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Puzzles for May, 2020
with constructor comments

Fri 5/1/2020
GINSLINGJAFFA
ORATORIORADIUM
BODEWELLPIAZZA
INAWEDAMNZZZ
REVERSILYE
ENPASSANTSLEW
DILLSIDMOSUL
ACAIONENDOOZE
MEYERLOUPUZO
LINERIVERSTYX
NYTPRECALC
ADSRAVICOHAN
DOAJIGOENOLOGY
INFUSEUKULELES
REESESETASIDE

As you might have guessed, this puzzle started with the upper-right corner. I thought that I might be able to build around the double-stack of FIZZLES OUT and FUZZY WUZZY, as the letter combinations seemed rather promising. I did not think that I would be able to come up with such a smooth corner— and especially not one that also works in other long answers as nice as JAINISM and RIVER STYX, or that bookends a section that already has seven Zs with a J and an X. I guess I must be doing something right (besides evidently being a practitioner of black magic).

In completing the rest of the grid, I strove to elicit the desired feelings toward the majestic upper-right corner by incorporating as many positive subliminal messages to solvers as possible, such as BODE WELL, IN AWE, "DAMN!", and "NICELY DONE!" Seriously, though, I really liked the fun, light, and uplifting vibe of this puzzle when I submitted it, and it looks just as good to me now — in fact, I think this might be my favorite themeless puzzle of mine to date. It feels quite cohesive to me, and from the GIN SLING / OENOLOGY pairing to REVERSI above EN PASSANT, hopefully there's something here you enjoyed. The inclusion of PRECALC might put a bit of a damper on the fun, positive vibe for some (I speak from experience), but hey, at least it means that FUZZY WUZZY isn't the only bear in this puzzle.

I feel like the tone of the cluing here only adds to the fun, and in particular, there are several clues of mine for shorter entries that I am glad to see make it into print. As an avid Scrabble player, I thought my ZZZ clue was especially fun (and easy enough to infer). My clue for LINE takes an angle that the NYT has never used before, and is evocative of the unfabricated mirth of blooper reels. I also think that the clues for ADA and LEO X include some interesting pieces of trivia (who needs a Popemobile when you can have an elephant instead?).

It brings me joy to have this puzzle published, and I hope that it will brighten your day as well. Happy solving!

Sat 5/2/2020
FREETHINKING
SAIDNOONEEVER
LANDSAKESALIVE
DENTSMEDPEET
ROSAGOSOLOSRA
INKHURWONT
FORGETSNOSALT
TRILLSSERIES
ATOMICGETSFAT
PEELONSERA
VOWTRIADSSHAG
IBARMLSSTACY
VEGETABLESTOCK
ISOLATIONTANK
DENYDENYDENY

In light of this Twitter thread, it's only fair to acknowledge that I've been trying to make a grid with this design ever since I saw Natan Last do it in 2017. It took two years on and off, but a grid finally materialized!

I started with 13A and 14A, but I really lucked into the bottom stack; DENY DENY DENY was the key to making it work, since every letter works well at the bottom of a grid.

Clue roundup: Love the new clues for 1A, 3D, and 9D. Glad my clues for 18A and 12D made it through mostly untouched; I love debuting new angles for names in the NYT, especially w/r/t figures who merit the recognition. As for 21D, I promise I wrote it before all this happened.

Hope you're staying safe out there, and that you enjoyed the puzzle!

Sun 5/3/2020 SHIFTING SOUNDS
SOCKOAGOGBASSSTOLI
ABOILDEARUSMATOKEN
HOUNDSHAKEDIEMALIEN
LENSHERNEDFLOUNDERS
THEIRHARITABLA
AAMILNEEDGEDNIELSEN
SHIPMENYESSESDELUXE
IOSTAJFADPEC
SYSTEMCOUNSELEDCHECK
ANOMENTORREAIRS
SMUDGETELUNARMS
STEREOSISTERLLB
MOUSEMARKETINGTOOFAR
ARADOOLEIALI
YERTLEWASABIMAGPIES
INTEARSLOBESAVERRED
QUITELINTMEDOC
TROUNCESTATEEARPOST
RABIDETONFUZZYMOUTH
EMILELONGINREOSCAR
SPEAREPEETOADNEHRU

BEN: It's a real pleasure to be making my debut as a Times crossword constructor, and it feels like it's been a long time coming. I've been addicted to crosswords — and word puzzles more generally — ever since I was a wee lad and joined the National Puzzlers' League. As an adult, seeing the documentary "Wordplay" rekindled my love of crosswords, and I started attending tournaments and falling in with the cruciverbalist crowd. Around the same time, I became executive editor of the Visual Thesaurus and got to know Brendan, who created a monthly crossword for the VT. Since then, Brendan and I have had countless conversations about puzzles, music, and life in general. I suppose it was inevitable we'd make a crossword together.

The original idea for this theme came from Erik Agard, who has been nudging me into crossword construction for quite a while. Erik actually suggested a phonetic theme going the other way, with the vowels changing from /aʊ/ to /æ/. (As a linguist, I feel compelled to use the International Phonetic Alphabet!) Erik's proposed title for the puzzle was "Shifting Sands." Brendan and I kicked the theme around and discovered there were better possibilities doing the phonetic substitution in the other direction, so we switched it up and called it "Shifting Sounds."

After we brainstormed theme entries, Brendan took the lead in grid construction, and then I took the first pass at filling the grid. Brendan fine-tuned the fill and also improved the clues I came up with, bringing everything up to his usual sparkling professional level. Thanks to Will and team for tweaking the clues even further.

I'm glad we were able to make this into a Sunday puzzle, since it's a delight to make a return to the Magazine, where I had the honor of writing the "On Language" column for a couple of years after the passing of William Safire. These days you can find me in the Wall Street Journal's weekend Review section, where I write a weekly column called "Word on the Street," as well as in The Atlantic, where I'm a contributing writer.

