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Puzzles for December, 2013
with Constructor comments

Sun 12/1/2013 TWO HALVES IN ONE
BBSDIPTPAINETHANOL
EEWENAAETNASUITORS
RAENILBEINGPREENED
GREATDIVIDEWINS
MENTALNOTESHOESEWES
AREOLETHEREANDAGAIN
NSYNCSEAOASTTHATSO
ABESHUMPWHALE
SMORESMASSDOERDA
CHOPINFINECONCLAVES
NUTTEDENGCOWLABORS
BLOSSOMEDBONNOCELOT
CARVIDTONESCREEN
PAPERBOOKMAKO
LOOSERLAWSDIXSODOM
BROKEMOUNTAINESPANA
SALSWOODSLOSSLEADER
WARPBACKINBLACK
NIAGARAOPINEKIAILE
IDCARDSLOGOSENLSUR
POETESSDIANESOLTBS

I knew I wanted to make a rebus puzzle using "Back in Black" so I started by experimenting with some 15x15 grids. None of these really worked, however, as there just wasn't enough room to cram in the revealer and a bunch of theme answers, so I started thinking bigger! I'm not sure how I came upon the idea of bisecting the grid into two halves and using the BACK rebus to allow the solver to jump across the divide, but it worked beautifully, allowing for some lengthy BACK answers and for the shock value of a puzzle divided in two. I'm sure some solvers were thinking, "Well, how the hell is this going to work?"

Anyway, the puzzle was brutally hard to fill in 140 words or less and there ended up being a lot of funky looking black patterns all over the place. Will said he liked the theme but "would I like to have another go at the fill?" I was having the same problems on the second attempt when suddenly I had an epiphany. "You idiot! The words before and after BACK don't count as two words. It's all one word!" I was trying to make a puzzle with 132 words, not 140. Once I realized I could let Crossword Compiler tell me my puzzle was 148 words instead of 140, it made all the difference in the world.

One quick note on what is sure to be the most questioned answer, DENTALCARIES. First, it really made that section hum; I wouldn't have used it if I didn't have to. Second, if you go to Wikipedia and search for "tooth decay" you come to an article where the main heading is "dental caries." That was good enough for me. I was still worried about it, though, but it seems it was good enough for Will, too.

Mon 12/2/2013
WOLFOHAREDAVE
ERIENINERENOS
BELLALINELEGS
LITTLELEAGUE
CCSDESOXYGEN
AREOLAFINES
REDHERRINGSBIG
ADAMUNOCODA
TONRIDINGMOWER
CONESREELED
STROBESEASSE
HOODORNAMENT
ATADTENONARAB
KARLIRATEPAPA
ELSEAFTEREYED

Making a Monday puzzle is harder than it seems. It must be interesting enough to pass the increasingly high standards of the NY Times, but simple enough that a beginning solver can still master it. As a lifelong resident of Ithaca, NY and a graduate of Cornell University, aka "Big Red," I also attended our local high school which is known as "Little Red" and so have long held a certain affection for the "Caped Crusader" of fable. The idea of using a book, song or movie title and breaking it up into pieces is one I have used often. I fact when I am going through a dry period, I can usually count on this technique to generate another puzzle and keep the creative juices flowing. The theme is not terribly original, but the four themed phrases seemed to flow pretty naturally. Throw in a big bad wolf and, well, you're practically out of the woods!

Bio: Adam Perl is a graduate of Cornell University with a BA in music. He has been the owner of Pastimes Antiques in Ithaca NY for 35 years and has constructed well over a thousand crossword puzzles. In addition to making puzzles for the NY Times and various other publications, he loves to make custom crossword puzzles for friends, family or for hire. Last year he created three different difficulty-levels of crosswords for the first ever Finger Lakes Crossword Puzzle Tournament which raised money for the Tompkins Learning Partners, which tutors children and adults in reading and math.

Tue 12/3/2013
GLOMTIBIALADS
AUDIORANGEWOW
SADDLESHOESABE
HUMMEDINSPIRE
AAAHALTERTOP
MANYDEISRI
IPOTEARSGAWKS
SPUROFTHEMOMENT
OSTEOHOPEDLEE
CTNSOTCLEM
BITOHONEYJAI
ENSNAREFAULTS
BSACROPCIRCLES
OERHINTATUBER
PTSESSAYSSENS

This is my second NYT puzzle, but it's been since 2009 since the first. This really simple little puzzle really took a lot of practice to achieve, mostly in favorable grid design, but I've been building word lists and applying theory like maximizing the freshness of my long non-theme entries. TALLINTHESADDLE was actually the seed of this puzzle that didn't persist because, unlike the present set of five, the theme word in the idiom is at the end and it doesn't change meaning from riding gear.

I really wanted to use ALLHOPE instead of AIRHOSE in the triple-crosser central entry. Fancying myself as a bit of classicist, I felt freshness in this entry that has been around for thousands of years. I thought my clue of ("It should be abandoned by "ye who enter here") made it stronger. In retrospect, I agree it's not recognizable or strong enough to warrant a seven-letter partial phrase. My initial grid also had IATRO and PDR in it. As a physician, these seemed to me to be "in the language." My wife tells me "not so much." This has always been a stumbling point for me — recognizing that just because I love it doesn't mean anyone else will.

