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Puzzles for December, 2014
with constructor comments

Mon 12/1/2014
OPTICUDDERSAC
ARENANOISEUGH
ROCKMYWORLDIRA
PEEROFTEN
ALLTOLDGOURMET
PAIRUPBUSBOY
INGOTBUILTFAB
ACHYCELLOPARE
NETSHALELINDA
MUTINYSITCOM
PHYSICSZEPHYRS
LIFERFEES
URIFLOATMYBOAT
MERREATANOBLE
PEEYIKESCASED

Hello all! Landing in a Monday slot has been a personal goal for a while, with more failures than I care to admit. I really appreciate those who do it better than I do, with a near-perfect balance of smoothness and snappiness. REATA still irks me, but it permitted STIR FRY, ZEPHYRS, LIP SYNC, and SITCOM, so I went with it. Anyway, I hope the final product suits your fancy!

By the way, I still have a lot to learn about clues, because Mr. Shortz changed most of them. The only one I wished he had kept was 25 down — I had a pyrotechnician instead of an arsonist.

Tue 12/2/2014
ZOUNDSDAMNWOW
EXPERTALAIANA
BERATEFLIXLEN
UNITAPTTOMTIT
SITKAFANBELT
CHIDETERIARLO
PANELBLAST
ALGALORCREFER
SHOOTEMOTE
DOHSENYAABRAM
ENOUNCELETIT
FEMBOTSSTTRIB
REBTAROHETERO
AYRCROCICESAW
GEEHECKCURSES

Out of nowhere, it popped into my head one day that [Holy cow] would make a suitable clue for ZOUNDS as well as ZEBU. Whether this kind of spontaneous realization is a sign of improving thematic awareness or an indication of deteriorating mental stability I'll leave for you readers to decide. The smart money's on the latter, since I'm not sure I was ever playing with a full deck to begin with. More like with a euchre deck, say.

Anyway, the hope that enough similar combos would constitute a decent theme led me to start searching for others. Discovering CURSES / BOWS was the crucial point of construction, as this puzzle, at least in its present form, might have proved impossible to build without it. In fact, if I hadn't found those symmetrical entries for the SE corner, I probably would have abandoned the effort altogether. ZOUNDS / ZEBU was just too nice of a combo, in my opinion, to contemplate making the puzzle without.

Will and Joel caught and fixed a subtle but dumb oversight of mine, replacing DARN with DAMN at 7a. DAMN *was* in that spot in earlier drafts, but I changed it to DARN for some unimportant reason, completely overlooking the resultant duplication. It was downright mortifying to think that I'd compromised the puzzle with something so easily corrected, all the more so considering that I'd noticed the mistake myself but hadn't yet submitted my own revision. But they did correct it, and relief washed over me in an awesome wave. So, GRAZIE MILLE, MERCI BEAUCOUP, MUCHAS GRACIAS.

Bonus points for identifying the movie paraphrased above. "Do you like Huey Lewis and the News?"

Wed 12/3/2014
PAPAALPHASJAM
ULANGIAMBIUFO
PARTYANIMALMRS
ASKSOVERTEAPOT
AIKENGENT
LEVEESALTOPIC
AVERSEBASEPATH
PENPANDATHE
INUNDATESUCCOR
STEERIRSLAHTI
COSTACCRA
KRAKOWUNLEADED
EELPENNYARCADE
YESEDITORAMEN
SLODEPOSESSNS

This was submitted 7/7/2009 and accepted the following December, so I'm thrilled to see it finally make the paper. It was submitted as a Thursday, though the theme is on the simple side so using it as a Wednesday makes sense. If I were to redo it today, I'd try to avoid the partial ITHOT and the abbr. SAS, but otherwise the fill seems pretty clean. I'm glad my EPA clue and a couple of my punny clues made the cut.

Thu 12/4/2014
OBSESSSCRABBLE
DETECTHOORAYED
DEALERATTRACTS
STYNOBLEBABE
REVUEISABEL
WORDIERANKA
ARESSIRIABS
ICEDERIDESCEO
LADOPUSAMAT
TEENDANGERS
DEBASEPEKOE
ETESSEEITMOI
CHRISTIEMAKING
CARNIVALBRONCO
ANAGRAMSOYSTER

David:

Creating this puzzle was a Herculean effort. It began back in 2013 when I approached Kacey Walker with the question "Want to write a puzzle together?" We met through her husband shortly after I moved to San Diego, and I knew she would be game for trying something difficult. Given her interest in programming and Scrabble, we quickly settled on the theme: present solvers with a Scrabble rack and have them anagram the letters for the theme answers. The twist was that each rack would anagram in multiple ways — exactly 3, in fact — and so the puzzle would be a step up from the famous BOBDOLE/CLINTON puzzle of 1996, where the clue "Lead story in tomorrow's newspaper (!)" had not one, but two answers. We both loved the idea of taking these "Schrödinger puzzles" to the next level.

Original grid

The challenges in this were immense: finding racks that had exactly three anagrams, making sure all three anagrams were well-known words, avoiding triplets that had three different letters in the same spot (creating a triplet in the crossing that would get but a single clue), figuring out a black-square arrangement that would accommodate all this insanity, filling the crosses and writing clues that didn't feel forced, making sure the grid was clean, and on and on. Our initial effort had four of these Scrabble racks built around a center black square (see right). Can you see the three words in each septet?

This grid was ultimately rejected — words like RSA were too obscure, and a few of the clues were too forced and couldn't be fixed. Getting that rejection was hard. The two of us put in a tremendous amount of time on this version: Kacey wrote a program that searched for the well-known triplets; we argued over which to select; I went through endless drafts of the black square placement; and we spent months trying to fill, clean up, clue, edit, and re-clue the beast. For me, the neatest aspect of the final grid was that it had 81 different possible solutions (how would Will even print the solution?!), depending on what anagram choice a person made for each of the four Scrabble racks.

