This puzzle idea came about when my mom, who was a Russian Literature major in college, suggested I construct a crossword with literary puns, such as WARREN PEACE. I thought WARREN PEACE was a great find but was concerned that a literary puns puzzle might be too loose; after thinking some more about WARREN PEACE, I realized there were probably numerous other ___ and ___ phrases that could produce similarly structured puns. Coming up with enough theme entries for a Sunday puzzle is always very difficult — I brainstormed and scanned through thousands of ___ and ___ possibilities before settling on this set.
The next challenge was designing a grid that could accommodate nine theme entries, fill cleanly, and not exceed the 140-word limit. After I spent a sizable amount of time placing and rearranging the black squares, my construction software informed me that the grid was impossible to fill. Egad!
Luckily, I soon discovered why the grid wouldn't fill: For some reason, OJAI wasn't in my main word list. With OJAI in place, I was able to produce a fill I was quite pleased with; unfortunately, I still had a daunting 140 clues to write! I'm glad the consecutive "Howard Stern rival"/"Howard Johnson rival" clues made the editorial cut, though my favorite clue by far is "Square meal?" for RAVIOLI, which Will/Joel used in place of my much less clever "Ristorante pillows."
I'm thrilled to have my first solo Sunday in the Times and plan to continue exploring the possibilities of larger grids! For now, though, I'd like to give a shout-out to all the family members and friends who inspire us crossword constructors, tell us whether entries are well-known or not, and test-solve/proofread our puzzles. I know I couldn't have come this far as a constructor without being surrounded by such a supportive group of people!
I noticed that when acronyms and initialisms appear in clues they automatically pin things down. For instance, the clue [Part of GPS] readily identifies "Global Positioning System" and guides the solver to an entry like GLOBAL or SYSTEM or SYST. So, I wondered how a solver might react to a more generalized clue like [Part of ?PS] which could refer to FPS, GPS, IPS, PPS or UPS. This was the basis for today's theme (and the stars in the clues eliminated the need to repeat "part of" in every clue ... perhaps even adding a mystique).
Most acronyms and initialisms contain short words — VAT, for instance, could yield VALUE or ADDED or TAX — and these words wouldn't normally form theme entries by themselves. But I had pioneered a puzzle style in my 12/8/2009 NYT puzzle which uses short-answers-having-something-in-common in all the across entries, so the current theme seemed like a natural fit. What I like about this type of theme representation is that solvers can opt out of the theme entirely by solving only the Down clues, but I like to think that solvers would be delighted by the nature of the theme once they actually did catch on to it.
One last thought: kudos to anyone who solved the entire puzzle with only the Across clues!
I had the honor of being "Litzer of the Month" back in October 2013, probably because I had litzed a number of pre-Shortzian puzzles without making too many typos. In an interview, David Steinberg asked "Of all the puzzles you've litzed, do you have a favorite or one that was most memorable? If so, please describe it." My response:
"Anne Fox's Sunday puzzle of February 4, 1968, was memorable. She had six grid-spanning song titles, each 23 letters long, four of them intersecting the other two. I thought some of the songs were too obscure, probably because of the 39-year difference in our ages, but the interlock was elegant. I was inspired to construct a less ambitious version of my own with six 15-letter song titles, three across and three down. It was rejected with the words 'elegant interlock, but some of the songs are too obscure.' I must find an editor closer to my age." (Actually there was only a 29-year difference in our ages. I've been wondering where the last ten years went!)
I didn't give up. I scoured the Internet for lists of song titles, dumped them into a spread sheet and sorted out the 15-letter ones. I excluded any song that didn't have the word "hit" in its Wikipedia entry. Using a grid with standard symmetry, I blocked in three entries each way with the first Across entry intersecting the first Down entry at the third row and fourth column. In effect, I had constructed a 15x15 puzzle with only six entries, each of which had the same clue: "Hit song." I was surprised but pleased to discover that there was only one possible solution. My submission with this set of song titles was eventually accepted after some revisions.
