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Puzzles for December, 2017
with constructor comments

View these same grids with comments from:
Constructor (25)Jeff Chen (31)Jim Horne (6)Hide comments
Fri 12/1/2017
AMPCAMETOTWAS
LOOMEDOVEREASE
ORIONSBELTANTE
HANNALIBNOM
ALTOCLEFZABARS
SEEAXEDFABIO
CONTROLFREAK
GENDERROLES
ZILLIONAIRES
ITALOTRACPAD
PERONIINAWHILE
IRESMSIONIC
TADAPEACEMAKER
UTAHERRORPRONE
PETALEMMASSSE

This is my sophomore effort in the Times--whether it's sophomoric, I'll leave to the solvers.

I was thrilled to kick this puzzle off with the entry GENDER ROLES. I also loved the first clue I thought of: "Synthetic divisions?" Unfortunately, I quickly realized what you've already realized: a pun based on an obscure algebra algorithm is not going to land. I found it incredibly difficult to decide on a replacement. It was important to me to make my politics clear: traditional gender roles are artificial, divisive and destructive. Simultaneously, I wanted something clever and light-hearted for such a central entry in the puzzle. All credit for the published clue goes to my friend Gabe Chandler, who found a balance by referencing classic sitcoms: familiar and fun, but also based on tired stereotypes that have aged so poorly. I often ask Gabe to "beta-test" my crossword submissions and he's made many helpful suggestions. Thank you!

I enjoyed reading Kevin Der's Constructor's Note last week, where he classified some ways to make a clue end-of-week difficult: misdirection, vagueness, open-endedness, and trivia. I confess to a weakness for trivia. Personally, I love it when a recognizable answer has an impossible clue, and needs to be solved from the crosses. For instance, I wanted to clue ORION'S BELT as "Home of Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka," the names of its three stars. Of course, I didn't expect solvers to know these names--I didn't, either, until I looked them up--but I was hoping for bewilderment, followed by an epiphany after getting something like _ R I _ _ S B _ L T. It might look like "Jeopardy!" at first, but it's really "Wheel of Fortune." The same impulse led me to clue PEACEMAKER as "Nickname of the B-36 bomber, ironically," knowing full well that the nicknames of aircraft are typically known only to those who fly them. I was glad to see this one make it in.

As for misdirection, I was hoping to trick some people with a four-letter answer for "One in a story with an apple," especially since the three-letter answer was the obvious one. But since my first puzzle was heavy on misdirection, I tried not to overuse it here.

I'm glad I could sneak in the math term LEMMAS, with the help of easy crosses. This seems to be the first time that the clue for the plural matches modern usage. Logically, there's no difference between a lemma and a theorem: they're both words for proven mathematical results. But if you think your new result is interesting or important, you call it a theorem; if it's a result you feel obligated to prove, in order to get to the interesting or important stuff, you call it a lemma. Somewhat complicating this distinction, mathematicians are often wrong about what other people will find interesting or important (example: this paragraph). Years later, their so-called lemmas may be pillars of "mathematical canon," while their theorems lie forgotten.

Sat 12/2/2017
DOUBLEDOGDARE
ENNIOMORRICONE
BARNYARDANIMALS
AVEDIRECTDEBIT
TINTLIRESOLTI
ESTABTECHSEER
RIESENDUOS
STDENISPLUMJOB
EBAYAREOLA
DAINSLOTEGADS
OLMECBURRANTE
DIPSOMANIACMIL
ONETHINGATATIME
ELLENDEGENERES
SENIOREDITORS

I was wowed by the look of the wide open 10/29/16 grid by Patrick Berry when I solved it last year. In the XWord write-up for that puzzle, Jeff Chen stated his curiosity was piqued wondering if the grid could be filled after trimming the six corner squares down to three. For kicks, I accepted the challenge and sent Jeff a very rough fill with the new grid parameters that had some fun stuff, but also more blah than sparkle.

The challenge then sat idle for a couple months will I worked on other projects, but I came across it again, flipped the grid, tweaked the placement of black squares a bit and finally came up with a fill that registered much higher on my themeless-fun scale. As always, thanks to Will and Joel for substituting the entertaining quote at 61 Across as a clue and all their other shiny touches.

Feel free to add the 15-letter DOUBLEDOGDAREYA to the word list, too, Jeff.

Sun 12/3/2017SHELL GAME
SAUTESCYCLEFTSASL
ELNORTEOSHEALEIMOO
ACCUSALSALOESOAKLAWN
WOOTTONICSWEEPHAZED
APUPINTMEASURETITO
ROTHSETHANYREPINON
PHISHDADDOING
SNOOPKRESGEDRAINS
PEZARCTICEXPLORERSIP
CRACKTEAMPAINEINCA
GAGREELRESORTTIPSTER
AGRIONICECHAMOMILE
MOEATTACKWITHAPAWTYS
ENBLOCGHOSTSYEMEN
COKESSPAARUBA
GERMLPNGEOMEANBUST
OMOOLINCOLNLOGSSHH
LOANSTWOAMUKASEATIE
ARTDECOSWIFTNEWSCREW
MAILOUTORRESOONISH
EPALOTSLAYSKLEPTO

In the Steinberg family, we keep a small notebook in each room of our house and in the car. That way, if one of us gets inspired by a crossword idea, entry, etc., it can easily be written down. My dad is particularly (in)famous for coming up with crossword ideas in the middle of the night, scribbling them down, and then excitedly barging into my room the next morning to pitch them to me. I love my dad very much, but I'm not at all a morning person, and . . . well, I don't always share his enthusiasm about the ideas themselves.