After the rejection, we decided that using four theme answers was simply too much. It hamstrung the grid in powerful ways, and led to substandard fill. When we moved down to three we had more freedom, and this allowed us to include SCRABBLE and ANAGRAMS as theme answers. It also resulted in a non-standard black-square placement, which I think is fun, especially for long-time solvers who constantly see the same old grids.

Final grid

In the final version shown to the left, Kacey was responsible for all the words starting at the central I, moving northeast, then around the corner and to the western edge. I did the other half: from the I to the southwest and then east. The clues were also split — Kacey did the Downs, I did the Acrosses — and we talked about all the clues that had to represent multiple words, like W/RAIL and N/ROTARY.

The rejection of the original version was also fortuitous. Between the creation of the first and second versions, a new version of the Scrabble dictionary was announced. Any new words would be legal in tournament play starting on December 1, 2014. Could we get the new grid constructed in time to celebrate this changing of the lexical guard (yes!)? Were any of our anagram triplets really quadruplets because of the new words (no!!)? Would Will be interested in celebrating the new dictionary with a Scrabble-themed puzzle (yes!!!)?

Kacey and I hope you enjoy this labor of love. It is her first puzzle, and sets a high bar for any future constructions. As for me, I think this is my favorite puzzle of any I have constructed.

Fri 12/5/2014
GODIHOPENOTDAD
ITUNESSTOREICE
STEVECARELLVIM
TETEITEYESIDO
ROSINSXESIN
TREJAWWIFE
STIRBORICBIS
TURNEDTHETABLES
ENEGOWNSMRED
ATENCOQBEE
DARINOBLAST
ANIMALMSGTHEO
NONDIELAUGHING
CIGEVELKNIEVEL
ELSRELEASEDATE

I did this one the (sort-of) good old-fashioned way — by hand. I say "sort of" because I didn't quite use pencil and graph paper, but Microsoft Excel. I think I might have singlehandedly crashed onelook.com at one point during the construction process, if not worn out the "?" key on my keyboard. This had been one of the odder crossword goals of mine, to get a freestyle hand-constructed puzzle published. I'm glad I did it, because I have gained a completely new respect for those folks who did this before computers were a thing … and for the few of those who still don't use them. It's hard to keep away from crosswordese when doing it this way.

I'd be pointing out the obvious by saying that the whole thing started with 1-Across; when you're building these things manually, you really have to have a definitive seed answer at a definitive position. Happily, Will loved the answer I put there. It progressed (slowly) from NW to NE, through the center to the SW, and then to the SE.

As the hand-constructing process goes, the black square arrangement went through myriad changes to make this thing work; I wasn't even originally planning on having a grid-spanning entry in the middle, but it just kinda worked out that way after building the NE. The SE was the painstaking part — I had to do it twice. There was one particular entry (BADASS) that I thought may have been OK for the Times, but Will didn't quite feel the same way. (There were a few other iffy entries in that corner that pushed it over the edge, too.) So, true to form, I revised it the same way (it took another four weeks, on and off) until I got it into its final form.

(Shameless plug: I'm gonna be doing my own crosswordy thing at least once a week. It's like I've given myself my own playground now!)

POW Sat 12/6/2014
HMSBOUNTYSLIM
EYEOFNEWTTWINE
PLANTFOODHANDM
TOLDACTHANKIE
AVISZOOLANDER
DENMENNENIDES
GODSENDVICK
ALARMVENTI
SOSOBLESSES
POPOBIGCATJAB
KIMJONGILROME
JERSEYWETAVER
ADAMSCANTABILE
MATESOSCARBAIT
BTENTHEXFILES
Sun 12/7/2014HOLDUP MAN
MAPSMACSAMEMOHOPTO
ACAIBERRYMANTAIVIED
SUPPORTINGACTORDALES
SPASMSCATHESSELLS
BRACEYOURSELFAHI
MAWRARODSANERID
FREEBIEDMVDIEORE
ASIDESSHAREINGRAFTS
GLEEPOBOXNOHITS
OTHERURNLEFTSNETWT
MITTSHEAVYDUTYMARIA
SCOTTSALEMSODOWETO
FEESDEEPWEBBRAN
METRICSERIESERAYGUN
ASHNAPSATRANATAB
ACEMESAEONSTHEA
MAWUPPERBACKPAIN
POETSAIRTUBEYALTA
CARVESHOULDERTHELOAD
ADLERRASTAROBOTSUMO
PEDROOGEESGNAWODES

My love affair with robotics came on suddenly, like a transistor activating. I hadn't had much exposure to electronics during undergrad, so I was apprehensive when a friend of mine goaded me into taking a higher-level electromechanics class in grad school. It felt nearly impossible at first, but once I figured out how simple a transistor really was (it's basically a tiny electrical switch), the leaps toward building robots came one after another: H-bridge schematic

  • Hooking up four transistors into an "H-bridge" configuration allows you to drive a motor backward and forward using low-voltage logic signals.
  • Two or more motors give you a drive train.
  • Building a chassis on top of a drive train is difficult, but it's more time-consuming than intellectually challenging.
  • Once you have a chassis to mount apparatuses on, you can really make things interesting. Light sensors. Switches to detect contact. Solenoids and motors to move things …
  • ... like WEAPONRY.

Pacific Rim poster

And from there, I became obsessed with robot combat. If "Pacific Rim" had been released back then, I would have marched directly to the local military branch office and demanded to be a Jaeger pilot. (Are you listening to my genius recruiting idea, armed forces?)

Our project first quarter was to build an autonomous robot to play "American Gladiators" — it first had to detect whether it was on offense or defense based on where it was placed in the arena. On offense, your objective was to pick up a foam cube and deposit it into a goal. On defense, you had to protect the goal. There could only be one winner — mano a mano, roboto a roboto. Once the whistle blew, the metal gloves came off. (My team ended in a three-way tie for first, thanks to some last-minute sensor tune-ups and a bit of luck.)

