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Puzzles for November, 2020
with constructor comments

Sun 11/1/2020WEST-SOUTHWEST
ONSTARICUEBERTCHUG
REPOSERAGXAXESROME
SWAYUPHIGHQUANTASIN
EMTSODESUMMERSWEAR
RESTAPLEPOISWANLAKE
ORALSORSOSPA
SWARMRECEPTIONSPITES
AONETRENDTHORSNARK
MENSCHDIKEROCTERI
SEADOVEAIWAOBOE
FORWANTOFABETTERSWORD
OPEROEUFOTHELLO
ARTYNASOBIESUPERB
MARESMEANCELIAOLAY
SHORTUSPARKLINGSWINE
ANYACUEELATE
ISCARIOTCDTSANDREEF
SWEPTFORJOYSTYDANO
LILIOHYOUSWISHLISTS
APTSROSINHALSEVERS
MESHMOTETATLTIEDYE

With other commitments in life, I've had much less time to construct crosswords in the past few years, that is, until the pandemic restrictions in Singapore left me caged at home with nothing but time. Happily, creating puzzles is still as fun now as it was when I started 10 years ago, although keeping up with the vocabulary of young people is becoming increasingly challenging — sometimes, I feel like I need to get a couple of my undergrads to help me maintain my wordlist.

The theme of this puzzle is also admittedly a bit old-fashioned. I like the theme set I managed to come up with, though, so I hope people in the mood for an old-fashioned Sunday will have a good time. Or if not, just an old fashioned instead. Ganbei!

Mon 11/2/2020
SACKJEERSCRUB
HEHEOGLECAUSE
ASINIAMBURBAN
GOLDENDOODLE
SPEAKRUPEES
LEAVENOTRACE
MEWLGINESSAY
UMACODDLEDERE
FAIRYEARSLED
FIVECARDDRAW
LESLIESEAMS
COMEDYSKETCH
TRAINFEATTARO
WAYNEEMMAERIE
OPEDSROSYNIBS

I made this puzzle last year, and was asked to make it a little more Monday-friendly (PHAEDRA was the most obscure offender). I didn't get around to finishing up an edit until a few months later, and when I started writing clues, I realized a very similar puzzle had run just a few days before. I sent mine in anyway, and surprisingly it was accepted — I was told that my set was different enough, especially since it uses verbs instead of nouns. I'll take it!

Filling a Monday is a fun challenge. I did a lot of tinkering trying to make the completed grid as clean, yet interesting, as possible. Other than perhaps the quartet of ERE/EAR/ERR/ERIE, I think it looks pretty good.

Tue 11/3/2020
EMUSSENDSOHHEY
TONEIMOUTGEICO
HOWDYDOODYRADON
ISRAELRELIEVE
CHANTEYSIMYALE
SUPDEIPEDWAY
HOUNDEDSUAVE
HUMPTYDUMPTY
SWANNALIMONY
PORKIETANMSG
AWRYGEMSOIHEAR
IDIOTICGUYANA
BISONHANDYDANDY
ADORNATEINTIRE
SONYSNATTYTEAR

When we first got the publication e-mail, we quickly checked which day it would come out, as Amanda's mother's birthday is also this week, and we thought — wouldn't that be a fun coincidence! Turns out today is not that day (Happy early birthday Mom — we love you!), but rather another very important day — Election Day. We hope all who decided to vote safely got their vote in. Thanks as always to the editing team and to all those hard-working folks who support the crossword.

Wed 11/4/2020
DUBWIGSPAVES
IPADHOOTAMISH
EASYMONEYROACH
OTTERSSLATE
FRITIEICYBLUE
FELTNAPCHAINS
ELISZESTABOP
EMPTYNESTER
PHDIHEARSWAP
BEAUTYLIPERRS
ANYTIMEFAAYAO
UTEROPLACID
ASTROESPYAWARD
KEANUCHARERIE
ANGSTTAXIDEN

I'm thrilled to have a puzzle in the New York Times! Crosswords are in my blood - my grandparents were avid solvers, my dad submitted a puzzle to Eugene Maleska, and I caught the bug in 2013 and have been a daily solver ever since. This is actually the second crossword of mine to be accepted by the NYT but the first to appear in print, so you haven't seen the last of me.

This idea excited me because I enjoy themes where each theme clue feels like a small self-contained puzzle. There are not as many candidate phrases for this one as you might think. A handful of words sound like two letters (e.g., IVY, EXCEL, CAGEY), fewer of those words begin legitimate 2-word phrases (e.g., IVY LEAGUE), and fewer yet can be clued in this theme's format (is there an example of a league that starts with V?). Another entry I considered was SEEDY BAR but, while Cheers is a well-known "C" bar, I wasn't satisfied with the recognizability of any "D" bars.

I was pleased to see many of my clues survive the editing process, including a nod to my alma mater at 67-Down.

