How does the J.A.S.A. Crossword Class work? Well, I suggested a few seed entries for the themeless puzzle — GOOGLE GLASS and IPAD AIR — and designed a conservative 72-word grid around 'em. The class then collaborated on the fill and clues. With the exception of ATAVIST (which isn't even that bad), all the 7+ letter entries are either good to great, I think. A lot of our clues made the cut, too. I bet this puzzle plays easy if you know your tech products and almost certainly got slotted for a Saturday based on K THX BYE. Enjoy!
Started with an email from my friend and partner in many puzzles, Michael Blake, asking if I wanted in on the theme. EASTERNEASTER and PATTERNPATTER had come to him in his sleep and they weren't in the database.
I thought this was a neat and weird concept, x n x, which could be parsed two ways, and was more than just add an N. Will thought it was original too, which pleased us.
We called it LIVE n LEARN even though that wasn't the exact thing we were doing, but the feel we wanted to communicate. We discarded many ideas, they weren't as easy to come up and be clear and/or amusing as we thought, but then we got a nice set together.
I added DIVANDIVA and LEARNLEAR because I wanted them to make the most surface sense possible. Michael then came up with the wonderful FREETOWNFREETOW which went neatly across the middle. Can't imagine who came up with a pangram for the fill! :)
Pete Collins and I have been friends since childhood, when our families used to vacation together on a small lake in Wisconsin. He agreed to mentor me in 2012 when I got interested in constructing crosswords. I got this electricity puzzle idea when I was "block-doodling" one day on the computer and noticed I could make a pretty realistic looking kite. My wife Liz suggested I tie in Ben Franklin so I worked some lightning bolts into the grid. The first version had BEN and KEY attached to the bottom of the kite string, but that did not fly. I loved the grid art though, so I shipped the puzzle to Pete to see if he could get this project off the ground — I'll let him finish the story. Thanks for everything, Pete!
Bruce and I share an interest in "grid art." I think this grid is particularly nice, with the kite and lightning bolts. But make no mistake — this one is Bruce's baby (I'm just the godfather). We went back and forth several times, with the kite being oriented various ways, before we settled on this arrangement. In addition to the grid art, I really like the highly unusual diagonal symmetry — and the three pairs of themed answers. And our reward for getting this puzzle published? We get three Benjamins!
When I built the original version of this puzzle in late July of 2012, I was only a couple of weeks away from getting married and starting grad school. I figured that I would be too busy during the school year to keep building puzzles, so I tried to finish it as soon as I could. Unfortunately, I was not satisfied with the resulting fill by the time September rolled around, and I put the puzzle away for nearly a year before revising and submitting it. I highly advise against that, since there are so many talented constructors out there and there's always a risk that one of them will swoop in and take that idea from you before you get the chance.
I'm glad that no one beat me to the punch on this one. To me, the phrase I HAVE NO CLUE is a really good mantra for the entire concept of crosswords. Anyone who has ever tried solving a puzzle has probably uttered or thought those words after getting stumped by a tricky clue, so I wanted to build a literal theme on that idea. And to my knowledge, this is the first time that phrase appears as an answer in a major crossword — to say nothing of the phrase HELL IF I KNOW, which I thought would be just sassy enough that the Times might change it to HECK IF I KNOW.
One other note: Will changed a few of my letters in the space between 34- and 45-Across. I did not agree with the revision. You can see my original fill in that section — I'm biased because I'm a big basketball fan and think that Carmelo Anthony's nickname 'MELO is a fun entry, though now I wish I had submitted this fill in the first place. Regardless, I do have a lot of respect for Will as an editor and I'm very appreciative that he decided to run one of my puzzles so soon after my last one. He and I had a good conversation via e-mail about that small section and I'm glad that he has always been receptive to hearing constructor feedback. In the end, it's a small section of the grid and I'm still very excited to see my work in the Times.
This is my first Thursday puzzle so I'm very excited for everyone to see it. It's especially exciting to have my very own creation join the group of NYT rebus puzzles. On that note, there have been other rebus puzzles using "box" phrases as revealers, just like this one. One thing that makes mine a little different, I think, is that each rebus box is a different word. I also like how I was able to split up both ZEST and TONE in two different ways; not so for LAVA and DIAL, but at least there's some symmetry there — two split up differently, two not.
I also like the long answers for the most part, though PASADENA, BRUSSELS, and BRATIS[LAVA] might be a bit too much geography for one puzzle. Also RA[DIAL] TIRE and PIS[TON E]NGINE are a bit bland, especially for theme answers. Oh well. Overall I'm very happy with the puzzle, and I hope you enjoy it too!
I am fighting a battle with Will Shortz that I fear I will never win.
