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Puzzles for February, 2020
with constructor comments

Sat 2/1/2020
ATTRACTIONIDAS
WHATLLITBEFINE
NOSETONOSESYNE
SUEEVENTATPAR
CREDRANARMS
BARONSSUNGTO
OPERAPICKLEJAR
DIDNTGETTHEMEMO
SAUTERNESPECOS
CADETSGANTRY
AGESAGOCURT
SUDSYMALIKIPA
LIFEMILITIAMAN
ELALONEMANBAND
WETSPOKERGAMES

When I solved this puzzle earlier this week, roughly a year after its creation, it felt like it flowed nicely from start to finish — probably because there are only a couple of minor pinch-points in the overall grid design. And, amazingly, almost every submitted clue of mine made it into the published version. This wildly bolstered my usual plodding solving pace. Will and the editing crew typically throw in many more of their own twists and turns that wreak havoc with my solve time. Enjoy the rest of your Super Bowl weekend!

Sun 2/2/2020 AUDUBON SOCIETY
TRANSAGEDODDSALBUS
BALOOROLEPERMTEENA
SHERYLCROWSCOUTFINCH
PAVEIHOPLOTRSELL
LEARNGEOTAPAMUSE
SIGOURNEYWEAVER
APOLUNEPAPDIALECT
FRANKIETOTEMLIESLOW
RUMENDATSEAILEANA
ABETEASYRUNSPRAY
TALIBYOLODINGTOILS
AMESTOREROSMELC
ABSOLUTRAGONDUELERS
YOUROCKSTOICOSMOSIS
ENEWHOSWEDRUNKSTAN
SAMSASTIARSEGALS
ATMSAFGHANSTSAR
BARREARTMUSEUMTYLER
RITADOVEASPLADYBIRD
IDITARODIKEATALANTA
MANILOWLYNEMERGES

BRIAN: After a few years of constructing, I am thrilled to have my debut puzzle in the NYT! I started constructing in 2017, so this was a few years in the making.

The idea for this puzzle came after seeing the tremendous "Lady Bird." I thought a literal interpretation would make for a fun puzzle, and after some brainstorming/googling, I discovered there were a plethora of women with birds for last names that fit the bill.

Knowing my original 15x version needed something else but unsure what, I reached out to Erik Agard through the Crossword Puzzle Collaboration Directory and asked him to connect me with a constructor to bounce ideas off. Thankfully, he connected me with Chris, who provided superb feedback on several puzzles, including this one. Our emails on this puzzle naturally turned into a collaboration I'm proud of. After a few months we finished it and sent it in.

Happy solving!

PS: Greta Gerwig—if you need some custom puzzles for any reason, feel free to reach out!

CHRIS: After being e-introduced, Brian floated some ideas by me; I particularly enjoyed this one, especially since Lady Bird was one of my favorite films that year.

I figured there'd be enough theme answers to warrant making this a 21x, but also thought that I'd seen something similar before. And after searching XWord Info and Crossword Fiend, I came across a Peter Gordon puzzle from 2018. Similar, to be sure, but with a different enough focus that we both felt OK proceeding with our idea.

For elegance, we decided to only use last names, and we strove to strike a balance between well-known real and fictional people (hence why Robin Wright and Jennie Finch, among others, didn't make the cut). Length was also considered in picking theme answers; thankfully, the lengths mostly matched up, and we could have gone with normal symmetry. But everything fit together very nicely in this layout, which gave us a lot of flexibility in filling. And after a few fits and starts, we figured out the grid and filled and clued it together (coincidentally, right around the Oscars).

And now, here we are. Definitely a fun collaboration, and if you are an aspiring constructor, I'd love to collaborate and/or help in any way possible; contact me via my personal puzzle site.

POW Mon 2/3/2020
FETAPIBBBAHAI
LARDETREALERT
USERACESNEATO
EYEOFTHETIGER
SADIEZINMMA
THEBEESKNEES
IBMPADPEONS
DRYHEATINHOUSE
AIMEESROTAT
HAIROFTHEDOG
ORSAHAROAMS
THEMONKEYSPAW
KRAUTMAINORCA
OAKENANNOLOAN
SEEYASAGSONUS

I'm thrilled to be making my Times debut on a Monday. Thanks to Will Shortz and his staff for reading through all of my submissions, especially the terrible ones. This was one of my earlier attempts at crossword constructing (followed by approximately three or four dozen rejections before my next "yes"), and the feedback I received with each of my submissions has been crossword gold, helping make me a better constructor.

Although this is my debut with the Times, it's my eighth publication. One puzzle that was especially fun to make was a 15x pangram with grid art that folds into an origami butterfly (thanks to Jane Rosemarin at The Fold for editing my illustrations).

I hope today's puzzle made for an entertaining start to your crossword-solving week.

Tue 2/4/2020
IOTASAMISCOPE
TORCHEARORKIN
SHOEHORNSMAINE
YSLMAOBAILS
LOVETRIANGLES
BANEDNYBTW
OCCAMALFCITI
CHAMPAGNEFLUTES
TINACUTUBERS
ECOBRABIKE
TAPERECORDERS
NEVISBENCIA
PENINSEXORGANS
CRETEPSIANDRE
PYRESYETMUSIC

We submitted this puzzle in December 2018, and it was accepted in April 2019. It's our second collaboration in the NYT.