Many thanks to my wife Maheen for helping me workshop ideas, my dad for getting me into crosswords, and my mom and sister for being ridiculously supportive of every move I make. Thanks, Will, Sam, and the rest of the editing team, for doing a wonderful job sprucing up the puzzle. I adore crossword puzzles, and it means a lot to me to provide a (hopefully pleasant) diversion for New York Times solvers today.

POW Thu 11/5/2020
APPARGODWELLS
LOUSEAMOHLOOK
ALLTHINGSBEINGE
SOLVINGNEWGIN
ACESMUWING
SEPARATEBUTE
EDAMGASNOGGIN
MERHASHTAGEMO
INTWOSTIPOTIS
EOPPORTUNITY
SAWSAPESEN
HOEWAYSAVAGES
ERIGHTSMOVEMENT
STREETOMITAYE
MADMENBEDSRAW

I love the chance to defy solver expectations in crosswords. Instead of going the usual rebus route by squeezing POUND or NUMBER into a rebus square, I found it more fun to create the # symbol from an intersecting pair of symbols. I'm hoping the puzzle creates a satisfying "aha moment" when the combo of double-I's and equal sign jumps out.

For the "=" part of the hashtag, there's a decent list of possible answers that include the word EQUAL. For the possible double-I entries, the list is considerably short. And because the grid's real estate between horizontal "=" entries is super tight, the best-fitting vertical themers are ones with a double-I near their centers. Which led to ruling out answers that begin or end with "II", like I INSIST or POMPEII.

Ultimately, puzzle construction was far less bumpy when nailing down four horizontal themers with "=" symbols symmetrically placed in the grid. Doing so made the tiny set of possible vertical themers easier to wrangle into the mix.

Happy to see my clue for 1-Across making the cut, "Product that's available on tap?". I'd like to think A ___ might dupe some solvers into plunking in ALE instead of APP. I also really appreciate the Times editors' revision of my clue for ALL THINGS BEING EQUAL. That was irritatingly difficult to clue. I submitted "Assuming no other issues come up…". But updating to the straightforward clue "Translation of the Latin phrase ‘ceteris paribus'" works perfectly.

Hope you enjoy the #ThursdayTrickery!

Fri 11/6/2020
EMMADESCSFPD
BARTRIVIAOOHED
BITTERENDPRIMO
SENSESALOT
SPINARTTANLINE
PENALHOSTELS
LEAVENEDFAITHS
ALTEANDSOCIAO
TETLEYEARCANDY
EGOSURFARENA
BANANASERNESTS
LUTZYEOMAN
ARIELDROVENUTS
HAVRETIDESOVER
LESTONESTAXI

The original accepted version of this puzzle actually had a totally different bottom right-hand corner. It had the phrase ELDERWAND as one of the long answers, which, at the time of acceptance, I thought, was a really great entry. It'd be a fun gimme for Harry Potter fans, but it could also be clued in such a way that makes it inferrable even for those who aren't. But, since JK Rowling has been in the news lately for reasons that make me want to NOT put her in a crossword puzzle, I was left with a dilemma: do Harry Potter entries lose their lustre because of something the author did? And if the answer is yes, does, does that mean we should revise a previously-accepted puzzle to accommodate a change in public sentiment?

I honestly don't know the answer to these questions, but what I did know was that that corner had lost its lustre for me. So I figured if I could come up with a new corner that I liked just as much, it would be worth changing. And if not, well, everyone understands that there's a delay between acceptance and publication of puzzle, right? Luckily, I found this new bottom-right corner that I like just as much, if not more, than the previous one. I hope you do too!

Sat 11/7/2020
SMOOSHDRAGGED
HEXAPODSOURALE
INERRORLATERON
NUNIHOPNOWAIT
SNAPINPUN
WEIGHTLOSSPILL
SAMOSHETTYMOE
PLANSEDANNAAN
ELICUMINMOLTS
CELEBRITYCRUSH
AIRCOMEIN
BALSAMNODSADO
AGENDASRACEBIB
HEREIGOERASURE
ARTROSSSNOTTY
Sun 11/8/2020WAIT, WHAT?
MICROLOANPATELSILO
ADHERENCEELUDEIKNOW
YOUGOTTHATSTRUTDEUCE
ALMSHAYROOKSERENA
SAPCUSSSENSITIVE
MORALWOEROTSSOL
FOLEYCHIMIATADORM
WHYTHELONGFUSSTBONES
IAMIDEEREDSHERO
WIPEGALPALUFOADD
RUDDERSOFTHELOSTARK
SUELEISEDAKADOES
CARYSPARTAMEPGA
ACCEDELOADEDTHEBUSES
HAHSCSINYIOSBAILS
EPALIMAIMPBEETS
MUCKUPARTISTSROD
CHASERHOPELEOLADE
SHIFTTHENUMBOFTHEGUM
KINKSTURINFREEAGENT
INGAVNECKFIREWORKS

EVAN: This puzzle started with the title. My first idea for a theme entry was "ALL ABOUT THAT BUS" — which would be quite the Meghan Trainor song — though for at least two years this idea sat on the shelf. Bringing in Caitlin, whose work I really respect, helped motivate the project forward. She was responsible for getting the grid laid out just right for optimal fill.

