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Puzzles for December, 2019
with constructor comments

Sun 12/1/2019ACTUALLY ...
EMUGORKIBABESNAPTO
DIPUCONNASONREPEAL
INSPITEOFRHODEISLAND
TIEONREPOLUVTENTH
STPETERSSQUARELAURA
CARATAUTENDETAT
UPTOPARSTEELESS
TEARINTORIVALEVER
APINGHOLYROMANEMPIRE
HALLAHOREEXITSIGNS
SOLEASLAPEGAN
ATPRESENTIRISESEBB
CHINESECHECKERSRATIO
KENOFLOESATTESTTO
TBASTAIDEASIEST
LOCOTTOARTYEMTS
IPADSARABICNUMERALS
KITESCPRAHASOILED
ENGLISHHORNMETRODOME
NEUTERAMENIBEAMYIN
SSTARSNAPACYANSDST
POW Mon 12/2/2019
LABORALPSHEMS
EVADEBITEURGE
GOREDBOARDGAME
OWEBURNMOE
SAMBASEGOSLAP
LIARSLONESOME
NGOMBASEWES
FEIGNYAPCREST
ACMEOGREAIR
STUDYFORABETS
TOMANDYDASHES
HMOMOORELI
READSUPONEBBED
NEATSORETRACE
SLAVEXESSORTS
Tue 12/3/2019
STARRSADPERON
HOSEALIESTARE
ANTEDANNOYANCE
HERDINSTINCT
SROOOHMEHALB
EATMELESTER
BUTTDIALSDIANA
ASOUTRAPSBRIG
RHODEKNOTTYING
GENEVADROOL
ERSABSTATARF
SCENESTEALER
ADNAUSEAMBRIDE
VOICEAVEACTOR
AWAKEKENGOOSE

Da Vinci described poetry as "a painting which is heard but not seen." POETRY was my initial revealer for this puzzle but was nixed. I believe I tried again with MEL BLANC who was known for his cartoon voices before finally settling with VOICE ACTOR. Another revealer I thought of was THE VOICE, a TV show but also an instrument that fits the bill. In any case, the puzzle remains one in which the actual solution never appears in print.

Wed 12/4/2019
JIMLAMASDEBRA
ENOORONOALLEN
STRAWMANFALLACY
TREXESTILES
SOLEOPERATOP
SLIPPERYSLOPE
SEEPAFAR
POTOMACBIRDFLU
ASHEPULP
CHERRYPICKING
TARWARESARON
AMANAPOTATO
MOVINGGOALPOSTS
ONENDUDDERSEE
WONKAESSAYYRS

This was a fun puzzle to write and brainstorm. I looked through hundreds of logical fallacies to find a good set and learned a lot in the process. Did you know there's a Fallacy Fallacy that says that just because someone used a logical fallacy doesn't mean their argument is inherently wrong? Has the word "fallacy" lost all meaning yet?

My favorite left on the cutting room floor: "I'm not bad at running a movie theater, you are!" for PROJECTION.

Happy solving!

Thu 12/5/2019
MASHACTSBOWIE
OREOIDEAERICA
MEATSCAMABNER
SANDSHAKERSBEN
ALASETSY
BLAMEEIGNSTATE
RUNNERLOOUNIX
URNTABLOIDOBI
CIAONUBROUSES
EDBRIDGESINERT
EGGOHONK
AOLNMENTAGENCY
BALTODOITMERE
CHEERNICEPROW
SUEDEARKSTOPS

My original submission of this puzzle had two major differences from the version you solved today. First, it had the theme entry GOVERNMENT CHEESE; it was changed to GOVERNMENT AGENCY because that answer would be more familiar to more solvers. Second, a particularly gnarly section with the answers MENA/ONER/CCCP lived at the top of the grid; now it's ACTS/IDEA/SCAM.

In making this change, I increased the word count of the puzzle from 76 to 78 words. I appreciate the dialogue I had with the editorial staff, especially their willingness to let me add a couple words to the puzzle to make the experience more fun for solvers.