Our working title for this puzzle was "Instrument Panel." But we informally thought of it as a story about a raunchy rendezvous involving a love triangle, champagne, stilettos, and a sex tape.

Since we knew that angle wouldn't fly in a mainstream venue, in our submitted manuscript we clued the theme entries as "Heel instruments?," "Rom-com plot instruments?," "Toasting instruments?," "Interviewers' instruments?," and "Procreation instruments?" Because those theme clues hint at the dual nature of the instruments in each themer, we thought an additional revealer was unnecessary.

We were a little disappointed to see that the theme clues were edited into more straightforward definitions and paired with a revision of the southeast corner to add the revealer MUSIC. That grid revision, unfortunately, resulted in some infelicitous words being added to the puzzle.

On the other hand, perhaps that change enhances the aha moment by delaying the solver's realization of the connection shared between the theme entries.

In choosing our group of themers, we prioritized examples where the instrument word was used in a completely different sense. For example, a COMPUTER KEYBOARD is very similar in form and function to a piano keyboard, so that was a no-go. We also avoided themers like SEA BASS where the two homographs have different pronunciations.

Wed 2/5/2020
RAMADAATMWHAM
EXITEDCATCHAIR
POMONACOWLINGS
ONENIGHTSTAND
EEOFREED
PIPERTMCORDER
WORKSOFARTORE
ALOEROMEOAVID
VACDOBEDOBEDO
ENEWSTAPPARES
IDAHOEAT
USEDFURNITURE
TARHEELSICEBOX
SLAMPOETTALESE
KALENWAALLRED

Back in March of 2017, I clued ALL RED as "visibly embarrassed," deciding that while Gloria ALLRED was crossword-worthy, a non-trivia clue would be better for a Tuesday-ish puzzle. (She was even in the news at the time, representing multiple women who had accused then-candidate Trump of sexual assault.)

Since this puzzle was accepted, in August of 2017, #MeToo began, grew, and flourished into the robust and essential movement we know it as today. If ALLRED had found its way into one of my 2018, or 2019, or 2020 grids, I would have clued it as Gloria in a heartbeat.

Also, if you're looking to get into crossword constructing, and especially if you identify as non-male, LGBTQ+, or as a person of color, I'd be thrilled to offer whatever assistance I can to help you get your puzzles published. Contact me via Instagram (@rosstrudeau) or Twitter (@trudeauross).

Thu 2/6/2020
SFPDTABUCOO
CLARAIDIGSHAW
LIKESANDTHELIKE
ACECELSDONT
SETTERSETCETERA
SUABLERUNSEW
APNEAVEERGEEK
ALIETALII
EXPMDRAMOATER
EARTEAOWNAGE
KNOTSANDWHATNOT
AURADAISGTE
UDDERSANDOTHERS
RUESPETERELIT
ISRADENIHOP

I came up with this theme idea quite a while back. One of the things I liked about it was that the answer ALI ET ALII seemed to take otherwise trite crossword glue and have some fun with it. I remember being a little concerned that the wordplay in each of the examples wasn't rigorously consistent, but luckily it struck a chord with the NYT editorial team.

I was asked to remove a couple of problem entries in my original grid, but as it turned out, that meant redoing it entirely. Grids with 9-letter slots in the middle row can be notoriously troublesome to work with.

A special shoutout to Linux geeks today comes in the form of CURL and AWK.

Fri 2/7/2020
SANDPSUPERAPS
UHURATREXAURA
NAKEDLUNCHSTUB
SEAMANIPHONE
MASTERBREWER
JEWELSQUIERO
AVEDASUITSRAE
PERKATANASKIA
ERESLOBSREEDS
AWHIRLDEFRAY
IBLAMEMYSELF
CALVINPLEATS
ELSEAPPALACHIA
USERTOESSEALS
PATSEXAMEDITS

MARY LOU: After our last collaboration that started as a themeless, then ended up as a themed, I asked Erik if he'd like to give that themeless a try again. When he replied in the affirmative, I sent him a list of possible seed entries. I couldn't come up with clean fill on the first grid he put together after multiple tries, so he came up with another. It filled smoothly and incorporated three of my seed entry suggestions, PADMA LAKSHMI, MASTER BREWER, and I BLAME MYSELF.

It is a pleasure to have worked with Erik. He is such a pro. I appreciate his efforts to include more underrepresented groups as crossword constructors. He has been one of those at the forefront of this movement, setting up and moderating a Facebook page to connect new constructors from underrepresented groups with collaborators/mentors.

I wish him all the best in his new position as in-house editor of the USA TODAY Crossword puzzle.

Sat 2/8/2020
IMHOTOSSSITE
NOOBSALADHOOD
CUTSPRICERANGE
ANDCOPRPERSON
STEEDSOILUP
SNOTFLOPWHO
JOKEWRITERNEAT
CHILDISHGAMBINO
TINYKNEEBOARDS
SOGJETTLOAD
LASSOEDGERS
BLUEMOONSEDAN
BOCABURGERNONE
OWLSTRUCETUDE
YEAHYEOWSTIR

Hello! After years of obsessive solving, and a handful of polite rejections, it's exciting to actually have a puzzle published! And on Saturday, no less. Let's go streak(break)ing!

