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Puzzles for December, 2021
with Constructor comments

Wed 12/1/2021
CZARCACTIFETE
LOCOATHOSARID
ERRONTHEGSTRING
FRIDAEWEEMCEE
SODPWNTORE
CLEANHEIRACT
SOLOEDEERSHOO
IRONSMIRSTAIN
FELTMUGUNABLE
TOAIRISHUMAN
NECKNATTWA
DEIGNEOSCORAL
EYRETOTHETHRONE
MEANARIASAPEX
ISNTKYOTOLEDA

Shirley Surely weave we've awl all winced inn in grammatical discomfort upon seeing a homophone written in place of the correct word, write right? Oar Or maybe it's just me.

Themes based on a set of homophones and themes making related puns based on homophones are nothing new, but had the two ever crossed paths to form a theme based on a group of eggcorns? If they had, I must have missed it, though maybe I just haven't been solving crosswords long enough.

In my brainstorming for this theme, I felt like there couldn't be too many possibilities since the requirements are pretty limiting: four words that sound similar, appear in crossworthy "in the language" phrases, and can trade places between those phrases while still making grammatical sense all while leaving room for some wacky but reasonable cluing opportunities. Oh, and matching pairs for symmetry, too. But maybe I just didn't brainstorm hard enough.

I thought I had a decent set of themers with AIR / HEIR / ERR / EYRE, but I wasn't sure my puzzle would get accepted because of an inelegance: two of the original phrases use AIR and none use EYRE. But in the end that wasn't a problem; the grid got the green light. The notes that mattered were the ones I did play, not the ones I didn't. I'm pleased to finally be making my NYT debut after plenty of failed attempts. I hope you enjoy this comedy of airers errors.

Thu 12/2/2021
SWATPASTAAVIS
RICHELFINMARE
INTERNLOCKATON
CIOLATINA
JAMAALAMERICIT
AMOSOCTETSICE
MINTNOESORB
BETRAYSMINERAL
ROWIBETLACE
ABEANGERSARMS
DRAGKINGSAYYES
VOLOESOAR
EGANSALTSHAKER
RUDEAGORACITE
BEARNOTEDEXAM

Like many others, I started constructing during the pandemic when my wife ever so gently suggested that I find a hobby. Since then, thanks to the collaborative and supportive spirit of editors, constructors, and the larger crossword community, I've published a few dozen puzzles in a number of mainstream and indie outlets. When I'm not constructing or solving crosswords, I'm a research scientist developing immunotherapies for cancer; that plus my proud membership on Team Rebus, makes for a very on-brand NYT debut!

In the first version of this grid, each rebus square started with the letter N, and the editorial team requested that I shake them up a bit more. After some revision, I was thrilled when they accepted this puzzle. The theme ate up a lot of real estate, so I was glad to squeeze in a few bonuses, and I'm especially excited to debut the entries THE CASTRO and DRAG KING. I know that solvers have mixed feelings about rebus puzzles and hope this one didn't leave anyone feeling too salty.

Fri 12/3/2021
BOTHOSIRISHBO
RHEAUPTONOGOOD
AIMSSECONDWIND
TOPNOTCHDESKS
TONESGLINTS
IFFIERLOAN
READSBABYGATES
KATETAPASSURE
STEADYGIGDIXIE
EKESDEFEND
RAFAELVALID
WORLDGAYICONS
ADIOSAMIGOACAI
RESPECTFULRAID
MOETEASEDETRE
POW Sat 12/4/2021
CHEFSKISSCLIFF
YOGAPANTSHENRI
BORNAGAININDEX
EKEYARNANDIE
RAGANOTETOSELF
CHICKWELLSBAA
ABODESDIASANK
FAUCETSASKANCE
ERSPARESANDES
SITINETS
BIDETSGOTASEC
ACRIDHABANEROS
SAYNOMOREAROMA
ELLEWOODSSIDED
SLYNOFEEFETE

This puzzle owes its genesis to Brooke Husic and the puzzles on her blog, which:

  1. you should solve (my favorites are this one and this one), and
  2. inspired the diagonal symmetry seen in this grid.

Shout out to my parents, who unfailingly turned off my electric fan every night throughout my childhood.

Sun 12/5/2021 COME AGAIN?
CBSASLEEPUPSETGMC
LAIDNEURALNOONEOAR
ALLANEVERENDINGSTORY
USEDCARUAELONE
SANSABEARSREPEATING
EMTMARIMBADRAGSEGA
PERPETUALMOTIONSOY
KANYEWESTAGENTS
FARMSEOSASPCA
ETTANANAPOPARTISAY
TANSADINFINITUMKERR
INESGOLDENGEEZHUME
DAREIWEDTIDES
SHARPEIMPOSESON
NBCRECURRINGDREAMS
ORALRAFENAMASTECIT
NONSTOPFLIGHTSGUIDO
CIAOACRALGREEN
CONTINUITYOFCARESNAG
ODELETMEURCHINACLU
YESSTEPSPOSIESESE

CHASE: Anna Kendrick, if you're reading this, I just want you to know that I tried to clue 4-Down for you. Let the record show.

