constructing that are suitable for the Times. I'm glad Will finds mine appropriate enough to have put it before you four times in 2014.
Happy Day-After-Thanksgiving, everybody! Who doesn't like finding a sale or two...or even four, especially on Black Friday?! Hope you enjoy it!
To avoid theme duplications, I always run long entries through xwordinfo.com and Matt Ginsberg's database. THREE-LETTER WORD was a new, unused phrase — an apt centerpiece for a puzzle with no three-letter terms. As always, the construction is informed by everyday life. I'd just seen "The King's Speech" with EVE BEST as Wallis Simpson. I CANT SLEEP A WINK is autobiographical; I am an insomniac who makes puzzles in the wee hours. I hope this addition to the "crosswords with no 3-letter words" genre will provide a bit of entertainment for daily solvers and WEEKEND WARRIORS.
My last puzzle in the Times came with a very brief interval between submission and publication of 74 days. This one was nearer the other end of the spectrum, with the interval being 833 days, a bit over two years. (Still, not really so bad!) I'm not sure if it's related, but many more of the clues were changed on this one than on most of my efforts. Some of the clues I included but which never made it into print: [Deserted?] for SERE, [Crime recommended by the Doors in 1967?] for ARSON, [Gabriel Macht and Patrick Adams, as seen on TV] for SUITS, [Pigpen-esque] for MESSY, and [They're in knots] for TOADS. I used Maximum Decimus Meridius instead of Spartacus in 101-A (SLAVE), because I'm a Gladiator fan, and included the bit of trivia [Teddy Roosevelt's was the smallest when he assumed office] for AGE. I used [Burning it doesn't change the name] for ASH and had [Gathers, as Timothy] for HAYS because my wife is an equestrian. Will also saved me by removing a bunch of clunkers.
Cluing is interesting. I've remarked elsewhere that Dr.Fill does better on the NY Times puzzles than it does on those in the ACPT, and I suspect that the cluing is a lot of the reason. Dr.Fill is pretty well dialed in on the cluing style in the Times, but Will edits the ACPT clues much more lightly, and that's why I suspect it has trouble. Speaking of which, you can find a video of Dr.Fill solving today's puzzle below:
This was an interesting one. DF does terribly on its initial pass, but then checks to see if this is a rebus puzzle and concludes that it is (right!) with the rebus AD (also right!). It resolves the puzzle, and does much better. The only mistake is that it thinks that TEENY is better than WEENY for [Itsy-bitsy] and can't figure out what's going on with the existing clue for 103-D. My clue for WEENY was [Diminutive], about the same as Will's; my clue for WINE was [Red or white, but not blue]. DF would probably have liked that clue much better (it knows all about red and white wines), so I'll view this as another of Will's unending and gleeful efforts to cause Dr.Fill fits.