Mon 5/4/2020
JESTSCOPRICCI
ADHOCADOINERT
PEEPHOLESARLES
ENDORELSEALDO
GOBBLEDYGOOK
TWIRLSWASP
RICAEATINHIP
USEFOWLLANGUAGE
EPSNAKEDSNOW
KEENCAPERS
QUACKDOCTORS
UNTOSTRONGZOE
ADELEHONKYTONK
SUREREWELANCE
HESSEREDEPEES

I'm sure we've all been using a lot more FOWLLANGUAGE while dealing with this pandemic GOBBLEDYGOOK. So I hope this puzzle provides some much-needed distraction!

And on a personal note, as a New York City healthcare worker, I just want to say thank you for the outpouring of support and love over the past weeks. It's meant the world to my colleagues and me.

Stay safe, everyone.

Tue 5/5/2020
GAZACUREASYET
ALOTASAPBOOYA
FOOTSTEPSSLURP
FETALRIOTORES
COGDNALAB
KICKBALLMICROS
ASHMAYPETERI
SLASHEDCASSATT
HELLOSSUBTHU
ASKOUTHEADSHOP
BUREAUYEA
GROGRITEESSAY
NOAHSTELEPHONE
ADREPCYANAMEN
TEDDYHELDYEWS
Wed 5/6/2020
ASAPARROWANNA
LOSEMOANANEON
TUKEYBUGERDUST
SKULKSZEROES
ALEECOTES
BARBERLANAULS
OREOSCAMELGEO
ALSOTAUUSHEAL
SETCHRISPERSE
TSAHATEFRAYED
USINECLOD
PLANCKCLINCH
AUTOYOUAREHERE
CLEOORBITEUOS
SLUPUSERSFEET

Hello again from London. It's nice to be back. I hope this puzzle finds you safe and well wherever, ahem, UR.

Although I'm only a couple of years into constructing US-style puzzles, I'm already no stranger to the all-too-frequent "Simpsons Already Did It" moments that come when you discover that your latest theme idea has already been covered elsewhere. At the time of construction, I couldn't find anything to suggest that the UR/you are homophone trick had been done before. 18 months on — and with better sources of info at my disposal — I still can't find any to show it having been done as a rebus, so hopefully, this one felt relatively novel.

My earlier attempts at creating a grid involved trying to cram as many UR squares in as possible, but I eventually settled on mainly trying to distribute them within the longer answers. The end product is what the team described as an "entry-level rebus puzzle" (from someone I would describe as an entry-level constructor!)

Clue-wise, I'm glad to see a fair few of mine survived, though my ongoing attempt at getting some British slang into the puzzle has failed again. One day. And spare a thought for Fred Durst. I'm sure he's never forgiven me for the letter I had published in a 2001 issue of Q magazine saying how much I didn't like Limp Bizkit's music, and he was edited out of 19A here.

Happy solving, and stay safe.

Thu 5/7/2020
ACHFLAGEPHEDRA
TRUELOVETOELOOP
BUTMATETHERESWAR
ASTINNORPINS
TOOTCAENETTU
SENTBASSESUPS
ICANTCEDRIC
MENSDAYWARNING
HUNGUPERODE
USSRAILEDTTOP
ETNAVOLSPINE
HALSONOALPHA
CARETOWAKEAMAJOR
OVERUSEALLINALL
BESTBUDYIPERDS

BRUCE: This puzzle started out as a Sunday attempt named "Flips," with entries like STATE OF MY OWING, MERE DEAD WHEAT (crop circles), and HAVE ME WET BEFORE? (imagine your own clue here). Will liked the two 16-letter ones that appear today but was not keen on the rest. I spent eight or ten hours searching for one more, and with Pete's help we finally came up with one.

It didn't dawn on us until after the acceptance that Pete went to the University of Michigan, and I went to the University of Wisconsin — what a wild coincidence! I decided early on it would be nice to put M's and W's in the grid — we asked Will if he could make two of them red and white and the other two maize and blue, but he did not promise anything. We decided putting FLIPS or SPOONER in the grid was not worth the price of admission.

I always enjoy working with Pete — he and I were childhood friends growing up in the Midwest, and he mentored me when I first started constructing puzzles. As you can see, he is still mentoring me now — thanks Pete!

PETE: Bruce and I go way back. Before he started constructing, he'd occasionally send me theme ideas. Finally, I encouraged Bruce to try his hand at building puzzles himself, and he's never looked back. He's a master of using black-square art as part of his gridwork — as in today's floating Ms and Ws. Our first collaboration (another Bruce brainchild) used black squares to depict a kite and two lightning bolts.

Fri 5/8/2020
BAZAARCOSTAR
ENABLELOWNOTE
HEMSINFARNORTH
ORBADDINGBRIE
LOOMSENDITERA
DINOASISASSET
DIDONESPART
SUPERHEROES
LITTLEITALY
ADIEUBIDEMEET
TENMILNEBYEAR
CAFECOERCEPRO
ARAPAHOSHARLOW
MINICAMARCANE
PETCATISABEL

The grid design for this puzzle was inspired by Patrick Berry, since many of his puzzles feature similar staircases of black squares (for example, 4/7/2017). I wanted all of the central answers to be fresh phrases that had never been used before in the New York Times. This version of the center was the very last possibility I tried since I could only see the first word: the unexciting DID ONE'S PART. But DID ONE'S PART did its part, allowing the other answers to fit into place. Originally, the crossing ASIS/ANET was CSIS/CNET, but I decided I should accept the partial since otherwise, it might be a sticky crossing for some solvers.

I've been working on my cluing, but it's still an uphill climb. My two favorite ideas, (DC insiders?) for SUPERHEROES and (You might see it on Mulberry Street) for LITTLE ITALY, were both changed. I guess those clues were too much of a stretch.

Anyway, in these terrible times, I hope crosswords can remain a welcome break in solvers' lives.