I'm a politics/religion blogger from Naperville, IL. The NYT crossword has always been a pleasant distraction, and it was both enjoyable and wildly frustrating to try and create my own grid. Mad respect for those constructors who manage to churn these things out on a regular basis. I don't know Zhouqin Burnikel or Patrick Berry, but they are my patron saints.

This puzzle started with the CHILDISH GAMBINO seed. After that, I was tried to stack up as many longer entries as I could around it. I used to like Chris ODOWD until he created a logjam in the grid.

The team's edits make a ton of sense, and they made a suggestion that improved the northwest part of the grid (curse you again, ODOWD). Some of my swapped-out clues include "You don't want to be on a tight one" for LEASH and "Reds state" for OHIO... but I'm glad they kept the gist of my clue for 34-down!

Apologies for the gluey answers. I'm cringing as I look at a bunch of those 3- and 4-letter entries (special ugh to JCTS, OTOS, and YEOW). Next time, I'll just do a 15x15 stack with no black boxes anywhere. Should be a breeze.

Sun 2/9/2020 THE EMOJI MOVIE
KINGHOGANPROTIPELF
ASEAAGORARAVINECEO
THELORDOFTHERINGSHER
GAPEDCASEDREPORT
WHEATONSHUTSDATA
HANDYOWETOTITANIC
ASTOCITIZENKANEMOP
LSATANTSELKSTAME
ELIREPOSFLAKYDUMBO
DELOUSEDIECISETSON
PLANETOFTHEAPES
OUSTERLENTOLORISES
SPEEDSMASHUNDUEAPU
LEWDSTIRMEETSLIP
ONEMARYPOPPINSTAPE
DRACULAELLENNAMER
LUGENAIADADORING
AGEINGNINNYSPORT
BIGALEAGUEOFTHEIROWN
EVARENNETFLAIRERIE
TEDDROOLSFUNDSKONG

I'm a Silicon Valley computer programmer and business founder, currently trying out a new gig — early retirement.

When I was a kid, I made simple puzzles for my sister and neighbors. For years, I wanted to construct a puzzle for the Times, but I needed a uniquely special concept. When my son Caleb went off to study Film, we frequently texted back and forth about movies. We realized that the "horse face" emoji is evocative of a certain scene in The Godfather, and when The Emoji Movie was released, our idea took hold. Still, it took about two years to finish.

I tried to follow these rules:

  • Represent each movie title with exactly three emojis. [Note: the single artist emoji at 38-across displays on some systems as two emojis — JH]
  • Only use emojis that are part of the current Unicode standard. For example, Raiders of the Lost Ark would be difficult since there are no emojis (yet) for whips, fedoras, or boulders.
  • Don't reuse any emoji.
  • Reference films that are classic, or widely known.
  • Include a variety of different genres.
  • Represent memorable plot elements or characters.
  • Include as many theme answers as possible because guessing movie titles from emojis is fun!

After a ton of reworking and polishing, I was thrilled to (mostly) meet all the rules while including 16 movies and 48 different emojis. I hope solvers love the concept and perhaps even smile and laugh with the recognition of some favorites movie moments.

Mon 2/10/2020
ADFEETHUGBCUP
ICEAXVINEIONA
WORTHASHOTLUGS
ANNAREAMONET
ALITTLEEXTRA
JABBEDUSAIN
ACRESARANOUT
CHICREWCUTSHO
KEGHARSHPEON
HEARTMARSHY
SETTLEASCORE
ITSOKHAIRFEZ
GAINDOUBLETAKE
MIDIANTISKIER
ALECBESTTORSO

This puzzle was accepted just over a year ago with no revisions. I would say the most impressive thing about it is the timing, which I had nothing to do with — it comes out online at 6 pm EST Sunday, Feb. 9, and the Oscars show starts two hours later at 8 pm EST. Perfect! It would have been nice if JOKER or JOJO had randomly appeared in the grid, or if I could have worked a Q in there smoothly for the pangram. Personally, my favorite movie of the year was Once Upon a Time in Hollywood — how about you?

Tue 2/11/2020
ALIBIAVISAJAR
DEBITWINEPOPO
WEEDSLASERSHOW
ARREARUNIONS
RAINBOWFLAGMTV
ETAIDIOTSPULP
AGINGARIES
FLYINGCOLORS
GRIEFFRATS
YENSIRAISEPIA
MSGGLITTERBOMB
HUGELYSERIFS
PAINTBALLGENRE
DINAEDITOATEN
FRETTHUDSKEET

NEIL: I've spitballed some puzzle themes with Jeff before, but this is the only one that has managed to get off the ground. (Har har). Thanks again, Jeff!

At first, I thought this might need to be a 16x15 puzzle. My original themers included "FIREWORKS DISPLAY," "AIR BALLOON FIESTA," and the revealer, "WITH FLYING COLORS." Thankfully Jeff talked me down. We considered other themers (e.g., SOAP BUBBLES, AURORA BOREALIS, and LANTERN FESTIVALS) before ultimately agreeing on the themers here. They all have a different type of imagery about them. And being gay, I was super happy we managed to squeeze in RAINBOW FLAG and GLITTER BOMB — and both as debut entries, no less!

We went through many grids before landing on this one, including "mirror symmetry" grids. We started with some using 37 black squares, but I kept pushing for a more open grid. I think the result ended up pretty ideal, given our constraints. And even though there are technically two "cheater" squares, they're both essentially necessitated by the central pair of revealers.

