DISCLAIMER: No animals were harmed in the making of this puzzle.
I don't recall the exact inspiration for this puzzle, but I was probably hungry and noticed an animal split between two entries in another crossword. To limit the theme choices, I decided to use only animals in the current Barnum's box (according to Wikipedia) which were five letters or longer.
The other decision was where to place the revealer. I'm not a fan of center placement, and that would mean changing the grid to 14 or 16 squares wide or just having ANIMAL CRACKER which wasn't great. You can't eat just one! So I went with the "cracked" revealer that fortunately echoed the theme.
Will liked the concept but asked to remove some iffy fill and to replace HIPPO which was the only shortened entry. Of two revised submissions, the one that had the longest split entries was chosen over the one that had VEGANS crossing ANIMAL. Kudos to Will and Joel for the double "parked" clues for 49- and 50-Across.
Hope this satisfies your crossword snacking pleasure!
A couple years ago on the JoCo Cruise, I helped Peter Sagal out with the clues for a game show—I know, right?—and so it seemed about time for him to return the favor. Peter was a more-than-willing collaborator, and we fleshed out a lot of ideas that didn't really go anywhere. Eventually I posed to Peter, who runs a lot of marathons, the obvious question "What about a marathon puzzle?" Peter wanted to run the New York Marathon this week, and so he came up with this insane and stellar idea of drawing a map of the entire marathon route. To which I said, "Uh, yeah, I *think* I can do that," and came up with this.
Actually, the first grid *also* had a 26-letter message—RUN AND RUN TILL THE RACE IS DONE—running from the second R in FERRY to the N and E at the start of NEW YORK MARATHON, with the black squares being the bridges between the boroughs. Which was great except Will went, "Okay, but why?" And he was—stop me if this sounds familiar—completely correct. I ripped that out and made a much better grid with Will and Peter's guidance.
Once that was done, Peter clued the first pass all by himself, and OMG he's like the best crossword cluer ever. That brain is crammed with so much trivia, he's probably had to delete the node that tells him how to use a fork. I had no freaking idea about half the stuff he crammed into there. For me though, the best clues of his are the ones that just roll off as effortless comments, like the ones for MOO, IMHO, and ROCK ON. It was a great three-way collaboration with me, Peter, and Will. I hope we get to do it again soon. Now Peter just has to teach me how to be a radio god and we're even.
Anyway, RIGHT NOW, go to Peter's crowdfunding page for his run on Sunday, because he's doing this awesome thing where his team guides a visually impaired runner.
Meanwhile, I'll also be doing a marathon of a different kind, playing Dungeons & Dragons all day to benefit children hospitals for Extra Life. Mine's just like his, but with less sweating and more orcs.
This is not a concept you haven't seen before, but I think it's a perfect way to illustrate the literal T-R-U-T-H stretching. Some theme entries that were left on the cutting room floor include AT RISK YOUTH, TRUSTWORTHY, MOTORMOUTH / MELT IN YOUR MOUTH, CULTURAL OUTREACH and MYSTERY AUTHOR, among others.
I got lucky to a). find a number of crossworthy fifteen-letter answers that fit the theme and b). discover that, after some trial and error, they neatly lent themselves to a nice crisscrossing pattern.
Hope this mid-week offering in Saturday's clothes provides both a formidable challenge and a welcome change of pace to start off your weekend.
This puzzle germinated during late nights spent dreaming under a mosquito net — I was in western Tanzania for work and it was recommended we stay in the compound at night, so I spent a lot of time with sci-fi e-books and blank grids and anti-malarial pills. Maybe also poetry — the Frost poem was definitely the seed, and earlier iterations of this puzzle focused equally on the "less traveled" and the "diverged" lines.