Fri 12/6/2019
ADWARSGYMRAT
PROFITLIEIDLE
PAREVELESSSALT
ANSWERMETHIS
LOTREACTTAMES
SPORTUTILITY
HIPPOTUCKSNUN
ONLYVIREOREDO
ITASINEWPARED
SWIMUPSTREAM
TOTEMHOARYTBA
MAKEUPARTIST
NOBOTHERSAUDIS
OVERRANETRADE
BANYANDEFLEA
Sat 12/7/2019
TENJAMAICANRUM
RYEIMETSOMEONE
EEKGOTTABOUNCE
STOWSHEIRSNAT
CECEPANDACIGS
HEADBANDSCREE
ITSGONEOGLE
CHEESELOWFAT
DOSTCOMMISH
GSIXWRAPPARTY
CRANLIARSTEAR
HENPANICSEATO
ITCHECKSOUTWII
BETARELEASEAND
ALARMSYSTEMYES

KEVIN: I hope my co-constructor Erik Agard won't mind when I say that he is a genius. I witnessed clever clues pour forth from him the way that melodies sprang effortlessly from Mozart's fingertips at the piano as he improvised for his audiences.

Sun 12/8/2019"LOOKIN' GOOD!"
JARASCAPABBOTUTES
AFEWKELSOTRULYFETA
BREEZINESSRECAPFAHD
BALIINDONESIAEDITED
EMERGESHADTOEZINE
REDDTIRADEBOYZIIMEN
NINETODINEATESS
INASECSHORINGMYB
NADIAGEEZERUSBECKO
KRISTENWIIGNEHILOLZ
ENDODOSEETOIAMNEZ
RIALIMAMNINTENDOWII
SASEFEMSTREWSPLANE
XVIABUSIVEWHYYES
OPSWEEZERNERVED
JACOBRIISAGREERSPCA
ILUVUSNIPSNESTERS
BELUGAEASYONTHEEYES
WALLLUNGSOVEREXPOSE
ALEEAMIESDINARATTN
SERSSPADEADELEEST

I wanted to find a way to get BOYZIIMEN into a puzzle because I think the "YZII" is such a fun, bizarre string of letters. Initially, I was going to attempt to do so in a themeless puzzle, but as I was trying to work it into the bottom of a stack the idea of something being "on the eyes" came to me so I went in this direction instead. Will Shortz had the suggestion to make EASY ON THE EYES one of the answers when I originally had it as the title, which I think is a great tweak that makes the puzzle much less obvious and hopefully more fun for solvers!

If I were to go back and do this again, I'd probably get rid of one of the theme answers to let things breathe a little more. As it stands now, I think there are some pretty rough spots in terms of the fill.

Mon 12/9/2019
MASTSNILSEPIC
ALOHAOPECLAVA
VALENCIAORANGES
SNOWADDICIEST
ABLEEBAN
CLEVELANDBROWNS
LACEDAILSHOP
ETOSMITTENISU
ACNEAAAACTED
RHODEISLANDREDS
HONKBEAU
ASPENSPBSELSA
HILLSTREETBLUES
EDAMAIRYALLAH
MENSYAKSRALLY

Working with four 15-letter theme entries was interesting because it presented both a degree of rigidity and interchangeability in placing them. Rigidity in that the answers had to be in rows 3, 6, 10, and 13, or else there would be too much segmentation and too many 3-letter answers. Interchangeability in that the entries could be placed in one of 24 possible combinations. The choice of which combination to use came down to how well the two middle entries worked together, particularly in the east and west. The options quickly dwindle when one considers that not much good fill ends in V or U, for instance (in VALENCIA and BLUES).

I'm excited to have my second crossword in the New York Times and especially to have it published as I prepare for my last finals before I complete my undergraduate degree. I hope it makes for an enjoyable solve.

Tue 12/10/2019
GAGAADDSAPSE
EMITCROOKNOOK
CAMEOUTSWINGING
KIMOLSENELS
ONEMPTYGIVEOFF
USSARSENEE
UMAMINCAACITE
BOBBEDANDWEAVED
EUROICEEABYSS
RTEADHDPGA
SHAMPOOBALLAST
SAOCRUDESPA
PUTUPTHEIRDUKES
ARODBIBLEPELT
WIFESPATIDLY
Wed 12/11/2019
AVOWSCHWAPOEM
LEDAORIONANNA
DIDGERIDOOMYTH
ONSETMELDSOIL
WATERFEATURE
RUNATABSTARER
USERPOOFCOM
MAWWASPISHAHA
SSRSARICRUD
SHALOMSTROKED
WEGOTOGETHER
AGEENCLSINICE
MONTTHENANDNOW
PACEHAVOCOGRE
STYXSTEWSGADS

There have been puzzles where the idea for the theme came to me first, and I later went looking for a revealer, but the opposite order is probably more common for me, and if memory serves, today's theme is an example of the latter. The theme is rather constrained — in that there isn't an abundance of short irregular verbs like these, nor a great many phrases that contain each pair — which is basically a good thing.