Jeff is great to work with, even if he's a basketball fan. I'll be moving to Seattle for work the day after this comes out, so we'll happen to be neighbors and I'll have plenty of time to make him a Patriots fan, even though they all stink like regurgitated herring and have the moral compass of a naughty puffin.

Mon 12/6/2021
SHAGSORALTAMP
TABOODEMIAREA
AREAROLIGARCHY
BILLOFRIGHTS
IRACOTEDOE
INTEARSEUREKA
CARLETTERPRESS
ETATYAYSMUT
PACKAGEDEALERE
ONTOURSMOLDER
PTSTOEDMSU
YOUVEGOTMAIL
SAFESPACEABODE
AWOLEDAMRENEW
PEELREFSTREAD

One of the highlights of my year was when my inbox informed me that "You've Got Mail" and the enclosed message was an acceptance by the NYT for my Crossword Debut!

Who doesn't love a good '90s rom-com? And the warm and fuzzy feeling of receiving a letter from the postman? This puzzle is a breath of nostalgia for me, harkening images of the little yellow AOL man and a youthful Tom Hanks; It's a SAFE SPACE if you will. I hope that letter writing never becomes a LOST ART!

In all seriousness, I had a blast making this puzzle, and it went through many iterations and revisions before making it to this final stage. It's surreal to be making my NYT debut, and I hope solvers have as much fun with the puzzle as I had making it!

Tue 12/7/2021
TONLOGINSAND
AVEOUNCESTRIO
DECPICKLEJUICE
ANKLESPENDER
PIZZAJOINT
SKIPILANAMMA
OYLSTEMHEARS
POLITICALJUNKIE
STONYISEEEEL
OWSDECAFWILL
PRIVATEJET
ACREAGEEDWIN
MATCHINGPJSODE
FRETTIPOUTREX
MESSFACTSKAT

One of my favorite activities each holiday season is picking out gifts for the people I love. To do so, I keep a running log of ideas saved on my phone. When brainstorming potential presents last year, I realized 57-Across might work as a revealer and quickly added it to my seedlist.

While the grid fell into place fairly quickly, I spent a lot of time iterating the fill until I was happy with the long Downs. Luckily, the effort paid off, as 31-Down is my favorite answer by far. 48-Across is a close second with the editorial team's fantastic clue.

I hope you enjoy the puzzle, and let this be a reminder to order gifts for friends and family sooner rather than later!

Wed 12/8/2021
SWABTWANGEDIT
HOSEAIRERAIDA
OMITINTROSAAB
ABATTLEOFWITS
LAGEROSLOPAC
STORIEDSNOOTY
BOARDEROS
SARGENTPORTRAIT
AREAAMOCO
GOBLETMARIMBA
EDURUSTSNEAK
TSARNICHOLASI
ANTEBATHEANET
WRAPOILERITSA
SALTSLEWSDOTS

Very excited to be making my debut in the New York Times.

There are three ways ITSA can be broken up to "wrap." I was glad that the puzzle could include one of each, though I found there are surprisingly few candidates. I guess you'd expect only a few possibilities for the entry beginning TSA, but it's also fairly limited with other ITSA combinations. For the entry beginning A and ending ITS, my initial entry was a bit of a stretch and it was Joel who suggested improving it with A BATTLE OF WITS.

I was pleased that 14A [Hookup that may get kinky] made the cut. Hopefully, it got a chuckle or at least a groan. The editors wrote several clues, including the clever 28A and 33A.

Many thanks to the editing team for green-lighting the puzzle and improving it.

About me: I am an attorney at the SEC in Boston. I owe my interest in crosswords to my Dad. He always made the Sunday puzzle a family affair by calling out clues to us kids. He passed away in 2008, but I'm sure he's still solving out there.

Hope you enjoy the puzzle, especially to anyone who's calling out clues.

Thu 12/9/2021
ASADAMPPEYOTE
MTNEVERLOANED
OAKLALALANDING
NILLADOCITTY
GREENBOOKING
STORMIDEFBI
ACTSANAAARON
JURASSICPARKING
ABATECUEISEE
RAPALEGRONK
KNIVESOUTING
OBOEPIETONER
KILLBILLINGECO
ADDLEDESAUSKA
YESYESDOWNSSN

Delighted to make my debut for the NYT! I'm a college student studying Computer Engineering at Columbia University, though I'm originally from Los Angeles.

The idea for this one came from JAMES BOND, which left me trying to clue the potential film adaptation: LeBron forms friendships on a new basketball team? Though it didn't make the final set, I enjoyed the process of playing with movie titles and cluing while constructing. In the end, I did my best to include films that made for lively theme entries and appealed to solvers.

A huge thank you to Jeff Chen, who waded through a sea of crossword ideas as I was getting started. For any puzzlemakers from underrepresented groups, the Crossword Puzzle Collaboration Directory is a great resource for mentorship and collaboration.

I'll be donating all of the proceeds from today's puzzle to the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Happy solving!