Some stats: 13 months from final submission to publication; 15 clues mine; 25 clues mine but modified to some degree; 32 clues and 5 words new and improved by the editors. My favorite new clue: "They're just over two feet" for ANKLES. I was sorry to lose "Emulate Turing" for DECODE but I suppose just because a clue is timely doesn't make it timeless.
I hope you enjoyed the puzzle. If it gave you at least one serious earworm, then my work is done. For now.
I'm sort of amazed to realize it's been over 6 years since my last NY Times crossword. Apparently grad school can have that effect — I just hadn't been constructing much for a while. I'm tempted to reminisce about the now mystical past (c. 2006 when I was an intern with Will) when people gathered on the Forum, the New York Sun was still shining, and there was a plentiful supply of unlitzed pre-Shortzian puzzles. But instead I'll focus on this puzzle, which I made in the less mystical past (c. the end of 2013).
I started in the middle with THIS OLD THING and YOU'RE TOO MUCH. I'm a fan of in-the-language phrases that it's funny to imagine the puzzle saying to you if it could talk (which it can't). I think those two fit the bill, as does OH GROW UP. I felt a little rusty since this was the first grid I had made in a few years. So, looking back, I apologize for any FLECHE or DII-related unpleasantness in the fill.
On the clue front, I was happy to see that Will kept some of my longish trivia clues, including the one about Nora EPHRON knowing the identity of Deep Throat and the one about the U.S.'s first LT. GEN. being Geo. Washington (which is pronounced "Geology Washington"). As a native Floridian, I was also happy to see the two Everglades clues stick around.
Anyway, I very much hope it won't be another 6 years until my next puzzle and, to that end, am working on some grids. Hope it was a good solve for you!
Constructors have a risque term for the torture one does to the quality of the entries in a puzzle in order to put a lot of high-point Scrabble letters like X, J, Q and Z into some portion of the grid. With this puzzle, I'm tempted to repurpose the term for what starting with those letters in a nice airy corner can do to the constructor when s/he has to make the rest of the puzzle come together.
This one, of course, started in the southeast with DESIARNAZJR — and the clue, one of my favorite ever — and trying to build enough space around the ZJ to hide it for a while, to maximize the punch of getting the answer. (I half-wanted it to run without the ? for the same reason, but it's hard to quibble with it as he just turned 62.)
Once I got the stack in the southwest to come together, I had just enough hope that I could actually get it to work. I even had a different completed grid, with PASTA POT/PAVANES in place of WEAKSPOT/WAVERED, but I liked what I managed to get out of this one better. The LONDON AREA/ENGINEMEN combo, neither great, afforded lots of possibilities for the NW and NE but unfortunately getting the corners to work at the same time was the tricky part. After many, many different tries I stumbled onto PHINDICATOR as an option. I liked it so much as an entry, I pretty much vowed to make it work.
Lots of near misses until RUCHED came to mind — finally all those episodes of "Say Yes to the Dress" paid off! Then I got the NE to fall and tied everything back up at HOBBS. I had hoped to make that HOBBY since there were a lot of names in the area already, but I could live with it.
I never really knew much about Queen WILHELMINA before reading a bit for cluing her. She's a heroine who's been a bit undersung, at least in the U.S., so I'm happy to give her a cruciverbal shoutout.
First, I want to credit Will and Joel for the puzzle title. I suggested "Final Cuts", but "Multifaceted" is a much cooler way to hint at the gemstones. Thank you, guys!
So, this here was a rebound from a rejected 15x submission with hidden gems. Your usual circle-related-words-in-longer-and-hopefully-colorful-answers theme:
Pretty solid, I thought. Especially the lengthy AMETHYST and EMERALD spanners. But the Shortz rejected it for two reasons: Not all circled words spanned across their parent words (OPAL). And more importantly, he wanted all circled gems to be fairly long. RUBY and OPAL were admittedly easy to wrangle.
Round two, I went for a more elaborate, Sunday-sized theme. Since I was working with gemstones, I considered a SWORD IN THE STONE concept — with different types of swords (EPEE, SABER, etc) wedged between gems. But quickly ditched that, since my list of sword types felt strained.