Initially I was looking for movies, songs, and literature pairs that had the word ROAD in them "diverging." (Here's a long boring explanation of that old, dream-fueled idea: imagine ROAD TO RIO across, then an additional OAD diagonally down from the R, then it picks up three rows down and finishes across with HOUSE, for the movie ROADHOUSE. The idea was to play on "less traveled" as less popular — ROADHOUSE as grossing less or having smaller audience numbers than ROAD TO RIO, or something). Anyway, that morphed into the idea you see now, with a nice steer from Joel on putting a black square after the "diverged" answer, since it should function as if it were its own entry.
Diagonal words always make filling tougher, and I'm happy with some of the pizzazz in the puzzle, but would've spent more time trying to avoid the glue, especially in the lower left. Hopefully the theme offers a fun aha moment, and hopefully you're as tickled by the descent of THE ROAD TO HELL as I am. Sad to see an Ed KOCH clue become Koch Industries, given the hellscape toward which companies like theirs have steered us.
Thanks to Will, Joel, Sam and all those who looked at early versions of this!
We're excited to be debuting our puzzle in the New York Times! We thought of the idea for this puzzle on a car ride one day over the summer, and when we got home, we came up with as many relevant theme answers as possible. After amassing twenty or so candidates, one-by-one we sifted through all the possible combinations that would yield an adaptable, aesthetically-attractive grid while trying to incorporate as many theme clues as we could. Soon after, we manually filled out the grid, and eight weeks later we heard back from Will Shortz and his team. The editing process with Will Shortz was extremely insightful, and he had a lot of good advice for our first puzzle. We look forward to publishing more creative puzzles soon!
Max Lauring is a senior at Yale University majoring in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology. He does research in a lab at the Yale School of Medicine, plays cello in Low Strung (the world's largest all cello rock group), and founded the Yale Turnip, a satirical online publication. Max started doing crosswords in high school for fun but always admired the constructing process of a puzzle.
Benjamin Lauring is a seventeen-year-old senior at Tenafly High School. He has been playing classical guitar for ten years and studies guitar at the Manhattan School of Music as part of its Pre-College Program. Ben started doing crosswords in high school as well, given that his dad and brother were frequent solvers of the NYT daily puzzle. He was never interested in constructing until his junior year English teacher, Gary Whitehead, talked about how he constructed puzzles. When Max came home from college this past summer, we both thought it would be a cool idea to make our own puzzle. It was an incredibly fun process and they hope to submit our second puzzle by the end of the year!
This puzzle came about as the result of a minor philosophical crisis.
I'd read a blog post where the author was complaining about a puzzle that he felt "lacked fresh fill." This complaint surprised me because I'd personally found the puzzle in question to be quite lively.
It got me wondering: what do we talk about when we talk about "fresh fill"? What separates perfectly OK workhorse words from gnarly crosswordese? Can clever cluing turn a stale word fresh? And when does a word go from "fresh" to faddish, twee, or just plain annoying?
I soon began to doubt everything I knew about cruciverbalism, and indeed, language itself.
At around the same time, I read on Language Log (a blog run by an international supergroup of academic linguists) that the American Dialect Society had recently announced "DUMPSTER FIRE" as their 2016 Word of the Year. It struck me that if there were one word everyone could agree on as "fresh," surely it'd be the ADS Word of the Year.
So I made a puzzle based on that idea.
My initial plan was to seed the past several years' winners anywhere I could fit them into a grid. But when I looked at the WotY list, I realized the word lengths might allow for symmetric placement. Luckily, I was able to pull it off.
I'm super-duper thrilled for this to be my debut puzzle in the Times. Thanks to my friends and family (especially Cliff, Nick, and the Daves Madden and Sheppard) for their support and feedback. Thanks also to Mr. Shortz for actually accepting this thing, and editing the clues to be better and more consistent overall.
My only regret is that UHF is no longer clued as [1989 "Weird Al" film set at a low-budget TV station].
SAM: I ride the train to and from Will's house with Joel twice a week, and it's not uncommon for us to be building grids individually during the commute. Joel is, of course, an incredible constructor, so I can't help but glance over at what he's cooking up; besides, I'd never gotten a live look-in at another constructor's style.