Fri 12/10/2021
BEDINABAGMALAR
ENROUTETOALONE
LEANRIGHTGOTTA
GISTEOLITHIC
PRIZERITAAFT
RENEPUSHUPBRAS
EATMONTEREY
PRONOUNREDUCED
GENERALSHAY
SHOOTCRAPSTIRE
AOLESPYPOOLS
CHIRASHITERM
ROVEDINDIAPERS
AHEADGONEROGUE
LORDSHEARTRATE
POW Sat 12/11/2021
AIRGPASTEPTO
PREQUELSHATERS
TAQUERIAALANIS
QUESTWIKICOO
ISSUESUSHI
AGRARUMORMILL
BLEDBRATATSEA
LEDINORONOHOW
EARLEZINEPANE
MELATONINFRED
AARONCHEAP
DODSEEMARDEN
ORISITLENIENCY
DENADABACKSEAT
DOGLEGTEARAD

This is my first NYT puzzle since the birth of my daughter, and it is dedicated to her and her amazing mom. I submitted it before her conception, so it's fitting that my clue for 22A survived the edit! Family and friends may also spot the homage to my mom — a mighty practitioner of both the written and spoken word, and the person most responsible for my love of language.

I'm excited to be sharing my work with Saturday solvers for the first time, and hope this provided the anticipated challenge. I can still remember the first Saturday I ever solved — well, my friend Tom mostly solved it, but I made some useful contributions, including the realization that the clue "Player coached by Hank Stram" was generic rather than specific. (April 12th, 2008 — a Walden, which unsurprisingly holds up quite nicely.)

That particular solve gave me a real boost — I started attempting Fridays and Saturdays solo during college (occasionally completing them), and, after graduation, embarked on my earliest construction efforts.

I began this at the 17A/14D crossing, which I envisioned as a micro-theme (though initially the answers were not cross-referenced). From there, I built in a generally southeasterly direction, focusing on preserving flexibility (i.e., letter patterns with several answer options, and answers with several cluing options). I hadn't intended to feature the pair of grid-spanning downs, but as I experimented with different lengths for those slots, the grid seemed to click into place this way.

Sun 12/12/2021 JOB SHARING
ATOMTALEMASHUPTART
CORAALOTARCANAODOR
LOCKSMITHMOUSEROLAY
UNSEATRENAULTTVDADS
MWAHLABSPECIALIST
COPEMOBDIETPELE
ORONOSIRFIREOPAL
BAGGAGEHANDLERTOOLE
SLOUGHODEAXILSLIP
SLUEDALPACABYTE
OUTPATIENTCOORDINATOR
URISTOMCATSLASH
NBCONEAMSTSOVIEDO
CAKEDNAILTECHNICIAN
ENSNAREDORATESTY
TREEWISEVANSTAX
CIVILENGINEERPORE
ANORAKREALTORPOETIC
TATEICANSOBASECOACH
CNETNAVIESEGOTFLEE
HEDYGREECESEWSFLEX

DANIEL: Like many new constructors, I began in earnest during the 2020 lockdown since all of opera went on an extended hiatus. My first mentor was Brad Wilber, who in addition to being a terrific teacher is also a huge opera fan. With his help, I had my debut publication this year. Through Brad, Doug and I were introduced virtually last year. I was eager to learn more, had innumerable questions, and wanted to collaborate when possible, and Doug and I hit it off beautifully. His generosity and willingness to help me hone my constructing chops has been a wonderful gift. We still trade theme ideas and chip away at them in a glacial way.

I approached Doug with this idea after coming up with a fun clue in a themeless puzzle for TRIP ADVISOR [Personal injury lawyer?] and wondering if there might be a theme worth exploring. We went back and forth with an ever-expanding list, had to kill a few darlings (CROSS TRAINER [Catholic school teacher?] ), and came up with this very fun theme set. Doug's experience in refining a theme set was incredibly valuable.

Given all the alternative careers and side hustles people have had to adopt due to the changing times, it seemed very timely. Performers, in particular, have had to reinvent themselves and develop new skills, and many have faced the grim reality of how quickly their livelihood can be taken away. The stigma of having side jobs and parallel careers has been torn down, for the better. Those in the arts have had to be immensely creative and improvisatory. Fortunately, that is all part of the training.

DOUG: So glad I got to work with Daniel on this and a few other projects. And I'm very much looking forward to a time when we can sit down together with Brad in person. Enjoy the puzzle and the rest of 2021

POW Mon 12/13/2021
EBBSCRABDETER
AEROFOIEIMAGE
RAILROADSTATION
STEVEMETALLSD
LEAPICET
ANAMARKETCRASH
FARSWANTONYA
LOSSSPORTTORT
AMOURWIRETIE
CINNAMONBUNHAD
SPANEDGE
PAZIWISHEUROS
STOPDROPANDROLL
STOOLNILEUNDO
TASTYSNOWSEEP

Last week, my father told me that one of his first memories of crosswords was identifying the word OBOE in a Sunday Times puzzle that his mother was solving, an early moment in their lifelong bond over puzzles. My earliest puzzling memory is seeing them solve together (or better put, compete with each other) on Saturday mornings. Although crosswords have long been in my consciousness, I did not start solving on my own until January 2020, the same month my grandmother passed away. The itch to construct came quickly after beginning to solve, and this puzzle was born a few months later. I wish I could share it with her.