On one typical morning a few years ago, Dad was super excited about the idea of doing a shell game puzzle. "You could even stick thimblerig into the puzzle! I bet no one will know that," he said gleefully as he showed me a picture he'd scribbled down. In the picture, he had three C-U-P arrangements covering a marble, a shell, and a pea. "Sure the cups look triangular, and you can't actually squeeze a six-letter PEBBLE into a three-letter CUP, but I'm sure you'll figure something out!" he said as he made his exit. I just groaned and went back to sleep.

Fast forward to September of this year. I was looking through one of the idea notebooks (at a non-A.M. hour, mind you) and came across the shell game idea. After chuckling to myself, I decided to give it a makeover. No more triangular cups, marbles, or pebbles (sorry, Dad). In a nutshell, the puzzle eventually turned into what you see. In my opinion, F is the correct answer to the quasi-Schrodinger square at the 127-Across/128-Down crossing, but I could see an argument the other way as well. Happy solving!

Mon 12/4/2017
PITASTUNERTEN
ECOLIALAMOUNO
SAYITAINTSONUT
CHERCASFLAME
INDEPTHCEASE
PAYITFORWARD
NASALRAMSLAY
ESTMAYITBEATE
IPADVETAIDED
LAYITONTHICK
RAVENACHEFOR
SALEMBABEISA
AGEPLAYITBYEAR
SURTOLETRANGE
HSTSWISSRYDER
Tue 12/5/2017
ABCSSAUNACHIP
PLOTURGESHARE
POPEYETHESAILOR
SCARABACCENT
OREORITA
MARINEBIOLOGIST
IPODSORBROMEO
CIALEASTNET
SADDAYALGORE
CIGNAABORT
ALLENGINSBERG
AWOLANOYEOW
HASHATTIPSATE
AREOHHENRYDYE
BEDWHARTONYAK

C.C.: This puzzle was made last April. Immediately after Will introduced us, Harry sent me a few ideas. We eventually settled on today's theme set, with Will's help.

Harry was so warm, quick and creative. I was also surprised that he speaks some Chinese. He knows pijiu (beer), mei wen ti (no problem), etc. It's such an honor to work with a news legend.

Wed 12/6/2017
EMMAFIRMMAID
MANNOCCAMACME
MPEGRAMBODAME
ELMSUMPDIADEM
TEETIMEHUMMED
RMSMOLEMIA
SAMOSMAMETIAM
ELEMMANESMETE
AMTMENDSMOSES
MAREDOMSUM
MOHAIRLIMEADE
MANILADIMNMEX
ATOMNAOMITAMA
NEMOSIMBAUNUM
OREMMOONMARS
Thu 12/7/2017
TANGENTHAMLAP
AMTUNERIVOODE
JOHNJAYGOOFSUP
SOPCHINASEA
MATHISREDBULL
APRONTARALE
INITBIZKSTATE
DEPBUSYBEEDER
SALAAMIONGEAR
ELKFDAWORSE
LATEFEERINSED
TEXASTEAIND
OVERALLUPTOYOU
GILLEOPEELERS
ASSEEKINRANGE

Themes based on words that sound like letters have been done fairly often: a great example is this Sunday puzzle by Ashish Vengsarkar (May 21, 2006). The variation I came up with was to find two-word phrases where one word sounded like a letter, and the other word either began or ended with that letter. The theme answers in the first version of the puzzle were JOHNJAY, CARIBBEANSEA, BUSYBEE, BREAKFASTTEA and SNAPPEA. Will Shortz thought the idea was interesting, but wanted all the theme answers to be consistent.

In my next version, all five theme answers began with the letter in the phrase: they included JOHNJAY, CARIBBEANSEA, BUSYBEE, TAIWANESETEA, and UPTOYOU. Will liked this version better, but felt that TAIWANESETEA was too obscure. In version 3, I incorporated TEXASTEA and CHINASEA. I was worried that the theme square count would be too low, given how short all the theme answers had become, but Will was apparently unconcerned and accepted the puzzle.

Other than that, I'll note that this is the first time that KSTATE has ever appeared in a New York Times crossword. Glad to be able to give a shout-out to the alma mater of my high-school classmate Doug Rogge, whom I reconnected with at a reunion not long before constructing this puzzle, and who still lives in the vicinity of Manhattan, Kansas. Go, Wildcats!

Fri 12/8/2017
SCATJEANSHORTS
POPOESCAPEROOM
FACTDERNIERCRI
STRATIEARLKEL
ELOWANETINE
RADIOGAGACHET
IMINLOVEDAE
BATCAVEBITESAT
OTTQUAALUDE
MAMEPUZZLEBOX
COLEBAEZAMT
ANGCORPKNEWIT
BARRELRACENEKO
IMEANTOSAYTEEN
NINJASTARSSTAY

It started with NINJA STARS, which someone mentioned in a TV show I was watching (either "Parks and Rec" or "The Office," I don't remember which one). I thought it would be a cool entry to put in the bottom row of a themeless; it has a lot of common letters, but there's that cool J that prevents it from joining the boring, un-Scrabbly likes of PEERESSES and STRESS TESTS.