Sat 5/9/2020
TESTAMENTSNAGS
INTERALIAHOLLER
TREETRUNKOBLATE
LANDDJEDLAMPS
EGOTREATISEPIC
ESTEESHAHDIEU
ONITELEGANCE
IMPOSSIBLEBURGER
COALESCEDART
ERRSUTESNUHUH
PETBEARHUGSNEZ
OTTERCARLRILE
PHILIPMINIBUSES
SAMIAMINAMOMENT
NEARSDEEPSIXES

MIRIAM: My thanks to all who contributed to the NYT's How to Make a Crossword Puzzle series. It was so thoughtfully organized, and a big help to me.

POW Sun 5/10/2020 BORDER CROSSINGS
INFOSPAMDONTHAAGEN
TOILTOREFREEAREOLA
CHADLIBYALEWDRAILON
HOTCOCOALAOSCAMBODIA
OAKYPOTCROESUS
ALCOVEFEELUNDTIS
GUATEMALABELIZEPEROT
AMCSUPERCUPBRAINY
REAPPEAFINDOESKIN
SNOOTBULGARIAGREECE
POBLANOBEMUSED
AUSTRIAGERMANYQUALM
INWARDSEARORKPREY
SMORESENGGUANOROB
HARTSBRAZILARGENTINA
ANDDEERELSELIDED
DIECASTKIATHAD
MYANMARCHINAWROTEOFF
YENFORIDLECHILEPERU
SOCUTENASAPOPEONUS
THENEADYADAMESDOGE

The problem with having crossword-brain is that you can't turn it off. I might be nodding and making eye contact, but in my skull, it's all theme ideas and seed entries up in here. One day I spotted "Mexico/United States" in print somewhere, then noticed that if it weren't for a stray "i", you could read COUNTED across the break. From there, it was the inevitable, "Well, are there pairs of bordering countries that do work?" followed by the shock that yes, there are.

Before I took up construction, I didn't realize how much of the process is cost-benefit analysis, where the grid turns into a mob negotiator gnawing on a cigar and purring, "Say, that's a lovely word you've got there. What's it worth to ya?" There's almost always a trade-off: you can have that ultra-hip, cutting-edge entry, but it'll cost you a Danish seaport and a 1950's government acronym.

I ran into a ton of that here: is TIDE POD important enough to warrant DOGE and OENO in the same corner? Do you really want to stack NEWSCLIP and TEDCRUZ if it takes LUND to pull it off? And FLEABAG … well, there was no way I wasn't going to crowbar FLEABAG in there. (Seriously, go watch season 2. I'll wait.) It's the sort of temptation that gets me into trouble, and I still have no idea if I made the right call, but here we are, so I won't fret unduly.

Mon 5/11/2020
APSEBLABTUT
BOOTYTAILBUNS
SERTAWIDEERIK
CHEEKSREAREND
OLASEZDRAFTED
NERFXESITSWAR
DRMOMSHOESOLE
BOTTOMROW
PSSRAYONNEIGH
OKTHENTIEASIA
MIRANDAABSANN
CABOOSEBEHIND
ALIIOKRAREDID
BUTTRUMPFANNY
CBSIPASLOGE

This puzzle was inspired by my young nephews and their excellent senses of humor. Remy and Rhys can read well enough at this point to appreciate the theme, so I cannot wait to see video of my siblings sharing it with them.

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).

Tue 5/12/2020
RAFTSUNITSISI
ORIONNANOETON
MARBLECAKENABS
ARMYMACHOLST
NAETOPPRIORITY
STRAWURNAOL
CORTANAINRE
THISISNOTATOY
COEDFANFEST
ETASLRHYPES
RATTLESNAKEHUH
ELWAYSRIMORE
ALASYOYODIETER
LIVEINNSSMOKY
SEEDPACEPENAL

C.C.: I originally had a set of entries where each theme entry is clued as [This is not a toy], [This is not a joke], etc. Will and his team liked the core idea, but my set was full of issues. I emailed Tom, who came up with a consistent "This is not a toy" approach and all the theme entries. Joel helped us finesse the final set. I then took a first crack at the grid design. Tom liked it and proceeded to fill the whole grid. It was just a fun and easy collaboration with my caring friend.

TOM: It was a privilege and treat to work on this puzzle with my friend, C.C. She's as delightful as her puzzles are.

I was a little disappointed that SLINKY DRESS didn't make the cut because, as the old Slinky jingle went, "for fun it's the best of the toys." But thanks, as always, to the editing team for making the puzzle better.

We hope the puzzle spurs a memory of your favorite toy!

POW Wed 5/13/2020
BLUTHIMSETWOW
ALPHANITROIPA
SAFEPASSAGENED
KNOBDISCJEAN
SORORITYCHAPTER
MENUAAMILNE
ADUBAATLCIDE
LINMACBOOKFED
OGLESOSAVERY
ONAGAINAONE
FIBONACCISERIES
TESTEARLDRAW
HALHORSDOEUVRE
IREENTERGRIND
SYDMOSSYSENSE

As I recall, this idea came after completing Howard Barkin's Sunday puzzle that gradually zoomed out from ANIMAL HOUSE, ON EASY STREET, etc. until its revealer GOOGLE EARTH. I sought a well-concealed progression with a snappy revealer and was working my way up from LETTER to BOOK for the longest time. The theme didn't seem worthwhile, though, until I zoomed out more and found OEUVRE hiding at the end of the last themer. Tying the progression up with a profane confederation of vowels seemed like the sort of thing a solver might enjoy. After triple-checking the French spelling, the puzzle came together.

The grid is a bit name-heavy and has a few warts holding it together, but hopefully the good outweighs the bad. Thanks to Will and company for polishing up the clues and keeping a couple of my favorites (26-D, 47-D). In these tumultuous times, I'm delighted to contribute a few minutes' diversion to the world. At minimum, I offer up the puzzle as a belated Mother's Day gift to my dear mom, Chris, who has always been a voracious reader and willing francophone.