I could not be happier to be making my debut with this puzzle. STOP DROP AND ROLL is one of those fun, familiar phrases from elementary school that still rattles around in my head for some reason, and it clicked to me that it could make a fun revealer that links three unrelated things. The dopamine rush from recognizing a connection like this is one of the things that got me hooked on solving, so it is fulfilling to debut with a puzzle centered around that element. I am also happy to inject a lot of my personality into today's grid, from basketball and dessert to geography and transit.

Many thanks to the Times editorial team for helping me improve this puzzle immensely from its first version. Most importantly, thanks to my friends and family, who have supported me at every turn! I hope you enjoyed it!

Tue 12/14/2021
WONKCHANGSASK
ERSEROBERTMIA
SCANDINAVIAINN
KOBEEGGIEST
ESSEXRIG
LOWNESSFINLAND
ODEDETERGOLOW
PODSCOMETOGRE
EPEESCURIEOWL
DENMARKENTHRAL
IVEHUEYS
PERSISTPAIR
AXENORDICCROSS
LILGREENEARIA
STYSTEWEDHAMM

I'm a 25-year-old South African working in international development. I'm delighted to make my New York Times debut. Constructing started as a lockdown hobby last year, and it's been a pleasure learning about the extremely passionate crossword world.

I'm particularly happy that this puzzle is my debut because I've loved flags for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, my parents bought me a "Flags of the World" card game, and I spent hours asking anyone who would listen to quiz me on which flags belong to who. I also love grids with a graphic element, so I'm pleased to have brought that in as well.

I hope you all enjoy!

PS: If there are other (South) African constructors reading this, I would love to connect!

Wed 12/15/2021
ALLSHASATEUP
ROOTHELPLEDGE
ACREAREABEIGE
BADINVESTMENTS
LINEAARC
APTONEWAYTRIPS
CROWALITAUDEN
TIVOSILTSSIRI
ADELASLITHOST
SERVICEACESTIS
ERAVESPA
SORRYNORETURNS
JULIAUDONLOCI
OMANILEASFOAM
TOYEDLSDAFTS

JESSIE: This is our 3rd puzzle for the Times and Ross's 102nd crossword of 2021: 49 in various print and online publications and 53 on his personal puzzle site. And on the day this puzzle goes live, Ross will be coming out of his 8th surgery related to Schwannomatosis. These figures are related.

I regularly hear people ask Ross about his crossword productivity; he generally just says he's wired for wordplay. Only I know that it is also a coping mechanism, and one can draw a pretty straight line between chronic pain and his remarkable daily output.

A couple of months ago, I suggested he write about how making puzzles became such an essential part of his life. The result was an essay that represents a touching insight into the mind and process of the puzzler I love. I encourage you to read it here.

ROSS: *gurgle*

Thu 12/16/2021
AGREESALOTIRE
BREATHBEWILDER
BEMUSESONNETEER
YEAGNUSIDED
TREEBOAGUNS
RELIEFMAPSROB
MAINISSUESBARB
OBEYDEWBERRIES
BEDHARDLINERS
POSYILLYRIA
SHEDSSNLNFC
OPERATINGBOGGLE
BEFUDDLECASUAL
EXTSAKEERUPTS

As a lifelong fan of word games, I have been a force to be reckoned with at Scrabble and Boggle for about as long as I can remember. Though there have been a number of Scrabble-themed puzzles over the years, I had never seen one themed around Boggle. I got the idea for this puzzle several years ago, but that was about as far as I made it. I had a different set of synonyms and didn't think I'd even be able to come up with a hypothetical Boggle board on which they all could be spelled, let alone one that could be worked into a crossword grid.

Fast forward to last year, when in a sudden burst of inspiration, I was pleasantly surprised to get this grid working after a few attempts. This arrangement felt particularly fortuitous, as I was somehow able to build around the central 4x4 block, even though all of the answers passing through it were at least seven letters long!

I did have flexibility with a few letters that weren't used in any of the three theme words (and with something like this, I'll take any flexibility I can get.) Incorporating the three theme answers and revealer after the central block already locked down so much real estate was also a challenge. I'm happy with how it turned out, though, a few clunky short answers notwithstanding.

I hope you enjoy the puzzle — and if you feel so inclined, maybe even see what extra words you can find in the Boggle grid :)

Fri 12/17/2021
BIBIMBAPVISAGE
ORATORIOIMPROV
BESTRODESOLUTE
ASSYRIAMINIBAR
BILJOGTATS
SEMISGENOA
ICETHOTSTREAKS
THATHITSTHESPOT
HOLYSMOKESTOFU
TAPIRSAPID
APRSLESLET
FREEGANLINEMAN
LOVELYSABOTAGE
ANEMIAAVERAGES
CELEBSGALAXIES

I've come to like this type of themeless grid construction. There's a nice balance to it — there's a "maw" in the center that's gaping but not too gaping, which means you can fit in some pretty marquee entries while still maintaining the flexibility to do fun stuff in the corners. I seeded this one with THAT HITS THE SPOT, sandwiched the two 10-letter entries around it, and was pleased that all four corners came together nicely from there.