It was great to be allowed input in the editing process by Will. In a couple of volleys, he expertly nixed the above as well as the foul fill PTL and BCS. BCS allowed HOTCHICKS instead of TOOTHACHE, but so goes the reality of crossword construction.

Wed 12/4/2013
METALGEOMLAVS
ASONEREARALIT
SQUIDMARKSNOVA
OUTLAIDMYDEAR
NESNEWSIES
SQUARETACTIC
HIREESETHARNO
GRANDLASAPERS
TAGSSOTALEXEI
SQUIRTCHASER
THEISTSRCA
ACTIONTEASERS
DROZGREATSQUAT
DOMEEEOCPINTO
SPEDLANKSNEER

This theme is a pretty simple one — I just needed to find phrases that had a word starting with the SK sound, and switch it to SQU. But easier said than done. I would've liked it if all four started with the SK/SQU word, rather than just the first three, but these were the only phrases I could find. I still like the phrases a lot, and I guess that's why the puzzle was accepted. I also like the northwest and southeast corners, as well as SENSITIZED, DR. OZ, and most of the seven-letter words, especially NEWSIES.

Thu 12/5/2013
CAVETEMPTTACT
UTESIRISHATOE
RESTBATTENDOWN
RAPSISTSEAMED
EWEMAEFIRIRE
NARCOSENDUSER
TYSONPEALTD
CONFUSION
NEOBIGLASED
SODACANCAROLE
CMIIDSRAYPES
RIBBERTANBRAC
INLALALANDLAZE
PEERFATALONAN
TESTTRITECORD

Jeff Chen (2/23/12) and Elizabeth Gorski (8/18/13) weren't kidding when they wrote about the challenges inherent in constructing a puzzle with theme answers on the perimeter. After I came up with this theme idea, I struggled for quite a while to find a combination of theme entries that interlocked as necessary and still allowed for decent fill around the central revealer.

It was definitely the most difficult time I've had making a 15 x 15 puzzle, but also the most satisfying when I came up with something that worked, kind of an "aha moment" on steroids. To top it off, Will liked the puzzle enough to accept it, and I'm pleased to be joining the ranks of Thursday constructors as a result. I hope solvers enjoy the CONFUSION!

Fri 12/6/2013
BAMBIMINITSKS
OPARTUPONUTAH
SALESROOMSNOLO
CREAMANDSUGAR
SEMGLORYBE
RITTRAHTOOBAD
ICIBORONFLOSS
MELTEDCHOCOLATE
MATESSUDANREL
EXALTSMENADDS
DEWLINECAB
HARAJUKUGIRLS
PAILCELINEDION
SIRIKCARNELLE
ISLESTNSADELE
Sat 12/7/2013
PROACTIVBBGUN
HASNOIDEAPULSE
EMMASTONEOGEES
LEOIOLDGEEZER
PANSYOILACNE
SUDEVERSOPLAT
ETATSPUMA
OBTAINSJEZEBEL
BAASAIRER
ICKYDISBARSTU
SKEGOAFOCEAN
BOOKSMARTHERD
MOVIEBREAKINTO
ONENDSANDALTAN
BERGSSTALLONE

I started making puzzles ("puzzin'") back in college with my good friend, Ashton Anderson. After some growing pains, we had a collaboration puzzle published on a Monday back in 2009. Following that, Ashton switched his attention to themeless puzzles, while I switched mine to altogether less important things. The constructing bug bit me again back in 2012, though, and I began trying my hand at themeless construction, which led to this puzzle (and a few more in the pipeline, including some co-constructed with Ashton).

This puzzle is brought to you by EMMA STONE. A friend of mine is a big fan and encouraged me to feature her in a puzzle. I was also pleased to have PROACTIV, BUG ZAPPER, GLEE CLUB, BOOK SMART, SANDAL TAN, and JEZEBEL in there. Somehow, these answers hit a sweet spot for me. They're evocative, modern, playful, and surprising, to my ear at least. It's difficult to pin down or articulate this reaction, but it's what makes me love crosswords, and particularly themeless crosswords.

I find the crosses in the NW interesting, and I'm eager to get solvers' feedback. It's quite a pile-up of names (5 of the first 6 downs!), but given that they are all from quite different parts of culture, I thought it wouldn't distract. I hope that's the case.

I'm honored to have this puzzle in the Times, and I hope everyone enjoys the solve.