My favorite clues of ours that made the cut were the timely 1-Down (MAYA), 30-Down ("SAY HI!)", 59-Across (UFO), and 84-Down (DIMS; I'm a glutton for pun-ishment). Props to Will & Co. for 35-Down (OLYMPUS)!

CAITLIN: Credit where credit is due — the title/theme idea for this puzzle was all Evan's. And props to him for also making a google spreadsheet for brainstorming theme entries and clues (which is way more organized than I could ever hope to be). Brainstorming, gridding, and cluing was a truly collaborative effort involving many, many emails and several video chats. It was fun to make and I hope it is fun to solve!

Mon 11/9/2020
PAWROAMSGEAR
USAENTOMBOLGA
PALLBEARERELON
IDEASELAPSE
LASSPELLGRANT
IRANSHOPPER
COCKAPOONEATO
ANOPILLBUGGOO
STRIPEASEMENT
HAPLESSLEDE
POLLTAKERTOTE
RESOLEMOTHS
SWAGPULLQUOTES
IOTASTPAULERA
PEELESTEEREY

I wrote the first draft of this puzzle while eating lunch with my mom by the water in San Francisco. While explaining how one might come up with a crossword theme, I rattled off these theme answers by means of example — I was redesigning the appearance of 59A on our website at work that day — and was delighted to realize that the answer lengths were symmetrical. Given her incredible support for my puzzle-making — and how tasty the sandwiches were — I'd like to give my mom an advisory credit. Thanks, mom!

In my day job, I build digital news products for the Bay Area public media organization KQED. Looking back at this puzzle a year later, it makes me smile to notice how apt the clues and answers for 48A, 49A, 51A, 59A, and 39D are given my line of work.

Some of my other favorite answers: I'm delighted to have written some queer representation into 10D. And where I grew up, we called a 37A a roly-poly.

I wrote my first crossword for my wedding in 2018. This is the second crossword I constructed and my first NYTimes acceptance. I submitted it a year and a week ago today.

Tue 11/10/2020
SNAFUWOOLSPEW
COLONHAREIOTA
ONEOFATITFLAX
PORTAUTHORITY
ESTIMONIBEGO
DRAFTSPERSON
NAIRSIRTITUS
ANNASTANDCEDE
INDIAIORERAT
FOUNTAINHEAD
SYLNCOACTSSA
GROUNDSKEEPER
IDEARIOSAVERT
BUMPAZULSECTS
MEETSEREESSAY

This puzzle was unusual because all of the theme entries and their clues came to me in a single afternoon session in the sauna. I was playing around with types of wine as a possible puzzle theme when PORT AUTHORITY and its clue "Sommelier" came to mind. I'm a sailor, and I live in Port Isabel, TX, so I think that helped. The other beverage servers and their clues then quickly fell into place. So even though it was around 180 degrees at the time, the theme and clues were "no sweat."

Wed 11/11/2020
COKEDXFLATMOST
ABILITIESPOORER
HOLYFIELDPIRATE
NEOEXOLATIN
WEDDINGPRESENT
GOAPEEYELETS
ANTEEDRIAFOE
VETERANSMEMORIAL
ESSYUKSHINTO
PONTIUSICAHN
BUSINESSSCHOOL
ELWESTOOENG
STOPITDOUBLEDAY
ERRATAOURSAVIOR
TANNEDERSBATHE

This puzzle is a blast from my past — I wrote and submitted this puzzle back in Summer 2013! Why it's running so long after the fact is something hardcore fans of the puzzle might be able to suss out... How I came up with the theme is a bit of a blur now, as you might imagine, but I *think* the revealer came up in some trivia thing I was doing at the time, and then the center answer became the germ around which the rest of the theme quickly emerged.

Because the puzzle has been resting for so long, I asked Will and the gang for permission to refill and reclue it since my skills have improved since then. Still, it was hard to find a good new shape for the grid — this one still feels a little inelegant to me somehow, especially in the SE, but I like the lack of three-letter words despite the expanded grid size, and answers like 6-D, 66-A, and 35-Down feel gratifying to have gotten in here.

At 18-Across, I originally had GREEN FLAG, but upon revisiting the puzzle, I felt that GREEN DAY was too unlike the other themers to pass muster — I really like HOLYFIELD as a nice last-minute save for that spot! Incidentally, I had a very different clue for 1-Across that I'm not surprised to see didn't make it to press!

FWIW, I also didn't know that 32-A was an alternate spelling, or I'd have replaced it... oh well.