Very excited to debut BIBIMBAP in the Times — long overdue, as it's both a fun word and just plain delicious. And there's some sentimental value there for me, too, as it happens to be what my wife and I had for dinner on our first date, way back when.

It's worth noting that when I constructed this grid over a year ago, I was planning on THAT HITS THE SPOT being a debut as well, but I was sadly scooped a few months back. I see you, Joseph Greenbaum. Interestingly, while Mr. Greenbaum chose to clue this entry with the pedestrian clue of "Ahhhh!", with four H's, I decided to stump solvers with the far more challenging clue of "Ahhh!", with three. Cruel, I know.

Anyway, this puzzle was a blast to construct. I hope everyone out there enjoys solving it as much as I enjoyed making it.

Sat 12/18/2021
ACTSRANTSADDS
RAVEALOHATOOT
INSTANTWINATTA
WELLDAMNBLINI
PERIODOKBOOMER
ANISETRAINSETS
POETBEEGEES
ITSNOSTARSCPA
DIGTHISBRAY
FRYINGPANSUITE
LEAVESINBEGETS
ETHERLEMONADE
TIERCOVERSTORY
CRAGSTERETUNA
HEREISREDITSY

DAVID DISTENFELD (Constructor) is delighted to be making his crossword debut in The New York Times. Previous credits include: The Los Angeles Times (Thursday Puzzle), Wall Street Journal (Monday Puzzle), Law & Order: SVU (Puzzled Juror) and Springsteen on Broadway (Understudy). He is perhaps best known for that one time at Candy Kitchen when he won a free pound of fudge.

Mr. Distenfeld dove headfirst into crosswords during the pandemic and has been keeping track of lively phrases of fifteen letters or less ever since. Prior to constructing puzzles, he was hired to coach an English soccer team in an attempt by its owner to spite her ex-husband, eventually winning over players and fans alike with his folksy, optimistic demeanor.

He currently lives in Los Angeles with his wife Enya, his children Esai, Edie & Elia, and his toy poodle NNW — all of whom inspire his constructing on a near daily basis. And while his last name does, in fact, anagram to TD SEINFELD, he has never played professional football nor is he related to noted coffee/car enthusiast Jerry Seinfeld.

Finally, he would like to thank the Times editorial staff for this first acceptance after over a dozen soul-crushing rejections. Can't wait to celebrate with you guys at the after party!!

Sun 12/19/2021 SEASON TO TASTE
ACTSARIPJSHAITIAN
THRUBUSROUTEUNNERVE
PEANUTBBUTTERDEGREES
FINNANIARPNORA
SLITSSNICKERHDOODLE
INITSMOSDEFDRYAD
GINGERTSNAPLETSORG
ENGATANYTOLLAHOUSE
ANATDANEREMTOAD
RAWRARCKERNSPETS
STAUBTHINSMINTETHER
EYEROTOESORBTELE
SAGSTWAFRAUABES
FIGENEWTONOLEICENO
ILECLEOSHORTCBREAD
DINAHLOGJAMSELES
OATMEALMRAISINRACKS
RADSYESMEASINE
COINOPSCOOKIECUTTERS
DRFAUCIONIONDIPAERO
CRYSTALSLOYDSLSAT

I hope everyone finds something to enjoy here and doesn't find the cost of ANAT, ATANY, EYER, etc., too high. My husband is the baker in our family, and I do wish his especially excellent molasses cookie could have been among the offerings!

Most of the words clued at last New Year's Eve Zoom party (see Will's notes) vanished from the puzzle as I worked with the editing team through several revisions, but the clue for 65-Down is Geoff's, and the clue for 110-Down is Eva's. Cluing participation trophies go to Kevin, Lynn, and Oren. (The only COOKIE CUTTER lost in the editing process was a ball, replaced by the elf.)

Though fans of 54-Across often find it impossible to fathom, my favorite is 107-Across. Here's my grandmother's recipe:

  • Cream together 1c. each brown sugar, white sugar, and margarine with 2 eggs and 1 tsp. of vanilla.
  • Combine 2 c. flour, 3 c. OATMEAL, 1 tsp. baking soda, and 1 tsp. salt.
  • Mix into the creamed ingredients and stir in 2 c. RAISINs.
  • Drop spoonfuls onto cookie sheets and flatten with a glass BUTTERed on the bottom and dipped in cinnamon sugar.
  • Bake for 10 minutes at 350 DEGREES.
Mon 12/20/2021
WELCHDAMPANAL
OMAHAAMIECURE
ROYALRESPECTED
STITCHINTIME
TENYEATUSHIE
HOESEASENT
HEMANDHAWLAH
ALASSOLESUGLY
RIDDARNITALL
STARWADODE
HETEROARTPHI
COMMONTHREAD
THROBBINGEERIE
HOURALESFLORA
OPEDTESTTONYS

As an intern on the local newspaper copy desk, I was introduced to the world of crosswords by the best people you'd hope to solve a puzzle with. I mean, these people come up with synonyms all day long to fit the space (and you had access to tomorrow's paper and crossword answers if you got really stuck)! Unfortunately, the fall of 2008 was not an ideal time for a newly minted journalism graduate to make her debut in the world. You can imagine how much a byline (in whatever form!) in The New York Times means to someone like me.