Sir Kill-a-lot, a personal favorite of mine

Oh right, there's a puzzle today. After laying everything out, I couldn't get around the fact that the SE corner required long fill and was highly constrained. At first, all I could work in was ROBOTLIKE, which I later realized sounded silly compared to ROBOTIC. Luckily, ROBOT SUMO 1.) fit in perfectly, making for a nice clean fill, and 2.) was okayed by Will, after I went on and on about what an incredible sport it was, not to mention how great it is in promoting technical education through amazing fun. Thanks to Will for putting up with my crazy interests!

(I thought long and hard about putting RORSCHACH in that ROBOT SUMO slot, but I was worried that people might have trouble with OPERON, which is a basic(ish) concept in biology / genetics but it's certainly not a layman's term. I didn't like the possibility of people ending up with OPERAN / RARSCHACH or OPERUN / RURSCHACH. Not very satisfying when that sort of thing happens.)

Now, back to work on my "Pacific Rim 2" script-in-progress. I'm pretty sure the robot sumo will win in the end, but you should never count out one of the original Titans. Taking all bets ...

Mon 12/8/2014
ARTWHIPBIGOT
TORHANOIONETO
SAYHEYKIDOCTET
ELMERSSLABORA
ADELESEENOEVIL
MAZEDIODE
TITMAGIIRKS
SCIFICONVENTION
PUMANEROTIL
EVERSRAND
SOFARAWAYTIARA
NILNEILPOSSES
ALICESIOUXCITY
FUELSHENRIARE
UPSETNARCNOT

Kevin:

I'm very lucky to be able to collaborate with Andrea and very pleased that we're having a Monday puzzle published together. Andrea is one of the most accomplished Monday constructors of all time. She's had 31 Monday puzzles published (now 32), which is the 6th most in the Shortz era. Plus she's fun to hang out with, she's friendly and nice to everybody, and she organizes lunches at restaurants in San Francisco for Bay Area constructors to get together!

We started on this puzzle in early 2013. I emailed Andrea with a long list of possibilities, and we narrowed them down as follows. We started with a long list of SAY possibilities. I was trying to find a SAY 10 to go with SUE GRAFTON, but Andrea decided early on that her favorite SAY answer was SAY HEY KID, so we decided to look for a SUE 9.

Eventually we figured out it didn't have to be SUE, it could be SOO or SIOUX, so we went with SIOUX CITY. I proposed SEE NO EVIL and SO FAR AWAY (clued as the Carole King song) early on, and we both liked both of those, so we stuck with those. We had some SIGH possibilities, but none we were crazy about, and several of them were even lengths. Eventually we figured out we could do SCI FI something, with SCI FI CONVENTION and SCI FI SHORT STORY both as good options that were length 15.

I find easy puzzles are hard to make and harder puzzles are easier to make, because the universe of fill answers you can use in an early week puzzle is relatively small, but the possibilities for a later week puzzle are much broader. For this puzzle, we went through at least a dozen versions of the grid before we found one that was clean and crisp enough to be Monday-worthy.

ACME:

I love collaborating with folks who are really excited and dedicated, like Kevin. It makes me feel like there is more of a community that goes beyond just an individual little puzzle. He had a nice idea based on my vowel-run "poems" that stretched it in fun ways. It was a true collaboration.

Tue 12/9/2014
TWISTODDSETTU
MONTHBLUEQUIZ
INTROLENTUGLI
HERNIAOASTS
ASEAEGGCELL
THEMDEUCEDCOT
HOVEREERSODO
EVERESTDOODLER
EENSHEADELTS
LSTAIRCONVETO
BLANCHEAGES
OSOLERESOLE
AHSONOUNGUMBO
TALKAVERLEERY
SHOEBODYEDNAS
Wed 12/10/2014
LEWISDADDWARF
AMISHELIRIVAL
SUNNIBIGATONE
THORIUMWHITE
OATTRIPIEDOT
UTEZEESMRS
CESIUMFORESTER
HULLECOOAHU
PALLADIUMJAMES
SICONEAETE
KGBQEDDAWSTS
MERCURYWELLS
ANIMELAYINERT
RIDOFAGENIGER
TEENYNEDEPOXY

It came as quite a (pleasant) surprise when this puzzle was accepted because I worried that too few solvers would enjoy both aspects of the theme (the chemistry and the literature). My original submission had the theme answers THORIUM WHITE, MERCURY WELLS, CESIUM LEWIS, and OXYGEN HENRY, but Will asked for a revision because O. Henry only uses one initial while the other authors use two, and the result is what you see here!

I was glad for the chance to revise the grid. Although I like the original theme set and the new theme set roughly the same, the original submission only had two long non-theme slots, which were filled by the somewhat boring entries PATHLESS and SALT LICK. In my revision, I tried to work in more interesting long downs so that solvers could still enjoy the puzzle even if the theme did not strike their fancy.

POW Thu 12/11/2014
ACTGRANOBLIGE
NOHRAVENOIDEA
ODETOJOYEXPELS
NACHOWORSTSTY
LEVISUFO
REUBENSLIPTBS
IQTESTPENSHOE
CUTSHARDGTERN
CUERENEEDAMES
ISRACNERIBOSE
PLUISNOT
CPAPULLSGOING
HOTPOTCLUBSODA
ESTERCDANANAM
ZENITHSMUTSKY
Fri 12/12/2014
ABBESSAMPEDUP
COOLAIRCOLGATE
TOSTADACROONER
OKTOBERFEST
NEONKEEPITREAL
ERNFIGHTWILCO
VICARJICAMA
HIJINKSBASEMEN
ADONISSECTS
ZONESMILKSCAP
ELISHAOTISYULE
LEDZEPPELIN
THEWIREFRANKEN
RETINOLSALTINE
EYETESTTEENSY

Original grid

This puzzle went through a strange evolution. I submitted the initial draft (to right) in August 2013, but Will nixed it because he didn't think PASTAFARIAN would be a well-known enough term for Times solvers (naturally, I threw down that word in my very first Devil Cross puzzle). He said it was a close call, which I interpreted as, "Refill that part of the grid and try again." I went back to work, and after a few attempts to make a close switch with PASTA FAZOOL proved unsuccessful, I settled on another grid, which Will accepted in March 2014.