Thu 11/12/2020
LAMAMOSTDPLUS
ICONAMISELIDE
AASKYLARKRUMOR
MISHEARDIMGONE
SNLULNAS
SKATALKUULATER
TASHAYETIWADE
ARTISANITBANDS
FORTPDASEYDIE
FLOATSOUTCCYET
NOENDAKC
RANDOSIMPOLITE
ABORTBBORNOTBB
REVUEALAIVISA
ELANDDEBSESPY

This puzzle started with 61-Across and I worked from there. I originally had a couple different theme answers that Will asked me to change. After some tweaking, I was able to work in some new theme answers, and this is the result. I'm so happy I able to get 7-Down into the grid. I love that song, and "Songs in the Key of Life" is a masterpiece.

Will changed a few of my clues to make the puzzle a little trickier, but as a Yankees fan, I was a little sad that he changed my original clue for 27-Down which was "Disgraced Houston ballplayer." It's probably for the best that he did. I hope you enjoy the puzzle!

Fri 11/13/2020
LETSDANCESTUBS
IMONAROLLTUPAC
NOWORRIESASTIR
ETANORANIKOLA
AIWAWONTONYOW
ROASTNERFSOUL
ANYWAYDEEPCUTS
EMAJYEAH
WHOLEHOGSINGES
HALLWHOANOONE
AVEDENOVOZETA
TEMPEHDEBTSEW
ANIONHEREWEARE
MOSESEASYASPIE
ITSMEPRESSSEND

SAWYER: I met my wife Natalya in 2012. We established a tradition of solving the Saturday NYT crossword. After deciding to propose, my most romantic option seemed to be publishing a crossword in the NYT containing the message.

I started constructing, first by hand, then with a phone app. Every MTA trip commuting to work, I'd be rearranging entries, with NATALYA#MARRYME the only fixed part of the layout. After months of work with little to show for it, my friend Meg introduced me to Ashton. I apprenticed under him and James Mulhern, and among many valuable lessons, they taught me about the timeline of publication. So by the time I had created a proposal puzzle that could be mistaken for an NYT themeless, I secretly replaced the week's puzzle with mine in Across Lite, and Natalya solved it in March 2017. My heart was pounding when she said, "Wow, my name is in the puzzle! We should take a picture!" After she filled in MARRY ME, I knelt next to the coffee table to finalize the delivery of the message.

She said yes! We went on to get married in 2018, with the proposal puzzle on display to be solved by our wedding guests, including Ashton. After that journey proved so successful, Ashton and I decided to try a collaboration. I seeded his corner with one of my very favorite phrases, NO WORRIES, and my corner got started with PRESS SEND, a phrase that Natalya often uses. I ended up finishing off the southwest, and I'm particularly proud of the rich Scrabbly short fill under the long diagonal. I find it poetic that Ashton and I now have a puzzle to share with the world after he helped me construct a puzzle that was designed to be solved by exactly one person.

POW Sat 11/14/2020
GOESINTOSASHAY
EUROPEANASTUTE
LIAISINGGEISHA
TENDONACHES
WARSODINKENT
AVOCADOHOLYDAY
ROBOTARMHES
MNEMONICDEVICES
ENDSOLITUDE
UMPTEENGPSUNIT
PALORIGGAYES
WRATHPEEKAT
ANTHEMERICIDLE
RETINANEWMONEY
DRESSYALIENATE

EMILY: Very excited to finally get a Saturday puzzle and hit for the crossword cycle! Big thanks to Erik for being an incredibly generous partner for my first collaborative effort. His superhuman cluing abilities and a constant push for inclusivity in the cross-world are a true inspiration. And also, thanks to the editors for teaching me a new mnemonic device, RIP Pluto.

ERIK: Emily is brilliant. I'm grateful for the opportunity to work with her and really happy with how it turned out. Kudos to her for the clever 23-Down clue and to the Times team for 27-Across.

Sun 11/15/2020THEME SHMEME
BARTABDRAWBBALL
IVORIESCRASHCOURSE
NATURALSTRICKORTREAT
ALOETEALEAVESATBAT
COURTREPORTERAWLS
ANTRIPWRENJUDEWWE
MAXWEIRSUGARCOAT
FORAYGARBTUNEDHURT
AVERMOILIENORSALMA
DELETEDSCENESSPENDS
ERASERTHINNEDRECIPE
SYNCEDADESTEFIDELES
RITESARTERYTIMSILT
AGESGRETAWHENWIELD
THATSOKAYSEARPIT
ATMHUEDSPEDARMDUA
DERNSKINNYDIPPING
ALARMSHOESTOREREBA
SLUMBERPARTYWEBSITES
PLANETEARTHPUMMELS
FAUSTDYESSHORTI

This puzzle was a doozy to make because there were SO. MANY. POSSIBILITIES. The word and block count crept a little higher than I was initially aiming for, but once I was able to find juicy entries for the top and bottom of the grid that worked symmetrically, I knew I had to make the rest of the grid work no matter what.

A couple clues that didn't make the cut: [Read 'em and weep, maybe] for 24-Across, and [Certain seasonal strain] for 64-Across. Grateful for Will and the editing team's polish and for 38-Down (any clue that conjures images of Tina Fey and the old SNL crew strutting around in ridiculous pants is a good one in my book). And as always, I hope this puzzle makes for a satisfying solve!