Thu 5/14/2020
SPATYEAHPULPS
POREAGRAIHEAR
FIFTYPOINTBONUS
ROSSNOBHILL
ALTARCARNAY
NURSERYRHYME
DNATOYARMS
GLUTENFCEREAL
SAGEDASNIL
GAMEOFCHANCE
SRIELMOSAKA
TONGANSALAS
ABSOLUTELYRIGHT
GOTUPOKIESTAB
STATSNETSTOSS

I got the idea for this puzzle after a game of Monopoly with my children. I thought I could shorten the phrase GET OUT OF JAIL FREE to 15 letters or less with some type of FREE-themed rebus puzzle. When the phrase FREE SPACE came up, the puzzle mutated into a Bingo theme. I submitted my original manuscript in October of 2018, and two trips through the mail and several more revisions later, the puzzle was accepted last September.

My Scrabble clue made the final cut, but the other three themed clues were toughened up (originally "'Bingo,' in a preschool"; "Bingo, on a card"; and "'Bingo!', on trivia night"). I love the editors' clue for 3-Down. I'm glad that my clues for 26- and 32-Across and 39-Down made it. I had hoped that my original clue for ROSS, "TV painter with the line: We don't make mistakes, just happy little accidents," would get in, but ALAS.

Fri 5/15/2020
LAICALCRIMES
IMNOTOKUNPACK
LASTSTEPTAUTLY
KNEESPARETHAN
IDABATNEXTLIE
MAMIEITSEBERT
MEANSTREETS
BURNTORANGE
FASHIONISTA
JUNTAUFCSTAMP
INKTACITLYREI
THORCHRISJINX
TONIEREVACUATE
EMIGREETHANOL
RETAGSSONARS

Indie crossword constructor here with what is now my fifth puzzle for the New York Times. Somewhat surprisingly, it's the first one with normal symmetry; it's also the first one that's a freestyle, rather than a themed puzzle. And I'll be honest, it's not my favorite of the bunch. Nothing wrong with that; not every puzzle can be the best. And this doesn't mean that it's a bad puzzle either; I certainly don't think so. But I'm always striving to make my puzzles better, and I do think there's some things I could have done better when I made this (and would do better if I was remaking it today).

That said, I really like the center here, which (unsurprisingly) is where this puzzle started. This puzzle came from a period of playing with common layouts, and I liked how the two stagger stacks came out here. Sure, some of the stuff is a little iffy: TEENTSY, I MUST, and ANI with a cluing angle that (as both a solver and a constructor) I hate, and doubly so because it could (and, IMO, should) have been clued as a name. But the long answers are great; at the time of construction, all but MEAN STREETS would have been NYT debuts (though I got scooped on FASHIONISTA), and all but RESTRICTIVE are pretty interesting and add a lot of flavor to the puzzle.

But RESTRICTIVE kinda sums up what this center did to the rest of the puzzle. It was rather hard to get the ring of sevens (BAT NEXT / BEER HAT / TEENTSY / TACITLY) to work, since all four of those entries have to cross three elevens and still work with two of the other sevens. This, in turn, constrains the five letter answers: four of them (SPARE / I MUST / BEGAT / CHRIS) must cross a stagger stack while also working with the sevens that are right next to them, and then the other eight five letter entries now have two letters locked in place, with four of them (LOTSA / EBERT / JUNTA / LSATS) still needing to work with the ends of the stagger stacks so as to feed into the corners.

The point being, each of these constraints further constrains the next entries out, and that's how things like LSATS get forced into the puzzle. And having that then constrains the corners; EV?????? has a lot more possibilities than EVA?????, which allows for more flexibility and freedom and makes it much more likely that you can have sparkling fill / interesting entries in the corners.

Still, for the most part, it wasn't too constraining, but I definitely feel like there was a lot of unmet potential for those corners. Even with interesting things like MATHLETE, SKYNET, BANK ON IT, FUN HOME, ARIANA Grande, and LIL KIM, there's things like ATS, RETAGS, SONARS, and I PUT; is it worth it? Maybe; some solvers won't mind, some solvers will. But as a constructor who takes pride in prioritizing clean fill, I definitely think I could have done better.

In any case: I'm not trying to beat myself up here; like I said, I don't think this is a bad puzzle. Mostly, I'm trying to explain to solvers (and especially non-constructors) how this was made, and offer a look behind the curtain at some of the hidden challenges of construction that aren't always apparent in the finished puzzle. But I also want to make it clear that constructors (myself included) should have high standards, and that they should always strive to do better, even if the puzzle's already good enough.

Sat 5/16/2020
CRAZYBUSYABCS
AERIALVIEWTEAT
MAINCOURSETATE
ODDHALETRANCE
ETTACRUCIAL
BRAVESGOATHERD
LUREDTANGSBRO
IMANBYTESBAIO
NOBTAPESWEBER
DRIBBLESSATYRS
SHALALARAKE
PANERANOVARPM
OSSADRAGONFIRE
TIERSUPERDUPER
STAYBATSANEYE

Tracy: Many thanks to Jeff for collaborating with me on my very first themeless puzzle and for helping me reach my goal of hitting for the cycle!

My vision was to have a grid with 12 multi-word phrases of 9 to 10- letter lengths, swaths of white space, and an uncluttered pattern of black squares. CRAZY BUSY came out of my mouth in a telephone conversation just prior to filling, so I used this fun 9-letter entry as my starting point.

Having no experience with filling a themeless, I took off like gangbusters in the NW and SW with no real constraints to stop me. "So far, so good," I thought, as I enthusiastically ventured into the other sections. "Don't underestimate the center," Jeff cautioned by email, as I started to encounter constraints. He suggested we start filling the larger NE section first, then the smaller SE section, and finish by merging the different sections through the center with 15- and 33-Down as our crossword linchpins. We collaborated back and forth in earnest, section after section, email after email, looking for the best phrases and fill and avoiding the gluey bits.

Jeff wrote the majority of the clues, especially the ones with wordplay, whereas I pretty much stuck to the words that had straight-out-of-Wikipedia cluing. Will and the editing team did a fabulous job, but I was happy to see that one of my favorite clues that Jeff wrote made the cut: NAPA [Where many stop and smell the rosés].