POW Sun 12/8/2013 TWO OUTS
ABBAAMORESPAUKES
BRACEROPERSHANGRILA
LIBERTARIANCURVEBALL
ELOSIMONLEBONIRA
SLOWNINESUNSLENDER
TONELESSATRESTEERO
SEADOGEEKEGO
LITTERMATEMAELSTROM
ARABSILENTILDUCE
LINESGASOHOLSTRETCH
ANDRESSTIRSINZANILY
WAYLAIDADOPTEDPAEAN
IMLOSTBRITONMIND
PENNYANTEEASTORANGE
ELISKYAMYMAR
WALKEXTRASCSIMIAMI
SLEEKLYHERPAINELAM
PIEFEATHERBEDBRA
BATTLECRYHAPPYENDING
BRAINDEADANSELARNIE
CMONSOYSKITSJOES
Mon 12/9/2013
SNAPIWONCAPN
RUERNEROJOLLY
STRONGARMENIAC
CAMEOSPUTTY
TATSTEPPEATOP
VSOPLIONSCLUB
SERIFSCONEETS
ULTRAHIGH
USNARESBASTES
SPEAKEASYTEXT
ELBESLOUGHSPY
AUNTSPLEASE
ISLEYUPPERDECK
CHAIRNEINERTE
EYEDETESNASA

I am a retired college professor, living in Maryland near DC. After seeing the "WordPlay" film, I decided to try to construct a puzzle. Of course, it was a mess. I worked with Nancy Salomon for a time, and she was a great help. I constructed this puzzle in 2009, one of my very first puzzles as a raw newbie. I still like it, but would probably work harder on the non-theme fill now.

Tue 12/10/2013
SLAVDRAWONWBA
AEROEEYOREELL
MAGICMARKERBOG
LOOMOCCUR
DREAMTEAMSLASE
ROOMEDICINEMEN
ANNAMINOR
MISSMISSISSIPPI
CANOFCEOS
MODESTMOUSEDRE
IRANSERPENTINE
MANDMHAVE
INCMUCKETYMUCK
CGIEMPIREPRAY
SENSPAREDTILL

The germ for this theme was MUCKETY-MUCK, which I thought was an interesting entry to build a theme around. In sorting through the possibilities, I landed with an M&M vowel progression theme. As far as I could determine, it hadn't been done before. I found a couple of other M&M themes over the past few years, but no vowel progression. After that, the remainder of the theme answers came together fairly readily. I considered MONEY MONGER for the MO-MO entry, but ultimately decided in favor of MODEST MOUSE.

Wed 12/11/2013
GOBADAMASSMAW
PROTONUBIAAMA
STRATIFATFIRST
DREAMTSENATE
THEIDEAISSUER
ATLURLTIMIDLY
DELIRETAG
NOTABSURDTHEN
SLAKETIER
MINOLTACODNIH
AMENTHEREISNO
SGTMAJALBERT
HOPEFORITJEERS
ENATHATIANION
DEYANTICYENTL

Thanks for the blog invite Jeff and Jim! First off, in case you didn't know, this site is awesome. I've used it to construct every one of my published puzzles ... er, that would be 2 now. Funny aside, this one was actually the first of the two that Will accepted. My debut puzzle took only 2 months to publish at the end of last year. This quote-style theme sat in the hopper for 16 months!

When I read this quote in a trade journal early last year, it was the first time I'd seen it. As the co-owner of a small nanotech firm, I related instantly. Einstein probably never encountered the modern day phrase we use for his "absurdity": brainstorming meeting! I'm sure he participated in many, though. Picture Einstein and colleagues pontificating around the chalkboard, "NEIN, ALBERT, that's just ABSURD!" Amazing to think of the volume of absurd figments that must have crossed his mind, yet didn't stick as well as special relativity and E=mc2.

Construction of this puzzle happened quick — just 3 hours to finish. I was even able to nestle both first and last name nicely into the southeast without the fierce battle that usually accompanies stuffing more theme into an already high density (RHO) grid. It took great INSIGHT to work in a constructor's dream Scrabble score name like EINSTEIN! Also, glad to usher BORDELLO back into the Shortzian puzzle era.

Hope you enjoyed the solve, and for the record, your next ABSURD thought today, well, ITSONME!

POW Thu 12/12/2013
CEDILLAESIASON
OPENOUTNASTASE
RAMBLERGRAMMAR
NUIAGESAGOOKD
ELLEOSAGEMAAS
RELYTGIJANN
STEEDSONIONS
BEAMGIGI
COVERTISAYSO
BOLOAWECOHN
DENTKNITSSURE
ENDPADTHAILIN
EGOTISMABALONE
MARINERNEMESES
SYSTEMSERASERS

This puzzle was a real challenge to construct, and I imagine it will be just as challenging to solve!

I originally came up with the idea in January after noticing that ERASERS becomes EASES after the Rs are literally erased. I wondered if there were any other words that made sense after their Rs were erased, particularly ones with multiple Rs. After that, I spent many hours trying to maximize the theme density, starting in the lower left with my favorite pair of entries, M(R) AND M(R)S. For the first time in many months, I had to use manual construction in conjunction with crossword construction software: I was able to create a word list with all the Rs filtered out to avoid adding nonthematic Rs, but I couldn't figure out a way to get the software to recognize that all entries crossing the thematic Rs had to make sense when the Rs were erased. Thus, the construction process, particularly in the upper half of the puzzle, was laborious—at multiple points, I was convinced that finishing this puzzle would be impossible. Yet somehow I managed to fill a grid that worked!