Mon 11/16/2020
FAKEDBBCDECAF
ICIERLEOORATE
JELLYROLLGAMER
IDOOBITSTEIN
HOUSESITRNS
ASSORTNADA
REPROPUBCRAWL
TARAATRIAMOOD
MICSTANDLARVA
NEATRISKED
EGGCAKEWALK
NOTCHELECWOE
AFIREBABYSTEPS
CADETATMPOPUP
TREESBEDANTSY

Jeff recently wrote about theme types that got popular and then faded away. A few months ago, I submitted a first-words-are-synonyms puzzle. Turns out there are a lot of those already on file . . . So here is a "sequential progression" theme instead.

Besides, babies are cute!

Tue 11/17/2020
ISLAACIDSMGM
BOATIONICPORE
MOTHERMAYIETAS
STEELELKBLISS
RASHLIFEOFPI
OHGREATTAGS
PERTSRAJAILER
ERAHAIRPINAYE
COMBOSCOTCURE
BRIODAMAGED
BACKSPINSIKH
ALLIELOGCELEB
LOANGROWASPINE
SUNGMINERONIT
ADSAGENTPEDS

I wrote and submitted this puzzle in September 2019, and it was accepted in December of that year. The original thematic inspiration came from solving Paolo Pasco's ingenious "Erosion" puzzle, which ran in the Times on January 22, 2018 — check that out if you haven't solved it. I searched for a good revealer to anchor a similar theme mechanism and eventually worked out a set based on GROW A SPINE.

A pretty good number of my clues made it through to the finished version intact or with minor changes. I'm glad to see 14-A, 20-A, 21-A, 66-A, 10-D, and 27-D all made the cut. I really like the editors' clue for 62-D, Stella Adler's timeless quotation closing the puzzle with a flourish and leaving solvers something to reflect upon.

I hope solvers will enjoy the puzzle!

Wed 11/18/2020
ROTCREVEISAAC
OHOOILERMELBA
STRIPOKERHATER
THENETSOVATE
RANDRWRAPARTY
ATTITUDELYCEES
GONEARGEL
TWOPEASINAPOD
DOHLEGATO
EROTICLASTNAME
VIPASSESACTOR
EXLAXMACHONE
AERIEFLIPHONES
NYJETBELLEATT
NERDSIDLEDLSU

When we linked up last year via social media to start making puzzles together, it was love at first Zoom. Within a few weeks, Ross had flown across the country to visit Amanda in L.A., and we spent a blissful three days making grids: on the sofa, in coffee shops, in the lobby of the historic Hollywood Roosevelt hotel. Towards the end of the weekend, the idea for a TWO PEAS IN A POD grid lodged itself in Amanda's brain as a way to commemorate our improbable puzz-based friendship. Ross needed little convincing. As if the story needed any more saccharine details, we even have a photo of us collaboratively placing the puzzle envelope into a blue mailbox.

Will and co. accepted the grid as you see it, but decided in final edits that CREVE / VEE was preferable to CREPE / PEE, given the rebus PP's. We offered to rework a few squares to accommodate CRETE / TEE (there's a TEED that would have needed to change), but it was too late to make changes. All this to say, well, CREVE isn't in our personal word lists, with apologies to the ~18,000 residents of Creve Coeur, MO. We also would have preferred to have TORI clued as a woman, but the editors felt the puzzle was a bit name-heavy and preferred to clue the entry as a word rather than a proper noun. Though Amanda loves women and has a brain that crumbles at the thought or sight of numbers, she conceded.

For more Rafkin-Trudeau grids, visit either of our puzzle sites: Brain Candy and Rossword Puzzles.

Thu 11/19/2020
BLISSPHISAP
READMECOGSNNE
AERIALARTBOOKS
MRVGRFFNVNNWHT
PSATIEINSST
SEEDBEDTIDY
RSTLNUAEIRMA
EPEEIDYLLLEAN
FIXESEAPTSJK
SNAPUPVOTES
REOPOSITCSI
BNKRPTWHLFFRTN
FEASIBLEDIEOUT
FANNAILESTADO
SPAERESHAKY

It is a tremendous honor to contribute to the New York Times crossword. I have done the puzzle regularly for a quarter-century — at the breakfast table in high school, in the back of the class in college, on my laptop in law school, and now every morning on the app. I had no idea puzzle submissions were open to the public until reading Wordplay.

I tried my hand at construction during the doldrums of lockdown and was instantly hooked. My first few efforts were rather bad in hindsight and rightly rejected. The idea for this one came from my paralegal Nicole, who suggested a Jeopardy theme (RIP, Mr. Trebek). Jeopardy ran right after Wheel of Fortune when I grew up, and the theme for this puzzle immediately popped into my head.