Second grid

It was a pretty clean grid (see left), but a month ago I took another look and cringed that I left in a couple of not-so-great entries like OATER, MSEC, and PBA. Because I had some creaky fill in my last Times puzzle that I still wish I had excised, I decided to go back and give this one another revision.

The final version is about two-thirds different from the original acceptance, but I think it's the best one. I'm just glad Will agreed and ran it so soon afterwards. For me, being able to fit in one of the best bands ever and one of the best TV shows ever at 46- and 48-Across was icing on the cake.

Interestingly, I'm responsible for the last two instances of both AEROS and WILCO in the Times puzzle. Both times I submitted similar clues to refer to the old Houston-based A.H.L. team and the Chicago-based band. Both times Will instead chose clues to refer to a quaint term for airplanes and a radio reply. He may be trying to tell me something.

On another note: listen up, new crossword constructors! The five of us behind the Indie 500 crossword tournament are accepting submissions for a sixth tournament puzzle. The deadline is January 15.

Finally, happy birthday to my Dad, who got me into this whole puzzle thing.

Sat 12/13/2014
BUTTOCKSACROSS
ONEONONENOHOPE
LIQUORUPTOOHOT
STUSARTISTLIL
HAILLENOCALI
ORLESSTANALES
IDALTDWALMART
MOREALOE
SHOOTERYONBAD
WIFEEAUGIJANE
ETATTINAALTS
EMSIMLATEBLOC
PEOPLEBRISBANE
EUREKALINKEDIN
APTESTEASYREAD

Ashton:

This was the first themeless James and I collaborated on, around two years ago now. Our ideas about what makes a themeless great were starting to evolve towards a more "holistic" view, for lack of a better word. In the era of computer-assisted construction, a scattershot collection of great entries isn't enough — it becomes harder and harder to tell what's human and what's machine.

Instead of making themelesses that are simply lists of words (and judging them by simply enumerating their "good" and "bad" words), we focused on trying to craft puzzles with interrelations and echoes and interesting juxtapositions in them, so they could only be fully appreciated by considering them whole. Hopefully this puzzle's NW corner has this effect (relating the two long downs and joining a triplet of entries with identical clues were two other attempts at achieving something similar). The end result isn't perfect, but we hope the solver can feel the human effort that went into it.

James:

What he said. Ashton did the top and I did the bottom. Hope you like it!

Sun 12/14/2014"WELL, GOLLY!"
LINENUPENDSATOMDNA
OMITSNANOOKNOTARAP
KITTYLITURGYNETIZENS
INSANETFALANALOGUE
CANIDIVAAWOL
SOWSLAPDKANJIARTIST
ACHOOCARRENTALDANTE
WEIRDALGAEEELHENSON
TATTEREGADSAVERTOT
ONEIOTANIEEPICDIPS
GENIEJERKREACTION
SALSSOOTEURIACOCCA
TAODANAADMITREDTAG
INVAINNEEBEEGEELINE
EDEMAANTIPASTOSEVEN
GPSILOVEYOUTROTREST
GAPEMUNGAPOP
ARMORERSCONGBESTIE
GOESINTOOHDARJEELING
USEDEENPENTADLANDO
ASKEDDYPROEMSSWAYS

The idea for this puzzle came from out of the blue, as long as you define "out of the blue" as "Ian Livengood's 'Chee Whiz!' puzzle of 8/3/14." While solving that puzzle, adding CHEE sounds to different phrases, I thought, "Gee, wouldn't it be interesting to add a GEE sound to different phrases?" Where do I come up with this stuff?!

I immediately fell in love with the phrase NINTENDO OUIJA. But not everyone pronounces it WEE-JEE, so it might fail for some. I asked my fellow cruciverbalists and got mixed results. I decided to push forward and make a weekday-sized puzzle with it, until at the last minute, Amy Reynaldo hammered it into my head. I abandoned OUIJA and started thinking of other possibilities. That allowed me to get GPS I LOVE YOU and OH DARJEELING, two of my favorites, along with KITTY LITURGY and WEIRD ALGAE. I figured I'd have enough for a Sunday, which has been a goal since I started constructing. So, thank you, Amy, for helping me make a better product!

Will and Joel said that Add-A-Sound themes were becoming common, so what put this puzzle over the top were a couple of secondary goals that I set. I wanted each GEE sound to be spelled differently, and I wanted them spread out within their respective entries; two are at the beginning, two at the end, and three in the middle. One interesting change: GOD NO was originally OODLE [Website behind Facebook Marketplace]. Will's entry is definitely livelier, but it comes with PENTAD and PROEMS where I had CELLAR and DREAMS. (And MUNG was ANNO.) So, a tradeoff. No amount of fiddling with the grid produced any better result.

Most of my clues were changed a little bit or completely (64%), but I'll proudly claim the clues for NANU, NACL, TOENAIL, and STOOP. I wish my clue for OH DARJEELING had gotten through ["Abbey Road" song with the lyric, "I'll never steep you alone"?], but I understand why it had to go. And I liked [Never, on a Sonntag] for NIE and [Four-letter word, boringly] for TETRAGRAM. But I do like Will and Joel's clues for DRAGNET and AWOL.

I submitted this puzzle at the end of September, a mere 11 weeks ago! That's light-speed in the crosswording world. Will's Sunday supply is comparatively low, creating opportunities for us Sunday-hopefuls.