My original submission had BIOMUSICAL (clued as [Hamilton, e.g.]) in the ON YOUR MARK slot, and I was a bit disappointed when I was asked to replace it (THEN), but I have to admit I'm happy with the revision (NOW).

Thu 12/12/2019
GELLERGARNET
MARIANAOILEDUP
ALABONFIREURL
CAESSENESTI
ETAILMIGSTALE
SERFLAGOSHIED
ATOMICNUMBERS
DRUNKTAUNT
BEGGEDFORMORE
ARCODAUNTSALS
SOOTYBRAHENIE
SNIWILLSOXE
ESCPANSIESLIT
SOONESTMAESTRO
NODSTOBLAMES

The impetus for this puzzle was a bizarre desire to make something interesting out of the terrible crosswordese abbreviation AT NOS. My original submission used that phrase as the revealer, thereby giving a raison d'être for abbreviating the chemical elements. To enhance the theme, I created a sparse, super-symmetric grid-art layout evocative of the Rutherford-Bohr model of an atom.

Unusually, this theme relies on two-letter entries. They break the fundamental crossword convention that all words should be at least three letters long. For reference, only six other NYT grids in the Shortz era have contained two-letter words.

Unfortunately, since the original grid only had 25 black blocks, the fill was relatively weak. Generally speaking, the more white space you have, the harder it is to find clean fill. Furthermore, by using such a spartan grid configuration, I was at the mercy of the crossword gods as to which elements got featured. Luckily, despite these flaws, Will Shortz and crew were still interested in the idea. They offered that if I could create a cleaner grid featuring more familiar elements, they'd take a look.

The current arrangement uses 12 cheater squares. They make filling easier and provide flexibility to manipulate which elements get featured. By changing how many black squares there are and where they are deployed, the two-letter slots can correspond to different clue numbers. For example, if the cheater square in the upper-left corner were removed, the first element would be Beryllium (BE) instead of Lithium (LI).

Using these cheater squares, however, muddles the grid art and eliminates the supersymmetry. Ultimately, however, a clean, interesting solve rightfully takes priority. I hope this puzzle provides that.

POW Fri 12/13/2019
RASHGUARDBANFF
ENCOUNTEROPERA
FIRSTSTEPSTEED
EMITNICECEDE
RAMALEPHSARA
INGAPADTHAI
SMOREVERYAND
POLARBEARPLUNGE
ENDVEALANDES
LEGWEARMANO
LYREVWBUSSPA
BOCAORESRAIL
DEWARROSEPETAL
ULTRAMOLTOBENE
ETHELSKISEASON

I'm very excited to have my first solo byline and my first themeless puzzle published! I decided to give themeless constructing a try after seeing the statistics about how few women have historically constructed Fridays and Saturdays for the NYT.

To start, I seeded this puzzle with POLAR BEAR PLUNGE because I love jumping in freezing cold alpine lakes. From there, I focused on converting as many of the long slots as possible into interesting entries and minimizing liabilities (including keeping the 3-letter-word count down.) I found that this grid offered a fair amount of flexibility since the entries in the middle diagonal (along the VEAL -> VERY axis) had several alternatives and could be swapped out pretty easily when I needed to rewrite a corner.

Since I'm still new to constructing, I wasn't surprised to see many clues changed in the editing process, but a few of my original ones (FIRST STEP, SKI SEASON, SARA, SPA, etc) made it through. SKI SEASON feels especially timely as the season is starting up right now (even though I prefer cross country skiing to going on downhill runs!)

Thank you to Robyn Weintraub and Peter Wentz for generously answering my many, many questions about how exactly one goes from a blank grid to a finished themeless puzzle. They shared useful technical tips and, most importantly, helped me keep my standards high. Thank you also to Erik and Will N for connecting to me Robyn and Peter, to Jeff and Jim for all the great resources at XWord Info, and to my mom and aunt for being my trusty test solvers!

Sat 12/14/2019
FBICHIEFDEJAVU
REGIONALAUTOPEN
ELEVENTYPLAYERS
RATEDSIGILSHBO
EMITMANRAYNOOB
SITBILGEROUTE
POLICECRUISER
DEAREVANHANSEN
TAXPAYERMONEY
HITATPOCKSALA
ERRSBUENOSGRAM
MYAMOTTSTSANDP
ECOTAGETAKETIME
TONESUPECONOCAR
SWEATSROIDRAGE

I worked for a while to get a trio of answers I liked across the middle of this odd-sized grid. When I came up with this option and the "fun" clue for TAXPAYER MONEY I knew it was a grid to pursue further and I fleshed out the rest. Since making this grid I had the opportunity to sing back-up for Hugh Jackman in his touring show, and one of the numbers we performed was You Will Be Found from DEAR EVAN HANSEN. It's always nice when crossword puzzle entries remind you of something meaningful in your life. Hope you enjoy!