My goal is to put an Easter Egg in a NY Times crossword puzzle. So, for example, in my 9/8/11 effort with Pete Muller, the 72-word fill included the mini-theme KESEY, WOLFE and MERRY PRANKSTERS. Hidden and wrapping around the corners were ELECTRIC, KOOL-AID, ACID and TEST.
Will ran it on a Thursday and circled those letters.
On 2/18/12, I had a puzzle with a long row of diagonal squares. The letters above the squares spelled UPSTAIRS, and those below spelled DOWNSTAIRS. Will added a note in the Notepad: "This puzzle has two bonus answers in appropriate places. Can you find them?"
In today's puzzle, my original clues for 15- 39- and 43-Across were [TV show the last episode of which aired 6/23/99 5/23/10 9/23/11] (I liked the fact that the dates progressed forward in time this way). Will put a little extra in the clues. Sigh.
The reason I can never win this, I have realized, is that Will always gets the last word! And he actually does what is probably the right thing, catering to his broad audience instead of the handful of folks who would discover my Easter Egg.
A lesser man would give up. But not I! My only question is whether I should continue to *tell* Will when I put an Easter Egg in a puzzle. If I do, he'll spoil the surprise. If I don't, he'll be annoyed when he finds out. I'm caught on the horns of a dilemma.
But a word of warning. If you ever see a Friday or Saturday puzzle of mine that appears to have no theme, look again. There's never any telling when I'll manage to slip one by.
In September 2012, I noticed that I had a lot of 9-letter seed entries lying around, so I decided to throw some of them together into a high word count themeless grid. I was particularly happy that JAILBREAK and CANDY SHOP fit into the upper left corner and that GOOGLEBOT and SEXY SADIE fit into the lower right. In the other two corners, I especially liked COKE ZERO, CLARITIN, JUST DO IT, and MOJITO. ARIOSI, AIOLIS, and LLDS weren't (and still aren't) my favorites, though I was pleased with how the fill turned out overall, so I wrote up the clues and submitted the puzzle to Will.
Will liked the puzzle but had concerns about BIG HOAX sounding a bit contrived; luckily, though, he decided to let it stand. When I first saw the edited version of this crossword, I couldn't tell which one of my puzzles it was, since Will's brilliant "Cooler idea?" and "One stocking bars" clues completely eluded me! I had clued JAILBREAK in the sense of jailbreaking a phone and CANDY SHOP as the 50 Cent song, so it took me an embarrassingly long time to identify the puzzle, because Will's clues for these entries were completely different. Enjoy my puzzle, and I look forward to seeing some of you at the ACPT (perhaps even solving this crossword!).
I love crossword puzzles! Unfortunately, I'm a lousy solver. (Case in point: when Jeff sent me this puzzle — and keep in mind that I Made It Myself! — I thought I'd give myself an ego boost and solve it ... managing to screw up at 25 Across. I wrote in TOP THAT, sheesh.) Ironically, my first puzzles were later-in-the-week jobs and I really wanted to make a puzzle for people like me. The inspiration? My husband's TOOL BOX. My favorite clue is [Skill needed when being asked "Does this dress make me look fat?] for TACT.
I hope people enjoy this puzzle. 'Course, as good ol' Qoheleth says? "Nothing new under the sun!"
Will wrote me on August 2, 2012, accepting this puzzle. I was thrilled! A cool Monday puzzle! Several months later (January 28, as a matter o' fact) I was pleased with myself for breezing through Jaime Hutchison and Vic Fleming's puzzle ... until I realized (gulp) it was the same theme! Or, at least, pretty darn close!
So for those o' you who think this theme is familiar? It is! :-)
Thanks for solving it ... and I hope those who attended had a great time at the ACPT! It was an honor for me to have made the tournament opener.
Some puzzles can truly be characterized as "inspired." This one, however, came from my "I really ought to compose a puzzle" muse. That said: daily crosswords in most markets carry no titles; consequently, constructions utilizing a "reveal" entry appeal to me because they offer the solver an "aha" moment. "Reveal" entries are sometimes as long as the theme answer phrases. For example, the theoretical-but-probably-not-useful reveal AFTERMATH could be a hint for the same-length answer MAJOR DOMO (as in MATH MAJOR) as well as unrelated answers like SYMBOL FOR LEAD and TEST MARKET.
Casting about for ideas for this puzzle I thought of IN BUD, which is apt for springtime. Then I found four suitable long entries that seem to be first-timers, which is always fun: BUms arounD, BUrma roaD, BUll-noseD, and BUttonwooD.