SET IN / STONE was a strong alternative. I first planned to thread synonyms of "set" through gems, since "set" has a wide range of meanings. I started with GEL wedged between AMETHYST in GAMETHeSYSTEM. But ultimately, this set-up felt too tricky to reveal to the solver. And seemed daunting to keep the synonyms of "set" airtight.
When finding that the word SET itself nestled nicely inside AMETH YST, the rest sorta fell into place. I noticed an "E" lurking between most of the gemstones. So, the embedded SET would thankfully work and be nicely centered. When starting grid placement, I found ROSETTA would join three centralized gem answers. From there, I spidered out and filled the remaining themers. And with a little luck from the Crossword Gods™ (cue Clark Griswold house-lighting chorus), the SET segments landed in symmetrical spots, which helped call them out more.
That's about it. I hope this was an enjoyable solve!
Favorite clue that made it: "Baywatch" stars often jogged in it (for SLOMO)
Saddest sacrifice: Having to drop THEMIAMIHERALD (EMERALD) so that the theme would work. Maybe I could use it in the sequel: 2 Faceted 2 Furious?
I'll see myself out.
I can't come up with a whole lot to say about this one, which I submitted almost exactly a year ago. Maybe I was specifically thinking about a word to "hide" in a puzzle — with Carmen Sandiego being out of the running! Or maybe the idea just came out of the blue, who knows. Regardless, I played with various letter combinations that seemed like possible candidates for answers, making sure that all of the letter sequences were different. And voila, a puzzle was born.
No clue changes stand out particularly. Some are slight rewordings, and others seem roughly parallel, like "Loathe" instead of my "Abominate" for HATE, or "Breathe hard, as after running" to replace "Gasp for breath" for PANT. For the COLD WATER clue, I do like "What may be poured on a bad idea" as opposed to my more pedestrian "Wash cycle option." On the other hand, my FALSIES and WIG clues survived intact. I mean, what else was I to do with falsies for a Monday?
When Will accepted the puzzle, he said he might leave off the circles, which surprised me because other times he's added them in. But as you can see, the circles remained so Waldo is perhaps disguised if not quite hiding here (I'd used "camouflaged" in the clue). Much easier to spot than in those books!
It's great to be back in the New York Times after a 7-year sabbatical!
The inspiration for this puzzle came from a weekly column in the local paper about English grammar and expressions. It has been 2 years since we completed this puzzle, so our collective memories are a bit foggy. But we believe the columnist made some pun with the expression OUT OF SORTS. We ran with that idea and came up with a bunch of other puns about professions. These included things like: the horse trainer was THRILLED TO BITS, the submarine captain had a SINKING FEELING, the strangler was ALL CHOKED UP (OMG can you imagine!). We realized there had to be something more in common with the theme and settled on a professional not feeling well.
We decided to try to include 5 theme answers. This has usually been difficult for us. We hate very many three letter fills and drawn the line at 20. Luckily there are only 17 in this puzzle. We also try to have 2 or 4 good long down fills. This obviously gets tougher with the increased theme density. The long fills in this puzzle worked out nicely (although we were not thrilled about a plural HOMEPLATES).
We wish we could comment on our clever original clues, but those typically get mostly rewritten for a puzzle this early in the week. Hope you enjoy the puzzle and demand more of ours!
This crossword taught me the term "sensational spelling" — as in Froot Loops, Cheez Whiz, and the bands referenced in the six theme entries. Artists that didn't make it: CORN, FISH, SALT AND PEPPER, THE MONKEYS, TIMBERLAND, IN SYNCH, and OUTCAST. I'm pleased with the musical diversity in the final draft, which features everything from classic rock to heavy metal to contemporary hip hop.
I originally clued the theme entries not by albums, but by imagining the de-sensationalized spelling as a band, e.g. "Cat that signs and sings?" for DEAF LEOPARD. It was a decent impulse, but the puzzle coheres better after Will Shortz's editing, which instead imagines an overzealous copy editor. He also found a common element in the bands: they all had a number ONE album. It's a testament to his editing skills that he can make a theme work in ways that the constructor never imagined.