One day, I saw Joel playing around with APOSTATES in a grid, to be parsed as A-P-O STATES. I thought for a few minutes and then threw D-I-A TRIBES and P-A-S SPORTS his way. Joel noted the interlock these three answers could have in a grid, and we were off to the races!
We shot for a low word count (70) right off the bat, not only to challenge ourselves, but because we felt there could be many fill bonuses with longer non-theme answers — LPGA TOUR, DAD ROCK and DON'T BE are my personal favorites.
I really liked working with Joel as he kept me honest in pushing myself to my limits. We must have gone through several fill iterations where I settled for an iffy answer (COP CAR was once LOW BET ... *yawn*), yet Joel seemed to know every time that something better was possible, whether the final fill was his or my own.
Consider this to be the first of many collabs from us. We hope you enjoyed it!
JOEL: Always a joy to have another constructor carry a half-baked idea like this over the finish line. As Sam said, hopefully this is the first of many train ride puzzles, it was a blast to work on.
"There's no turning back!" reinterpreted as THERES NO GNINRUT! Try saying that three times fast. As a mediocre solver, this is exactly why I will take my chances on a typical Friday puzzle any time over a Tricksday puzzle like this. If you are programming a computer to beat humans at crosswords, how do you teach it to both reverse a word and infer a word that is not even there? In chess, Go, and backgammon the rules are fixed, but with crosswords, constructors are allowed to change the rules dramatically as long as they do it consistently.
As a mostly early week constructor, I did enjoy being able to open up the grid a bit and throw in some difficult entries (RIVOLI, MORDECAI) without feeling guilty. I found it difficult to clue INNER BEAUTY — I came up with something like "Hidden assets," but I like "What kindness and honesty reveal" a lot better. This reminds me of an NYT puzzle a year ago when I clued INNER CHILD as "Psychoanalytic entity, " and it got changed by Will and Joel to "What might make an adult jump in a pile of leaves". Wow — way better, and it "leaves" you with a warm nostalgic feeling. Great cluing takes a ton of experience and insight.
My least favority entry is YARNED. It's in plenty of dictionaries, but I think any attempt to vindicate it would seem like it was yarned by me. Hope you enjoyed the solve!
Well, I'm serving up a pretty standard tribute puzzle today. It's in honor of my favorite movie! I recommend sitting down with a bowl of fifty hard-boiled eggs and giving it I shot. This is an idea that took a couple of years to round into shape. My first few attempts were too jam-packed with trivia from the film – stuff like PAUL NEWMAN and CHAIN GANG – in addition to the quote. Overall, the grid couldn't breathe, so I decided to go pretty bare-bones with the themed material. In the end, I just included the quote and the movie title. Sometimes less is more. Like when Luke bluffs his way to winning the poker game in the bunkhouse, holding a hand full of nothing. But, as Dragline said, sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand.
On a personal note, this is my first NYT puzzle without my biggest fan. My dad passed away on August 23 at age 92. Even though his eyesight was failing and his knowledge of pop culture ended sometime around the time Cool Hand Luke was hitting the theaters, he tackled every one of my puzzles with enthusiasm. Our phone calls often ended with him saying, "Hang on a sec" as he grabbed the clipboard on which he did his solving. He'd ask me about the clues he couldn't crack – a TV actor's name, a singer, some recent slang. I'm going to miss those conversations.
Sadly, I've lost a father, and our country has lost another member of the Greatest Generation. He was quite a guy.
You can thank Eddie, my grand-nephew, for this puzzle. As a precocious 5-year-old, he would ask Uncle Jerry for periodic "challenges." These were often math and science related, but were sometimes pure word puzzles (his favorite type? – crossword puzzles, bless his heart). One of the challenges I gave him used the gimmick behind this puzzle's theme, but in narrative form. He solved it in no time flat and then challenged me to incorporate it into a crossword. I promised him I'd try.