Sun 5/17/2020 WIDE-OPEN SPACES
ATPARANCHOVYSPEEDO
RHINOAPARICIOPLANER
KENTCIGARETTESLASTED
AVESSERRATEDFUNTIME
NATWENTATITBARTERER
SUREBETTINCONGOREDS
ALEXAKINGHUSSEIN
STETSTOVETOPSSLATED
RECIPEHOPESSUAVE
SEASONSDETESTSSHIN
OURLORDSAPIDPISTOLS
USNANEBULAENATURES
THIRDRESINIGUANA
SIEGELUSAINBOLTLIZA
ECURRENCIESBIDEN
ZEPPOMARXBETBELAIRS
AQUILINECULTHEROTOW
MUZZLEDHOTSEATSMAZE
FIZZERHUNTERGATHERER
INLATEARGONGASSNORE
REESESPLANSONTUDOR

I had very much wanted to clue HUNTER-GATHERER as [Meat-and-potatoes kind of guy?], but it turns out that wild potatoes are actually a pretty bad thing to eat. The More You Know ....

27-Across makes its NYT debut, but I've used it once before. It was an entry in the 2005 ACPT finals puzzle and was referenced in that puzzle's title. Hoping this puzzle provides a little bit of FUN TIME for you all in the current crisis.

POW Mon 5/18/2020
BARDGASUSMAP
OHIOPROINHALE
BOOTCAMPDIALER
SYSCOHATTRICK
OWENMASK
THIMBLERIGOSLO
OEROMNISNIPED
GAUDYANNOLIVE
ATLASTGUACEEO
SHEDIRONMAIDEN
SWAYSYNC
DOGTIREDDELVE
AURORAMONOPOLY
TRIBESVWSOBOE
ESTESSEAPEGS

This was my first accepted puzzle made without direct input from a mentor.

The original theme set had HORSE SENSE instead of THIMBLERIG. Will and the team liked the theme, but asked me to get rid of HORSE SENSE, since the token is really the "horse and rider," and is less iconic than the other tokens in the puzzle. I felt a little worried that I wouldn't be able to come up with a clean grid with their suggested replacement "THIMBLERIG," since it seemed like a fluke that I pulled off a grid with six theme entries as it was. I did end up having to do a total grid re-work, and looking back almost a year after finishing it, I wish I could get rid of some of the crossword-y fill like EEO and DIALER.

Thanks to the editing team for working with me on this one, with multiple drafts (including an embarrassing submission with the typo BOOTMAMP in the grid). A lot of my clues were changed (for the better), but I was glad to see AMY Klobuchar still represented, and my clue for RINGO Starr unchanged.

Tue 5/19/2020
ACHOOTCBYBESS
TRACEAREAEXIT
WITHRELISHAPSO
AMESALSOIMEAN
REWCRYPTICALLY
ATENUB
ALTARSPUROPEN
LACKADAISICALLY
ASHEEDGEAROSE
TSADDT
OFFHANDEDLYHAS
ALLEYERIELOFT
SOARMERCIFULLY
TARATROTONEAL
STEPVERABASTE

I constructed this puzzle almost two years ago in June 2018. At that point, I did not yet have any published puzzles. So I can look at this now almost as if I was evaluating someone else's puzzle. I like that the theme is humor-based. I had no idea back then that there had been a Tom Swifty puzzle or two done already. I'm glad I didn't because I might have abandoned it for fear it would be rejected on that basis. I'm sure there will be others who solve this today who are, like I was back then, new to the Tom Swifty party. If so, welcome!

I'm pleased with the bonus downs: HATE WATCH, TAKE THE RAP, BEAM ABOARD, and PLOT HOLES. Fitting those in with 57 squares of theme material is pretty good, I think. On the other hand, with two years of additional experience, I would try to excise as much of A FLAT, SISAL, INRI, BESOT, and YAH as I possibly could. Also, there are six men and three women in this puzzle by my count. I'd try to improve on that if coming at it again today.

Check out my recent puzzles at gridtherapy.com if you like. They're free and fresh-baked. You can sign up on the site to be notified when new ones are published, which happens every week or so. There are also many other good free indie puzzles out there right now for your pandemic-solving pleasure. You can find those through Matt Gritzmacher's Daily Crossword Links at crosswordlinks.substack.com.

Puzzle people are the best people. Therefore, I like you. Please take good care of yourself. We need as many people like you in the world as we can get!

Wed 5/20/2020
DONORNABSDICED
AGAMEARIAUVULA
BRIEFESTBRIEFEST
SELLJAYBIRDSEA
EWEKAY
MUSTACHEMUSTACHE
ANASTEVENEMAIL
RIMSMARTSCTV
STOATINCITEHOE
HEATHENSHEATHENS
EELBAY
BATASUSUALBRAS
FLAGRANTFLAGRANT
FORUMTAOSPINTA
STONYORSOADDIN

Working with the JASA class is always a pleasure, and it was doubly interesting to finish cluing this puzzle over Zoom. Like lots of other disrupted classes, despite the pandemic, we meet every week, brainstorming themes, muting and unmuting, changing our backgrounds, and enjoying each other's company.

Thu 5/21/2020
AMPLEELIETAB
RARERCEDETHEE
GREENNOSERRENT
OCDSOLOSFINER
ATTHATARABIA
UPTOWHITELADY
GROWTHOPEDS
HEROATAIDRIM
RODEOTYPEAB
BLUEHEARTEDNA
RONDOSIRONIC
ASSETROONEROE
ISEEYELLOWBOWL
SEAMEDELLASIK
ESTTOSSYESES

This puzzle goes out to my dad, who celebrated his 63rd birthday yesterday, and to my good friend and former partner, who is celebrating his 26th birthday today. He actually gave me the seed entry for my very first puzzle published in the Times—and still asks for a cut of the earnings. Happy birthdays, Dad and David!

I also had to laugh when Jeff showed me his collaboration with Tracy Gray back in 2017, which has a nearly identical theme. I hadn't seen that puzzle before, so I appreciate the Times team taking mine on. I hope solvers still enjoy it.

Fri 5/22/2020
FOLKWISDOMSPAS
EVILEMPIRETAUT
WIDESPREADETNA
DOEATLIBERTY
NOSYECOLI
YAKETYSAXPEAT
ELIXIRRAHDRUG
TICSITEMAPCPA
ICKYAUGRODHAM
EBAYROSEROYCE
OCEANOMEN
TAXHAVENSASP
OMITIDEOLOGUES
MINIATMOSPHERE
EDGENOONDAYSUN

Thank you to the editorial team for encouraging and bearing with me through two revisions. They rightly pushed me to get more out of the SE corner, and the puzzle is much stronger as a result. I hope my fellow "30 Rock" fans enjoy seeing 46-Down — he was the key to smoothing out that section. In today's episode, Jack travels back in time and becomes an unlikely ally of 45-Across (perhaps recalling Edie Falco's story arc). 49-Across, led by the great Gwen Dickey, provides the soundtrack.

The classic triple stack seems out of fashion, as many constructors opt for wide-open middles with stairstep/pinwheel patterns and other heavily interlocked grids. These are visually stunning, but stacks are tried and true. I have also been experimenting with more adventurous grids, but this type of 72- or 70-word design will remain reliable.

The seed entry was 1-Across, which felt evocative to me, and I think the old-timey 68-Across provides an appropriate bookend. I tried to make the NW corner lively while preserving flexibility for those medium-length Downs. For example, with a few black squares shifted 4-Down could have been a certain Swiss-German artist; 7-, 9-, and 10-Down each had several possibilities. That, in turn, allowed me flexibility with the placement of the central black squares.

We must be wary of 61-Across in these troubled times, including people like 64-Down. To make myself feel better, I imagine that in the movie of his life, he would be played by Rowan Atkinson as Mr. Bean.

Sat 5/23/2020
ACCRAKALESALAD
SALONAMERICANO
TROUTROGERTHAT
ITSNOTARACE
EDNALTDAPR
ASSMILLOBOE
DUHMADEITWEIRD
DIADELOSMUERTOS
STVALENTINESUE
TUESTETETSA
OPSORGUSSR
CHECKPLEASE
HEADTOTOEAGNES
UPLOADINGPUGET
MATHLETESSEEME

ERIK: This grid took a long time to come together (i.e., many iterations of us talking each other out of bad fill) and I'm so happy with the end result! One of my favorite themeless puzzles I've ever been involved in. Thankful to Wyna for the opportunity to collab and to the Times team for preserving many of our clues.

WYNA: This one took a while! I was inspired to start this grid by Erik's excellent DIA DE LOS MUERTOS, one of the entries from a word list we'd made. Probably went through about ten iterations before arriving at the grid we submitted, which is almost entirely different from what we started with. The editors (correctly) requested one more revision to get rid of USIE. In that process, we lost FAITH HEALER and gained A BIT STRANGE. I really enjoyed all the work we put into this grid, and I'm proud of the result!

Favorite clues in this puzzle are all Erik: 15A, 33A, 8D, and 34D. Thanks to the eds. for some great revisions, 49A and 29D in particular, though I was sad to lose our original clue for 16A [Watered-down drink].

Sun 5/24/2020 THE MYSTERY OF MCGUFFIN MANOR
ATTACKRACERSTAMEN
LEAGUEREVILESCIMINO
PATINAOVERLAPAKINTO
APTLYNAMEDCELEBRITIES
COLEFALANICEYORE
ATEBLINISINGENOS
WEARINGNAMETAGS
SWEEPEAUALSORROWS
GERARDGAGONREREAD
RAINSIMACUOFATESLA
AWNSUMFARTIM
BEGETHYMNFUNKSCENE
SEENASASIANAMANAS
DRYMOPSENVOSMONDS
APPLESWEATSHIRT
GTSAHEAPAMORETVS
OATHARUTSKORCHET
THEONETOTHEWESTOFHERE
HIPPOSONEVOTEAROUSE
ANOINTMITEREDTASSEL
MINNIEKARENSTEADY

I loved crafting an Agatha Christie-style whodunit. A detective summoned to a lavish manor. Characters spanning the class divide (confined to their rooms, like many of us these days). And a priceless McGuffin, literally at the center of it all.

I loved making the grid symmetrical, with rooms arranged like a Clue board. (The diamond is hidden in a diamond-shaped room, in a diamond-shaped floor plan. The grid itself was a clue!)

And I love pushing the envelope of what a crossword can do! I'm grateful to Will for supporting it. I hope you enjoyed the journey.

My original version was more difficult: ELLEN, MINNIE, TIKI, etc. were clued normally — with no indication that they figured into the story. The solver needed to discover the names hidden in the rooms, unlocking the rest of the mystery. (I kept other first names out of the grid — a surprisingly challenging restriction!) But after extensive testing, Will and his team decided to indicate the suspects more overtly.

This puzzle took a hamlet: Mike Selinker, Alison Muratore, the whole Chaikin family, Debbie Goldstein, Jenny Gutbezahl, Rick Rubenstein, Sandor Weisz, and Dave Shukan all provided crucial feedback. And as always, the guidance of my crossword sensei Tyler Hinman was invaluable.

If you enjoyed this, please visit Puzzle Bouquet — our Mother's Day puzzle spectacular! We're raising $10,000 for safe maternity care for low-income moms in quarantine worldwide. Download our beautiful puzzle suite dedicated to moms, then hit Donate — and change the world.

Mon 5/25/2020
STABBARSCASTE
ARIEICALALPHA
MIDNIGHTINPARIS
EMAILMEPOIIRE
GEOMUSTTDS
FINDMYIPHONE
EAREMTSLAZED
GIRLADMINMESA
GREENATOZRPM
LEONARDNIMOY
EYESICKENE
LAVELIAVERAGE
CHANGEDONESMIND
IONIAIRONADAY
DOTTYCENTNEWS

ACME: As a Libra, I'm very familiar with the phrase, "I've changed my mind" so decided to see if I could literally do just that within the confines of a puzzle. When I realized LEONARDNIMOY contained the word MIND reading backwards I got very excited about trying to do a MINDMELD puzzle. Then I found the matching-in-length FINDMYIPHONE and I was off to the races.

MIDNIGHTCOWBOY, one of my favorite films of all time, morphed into MIDNIGHTINPARIS...fittingly, as it's the only Woody Allen film I've enjoyed in the past 20 years. He was my idol as a young girl (ahem) and I had a long correspondence with him (see photo) after we met in the 70s.

I approached Victor Barocas whom I coincidentally saw made a CHANGEDHANDS puzzle for the LA Times while I working on this one. We had met through a puzzle tournament in Minnesota, where he is a professor at the U of M, just as my dad had been decades before. Victor is phenomenal with dense material (just look at those nice sixes: ACIDIC MERMAN BENIGN SLIPUP... that's a short story in itself!) and was able to wrangle my all-over-the-place-ness with a nice grid.

Actually, our initial attempt was rejected b/c of the weak fill, I blame myself, but we were given a chance to start from scratch on the strength of the not-in-a-grid previously themers. Glad Will Shortz and company CHANGEDTHEIRMIND and let us redo to a much better puzzle all around! As per usual, not originally intended as a Monday (given the anagramming and the theme density), but there you have it!

VICTOR: I had the privilege to work with Andrea for a few years on the (sadly, now gone) Minnesota Crossword Tournament sponsored by the Friends of the St. Paul Public Library. Andrea is both delightful and professional, and she always brings a combination of joy and flair to her puzzles. It was a pleasure to work with her on this puzzle, and I hope that the solvers enjoy it as much as we did.

Tue 5/26/2020
HANGSEDIEDIN
ADOUTMANXUTES
COLINFIRTHACCT
KRISARTHURLAKE
INTERNSAMENWA
TSAANDTEMPTED
ONIONEBAY
BODIESOFWATER
TRUETOILS
HATSIZERNABOY
ESCCONSONBASE
BILLYOCEANARCS
ALAIMICHAELBAY
RISEINTOLOIRE
ASSNOSYLOESS

I was inspired to write this puzzle last year while watching the first season of The Masked Singer; I thought that Ricki Lake was the Raven. (I was right!) I observed that her last name was a body of water and thought this could be the start of a straightforward puzzle theme. In particular, I liked the use of "body" to refer to both water and a person.

Unfortunately, I could not find a way to fit Ms. Lake into the puzzle while maintaining the symmetry of theme answers and including the revealing theme entry. For consistency's sake, I also kept surnames in the singular, so no Joan Rivers or Garth Brooks. Billy Ocean played more nicely than Frank Ocean when I worked to complete the grid. That's how I ended up with these particular bodies in the puzzle.

My friend and fellow crossword constructor Chris King pointed out to me a couple of weeks ago that the most common clue in The New York Times crossword since Will Shortz started editing the puzzle is [See 17-Across], and that I was the most recent constructor to include it in a puzzle (October 25, 2018). With today's puzzle, I am now also the most recent constructor to include the second most common clue: [Jai ___]. It's unintentional, and just indicative of my inability to find a better early-week clue for ALAI.

Wed 5/27/2020
ROZIMPARTMOP
OLEOLAALAAINS
FISHCOMPLIMENTS
LOTSABAILMEAT
THROWNALOOP
ACTONETAJ
QUIPPEARMIATA
URLFORGONEVEX
ILLBEREBAFINE
OLANTESTS
CANTSAYSURE
JOSESNOWOBESE
OHCRYINGOUTLOUD
SAOUSUALSENID
TNTMISSESSTY

My last puzzle in the NYT was in 2014. I quit constructing for a long time in order to complete a book on antique silver, Gorham Spoons: Sterling Souvenirs from a Bygone Era, a thirty-year project. (Anyone interested in such things can check it out at eBay or elsewhere.)

Now that I'm back, I find it more difficult than ever to make an acceptable puzzle. I suppose the number of constructors has increased so acceptance is more elusive. This one made its way through but not without a number of revisions. My second 15-letter entry, to correspond with FISH (for) COMPIMENTS, didn't meet with approval so I had to come up with a new one. OH (for) CRYING OUT LOUD seemed to be my only option but it appeared to be unclueable (is that a word?) until at last I thought of Sandra Oh. I'm pretty sure my clue for that entry is what put this puzzle over the top. The grid had been pangrammatic until Will and his crew replaced my ESKIMO with ASSISI at 48-Down and the K was lost. In this case, that doesn't matter at all.

But It reminded me of one puzzle I did for another paper with the theme "Long time no see" which removed the C from theme answers. The fill also included all the letters of the alphabet except C. The editor, possibly oblivious to that extra-nice little bit of construction work, edited a small spot and removed the only V in the grid. That one hurt.

I had been shooting for a Tuesday-ish puzzle with this one. Had I known it would appear on a Wednesday, I might have tried to open things up a tad to make room for some longer non-theme fill. But I still like it as it is and hope it's fun for the solvers.

Thu 5/28/2020
RSVPGOBSVELTE
ATEALIVEMINION
NETSALESASNEAT
GETSMARTFRIENDS
EDEMAOMG
USEDUPOFTEN
AMESRAHSTROBE
DOCTORWHOCHEERS
OTHERSUVAESOS
SHORTSHONDA
HSIETHOS
THESOPRANOSLOST
HALIDEBADKARMA
AMAZONCLASSDAY
IMNEXTSAYTENS

These days most puzzle themes come to me in the liminal space between dreaming and waking. Other times I'll stumble on an idea while I'm in a rabbit hole researching a clue in editorial or fact-checking mode. I don't remember how this theme idea began. I do recall that the R&D phase was absorbing because it involved sorting, combining, and regrouping; tasks I find soothing whether I'm manipulating words, colored pencils, or socks.

I wanted to achieve formal as well as syntactical integrity in the theme, so I ultimately focused on TV shows that would fit a 2-word + 1-word pattern, though I considered other permutations along the way. The first version I submitted had four entries, two of which were deemed stronger than two others (alas, my Kung Fu Entourage will have to kick a$# in another theme). I did a second round of brainstorming, and we settled on three solid 15s in a 72-word grid.

It's great to be back in the NYT. I miss seeing my tribe at the ACPT!

Fri 5/29/2020
TRENDSBARCHART
RUPIAHATELUNCH
ENIGMATHEODICY
ESCHEWGELTMOM
TAFTSVIESALE
OLAYWORLDATLAS
PAINPILLONA
PLIANTMUNICH
GNCCYBERLAW
ATTHEHEARTMOTH
TROTRNARASTA
BOTSCANDESERT
APEHOUSEUPTOIT
THRILLERCLENCH
SYMMETRYTYREKE

A standout themeless is so tough to make nowadays. Increased diversity in constructors has brought more to the table in terms of interesting fill, and word lists continue to be expanded and optimized. There are so many weekend-level puzzles I review and set aside, noting something along the lines of: "This is a well-made puzzle that I'd probably enjoy solving ... but is there room for it in our files?" We simply can't accept them all.

Lately, I'm thinking more than ever about cluing, which I genuinely believe can add just as much to the solving experience as the grid itself. A constructor's ability to write clues might serve as the tiebreaking factor for my final vote, though I'm also talking about "cluability" — can these answers get fun, imaginative clues in the first place?

This sort of mindset has gotten me more interested in mid-length stuff like THRILLER, SYMMETRY, TROPHY, TRENDS, ANIMAL, CLENCH, etc. along with a short fill buildup like HIM / SOLE / CULT / SCAN. It's not that I'm anti-name in any way — look, I started this puzzle with TYREKE, and as a solver, I love when I can resonate with a puzzle's references — but I believe that a preponderance of names leads to cluing inflexibility. The same for crossword-y mainstays like VIE and RNA; perfectly cromulent, sure, but there's only so much you can do with them. I'd place ON A (partial phrase) and HUD (abbreviation) in a slightly higher tier, as they can at least get fresh angles in their clues.

The art of making crosswords is one giant balance. I find my philosophies behind it to be ever-evolving, so I'm eager to engage in these discussions with solvers and constructors alike. Hope you enjoyed the puzzle, and thanks for hearing my thoughts!

P.S.: In case you haven't heard, you can now submit your own Times crosswords digitally. Find out more here.

POW Sat 5/30/2020
SHAVINGKITBANC
LETITSLIDEALIA
ONRETAINERMANN
WIISTAMPNET
SEATUSESEDATE
AGRAPUREE
SPRINGCHICKEN
SPREADTOOTHIN
CHOOCHOOTRAIN
HANOITASE
EGGMANMOSSPIT
ARENOWINECO
PUMPLASTSUPPER
IGORACTIONITEM
ESPYNOSETONOSE

For those that know me, it won't be surprising to hear that this one started with CHOO CHOO TRAIN. The entry & clue popped into my head one night building tracks and bridges with my oldest child. Now we've got another toddler, which means double the CHOO CHOO TRAIN fun!

I'm always a wee bit nervous when opening up the preview after not thinking about a puzzle for a while. You grow and get better at constructing in the time between submission and publication, and what at the time seemed like the best puzzle ever made sometimes just...doesn't anymore. I still like this one though. All the stacks came out pretty snazzy and clean. The top right was the last area to fall, and I remember debating between GO GREEN and CANTEEN at 14-Down, ultimately landing on CANTEEN for cleaner short fill around there.

I also really don't know why a SHAVING KIT would come with oils and a brush. But, I am approaching 30 and still can't grow any sort of respectable beard. Happy to see that clue made it through editing, and shoutout to the editing team for their nice misdirects on STAMP and MISTS.

Finally, if you enjoyed this puzzle (or even if you didn't), I post a few free puzzles per month over at my blog Puzzles That Need A Home — come swing by!

Sun 5/31/2020 WHAT GOES UP MUST COME DOWN
ETCSPECKICEDSHUI
GOESHELLOMILECENT
GELTENIACPAILCELLO
TIARASSHOOTIEONEON
MOBRARIESJUVENQUENCY
ITALYOPSSNOEURAKA
NOTISNAILDADAIST
TEENPOPZEALITPEOPLE
GILLENDORSECLUES
ATEETASAZTECREMAP
MEDICINTSCOMMETARY
OPINEROPESSUEDSYS
NECCOSABRINAHAIL
GETAFLATONITANTEDUP
SPYFILMTOMMYGENE
FARASASENNAMMATTE
INOPPORTUNTELABORAIL
NOBLELIEAHEMDAMMIT
ARBORHERDRELAYONLY
LAIDAMIEANGLEREED
EKESTSPSSTAIDDDS

LEWIS: I love working with Jeff because he's a good listener, leaves no stone unturned in his quest for a polished grid, and is crackerjack smart. And while we agree on the most important puzzle-making priorities, we often come at things from different angles, which makes for a lively and productive back-and-forth.

Take our brainstorming. The following took place over several weeks. We were discussing a theme involving AND/OR, and one of us said, "How about giving this theme a game show angle?", which led to a quiz-show-sounding "Name two terms related to…", from which the word "name" triggered the phrase "name drop," which suggested taking horizontal words that have names embedded and having the names drop down from them in the grid, which led to "Nah, turning-type puzzles are too common," which sparked, "Not if we can come up with a new variation," which brought us to today's theme.

Neither of us could recall seeing a puzzle where the solver had to go one way, then the other, through a string of letters. When we found phrases that allowed this to happen, we thought they were cool and thought many solvers would think so as well.

Hopefully, the journey from AND/OR to "What goes up, must come down" was fruitful, and you enjoyed this!

JEFF: Lewis comes up with interesting concepts. He's a fun guy to bat ideas around with, and he's incredibly receptive to tangential exploration. We've worked on a few projects together now, and we've never ended exactly where we started — sometimes doing something completely different.

It's such a pleasure to work with him. Mainly just ups!