Mon 12/15/2014
SLAPBETTECRAW
EUROUSHERRAGE
ACTISTANLEYCUP
SKINNYDIPSPENT
YETIMEHTA
ALAELASHES
BRATTVSTAREMU
LILSKITRIPAMP
OFFOILPANPDAS
WEAPONMEMO
RATSOEROS
EPOCHSTEELTRAP
SUMMERCAMPABLE
AREAOAKIELIVE
IRONCRETESTOP

C.C.:

Original grid

Dennis and I made this puzzle in the spring of 2012 when he finally settled down in Florida. Will changed the middle & lower right corners and removed a few icky entries (see right). He also changed most of the clues and cleared up our vague reveal entry clue.

DENNIS:

As most new constructors collaborating with Zhouqin will tell you, she does most of the heavy lifting. I'm shocked and grateful that our first submission of an NYT puzzle was accepted, albeit with Will's deft "adjustments."

Tue 12/16/2014
HUNTGLEEATAD
OREOEARTHNAME
BARRYWHITESKIN
OLDNAGCANTEENS
WAHRELATE
ROBINWILLIAMS
EDUCEDOOKTAB
AILEDEGOTIARA
MELTHISRONIN
MAURICESENDAK
CRADLERUB
HARDTASKPLATTE
ANKATHEBEEGEES
ITEMSAPORORES
ROTSGIBBGINO
Wed 12/17/2014
DAWGSLURSCFOS
PLEAHUNANRITT
ITLLTAKEFOREVER
LLAMAADELA
MAKEHASTESLOWLY
ATNOONREAPSOS
SEINEZILCH
SETSMITESROSA
HYPERJELLO
ISMANISKASDAN
NOTUNATTRACTIVE
LIETOAROAR
ASTHICKASABRICK
NENETEMPTESAU
DEARSWISSAHME

When I first submitted this grid to Will in March 2013 (see right), Paula let me know that most of the theme examples "feel contrived." Before I went to work on a new grid, I shared my guess that, among the themers, NOT UNATTRACTIVE was okay, and Will replied, "That's a fine example of litotes," so we were off and running. Original grid

I was expecting this to run on a Thursday. Hence, each theme answer was originally clued by its one-word, figure-of-speech. When Will decided to run it on a Wednesday, he took on the task of simplifying a lot of my clues including adding a hint to each of the theme clues, and as always, did a bang up job. Other examples: [Part of a bargain] for PLEA became [Subject of a court bargain], [Abba hit] for SOS became [Maritime alert], [Beans] for ZILCH became [Nada].

One of my favorite clues that I was both delighted and a little surprised to see make the final cut was 'Squash units' for SETS. I'm guessing Will has a soft spot for anything that's related to racquet sports.

Hope you enjoyed it.

Thu 12/18/2014
DIPSASPSTODGY
OMENMHOTINORE
JALOPIESEXTRAS
OMEGAMIMEHIVE
RIPTOPIECES
THERMOOLDS
LIVEANDBREATHE
CCEDOYEAUDI
KNUCKLEDRAGGER
CURLODEONS
DETERIORATE
REIDSPANAMINO
ARAFATPIGLATIN
MIRAGEITSRELY
SEATONDANAMEX

I have a chronic tendency to underestimate puzzle difficulty. This one I tried to gear towards a typical Wednesday; my guess is it will turn out to be a hard Thursday. Fortunately, I also have a chronic tendency to write harder-than-average clues, so these mistakes often balance each other out. One clue that was really toughened up, though, was PIG LATIN's. My submitted clue was [Secret language the constructor has disguised the five italicized clues using], which you can readily see is pretty explicit, and a bit verbose. The published clue still indicates that there's something amiss with the theme clues, but it does so without giving away too much information about the trick. And in fewer words.

Fri 12/19/2014
SPAOLIVERTWIST
TONPIRATERADIO
ELKSTANDSALONE
NOLOENETULLES
OPENMRISAMO
POSEASTRAWLS
ANTSYACRESEER
DIROJTRIALANI
SEALORYXADDIN
SPIREABRAVOS
NECTOYSTORE
PESETAAFRACID
DRACOMALFOYATO
FIGURESKATELIU
SEATTLESLEWSST

Brad::

I had the stack in the SW and was struggling with the "J" in JOE CAMEL. Neither any 15s nor any 7s with J in that position spoke to me. Enter Doug, who really got us unstuck with O.J. TRIAL. Lots of the fresh stuff here you owe to him. Some of my favorite clues include the ones we had for TRIX, OFFAL, and NEC. It might be worth noting that 25A is a terrific scene from Don Carlo, my favorite Verdi piece and quite possibly my favorite opera, period.

Doug:

Joe Camel shower curtain

Why would anyone want a JOE CAMEL shower curtain? And yet, back in the heyday of Joe Camel, that was one of the promotional items you could get for turning in proof-of-purchase slips called "Camel Cash." I'm not sure why I know or remember that. As for the O.J. TRIAL, I remember almost everything about that. I lived in Southern California in 1995, and it was impossible to escape the wall-to-wall coverage. Let's see what else is in the grid: DRACO MALFOY? I know a little about him, even though *gasp* I've never read a single "Harry Potter" book. I don't think either one of us has. So, no spoilers, please.

POW Sat 12/20/2014
POTFARMSWAMPUM
AFROBEATIGUANA
STARBASECALLON
TENTACLECREEDS
ANKHHILDASOUL
MINEODEA
POPGUNDOCILITY
APLENTYMOLIERE
REALGOODULSTER
TRYWASPS
YAMSCLUEDMEME
TRACERPRENATAL
ROTATEHATEMAIL
ALERTSIPADMINI
YESYESNETSALES

KEVIN:

Working with collaborators lately has been great fun. Ian's puzzle sense and high standards with skill to match are helpful assets when it comes to co-writing a themeless. We had originally guessed this grid would be run on a Friday.