This theme came to me while I was sewing a quilt to keep my mind busy as I grieved a miscarriage. I realized that there are so (sew?) many sewing puns. Once I thought of "common thread" I knew I had something. Seeing my finished quilt and this puzzle in print helps me realize there are things we can control and things we can't, so I've tried to instead focus on the beauty in my life I can invite in.

Tue 12/21/2021
TSARKISSNASAL
OTTOINCHYETTO
GRABAJARCROON
AERIEURALAPP
WINTERSPORTS
SATENOTEDLY
SPOOLSBETSEYE
EARNMELBARN
EARWEEDSPADES
KRISHNADOOR
SPOONBENDING
URLSTABSTORE
SPOILIRONOVER
TOONSMENUNEER
ANTEDEDENELKS

Hello, I'm Guilherme Gilioli and I'm very glad to be making my debut in the paper! I am a puzzle nut from Brazil. I work as a crossword constructor creating puzzles for magazines but in Portuguese. I've submitted several puzzles to the NYT, and finally, this one made it.

About the puzzle. I got the idea by watching several videos of James Randi, including the movie An Honest Liar. I don't remember if it was a scene from the film, but I remember seeing a clip where Carson from Carson Tonight Show tells a little about debunking Uri Geller. Randi knew how he did the tricks and changed the gimmicked spoons he was supposed to bend for normal ones.

Well... then I thought... Why not bend spoons on a puzzle? You can see the result now.

POW Wed 12/22/2021
RATSOCTALSYFY
ECHONAOMIKOBE
CHRISTMASSPIRIT
ALKAZONK
LOSTOPPORTUNITY
OTHERADOTYPEA
ARESBIOTADORK
MARTIANMISSIONS
SNLDAP
UHFTEAROOMNOM
MORBIDCURIOSITY
BREAMTIEANGIE
YANKEEINGENUITY
ECCELIEONBRIE
EHSDIDNTSIS

NOKI: I retired to Portugal over six years ago, thinking it would be easy enough to hop back to see DC family and friends while shaving off significant flight time to visit relatives in Thailand. That was true for the first five years. But last year's waves of lockdowns have thwarted many travel attempts and have certainly intensified the sense of distance.

Throughout all of this, my dad & I kept our connection by solving crosswords online together. Last year, we seized on the idea of making puzzles together: We kicked around ideas, made some awkward puzzles, and unsurprisingly, got several rejections.

Finally, Robyn Weintraub kindly volunteered to mentor me via the Crossword Puzzle Collaboration Directory. She helped tighten our themes and raise our standard for fill. We took 30+ stabs at this puzzle before finding one good enough to submit. Even so, we still needed a final assist from Wyna Liu & the NYT puzzle editors to get it over the finish line. We have a lot of people to thank for this debut.

The idea for this specific puzzle arrived in my brain as NASA's Perseverance made its landing back in February. Something about seeing that little rover land so far from home hit home for me. Given the theme, I tried to evoke Space Invaders in the grid. It may show up better if you squint.

Whether you and your loved ones are near or far, we wish you health, happy solving, and a very merry holiday.

LAWRENCE: I have been a fan of crosswords from an early age. When my daughter was in grade school, she was interested in what I was doing while eating breakfast, and I can remember doing half of a puzzle, including partial answers, and helping her finish the puzzle. I think this kindled an interest for her, and that interest took hold during the pandemic, and led to a shared interest in learning how to make a puzzle.

I can trace the origins of this NASA theme to my first job as a junior engineer working for IBM on the Instrument Unit (IU) for the Saturn Apollo program.

Kudos to Robyn Weintraub for her help and encouragement on our early attempts, and thanks to the NYT puzzle crew to get this one into print.

Thu 12/23/2021
BLAHETRADEZAP
EASENAILITEGO
ACHRISTMASCORAL
NEEDNOTCHROME
SHRIMPEDGES
ERICAEUROS
VITALARGONSINE
EASTERCOTTON
RAYSCAFFEMACHO
LOYALETHOS
AMORESTAPLE
SONATATHEHEAT
TAKESTWOTOTONGA
ONEBOWMENODOR
NAYEMIGREDOGS

Hope you enjoyed the letter-moving shenanigans in this one! On the theme side, I came up with the idea to move around vowels first. I wrote a script to find all word pairs that existed in the XWord Info list (thanks!) with two vowels switching — A for E, I for U, etc. (You could probably do it in one line with regular expressions... I should learn how to use those properly!) The resulting word sets were fairly short, and A for O was the only pair with raw material for enough phrases that tickled my funny bone.

I submitted the puzzle with the theme set from the final puzzle plus PACHELBEL'S CONAN, which I clued as the composer doing an impression of the late-night host (yikes!). The editors liked BOOK 'EM DONNA better but felt the fifth themer was too much of a tradeoff for fill quality. An 11-letter answer in the middle of a grid creates constraints.