I wish I had been able to incorporate one more R in the upper right, but I just couldn't get it to work without seriously straining the fill. As a final note, I constructed the puzzle in a 72-word grid in case Will Shortz liked the theme but felt the puzzle would be more appropriate for a Saturday.

Fri 12/13/2013
ALFALFASNOWJOB
TORSIONMANHOUR
ANACQUIREDTASTE
DETOUROLIOHEW
TOCCATADUDS
BAMROILSNRA
ENAMELEDBOOTEE
EGGEDONALSORAN
BENHURCLUELESS
ATPVALETEYE
RICAVERYTOP
ERAACREONEOFF
HERESHOWTOORDER
ENTRAINITSDONE
MAANDPATHEURGE
Sat 12/14/2013
PANAMGAMESPCS
DETERIORATEHAL
TERRENCEMCNALLY
ETATSOTISLOVE
NESSSMEEFIXER
JAMVIP
ANCHORAGEALASKA
FOREIGNMINISTER
TRAINEDELEPHANT
ANTSINONESPANTS
TNTESO
GOBIGCANAAMAT
UPONWORFSCARE
SERGEANTOROURKE
TRARIGORMORTIS
SAXBLOODSTAIN

This is the second puzzle I sent to Will using the same set of quad-stacks. The first grid was rejected because Will wasn't too keen on LANE SIX and EIO (which reminds me, the first puzzle I ever sent to the NYT had EIOS (!) in the grid ... fortunately Maleska changed it to EROS).

Getting back to today's puzzle, luckily, I had a fix: VANESSA worked where LANE SIX had not. Unfortunately, two black squares had to be moved, which meant that, aside from the quad-stacks, most of the puzzle had to be reconstructed. This a good example of the "domino effect" that I think most constructors are all too familiar with!

Lastly, the lower right-hand corner was constructed with CSI fans in mind. Do you think it passes the "breakfast test"? The answer is probably "yes" if you're a coroner!

Sun 12/15/2013 A CUT ABOVE THE REST
CCCCCISUPAUELTTTTT
CROATTOURLUAULETHE
CELTSCLUETURKCATER
CSISHOUSERULECTRS
CCCCCUUUUUNOTME
ASPCAMRIJUKES
JAUNTIEREOSUNICYCLE
ALFELIASMSNBCPAL
BIONICLEGTOOKATAXI
ONEAAGAINRELO
TOPSCOREASSENDORSED
INLEAFNASTIEROHENRY
LEARNTELPRADOFARINA
DAYSHERBSHIDEFODED
ALEAEIOUTEATSESS
DIVANMCRAECHIRR
THRICETHIRDHEROES
MAOISTTRAGEDYTINMAN
AMOSIDEASNOOSEDATE
ZEKEOUNCETWYLAORBS
EDYSNOOKNORMSKYS

This puzzle went through several dozen revisions on two completely different theme concepts. I started with the basic idea of making giant letters out of the letters themselves, i.e. a giant C out of Cs, I out of Is, etc. and noticed that some letters I could clue in a homophonic style (the formation of a giant C would require SEES, SEAS, and SEIZE, T would only require TEES and TEASE, and I would be easy with just EYES). Only the letters C I L T and U fit my criteria though, so what could I do with those? The word CUT came to mind. After some rumination, this led to my first submission, where each theme answer had CUT cut out of it, (CUT) ONES TEETH ON, e.g.

Well, that was terrible; a fourth-rate dirty rotten stinker. In the back of my head I knew it wasn't very good, but I sent it anyway (sorry, Will, I won't send in stinkers any more). Will politely said he didn't care for the theme and pointed out that my symmetry (up-down) was just too visually strange. Looking back on it, I see what he meant. It's important to learn the rules before you break them, and I won't be trying any more up-down symmetry puzzles (unless they're similar in nature to Kevin Der's Titanic puzzle).

Luckily, I'm too stubborn (stupid) to give up. Lying in bed one night, the phrase "a cut above the rest" came to me and I slunk out of bed. Five bleary hours later, I came up with my first skeleton, but it ultimately Titanic-ed. It had all sort of grid issues, a ton of cheater squares, and several areas I wasn't sure I could fill cleanly. So I tore it up and stuck it someplace lewd.

My tenacious idiocy caught up with me a few months later and I took another stab at it. I didn't want any individual Cs adjacent to the big C (and similarly with the big U and T). Filling around those three giant letters was tough enough without that constraint, and with it, I was lucky to get out alive after days and hundreds of possibilities.

Then there was the issue of the other themers. I was dead set against made-up sounding definitions; I wanted in-the-language phrases instead. Luckily CUT has enough different meanings that it only took a week or so to gather a good set ... except I included HAS A SIX PACK, which nagged me as "not like the others". Good thing Will balked at that and even gave a lexical reason why. Lesson learned: if it looks like poo and smells like poo, it likely is poo.

Back to brainstorming themers. I searched various thesauri, online sources, picked friends' brains, and finally came up with SNIDE REMARK. I don't think it's as strong as some of the other themers, but was glad that Will accepted it. A few more hours of rework and recluing and I broke the plane of the goal-line. I was so relieved I spiked my computer.