Sun 12/15/2019DOING A DOUBLE TAKE
POBOYSNIPERSMADAM
OHARASHONOREELAMESA
PITCHYUPGRADEPITCHY
TOSSSASEDIPSSITH
OAFTHEGEMINIDRE
PROTEAMKARATPROTEAM
TREATPINELOGENTRY
RRATINGTROTSKY
STRIPLINGSTRIPLING
HUELETHSTTONROO
ENEWSROSEPETALELATE
LEVITESTHECWLEVITES
FRERESGEEWHIZNICEST
IMCOOLNOODLE
HIDENAMESAKESNUMB
MOUSSESOMANIMOUSSES
MUDTIRESOCALALGEBRA
EATOFLANDS
BOXERSPIRATICBOXERS
MAITRETRITONEAMELIA
ITSSADSEALEGSYESMOM

CHRISTINA: I feel I can't take much credit for this one. It was the fourth collaboration I did with Jeff, and the first Sunday grid we've done. The theme idea was Jeff's, during a really long brainstorming session over email (easily over a hundred emails). Because of all the constraints and the mirror symmetry, the grid skeleton was a real challenge to make with fewer than 143 words (3 more than the typical max). I took many stabs at it, but Jeff came up with this one.

This was one of my first times filling a Sunday grid, and it was a beast! I couldn't believe how hard it is to fill a grid like this without any duplicates. Just when we thought we had a version we liked, we'd catch another one. Verbs like "run "and "eat" pop up in so many phrases, and with different tenses, they can be hard to catch.

Jeff and I have different methods of filling a grid, and I learned a lot from his style. He is highly methodical, and holds off on decision making until looking at every possible way to fill each section. I feel very lucky to have gotten the chance to work with him.

JEFF: Christina is being modest. An idea that comes out of a deep brainstorming session belongs to both people, 50/50. I often tell budding constructors that volume is an important factor in coming up with a good crossword theme, maybe one out of 20 concepts being a decent starting point.

Note that I said "starting point," not "idea." I find that the best constructors are the ones willing to work through difficulties and put in the time to let that seed of an idea grow into something crossworthy, and Christina is a perfect example.

Mon 12/16/2019
YOUTHGOOFREBA
ARNIEOMAREVIL
MADEALITEMANE
LORDOFTHERINGS
DRSWAX
BADGERJOINDDT
ARIESPOOFAURA
RICEKRISPIESBOX
BAEZOTISNEALE
SLYACHEAVAILS
OAKTRI
SANTASWORKSHOP
PLOTTOBEAILEY
ROVEAVONGLARE
YEARREEDELVES

KEVIN: The original version of this had RICE KRISPIES BOX 15, NORTH POLE 9, KEEBLER AD 9, and JRR TOLKIEN BOOKS 15. Joel emailed Howard and me and said they weren't crazy about KEEBLER AD 9 or JRR TOLKIEN BOOKS 15. Howard and I asked if we could send a revision with LORD OF THE RINGS 14, RICE KRISPIES BOX 15, and SANTA'S WORKSHOP 14. Joel said sure they would take a look and we went from there.

Early on I fretted over whether the Rice Krispies characters are elves or gnomes. If they're gnomes, then are elves a subset of gnomes, are gnomes a subset of elves, are gnomes and elves exactly the same things, or are they totally different things? In the end I decided that the characters on the Rice Krispies box are elves, not gnomes, so it didn't matter. Crisis averted. Whew!

In the long down fill, HEAD DESK was a phrase I'd been wanting to work into a puzzle for a while. FREE WIFI is a part of everyday life, and it's never been in an NYT crossword puzzle before. There are lots of interesting ways to clue ROCK STAR, so that's a good one. We would have rather had EXCUSE ME in the spot that has ENVISAGE, but the rest of the fill in that area was cleaner with ENVISAGE, so we went with that.

HOWARD: I don't have much more to add to Kevin's comments here, except this was a fun, accessible little theme to craft with him. Also, my intensive searches about rice-based cereal mascots turned up enough evidence of elf-esteem to satisfy my doubts about its inclusion in the puzzle, and I'm glad that Kevin was also okay with it :-). Enjoy!