Notes from a novice constructor: six theme entries constrained this grid's possibilities, and though I was happy to focus on theme and fill, my next challenge is to write a puzzle with some high-scoring Scrabble letters. I was happy to slot in DARFUR, which I believe is my only non-theme debut word. I was a little sad to lose "How bros shouldn't zap" as my clue for TASE, but the meme reference was probably too internet-based in a puzzle already driven by pop culture.
I'm delighted to be published in the Times! I took up crossword construction for fun this summer — an adolescent viewing of the documentary Wordplay lay dormant in my psyche until then. Currently, I'm getting my Master's in Teaching (high school history), and spend most of my time writing lesson plans rather than crosswords. Honestly, I'm no expert solver; I often google on Tuesdays, and I sympathize with the strugglers rather than the speed-solvers.
Having my first NYT submission published makes me feel like a yokel invited to the king's palace, but the crossword community does a good job of making you feel welcome. Thanks to the Westport Library Crossword Puzzle Tournament for test-driving this puzzle last weekend!
I was surprised to learn when researching the theme that it had not appeared before in the NY Times, so I was off and running with it. The fact that there are only four corners, however, made for a limited amount of theme material even with CORNERSTONE as the central reveal. I tried to find other entries which related and noticed INSCRIPTION — an integral part of a cornerstone. The task became finding an eleven letter partner, and it wasn't too long before I hit upon TIMECAPSULE, which very often is either contained in or lies behind a cornerstone.
The placement of the three elevens, with CORNERSTONE in the middle, was determined by the choice of vertical theme entries in the northeast and southwest. Fortunately, after some trial and error, STONEMASON and TOUCHSTONE fit the bill. I wanted all of the perimeter theme entries to be the same length, however with the added horizontal theme material that became very difficult to pull off, thus GEMSTONE and STONEAGE. I made a few changes to the fill after acceptance; 8-Down was originally SIDEARMS. Will and his team made a few more changes, as well as a great number of much better clues.
I was extremely honored to have this puzzle selected for the final round at this year's 16th Annual Westport Crossword Puzzle Tournament. Thanks to Will Shortz, and to Patrick Merrill who hosted, and congratulations to the winner Andy Kravis.
I submitted the original version of this puzzle in September 2012. Will liked the grid and fill but was concerned that CATAWBA crossing CABO and WHAP (as in the original) would be too hard. Undeterred, I replaced PIRATE SHIP with KARATE CHOP and sent the revision back to Will, who then accepted the puzzle.
Also, if I were building the puzzle today, I might have been pickier with the short entries — I'm not a huge fan of ODIC, OPES, and especially ACI. Well, I'm sure I'll have criticisms to make about my current submissions in a few years — I find it fascinating how much my tastes change as a constructor!
For now, I hope you all enjoy the puzzle.
I enjoy working with Jeff Chen immensely. It is always fun to brainstorm ideas, and I appreciate Jeff's willingness to help other constructors. Sometimes it's hard to know what "tricks" will fly with an editor. Having a seasoned constructor help navigate the crossword world is a huge benefit. Two heads and all that. Plus, it's more exciting to share success with someone else.
The starting point for this puzzle was Patrick Berry's puzzle from March 9, 2008. Mr. Berry's puzzle was a little too complicated for my brain, but the idea of having answers branch in two directions led us to the "decision tree." Jeff ultimately built the grid skeleton for this puzzle. Thank goodness. It was quite a challenge, but in a good way. We only have seven theme entries, but they sure take up a lot of space. I kept trying to shove in one more with GIVE ME LIBERTY OR GIVE ME DEATH, but it just wasn't reasonable to do so. From idea conception to submission, this puzzle took around three months.
If you haven't read Stockton's THE LADY OR THE TIGER, you can find the entire text online. It's a quick read, and a great short story.
I have (too) many hobbies, but creating crossword puzzles is the only one that makes me any money. Let's see ... $ computer software + website and newspaper subscriptions + (books used in research * n) = well, maybe not a huge profit, but I think I'll keep at it anyway.
My sister's birthday is tomorrow, so Happy Birthday, Paula!
I've written a number of crosswords for The Times about U.S. presidents, including a Sunday puzzle in 2004 to celebrate the opening of Bill Clinton's library in Little Rock and one just after Obama was elected president the first time. (My wife and I were invited to the Clinton Library opening so that puzzle is especially memorable for me.)