A final note on symmetry. Typically L-R symmetry is no harder to execute on than normal (rotational) symmetry, but I couldn't spread my themers out like usual. Needing all my vertical themers to be pushed to the bottom, I was forced to incorporate an enormous number of across answers which overlapped two themers. Filling the dang thing nearly broke me. I still cringe at TEN O and don't care for ERNES crossing ESS or CTRS or ASTR. But sometimes you have to accept a little subpar fill in order to make an idea work. Hopefully solvers found the trade-off acceptable.

Mon 12/16/2013
LAPISCIAOYAPS
PRIMEROMEOREL
SEEYALATERURSA
ONEMANSLICK
ACDUCTSBMOVIE
SHORESCHAISE
HISSDOUBLEDUP
ENVGOODBYEENO
SKISLOPESERIE
DIAPERMASCOT
STANDSTENPINS
LONGELIESTO
UTILHASTALUEGO
GAYEEMIRESSEX
SLATTATAREPLY

I wasn't sure of the spelling of DO SVIDANIYA so I looked it up one day ... and one thing led to another. Two 11's and two 10's matched perfectly although the grid was shaky with all horizontal entries so I put a revealer in the center of a windmill. I wasn't a fan of the relatively closed grid but the 74 word count seemed to balance that. I wanted to include AU REVOIR and SAYONARA but settled for CIAO and TATA.

The W was problematic because INDUCES, REDUCES and INDUCTS brought partials and other nasty fill ... but I chanced on AC DUCTS after seeing an ad mailer and decided to run with it. I spent of lot of free time toying with this puzzle this past spring and I am pretty pleased overall.

Tue 12/17/2013
ARSAPBSSUBWAY
TAUCHICELAINE
TINBADGEEARNIT
INBUDINONBBS
CHARSDEMORATE
SATIKEVINBACON
THESEATIOKNT
SOBGES
OOPNAHDESPOT
ONIONBAGELIPOS
HENRYHOSSTENT
NBAAARENONNA
KOALASGREENBAY
ITLLDOEVERAGE
RELYONDELTRED
Wed 12/18/2013
BUBBAWANDEBON
AARONATTUTORE
AWARDOFTHESTATE
DEEPENHATES
PBSSIRDSOEGO
AAHSESCAPEPLAN
SHAPEUSEBY
AWAYWITHWORDS
DEEREXEROX
ISMELLARATSERE
MTAALSBUSSTS
PARESGASHES
ALIGHTINTHEDARK
LANAIRAEAGGIE
AGEDPETSREEDY

The seed for this puzzle was 36-Across, clued as "Mime's mantra?" I recall that there may have been a fourth theme entry but it was weaker than what I thought were three solid entries. While I have often tried to fit in 4 or 5 good theme entries into a puzzle (sometimes successfully, sometimes not), in this case I felt that "less was more" and left things at three. I was very happy that it was accepted for publication, and didn't require any rewrites.

Thu 12/19/2013
CATROMANCEBCD
ARREXEDOUTALE
PTACOLORTVNEE
TINFOOLAMP
ACCOSTSTRAINER
ILESULTRAMANE
NESSBROERESTD
LIKEWATERANDOIL
AWEATATIMEURI
SHYHOTWBAGTAB
TEAODESIRLTR
PERIODTOLIFE
ALECLAYERONIT
SINEELATEWENT
SEAWRAZEDWSKI

Thousands of University of Minnesota students learning organic chemistry have read George's handout that reveals the four secrets of organic chemistry, the second of which is that "oil and water don't mix." Back in the spring of 2006, we were brainstorming in our usual ways via e-mail, IM chat, and occasional phone calls, and realized that LIKE_OIL_AND_WATER was 15 letters and could span the center of a grid. Recalling that the majority of organic liquids are less dense than water and hence form an upper phase after being shaken with water, it occurred to us to place oil-containing theme entries exclusively above the central entry, and water-containing entries exclusively below.

Early decisions were to have OIL and WATER both be rebuses (for a while we toyed with HHO or even HOH, but those ideas proved unworkable), to use left-right symmetry, and to separate the two phases by a staggered set of solid bold bars rather than full-sized blocks. Mike ran the concept by Will informally, but the project went into hibernation for several years until the summer of 2010. It was then that Mike realized that switching the positions of the words OIL and WATER in the central reveal would also allow a vertical T(oil)ET(water) entry to place rebus elements both above and below the divide.

Mike produced a few candidate grids that we worked together to polish over the next few months, and George saw how the word LAYER could be inserted near the lower bottom and could be clued to provide a final level of reveal. Will was hesitant for a long time, because he had never previously used bars in a Times weekday crossword, and he was also concerned about on-line solving. With hindsight, this delay turned out to be a positive, because so many other brilliant constructions that "push the envelope" have been published between the time our original ideas were formulated and the present day. For the two of us, this was a fun collaboration that played into our respective strengths, and we hope that solvers will like it too.