Tue 12/17/2019
GRAPHPLAYABAG
MADEAOAREDJLO
ODORLESSGASOFF
VESTERIE
TIRELESSWORKER
BADASSLAHR
OMENAMISHSLO
HEADLESSCHICKEN
ODSOPINEHYPE
ALECGRAPES
FEARLESSLEADER
SMUTHUNS
TOTHAIRLESSDOG
OJOEXPELLAURA
PISREADSEMERY

Today's puzzle was fun to construct. For your amusement, here's a pic of _ED K_ _PEL as a TOPLESSDANCER.

Wed 12/18/2019
CRABALTOROWER
HEMICOEDOFAGE
EDITINGADRAFTOF
EUGENEMORSE
SCARFMAAMRNS
YESLEANNPASEO
MANIAFOLKSY
WRITINGWELLIS
CAUSEDRINKY
OWNEDPANDAGIF
BANDAMEDRACO
EMAILBOILER
SURELYANARTFORM
USURPTACOTRUE
MOPESEYESSEND

My first thought of making crossword puzzles started after I learned Will Shortz's story while looking through an alumni magazine in 2005, how he got his law degree then went on to become the editor of crosswords at the Times. Years later, there was a piece about Sam Ezersky, who graduated as an engineer then went to work with Will. It was this second nudge about another fellow alum that finally pushed me to add constructing crossword puzzles to my list of activities to pursue through old-age, along with photography and duplicate bridge. Playing the piano would also have made the list if I had had any hope of mastering it.

My first thought was to make the themeless puzzles I got so good at solving while commuting to the city in the early '90s. It was a pleasant surprise to realize that what elevates many of today's crossword puzzles is computing power combined with an author's creativity.

It's taken two years of fine-tuning, and still, every time an idea for a theme strikes, the hours pass like minutes while I am working on a new grid.

Thanks to the UVA Alumni Magazine for providing the inspiration to begin. Concerning A Reduced Sentence's theme, from the writing of Thomas Jefferson, "the most valuable of all talents, that of never using two words where one will do."

POW Thu 12/19/2019
CVERREHABEMI
SWATHICEPLANET
AGREECOMPANCAR
DIGRAPHTHORNY
IRANALIASNOM
ELSASYNCBEAUT
LETTILECGI
SPABECHDELHSN
VALALOESAT
UTLEYSWTSRAMS
OSXKAYOSARGO
NOTIMEPOPCORN
STATELINEOHMAN
FIRSTLOOKPEATY
WESZYNGAEASE

Hope you enjoy solving this puzzle as much as we enjoyed making it!

Periodic reminder: the Crossword Puzzle Collaboration Directory is a resource for puzzlemakers from underrepresented groups. If you're interested in writing crosswords (or other puzzles) and would like some tips on getting started, someone to critique your work, or someone to collaborate with, give it a look.

Also, if you haven't already checked it out, Queer Qrosswords 2 was released in September. QQ2 is a collection of top-notch crosswords made by folks in the LGBTQ+ community, which you can purchase by donating $10 or more to an LGBTQ+ charity and emailing Queer Qrosswords the receipt.

Fri 12/20/2019
SITINRODEKAMA
MONACOENERGYBAR
ANNOYSDEMIMOORE
RYESHAHSTATUE
CARSTEREORIOTS
LASERPEELTNT
NUCORARENARHEA
OSAGEMINDCOAST
RUNSNANTZOUTTA
MAYLONGHORNS
LOGANSENATEBID
FURMANDEVOEVE
MANOAMANOAUSTIN
PROGRESSOGRATES
GETSSTARESPYS
Sat 12/21/2019
JOECAMELETCH
SULTANATEMIRE
SANDALWOODIMAX
POKEVARCLOVE
OPENERICTHERED
NAMARIZ
GUAMHOTSYTOTSY
ELIAAURASLOKI
SOLOARTISTARID
JUDDPAD
SQUADGOALSTERI
TUCCILIPODES
ROOKTREVORNOAH
ARNEAAVERAGES
WANTINERTGAS
Sun 12/22/2019DOWN FOR THE COUNT
LCDALELOPNAW
ORESSCALPMINSKROBE
MULTIPLICATIVEINVERSE
BLOUSERAGWEEDECHECK
ALUNSERPEONSMERMAID
RESURIAVASSA
DREWTEETOTALERSPOSY
ISDONEMACHSIXARENAS
USCGNURSEGIRL
PORKCHOPLEEPASSEDGO
AMOBABIESRUSEEK
SAGABRIOALMSILSA
THETHEORYOFRELATIVITY
EARMARKSNOEAIRWAVES
FAIREMAULSNOONE
OHENRYFORREALSNARFS
NODPARRAMESYON
AMENTUTTIFRUTTIERNE
JAROMIROVINEALAMODE
AGENDERNAVELGLAMOUR
GERALDSSLEDSSESAMES

It's particularly fun to debut on the Sunday before Christmas since my crossword creation habit began exactly a year ago when I decided to make a year-in-review crossword for our annual family letter!