"IT'S A BIG IF" still sounds a bit funny to my ear (I think "THAT'S A BIG IF" is more spot-on), but Jeff seeded that into our fill, and I didn't have strong objections. We also had a last-minute moment of panic where we noticed the word "FREE" showed up in our grid twice, but thankfully one of our earlier drafts had a corner we could substitute back in!

JEFF: I liked so much about Neil's basic concept. AIR BALLOON FIESTA, though ... it didn't hit my ear right, so off to Google to went. To my surprise, that phrase (in quotes) got a ton of hits.

Maybe my own ignorance was at fault? Or my weird phobia of hot air balloons pecked slowly open by peacocks? In any case, we almost talked ourselves into letting it slide — it is evocative, no doubt — but a few trusted friends gave me quite the side-eye when I proposed it. Off to search for new themers!

POW Wed 2/12/2020
OKRAATETHREES
SNOCONESHEAVEN
LOVECONQUERSALL
OWEHITPOMP
SONSOLEEMO
DEATHANDTAXES
DOWSOXSIXERS
REINSWEBCIRCA
ALTOIDLABOTS
THUNDERSTORMS
SIPEPIGTOS
ALLAUTAGPS
WARTOENDALLWARS
IMEANTONEDOZEN
NOODGEGODKEYS

At age 9, my son seemed ready to write his doctoral thesis on Greek mythology. Our typical bedtime routine had morphed into him delivering pop quizzes like "Name the 14 Olympian Gods and their areas of influence." (Thanks, Rick Riordan!) The questions became progressively harder. Hoping he'd start asking me some questions I could answer, I encouraged him to broaden his knowledge of other civilizations. It was then that I noticed "Thor" and "thunder" started with the same two letters. In developing theme entries, I tried to select gods from different mythos and whose realms of influence were well known to most.

This puzzle was originally submitted in December 2017, rejected with an invitation to revise in April 2018, and accepted in July 2018. The suggestion I received was to replace the original reveal [ACTOFGOD] with the more apt [GOD]. Fortunately for me, I was able to make that change with only a minor tweak to the SE corner of the grid.

Thu 2/13/2020
CCSHERBSTAGE
HAIEAVEOCELOT
ORGINSERVIDAYS
OWNEDFIEFNAY
SAUCISHPRIMA
EXPOEINEBELAY
AUDINOIDEA
REVERSECTIONARY
GRATISEINK
SALTSFRETEPIC
HATHASHAVEDE
ETAOATHLETIN
ROLLTHEDICEADS
MALALATROULIU
ADAGEVESTSTS

We're so excited to be back in the New York Times after what feels like forever! We kept busy during that time with our now 16-month-old son, Clark, and trying to think of fun puzzle ideas.

As is often the case, constructors think alike and David Steinberg's great Sunday puzzle last year employed a similar theme concept with balls vs dice in ours. It looked like David had beaten us to the punch for this particular "trick" and so we were very pleasantly surprised that our puzzle was accepted as well.

Some memorable things about this puzzle:

  1. When we couldn't find enough theme entries in our word list, we did it the "old-fashioned" way by searching the good ol' world wide web, which resulted in a few debut entries.
  2. It worked out nicely that the DICE entries rotated in a progression (though that was probably more luck than skill.
  3. Given the theme density and the fixed placement of the DICE, we're happy that not too much crosswordese was needed.
  4. Karl's thrilled his Star Trek shout-out at 31-A survived.
  5. Amanda prefers the editing team's clue at 24-D — parenthood has given new meaning to Seuss-isms (and Mr. Rogers).

To any aspiring constructor, feel free to contact us at amandakarlxword@gmail.com. We'd be happy to talk shop.

Fri 2/14/2020
THESTOOGESTROT
HITCHARIDEHAVE
INTHATCASEEVEN
STARACEARENT
OILOLDWELSH
DEADCALMELI
AUDIOBOOKSSUMP
BRENNANOPENSET
SONGMICROCOSMS
EBBINTHERED
OVERLAINSOS
PALSYHESCOPE
ALECHOMEPLANET
LUNASPACEOPERA
SEATTEXTALERTS

I wrote this puzzle right after making a major upgrade to my construction software. It paid off; I thought this puzzle came out much better than my previous attempts at themeless crosswords. It was also my first themeless to be accepted.

The seed for this puzzle was, of course, SCHRÖDINGER'S CAT. I chose THERE IS NO ESCAPE as its symmetrical partner, partially because of how deliciously evil it sounds and also because it has a certain connection to Schrödinger's unfortunate victim (half of the time, at least). I was surprised at how easily most of the puzzle fell into place. My biggest problem was constructing the stacks of 10-letter words. I had to lower my threshold for bad fill there, which is why THA and HST are present.

I wrote this puzzle soon after Solo: A Star Wars Story came out, so I was happy that the editorial team kept my clue to 60-across. I'm also grateful for their improvements to the rest of my clues.

On a side note, I seem to specialize in Valentine's Day puzzles.