POW Fri 12/20/2013
MANCAVEMUGSHOT
EQUATORUSOTOUR
SUNSETSDETENTE
HASHEARROPEIN
CARTOONDYED
SCRAPZAPATA
PHOBOSSAMADAMS
EELLEATHERNOT
CROPLANDSOOTHE
HOTTUBINERT
VAYABICYCLE
AGENDAKEATECH
RIOTACTBRAILLE
ITWORKSYESMAAM
GASMASKEDHELMS

I tried something different on this one. Instead of seeding the puzzle with longer entries, I locked in quality 3- and 4-letter entries (ATE, ASH, MUD, EAR, etc.). This method ensures smooth shorter fill, and, if you work at it long enough, quality longer fill, too. If you fill 3x7 or 4x7 sections the other way around, it's too easy to fall in love with one or two great answers propped up by junk. So ... yeah. FILL. It's all about the fill.

Sat 12/21/2013
ANGIENEWYORK
PERKSSOLEMNER
SHEETFUNGICIDE
ERETAMPAACOW
SUNDAYWORLDESE
LUMENOLES
OMANISOWNERS
RANDDCOSTA
ORDEALCLOSED
ELOISTATE
BBSARTHURWYNNE
ELAMEWELLTEX
DALAILAMACHIRP
INEXCESSGUAVA
MCMXIIIINLET

Todd:

Unlike our previous collaboration, this puzzle had a long gestation before being published. I submitted my original version in March of 2012. Will liked the basic idea, but didn't like about 9 of my original entries.

I mentioned my puzzle to David at Crosswords LA in May, and he wanted to see if he could improve on my grid. Turned out he could indeed: we submitted our revised version in June. After several back-and-forths, Will accepted our puzzle this August! We've had to wait almost 4 months for our centennial crossword to be printed ... it's hard to wait that long (ask any kid right about now)!

Finally, I'll note my original version had FUNICELLO at 16 Across, which is definitely more FUN than FUNGICIDE!

David;

It was a pleasure working with Todd on this centennial puzzle. The grid was a real challenge to fill because it not only had a themeless word count (70) but also contained four theme entries with rather unfriendly letter patterns (I'm talking about you, MCMXIII!), not to mention the FUN arrangement. Nevertheless, Todd and I were able to pool our resources and produce a fill we're both very proud of!

Sun 12/22/2013 GOOD ONE!
ABETASPMASONFAR
SANARHOFICKLEQUEEG
HUGUENOTICKIERBERNE
EXITROWBAHDAVISLOVE
NINESBELTEDREFTSOS
TENTSALELADYDIAMI
ESEACLUAMESFINI
DOCKSANETDESKTOP
RAGOREALGATILTHUH
ANOTHERNOELNOELISSA
MOLESOTOLOGYRIOTS
SIFTGENEPOOLTRAINEE
ENEQUOTASTERAJGRR
STRAUSSTICSSENAT
CPASJESUGAEAOBI
ZAPEMERILOUTTAKES
GIBETOASPEEDOMEARA
UPRAISINGTOSPRINTAD
ALERORAYGUNSPIRITED
MORONERRORSKENSILO
CANSPODEIRKMEIN
Mon 12/23/2013
COLACRESTBONG
RAIDCINCOAMOR
ORZOSPERMWHALE
PSALMMICANAG
PIGGYBACKING
METHANEETON
ABOMASCOJOS
TAKEITTOTHEBANK
EYESQUOIWII
MOETBREASTS
RIVERPHOENIX
AVECOENOINKS
FOGMACHINEOOOH
TRAMHANOIMAKE
SYNESTERNSHOD

Andrea:

Michael and I met at a construction lunch and became good friends a half dozen years ago. Many of our puzzles are from something one or the other of us has spontaneously said at lunch and we expand it into a puzzle. Because the puzzle was based on an idea Michael originally had, he gets top billing on this one. This is our 6th published collaboration, but we've made at least a dozen more that have been published elsewhere, or for private clients, or have (gulp) been rejected.

We have very different styles and senses of humor, but share a respect for each other and usually have dozens of backs and forths about what we can and can not live with, usually managing to work it all out. We offer advice on each other's individual work as well. And it was Michael who brought me into this century by insisting I learn how to use a computer to aid my construction and to facilitate our collaborations. This puzzle went through eight or so iterations as we tried to make it as smooth as possible.

This is a traditional puzzle type (this word follows these words ...) but we were excited because we had a nice 15 reveal across the middle and four theme entries that had not been used before: SPERM WHALE, PIGGYBACKING, FOG MACHINE. Two 10s, two 12s and a 15 reveal seemed like a lot of material for a Monday, so I thought this would be a Tuesday, but I think I'm seared in Will's brain as Miss Monday. So be it!

What we liked is that there are so many kinds of banks, river banks, sperm banks, piggy banks, fog banks (a nod to SF where we both reside), so room to play! Plus we loved the cheekiness of SPERMWHALE as well as the X in RIVERPHOENIX. And yes, we went for the pangram. Originally we had JAH/JONG but it was for a Monday/Tuesday level and Michael couldn't live with JAH, but was able to change OBOE to OJOS and preserve the J!