I also spent the better part of 2014 writing a book of puzzles for Sterling (called "White House Crosswords"); that one will be out this October. The idea for Monday's crossword popped into my head during the writing of that book. I guess if I can't be a presidential historian, the next best thing is writing puzzles about presidents!
The story of this puzzle is a bit like Disneys "The Incredible Journey." The poor animal started out in San Diego, 3000 miles from Will Shortz's house, and had to doggedly find its way there — without any cats to help. It was the seventh version of this puzzle that eventually got accepted — I think Will started to feel sorry for the little pooch!
I was always optimistic about this puzzle, in spite of the 51 blocks, the asymmetry, and the rejections, because to me the grid art is super clear. I have shown this image to about a hundred people over the last year or two, and ALL of them see the dog, sometimes with a little prompting. A lot of them don't just say "dog", they say "Oh look — a Scottish Terrier!"
This grid might not look hard to fill, but 76 words in a 15x16 puzzle equates to 71 words in a normal sized puzzle, and with a lot of theme entries the fill was LABorious. The area under Scottie's chin was particulary hard to fill cleanly, and that doesn't even have any theme entries in it. Will wanted it for a Monday, but I think ISEULT at 27-Across pushed it over into a Tuesday slot. It's certainly more fun to clue for a Tuesday.
Will was kind enough to take my suggestion and publish this puzzle on the day of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show finals, but he opted not to mention the show in any clues. He also did not seem at ALL interested in possibly appearing on live TV to discuss Scottie's physical attributes with the dog show judges.
Hope you enjoyed the puzzle!
This theme required entries in which each beginning/ending word in every phrase could function as both a noun and a verb, and when reversed, the resulting noun had to be some person or animal. In addition, the lengths had to work out for crossword symmetry. It took a while to think up a fifth entry.
I was asked to redo part of the fill, which required some major changes throughout, as is often the case. Although familiar with the term "payables" from business experience I did try to find a replacement entry but couldn't come up with one better.
Don't like the puzzle? Blame the bear.
As a solver, I really enjoy the variety of Thursdays in the NYT puzzle. So, it's not a big shock to me that "puzzles with a twist" have become my favorite to construct. In the grid I submitted, I used a highlighter to mark the theme answers. I wonder: does marking the loop squares make this too easy? My feeling is that this puzzle would be a very tough solve without that extra help.
I learned a lot constructing this puzzle. It was surprisingly hard to place the theme answers. Each creates 3-5 triple-checked letters and also requires placing 1 or 2 extra blocks (black squares) in the grid. Even worse, for this type of theme, it's not possible to place the theme answers symmetrically (unless you like downward loops), so each extra block creates another somewhere else in the grid to preserve symmetry.
Despite having a few additional theme possibilities (e.g., DAREDEVIL), I couldn't see a way to get another such entry in the grid. Even with the current set, I was stumped for a while until I saw that I could pair the blocks at the start of PAPER AIRPLANE and ROLLER COASTER with the blocks symmetrically opposite the loop blocks of the other entry.
First, a note on 1-Across. From reading many a crossword blog from the past year, I have become more aware of real and perceived gender biases that appear in crossword puzzles from time to time. When building this puzzle, I found the only entry that I could make work at 1-Across was BIG BREASTED, and feeling a little uncomfortable about it, decided to make the clue about chicken ("Like industrial broilers?"). Furthermore, I realized I had an opportunity to at least create some balance by cluing 13 Down as "Subject of the Seinfeld episode ‘The Hamptons.'"
To say the least, I was disappointed to see both clues changed in the ways that they were. I do not know if the effect of cold water on a man fails to pass the "breakfast test" or otherwise runs afoul of the NYT standards and practices, but it seems to me that crossword puzzles should be able to objectify men and women in equal measure. Now, onto the puzzle!
Finding interesting longish entries when starting with a concept that's a bit of a stunt like this can be a challenge, but in general I was happy with the trade-offs. I found that 60/64-Across stacked well, and then went searching for a symmetric pair and came up with 15/17-Across. The ?HT of 8-Down necessitated something longer, and so I started forming the grid shape around that.
