While shopping at the supermarket one evening, I was intrigued by a bin of fruit advertised as "Avocado Pears." I'd heard of them before, but instead of picking up the fruit, my eye lingered on the lovely calligraphy in the sign — AVOCADO PEARS.
AVOCADO PEARS contains a number of words: CAD, EARS, ADO, PEA and DOPE. Is there a theme here? I wandered around the store, forgetting my shopping list and thinking of theme angles. At the checkout counter, the "inside dope" angle popped into my head. Aha! Are there phrases that share the word DOPE? On the walk home, I'd thought of GRAND OPERA (INSIDE DOPE's shadow).
Some ideas like BOTCHED OPERATION were discarded immediately. I don't like to solve puzzles with depressing ideas and words. I like puzzles that make solvers happy. WALDO PEPPER and PRIED OPEN (as you might have done with a delicious roasted chestnut last December) seemed to complement GRAND OPERA and AVOCADO PEAR.
Though the seed entry was inspired by a fruit, I never bought the Avocado Pear (which, I suspect is your basic, garden-variety avocado!) Have a good solve. I hope it brings some happiness to your day.
A while back, while trying to come up with rebus themes involving the words "square" or "box," etc, I stumbled onto Einstein's famous equation, E = mc2, and realized that I could cleverly use the "equals" and "squared" parts of the equation to make an 'E' in one direction make an 'mc' all in one square in another. Never mind the fact that in Einstein's equation only the c is squared; the important part for me was that the language that you would use to describe the puzzle is the same language you would use to describe the equation: "E equals m c squared."
Conveniently, the puzzles four theme answers all had 'E's in them, allowing this puzzle to be a simple dedication to Einstein on one level, while being a rebus-like puzzle on another. In order to be fully consistent though, I had to make sure there were no other 'E's anywhere else in the puzzle. In general, I think restrictions like this are capable of leading to nice, out-of-the-box answers, though some fill can strain because of it. (33 and 40 Across are a good example of this dichotomy.) Anyway, that's the story. I hope you enjoy it!
When I constructed this puzzle a year ago, I was still a novice with grid work. As soon as I found a workable grid and started filling, I would feel locked into that choice. I remember the NE corner giving me problems, and not being flexible enough to start from scratch or move blocks around.
Today I might work to eliminate the clumping of proper nouns in the NE, in a grid that already has its fair share of propers. When I make a puzzle these days, I fill no fewer than 3 grids, usually more, using different block placements and rearranging entries. Then I'll evaluate and compare them to choose the grid that offers the best fill with fewest compromises for cluing. I'm pleased to get reacquainted with the variety of phrases I managed to work into this grid. The seed entries were GOAT RODEO and BOJANGLES.
Will kept an encouraging number of my favorite clues, in particular for 17A, 20A, 31A, 36A, 64A, 6D, and 36D. I especially admire the punny clues for 1A, 1D, and 55A that Will came up with. Some of my clues that didn't survive were not quite right or self-indulgently niche-oriented, like "Mighty foe for a gamer" for BOSS. Hey, my son helped me come up with that one!
It's a thrill to have my second NYT publication, and I sure hope to be back.
My big worry as I dropped this one into the mailbox was whether DURIANS were well-known enough to appear in a NYT crossword — I don't recall ever seeing one in my time in the States. I'm glad they passed muster with Will! Curious to see in comments if anyone has had the pleasure of eating one.
The other thing I noted about the final version of this puzzle is that most of my "?" clues survived the edit. I'm fond of writing them, but I think they often come out a bit too crazy for editors' tastes. It's nice that [Mixer for losers?] made the cut — the image amused me when I thought it up (or perhaps I'm just very easily amused).
While listening to the Pitbull-Kesha duet "Timber" on the radio for the scrillionth time earlier this summer, my train of thought went something like this:
After an hour or so sussing out some possible theme entries, I went with my favorites. Normally with a hidden word gimmick I strongly prefer to have the hidden word straddle the answer words (as in ETHEL MERTZ and BURMA SHAVE). But I couldn't make that work with enough other trees for a Sunday-sized puzzle, so I used some single-word answers too (like INFIRMARY and TIPPECANOE). I felt compelled to have the trees symmetrically placed in the grid, which also limited my options.
Ultimately, Will and his team kept 97 of my 144 clues (67%) and slightly modified another 22 (15%). That means only 25 clues (17%) were brand new. But I won't pat myself on the back too much — it helps that 14 of the clues are [--] or [TREE]!
Initially, I had difficulty squeezing in all the theme entries (I think I had an initial number of eight plus the entry "toast"). I was going crazy thinking I couldn't get all eight in because I was just not good at construction — even after all the years I've been off-and-on constructing. I needed Vic to slap me in the face and let me know that eight themes plus a reveal is a daunting task, even for veterans. I think I was initially writing Vic about something else when I figured I should ask for help on that theme.
I so appreciate the help Vic offered and working with him. His style of collaborating is much more methodical and different (which is NOT a negative commentary) than others I have worked with or have tried to work with in collaborations and that number has been few anyway.
I have no idea where the TOAST theme came from; it has been a while. I'd say 90% of my themes, however, come from an idea that was originally something else but developed into the final puzzle. So, TOAST may likely have started out as anything referring to HATCHES or BURNT FOODS, but the final version is what came to fruition over the then-theme development progress. For another example, I once had a 21x21 (one about anniversaries published some time ago by Rich at LAT) come out of a 15x15 because I liked a theme entry that I came up with, but, of course, the entry was longer than 15 letters.
I do like the [Oktoberfest exclamation] repeat clue idea that Will decided on, especially since he chose it for an October puzzle.
Matt, with whom I'd had the pleasure of collaborating back in 2009 or 2010 — we had a joint byline on a Sunday Los Angeles Times puzzle called "Where the Wild Things Are" — contacted me in November 2012 with an ambitious theme: eight theme answers, 58 letters, and every answer was a toast, except for TOAST, the designated reveal. I think Matt's message to me was two-fold: (1) Would you like to help? (2) If so, I'll share the credit.
The deal looked doable to me. We brainstormed back and forth for a few days. I constructed the grid; we contributed 50-50 to the fill and the cluing. The puzzle was submitted Dec. 9, 2012.
From the outset, we were of the mind that, with short and long theme answers, this theme needed to be 100% horizontal in the grid. I think I came up with the theme cluing scheme "Word/words after a shot," since I'd had some success with repeating-clue themes before (see Feb. 19, 2008; Aug. 13, 2008; Sept. 25, 2008; and Sept. 30, 2010). Clever of Will to change that to "Oktoberfest exclamation." But then, he's a clever guy.
MARY LOU: I enjoyed working with and learning from Jeff. He was very kind and patient mentoring me during the long evolution of this puzzle. He designed a grid that highlighted the five theme answers, and we tried to 1.) minimize the unsavory short fill and 2.) make sure no long fill would detract from or be confused with the themers. Thanks to Will Shortz for accepting and editing the puzzle.
I hope you enjoyed solving the puzzle. It was my first acceptance by the NYT, so I was quite elated to receive that "Yes!" email.
When I was filling this puzzle, I thought a lot about whether to include 26D, ETYMON. On the one hand, I always strive for familiar vocabulary in my puzzles, words and phrases you'd be likely to encounter in your everyday life. That's probably not the case with the word ETYMON.
On the other hand, I think it's okay and even commendable to have difficult vocabulary in a late-week puzzle. Thursday-Saturday crosswords are supposed to be challenging, and I don't think all of the difficulty has to come only from the clues. Not all difficult vocabulary is fun to solve, of course — I find proper names I've never heard of to be annoying to suss out, because they're not inferable and I don't get any sort of "aha" at the end. With something like ETYMON, it at least looks like a word that would mean "Word origin," so even if most solvers don't get it at first they won't be left feeling confused when they get the answer.
I constructed this puzzle in March 2013. I had been experimenting with repeated bigrams along the staircases of wide-open grids, and CH seemed like a natural choice since, as I discovered, many fun words and phrases start with these two letters. Also, CH is a somewhat Scrabbly bigram, though it doesn't come close to ZZ (which I used in another puzzle constructed a couple months earlier)! The string of CH entries limited my options for the rest of the nonthematic fill, though I'm very pleased with how this one turned out. The only entry I'm not particularly fond of in the middle section is ENISLE, though hopefully this tougher word won't leave too many solvers AT SEA! In an effort to make the other corners as clean as possible, I ended up using a handful of cheater squares. I'm glad that a large percentage of my original clues survived or received only minor surgery — some of my favorites are "Ranch dressing?" for OVERALLS and "Low-tech hacker?" for POLE-AX.
This puzzle marks the end of my 62-word grid phase — I've found that I prefer grids with higher word counts because they allow me to squeeze in more fresh entries and are less sectioned off. Happy solving — and for all you fans of puzzles with low word counts, I may well construct a few more for variety's sake in the near future!
I'm particularly proud of this themeless puzzle as it features the seed entry of one of my favorite pro athletes, KEVIN DURANT of the Oklahoma City Thunder. I'd love to say I knew exactly how big Durant's star would become when I originally conceived this puzzle, but that's not the case. I got lucky. When I first constructed this themeless back in late 2012, Durant was just a 24-year-old kid with a dream (and, OK, three NBA scoring titles). I had no idea he'd become a league MVP, nor did I anticipate that 15-Across, BREAKING BAD, was gearing up for an amazing final season that would place it among the best TV shows of all time. Again, fortuitously timed for this puzzle. Thank you, Vince Gilligan.
I was pleased with my construction of this grid, featuring the stacked 11s in the corners and the 15-letter GREASE THE WHEELS through the middle. The fill actually came together with relative ease — I finished off the bottom half first in a rather contained fashion, allowing for a great deal of freedom in the top half. I was basically able to include two seed entries, which made me giddy to no end.
As for my cluing, it can still use some work, to be sure. I give Will all the credit for sprucing mine up (and thereby elevating the difficulty to Saturday level). And hey, at least he kept my "Manhattan architect?" clue for BARTENDER.
My first Sunday puzzle in the NY Times! The inspiration for this puzzle came from my daughter's first day in second grade. She came home that day with a variety of word puzzles, including words within words, e.g. THODEEPUGHT. Her schoolwork got me thinking about short phrases containing "in" that could work in a puzzle, rather than just a word within a word, like her example. From that moment of inspiration, the creation of this puzzle became a tutorial in how to create a consistent, tight-knit set of theme entries. Indeed, the published version is the fourth iteration of the puzzle. (My daughter is now in third grade, so you can get a sense of the gestation period for this puzzle!)
In the first version, I had many interesting theme entries, but they were inconsistent in whether or not an article was dropped — e.g. HIGHFRIENDSPLACES, CHINABULLSHOP and NEWRINGYEAR — all nice entries, but the second drops an "a", the third a "the", whereas the first does not drop an article at all. In hindsight, this should have been an obvious consideration in the selection of my theme entries. I went back to my list of over 50 possible theme entries and sorted for grammatical consistency. The selection process became much more difficult because no group of possible theme entries had more than 10-12 members. As if that wasn't enough, I added the additional constraint to the selection process of having crossing theme entries — both versions 2 and 3 had 8 entries, with 2 in the down orientation.
Both the second and third versions of the puzzle were grammatically consistent, but some of the entries were weak. Hence, the tutorial concluded with the valuable lesson of not compromising the selection of theme entries for the sake of having them cross. Everything finally came together in the fourth and final version, which is the result you see today. As a new constructor, it was a real education. (I got started in crossword creation about 4 years ago after seeing Will Shortz give a talk in Indianapolis — I caught the cruciverbalist bug).
My other passion, time permitting (and it is tough with an 8 year old) is large format photography. It has occurred to me on more than one occasion that spatial relationships — be they black squares on a crossword grid or subject elements on the ground glass of a large format camera (viewed upside and in reverse) — are something of great interest to me. The rest, as they say, is "history", although in my case, a very thin one! I definitely want to extend a tremendous thanks to Will for his continued encouragement and assistance in finalizing the theme set for this puzzle.
Coming up with suitable 7-letter games to fit this theme left me some interesting choices. I left out YAHTZEE because the surrounding fill was not what I wanted ... SCRABBLE, because it seemed obvious ... and OLD MAID for consistency's sake. Also, I wanted to include a variety of options, not just board games or card games.
It's not the usual theme density, but 7-letter games (and the fact there are 7 of them) seemed like a good idea after thinking of TWISTER to accompany the center revealer. I don't have my old notes, but I'm hard pressed to think of another option with an S in the middle at this moment. All those 7s forced me to down to 34 blocks and that was a challenge in itself.
Hope you enjoy...
The inspiration for this crossword came from another puzzle I was working on that had the word "mustache" in it. That led to the word "handlebar" and then to the plural "handlebars" and I thought, "Aha!" (a favorite word with crossword constructors) — broken into two words, it becomes HANDLE BARS and I thought that would be an apt description for what a bouncer does. This led to the other three themed entries: TRADE SECRETS, PLOT POINTS, and COVER STORIES. The key was that the first part of the phrase had to be used as a noun in ordinary usage and a verb in the puzzle. I particularly like the double entries at 10 and 64 Across, even though they are not part of the puzzle's theme, and the clue for 54 down.
This article in Cornell's alumni magazine has a little more information about me.
Not surprisingly, the seed entry was the revealer at 56-Across. CHUCK BERRY just struck me as a directive — the other theme entries came quickly after that.
Will liked the puzzle but wanted a few changes in the grid. I think we went through two more iterations before he was happy with the grid you see today. The clues for the theme entries at 17-, 33- and 56-Across are Will's; my original clues were perhaps a little too easy. To my delight, Will left almost all of my remaining clues alone — this very seldom happens!
I hope people enjoy solving this one!
My soccer-playing, Landon Donovan-jersey-wearing son, Donovan, will be happy when he sees his name in the paper. That said, 57-Across was not the seed for the puzzle but actually the last of the themes answers I found. At first I just looked for answers with repeating letters, not sure where it would lead. Three-letter strings seemed promising and from there I narrowed the choices, eliminating repeats within single words (e.g., Chihuahua) and ones that didn't break evenly across separate words (e.g., atom bombs). By then it was down to a short list of candidates. Adding another angle — e.g., using all names, spelling something with the combined letter strings — was a bit much to ask, so after a final cut (and one close call) I went with this selection. The theme answers felt like a good mix and worked well in the grid.
FYI, the "close call" in my final cut was PIPER PERABO. In her favor: I've seen her on TV and she seems lovely. On the other hand: (a) She's only lovely if you know her and her fame is probably marginal for a theme answer, especially one using word play; (b) The PER in her name and in Percy Shelley's name seemed like a repeat better to avoid; and (c) I didn't want the theme to be too name-heavy and preferred using no more than two names if possible. Another Hollywood name left on the cutting room floor was IRWIN WINKLER. My regrets to his fans and to Piper's.
Happy hunting! Hope you enjoy the puzzle.
In my themeless crosswords, I like to lead off with something that makes me appear considerably more tech savvy and up-to-date than I actually am. In this case, we start with a MOBILE APP at 1-Across. Since I don't have a cell phone — and I may yet become the last person in America not to have one — I've never actually used a mobile app, let alone downloaded one. But never mind: in the age of Google, even a tech ignoramus can feign knowledge by dropping a trendy app name or two.
Then, I tried to work in as many long, lively entries as I could. In this puzzle, there's 14 answers of 9 letters or more, which I suspect is pretty much my theoretical limit, although I'm sure the younger, less computer-challenged set has improved on that. I tried to make the answers widely and interestingly varied in terms of learning categories, though, and I'm pleased with how the puzzle came out.
This is one of the last puzzles of mine that the NYT accepted before I began my own crossword website. There are at least a few short answers that I probably would not use in my puzzles now, though I'm pleased with many of the longer entries I worked in. It's also a bizarrely "masculine" grid in that most of the proper nouns in the puzzle refer to men, and there's MAN and DAD in each corner. Go figure.
My favorite clues that Will kept were for AGE LIMIT, ROLEO, SLEEP, and LASERDISCS. I like Will's clever clues for MESS KITS, SEA, DESERT, POE, and CHAD, but there are a couple of original clues that I wish had made the cut. Partial phrases are a pet peeve of mine, so I admit I winced when I saw 34-Across had become A MIN (I clued that as the dictator AMIN). I would have loved to have seen in print my saucy, connected clues for CROTCH [Privates' section] and AUTOCORRECT [Modern tool for turning a couch into a 9-Across], though I expected they wouldn't survive the final edit. Will also changed a couple of letters — I had former Knick All-Star STEPHON Marbury (a.k.a. "Starbury") instead of STEPHEN, and TUTOR/POR (the latter clued as [Favor preceder]) — but that's a minor change and POR isn't a great answer, so no big deal.
Special announcement time!
1) I'm in the last week of my funding drive for Devil Cross. Those who donate before October 25 will receive two Sunday-sized bonus puzzles by yours truly: one themeless, and one variety Something Different grid. If you've never tried the latter, it's a fun type of crossword where most of the longer entries are completely made up phrases, but you can still figure them out if you solve the shorter answers first.
2) Mark your calendars, because the new Indie 500 Crossword Tournament — run by Erik Agard, Andy Kravis, Peter Broda, Neville Fogarty, and myself — will be held on Saturday, May 30, 2015 at the Marvin Center of George Washington University.
Like my NYT debut, this puzzle also has an Oppositeland twin, Patrick Berry's 5/15/2005 "Words to the Y's" Sunday NYT crossword. After (eventually) solving Mr. Berry's puzzle, I figured there had to be some words, like "hymn" or "sync," that used this same trick in reverse.
Before I began searching for specific theme phrases, I first brainstormed as many "y-less" homophone pairs as I could. Once I had amassed a good number of these pairs, I prioritized finding good entries for pairs with particularly odd/unique letter changes, e.g. SHAYS' --> CHAISE, SORRY --> SARI, or IDYLLS --> IDOLS. Using these "odd" entries as a starting point, I then attempted to find corresponding symmetric answers with as much variety, interest, and punniness as I could muster while also making sure to avoid letter changes that were too similar (e.g. DAYS --> DAZE, RAYS --> RAZE and/or [Willie] MAYS --> MAZE). If the theme entries evoke at least one or two chuckles, then I think they did their job.
Before and during the grid design process, I kept debating whether to use seven or nine theme entries. Since my theme entries were relatively short for a 21x21 puzzle, I wanted nine but also knew that attempting such might require some fancy gridwork or a sacrifice to the mighty crossword gods. Fortunately, there was no sacrifice necessary since SUNDAEBEST/DEVILRAISE intersected symmetrically with TRUSTEESIDEKICK/CHAISEREBELLION. Doing this really helped in spacing out the theme entries and creating some spots for 6's, 7's, and 8's in the fill. (Slight side note: Since the shortest theme entry was nine letters and since there were theme entries in the down direction, I tried to keep all fill shorter than nine letters to prevent "Is this theme or is this fill?" confusion.)
As for the fill, I particularly liked BUTTED (tehee), REDDIT, TOLKIEN, RICKROLL, SIZZLES, BADRAP, and BOOHISS.
If you were tripped up by or liked the clues for 1A, 72A, 116A, or the 11D/12D duo, you can blame/thank me. =) If this also happened for 65A (it's certainly convenient that ROWLING and TOLKIEN have the same number of letters), 15D, 19D, 41D, 56D, or 93D, you can blame/thank Will and his team.
When Will asked me if I'd be interested in writing a 6-part meta for the Times, of course I jumped at the chance. I'd be a fool not to … on the other hand, it had been done once before by my xword idol, Patrick Berry. There's no way I could make something as intricate or clever, but hopefully it had been long enough that people might've forgotten about his magnum opus a little. Rather than cower in the shadow of a giant, I resolved to do my own thing with it and give it my best shot. I had some ideas brewing, so I quickly set off to work on the set of crossword puzzles you're seeing this week.
This is a six-part series of interconnected puzzles, each of which contains a piece of a larger mystery which leads to a final answer. I won't say anything about the meta-challenge until the contest is over, but today's surface theme is a simple, Monday-level category theme featuring increasing units of time. Luckily for everyone involved, Will and Joel eased up the clues on this one considerably. Some of the clues that got changed (read: clues I'll use another time) include [Scientist Bill whose mother was a codebreaker], ["___ a Bully, Charlie Brown" (TV movie)], and [Josh who voiced Olaf in "Frozen"].
I like to think that part of this is due to space limitations, since the square inch-age in the paper is extremely limited (especially when it includes a big blurb about the contest every day). I've gotten used to writing longer clues for xword venues like my website and the American Values Xword Club, I guess, so a bunch of clues had their gists maintained and got truncated. Other gems like [Answer to "Paris est-il la capitale de la France?"] and [Apt anagram of CO-STAR - S] weren't my doing at all. HUARTE is an obvious outlier, but I thought all the crossings were fair; this puzzle does skew older, what with HUARTE, CLU, and HARLOW. Anyway, I hope it was a fun and breezy way for solvers to start the week, whether they're participating in the contest or not.
Today's puzzle features another simple theme type, one in which different definitions of the same keyword are used as entries. There is a lot of flexibility with a theme like this, so I tried to find the most varied definitions and I only went after 15-letter, grid-spanning phrases. Happy that my ADO/APU clue combo made the cut, and thrilled to get Diane REHM of NPR into the grid as well, even if it meant having the tricky ELIA/ELISA crossing nearby. 36D/44D was a happy accident, and I loved Will & Co.'s addition of the two [Palindromic woman's name] clues. Highly original and much more interesting than my submitted clues, believe me.
This is definitely more "grid play" than word play, but I hope people get a smile out of it, if nothing else. Not many theme entries here, which allowed me to include some longer, more interesting answers than I could have if I'd crammed in a bunch of theme. I toyed with other face-related phrases, but in the end the symmetry of a SEE phrase and an EYE phrase seemed the most elegant. Happy to feature a Demetri Martin ONELINER at 38D, as well as give props to "Assassins," which I just played Byck in (65A). My originally submitted NOEL Coward quote was "The higher the building, the lower the morals."
New York-y grid play! This is bound to play like a themeless unless you stumble on 56-Across early. Using only one leg of black squares on the top and bottom edges allowed for some longer entries, and I tried my darndest to get another TIMESSQUARE in the center of the grid, but it just wasn't happening. The four spots do make the shape of a square, though, so maybe it's all for the best. Thrilled to get Michael CHE into the grid; my favorite clue I wrote is [Trailer for "Rocky" or "Rambo"?] for III, and my favorite clue I didn't write is [Letters that are hard to read?] for HATEMAIL.
My first Friday NYT puzzle! As of tomorrow I will have "hit for the cycle" (had a puzzle on every day of the week), but it took a week-long contest to make it happen since I don't generally write themeless puzzles. And now I remember why … they're really hard to make well. This one went through lots and lots of versions before settling on this grid; hope y'all have some time to enjoy it.
This is the last part of my six-part series of interconnected crossword puzzles, each of which contains a piece of a larger mystery which leads to a final answer. I'm not doling out any hints on the meta-challenge, but I will write up a little debriefing to be released after the contest is over. I do want to take this opportunity to thank Will, Joel, Frank, and the testers for all of their help with this — and uber-thanks to Will for allowing me to do it. I had a blast. If you had fun, consider virtually visiting me at www.patrickblindauer.com where you can try one of my free monthly crosswords or purchase one of my Puzzlefests. I'm also available to make customized puzzles, if you've got an occasion that needs some puzzlization. Good luck on the meta-challenge, everybody!
The main inspiration for this crosswordy experiment was the paper itself. Knowing it was going to be in the Times, it made sense to start (and end) with something related to time. Brainstorming gave me my theme concepts for the week: units of time, TIME in the clues, FACETIME, and Times Square. I wanted the Friday and Saturday puzzles to be themeless, though I did put in some time-related clues on Friday and there were the two meta-hint entries on Saturday. The letter X is used to make a multiplication sign or "times sign," so it seemed appropriate to use that letter, utilizing the grid numbers themselves to spell out the final answer. The first X appears in Monday's puzzle in a square with the number 20, and if you use alphanumeric replacement (1=A, 2=B, 3=C, etc.) you'll get the letter T. Continuing similarly with each square containing the letter X, you get TEMPUS FUGIT, or "time flies."
Thanks again to Will for the opportunity to do this — it was a dream come true.
I had been knocking around the idea of having some theme answers "override" others for quite awhile before I came up with the idea of using famous matchups from history and popular culture. At first, I just thought the "winner" of the battle would claim the square and that would be that. But then there would be no rhyme or reason to where the opponents would cross. So the idea of using the winning — and losing — letters to spell something meaningful came to me.
My first try was the pair CHAMP/LOSER in a 15x15 grid, but it turned out that was too small to accommodate that much theme material. (Not to mention, I didn't really feel comfortable calling GM Kasparov a "loser.") So I turned to a 21x21 grid.
The grid was terrible to create (just ask my wife) since the theme pairs had to cross in exact spots, the pairs in a given order, and the non-matching length themers had to fit into a symmetric grid. Only two of the "cheater" black squares in the grid are really cheaters; the rest were necessitated by fitting the theme entries. Once the theme entries were placed, there was almost no choice for where the rest of the black squares could go without chopping into the non-symmetrically placed themers.
Filling a grid with such constraints was truly a, um, battle. The struggle was real, but I'm very happy to be in the, uh, winner's circle, with my first Sunday in the NYT! And though my original title ("Clash of the Typos") was defeated, my favorite clue (67-Across) did survive the editorial process! Victory lap!
The genesis for today's puzzle was my noticing the DVD monogram of Dick Van Dyke. Curious whether any other famous person had that monogram, I searched through "d* v* d*" at the excellent database onelook.com, and discovered the second TV-related answer "Death Valley Days". "Hmm, 15 letters, maybe I can make a crossword out of that." That would require an 11 to balance DICK VAN DYKE, of course. There being no reasonable matching-monogram answer presenting itself at onelook, I hoped to find a "revealer" answer starting with DVD, and got very lucky with DVD RECORDER — having the obvious TV tie-in and the "what you are by solving this puzzle" wordplay-clue slant that came to me immediately.
With the assistance of Crossword Compiler software, I found the creation of the grid pretty straightforward — placing the black squares to avoid crossing words with uncommon letter placements (no answers ending in V, please), closing off the grid to the 78-answer maximum for maximum flexibility, then filling the remainder of the grid with answers as lively-but-easy as possible. The non-theme star of the grid is undoubtedly PAPA JOHNS (32 Down), which just happened to fit very nicely.
My two principal objectives in writing the clues: having them all rather easy, and as far as possible avoiding duplication with recent Times puzzles, or any of the other major crosswords, for that matter. The latter is easily checkable at crosswordtracker.com. As for the former, while I think I'm pretty good at writing easy clues (having gotten my undergrad education in the early 1980s from Games Magazine's puzzle editor, one William F. Shortz), I figured that the Times clues needed to be a bit more difficult than the puzzles I create and edit elsewhere, and proceeded accordingly. Nevertheless, nearly all of the one-third of the clues that Will fully changed were easier than my originals. I promise to remember that for my next Monday, Will.
There are several examples here of my favorite type of "good and easy" clue: Facts on perhaps unfamiliar-to-you subjects that require only general knowledge to understand. Two of them are 31 Across: "Top Chef" appliance (OVEN) and 58 Across: Chocolate __ cake (dessert with a molten center) for LAVA. The latter factual reference for LAVA is new to crosswordtracker. That came from my own experience, chocolate lava cake being served regularly at the salad buffet restaurant chain Sweet Tomatoes. Also new to crosswordtracker is the Forbidden City reference to MAO (61 Down), also from my personal experience, having visited Beijing last year.
Besides my own experience and imagination, I find Google and Wikipedia to be excellent sources of new-to-crosswords usages of words, facts and names. Just one example of the latter: With New Hampshire senator JEANNE Shaheen (50 Across) currently in a close race for reelection, I was both surprised she hadn't appeared in the Times crossword before, and confident that Will would find my clue appropriate for a Monday puzzle (which he did).
I'll end by sharing this fun fact with you: While the complete run of "Dick Van Dyke Show" episodes are available on DVD, it's inappropriately unfortunate that the owners of "Death Valley Days" have never released the full series in its "initial format."
The original idea came as a follow up to the FOOTBALL MATCHUP crossword made with my neighbor Kent Clayton. This is really a naming puzzle disguised as a sports theme. Unbelievably, all the sports clues are mine (ROY, TONYA, LET, YDS).
I feel giddy getting in GLITTERATI and the "Splish Splash" (BATH) clue!
It might surprise some folks to see me on a Tuesday, but I swear I send 90% of my puzzles thinking they are Tuesdays ... inevitably, Will asks me to get rid of some "later week" entries and try again! In this case I had to get rid of ECZEMA and a few other entries, but I'm glad I did. I had to start from "scratch" (eczema pun intended!) and this is my fifth rendition. In the earlier versions, at least 3 of the clues had Beatles lyric references (AND I love her, Come TOGETHER, IM A Loser, but I didn't want to cause a STIR.)
Honestly, I didn't know these were the only non-plural NBA team names ... that's trivia perhaps Will dug up. My original thought was to have RUN WITH THE BULLS (15) going down the middle, but this set was cleaner.
This is the most elaborate construction I've ever attempted (two sets of parallel 10-letter downs, and the two middle theme entries cross at 7 of their 13 letters.
It's a Q short of a pangram, but, despite (un)popular belief, I'm not ever trying to force one, tho I love to fill my puzzles with a Z here, a K there and at least one X.
Finally, there is my usual Minnesota shout out — see if you can spot it!
So I like the idea of rebus squares that have a purpose. In this case their purpose is to make a picture! A few thoughts about this puzzle's construction: at 16x16 and with two rebused grid spanners and chopped off corners (so it looked cookie-ish), there were limited options for the grid layout. The result included a tricky center (with a lot of thematic material and many interlocking 6+ letter answers) and four fairly large corners. There's some fill in here that I'll avoid in future puzzles, but I'm happy with how the rebus squares are hidden. As always, there are trade-offs in everything.
I do wish my original clue for 16 A [Thonged throng?] had made the cut, though I suppose it was a bit oblique. Anyway, hope you enjoyed the puzzle. Until next time!
I am constantly on the lookout for interesting and/or new/fresh words to incorporate into puzzles. COGNOSCENTI(E) fit the bill. It and BOOGALOO (which turned into BOOB TUBE) were our seed entries.
I discovered this Alex Boisvert grid at xwordinfo.com and liked the mini-theme. I'd tried my hand at filling a themeless grid but was just not sure about the result. I ran my completed grid by Jeff, who was kind enough to give me his analysis. As a result, we decided to work on a new grid together.
I'd mentioned to Jeff that Alex's originally published version of this grid had a mini-theme which I had not incorporated into mine. That led to the inclusion of a macabre mystery mini-theme we thought appropriate for the holiday. In our submission we clued COGNOSCENTE as either "Fortunato vis-à-vis Amontillado" or "Connoisseur/Aficionado", realizing that first clue might be a bit of a stretch if you were not familiar with the Edgar Allan Poe short story "The Cask of Amontillado".
I'd like to congratulate Jill Denny and Jeff on the birth of their bundle of joy, Tess, who has Jeff climbing the walls these days (even more than he usually does!).
I'd also like to thank Hayley Gold for an autographed copy of her "Raining Man" comic commemorating my first puzzle accepted by the New York Times.
As always, many thanks to Will Shortz for accepting and editing this puzzle. I'm becoming more COGNizant of just how daunting/challenging a task editing puzzles might be at times! I hope you had an enjoyable solving experience and have a Happy Halloween!