My first attempt was conditionally accepted by Will, if I could freshen up some of the fill. After my several failed attempts at that, Will suggested that I get some help from a collaborator. Jeff had helped me with my very first puzzle the year prior and graciously declined any co-authorship credit back then. I saw this as an opportunity to both reconnect with Jeff and proudly share a byline. His remedial work on this was, unsurprisingly, masterful, and we received prompt acceptance. Thank you, once again, Jeff!
This is my last crossword, at least for quite a while. After an unexpected run of beginner's luck, during which four of my first eight submissions were accepted (three by the NYT), I promptly went 0-for-my-next-9. I suspect I may have shot my load. More importantly though, after having lots of fun with this for a good 18 months, I felt it was time to focus on another of my post-retirement bucket list items: writing a book. I've been hard at work drafting, and hope to publish next year, a "competition documentary" memoir about senior softball. Who knows, it may even include a baseball-themed crossword or two that were casualties of that 0-for-9 streak – I'll get them in print one way or another!
In any event, I hope you enjoy solving this one.
This was such an obvious idea for a theme, I was surprised to find on Cruciverb.com that it hadn't been done. Had some luck in making the grid when BRITISHISMS fit right in without needing too much crosswordese surrounding it. I had a few other possible theme entries:
(The clue for 70-Across, "Beat people?", for COPS, was written by the editor.)
I dedicate this puzzle to the early morning Logic 101 class I took for a course requirement, that I totally didn't fall asleep in every single week.
You're welcome, Prof. Clifford.
One day at work I realized that GOTTA CATCH EM ALL was a 15, and that was that. I needed to build a grid around it. Pokemon is a beloved part of my childhood*, and including it prominently in a crossword feels like marrying my biggest hobby from back then with my biggest hobby from today. I wish the clue could've been a bit tougher / more interesting (it feels like most people below a certain age will be able to fill it in without crosses), but that's the tricky part of including proper nouns with bifurcated familiarity.
*I may or may not have bought White 2 during college.
I also wanted to clue CHASE UTLEY to It's Always Sunny but I guess that's a bit abstruse now that he's not even on the Phillies. Also, he's upholding my now-two-puzzle streak of including a 10-letter baseball player in the NE of a themeless — watch out for JOSE ALTUVÉ or WILLIE MAYS next time.
Not much else to say about this one — hope even non-Pokemon fans enjoyed!
The idea for this puzzle came from reading the book "Number Freak," which is full of interesting facts about numbers. One of my favorite facts from the book was that 4 is the only number n that is n letters long. For years, I've been toying with ways to turn that fact into a crossword theme, which finally resulted in today's puzzle.
I read that book about 8 years ago (well before I started constructing) and didn't look at it again until just now. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to realize that the author of the book is Derrick Niederman, a New York Times crossword constructor! Given that crosswords are mainly about wordplay, it's interesting how many constructors have a math background.
Originally I planned for the theme answers to be mathematical expressions such as THE SIXTH PRIME (13), TWO CUBED (8), or ONE THROUGH SIX SUMMED UP (21), but for the sake of variety I switched to the current theme, which uses numbers in non-mathematical contexts. I also considered cluing 110-Across as [This clue's 110-Across, for this clue], but I decided that would be a bit much. Thanks to the editing team for some other helpful tips that greatly improved the theme from my original submission!
I can't recall what the phrase was that gave me this theme. It might have been KANGAROO COURT. Whatever it was, I saw it and thought it was interesting because it was alliterative but the two words started with different letters. I wondered if there were others like that. I thought of ones like KNITTING NEEDLE and SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY, but those seemed cheap since the K and P are silent. I wanted ones where the opening consonants didn't have any repeats. The only ones I could think of that worked were G/J, PH/F, C/S, and K/C. The Z/X possibility led nowhere. Too bad this ZEBRA XYLOPHONE isn't better known.