In the process of figuring out how to construct that first puzzle, I was thrilled to discover the plentiful online resources for aspiring constructors. I was amazed by the enthusiastic encouragement of beginners from experienced constructors and in Wordplay's How to Make a Crossword Puzzle. Together, the resources and encouragement got me thinking that maybe I could make a publishable crossword. Later, the specific, gently-delivered feedback from Times editors on three rejected submissions helped me know what to focus on improving. (Imagine if educators were to trade the "weeding out" mentality for an "encourage and provide targeted feedback" approach . . . )

This puzzle evolved from the idea of doing something numerical with 39-Across. The happy discovery that its central letter was also the start of 41-Down inspired me to learn the tiny bit of RegEx (thanks, Jim, Jeff, and XWord Info!) needed to find other pairs. Then came the revelation that the words which ended up in the central column could fit there so nicely, and the idea for the block design followed. I had begun working on the fill when one of Jeff's XWord Info notes sparked the idea of leaving out T's. The title came after I'd finished everything else.

About half my clues or lightly edited versions thereof remain. Of these, about a quarter are interesting/original. I like how the editors re-clued 114-Across, 22-Down, and 41-Down for the season! The only clue I was sad to lose, particularly given the timing of the puzzle's appearance, was "Nativity scene?" for 60-Down.

Thanks to my known test solvers, cousin Don and spouse Geoff, and to all — known and unknown — who have helped bring this to fruition!

POW Mon 12/23/2019
MAYANSDOTCOM
EXOTICEUROPA
MIDDLERELIEVER
ESAUNOAHXENA
SLEDRIDE
AWAKEISLAM
RIGSTAMOSEWE
CFOSOPALAVOW
HIGHSPEEDDRILL
EATSOL
REDDELICIOUS
TUXNINOPTA
SPINTHEDREIDEL
PETERIELROND
SESTETSIESTA
Tue 12/24/2019
DEFRAYHEEHAW
MOLIERESIXPACK
COLDCUTAREOLAR
GRADBINDERCLIP
LEASETHE
STIEGALSABCS
WINDOWTRIMLEAN
IBMNEAMETRNA
MIENBUMPERCROP
SAMEBTWUHYES
OWSATSEA
BARBERSHOPISLA
ORIOLESQUARTET
STARMANUNWEAVE
HYMNALEKEDBY

Sometimes the stars align around publication dates. Even though it's been close to two years since this puzzle was accepted, the timing is spot on. I currently have STIEG Larsson's "Millennium" trilogy on loan from the library. I'll be starting on "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" as soon as I finish Robin Hobb's "The Golden Fool." I'm reading my way through her oeuvre, and I need a break since her next book, "Fool's Fate" isn't available through my local library (and it will take some time for an inter-library loan request to come through). I enjoy her "The Realm of the Elderlings" stories — they're in a similar vein as George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series and Brandon Sanderson's "Mistborn" series, both of which I highly recommend if you like epic fantasy.

That said, looking back on this puzzle now, the crossing of STIEG and EGON may be difficult for some solvers. Since both names are unusual, it could be difficult to infer the G if you aren't familiar with either one.

Likewise, another crossing that I'd rework if I were remaking the puzzle today is AREOLAR and EPOCHAL. Neither word is great on its own, and crossing two similarly awkward words makes each stand out all the more. That crossing, however, is much fairer to the solver since the base words are well known. The problem there lies more in elegance than potential Natick creation.

The inspiration for this puzzle was the Disneyland version of the Dapper Dans, a barbershop quartet who perform along Main Street, U.S.A. Along with the ragtime piano player at Refreshment Corner (shout-out to Patrick, who's the best of the bunch!), the Dapper Dans are my favorite atmospheric entertainment in the park.

Wed 12/25/2019
PSSTBASKPINA
ACAIISLAMONES
LANDHOHOHOOTIS
OLDIETLCLOLA
PLEASEHOHOHOLD
SLAPATAD
DEISCAROLEIC
ITSHOHOHOPELESS
SCOOTTHORPHI
TTOPMISO
HOHOHOLYSMOKES
AVERPEASTREP
TURNIMHOHOHOME
ELMONOOSEEDIT
RESTNOUNNESS

This puzzle was accepted at almost exactly the same time (a year ago) as my "O Tannenbaum" puzzle that ran on 12/25/18. My initial submission here had IDAHO HO HO POTATO as the middle entry. Ha! What was I thinking? Four spoken phrases and one spud?