Sat 2/15/2020
SUCKDRYAPPEASE
INHEREDCHANTER
THREADSTORTOLA
SEISMSTANLINES
HASHEESHEOCENE
ITSADATESUEDES
VEINYESTERS
ADEREMAXTEA
HEADUPAWOLS
SALAMIRIPTIDES
ALEVELFREELOVE
LEVERETSLADLES
OPIOIDSHATPINS
OPENTAPEGOISTE
NOSEATSLENGTHS

As a solver I love themeless puzzles with wide-open spaces and lots of uncommon entries. There's something about filling in areas of intersecting longish words and phrases, and there's an aesthetic appeal of using relatively few black squares in symmetric fields of white. I go all the way back to classic constructor Jack Luzatto for my inspiration for constructing wide-open grids. As a themeless constructor, I strive for wide-open spaces with some interesting fill and a minimum of junk. A 62-word puzzle, such as this one, presents a particular challenge to balance fresh entries, fresh clues, not too many names, and few overused words.

The design of this puzzle has four chunky sections connected in the middle with a slightly less dense section. Since all four corners fed into the center, that middle area was harder to fill with good entries than it might look. I am pleased that each of the five sections had some fresh entries. SUCK DRY and SIT SHIVA anchored the top left corner; HASHEESH, DRAMEDY, KEESHAN, ITS A DATE, RED SEA, VEINY were pretty good too. CHRISSIE was probably going to be the way into that area, and INHERED and ADE were not great, but worth it to finish that corner — the best part of the puzzle, in my opinion.

In the upper right, TAN LINES and PHONE SEX were fresh. I didn't love ACTA, SELENE so much. In the bottom left ALEVEL, OPIOIDS, OPEN TAP, NO SEATS, HAVE ONE and RAILED AT were better than average — there was no junk in that area. The bottom right featured FREE LOVE, HAT PINS, ATE A TON, WILD PIG, TO DO LIST, but at the cost of PELAGE, HEL, and the overused ASSESSES. The center produce THE SMURFS crossing REMAX — pretty good since they were the last entries created.

The clueing of this Saturday puzzle, which is supposed to be harder than the rest of the week, is a collaborative effort between editor and constructor. I'm happy that many of my clues made it, but I'm not surprised, nor offended, that a number of the clues were changed. I have found that good crossword editors, with their knowledge of clues that work and don't work, usually improve the puzzle. That doesn't mean I agree with all the changes, but I defer to Will's prowess as a clue maker and someone who knows better than anyone what the NY Times solver likes in their puzzles.

In many ways, creating a themeless looks like the most difficult puzzle to make — I don't think it is. For me, coming up with a creative, novel theme poses the biggest challenge and the most satisfying outcome. IMO, the art of puzzle-making is tougher than the craft.

Sun 2/16/2020 NUMBER THEORY
DRATDATIVESLIMUP
RECUTCINEMAXSPANISH
INTROAMILATELANDTAX
QUINCEJELLYQUINCE
POTUSCUSPEXAMS
GERMANAYEAYESIRMAW
DAFOEABAFTTHOLORI
ELFDOBBYTHEHOUSEELF
WASABIPEAOVIDTIBET
GETITHADESREPAY
SEIZEPOWERSEIZE
ACITYMOTESSOMNI
AMISSTAUTGODISGOOD
DUETOTHEFACTTHATDUE
INNSMRSKAZOONOICE
ORCDIETMENUSFRENCH
SAYSOARCSSIEVE
LOSTINTRANSLATION
BUSYBEEAKRONOHDETOO
ITALIANBIOLOGYARTOO
GENYERBATONSMYOB

Several years ago, before joining Will and Joel at The Times, I had one of my own puzzle submissions rejected, whose theme presentation just wouldn't offer up a strong enough click with the majority of our solving audience. It involved puns around interesting names for groups of animals: "Group of rhinos on Wall Street?" for STOCK MARKET CRASH, "Group of crows in Egypt?" for MURDER ON THE NILE, etc. Perhaps this would amuse those familiar with "crash" as the term for a group of rhinos, but to the many solvers discovering it mid-solve, the puzzle probably would elicit more "Oh, fun fact, I guess" than that smile-inducing "Aha!" we strive for.

I thought about that puzzle a lot while agonizing over how to present the theme idea in today's. It seemed too cool to me that various English words were spelled the exact same way as written-out numbers in foreign languages. How could I get solvers to appreciate these finds in crossword form while (most likely) showing them something new?

I hope this puzzle provides that smile-inducing "Aha!" on your end, and isn't just indulging my soft spot for constructor-y wordplay. There's a lot going on in the grid, and I'd like to thank the crossword gods for some serious luck with the theme symmetry.

P.S.: Yes, there were other possible fills for that southeast corner ... but I like keeping my grids on the wacky side.

Mon 2/17/2020
PUPANGEROVENS
ASLTULSAPEKOE
LAURABUSHELENA
SITUBEEARC
ROSALYNNCARTER
TRYOHSORRY
EPICGOTOAME
MICHELLEOBAMA
FOXMODSALPS
EJECTORSRO
HILLARYCLINTON
ANYLOXOVUM
AGINGBETTYFORD
GECKOBATHEISS
AMESSCROSSDEE

I have enjoyed word puzzles, and especially crosswords, for a long time. About a year and a half ago, I was working a New York Times puzzle when I had the thought, "Who makes these puzzles? Could I make crossword puzzles?" After doing a lot of research, experiencing a significant amount of construction trial and error, and receiving some helpful advice from editors and other constructors, it turns out that I can. I am delighted to be making my debut in the New York Times!