The puzzle needed a revealer, but ALLITERATION (or ALLITERATIVE) is 12 letters, a bad length. If it's at the bottom, it has to go in Row 12, which squeezes everything too much toward the middle. That's when I thought of putting ALLITERATIVE down the middle of a 15x16, and having the other theme answers crossing it.
Hello everyone, I'm a trivia writer and host from Spokane, WA who is very excited to have my first puzzle published in the New York Times! I've solved crosswords off and on throughout my life, but about a year ago learned that anyone can make a crossword, and was off to the races.
This one came about while playing with CHECKERED FLAG for another puzzle – CZECHERED FLAG and FINNISH LINE popped right out, and I just had to create some matching entries. I also really enjoy solving puzzles where the theme clues tell a story, and hope that solvers think it's a fun component of the theme.
I went through a few failed attempts at filling the grid – having the 13-letter long entries stuck at the ends was a pain to deal with. Even so, in this one, the northwest corner still needed some cleanup from Will and Joel, who pointed out that I??I really constrains the grid. Lesson learned for next time. I was happy to see a couple of clues that made it through editing: [Switch positions] for FLIP FLOP is probably my favorite in the grid, and as the dad of the coolest one-year-old on the planet, [Like many a new parent] is right on the money for SLEEPY.
Finally, this puzzle runs on my mom's birthday. I imagine it's not that common for people to get birthday wishes in the New York Times, so Happy Birthday Mom!
Hello solvers, hope that this one wasn't too rough on you. All comments on my puzzles are welcomed, in any forum that you choose.
The phrase "halftime show" combined with "60 minutes" was the seed for this puzzle; it took much longer to decide upon the actual theme, combining a mathematical multiplication/division with some form or reference to a creative work.
Bonus note: I did initially seek a "quarter" clue instead of "fourth", but I could not really find an appropriate "quarter" phrase that met the full theme.
Someone may likely find a perfect fit for this, but in the end I decided that "fourth estate" was the best and most cluable option, if slightly inelegant for "one-fourth".
BRUCE: I first submitted this puzzle in January of 2014. Anna Shechtman wrote back : "Will is intrigued by your AT THE DROP OF A HAT mini-themed 15x, whose strange symmetry effectively makes the black squares look like "dropping" hats. Assuming this was your intention, though, Will is not certain that MEXICAN HAT DANCE makes much sense as your second theme entry".
This was a bit embarrassing, and I switched to HOLD ON TO YOUR HAT for the next couple submissions, which failed for lack of sparkling fill. I decided to bring in a hired gun, and David rode in with his big white hat and saved the day. He didn't just blindly start working on better fill though — he first suggested we switch to FLIPPING ONES LID as the second theme entry and he then talked me into adding two blocks. This made the visual slightly less dramatic than my fish puzzle of 8/8/14 but moving from 66 words to 70 made it WAY easier to come up with good fill.
David is a master grid technician, and I believe he has the most precisely scored word list on the planet, so he is an amazing person to work with. He also has interned with Will and Joel for much of the past two summers. David has a great sense of humor too, so he is just fun to work with all around.
You might think that with my age being 64 and David's age being 20 this would be close to a record for biggest gap, but he did one with Bernice Gordon when she was 100 and he was 17! David turns 21 on the day this puzzle is published, and I think he has quite a future ahead of him in the crossbiz — HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAVID!
DAVID: Always a pleasure to work with Bruce/Mr. Grid Art. I fell in love with the hat concept at first sight, though boy, was that grid difficult to work with given the constraints of the hats and the two 15s! The final product took many back-and-forths, so even if my word list is more fine-tuned than Bruce's (which is a big if), there's no way this would've turned out as well without his input every step of the way. Keep your eye out for more from us in the coming months :).