I clued for Monday/Tuesday so a lot of mine had to be toughened. It's always fun to try to see how many other entries can be clued to the holiday theme, and the editing team helped a lot with that. The only clue of mine that I desperately wanted the editors to keep was my clue for ASH ("All the dirt on Santa?"), and they did. I was a little worried my clue for HO HO HOLY SMOKES ("What Santa said when a kid requested cigarettes for Christmas") was over the line, and it was.

Happy Holidays!

Thu 12/26/2019
JAMERGSHYDOW
AMRADIOCOUPEVA
BATCAVEROLEPLAY
SMETHEDETAILS
CODRHEASEC
ORCASAMISLOIS
ESTFEATSPELUNK
XTHERIGHTBALANCE
ECOTONEINCATUG
CODAERSEELLER
OLETRAPORS
XXXINTHESTRAW
REJIGGERBOWLING
ARERILEABEYANT
YOWFLOYESNEO

The theme of this puzzle bears more than a passing resemblance to that of my Battleship puzzle from approximately two years ago, although the relative elegance of this one does make me wonder a bit why I didn't come up with it first. I liked that SPARE, STRIKE, and TURKEY are each the first word of their respective theme answers and that I was able to put them in what feels like the most logical order. I do think it's interesting that both puzzles even involve X's standing in for parts of theme entries, although this one also includes a slash mark to mix things up.

In constructing the grid, I focused first on the region around the three X's, and when I noticed the possibility of threading ORTHODOX JEW through two theme entries, I pretty much vowed to make it work. I had to REJIGGER (and re-rejigger) the arrangement of black squares, but ultimately, I think that section turned out quite nicely, and the rest of the puzzle looks pretty good as well. I tried to work in some nice bonus fill, including RIVER SEINE, ROLEPLAY, and the BATCAVE / SPELUNK pairing, without making too many compromises — hopefully, I managed to STRIKE THE RIGHT BALANCE.

The majority of my clues made in into the final version of the puzzle. Some of my favorites of mine are those for 4-Across, 32-Across, 5-Down, 31-Down, and 59-Down. I also am glad to see that the clue [Prefix with –phyte] for both NEO and XERO survived the edit, and I think that [Letter in the NATO alphabet] for X-RAY is a nice callback to yet another one of my previous puzzles for the Times.

I hope you found this to be an enjoyable solve, and that the theme was… up your alley (I'll show myself out).

Fri 12/27/2019
SAFESRODEPDFS
PLEBEALANMOORE
ALLOTREDCARPET
NOTNICEBOTNETS
ISAYOFSORTS
SATBLONDETABS
HUHEIRESADAT
FROZENMARGARITA
LUMENKOOKOER
USERCHEATSSST
OHLORDYIAMS
ICEDOUTTEENMOM
COLORCODEANITA
BLOWAKISSSEGEL
MANNSLOTTROLL

One night while out with some of my best friends, we ordered a round of FROZEN MARGARITAs, and, "cool, relatable person" that I am, I couldn't recover from the observation that FROZEN MARGARITA was 15 letters long. In no real condition to type, I added something like "froze marinara" to my phone's Notes app (thanks autocorrect) — luckily I pieced it together the next day and made this grid.

I don't get to see those friends very often but I will for New Years — FROZEN MARGARITAs on me!

Sat 12/28/2019
HIPSTSPSILIAD
OCHOSPASCOMMA
LAOSHITTHESPOT
ONNOTICEODESSA
GREWRYJOTS
REDHOTMAKESDO
ALIASCAMEALONG
MATSCOREDETTU
STINGRAYSLETHE
ENTAILSRUPEES
ALMSBUSDRS
ORACLECASHFLOW
TOPLOADERSRICH
ONEUPNONEANKA
HADESASSTTEST
Sun 12/29/2019NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS
SPOILLALAWSHUTWART
PUNNYARISELASHIGOR
CLEANOUTTHEHOUSENAME
ALPSURLDAMEDEEPAK
SEEFRIENDSMOREOFTEN
MARCIESAIATTA
OHCOOLSNOGSSRSRO
SEENSAYGROWMYNESTEGG
HANDKONWEIRCLEARY
EDTMERESALTIHARLEM
GIVEUPOLDHABITS
SHERRITEAKSNODEMBA
AERATERAMISONTEEN
WATCHWHATIEATBAGHDAD
LEIALYSCARSIRIUS
EARSDREDLOTTO
PLANAPERFECTGETAWAY
SHALOMDEADINKATIT
WAILORGANIZEMYOFFICE
ISLENEEDTAKEITIVOS
MEANANDYSPENTSTENT

The initial spark for this puzzle was LOSE TEN POUNDS, which didn't end up making the cut. My testers rightly noted that no British person, no matter how absent-minded or confused about gambling, would want to lose money.