I live in the crossword-friendly state of IOWA. Over the last thirty years I have had multiple professions, including pharmacist, research assistant, at-home mom, adjunct professor of Pharmacology, Children's Ministry Director, and freelance writer. I am currently semi-retired, which has given me time to tackle the adventure of writing crossword puzzles.

When I finished reading "Becoming" by Michelle Obama, I wondered how many other first ladies had written memoirs, and that's how the idea for this puzzle was born. After a couple of revisions, the puzzle was accepted in April of 2019 with the plan of saving it for President's Day. I didn't design the puzzle with President's Day in mind, but I think it's a good fit. I hope you have as much fun solving my puzzle as I had constructing it.

Tue 2/18/2020
ARTSMUYABSORB
IDEALISTCRIMEA
GARDENEDRECALL
REWEDTIEHIE
AHADOTARDBAER
CAREORASENDS
TRIAGEDICTA
PARALLELPARKS
BRIANUNDEAD
DPLUSBCESIRE
REEDBAYINGSAW
AYNIANLEAPT
MONADSTEARLESS
ATOLLSCERBERUS
SENSEIUNSASEA

I love hiking and camping in the National Parks; 19 down, 43 to go! For months, I had been trying to find a way to create a theme around them. When I finally hit on the revealer phrase, I tried a number of parallel schemes before settling on this one. Triple-checked squares are a construction challenge, and many of the parks had to run through the central revealer. So, as much as possible, I emphasized cleanness over sparkle. Hope you enjoy!

Wed 2/19/2020
FISHETREPEROT
BANTULAOSGRAPE
RICESLYFTDRIVER
BLUESTEELRACERS
SPARTATNAE
TOTREUPINIT
ATOMKNICKKNACKS
SODASSPATGROAN
KEYSTONEKOPPOLO
HANAEKESKEG
IDSRAPREFI
NEPALISWIPELEFT
SWIPERIGHTKOJAK
EARPSITISERATO
TRESSISPYRARE

This puzzle had a long and winding path from submission to final acceptance.

My original theme set was ROBB STARK, LYFT DRIVER, STEEL CAGE, KNICK-KNACK, and SWIPE LEFT.

Theme entries proposed along the way included LUTE STRINGS, SAC FUNGUS, SEES STARS, MAN OF STEEL, and NEW YORK KNICK. In the end, KEYSTONE KOP was the keystone that tied the rest of the puzzle together. Since the options for LYFT in a terminal position (e.g., CALL A LYFT) weren't idiomatic enough to pass muster, I proposed the dual reveal (SWIPE LEFT/SWIPE RIGHT).

Unfortunately, even with a workable theme set, there was still trouble ahead. Between KNICK-KNACKS, and KEYSTONE KOP, I had to work six K's into the center of the grid. That proved to be unexpectedly difficult. I tried every conceivable configuration in a 15x grid, including adjusting the vertical spacing of the themers, swapping them left-to-right, and adjusting their horizontal positions.

The best option still required filling the slots WG--, IH--, and PT--. The first of those three proved to be fatal. Although WGBH is familiar to me as the producer of "Nova," "Frontline," and "Masterpiece" on PBS, to the editorial team it was a puzzle killer (even with an additional hint to solvers that it's an anagram of the 41st president's initials).

Fortunately, Will allowed me to take the grid to16x. The resulting fill in the bottom-middle is still a bit rough (III, ITIS, SGTS), but I think it's fair.

POW Thu 2/20/2020
BAROBAMARSVP
OLEGALIASICEE
UPL8HUNCHPHEW
THEFOURTHEST8
SATUPPOLLS
PATTIPARDON
PAWH8RSGONNAH8
ISHSALUTZAP
TAILG8PARTYENS
ADRIANMUSIC
SALEMPLOWS
PIECESOFEIGHT
XR8DONAD8CR8R
FILLVIGILKEPI
LOSEEDENSSIP

I had the idea for this revealer while driving home from work in November 2018. It's not the best place to get ideas as they can't be written down immediately, but thankfully I was able to hold on to this one. I built the puzzle on and off through November and December. Submitted in January 2019, accepted in May.

To make the puzzle, I created a word list that replaced all instances of "ATE" and "OO" with 8. I placed the revealer and H8RSGONNAH8 in the grid as if I were building a themeless and tried to build the puzzle from there. There was a bit of a challenge to evenly distribute eight 8's in the grid while ensuring the horizontal 8's were all replacing ATE and pronounced like 8 while ensuring the vertical eights were all replacing OO. Because I didn't have a set of theme answers in mind, the provided some freedom to try to make the fill as interesting and clean as possible.

Overall, I'm happy with the result. KEPI and OLEG aren't great entries, but they don't make me go YIPE either. This is my first Thursday puzzle in the Times and probably the tricksiest themed puzzle I've had published anywhere to date. I'm curious to read what everyone's thoughts are on it.

Fri 2/21/2020
BOTTLESSIDEBET
EVASIVEPREGAME
EURASIAROLODEX
FLORALPRINTMRT
EATSGLENSDOGE
DRSCRAFTTRUED
PAINECHATS
RUNNERSHIGH
HOPESEWERS
SILASSNEADLAD
ITLLSADATMAGI
THELUNARCRATER
PODCASTJOSHING
AMRADIOADVANCE
TESTEESREPLAYS

ANNE: I was excited to get the chance to collaborate with Erik again for my first, and hopefully not last, NYT appearance! He could not have reached out at a more perfect time. It was a nice little time window where I happened to be transitioning jobs and had more free time than usual. I had a great time finishing out the grid and cluing the puzzle with Erik. It was particularly fun thinking of trickier clues.