I found a good 50A/54A/56A stack, and worked counterclockwise from there. The high-Scrabble-value-letter pileup around the bottom middle was kind of an accident — when I was putting in all the Z's and Q's, it was under the impression that I wouldn't be able to fill the rest of the grid with those letters in place, but it would be cool if I could. Luckily, a nice fill came together.

I don't really have anything else to say, except that I like this grid design — it has a lot of flexibility between corners, so you can really inject your personality into the grid (I like the puzzle nerd vibe of ESCAPE ROOMS and PUZZLE BOX; very on brand for me).

This is all to say that when it looks like I'm watching TV, I'm actually doing valuable crossword research.

(P.S. Big ups as usual to Will/Joel/Sam for really making the clues sparkle. 27D is lovely, especially for such a frequently-used answer)

Sat 12/9/2017
ESASASFITTAOS
RONALORCAONCE
INDIRENEEDRATE
CORNBREADPECAN
IGOTITKATARINA
DRIESPINECONES
LADDFINCHES
EMSBEEGEESMAP
KILDAREBADA
LIBELLAWSMONEY
ONAPLATEMAXINE
CARTSESTATETAX
ALTODROWNEDOUT
LIEFARMASUBER
SERFMEESEPARA

When I received the acceptance email in January, I did a double-take. After submitting over a hundred puzzles, several multiple times, I'd never seen an email from Will unconditionally accepting one without requesting final cluing and/or the removal of one or more offending words or phrases until now. I couldn't help but think, ‘Wow, this is freaking awesome!'

My excitement was tempered a bit by Joel, writing for Will, "Some stinkers here and there (ESAS, AS FIT, ANAG, ARMAS, AGENAS), but also a ton of fun vocabulary in a wide-open 66-word grid. Nice work." Of course, I focused on the first part of the sentence; not the last.

The five stinkers were no surprise; I never liked them, but there are always tradeoffs between ‘fun vocabulary' and drek. Nevertheless, I redid the NE corner, eliminating two of the offenders and creating the final grid.

To the left is the original corner which would have otherwise appeared in the New York Times today (with the actual corner on the right for easy comparison).

I'm hoping Jeff agrees that ESAS/AS FIT/ARMAS is a small price to pay for holding the fun fill together, and I'm hoping you enjoyed filling in the grid as much as I enjoyed creating it.

POW Sun 12/10/2017FULL-BODY CAST
AWALKSHELINNOTIME
TOMEITALIBHOTLINES
OWIESEVOKESETHAKITT
MEGASTARELWAYVITAE
DONCHLESLALOMILE
NAVJOHNLUIZAMO
ZAPMOIRAONENOLO
ETONCOINOPBANGOR
ELSALANCERPORKADOBO
ATBATATTUNESOIR
INDDENZELWASGTONKGB
STOPBONSAIVISIT
TACOSTANDMICHELLEOH
SCHEMEHEALERYADA
KIEVTEETEXTSROT
RYANPHILLPEIAN
USESAVIOROLPLATT
RENALNOTREPASTRIES
BITPARTSETCHEDCULPA
ANTIGONESUTRAOTTER
NEONSIGNTSARDOSES

LAURA: I've been solving crosswords all my life, it seems — my grandfather, who was an immigrant, would solve puzzles to practice English, and he used to ask for my help when I was a kid. I've only been constructing for about a year. I'm a librarian at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, and Andrew Kingsley (an NYT constructor), who recently graduated, used to work on his grids in the reference room. We would chat about puzzles, and one day I decided that if puzzles were things that people made, I could make them too.

I've been so fortunate to have friends and mentors who have supported me through the process of learning to construct. Recently, one of my favorite speculative fiction authors, Charlie Jane Anders, tweeted that a definition of success that makes her happy is "getting to be associated with people I admire, who keep surprising me." That is also my definition of success in crosswords. Last winter when I started trying to make puzzles, I never imagined that within a year my first NYT byline would be shared with Erik Agard, whom I admire so much as a constructor and a person.

Erik and I had been looking for ideas for co-constructing, and one day he emailed with this idea about names of body parts hidden in phrases, and thus ensued a 67-message email chain where the idea evolved, first to something with book titles, then to a meta idea, then finally to where it ended up with actor names. Some entries rejected from our final list included JIM [BACK]US, RED [BUTT]ONS, the non-specific M[ORGAN] FREEMAN, and someone with the awesome name of JACK [NOSE]WORTHY, who had a bit part in "Event Horizon."

ERIK: Laura is a true umptuple threat: solver (finished top-100 at Lollapuzzoola in her tournament debut), constructor (wrote a great puzzle for this year's Boswords tournament), blogger (her reviews at Crossword Fiend and Rex Parker usually get a laugh out of me), community pillar (consistently an outspoken advocate for women and other underrepresented groups in crossword construction)... and she's a kickass librarian and probably some other stuff I don't even know about. She's one of those people who can take your one pretty good idea and turn it into three great ideas; it was as much a pleasure to write this puzzle with her as it is a privilege to share her first NYT byline.