I like ultra-tough Saturdays, so I tend to overshoot the difficulty of the clues. This grid has many difficult entries, so some clues should be slightly easier than average. Together, these resulted in several clue changes. There's always room for clue improvement, and analyzing editorial changes can be instructive.
There are many ways to increase clue difficulty including:
Of those, Will and his team seem to favor misdirection while minimizing vagueness. Trivia is minimized to an extent if it's not intrinsic to the entry, though I enjoy trivia-based clues if they're interesting.
SPILL BLOOD: "Act the gladiator, perhaps" was changed to "Engage in warfare." I was hoping to avoid outright mention of killing. But I guess that original was a bit open-ended and too difficult.
ANTI-CRIME: "Like some urban initiatives" was changed to "Describing the efforts of Batman and Spider-man" which is much better. It's more interesting, and the new clue is less open-ended.
ACCREDIT: "Recognize, in a way" was changed to "Give a stamp of approval." The original was very open-ended, though I feel like that's the main context where I hear the word, as in an accredited university. I understand the change in the context of easing up on the difficulty.
LARIAT: "What a catcher might throw" was changed to "Rodeo ring?" This is an example of a clue that was too vague; it's too big a mental leap from "catcher" to "a person with a lariat."
EL MARIACHI: "Titular film character who carries a guitar case full of guns" was changed to "1992 western with a Spanish title". The original is interesting (and recalls an iconic film scene), but since this is a difficult entry, reducing the trivia helps solvers.
HOT CEREAL: "One getting mushy in the morning" was changed to "Oatmeal, e.g.," The original has misdirection and seems reasonable, but maybe seems forced. Another possible ding is that it uses the "it" style of cluing. Nothing pains me more than definition-based clues for long entries that could have been interesting. (My runner-up pet peeve is reusing clever clues, which I'll check aren't in the database beforehand.) But it's not reasonable to expect the editors to replace all my duds with zingers, so I only have myself to blame.
Analyzing clues that made it through is a helpful counterpoint: e.g., CALDER CUP, EMPANELS, B-MOVIE, TEA TASTER.
By far and away, the biggest complaint I get from solvers is that I put too many rap references into my puzzles (I'm nowhere near some other constructors, I swear!). I have a ton of interests ranging from quantum physics to contract bridge to children's literature to the Great British Bake-off, and I happen to also love me some old-school rap.
NAS and DRE are ones all solvers need to know due to their very crossword-friendly names, but I have a feeling I'll get some hate mail over POSSE CUT. Before you hit send, do me a favor and listen to "The Grand Finale," featuring crossword biggie DR DRE (warning, NSFW!), and ones that really ought to be in more, MC REN and EAZY E. A POSSE CUT can be even better than a rap battle, a free-for-all melee with rappers dropping their most inspired verses in the game of one-upsmanship. It's an explosion of talented artists spurring each other on to push the envelope, all over a beat you can't help but bob your head to.
Now, if I could just get Stephen Hawking, Zia Mahmood, Sherman Alexie, and Mary Berry to lay down a POSSE CUT …
The mullet is the greatest hairstyle ever invented. It is the greatest hairstyle ever invented because it makes a man look like a lion. What man wouldn't want to look like a lion? Lions are awesome. They're the kings of the jungle. That's why mullets are awesome.
I used to have a mullet. I'm 53 years old. That means I was born in 1964. That means I was between the ages of 16 and 26 during the 80's. Of course, I rocked a mullet. In fact, I have a photo of myself from 1987 where I have a mullet and a giant ZZ Top beard. Top that. I shaved it when I returned from 4-1/2 months in Europe and had to get a real job.
I remember when my mullet disappeared. It was not of my choosing. I would go to get my hair cut, and I would say, "I want it short on the sides and long in the back." How hard is that to understand? Not very hard. However, I noticed as the years went by, the hairstylists ignored me. They didn't leave it long in the back. It kept getting shorter and shorter in the back. I was so sad. Perhaps the hairstylists were trying to save me from myself.