Three months later, I nearly fell out of my chair when Sam Ezersky delivered a tentative yes. The team asked if I could clean up some unsightly fill, and I went to work. Given that I was on the cusp of acceptance, I splurged on Jeff Chen's mind-blowing wordlist and entirely reworked the grid. That did it.

Sam said I could expect publication in around six months. My mother, who encouraged me to "graduate" from simpler puzzles to the crossword so long ago, is battling cancer. She still does the paper puzzle every day in ink. Sam and Will awesomely moved my puzzle up in the queue so that she will have the joy of seeing her son's name on the byline. My parents have no idea that I have been constructing, so I cannot wait for their reactions on Thursday.

As we appropriately enter the Thanksgiving season, I send my gratitude to Sam and Will, Jeff for his list and comments during my rework, my wife Andie for tolerating my crossword ramblings all year, and, of course, my mother. Thanks for getting me started on this hobby and for everything else, Mom. This one's for you.

Fri 11/20/2020
AYCARAMBAMILD
TROUBADOUROBIE
GEODESISTSBANC
INHDASTORNGO
FOOLEDSNACKED
TOETAGSWHERE
BARRAGEARID
TRUSTEXERCISE
GRIDSWORNIN
AANDPNESTLES
BIGYUKSTIERED
BLTGNARSTHRU
AMOROCEANSTATE
NINETHEGENERAL
AXEDSAFEWORDS
Sat 11/21/2020
WEIRDHUHFLOORS
ALOEVERARINGUP
NEWSDESKENERGY
TMANLAUREATES
ECIGENESCO
INAKITASPTABS
BTUBUBPINENUT
MACABREIRONORE
PRUSSIANIHTNN
CYSTNUMTOPHIT
RAGTAGWREN
SHORTSTOPERGO
DOOBIEATOMBOMB
NOLOSSTHESINAI
ANDYETASTUDENT

This one's not my usual constructing style. I fought the urge early on to make the grid as wide open as possible, and left in more crossword-y glue (T-MAN, TNN, ASP) so that every last long answer could be fun in its own right — even common words like LAUREATES and ELEMENTARY preserve the human feel of a puzzle, and offer tons of cluing possibilities. With this approach, I'm hoping there aren't any answers outside of 1A that cause solvers to say "Weird" or "Huh." Okay, maybe LINAC and URSAE crossing ENESCO wasn't so great ...

My favorite aspect of the final publication isn't the zip, though, but the smoothness of the NE / SW corners: FLOORS / RING UP / ENERGY and DOOBIE / NO LOSS / AND YET, all crossed by real-word 3s and 4s. The clue I miss most, that (understandably) didn't make the cut: SHORTSTOP, clued obliquely as ... [Second or third person?]. But I'll settle for any angle that includes a Baltimore Oriole.

Enjoy the puzzle, and give today's Scrabbly Spelling Bee a go!

POW Sun 11/22/2020IT ALL ADDS UP
MENURAGUCAPOICICLE
UNITATOPOARSNOONAN
SONEOPOOLTHELASONERD
EKERANDOMSMILEETA
IDBETGATSANACIN
ELSHADAKIDSUNTRAP
BADEAIMRISESREHIRE
ALBASTEFANITHERULES
HEARTHSTROTTEDTRENT
TERSERERATOPTSTSA
DAYSOTWOLIVES
CAMMOTOOVENPEOPLE
LOGANREPUTEDATECROW
ILIKEIKEREROUTECEDE
SOLEMNMODELNITUSES
PRESETSOUTOFITGPS
WAHWAHHOOTBUYER
OAFEARLSKRAKENVAC
FRFOURTRAINBREAKZERO
USAUSAOLGAEDENANEW
MORROWWANTSSNSCTRL

In an ideal world, all of the plus signs would be perfectly symmetric like those in the middle and upper-right. Unfortunately, ZERO, FOUR, FIVE, and NINE have an even number of letters, which means they can't be symmetrically distributed when crossing. Likewise, no usable odd-length numbers share a middle letter. Therefore, some slightly funky plus signs are the order of the day.

In fact, regardless of their shape, there aren't many equations that generate usable plus signs. There are two constraints at work:

First, the sum must be hidden in two theme answers that are unrelated to the number (ruling out things like THE SIXTH SENSE as a base phrase for THREE + THREE = SIX).

Second, because the shape of the crossed addends must (roughly) resemble a plus sign, they need to share an internal letter (i.e., zERo, oNe, tWo, tHREe, fOUr, fIVe, sIx, sEVEn, eIGHt, nINe, and tEn). We stop at TEN, because larger addends will create a sum that fails the first constraint. As you can see, a number like TWO can only be paired with another TWO since no other numbers have an internal W.

And from those valid equations, our choices are even more limited if we don't repeat sums. That means, for example, choosing only one of FIVE + FIVE = TEN, SEVEN + THREE = TEN, and NINE + ONE = TEN. Likewise, sticking to one ZERO addend as a final twist for the lower-right reduces the possible combinations even further.