Mon 12/11/2017
HOYASWATHBEAD
EDENLIBRAONCE
ROTARYCLUBODDS
ARISECELLBLOCK
ASIAYALE
AMAZEDTALON
MOBILEHOMENONE
INNLAUDINGVIC
SEEDSMARTALECK
SYRIAERASES
FIRSCRIB
PAYFREEZESCOPE
LUAUHEADPHONES
URNSANGERATOP
MAKEBOSSYTONY

This puzzle was my first accepted puzzle in the NYT, so it holds a soft spot in my heart. It was one of the first puzzles that I ever created, and looking back, I'm still pretty happy with the fill. I tried to open up the northeast and southwest corners by dumping the black square after YALE and before FIRS, but couldn't find any decent options for the long spot at 28-Down. The southwest caused the most trouble during the fill, which is why DIFFUSE is there instead of the snazzier 7-letter answers in the other corners.

Clue-wise, pumped to see ODA get a clue other than [Harem room]. I also have fond memories of watching reruns of "Let's Make a Deal" at my grandparents' house when I was a kid. And, the game show inspired a nifty little probability brain teaser called the Monty Hall problem (try it out if you haven't heard of it!).

Tue 12/12/2017
SOXDILLHARPON
CHRISTIEAMELIA
REACTSTONOSALT
ANTEYENSSTY
PRESSAPRODAY
SYDEMBRYORENE
OREADOPIATE
SALVATORMUNDI
GOLDENDOING
ADAMINANETTUB
LANATOVSHINE
ASKWISEUTES
HALTEDNOVELLAS
ARDENTCHARLESI
STARTSIONADYE

When I read about the sale of the painting a few weeks ago, I saw right away the nice crossing of the painting's name and artist. (Unfortunately, that's the way you think after you've been writing puzzles for a while!) I still wasn't sure I wanted to write an art-related puzzle because I didn't know how many solvers would be interested. But I found some interesting, fun facts about the painting and, even better, was able to get them to interlock with everything else. So the puzzle sort of tells a little story.

Obviously, the price paid for the painting was astounding (the buyer is anonymous) and it was fascinating to read about how it was marketed to get such a high price.

News flash: The buyer of "Salvator Mundi" is Prince Bader, a Saudi royal. (Pretty interesting that a Muslim would buy a portrait of Christ, who's not considered a savior in the Muslim world.) The buyer apparently is strapped for cash so after a $100 mil down payment, the rest will be paid over six months to the painting's previous owner, a Russian billionaire.

Wed 12/13/2017
GASBOMBMANDMS
AVIATORTAXFREE
FERRITEAGELINE
FRENCHANTILLES
ETNADIESOD
SERUMNRCGOAT
DRIVETHROUGH
LIAAMAORETOY
SIDELIGHTING
DIAZCRYSTOMP
MEGADAKIAS
MAKEANENTRANCE
LENIENTTOEPOKE
ASCENDSEFFUSED
WAYLAYSUITORS

I'm a pediatric ophthalmologist in Charlotte, NC. I started making crosswords while procrastinating writing the annual family Christmas letter. My toddlers' exploits were fascinating, no doubt, but a holiday-themed crossword was more fun to conceive and share. I've been hooked ever since. I put NYT publication on the bucket list and was flummoxed when my second submission was accepted.

As for this puzzle, I saw HATCH hidden in WHAT CHILD IS THIS during Christmas puzzle-making and tried to uncover a few more hidden entrances. That effort fizzled, but a different definition of "entrance" proved fruitful. FRENCH ANTILLES seemed like a winner, and I was lucky to find some other decent entries. The fill was crummy in the SW with the HIDDEN ENTRANCE revealer, so I switched to the current incarnation. Given the awkward themer lengths, low word count, and open corners, I'm mostly happy with how things turned out.

I gleaned some lessons through Will's editing. First, if you start your debut puzzle with a chemical weapon, it's best not to pun about it ("Tool to spread the mustard!"). Also, crosswordese (LIA/III) is preferable to an impolite entry (44-Across: ??AZ). Thanks to the editorial staff for the acceptance and polishing.

I learned much of the construction craft by reading critiques on the crossword blogs, where mid-week puzzles are often savaged, so I harbor a masochistic curiosity in them today.

I doubt I'll end up as the Minnie Minoso of crossword-making, but hopefully, this won't be my last effort. Many thanks to my parents for their test solves and to my wife Julie for sacrificing the Holiday missive.

POW Thu 12/14/2017
TANKSHEDSCPAS
ATONTAKEILENA
MANOELECTARTY
ATEWELLOBOISTS
LIONELARMORY
ELFLABMICENAE
STYEROARKSAPS
OAFAGOAOL
BURLTINSHIH
CURLUPATONAL
ORBBATSNOCTA
LYESROBEDMOCK
STEPADLERIMHO
OHSOLATTEMEET
NEWTLYSOLETTA
Fri 12/15/2017
ATANANGLEASSERT
TACOSALADDEALER
LETITPASSOEUVRE
ISAACSMGMLION
REVERSIRISEROD
AKAALERTRATS
METABOLICRATE
SEXANDVIOLENCE
ENTREPRENEURS
KARLHIRESRIO
ERADEFYHEAVENS
BANQUETCALLED
ABOUNDMODELSHIP
BLUINGARECAPALM
SETTEELASTNAMES
Sat 12/16/2017
OCTUPLETZAPPA
THEVOICEFELLIN
REALTALKORIENT
ANKARAWFOOTAGE
MUSTARDGAS
SHOPSRAPLETS
HENEARNOWISEE
IMEMINECREATED
RATATATSNLAUG
KNOTGITBTYPE
WHEREAREYA
REALMADRIDMOJO
ITTEAMMAGNAVOX
FACTISATEALIVE
ETHELCASHEDIN

"THE VOICE" is my all-time favorite song, but alas, a clue referencing a #15 Billboard hit from the early '80s will never fly when there's a modern hit show with an identical name. To my fellow Moody Blues fans: I apologize wholeheartedly and feel your pain, but I knew what I had to do. At least there's still Frank ZAPPA's "Sheik Yerbouti" and George Harrison's "I ME MINE."