Other resolutions on the cutting room floor: FIND A LIFE PARTNER (lonely board-gamer), CLEAN UP THE HOUSE (Congressional ethicist), START RUNNING (hesitant politician), DO SOME TRAVELING (brazen basketballer).

Making this puzzle took a village: Alison Muratore, Greg Pliska, Eric Chaikin, Debbie Goldstein, and NeilFred Picciotto all provided valuable feedback. And as always, my puzzle sensei Tyler Hinman generously evaluated many, many iterations of the filled grid — sparing the nation's solvers the indignity of answers like ONER, PLUR, RVER, EBOND, and so on.

Not coincidentally, these folks are all members of a wonderful, welcoming organization called the National Puzzlers' League. If you want to spend four days playing ingenious, hand-crafted word puzzles of all kinds, this year's convention is in Toronto in July!

I made it a priority to keep partials out of the grid, and crosswordese to a minimum. I broke up some lovely bonuses — PALESTINIAN, SEALTHEDEAL — to enable cleaner, shorter entries elsewhere. But that pile of ESAI ATTA SSR SRO etc. tells me I can still do better — and I'm sorry there aren't more famous MARCIs!

I also made it a priority to include as many women, people of color, and LGBTQ folks in the puzzle as possible — and I was glad to see that most of my efforts made it through the editing process. Representation in popular culture — including crosswords — can help create a more just, inclusive, loving world. May it be so in 2020.

Mon 12/30/2019
ASHATWARCIGAR
ICELAINEANOSE
MARGARINEROOTS
STEAMDOORDIE
HONORSTUDENT
ORCAAPETSE
DEANARCSERASE
DAMONAROLLRIA
SPEARHONERAPS
RBIOONELSE
ALUMINUMFOIL
DENOTESDIALS
ZAIREMONEYCLIP
ESTERARIALBOA
SHEDSPEARLANT

One of my favorite activities as a boy was to eavesdrop on my dad and his cronies, drinking beer and playing penny-ante poker. The first time I heard one of his buddies exclaim, "Call me butter … cause I'm on a roll!" I cracked up. And it still inspires a chuckle over a half-century later. That was the inspiration for this puzzle — things you find on a roll. Perhaps it will inspire new sayings for card players like, "Call me aluminum foil … cause I'm on a roll!" Then again, maybe not.

Tue 12/31/2019
SCUBAASIAATMS
HONUSBONDNEAL
IRISHPOUNDNARY
RNCERRSSLAMON
KEEPATASTECOO
SAFARIKOIPOND
RESCUEACES
TWOPEASINAPOD
ARALPANAMA
RIVERPORAYBAN
ICEOUSTERAONE
GOSPELALOTOTS
ALBALOSEWEIGHT
TOYSEVENARIEL
ORESDADASEEME

This puzzle is dedicated to Andy Richter. Why? It's got nothing at all to do with the theme, that he super-kicked butt on "Celebrity Jeopardy!," or that I just saw "Elf" for the first time two weeks ago. It's funny how things work out sometimes...

Constructing crosswords can feel like a game of Whac-A-Mole: get one corner just the way you like it, and it constrains how well you're able to fill another part of the grid. Crossword construction is a complex web of interconnected trade-offs. And this grid was surprisingly difficult to fill.

In fact, in my first submission of this puzzle, I was careless enough not to notice that I'd included both "opener" and "open-toed." Oy. When Will & Co. remanded it with this observation, it wreaked havoc: Butterfly Effect incarnate. To replace one word, I had to gut everything. Fortunately, between the time I first constructed this puzzle and its revision, I'd added a new entry to my word list: 11-Down.

Right about the time I submitted this idea (a year and a half ago), my first NYT crossword appeared. One of the entries in that puzzle was PANINI. Andy Richter was overseas, and but took the time to tweet an (accurate) observation (see right).

Vowing revenge, I added TEAM COCO to my word list. You can't avoid it if you watch TBS at all; how had it never appeared in a puzzle? I knew THAT would get his attention, at which point my cruciverbal vengeance would be complete. It turns out that one entry rescued the upper-right corner, and so I credit Andy Richter for this puzzle's current form. BWAHAHA! Now we're even.