On a crossword note … I have a version of this grid that has JOE DIRT and CHAPPIE across the middle instead of RAMBO. That's one more theme answer and nine more theme letters. I went with the RAMBO version instead because it has cleaner fill. Plus, I didn't want to lose RAMBO. Who doesn't love Sylvester Stallone in a mullet? We all love Sylvester Stallone in a mullet. All other mullets pale in comparison.
Grateful acknowledgment to my good friend Victor Barocas, as this puzzle was based on a puzzle that Victor wrote for the Minnesota Crossword Tournament. I originally wrote a version of this that had all Ivy League schools doing the turning. Will thought using only Ivy League schools was "myopic," so I came up with the version you see today, using a variance of well-known universities from around the country.
I think I like my original grid a little better – some flash with I WARNED YOU next to SAKE BOMBS, etc., but I think that this final version is more Tuesday-friendly*, plus I like the bonus of NOTRE DAME "bending" in the south part of the grid, considering Notre Dame's South Bend, Indiana location.
*Which was the whole point of this puzzle, to run it on a Tuesday. According to my research, no one in the Shortz Era has "hit for the cycle" in their first seven Times puzzles, and once my Friday puzzle ran in January, I set my sights on completing the "natural cycle" with a Tuesday. I have to say, it's tough to come up with a Tuesday puzzle! You have to keep the theme mechanism accessible but you're also afforded a little more challenge than a Monday puzzle traditionally offers.
Anyway, I'm happy with the results and thrilled to complete the cycle!
Many of my family's holiday traditions have changed as I've neared adulthood: we phased out the fir tree a few years ago, dinner is now takeout, the presents have shrunk in size but grown in meaning, and so on. But some things will never change - for one, the holidays just aren't the holidays without A Motown Christmas playing on our ancient stereo. I'm away from home at the time of this writing, but I'm looking forward to getting back in a couple of weeks and getting to be with my folks while Stevie Wonder bodies "Ave Maria" in the background. Thanks to the good people at NYT for publishing this near-and-dear theme
The core concept behind today's puzzle has been seen before, as in these gems by Ashish Vengsarkar and Patrick Merrell, but I wondered if there was a new spin I could put on the idea. Perhaps, I thought, the squares themselves, rather than a letter sequence, could replace the word they represent.
Still, this was just a thought—I couldn't believe my luck when I discovered not only that DESTROYER, CRUISER, SUBMARINE, and CARRIER could all be incorporated into lively, non-nautical-related entries, but also that along with BATTLESHIP as a revealer, these entries could be arranged symmetrically when their respective boat names were replaced with the number of squares corresponding to the boat's length in Battleship! I briefly considered placing a HIT rebus in each of these squares but decided on X's to represent hits instead, figuring that I could only push my luck so far (and it doesn't hurt that I have a soft spot for the high-value Scrabble letters).
In designing and filling the grid, I started with the upper region, deploying my black squares to best accommodate the seven X's. Again, to my surprise, I got far better fill here than I expected— I'd like to give a shout-out to Pope JOHN X for his much-needed assistance. Interestingly enough, the bottom right was the toughest section to fill cleanly, despite the lack of X's. Overall, though, I think this turned out pretty well, and am glad I could incorporate some long bonus fill in JUKEBOX HERO and LOOSE CANNON, and some nice mid-length fill in LIKE SO and ROOMBA.
I was pleased to see that my favorite clue of mine, "Early form of airmail?" for CARRIER PIGEON, made the cut, and I like the opacity of Will and Joel's clue "Grinder" for SUBMARINE SANDWICH. Given its proximity to 17-Across, I thought it might be fun to clue BOOR as "Barbarian," but that didn't end up making it into the final version.
Finally, a note on circles. Although I wonder if the circled squares might give away the game a bit too easily for some, if they allow a mind-bending theme like this one to become accessible to more solvers, then I think they're a good thing. On that note, I hope everyone enjoys the puzzle!