Can I just say that I've come a lo-o-ong way with cluing in the last few months? Will and Joel absolutely went to town marking up this puzzle's manuscript; I think a graffitied city wall would look barer in comparison. REAL TALK, I'm pretty sure that yesterday's puzzle, which I helped edit, had more of my own clues than today's!

Hope you enjoyed.

Sun 12/17/2017OH, ONE LAST THING
CHADAMIDALAABCSABS
LEDEREVELERLOUISNYE
EMUSSTIFFASABORDEAUX
FILTHHEYELAPSED
TREPIDRONINBERMS
ALSORANVANITYPHARAOH
NEWYORKMEZZOEARRDA
KAISIREESPRYMEEK
ARMADARADBEEFGABLE
MELBATUTTISLIT
ROLLINGINTHEDEPOT
TERIGAUNTBYRON
SILASGILTFOESTEPPE
OPELTURFGESSOHAT
CTAHALIRESTMYQUESO
KOSHERPICCOLONEUTRON
SPEARREEKSFINITO
SEASONSDEVTEMPT
LOVEISINTHEARROWROLE
LOOKATMEONGUARDENOS
COWMAIDWEEBLESDEWS
Mon 12/18/2017
EASESALGAEALB
SLOMOREIGNNOR
CLAUDEMONETOVA
AMPAXONOKIES
PAILPRIDEMONTH
ELNINOORBITAL
DEGASHAJISPY
MADEMONEY
RIMELISGAINS
ATATIMEDOWNON
CODEMONKEYNATO
ELDERNAANWOW
FDAINNERDEMONS
AYSCRUELMERCI
NAHHANDYOGDEN

I stumbled on INNER DEMONS as a nice revealer (albeit a bit dark), but you need some considerable luck to hide a five letter word in reasonably interesting phrases of matching lengths.

There were very few solid options. I would have never come up with CODE MONKEY without the XWord Info word list, but I needed a matching ten letter entry. I made a blank ten letter entry in a grid and tried shifting the word DEMON around in there and looking at the Wikipedia results ... et voila, I got lucky with PRIDE MONTH.

Will and Joel liked those two theme entries the best — CLAUDE MONET was not bad, but I think MADE MONEY was just decent enough to go along for the ride. Happy holidays!

Tue 12/19/2017
SOPSWEETRIG
PIERTOOTHHERA
ALDOERNIEESOS
LICHENCOBAIN
BACKINCODDLE
AMASSDIMUSUAL
APBSAVVIEREWS
CANDYCANE
STARTSRENTAL
ORTOACORNRARE
BIRCHHOEBANTU
BOHOAHAUGGS
HOPENOTLORELAI
PROTECTMUSSELS
SOSYAYSITDEM

This puzzle is one in a string of themed puzzles I created this summer while directing a STEM summer camp—don't tell the campers. Having primarily constructed themeless puzzles thus far, and with the Friday/Saturday competition growing ever fiercer, I figured I'd give themes a shot. With themelesses, there's always this nagging insecurity — how could my fill be snazzier? How can I pack in one more entry? But with themed puzzles, I've enjoyed the pleasant finiteness to the four of five entries that undergird the grid. May there be more to come. Shout out to John Lieb for helping me tinker with this puzzle to find its sweet spot.

Wed 12/20/2017
TSARMOTIFS
MEETUPAVENUE
TORPEDOSREADER
HASTESTESMILE
ONEEIGHTGIN
MARCSARGELENA
LLCSSIZING
FOURFIVE
TOUCANMETE
CORDPOWERSASS
HRSSEVENTWO
INANEAIDANEED
DAKOTAREDHEADS
EDENICLIAISE
SONANTNINE

A close family friend had just passed. At the wake, in my grief, I believe I may have overindulged because that night I fell in my kitchen and broke my tailbone. Knowing I'd be laid up for over a month, and knowing likewise that I cannot live on Freecell and reruns of House alone, I did the only other thing I could think of while flat on my back: construct! I came up with eight themes, threw the puzzles together with little care, and submitted in a package.

To my ever-growing appreciation and delight, one of my themes was acceptable to Mr. Shortz's impeccable taste, though the construction and non-thematic entries were "subpar." (They were being polite; it was a nightmare!) I resubmitted three or four times, taking suggestions for improvement, one rejection being due, to my total mortification, to exceeding word count! How green am I? But this is my first puzzle, and I can say with near certainty that that won't happen again; shame is a powerful thing!

When I devised the theme for this puzzle, I intended it for a Thursday, which is all I will say about its content. My fondest hope is that it might be universally enjoyed.

Meanwhile, I'll return to toiling in obscurity and newfound wrinkles at my other passion: writing country songs in a small Oregon town for a fan base of three, one of whom is my mother, and will keep wondering daily why all of Nashville isn't knocking down my door.