I discovered STAYED LOOSE gave lots of options at the bottom, and could only make BIG BREASTED work at 1-Across (though I still ended up with the gluey LEHR and EOUS). APPLE ID at 45 Across allowed me to fill the middle cleanly, and the two black squares that were added before 48 Across COLONEL and after 25 Across Clayton did the same for the northeast and southwest.
I hope you enjoyed the result.
DOUG: Remember the recent kerfuffle about whether or not HELLO KITTY is actually a cat? I've done some research on the topic, and she is indeed a cat. But here's where it gets weird: Hello Kitty has a pet cat named Charmmy Kitty. Charmmy Kitty basically looks like a smaller, more catlike version of Hello Kitty. Somehow this is even more disturbing than the Goofy/Pluto dichotomy.
BRAD: I don't know what Doug's talking about; I've kept a couple of smaller versions of myself as pets for years. One of them actually edits the Chronicle of Higher Education puzzles.
This puzzle went through a couple of drafts before we arrived at this fill. Between versions, I actually pulled one of my seeds to use in a different collaboration with Doug, which you'll see here eventually. But we preserved Doug's nice seeds at 33D and 17A. His HELLO KITTY clue is great, as well.
Sometimes, the enjoyment in Monday and Tuesday grids can only be found in the theme. With the typical 78-word grid, crossword standbys are bound to make up much of the fill and clues can't get too interesting or novel.
For this reason, I always aim to make my easy puzzles with a low word count. For one thing, it's a fun construction challenge. Getting Monday-level fill in a 72-word grid often takes the exact right arrangement of the themers and black squares, which is the sort of design problem I like (cause I'm weird like that). Luckily, the grid shape I found was still fairly segmented, which allowed me to work on each corner without too much spillover.
But besides being fun to make, the longer vocabulary and lack of three-letter answers allows for interesting words and phrases you wouldn't normally see on a Monday. In turn, those can get fresh (but still easy) clues that test a novice solver's brain in a way they haven't experienced before.
All in all, I'm really proud of how this one came out, and I hope solvers like it too!
You are seeing a puzzle sixteen years in the making! This was my very first crossword sent to The Times back in 1999. The theme contained three straightforward "state capital with its state" entries — LANSINGMICHIGAN, STPAULMINNESOTA, CHEYENNEWYOMING — in a grid inspired by my then 16-year-old classmate Ethan Cooper's debut NYT puzzle of May 17, 1999. Shockingly, that puzzle was rejected. :-P
It lay forgotten for the next twelve years, covered in virtual dust, until I decided to revive it. After some more brainstorming, I got very lucky with discovering the fourth and final element — the IOWA entry. Bingo! Obviously, it still is a straightforward Monday theme, but it's disguised in Wednesday clothes. And for those keeping track, the puzzle was accepted in July of 2013, a mere 19 months ago (note to self: make it a Monday next time).
This theme started out with the optimist's (pessimist's) phrase "The glass is half full (empty)." I wanted to make a Schrödinger puzzle out of that idea, but of course FULL and EMPTY are different lengths, so that pretty much torpedoed that idea. But the phrase stuck in my head for a while until it turned into THE GLASS IS FU. (A phrase that didn't make it into my submitted version of the crossword, although I would've liked it to. A bit too risqué, perhaps!)
The fill for this 74-worder just fell into place very cleanly. I was happy, since that almost never happens. Moreover, I managed to sneak FUNNY FARM into the grid, which is the name of my son's awesome preschool. (I don't think the clue "Best preschool in the world" would've made the cut, sadly.)
My original version of this puzzle had two seeds: NO EASY DAY at 1-Across and PHOTOBOMB. I had just finished reading the NYT best seller "No Easy Day" (about the mission that killed Bin Laden) which had been recently published. So, I was inspired to use that as my seed entry.
However, Will had a problem with something else in the NW and in the SE and asked me to rework those corners. I also had LOLZ (clued as "Online guffaws") at 23-Down in the accepted revision, which to my disappointment was edited out in the published version and replaced with the less-scrabbly TOLD.