One of the last clues we worked on was for 30-Across. Erik's made the cut, but I wanted to give a shout out to my version — "Rhapsody in shoes."

ERIK: I had the good fortune of working with Anne on a puzzle for the Universal Sunday Crossword, and it was a pleasure to do so again here. She's a quick study, has a fun and witty cluing voice (see above), and thinks about crosswords like she's a constructing veteran. I can't wait for her next one!

Sat 2/22/2020
MCCAINOFFTO
QUIZZICALLOOK
QUOTATIONMARKS
BURNERTOPSY
AAADIPOLESHOW
MYNANAMEDBABE
SCAGGSNOMAD
TRAIPSEPARLEYS
HILDABEAPAL
ISLEHOPUPSERB
SKAROYALLYMOA
FLIESIOMOTH
FROZENDAIQUIRI
DENOFINIQUITY
REEDSARSENE

One day, while at the gym, the phrase DEN OF INIQUITY wryly came to mind in regard to one of the… let's say, infelicitous… conversations I happened to overhear in the sauna (thankfully, I wear headphones the rest of the time). I noted that it was 13 letters, and I thought of QUIZZICAL LOOK as another interesting 13 containing a Q shortly afterward.

Later, I recalled a grid pattern with stacked 13/14 pairs that had been used a couple of times recently (one of which I helped edit the clues for). I thought it would be cool if I could put QUIZZICAL LOOK in row 2 with a 14 starting with Q underneath it, though to be honest, I wasn't expecting too much.

I was pleasantly surprised when the top stack took shape but wasn't celebrating yet, as I know all too well the feeling of having one section come out nicely, only to have the symmetrical section refuse to cooperate (I have many half-finished themelesses haunting the abyss of my files). So, I figured it was more than pushing my luck to not only put DEN OF INIQUITY into the bottom half, but also to try to place a Q above the U so that all four long entries would contain a Q.

Fortunately, it turns out that the exhilarating phenomenon of having the logistics of a theme simply work out perfectly sometimes applies to themeless puzzles too. I sometimes agonize over which option for a section of a themeless feels like the ‘right fit'— not so much here. I don't think I've ever had a themeless feel more "meant to be" than this one.

In addition to the featured long answers, I was pleased to incorporate a nice set of 8-letter answers, and also some fun shorter fill like ROYALLY and IO MOTH.

In terms of the clues, it feels like more of my clues were changed than usual, and that the new clues are almost exclusively easier than mine—maybe test solvers found it hard. I'm particularly glad that my original clue for ARSENE made it through. However — I came across the title of the collection while reading up on Arsène Lupin and thought it was hilarious that a certain detective's name was spoonerized for copyright reasons. On that note, I hope you thought this was a peat nuzzle! (sorry)

Sun 2/23/2020 RESOLVED
DESPAIRDRJSEPTORME
ENCARTAYOOTRIONEIL
EGOTRIPSKYRINGCYCLE
REPRESSYOURLUCKHMONG
LEIAHENIOCISEVEY
ORIELSDAKSEALE
EMITRELATETOTHEPARTY
VIDASTALKHUHDOUGIE
EXACTSTAINTEALRILE
TOPITEMUNITARDS
AIRRESENTPACKINGLAH
THELORAXSARAGIS
PACEFLEDLIMOSFELIX
AVENGECEOMERITCONE
RESTOCKSANDBONDSOWNS
SORTATYRAICAHN
IMPGOTHOYSTAEDAM
NOOSERETURNTHETABLES
SNOWSKIERUIESIDEONE
UGLIINLANNEARTSALE
MOSTRASPSOLROOTFOR

DAVID: I have been test-solving Sophia's puzzles since she asked for crossword construction software six years ago and started making puzzles for her high school newspaper, but I had only watched over her shoulder as she built grids until last year.

Sophia came up with the first themer and the idea for a "restart" revealer while she was working on a different theme last summer, and we quickly came up with a long list of possible theme answers that clearly wouldn't fit into a 15x15 grid. Sophia came up with the original arrangement of theme answers and black-square placement, which is the one area of construction that seems like the biggest mystery to me still. When Will liked the idea but didn't like one of our theme answers, we ended up reworking more than half of the puzzle to replace it, and eventually lost the RESTART revealer to allow more flexibility with the fill in the SE corner.

I am very excited that our puzzle is coming out before we will be attending the ACPT for the second time, even if I still won't be as cool as Sophia and her young constructor friends!

SOPHIA: Given the huge array of possible theme answers, we wanted to choose themers where the "re" drastically changed the meaning of the first word. Once we had a final theme set, I built the grid around it. I'm glad we were able to incorporate a fair amount of long bonuses, even if there are a few more three-letter words than I'd like.

The process of constructing this puzzle involved a lot of emails with screenshots of partially filled grids and, um, lively discussion about what counted as good fill. I'm happy with the final version, although I'm still somewhat disappointed about losing RESTART as a revealer as I felt like it gave the otherwise arbitrary add-a-letter theme a deeper layer.