Thu 12/21/2017
ASSISICAMARO
WHATEVSGALILEI
GENERALHOSPITAL
EATANIMATEEDU
ERATKNOLLPREP
STAGPETE
PALAUSFOHEATH
INURNHISELLIE
GENIIOFTLOFTS
SWANNTISEUROS
RAGSETTA
REYFEUMRTNCO
ICEPOPSIRECKON
PRAIRIEFORRENT
EUREKASFLYINTO

I owe a debt of gratitude to the constructor who first published a puzzle with left-right symmetry. Grid art like this is impossible with rotational symmetry.

Coming up with a good Y-shape took several iterations and a lot more agonizing than you might guess given the simplicity of the design. The parameters I varied were (1) the height of the arms; (2) the height of the base; (3) the width of the cross piece; and (4) whether or not the lower corners were squared off (i.e., adding another black block). Part of the difficulty was choosing an aesthetically pleasing shape that could be filled around smoothly, but I also struggled with the inherent tension between my Platonic ideals of "SLINGSHOT," "GOAL POSTS," "TUNING FORK," and "THE LETTER Y." I think it turned out pretty well (even if the arms are a bit short for a TUNING FORK).

I was surprised to see this run on a Thursday. I didn't get a day-of-the-week indication when the puzzle was accepted and I had assumed that the theme warranted a Wednesday (or even Tuesday) placement. Consequently, Will and crew had to dial up many of my clues. Speaking of cluing, I like the conversational tone that Will used for the theme clues. He's quite adept at making puzzles feel like a dialog.

I hope AL FRANKEN doesn't make the puzzle unpalatable for anyone. I constructed the grid back in June, months before the controversy over his treatment of women. I suspect that this will be the first and last appearance of his full name in the NYT crossword. On a more pleasant note, I'm stoked to finally see MII clued as the Nintendo avatar instead of the Roman numeral. I'm sure others have suggested that meaning before.

POW Fri 12/22/2017
GUITARAMPEBAN
ESCAPEROOMLOCO
THELEGIONOFDOOM
FAMESERGEIHUE
IPASSSHOPS
TENTECHSCHOOLS
TALLAHASSEE
GALLIVANTED
AIRLINEFOOD
STRESSEATERFDA
WALDOYPRES
ABCUHOKAYREBS
ROOMTONEGOTIATE
DIDONERFROCKET
SLEWSNAKEEYES

I wanted to make a low-word count grid, so I decided on a big stagger-stack design in the middle and tested out seed entries for a while. Eventually I hit on STRESS EATER; its ultra-friendly letters in combination with how fun a term it is (and, in this case, its autobiographical nature) made me excited to try it on the bottom. Once I shifted the black squares around, the rest of the center fell quickly. It was important to me that the non-central parts of the puzzle not just feel like afterthoughts, which is why I left long slots running through it, grid-spanners on the top and bottom, and additional stacks in the upper-left and bottom-right.

Overall, I'm quite happy with how the grid turned out (just HAVE A as a problem in the middle and a few blips elsewhere which all felt worth it to me). My original grid had OBAN / OLD rather than EBAN / ELD, and though it's not necessarily a change I agree with, it's okay. I am a bit bummed to get scooped on ESCAPE ROOM by just a few weeks (not for "debut points" or whatever — I just worry about a repetitive feeling for solvers). But that's okay too — the presence of GIRL CODE renders me unable to dislike the puzzle.

I'll be flying home to visit my family for Christmas when this comes out — I hope that any families for whom solving crosswords together is part of their holiday tradition enjoy it!

Sat 12/23/2017
RINGTABSATRAPS
THOREAUTREESAP
SEXIESTMANALIVE
AZTTUDORALL
MRESGESTTOM
RIMSORTSALIVA
ITALIANAMERICAN
INDUCTEES
CHANCETHERAPPER
RACKEDEVESRXS
INCAWEDCOLT
EGOALTARUFO
STUDIOEXECUTIVE
TENANTSSIMILES
ONTRUSTTASTERS

About two years ago, my friend and colleague Diana Joseph improved my life by sending me a link to "Sunday Candy" — and 34-Across is my way of repaying that debt. (I suppose the clue for 56-Across balances the sublime with the... well, sublime in another way.) I aimed for a good range of reference points in the clues, and I'm grateful to Will, Joel, and Sam (and everybody else on the NYT games team) for their improvements to the puzzle. I hope solvers enjoy the result.

Sun 12/24/2017MAKING A FAST BUCK
STPCARIBLOPESSEC
HOLEERODEEGRETGILA
RUMARBYSFLOORREVS
SAMBASBLEATEDIMAGES
HELLENEELKIMPEDES
ALDERCOEGAYLE
CRAZYEIGHTYSIXDAMON
OENOTREEHEIREINE
PLINTHSNUGLISEAGLES
LASSOESESIGNJINGLES
AXEOMYASSAYINKIAM
NETLONGUNOMDENRA
DREWSCOTTNOLIESEEN
SAINTPROPOSEECARD
SOFAYOUREPROD
SAVEPARKNTHOTRODS
ALIEMILATHEIFSNOT
NBCOASISPAULAALA
TAUTOUUNICORNLIQUOR
ANNALSRUDOLPHLOTTOS
YARDSEXESCROP

MARY LOU: I originally contacted Jeff in November of last year about a reindeer themed Christmas puzzle with a dot to dot picture. We kicked many ideas back and forth. I mentioned the original eight reindeer as theme possibilities and Jeff suggested RUDOLPH THE RED NOSED REINDEER which breaks into 13/13. He went off in one direction with the eight reindeer and I came up with the attached grid. We submitted both ideas to Will and heard back favorably from Joel on both grids but the picture grid having the edge. We were given the go-ahead to proceed with the fill and cluing.