For fill: if I made the puzzle today, I would try to work in a few more long answers and avoid drastically dividing the puzzle into its north/south halves. Happy with HERDS CATS, but feel the short fill could be snappier.

Fri 12/24/2021
DREWBACKOMIT
NEURALNETMEME
AFRIKANERSATON
LIEGESPATNAVY
ANKHSLACESDEE
BEATBOCKTIARA
COWLSASTIR
YEAHABOUTTHAT
POSSEASIDE
HUCKSLETSGASP
SAOSOLESTOSCA
TWOSREYTASSEL
RATEGREWASPINE
IKEASOILTESTS
PERMNICELIST

I've previously expressed my philosophy of themeless crossword construction, and it holds true for this puzzle: pack as many interesting, novel entries into a grid as possible without sacrificing fill quality. I strive to construct the sorts of puzzles that I most enjoy solving, and I hope you enjoyed the ride.

Surprisingly, the final across entry is a debut to NYT crosswords and even stumped Jeff Chen's impeccable word list. My proposed clue was: "Setting for gifted children?" Sam's (Ezersky) clue is fantastic as well! I was thrilled that the editors kept my angles for 32-Down and 47-Across.

If you, like me, appreciate the U.S. Postal Service and are still seeking a unique and functional gift, consider the 2022 Postlandia Calendar of Post Offices and Places. I've visited 10,556 post offices across the country! Find out more at the Postlandia blog.

Sat 12/25/2021
PHOTOAPPS
THENEWBLACK
SHORTSWEATHER
PLINTHSTSELIOT
IONIZETSETSE
TALCRAIMIPEEN
ANYJAMPACKLSD
GODFORBID
OOHIMSCARED
RHINOGIVES
TEENSMAPNICAD
ATMSMOMOAALLY
MEGACORPORATION
ELENADELLEDONNE
SLEEVELESSDRESS

So nice to be back with my second puzzle — and on Christmas of all days to boot! I guess with a little bit of imagination, the grid is maybe sort of Christmas tree-shaped. Personally, though, I mostly see an old telephone.

It's not intended to look like anything in particular, though; the wacky grid design is purely incidental. It started simply as an attempt to build a triple stack of 15s. Once I had that in place and was trying to figure out where to go from there, I soon realized that I could build that little arch around the central crossing entries and use left-right symmetry rather than rotational. That's nice since it gave me the freedom to play around with the placement of black squares in the upper half of the grid until the very end of the construction process, rather than having a fixed layout that I needed to adhere to.

I'm especially pleased that the one layout that did end up working for the upper part is the one that perfectly matches the big stairstep chunks of black squares in the lower half, which I think certainly added a bit of elegance to the puzzle.

Hope everyone's having a wonderful Christmas. It truly makes me happy that something I made gets to be a part of it for so many people.

Sun 12/26/2021 PEST CONTROL
ORDAINAPACHEIMIGHT
COULDAUSOTOURMOTHER
HORSEBACKRIDEROPPOSE
OMAHAPLSTIVOSRUSE
ATSEANORTHPOLE
REGRETTWIGYEAS
PREPATRAINGERMGEO
MITTPUBLICHOUSESOAP
SCHOOLTIESEWEBOOZE
INSETBRISKOBGYN
ARTTRUEFALSETESTLES
BOCCETRACTNICHE
ABHORIVEMAINTHEMES
COEDSPEARHEADEDDATA
ITDTEESENHALOGPAS
ANNASPASWRESTS
SOFTDRINKNANAS
PAIRLOOIETOPCANAL
ICLOUDWORKOUTTHEBUGS
CHEESEANTENNAAMENRA
SADDENNESSIEGETSAT

Like many of my puzzles, this was inspired by my son's interests. I thought it would be fun to put bugs in a puzzle, and "working out the bugs" seemed like a crossword-friendly phrase. I initially submitted a totally different interpretation on the phrase in the summer of 2020, where bugs were "worked out" of long phrases in the grid, leaving a garbled string of letters. Not surprisingly, they passed on it. After having the idea to put the bugs in the clues, I had two more rejected puzzles before the team agreed to workshop with me on the concept ... then multiple proposed theme sets before I got a green light to make this grid. So, it took a long time to work the bugs out of this puzzle!

Some of my clues that I had initially proposed were very contrived, and it took a while to get it in my head that the clues should read very naturally. My clues like, "Man tissues" hiding "mantis" and "Crick ethics" hiding "cricket" were nonsensical and confusing. I still kinda like my weird clue about Taylor Swift's hit song "Wildebeest Dreams," though.

The original title was Beta Version, and the clues with bugs were not italicized. I appreciated that the editing team was willing to share with me their thoughts on the changes, which I trust are for the better!