KOKO is snuck into the lower corner as a tribute to the Siamese I had for 16 years who was my closest companion. The only other private shout out is to the COEN brothers, as they are fellow Jews from Minneapolis. When we made this puzzle a year and a half ago, "No Country for Old Men" was their big hit. I've asked Will to update the clue to their new smash "Inside Llewyn Davis", but it may be too soon, or that film title might not be Monday level.

Tue 12/24/2013
TWARAFTROBBEN
EATEIREILOILO
ALTPRESIDENTOF
LEDAESSOYIPE
PONYCARAFTNEE
FWDEKLERKWAGS
CIETIESOX
NELSONMANDELA
ITSADOILL
TATAAPARTHEID
BANYESPERUSES
ARNOCOOTINON
SOUTHAFRICAVAT
STARERSNAGETA
ISLANDOGLEREX
Wed 12/25/2013
CHADSMURKADDS
HULOTASIAFEAT
IRENENUMBOMNI
STEELIERUPROAR
ELLPEKOE
OWLALPMISSTEP
FEARDUMBEAUDE
FIVEGOLDENRINGS
TRACESSRSDIET
OSSETIASYSSRO
SACRANYC
SHASTALACROSSE
NORIRUINIRATE
OHNOUSEDANGEL
BOONSONYCYSTS

Today's theme occurred to me after I finished David Steinberg's 1/2/13 FROOT LOOPS puzzle and started brainstorming other "circular answer" ideas. Two epiphanies followed: that FIVE GOLDEN RINGS worked as a grid-spanning revealer, and that SLUMBERS wrapped neatly around its middle. Among the other four-letter "rings" I considered were two measurements (HOUR and MILE) and two animals (BEAR and CALF). Favorite answer: Monsieur HULOT, who's usually overshadowed by his alter ego Jacques TATI, at least in crosswords.

POW Thu 12/26/2013
IDAHOSAFTERALL
ARRANTTIAMARIA
NUCLEARENGINEER
GOOGLESTRONG
SIENNAALEE
DRJGREENALGAE
IKESVARIG
POTENTIALENERGY
AIREDDOPE
RIFLERANGEZAP
BARAINARUT
ECARDSVARIES
GENERALDISARRAY
EMIRATESSIERRA
MESSTENTOLDSAW

By the time this reaches you, I hope all who celebrate have had a Merry Christmas.

It's unusual to see theme answers arranged like the second and fourth ones in this puzzle — with a "cheater"* and not spanning the rest of the grid. However, I had to do that. I tried not having the cheaters and using the 10's and 15's in all four combinations (I didn't want the revealer in the middle; I didn't want the top and bottom 15's only one row apart from the 10's), and found that the fill went much smoother with this arrangement. (That's even with IERI, which I definitely didn't want, but had to use.)

Two things about the low word count for a themed puzzle. One, I confess that I tried to go lower than that (tried making 9D or 10D 7 letters, tried making 3D 8 letters... but not at the same time!). Two, I didn't want to clutter the top with too many blocks, considering that I had to use a lot of them in the middle to make the themers work. Once I found that 6/8 worked in the top two rows, I didn't hesitate to use it. (Plus, I'm a themeless guy at heart, as you may be able to tell.)

About the theme answers — I didn't set out to make this kind of theme (I know we've seen these themes before), but I was fortunate to have my crossword sense (like "Spidey-sense", but a lot geekier) activated when hearing this phrase that would become the revealer. I thought that finding a mixed-up seven-letter sequence in crossworthy phrases would be harder, but I still had to think a bit to get the symmetrical pairs. I lucked upon the 15s, honestly — the 10s were much easier.

*Cheater = black square which doesn't affect the total word count. Today's has four cheaters, the short ends of the four L blocks of black squares.

Fri 12/27/2013
GOODCATCHSTORM
INSTAGRAMTINEA
NEWSREELSSLEDS
USEBEAVLIST
PEGSTICSYNCH
COLASNAOHTAE
INTALOEVERA
DJANGOUNCHAINED
AUCKLANDEVA
DITOTOHDELOS
SCAMSSOWSTUF
TELEBRIGTAI
OBOTEOBAMACARE
BONESVETOPOWER
EXERTASHKENAZI

This puzzle went through several rewrites before settling on the final themeless. CALVIN AND HOBBES (my favorite entry) is the perfect answer, I think. It's well-known by multiple generations, universally beloved and evokes some really fun memories.

Big thanks to Dan, Carol and Grant (to name a few) for their help putting this one together. Dan adds: "It was a great deal of fun to participate in the creation of this puzzle (as it is every semester). Any crossword enthusiast (at least 55 years old) would find this class immensely rewarding."