Mon 11/23/2020
CLAWSCABCHRIS
HAZEOHNOPEARL
OPALDIDGERIDOO
ITLLDOYONDING
ROEUMPTAPIOCA
SPADEOBAMAIAN
OSAKAORINGS
MIDOCEANRIDGE
EATOUTEASEL
ALSTRADETEMPE
SLASHERSKAAIR
TOGASADULSTER
BRIDESMAIDEZRA
ACRIDINDOWORN
YALEUSASSSHED

Most of the ideas for the crosswords I make come from a twisty interpretation of everyday things I see, read, or hear. The inspiration for today's was just like that — seeing "two IDs required" in a newspaper article. With the assistance of the very constructor-useful onelook.com, I selected the three most lively theme answers available. (Sorry, ETHIDIUM BROMIDE didn't make the cut.)

While Monday grids with all-easy answers are most easily accomplished with a closed-off grid of maximum answer count (78), I wanted something more intricate for Will, the Times, and you. So, wanting to have the IDS revealer as the last Down answer and opening up the grid as much as this-human-ly possible, I managed to complete today's 74-answer diagram. The 10 answers Down of 7+ letters were a little tricky to accomplish, necessitating the one answer that I'd rather not have used (40 Down NAES), but Will didn't mind it, and I hope you didn't either.

For any early-week crossword I do for the Times, the cluing is a tug-of-war challenge for me. For any puzzle for Will, I always check the database of Times clues, striving for as many "new" clues as possible. The extra challenge comes from avoiding trickery and ambiguity at the same time.

Will kept the essence of somewhat more than half of my clues; the changed ones were typically made easier with a better-known fact, such as HEIDI as the "Project Runway" host rather than Mrs. Ted Cruz.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Tue 11/24/2020
STABCHARTBRA
LARVAYAHOOBLOW
ASIANCLASPAIDE
WHALEILLBEDARNED
NADAWESOPED
NCISCAGEDUD
JUICESARTBABY
OHTHEHUGEMANATEE
TUDESEWLITERS
SHEHUESSAPS
PLANTARIRAN
GREATCODALMIGHTY
RENDOBAMAONION
ADDSOOZEDNANNY
DOSLEERSSLOE

If you're a fan of groan-worthy wordplay, I hope this puzzle left you . . . kraken up! (I'll show myself out).

Wed 11/25/2020
LOBOWAGIGIVE
IVANWRYVORTEX
MALEHEIRANOINT
ELLIEDOORONTO
GLITZAIRMAIL
SHOGEOKEYS
TOWPLANETEMPE
ULNAMESSYEACH
ASSAMPLAINTOE
TREEOCDINN
TEETIMEUTILE
OGREBLOCOINKS
ORANGETHYMETEA
LESSERTEDSLEW
STEELODSLYNN

JOHN: Jeff has spoken plainly of his boredom with homophones, but several months ago, when he offered to use his coding chops for collaboration, I reached out with an idea I had been working on unsuccessfully for a couple of years. I was trying to do a word ladder with homophones, with a set of two-word phrases linked, and with the last word linking back to the beginning. I got close a couple times, but never could make it work. BOW KNOT, NOT GREAT, GRATE ... nope. PLANE FARE, FAIR BALL, BAWL OUT ... nope. WOOD FINISH, FINNISH ... uh, nope. I have pages of these.

We spent a few days honing and improving a ready-made list of homophones, and then Jeff wrote a program to produce all the two-word phrases consisting of these homophones, and after some more shuffling and honing, we got ... nothing we could use.

It looks like my idea is doomed unless someone else out there would like to pick it up and run with it.

But, while scanning the various lists, we did happen to notice a rare phenomenon, when a two-word phrase could be flip-flopped and homophon-ized to produce another valid two-word phrase. As I recall, we spotted only these three pairs, and we got lucky with symmetry. Though it was not what we set out to accomplish, we felt like it was still a nifty set and submitted it.

POW Thu 11/26/2020
GATENALASOFTG
UNIXATOMOLLIE
ROMPVOWEL
UNEASYSKAADD
SNOBSRAISES
ISLAND
ODIEULNAHOFFA
NEGFEASTEDLOX
SANTAMOANPINE
WINDED
DUMONTTOURS
ONOCIAROUSTS
JOHNSSOON
OASISKNEEALOU
SMELTSAWSLONG

Experienced solvers are used to seeing rebus squares on Thursdays, where a group of letters share a single box in the grid. My idea for this puzzle was to invert that mechanism: in this grid, some letters occupy the real estate usually taken up by two letters. The grid design has been modified to help solvers catch on quickly; it's still one letter per box, even if some boxes aren't squares. Hopefully that kept the puzzle challenging but fun. I'm grateful to Mr. Shortz and the whole puzzle crew for taking my grid, which I'd bodged together by applying correction fluid to a printout with only squares, and making it work crisply in print and digital forms. And speaking of gratitude: happy Thanksgiving!