Will's notes about the clue editing are fascinating. Receiving feedback this detailed is a somewhat uncommon opportunity, so for at least constructors it's just gold. When it comes to writing difficult clues, I've found it can be hard to grasp the difference between misdirection and vagueness, and a number of the comments indeed relate to clues deemed overly vague.

IAN:

Kevin is a rare triple threat in the game: fill, clues, themes. He's equally skilled with all of them. That's his awesome 1A answer/clue combo. So naturally it was a blast to collaborate.

Several marquee entries got scooped before this was published, so apologies if you've already seen entries like PALEO DIET and IPAD MINI in grids. Also, glad to see my clues for 30D (GEL) and 56A (HATE MAIL) made the cut!

Hope solvers like it!

Sun 12/21/2014SEASON'S GREETINGS
ADRATENEATBARSCENE
COUSINAFROWINELABEL
HOHUMDINGERHOKEYWORD
ERRCATCHOVAALELEE
BOSSYINSPIRENAIR
OOHOOHPESTOSACBVDS
BLACKEYEDHOPISTHAI
EDUCSOLISUIOGRES
SELESGOESGREENLAURA
ENSMIASTIERFILMSET
DESPICABLEHOMIE
ABOUTTOONEIOTOECOP
CIRCASANDSTONESKATE
UTAHNENDPECSUPON
NEAPNOMONEYHOEDOWN
BEGSOREINALLYVONNE
USESTESTEESOGLES
IPSISMANSOCEANMOP
CROSSHOBOHOKUMTOPAPA
KIDGLOVESOWLSTUAREG
STATEPENTEATETRADE
Mon 12/22/2014
ELIDECAMPJAG
REMUSASIAPULL
GAPESSHARPEDGE
SPEDAWAYMEDIAN
DAYOREAR
SNITNOTESOBIT
TOMESREMAPRNA
OWEPEDXINGAPR
RANFLEASASKED
MYTHERNSTEENY
ORCSEARP
STOPITSTAMPEDE
PIPEDREAMAIDES
AVIDISLESCAMP
ROECOENSOLON

It's often hard to remember what actually triggered a puzzle. In this case, I think I was pondering "crossings," like RR crossings — which didn't seem to have much of a future. But PED looked promising, and here is the result. My serendipity moment came with cluing the center revealer, when I hit on the link between the PEDXINGs being at corners and at corner locations in the puzzle. It was submitted in August of 2013.

Will made a slight grid change. I'd submitted the puzzle with INTEL at 31D and SCADS at 32D. And not surprisingly, he changed a fair number of clues. I usually balk at too-obvious gimmes (like Will's "Where China and India are" for ASIA at 14A), so my clues probably tend toward Tuesdayish. I'll try to mend my ways with future submissions.

My only quibble with a clue change is for SALE at 58D. As I write this the week before Christmas with sale inserts spilling out of the paper, "Post-Christmas store event" just doesn't seem quite on target.

For all of you devotees who keep us constructors in business, here's to a 2015 full of great puzzling!

Tue 12/23/2014
COFFEESGIANTS
OXIDIZEALGERIA
REARLITBLAZING
ENTENABLERBEE
TEEHEENEWS
ELFINEARTHY
BULLWANHATTER
BROBADSEEDGLO
SKEWERTSOJIMA
MANIACGOFOR
SFPDSLAPAT
ARERANKLESNAB
RETRACTLASCALA
GERARDOOCEANUS
HIJACKPERFUME

My first version of this puzzle had a self-centered string of I's going down the middle of the puzzle from top to bottom. It didn't look much like a beanstalk, and all that "I-business" caused some problems with the fill.

The second version had BEANBEANBEANBEAN down the middle (15x16 oversized grid) — Will did not see any magic in that.

For this accepted version, I put the only two vertical block groups in the middle, with BEANSTALK connecting them. I was able to "hide" the other words in bigger words ... sort of. I went with the Wikipedia spelling of FEE, FI, FO, and FUM — there were other versions out there. I considered cluing HIJACK as "Bad thing to yell to a friend on a plane," but that would have spilled the beans. Jack and the Giant are attached to the beanstalk, and I envision this as the moment when Jack has just made it down with all the loot he stole from the poor giant, and Jack is about to grab an axe and chop down the beanstalk. The bean salesman will no doubt be harping on Jack for a cut of the profits soon ...

Original grid

The southwest portion of this grid was hard to fill — HIJACK is tough to work with, particularly on the bottom row. The version I submitted to Will (see right) is quite a bit different than what was published. My favorite entry in the whole puzzle was NO CAN DO at 63-Across, so I was surprised that Will replaced it with GERARDO. I assume he was not pleased with the combination of RENA, STR, ESCE, and IME — pretty bad, I must admit. I take this as a lesson that one is better off with a hard but fair long word, even for early week, than a bunch of weak short "glue."

Hope you enjoyed the puzzle!

Wed 12/24/2014
MOSTVANESIQS
APAIRCRANENEE
CRYMEARIVERCIA
RATEDRPARASAIL
OHOHRSLOPE
FOOTSSEARED
GOBETWEENSCOPE
MOORSITONOVER
ALARMGOBITWEEN
TATARSNIKES
RIPESINLAG
PARISALETUPELO
RPICRIMEARIVER
ESTATOMSELEVE
PEZNATALLEES

The inspiration for this puzzle came from the word "mustache" when I discovered it was a perfect homophone for "must dash." I needed two more pairs that were homophones and of the same number of letters. I came up with Cry Me a River/Crimea River and go-between/Gobi tween. Will Shortz liked the concept, but since the latter two pairs included a place name, he asked me to try to come up with a similar third pair. So the "Mustache" reluctantly had to go and Parasail/Paris ale emerged as the final pairing. With six themed entries include two pairs which overlap, it was a challenge to keep up the quality of the fill (non-thematic words).

This is my 25th puzzle in the NY Times and it is still a huge thrill to see it in print.