Jeff did the grid reconstruction. It was quite a challenge, given the 26 fixed points of the picture (Joel mentioned that it felt incomplete without the Z) as well as the theme entries, to work clean fill around. About two months and numerous emails later we got word that the puzzle was in the queue.

I'm very excited to have another Christmas puzzle as well as a Sunday grid in the NYT. Many thanks to Jeff, Will, Joel and Sam for assistance in bringing this puzzle to press. I hope you enjoyed your solving experience.

POW Mon 12/25/2017
PRIMCLOTLATCH
JADEEONSALOHA
SHOTCLOCKYEMEN
RUSSETEXANS
CALORIEFATTEE
OSUSUNBELTOYL
RICHESLACEUP
KAYONUTSASH
VETOERFIASCO
CSAWAXBEANTAG
RUNOTTRUDDERS
IMPISHMOXIE
SMELTHITPARADE
CILIAARIABAIL
OTTERMACSYANK

I doubt that "hit" puzzles are all that original, so I was mildly surprised when this was accepted, back in April. And I was totally surprised to learn last week that it would be running on Christmas Day. Hitting someone doesn't seem like a Christmasy theme!

I think it was noticing Lucy's last name that inspired this. Van Pelt was a must-use answer, even with the sort-of extra word in there. Deciding on the theme answers made me realize the multitude of words — clock, paste, and belt being just a few — that can be used in this vein.

I didn't notice any significant changes to the clues, so the puzzle you worked is pretty much the one I submitted.

Peace and good will to all this holiday season, and here's to lots of good solving in 2018.

Tue 12/26/2017
AJJACOBSABSCESS
PORTABLEBAYAREA
RESONATEINSPECT
LAMNADAICRY
STILLAFIVELETTER
LAGSANACAST
ECOACTSPOIL
WORDSTARTINGWITH
AISLEUSSRYE
TATAIOSPAPA
LOSANDENDINGINER
ARABEASEOLE
MENACERSCOUTCAR
ERASURESANTIAGO
ROSEREDABSENTEE

Credit for this puzzle's theme goes to my dog. Every day I go for a 35-minute walk with Lulu, a labradoodle who will be 10 in February. Since she isn't much of a conversationalist, I use that time to listen to podcasts. About a year ago, Stephen J. Dubner, the host of the podcast "Freakonomics Radio," started a new podcast called "Tell Me Something I Don't Know," described as "journalism wrapped in a game-show package." Each episode has some guests, including a real-time fact-checker.

Back in September, I was walking Lulu and listening to "TMSIDK." The fact-checker was A.J. Jacobs. I knew him from his podcast "Twice Removed" and his books, all of which I've read (except for the most recent one, called "It's All Relative," which claims that everyone is a distant cousin of everyone). When I heard what he said about being 1-Down in a crossword (listen at tmsidk.com/, Episode 27, about 2:50 into the episode), I had to stop my walk and replay it. It was a perfect quote for a crossword. I knew it was way too long for a daily puzzle (and it had to be a Monday or Tuesday or else it was no good), but I didn't know if it would be possible to get a portion of it to break up into symmetrical chunks. I wouldn't be able to check until I got home, still a 10-minute walk away. Lulu and I ran the last part of the walk. When I got home, I listened to the quote several times. The money part was the ending, so I started counting backward from the end. When I got to a word break at 16 letters, I thought "Damn! One letter too many!" But I kept counting backward, and after 16 more letters there was another break ... and then after 16 more, another break ... and those three formed a complete thought! It was perfect for a 16x15 grid! The odds of it working out exactly right were so slim, yet it did.

For the grid, the tricky part was keeping it at a Tuesday level with an eight-letter answer at 1-Across. I had to make sure that the words crossing the A.J. initials were drop-dead easy since if you aren't familiar with the name, those letters are essentially unchecked. (Such a blind crossing is known as a "Natick," after the crossing of N.C. WYETH with NATICK in this puzzle.)

I hope my "cousin" A.J. enjoys the puzzle!

Wed 12/27/2017
RBIWHOALADIES
ARMAUDIAVENGE
GAGORDERBODEGA
TNOTEWIENER
ADOTATALLTEL
GODOFLOVESHIVA
FINENOBAIL
MISPLAYCOROLLA
OPERASAONE
JANETAGNESGREY
ODDSWEETAIDE
CACHESBRAGS
CHATTYADDERLEY
GASTROGAYETRE
INHALFOMENOSS

I've been looking for another magic themed puzzle ever since Kevan Choset and I had MAGIC WORDS in the Times ten years ago!

There weren't a ton of "ladies" that worked for this puzzle. They needed to be well-known and have an even number of letters. MARMALADE was out, unfortunately.

I was excited when I saw CHATTERLEY would work and this largely drove the puzzle.

JANE was almost impossible to hide in anything but JANET. I toyed with JANEIRO, but it did not work with the black square lay out. Similarly, I wanted to distance GREY from the surname and fought with the grid to make THE GREY happen. Lost that battle.

Ultimately though, I am pleased that I was able to get a stack of 4, 6, 8, and 10 lettered ladies.