Fri 11/27/2020
AMONGIGAASAP
POKERFOOLDULL
STONEHENGEBRIO
EEKAMOUSEBLEEP
LSDTHROWN
CARRIESATORCH
ARIANALEGKYLO
LENDSHERTENAM
MAGIMIXCORONA
BANANASFOSTER
SELECTILL
STATEHULASKIRT
NORIBILLTHECAT
OVERANTSENEMY
WEREMTADORAL

Welcome to today's puzzle, in which I channel my 15-year-old self by including references to both "Bloom County" and "The Far Side."

I landed pretty early on the two long across entries CARRIES A TORCH and BANANAS FOSTER because I liked that they are both things that get lit on fire (my understanding is that BANANAS FOSTER is typically served flambé — though, in fairness, I have no firsthand knowledge of this because I detest bananas).

My original grid had a few issues, including the embarrassingly stinky partial OF TEA ("Cup ___"), so I was asked to make a few revisions. I'm pleased to say that the new and improved grid features a far stronger and entertaining NW corner, with STONEHENGE — which has my favorite clue of the puzzle — EEK A MOUSE, GREMLINS, and GO GETTER.

Sat 11/28/2020
TIMETRAVELESTA
AREYOUGAMEXMAN
POWERSUITSPAST
SNLTHANTARTT
TOEBLOTTER
FAIRSFAIRMBA
DRESSCODESOUP
PROBEORCSANDS
LOGOAUTOTUNES
APPPITYPARTY
CARRELSBEA
ELIOTGPASOCT
BINSOVERSHARES
ONCEPINACOLADA
SEENTEETOTALER

If anyone's looking for a good quarantine read (or re-read), I'm a fan of 21A's The Secret History, which is still the GOAT campus novel.

Sun 11/29/2020SIX-PACK
GMAILSWEEPSTINKO
EROICABEAGLECUEBALL
NACRESRANGINUPDATED
EPHEMERALDSPEPERAPS
SHADEHISSBADPRSTA
ALVINGILGAMESHOW
DEALTINORELSEATLAS
ETTEPEPPILLRINSE
SHARDREMINISCEESPN
ANTEBENDYSINAPILE
INECHIVASETCETCDUE
PONTIACITEHEREWES
ALDOMETRONOMESIMON
OOMPHREBUSESSANE
DANTEARAMISLIVENED
FIRSTRATEGYTIBIA
ESCIRISEARIZSCRIM
SLAVNESTOBAMACARENA
TIDINGSARRIVEAVENUE
EKESOUTREADERMISERS
RESAVETYLERESTEE

A couple of years ago, I decided to start each day by looking at the Merriam-Webster "Word of the Day" and trying to come up with a Twitter-sized puzzle based on that word. Nothing fancy: An anagram, a quickie little grid puzzle, some little NPR-style bit of wordplay. It was a fun mental exercise, and after some time, I began to wonder if I might turn these little puzzles into some kind of book. That didn't happen... but those puzzles did break out of Twitter in other ways. The Jelly Roll variety crossword I had in the NYT a couple of weeks ago was directly inspired by one of those daily puzzles, and so was today's crossword. Much thanks to the M-W person who chose EPHEMERAL for the Word of the Day back in May of last year.

I don't do the Twitter puzzles every day anymore, but I will still take a daily peek at the Word of the Day. If I can come up with an idea reasonably quickly, I'll throw something together. You'll see those puzzles a few times each week on Twitter at @puzzlereric.

Mon 11/30/2020
HATHBAHOTTAWA
EROOARTSAUNAS
MARCTIMHORTONS
BAKESALEDDE
SHELBOXSEAT
YEATSCIA
SCENARIOANYONE
HOPICOLASIVAN
ENIGMAALIENATE
HENREORG
STUTTERISSA
URNAPRICOTS
MAPLESYRUPREPO
ALIGNSETARAIN
CANADAPHDYMCA

I should make one thing clear up front: I'm half-Canadian (a dual citizen, in fact), my dad is from Montréal, and we have a lot of family living in the Greater Toronto Area. I'm teasing Canada with my puzzle, yes, but playfully and affectionately! I'm sorry if I offended anyone (see, I'm one of you).

This was maybe the third or fourth puzzle I constructed and there's a lot I like here. I'm happy with my theme answers, none of which feel forced the way theme answers sometimes can. I'm pleasantly surprised by the number of timely political references, which all came about accidentally: RUTH was originally RUPI (as in Rupi Kaur, of Milk and Honey fame), but Will suggested that that was too obscure for a Monday, I wanted OCTOPUS instead of OCASIO because that seemed more whimsical, but I needed vowels, and as for Biden's STUTTER, well, I don't love that corner, and I tried desperately to change STUTTER/TRALA to the vastly more interesting SPUTTER/PRADA or, frankly, anything else, but this was the only fill I could find. Now I know not to cram two theme answers into a corner together.

My other regret is what seems like an inordinate amount of Cs and Hs in my theme answers. What a challenging and chaotic chore I caused (not really — I had a great time).