Thu 12/25/2014
YAMDOTBTWBOP
EMOEPAOREGANO
GOTEVENOUTMBER
GUOTINGTERSEST
ALPSUDS
EHSRIPUPEARTH
TAPWATERMORE
CHUEYNRAPETIA
HAIRENGENDER
ASKEDMAYORADD
OVALVOL
ARCHWAYMIXEDNS
TARANLAORIGAMI
OVERRUNMADZEN
ZEDNESALEEGG

Because the anagramming makes this more challenging than a typical rebus puzzle, I decided to help solvers out by placing the rebus squares symmetrically. That turned out to be pretty constraining for both the theme answers and the resulting grid.

I spend a lot of time on grid design, and it's worth noting that this grid is definitely an odd one, even for a rebus puzzle. I tried some of the more obvious designs and ended up rejecting them on the basis of fill, before settling on those odd crosses in the center. For instance, the most obvious tweak to the current design is to replace that left cross ...

. * .
* * *
. * .

with this instead:

. * .
* . .
. . *

(where * = black square, . = white square)

This is a much more efficient use of black squares which increases interlock substantially without altering the layout of the words. But it came at the cost of boring or lousy fill and I wasn't willing to pay the high price. That's a judgment call. Better interlock makes a puzzle more fun to solve, and so does better fill.

Fri 12/26/2014
ACTSTUNGSWEPT
SORELOSERCIGAR
INAMORATAANGIE
AKIMBOMRDEEDS
GENASHOESDOS
ORESLOOPSMOUE
SEATOFTHEPANTS
RENTMONEY
SAVINGSANDLOAN
OPEDICIESTNOW
APTVEILSFIVE
PRECISEHERMES
BORAXNAVYSEALS
OVATECHAPPELLE
XENONEATENSAX
Sat 12/27/2014
HESBACKMALTHUS
ETERNALAMOROSO
MARIANOPINATAS
PITCHESLEGIT
SLAKESHEBLOKE
OILELMOTIS
MTVMOVIEAWARDS
TOREFERALDODO
GRANDTHEFTAUTO
IIIAYESATL
FANCYMSSATOMS
FOSSELARSSON
ITALIANADAWARE
MORONICMAXIMAL
STERNLYSKYMALL

Yay! My first themeless publication!

Though all my NYT crossword publications thus far have been themed, I think I more prefer experimenting with the concept of what makes a "good" themeless puzzle. (If you call it a freestyle, I would advise that you watch less "Dancing with the Stars" and/or Olympic figure skating.) Is there really such a thing as a "final evolution" of themeless crosswords, as exemplified in the PBTI (Patrick Berry Themeless Ideal), an acronym coined by Rex Parker? Or, might there be newer, undiscovered, perhaps seemingly inconceivable grid patterns that, when filled diligently, might also create a(n) equally/more pleasurable, albeit bizarre, solving experience? And, how does the great unicorn that is "style," a.k.a. one's personality as a constructor, fit into all of this? I hope my themeless puzzles make these questions even harder to answer for future generations. =)

Original grid

As for this puzzle, which I jokingly labelled "MTV.Movie.Thefts" in my files, I toyed with a few ideas: (1) using 14s as semi-spanners and (2) having intersecting marquee entries. Though Will accepted my original submission (see right), I became increasingly dissatisfied with the huge black square formations on the left/right and the fill quality as a whole.

After some further experimentation, I found a nicer looking black square pattern but had to sacrifice my plan for having MICROSOFT, MTV..., GRAND..., and ADULT... intersect in such a way. However, the new grid allowed for better crossings with MTV... and GRAND... Also, oddly enough, ADULT SWIM reappeared as a fill possibility in a slightly different spot! (Prior to this, I had only heard legends of the crossword gods' mysterious ways.) Once I found that BRICK OVEN, in the spot symmetrical to ADULT SWIM, gave some good fill possibilities, the last task was to keep as many bland entries out as possible.

While the entries HEMPS, ETAIL, ADAK, ADAWARE, SNELL, OSAMA and others may not be ideal, I was more satisfied with the trade-offs in this puzzle over those in my previous iteration. Will agreed and opted to publish this one instead.

As for the clues, I see I have much room for improvement, which is to say that Will and his team rewrote new (often harder) clues for about half the entries. My favorite, completely unaltered clues are [Comes to a sudden close?] for SLAMS; ["Verily"] for TIS; [Playskool product tester] for TOT; and [Quite like] for FANCY (fortunately for the large majority of the NYT crossword solving base, I decided to not clue this with respect to Iggy Azalea's chart-topping single; you're welcome). Of Will's rewrites, I particularly enjoyed [Pre-texts] for IMS, [Limited expense?] for TRAIN FARE, [Big name in air circulation?] for SKYMALL (my original clue didn't include the first three words, which are key in giving the pun a fair chance), and [Like many ideals] for LOFTY.

I hope you enjoyed the solve and enjoy the remainder of the holiday season!

POW Sun 12/28/2014FILL-IN-THE-BLANKS
THETOPCABSKEGPUPIL
RETELLALOEVERAOKAPI
AMANDAMEANINGSLENOS
MISSINGPERSONPEEDDT
PEELDELETEDSCENE
HBOROARLIDOOMAN
PARTVICURSTLANDMINE
UNUSEDMINUTESLEOCOD
MGSNEEDBOPINIDS
IMHOTIRSLINELOADUP
CAENDROPPEDCALLVINO
ENDURECOONETOTEENS
SUMKOLASNOHOCAT
AFTDOCFORFEITEDGAME
PRICETAGSTORKLOUSED
PEPSAREARSVPETD
STRIPPEDBAREAMAS
TOOEELABANDONEDSHIP
OVALSEATENRAWNONONO
RESETSHESGONEUBOLTS
ERTESSADENOSSETTLE

This theme originated with my observation that SUPERSONIC contains the word PERSON, so I checked the clue and puzzle databases and didn't see that any constructor had connected the two words ... at least in recent history. I was off to a good start. I explored fill-in-the-blanks, e.g., Su____ic, as one way to express this theme, but a theme entry like PERSON would be too short. Then for some reason, I was inspired to interpret Su____ic as a pictoral description. Aha! MISSING PERSON! All I needed was other examples (and, indeed, they would come to me over time).