The original submission for this puzzle had the central clue as "What they saw in Las Vegas?" and not "what some performers saw". I guess Will and Joel thought that was too hard.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed it. I'm proud of the construction and fill. Tada! (sorry)

Thu 12/28/2017
BEAMESPAMDRY
LTCOLTAGUPROE
ONEPMACADEMICS
WADPOSTERTON
ESAUSNAKES
SWITDEBUTABALL
TENSEIMAMTWA
ETDVANTAGEHOC
ANIELIESHOOK
DASINFERNOANDS
SPARTAEONS
RAUUPTHEANTE
TURNABOUTACORN
ANALEMMEROVED
BOYGOADSWAYS

They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks. That's not true. You can teach an old dog, it just takes a heck of a lot longer. You have to be patient. Thanks to Will's patience with me, I was able to finally get the hang of this puzzle thing.

This was my 42nd submission to The Times. My previous 41 attempts were rejected for one reason or another. (That's right — 41 rejections in a row — I don't know if that's a record, but it's a personal best!)

Having been a professional comedian for more than a third of a century, I'm no stranger to rejection. The rough and tumble nightclub business is capable of delivering its share of rejections — often accompanied by a flying shot glass and/or an invitation to have one's face rearranged in the parking lot — but 41 "no's" in a row was, to say the least, disappointing.

Will, being Will, was kind and considerate (never once threatening bodily harm) and offered constructive criticism and encouragement with each successive defeat. When he was finally able to respond with a "yes," the relief was palpable … on both our parts. But that relief was short-lived because the "yes" was conditional. I would need to make some revisions.

"Dings," a term I would come to know all-to-well during the 11 subsequent revisions, was not an easy concept for me to grasp. I struggled. And struggled. And struggled some more. Why EMU and not ULU? Or MOI but not TOI? Why was UMA Thurman okay but UTA Hagen not? What did the original Broadway star of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" do to fall from grace in the eyes of The New York Times?

I don't know. But I do know this. Even if that old dog seems completely clueless, hang in there. Who knows? He might just "roll over" by accident.

Fri 12/29/2017
BETATESTSCOPED
OXYCONTINSHAVE
PARTYGIRLIONIA
ECOSEMIONHOLD
ETNALUNACYRGS
POETSLGBTBARE
BALICAKEMIX
CICERONOTANY
ARISINGDENT
SENTGOREGISTS
HANREPEATSLAP
FLAVORDRACELO
LIBELJOYBUZZER
OZONELAMBROAST
WENDSOKEYDOKEY

This puzzle gets the label #TBT, where TBT stands for Throwback Themeless rather than Throwback Thursday! In fact, the original version dates back to July 2014. I was on a themeless constructing jag at the time, so I wasn't expecting to see this puzzle run anytime soon. That said, when Will started publishing one more recent themeless of mine after another, I started wondering whether this themeless was being held back for a reason.

A couple of months ago, I decided to revisit this grid and see if anything egregious jumped out at me. My attention was immediately drawn to the lower left corner, which had a few entries I didn't like much anymore. I asked Will if I could revise it, and he graciously said yes.

Hope you enjoy this one, and here's to a great 2018!

Sat 12/30/2017
DASHIKISWETBAR
ALPACINOOMEARA
MNEMONICRUNDMC
AIDINGIDSDARE
SCUDJDATESPEW
KOPFAILSPSA
HOMEDFEALTY
CANIGETAWITNESS
ZLOTYSRERAN
OTTSWEETHAD
LAVAQUIPSROVE
GRABURNTHEWEB
OBLATEIWOULDNT
SOITISSANTIAGO
ZYDECOMCESCHER
Sun 12/31/2017RING OUT THE OLD, RING IN THE NEW
OWNCCCRAGTAGFISTS
WHOSWHOFERRARIINUIT
LASTTANGINPARISBAMBA
SMEESNERTSPATSTWIT
BATTENSPSIACURAS
CELLRECITALTHEBABE
LIETOTESLASITEMSAP
ONEHOPIGUESSGETME
TEDPOLGROUNDSFELLTO
SUDANESEBLAMEON
ALFMISSYSOLERROY
GOLIATHOBSESSED
ATODDSINEEDAHUGOFAN
TUPACGOSTAGESPANA
ESPASANSLAKEDAHINT
YIPPIESURANIUMOREO
OLDBOYLOPPENNANT
BAIOSADATELMERERLE
EPSONSEVENDAYSINMAYO
YUCKYHAIRPINOPTEDIN
SPOSEENCORENEHENS

Add-a-letter and remove-a-letter gimmicks have each been done to the saturation point so today it's challenging to come up with a fresh and entertaining take. Hybrids that combine both these gimmicks have been done but are less common and because of the added layer of complexity, are inherently more interesting.

Hybrids increase constructing options because many entries work both ways. For example, SUM WRESTLER (removing the O) also works by adding an O as DIM SUMO, "Not the brightest mawashi wearer?"

One of my favorites now litters the cutting room floor: TIC-TACO, "All-in-one entrée and breath mint?" For someone who is so easily amused as I am, brainstorming lists of this nonsense with friends is half the fun, and I tip my hat to my bud, Gary Soucie, who has bounced back many a winner over the years without ever wanting credit.

Will rejected my first draft for lack of a coherent rationale and title. Nancy Salomon to the rescue! Nancy, who has mentored many constructors, uncorked the New Year's Eve title which led to acceptance. Thank you, Nancy, and best wishes to all for a Happy & Healthy.