Mon 12/27/2021
ILLSAYSTIRCOY
PEOPLEARSEAVA
AABATTERIESPEN
SPECAAMEETING
EMITNIT
ALEKEGAARDVARK
TAXTUSSLEOLIN
RUGAAMILNEOVO
IRONNODSTONAB
AAVERAGEANGELS
ERAELSA
AARONPAULSHEA
SUNDOUBLEATEAM
IDOOGREPHRASE
AIRSOARSHORTS

This puzzle was brought to you by my initials. And also by my last name. Sure, this might not be the most big-brained theme of all time, but double A's are kinda my thing.

For my friends who find my Saturdays a bit steep, hopefully this was a nice change of pace! I've got more puzzles ranging from easy to hard over on Aaronson.org, which didn't quite make the cut as a theme entry today.

POW Tue 12/28/2021
ZESTCHAPCHEST
ARTYHARELONER
GRIPIBARULTRA
LOGCABINSYRUP
ALEPANSOTEMS
COTTAGECHEESE
TOTEORUSRO
STORMABCSATUP
RINEERKALE
RANCHDRESSING
CHEDAYAPPLAS
HOMEMADEMEALS
ANODERAINAPES
NOVELASSTRIGA
TRENDSETSKNOX

´╗┐It is always very exciting to have a puzzle published in the NYT. But what I am most proud of was having one of my other submissions used as the opening puzzle in the 2019 ACPT, and receiving an autographed copy of it by Will Shortz! Hopefully, the 2022 tournament can be held in person.

In today's puzzle, it was amazingly fortuitous that the three "house specials" had the same number of letters. The only other one I could think of was FLATBREAD, but constructing a grid with a central 9 and four 13s wasn't ever considered. As it was, I was happy to work in a half dozen 8-letter downs.

I hope you enjoyed solving my puzzle. Wishing everyone a healthy, happy New Year. Let's hope for a better 2022.

Wed 12/29/2021
ORALBOATCHEST
PITAARCHHILLS
EMMYEMCEEITSOK
CESARYOGAMATS
NARCAPE
SHOECAGEYENEMY
WINGALLSETLEE
OMEGALOPSALES
LOUMEMOIRRITE
EMPTYTEPEEMESS
OATSPAR
SLAMDUNKBEARD
CIRCAEASYESSAY
ATEAMALOETAKE
BEATSTEXTSPED

SIMON: It's great to be back in the Times! This was my first puzzle ever accepted, so it has a special place in my heart. Judge Vic and I originally came up with a concept for the puzzle that played with the initials of the theme entries:

*Media Event's Moderating Celebrity? (MEMC)

*Knowingly Guarded Naturally Malevolent Entity? (KGNME)

*Markedly Tenantless Tent Pad? (MTTP)

*Especially Zippy Student Assignment? (EZSA)

We did notice, though, that once a solver noticed the gimmick, it would be pretty easy to fill in the rest of the theme. Thankfully, the Editorial Team introduced the "lettered" angle, which we thought was clever and difficult enough for a Wednesday. We're super happy with the way this turned out, and we hope you enjoy it!

Thu 12/30/2021
ROTIGRADEATHA
AHABREPEALHAD
BYTEADULTTEETH
BEATSMEOARED
IAMIMACOSCAR
THIRTYROCKHVAC
YESEOSEDU
APSESXXXSANER
SETWIIDIP
HEADKISSESBUTT
PYROSTICSNRA
OHWOWGAYICON
BOOZEHOUNDNOUN
ILKTIPTOENOPE
TEEOTTERSSLED

As an interloping Brit more used to setting cryptic crosswords, venturing into the world of American puzzles during lockdown has been both fun and challenging. This puzzle actually owes its origins to British-style cryptics, since cryptic clues often contain words that indicate a single letter of the answer. Anything from the phonetic alphabet (Charlie = C), to the periodic table (potassium = K), to Roman numerals (ten = X) is fair game for cryptic setters, and so that got me wondering about the various things XXX can mean.

Fun fact: XXX can also indicate a turkey (three strikes in a row in bowling) and features on the official flag of Amsterdam — though this has nothing to do with that city's famous red-light district.

I hope you enjoyed the puzzle and I wish you all the best for 2022, with plenty of BOOZE and KISSES on New Year's Eve.

XXX

Fri 12/31/2021
FRUITTARTGASPS
OOMPAHPAHADORE
TUNAMELTSRUBON
OXOAPATORLESS
XRAYLABTREE
APPEALELSAS
BEEREASIERVIM
LETSTHINGSSLIDE
ERAWOMANSANNA
BARAKELWOOD
JOELSTEPDAD
INROMEBLOTFEW
LEICAVIAVENETO
TACKYATTENUATE
SLAYSREARTIRES

I started constructing this puzzle just by building a grid that I thought looked nice and open. I then worked on the 15-letter entries that cross in the middle, as well as the NW and SE stacks. Once I had all that in place, I filled in the rest around it.

Looking back at the puzzle now, I particularly connect with the arc formed by 22-Across, 25-Across, and 28-Across. I [25-Across] convictions as a public defender; I have 4-year-old twins who love pretending to be [28-Across] who use magic to freeze their parents; and unfortunately, I went to a [22-Across] recently because one of those twins broke her arm. That hasn't stopped her from freezing her parents, though.

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