Sat 12/28/2013
JUMBOFRIESSRTA
ONIONRINGSUIES
GUNSLINGERGPAS
SMAEDGERPASSE
PAGOGARNET
MOJAVESTUCCO
EDUCEBORNTORUN
WISEBARAKATNO
LETSPARTYSTEPS
PEORIAPIERCE
ODETTEMILD
FIATSATOLLDAD
ONCESMILEYFACE
LAHRSENTIMENTS
DRYSANYONEELSE
Sun 12/29/2013 TAKE A BREAK
PBOOKTUNESPICKP
VENTISTACYATLAS
ELITEAUTOSCOATI
TOOVERBALCUEWIZ
OWNSTSELIOTISEE
CARAFL
SIDEWALKCHALK
BOWERAFOULQUILT
AMANANAOMIIMDUE
WALTWHITMANBRIDGE
DREIUNERCANOES
SANGHIYA
PWATCHHUBOUTOFP
PEPSILAPATCIVIC
ALPDRESSRACKETH
SCABATABRASRTA
SOREPIGPENSUPIN
EMERSTOOLIEDANG
RELAPBALLSFORGE
TENETSHARK
CIERALOUSE
HOSHEARTFELTPSA
OBAMADOILYHAITI
TRAMPDONORERROR
PACESSKYPEDEEPP

I've always liked Sunday puzzles that have multiple layers to them. With such a big grid, if you crack the theme early (or even worse, off the title) it can often feel like a slog to finish. The more twists the solver has to uncover, the longer they stay engaged and the more "aha" moments they'll hopefully have. With this puzzle, my original idea of a pool table-shaped grid with POCKET rebus squares took up a lot of real estate in the grid as it was, with 12 answers already locked in place, but I thought that the puzzle needed something more, particularly in the middle sections. I tried to narrow the words-that-end-with-pool-terms phrases to only physical objects to make the theme as tight as I could. Finally, I was happy with the addition of the POOL BALLS in a triangle, something added about a month after I had put the other thematic material in the grid.

When I submitted this to Will Shortz, he informed me that he had run a Sunday theme almost exactly like this in 2006 in a puzzle by Michael Shteyman. I was bummed, because I usually check my theme ideas on Cruciverb or XwordInfo to make sure I'm not regurgitating a theme that I just solved recently. Although I'm sure I didn't solve Michael's puzzle (because I was 13 at the time and wasn't solving crosswords yet), it's embarrassing nonetheless that I didn't do my due diligence in checking. I'm left with the uncomfortable feeling that some might think that I plagiarized his idea. So, if anyone had their solving experience ruined by remembering the other puzzle, I apologize. I think it is an interesting question, though: Is it on the constructor to look to see if their idea has ever been done before, or is it on the editor to remember which themes they've run before and inform the constructor? What if a constructor comes up with a great idea but notices that someone did it 12 years ago? Is there some sort of statute of limitations past which an idea can be reused? I don't know the answer, but I know that in the future I'll try to be more careful.

Mon 12/30/2013
WINGZITIABODE
ESAUAPEDBRUIN
BANEPANTSUITED
ABASHNOAHOTTO
PENTUPANGERHAW
PLASMAPAPERS
REFSGARY
PINTMEASURE
POSEOZMA
SOWHATMESSRS
OPEPONTLEVEQUE
ATRATORAARUBA
PUNTRETURNVIAL
ENACTENVYESTE
REPOSSKATSHOD

I constructed this puzzle, my 100th New York Times submission, in June 2012. I'd seen several vowel progressions from around that time period and decided I wanted to try my hand at constructing one. So I went into my construction software program and figured out how to generate every possible four-letter vowel progression with respect to the second letter. It was quite a challenge to find a vowel progression with only common words that had not already been published, but I finally hit upon PANT/PENT/PINT/PONT/PUNT. I wasn't thrilled that PUNT RETURN ended up forcing PANT SUITED, the only theme entry where the P?NT arrangement isn't completely separate, but I appreciated that all the theme entries felt lively and would be New York Times debuts. The grid was rather challenging, but I still was able to include many entries I really like, such as POWER NAP, SO WHAT, WEB APP and SQUISH. I was expecting the puzzle to run on a Tuesday, since some of the fill is a bit "chewy," though I'm pleased to have another Monday. Enjoy!

POW Tue 12/31/2013
AFLACMYBADBHT
LLAMAAERIELEE
LIVINGLARGEINN
SPAOUTSJUNCO
HORATIOALGER
XANADUSKYE
TWIRLPOLEFOB
ROCKETSREDGLARE
ALEHAGSIBIZA
IDOLAVALON
PREMIUMLAGER
LOUPEETTAARF
AIRCHIVASREGAL
GLOUMBERIMAGE
ESSTOMEIPUREE

I am excited to have my fifth puzzle published in the NYT today! The inspiration for this puzzle came from a beer I was drinking at the time. Not any old beer, mind you, but a nice, smooth LAGER — and a wonderful word that I found could be anagrammed an additional four ways. Of the nine total puzzles I have had accepted by the NYT to date, this one was the easiest for me to construct, and when I look back at my construction notes, I only had these five theme entries from the get-go. At the time, I was running most of my theme ideas by my mentor, Nancy Salomon, and her response to this idea was "works for me" and I was thrilled when I heard it had "worked" for Will Shortz as well!

Hope you enjoy the puzzle — have a safe celebration this New Year's Eve and a wonderful 2014!

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