Many months earlier, I had advocated that constructors cram less theme content into the daily puzzles, but rather expand the theme from, say, five entries to ten and produce a Sunday puzzle instead. Most editors have low Sunday inventory, so packed daily puzzles simply deprive it from growing. This is why I decided upon a Sunday puzzle after having produced just a single one — a collaboration, even — in 2008.

Sunday puzzles are a bear to fill. Duplicate words in the grid are a frustrating obstacle. But I fought hard against that, and I'm particularly happy with the outcome: the fill contains lively long entries cemented with clean short entries. There are no partials in the fill because clues with blanks are reserved solely for the theme entries today.

Overall, this is among my favorite puzzles on account of the success with both theme and fill. Though, I would have liked Will to keep my title "Blank expressions."

Mon 12/29/2014
ASTORMENUSLUR
MARTIONINTONE
EYECONTACTYWCA
NSALITCHIMILD
DOTCOMTEETIMES
ABITSHEP
OHBROTHEROSAGE
DUOZEROGCUT
DEBTSYOULOSTME
MICHXOUT
TEACHESTBTEAMS
HARKNORMALBOA
ISLESPELLITOUT
NYETOPELNORSE
KAYSNYSEESTES

For those of you who care about such things, I mailed this puzzle in on November 13, 2013, and it was accepted on February 5, 2014.

Every time I look over the grid, I want to read TEA CHEST as one word — the bizarro superlative TEACHEST. You know: teach, teacher, teachest.

When I submitted this puzzle, I didn't think it would be a Monday — possibly a Tuesday or Wednesday. But it seems that lately Monday themes are getting a little less straightforward and predictable. I think that's a good thing. I like a Monday with a little bit of a twist.

In looking over the grid, I guess there is nothing that really prevents this puzzle from being a Monday. The proper nouns MARTI, NIMITZ, HENSON, and MOTT might give some solvers pause. Possibly even BOB MARLEY, who makes his NYT debut today (and I think it's high time).

Speaking of Bob Marley and high times, I see that his family wants to lend his name to some kind of commercial marijuana venture. His daughter, Cedella Marley, said "My dad would be so happy to see people understanding the healing power of the herb". I think the Marley family might have an easier time touting the "healing power of the herb" if Bob hadn't died at 36. But who knows — without the ganja, maybe he would've died at 26.

Fill-wise, the only thing that really bugs me is ERO. TOS is a little hard to take, too.

Happy New Year to one and all!

Tue 12/30/2014
POMPSAGSCRAPS
ADIOSCPLLAURIE
RICOHROOINMIND
CEELOILOTOPEKA
POMPOMSOLSON
ACCUSEERDE
LOOMTARHEELSCI
LOOPDELOOPDELOOP
ALPIRONISTALPO
SESEORBITS
CHANTSHOTPAR
RECOPYACELOSES
AREOLERENPONTI
BALKANPLOHMONG
STAINSOOFSWAN

For some reason the phrase "LOOP DE LOOP" came to mind, and I thought it might become a valid puzzle theme by means of setting the letters of LOOP within an actual loop of some sort. But a few random LOOPs by themselves didn't seem adequate. Then LOOP DE LOOP DE LOOP occurred to me. By extending the concept into a repeated loop, things became interesting.

I realized that I needed to double the action — to create two "simultaneous" types of looping motion. Thus, the four-square units containing LOOP go around in a large circle within the grid. Then, as one follows the units around clockwise, the letters in LOOP are also "internally" shifted clockwise from unit to unit, so that L-O-O-P itself loops progressively, and does so twice in a circuit of the eight units. If you imagine this as an actual stunt by an aerobatic ace, the flyer is executing two full tight loops as he continues along the path of a large loop. Is this even possible in reality? I don't know — but it looks good on paper!

The puzzle had to be 16 squares wide to accommodate LOOP DE LOOP DE LOOP, and the letter positions of L-O-O-P were almost entirely controlled by the circular arrangement, the symmetry of the units, and the letter combinations that arose as L-O-O-P was shifted. Thus, unsurprisingly, and despite a revision from my first grid, there are various entries that I would otherwise strive even more determinedly to remove. Among them are the crosswordese fellow Mobotu SESE Seko, plural ALOES, and of course HERAT (aargh!). But given the intransigence of the fixed letters, I think things resolved reasonably well, and I presume Will was lenient given the evident constraints.

Wed 12/31/2014
STICKHELLORAT
AIOLIATEINORO
DENIMTHEMEPARK
OMITRACEDAY
ALPEVERPACINO
DOUBLEREVERSE
ONCEMIRA
GENDERNEUTRAL
EYRAUSES
INTERNALDRIVE
INDIESTIERFIX
MALLCOPREUP
SWEETNLOWMAIDS
EAROMARAURBAN
TBSRETRYPRNDL

This is a pretty theme dense puzzle, and as such, it came with a unique set of constraints. There are three consecutive 13-letter theme answers in the middle of the grid, which required some big blocks of black squares and also led to two R_R strings. Additionally, the 1A/68A bonus themer/revealer forced some relatively closed off corners, which I generally try to avoid.

Luckily, I was able to find a clean way to fit five long downs that each cross three theme answers and gave the grid some non-thematic liveliness. Will changed a few letters here and there, and as always, smartened up many of the clues. After this puzzle was accepted, I noticed the theme had been done before, though without the revealer and with only one repeated theme answer, so hopefully those of you with a long memory won't mind too much.