As to the development of the grid: I don't remember what I had for lunch yesterday, so other than making sure the reveal was in the grid — near the bottom to delay the "aha" — I honestly don't recall if there were tricky regions of the construction. The grid design has lots of relatively isolated areas with many options everywhere. I knew I was aiming for Monday-Tuesday difficulty and tried to keep the fill on the straightforward side.
I've said over and over how I'm never going to tackle another puzzle with perimeter themers. They take so long to execute and are so difficult to fill smoothly / with sparkle. You'd think I'd learn one day.
I had toyed with this idea for well over a year before I finally settled on the basic concept, and coming up with enough distinct drinks was a challenge in itself. Even when I came up with enough to fill the perimeter, it felt inelegant. Who cares if it's just a random listing of drinks? So it wasn't until I was able to group the drinks into four linked categories that I felt like this was maybe worth the effort. It wasn't until I figured out how to intersect CIDER and VODKA into DRINKS ALL AROUND that I thought it was finally worth pursuing.
Then came year two. Trying to fill a puzzle like this from the center out almost guarantees you'll have too many ugly entries in the corners, but I tried it anyway. And indeed, I was able to come up with some snazzy entries around the center, but as I approached the four corners (and the sides to a lesser extent) I jammed myself into a world of hurt, overconstraint forcing a partial or a weird abbreviation or simply a collection of too much Ug. I came up with some fills that I would have green-lighted earlier in my construction career, but these days I am terribly, terribly unhappy if a puzzle doesn't feel top-notch rated-A clean.
Switching to working from the corners in helped a great deal, of course. Still though, it took me over 40 iterations to finally come up with something I felt was worthy of the NYT. FYI, not every puzzle can be filled super-cleanly (without a single "bad" entry), and I think that's okay. I would much rather allow for ambitious constructions that require a NOW I and an AS AN to hold them together. Not everyone will agree with me of course, but I'm firmly in the camp that creativity gets stifled if it's tamped down by overconstraint.
I do agree that a majority of puzzles can be filled 95%+ cleanly though, and if they can, they should. After so many versions of this puzzle, I tend to believe that this one can't be filled without a few bits of ugly here and there, but I'm certainly willing to listen to anyone who could give me a pointer.
I don't quite remember exactly when this theme came to me, but according to my files, my original draft dates back to March 2013. That original draft was not as good as what you now see; BLACK OPS / EIGHT BIT was there, but opposite it was NINE IRON / BLUE NILE, which is not very elegant because of the differing lengths of the colors and numbers as well as their positions in the entries. The other themers were even less elegant, as they were not directly on top of one another (I had been working with horizontal themers up to this point): TEN SPOT was at the right of row 5, and NO TURN ON RED was at the left of row 6. Yes, TEN was right on top of RED, but now BLACK OPS / EIGHT BIT was the only theme pair that was not "number by color" (the other pair was ONE SHOT DEAL / FAKE TAN).
A few months later, I tried it again, and it was a step forward, but it did take some more drafting after that to come up with this grid. Even after it was accepted on January 16, I continued to play around with it, but now that it is in the New York Times, I am very satisfied with my work and Will's. Will did a great job with the clues (I loved his clue for MARGIN), but his biggest contribution was making the themers vertical — much more appropriate considering the revealer. Wish I'd thought to do that, having liked Joe DiPietro's "Bywords" a few months before it all started for this puzzle.
I hope you all enjoy solving it as much as I did making it!
I have been creating puzzles since 1994. This is my 10th Times puzzle. Most have been of today's type, a non-themed (Friday or Saturday) puzzle. While trying to create this type of puzzle can be fun, it can also be very frustrating. Of course, the software does much of the work, but the difficulty lies in avoiding unacceptable entries. Where there are a number of long entries in a 15 by 15 puzzle, particularly ones that appear in adjacent rows or columns (in this case three 15 letter entries running down the center of the puzzle), the options for other entries may become quite limited.
I continue to be amazed by some of the published Friday and Saturday Times puzzles as I attempt to solve them. I know from experience just how hard it is to put together a good puzzle of this type. Periodically, I will decide that it is time for me to work on a new one. More often than not, there be one or more areas where I will need to use an entry that is not very good. Often it's a three letter entry. At this point, I may scrub the puzzle. But that doesn't stop me from trying again. When I am not working on one of these puzzles, I am always on the lookout for new long, particularly 15 letter, entries. Where I can get three of these to go together well or place five or six good ones in a grid, I may have the start of a good non-themed puzzle.
In my years of puzzle writing, I've had more than 4,000 puzzles published, including crosswords and more than 30 other types of word puzzles. I'm four years into full retirement from my legal career and create puzzles to stay young. If you like this puzzle, please check out my eBook of puzzles book on the free Puzzazz app.
With this puzzle there were four "seed" words which I wanted to keep if possible, one in each section: HOLMESIAN, leading off the puzzle in the NW, reminded me of the similarly eponymous KAFKAESQUE which had been used in the LAT, BRAIN FREEZE in the NE which would allow for a clue take-off on "cold comfort," BODACIOUS, in the SE, a portmanteau word ("bold" and "audacious"), and TWITTER JAIL in the SW. I wasn't sure this last entry would fly, and the puzzle was only provisionally accepted last June, as Will said he wanted to see if the phrase had "staying power." I hope solvers have some challenges and fun with this one.
A puzzle featuring RX as the theme has been a personal "constructor vendetta" for me. Maybe it's the lure of that damned Scrabbly X, or the excitement of getting a theme out that no one's done, or some unhealthy deep-seated obsession with prescription drugs.
My first RX-related submission to the Times was a 15x15 rebus, the second a 21x21 rebus. Both had not enough theme material and some really strained theme entries (example: RxKBP clued as a chess move). Two rejection letters later, I submitted a 15x15 with entries containing RX in the very middle (COLORXEROX, DEERXING, etc) with PRESCRIPTION as the revealer, but The Big Guy said not quite interesting enough.
Next, I tried an (unsubmitted) idea, involving a diagonal offset of R and X in the grid, to represent how Rx is often hand-written or how it's displayed on drug store signs. The horizontal theme entries dropped down one row at the X, then continued along their way. While sort of a neat trick (and "Medicine Dropper" was screaming to be the puzzle title), I thought this offset gimmick would be too arbitrary for some and probably too easy to figure out the R/X locations for others.
My final attempt at the RX theme involved a more visual gimmick. I hit upon the phrase FOLLOW THE PRESCRIPTION as some kind of directive / theme revealer. So then, I needed something to drive the solver to follow "RX" pairs across the grid. Going from SICK to WELL was an appropriate solution, I thought. After arranging theme answers to create the RX conga line, the originally-planned phrase FOLLOW THE PRESCRIPTION could only find room in the puzzle by splitting into FOLLOWING THE / PRESCRIPTION. And as luck would have it (thank you, Crossword Gods), this answer pair crossed nicely with my center entry, GROUCHO MARX MUSTACHE.
I originally shaded the RX squares to highlight the journey from SICK to WELL. But Will wisely hid their locations — it works much better that way. I'm super pleased how the trail of RX's turned out. And I'm relieved that my RX vendetta is over.
"Vowel run" themes seem to come along three or four times a year and when they do I wonder where the inspiration for them comes. This one came about in a roundabout way...
In themeless puzzles, I enjoy the occasional random, oddball trivia clue that either surprises me or makes me think of something I have not thought of for a while. I tried collecting a few of these and making a themeless puzzle with them as seed entries, but that attempt fizzled out. One of those entries, GYMNASTICS, and the trivia clue that went with it held my attention and I wanted to see if I could get it into a themed puzzle somehow. This was back in June 2012 and I had recently done a Monday puzzle by Andrea Carla Michaels and Michael Blake, so the vowel run idea was fresh in my mind.
A G*M progression seemed to have potential and the theme entries came quickly. I also thought that with the GYM- entry last, it could be clued with the trivia clue, since if you notice the vowel run there are not a lot of words starting with GYM, and that it might make a fun Tuesday puzzle because of that random bit of trivia whose answer could be inferred. Once Will accepted the puzzle and said he was using it as a Monday, I figured the trivia clue would get changed to something more traditional, and it did. Overall, I'm happy with how the puzzle came out and that about 60% of my clues made it through (the one for JIM PALMER being my favorite).
And that trivia clue for GYMNASTICS, which only children of the '80s might appreciate: "Sport coached by Mr. T in the '80s animated series 'Mister T'."
This puzzle's proof that it takes a village to make a crossword. The first iteration of the puzzle was sent back to me in December 2012, to remove some fill like I ATE IT and NSFW. The revised puzzle was accepted in June of last year (in case anyone's wondering about the current waiting time for Wednesday puzzles). After the puzzle was accepted, Will and his team changed three letters in the grid, which affected four answers (AXTON, CROAT, FTC, and NOA became AXION, GREAT, FIG, and NEA, respectively — a considerable improvement to say the least). In addition, the format of the clues to the theme answers also changed. The original clues were in the imperative, each beginning with "Go away." BUZZ OFF, for instance, was clued as ["Go away, bumblebee!"], and ["Go away, outdoor enthusiast!"] was the clue for TAKE A HIKE. Maybe that was a little too obtuse, or maybe it was confusing to have these and other non-theme imperatives in the clues.
Subtract the four new answers and the clue formatting revisions to the six theme answers spanning eight entries and you have 66 additional non-theme answers for which I submitted clues. Of those, