This puzzle started with the double stack of HERE'S HOPING and PRIZE INSIDE. How I got a grid of this shape in the end I'm not sure. This was still in a period when I built puzzles without the aid of a program, so that may explain it. But now I've put down my spears and cave drawings and learned how to use (Cross)fire.
I think I'm happiest with the clues on this one for two reasons. First, I love the fun facts, particularly SPANDEX, ANT, and SIXTIES. Second, most of the across clues are my own. When I first started constructing, I was such a grid hound that I gave little time to the clues in an attempt to submit as many puzzles as quickly as possible. As a nascent constructor raised on a diet of crossword blogs, I picked up their entry-fetish, where their writing focuses only on the hottest words in the themeless grid while overlooking the creative pop of the clever clues, which could make blander entries like CEASE FIRES or CEL come alive. While a puzzle need its lifeblood of OSCAR NOD's and GAME FACE's, I discovered that my early philosophy was fairly myopic. I await the day when a themeless is filled with purposely banal entries, yet the clues are the prize, and by themselves make the puzzle sexy. Here's hoping.
This puzzle has a good deal of TV nostalgia for me. As a kid, I spent many a rainy Saturday afternoon watching programming called "Creature Double Feature". Also, "Doctor Who" (11-down) and baseball games (34-down). Speaking of baseball, is there an NYT crossword jinx (like the reputed Sports Illustrated cover jinx)? When I constructed this puzzle, Pablo Sandoval was a huge free-agent signing for my Red Sox. While the puzzle was in the queue, however, his production took a big nosedive, making this entry a lot more obscure than I had hoped for.
The NE corner was originally pretty rough, so I was happy to find the TARDIS/LINDT crossing that really patched this section up. However, as is often the case in open puzzle layouts, this didn't solve the problem entirely but instead pushed the trouble elsewhere. In this case, the tradeoff is the ORM/ORY crossing in the middle (which is ugly but at least well-contained).
I hope some of you spend a nice Saturday afternoon with this puzzle. Will and Joel did an especially nice job on the clue editing, toning down some of my overly-tricky offerings and adding a nice splash of modern references.
My first Sunday NYT crossword- Woohoo!!! This has been my biggest goal in the crossbiz for some time now, so I'm really stoked to see this come out in print. Even if I never finish "the cycle" with a Saturday puzzle I will feel like I reached the top of the mountain and basked in the sunshine for at least one magical Sunday.
My first attempt at this theme was not terribly well received — Will and Joel were not that impressed that GEOFFREY RUSHED off to a film shoot and TOM CRUISED to another Golden Globe award, and they really didn't like hearing that RAQUEL WELCHED on a film deal. I can see now that the Welch family could easily have been offended, and in fact, the entire Welsh nation might have taken umbrage — another batch of unpleasant Haight mail headed for Will's mailbox.
So this puzzle sat on my desk for months, until one day David Steinberg (who knows the inside scoop on pretty much everything) told me that the NYT was really short on Sunday puzzles. I combed thru the list of Hollywood stars and found some reasonable replacements, the puzzle was accepted a month after submission, and this publication date is just six weeks after acceptance. I really like the clue we came up with for AS ALL GET OUT ("Like you wouldn't believe"), but my favorite clue is the one for THUMB ("Something that turns up when you snap your fingers?") — I have this mental image of Will and Joel sitting around testing the idea, with Billy Joel's "The Longest Time" playing in the background ...
My goal here was to make something very simple with five theme answers and no revealer, and I was lucky that this particular theme hadn't been tried before. Who knew?
Will, Joel and I had a bit of back-and-forth over TORCH BEARER, because of its similarity to the theme answers, at least in appearance. I submitted a few alternatives for the SW, but in the end they decided to keep it. In hindsight, I wonder if GUT WRENCHER at 38-Across would've been a better choice, since CHEST BEATER is the only answer where the person is "acting on their own body part." (Note the singular "their" here! It's now legit!) With all the others, this isn't the case.
Thanks to Will et al. for a fresh clue for D'ANGELO. For me, it'll always been Beverly of the Lampoon's "Vacation" franchise, but that's a bit musty with age and now I know otherwise. I also think there may have been a way to avoid the TEE UP and UPTILTS clash, but darned if I could find it. Tried, failed.
This puzzle was accepted recently, so I'm delighted to see it come out so soon! I came up with the idea this summer while interning for Will and going through Andrew Kingsley's beautiful themeless from August 26. I recall spending an especially long time brainstorming clues for the entry PAST TENSE. (We ultimately settled on "Bought or sold, e.g.") In doing the research, I noticed a bunch of past tenses that didn't necessarily have to be past tenses, which intrigued me in a really nerdy way! I then wondered whether pairs of these past tenses could be combined to form new entries. And so the theme idea was born.
Coming up with a consistent theme set was a real challenge. I was initially hoping to avoid past tenses ending in -ed, since they struck me as less elegant than ones like SHOT or PUT, but the crossword Muse (Erato, of course!) gave me what you see. The next challenge was filling a grid around six theme entries and a reveal. IS BAD is bad (*rimshot*), but I'm pleased with the fill as a whole given the theme density.
I hope you enjoy, and Happy Holidays!
My entire reason for making this puzzle was to use the entry MAGNUM PI — "Champagne bottle that holds 3.14159… liters?" But as I started thinking up other themers, I noticed that the livelier ones had the initials at the front of them, not at the back. So my next idea was to do a mix of front and back, but I couldn't get the symmetry right, and after struggling with it for *way* too long I gave in to the obvious solution: ditch my beloved MAGNUM PI. And once I did, everything came together quite nicely. So let that be a lesson when it comes to crossword puzzle constructing (and perhaps life in general): Be flexible. Don't cling so tightly to your "great" ideas. Things often work out better when you let them go, and, honestly, they probably aren't that great anyway.
Also, it took a failed submission to get this one accepted. My first version had the entry GI BILL — "Invoice for a karate uniform?" — but neither Will nor Joel had heard of a karate gi, so they nixed it. I had no problem with this (I had PO BOXES on the bench, ready to go, if need be), but I was a bit surprised, as I thought karate gis were common knowledge. Although being that I get a little red squiggly underlining "gi" and "gis" as I type this, it's quite possible that I'm wrong here.
My final comment about this puzzle is that I wish it had run on Wednesday instead of Thursday. In part this is because I need Wednesday to complete the "cycle" (i.e., a puzzle published on each day of the week), but also because solvers often expect something trickier on a Thursday. This one is pretty straightforward. Oh well, no biggie. I'm cool with it if you are.
This is an old-ish one...I want to say it's been between one and two years since acceptance.
At any rate, this was an experiment in big, bulky corners. As with my last themeless puzzle, I think many of the entries came out as more neutral than exciting. My whopping 2+ years of "constructing experience" tells me that the 7's combined with the open space (read as: lack of entry choice flexibility) are mostly to blame. If I had started with some fun colloquial phrases for the 15's instead of you-know-it-or-you-don't proper nouns, maybe they could have added some zest. (Fifteenth identical) note to self: use less proper nouns and more hip, in-the-language words or phrases. Bonus points for portmanteau words!
Criticisms aside, I did like a lot of my and Will's/Joel's clues on this one. My favorite Dave originals are 50A and 52A (What?! Adam Smith had a sardonic wit? Who knew?). My favorite moderately edited clue is 22A (original clue = [Like tritium]; the alliteration seems to make it pop to my ear). However, [Web feed?], a Will/Joel original, wins best clue of the puzzle, hands down. Honorable mentions go to 19D, 28D, and 35D.
The answer to the age-old question of "Do you start with the answers or with the clues?" is sometimes "I start with one nasty tough clue, and then build the rest of the puzzle around that entry." This puzzle was all about a vehicle for the [Play with an imaginary friend] at 15A. Very tricky obviously, and no ? as a warning.
After a lot of fiddling and polishing multiple versions. I saw that I had IVAN next to LEND. If there had been an easy fix, I would have tried to turn LEND into LENDL. I would have needed a five letter LG??? — LGBTQ would be great, and maybe even possible, but it was quickly evident that finishing the grid would have been murder, so I dropped it. This is the disadvantage from the constructor's point of view of grids that have lots of flow. The effects of changes in one area propagate elsewhere freely. But having flow is better for solvers, so I try to maximize it where I can. Sure, you get saddled with a TESORO now and then, but on balance, I hope it ends up for a more enjoyable puzzle overall.
For this puzzle, it was fun to brainstorm a long list of potential theme entries. Some of my favorite answers that didn't make the grid were CONTINENTAL US, BRICK-AND-MORTAR STORE, SITDOWN RESTAURANT, and BLACK-AND-WHITE TV.
The grid might look pretty unconstrained, but in fact it does have the constraint that there need to be black squares above the E in BRITISH ENGLISH, the M in SNAIL MAIL, the N in REAL NUMBER, etc. (because, without these black squares, there would not be numbers everywhere that they are needed). Having eight black squares cemented in place from the get-go has a surprisingly large effect in terms of making the overall construction difficult. In general, flexibility in black square placement is very helpful in cleaning up messy grid sections, so having some black squares fixed in place can be a challenge.
As always, a huge thanks to Will and Joel for getting the puzzle into its final form!
Modern language study was my favorite academic pursuit in high school and college (though I ended up majoring in economics). I learned Spanish and French as a student, basic German when I was stationed in Heidelberg in the military, and even a bit of tourist Italian. When I started constructing crosswords, I made sure that the 100 or so most common words of several languages were in my word list (to the occasional dismay of some editors). I've used language gimmicks in several puzzles (recently-used answer/clue: TRE — "It's overdue in Italia"). I even did a novelty puzzle in which every single entry (or its clue) was in a language other than English or involved something outside the U.S.
This puzzle has six languages from five different language groups (all Eurasian), with Hindi and Urdu being forms of Hindustani differentiated only by their alphabets and regional/specialty vocabulary. A total of 13 answers are involved with the theme, which makes it undoubtedly the most theme-intensive puzzle I've done. This made for a challenging incidental fill, which was improved a bit with some prodding from Will. I suspect most solvers will figure out the theme early on, but since there's no clue which languages go where, there's still some puzzling to do.
I'm delighted to have a puzzle in the Times, as would have been my great-grandmother, Maria Thusnelda Steichmann Kuraner, an early crossword connoisseur, shown above. (She took a better picture than I do.)
I've enjoyed comparing my submitted version with Will Shortz's finished product. Of my 76 clues, 36 (47%) were changed, almost always (I confess) for the better. I've tried to assign a reason for each change, failing only in one case ("per unit" for "apiece").
This is my first NYT crossword, and I must say I feel honored to officially join the constructors' fraternity. It was a revelation to me that constructors were real people several years ago when I saw a familiar name in the byline, a competitor of mine at the San Francisco Scrabble club (I live in Portland now). She was kind enough to humor me and critique a puzzle I attempted at the time, one that was not of a standard for public consumption.
More recently, with additional solving and blog-reading years under my belt, I got the itch to try constructing again. The idea for this puzzle emerged from a different idea. I was brainstorming fun entries with colors in them and thought of the grid-spanning YELLOW BRICK ROAD. Shortly after that, of course, the song got stuck in my head ("Follow, follow, follow, follow, follow the YELLOW BRICK ROAD"). This made me think of Twitter, and TWITTER FEED, at which point I realized that I had stumbled on a more promising course for my puzzle to...follow. So I eased on down that road, and I like where it took me. I hope you like it too.
Special thanks to constructors Byron Walden, Robin Schulman, and Daniel Landman, whose "IDOIDOIDOIDOIDO" and "ITSAMADMADMADMADWORLD" puzzles inspired today's theme and revealer. A few answers that didn't make the cut: INFANTFORMULA, FASHIONABLYLATE, and FLAGSOFOURFATHERS. I also considered LALALAND for 50-Down, but 13 LAs in one puzzle would just be silly.
GEORGE: This is our third collaborative quad stack crossword published in the New York Times [two others have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, and others may be found here]. Our goal has been to transcend the notion that these are "stunt" puzzles, and satisfy the same criteria of liveliness and smoothness that characterize the increasingly exacting standards of late-week themeless puzzles.
Today's puzzle, created over a 3-month period in late 2014/early 2015, features six 15-letter horizontal entries, four of which are Shortz-era debuts. Our seed (and your ear-worm) was the Eagles classic HOTEL CALIFORNIA (co-written by the late great Glenn Frey, and clued in an evocative way). Interestingly, LAID_IT_ON_THE_LINE was introduced by Sophie Fierman during the Maleska era (1977), remained unused for nearly four decades, but now shows up for the fourth time this calendar year (Saturdays by Flinn and Guizzo, and a Friday by one of us). What are the odds of that?
The key find for this puzzle was the 11-letter "Rent" showstopper, LA VIE BOHEME, moderately inferable due to the relationship between the star-crossed Larson musical and the legendary Puccini opera, cutting through the central quad. Overall, we are quite pleased with how the puzzle turned out and hope it gives you a few "aha" moments and evokes some interesting memories.
I'm not good at themeless and seldom venture out of the standard grid layouts. As friendly as this grid setup was, I still had a tough time finding nice answers for these bridging slots: 33A / 39A (ECOFREAK / SERRANOS) and 21D / 27D (RSSFEED / SALAMIS) — I had filled and locked the two triple-stacked 10s earlier on.
The roots of this puzzle date back to the late 1970s, when I was a graduate student in mathematics. I was part of a conversation that included a question from the department chairman, a distinguished mathematician named Michael Artin, who asked "Is it possible to create a crossword puzzle with two independent solutions?" Perhaps I should explain that "independent solutions" is classic math talk, even if being applied to another realm. Anyway, I had yet to construct a crossword puzzle (my first, a Sunday Times cryptic, came out in 1981), so he clearly wasn't looking at me, but I remembered his challenge and, years later, took it to heart.
Obviously it's not possible to create a standard American crossword with two independent solutions, but I was able to create a few pairs of British-style crosswords that did the trick. They were 13x13, with alternating keyed letters a la an American cryptic. The problem was that they were difficult to solve. There was always ambiguity about which entry should go in which puzzle, and it was very difficult to have clues that were tight and descriptive enough to remove that ambiguity. I did finally make one that was nearly perfect in that regard, but I couldn't convince Will of its worthiness and had to settle for putting it in a book.
It wasn't until a few years ago (five?) that I came up with the idea that led to MIRROR REFLECTION--namely, creating a crossword whose Across entries could be clued in balanced pairs, with the entries for radially symmetric clues being identical. I knew that the demands of the puzzle were pushing it, but it's funny what happens when you keep on plugging. (And plugging, and plugging, as in this puzzle.) Some of the balanced entries had obvious clue pairings, which was great, but I got to relish the challenge of finding clues to join words that at first didn't want to seem joined at all. And if you're curious, I can say that Will got into the game, because when I saw the finished product I noticed that one particular pair of entries (RAT/DEN, jointly clued as "Occasional basement sight") had been changed in a way that worked perfectly well.
I've had maybe 50 crosswords and cryptics published at this point, but this was the most difficult construction by far. Maybe if I did things faster that figure would be much higher than 50. After all, I've been doing this off and on for 35 years!
This puzzle's theme is actors who have played Santa Claus in movies. I looked through the entire IMDB list of actors who have played Santa Claus and picked an iconic group that's varied in time periods. Tom Hanks was somewhat forced in order to give Tim Allen a symmetrical partner, but it's quite interesting that Santa was one of several characters Hanks portrayed in "The Polar Express."
I also tried to incorporate some colorful longer fill, such as SHOWMANCE, FACSIMILE, FRESH AIR, and TRICKSTER. I am a little disappointed my original clue for ETATS didn't make the cut; it was "French word that when reversed becomes its English singular." My original grid was a more ambitious 72-word design, but it was revised as Will wanted Ed Asner instead of Edward Asner and Monday-friendly fill.
Anyway, Merry Christmas!
SETH: Hi there. Hope you enjoyed the solve.
My father introduced me to crosswords. Through puzzles, we found a unique connection — and we both admired Jeff's work. It was great, talking with my dad about gems like Cut Above the Rest from 2013.
When he died in 2014, I wrote Will a thank-you note. I told him that, for my dad and I, "exchanges about puzzles became our own secret language. Even non-puzzle conversations sometimes took on the best qualities of the solving experience — oblique, compelling, full of understated humor and unexpected harmonies."
I was a new reader of XWord Info, and asked Jeff if he'd consider passing the note on to Will. He did — and, with an incredible generosity of spirit, suggested that we collaborate on a puzzle in my father's honor.
Brad Wilber published that one in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Since then, Jeff and I have made about a dozen more. One more's on tap for the Times, two ran in the Wall Street Journal, several in the Orange County Register, one in the American Values Club... and a couple misfires currently kick around the crossword dead-letter office.
Working with Jeff is such a delight. In the Pro-Am circuit of puzzles, he's definitely the Pro, and I'm the Am.
I work as a Computer Teacher for grades 2 - 8. This lets me pass puzzling on to the next generation. For class warmups, kids solve puzzles I make from their vocabulary lists.
Many, many thanks to Will and Joel.
I'm super excited to publish my first NYT crossword puzzle! I can't remember how this idea originated, but it was a year or two ago. I messed around with some different grids and didn't actually think it would be possible to fill the grid with "AL", the symbol for aluminum, down each side. Then, last spring I came across the phrase "ALL THINGS BEING EQUAL" — I put that across the center, built a grid around it, and worked hard to fill the puzzle. I submitted the puzzle in the summer and it was rejected — too many obscure words (e.g. "ALGORES", which I sort of knew was pushing it…) and "SIDING" was not in the grid itself. But, Will liked the theme, so I tried again.
I managed to remove most of the puzzle killers and put "SIDING" into the upper right part of the puzzle (not ideal), but there were still problems. I knew that the main issue was the "Q" in the phrase across the middle, which limited words that could cross it. I found the "Albert Einstein Medal" and thought that had much better letters. So, I started over, put "SIDING" in the lower right section, and was able to fill the rest of the grid quite sensibly. (I tried hard to avoid cheater squares, but couldn't finish it without 6 of them.) I resubmitted the puzzle and, after a few exchanges and refinement with Will, we found a fill that worked.
This puzzle took me a long time to make. What made it tough is that there was only one spot in the lower right for "SIDING" and only one spot for "ALUMINUM", and there aren't a ton of "AL" words — I needed 22 of them + the 19-letter phrase.
Hope you enjoy it!
This is my third puzzle in 2016, and my third Friday overall. Although I will happily return to themed puzzles when an interesting idea comes along, for now, I prefer focusing on the grids and cramming as many fun entries in as possible. Also, I learned a while back that female constructors are underrepresented on Friday and Saturday (not that we're all that well represented during the other five days of the week...), so by concentrating on themeless puzzles I'm doing what I can for the team.
As for this particular puzzle, my favorite entries are TRACTOR BEAM, CASH ADVANCE, KNOCK OVER and IMPRESS ME. I like the clue for BATCAVE, even though ‘Robin' isn't spelled correctly. And finally, I can't help but wonder if this puzzle's publication date of December 23 is in any way related to the final Across entry: SECRET SANTA.
Happy 2017 everyone!
I constructed this puzzle two years ago. At the time, I was building a lot of themelesses with stacks of 9s, 10s, and 11s, so I went with 7s and 8s in this grid to switch things up. I started in the upper right with Justin Timberlake's SEXY BACK, which I had been listening to a lot at the time. When I saw that I could stack MALWARE and EHARMONY on top of SEXY BACK and work in Y'KNOW, I knew I was rolling!
Next came the upper left, where I started with SHAWTY and HAM ON RYE (which just so happens to be an anagram of EHARMONY). I was pleased to incorporate TRY-HARD and the bizarre-looking OLE ELO in the crossings. In the lower right, I added a LOVER BOY to balance out the SHOWGIRL and BBQ SAUCE for some Scrabbly flavor. I wasn't thrilled with DC CAB but decided to cut my losses and move on to the lower left. My original lower left had YOUR FACE (clued as "Juvenile comeback"), but Will and Joel felt there was too much modern lingo in the grid, so I reworked that part.
Looking back on this puzzle two years later, I honestly have mixed feelings about it. I'm still happy with the freshness, Scrabbliness, and relative smoothness, but the fill is a bit heavy on "17-year-old-guy" entries (SHAWTY, INCUBI, and even LOVER BOY and SHOWGIRL) for my current tastes. I hope solvers take this in stride, though, and realize that my intent was to be fresh but not demeaning. I also hope everyone in the crossword community has a wonderful Christmas Eve and start to Hanukkah!
Based on my notes, the idea for this puzzle came about three years ago when noticing a different way to interpret "calm before the storm." Finding more theme entries involved identifying other connector words, then well-known phrases using those connectors, and finally interpretations of those phrases that overlapped by two letters. The vast majority of possibilities were dead ends. Overall, it took about a half dozen sessions over those three years to find enough entries of matching length.
I'm guessing this will fall on the difficult side, since many theme entries will likely require at least a few crossings to see, and my clues tend to be on the difficult side to boot. Hopefully, the seasonally appropriate clues that Will and Joel added will offer some holiday cheer.
I hope solvers enjoy this toughie!
I originally started work on this puzzle in early 2014. Version One had a 4-5-4 configuration across the top and bottom with the larger shaded squares one row closer to the center of the grid. That grid was rejected by Will due to a lot of questionable fill, and an 80-word count. It then languished in my "reject file" for almost 8 months.
With a fresh set of eyes I took up the puzzle again and switched to what is ostensibly a 3-7-3 configuration, shifting the central shaded squares to their current location. I tried several different "Days" in the shaded squares until settling on what you see today.
After a few back-and-forths with Will and Joel, Will accepted it in May of 2015, however Boxing Day, 2015 fell on a Saturday, so it was held until today. Hope you enjoyed it. Happy Boxing Day!
The story began with a warm "Welcome" from Will.
My first accepted crossword now yours to fill!
After 30 months in the queue this grid is now here
To celebrate words and provide holiday cheer.
This festive poem is for the solver in you.
Happy Holidays to all even those without a clue!
The seasonal TASKS finished. ADS a thing of the past.
Santa's AGENT, SUPERMOM received guests at last.
She in her A-LINE. DANTE in his NIKEs.
There was ERICA and RYHS, JOSH, LOLITA, 2 Mikeys.
They did a DOUBLE TAKE. The buffet was so large.
Good SCENTs and sweet treats and no COVER CHARGE!
Green HAM AVEC OVA, her best DOWN-HOME dish.
TOSSed salads with OREOS, and even STARfish.
There were WEE plastic EPEES in WEDGEs of cheese.
EGGnog and MOO DEW, an assortment of teas.
We couldn't BACK AWAY. We noshed on and on.
Even then the ACRE of food was only HALF-GONE*.
"See we FOUND another way to clue that *word.
AGING folks ARE to be respected," mom politely DEMURred.
The BINGE was over. The AFTER EFFECT was felt.
ASAP as he could, SMART ALEC loosened his belt.
MOI, I read OGDEN NASH. Our LAB at my feet.
The children AGOG from too much to eat.
"EGAD! Holy COW!" Do BEHAVE ERE I GO APE!"
I gave them a smile and made a HEART SHAPE.
Then ENNUI set in as I stifled a yawn.
Neither RAGA music nor NAS rap helped me HANG on.
So up the STEPS I went, not a BEDBUG in sight,
To LIE ON A cot and sleep through the night.
When a gorgeous SUNDOG appeared on New Year's DAY
Everyone knew that 2017 would be A-OKAY!
I'm a fan of the team mentioned in the 47-Across clue.
This puzzle's been through several iterations over a few years and started when I was randomly on Prince Charles's Wiki page. (Many of my puzzles start from the rabbit hole that is Wikipedia.) I was surprised and amused that he has so many titles, so figured they'd make a slightly educational theme. Early versions of the puzzle had CHARLES as a revealer in the center, but then when the CH in CHESTER jumped out at me, I realized that I could spell the full word using his titles. I also tried to keep PRINCE OF WALES for the lowest location in the grid and DUKE OF CORNWALL for second-to-last, on the assumption that those would be the ones most familiar to the average solver.
In my first career as a mechanical engineer, we used to tell our clients that they could have two of the following three things:
It's not possible to achieve all three, but that didn't stop certain clients from demanding them all. Some of us engineers were fond of telling them sure, if you have to have all three, why don't we just make your product out of UNOBTAINIUM?
Our business folks weren't too hot about that response. We sure thought it was funny, though.