I always love collaborating on construction, but it was particularly fun to get to work with my dad on this puzzle!

Mon 2/24/2020
SHODSICKOBOA
LEVIAMAINRUMP
IRANVERNEARES
POLICEDOGHINGE
NAMBARISTAS
MONGRELLOCI
UBOATEFFSNASH
SOILAGORAGLUE
SERFSAGEUTTER
ROILDOSHOTS
FACEOFFSWEE
AWASHOPENSFIRE
NARCCRATELOOM
TIVOACTORATOM
ATETEENSGAMY

I constructed and submitted this puzzle in 2016 without even considering the then-upcoming anniversary of its subject. Four years later, I'm glad to see it appear on such an apt day.

Favorite answer: GAMY, whose clue acquired its last four words en route to publication.

Tue 2/25/2020
JONASSPORTLASS
REACHERRORANEW
SUITENITTIVIDI
FRIENDSHIPGAMES
ITISSOOILERS
RACISMELLA
ORBHOPEDIAMOND
ONEAMLEVYSPREE
FORWARDPASSCHE
SKEEORCHID
LICHENHARBOR
INDUSTRYLEADERS
NARCAIDEDHEATS
EWOKLORRYAPNEA
DEMSSTATEMOTTO

My suggested title for when it's collected in a book: Eureka Moment.

Wed 2/26/2020
GRAMMYONKPKAT
RADIOSROARONO
ATONALATTESTTO
BEGUNPLAYMOBIL
SEGAIDID
HIPSDONTLIESKI
ESAIPAWDRAPED
LEIGHMODSURLY
PERNODPEPTELL
SMSTROMPELOEIL
AFARTROT
ASYOUWISHRUSSO
GOANDSEEBENHUR
OAKGINAONEALL
GPSENTSBADGUY

Brendan Emmett Quigley and I had recently been discussing Billie Eilish's Grammy achievement, a first since Christopher Cross in 1981. (Honestly, I was pulling for Lizzo for Best Album, but them's the breaks.) So her name was on my mind, and I had also just added WHERE'S THE LIE to my database and was wondering if I could work it into a theme. I noticed the letter overlap and the fact that Billie's name broke up nicely into four trigrams and went from there, though in the course of choosing theme entries, I ended up replacing WHERE'S THE LIE with HIPS DON'T LIE, which seemed more appropriate for a pop music puzzle anyway.

The light bonus tie-in of AUTOTUNED (BAD GUY features some Autotuned vocals) was not planned — that just happened to be the option there that led to the best fill.

Thu 2/27/2020
BASSLSATRUN
WORTHACLUCAPE
HOMERTHEBORDER
OMMINERSPOINT
NEROMASONS
ANDREWDIALS
WEREBRIARSFE
LAOSLINGOMAAM
TOGOOGOOASIA
ILOSENETTLE
LEANEDRVER
ALLENBSIDESTW
SOMESPACECAREW
IPADCLAWTRUES
KEYPITSSIGN

ANDREW: This puzzle is a personal favorite (not just because it has my name at 24-Across). This was my first foray into Thursday puzzles, so I figured I'd mess with some crossword rule, and the two-letter rule seemed like a fun challenge. I quickly turned to John for help with the idea, and together we got the M-E-O-W letters to work without too much glue and awkward cluing. John gets all the credit for the apropos CROSS THE BORDER and I NEED SOME SPACE bonuses.

JOHN: I'm glad I got to work with Andrew on this one, our fourth Times collaboration. It was an inspired idea that was great fun to help shape into its final form. Andrew and I will also be collaborating on the fourth edition of Boswords, the crossword tournament we co-direct in Boston that is open to solvers of all levels. This year's version will be on Sunday, July 26 and you can find more information about Boswords here.

Fri 2/28/2020
BINGEWATCHESA
ESCAPEROOMEVIL
DEATHTRAPSMAXI
SEASNADAPANTS
PAYRELIGHT
OHSTOPFEMALES
RECUTSONICLEE
EARTHSHATTERING
ODEOPALSBOSSA
HEALERSLOOTED
SUNDECKSOS
ANTESNACLBMWS
UTEPMAKEITRAIN
NESTIDONTWANNA
ARTCONTAINING

This is my first Friday puzzle in the New York Times! I didn't start solving themeless puzzles until pretty recently — early last year — since I always found them intimidating. But now, not only are they my favorite puzzles to solve, but they're my favorite puzzles to make! Themes tend to wrap me in knots, and I'm super picky about what excites me in a theme. But I'm finding that themeless puzzles are everything that I enjoy about crosswords: fun words, and voice-y clues. And, if you like this puzzle of mine, please check out my monthly-ish themeless puzzles in The New Yorker as well!

And, if you would like to see some creations of mine in a different medium, please check out my book Emmy in the Key of Code about girls coding for ages 8-12!

Sat 2/29/2020
RADISHJAMESON
ARETHACAROLINA
GOSTAGONENINTH
ADSGASLEAKS
EGGROLLSICUS
PREYCELWORST
BATEGIGECONOMY
ARMPREEMIETIL
BEEFHOTDOGTONE
ENNUIYENKANT
STUNLPGATOUR
KEYARENAISM
AGERANGEOLIVIA
BOYARDEETAMERS
STEPPESESPRIT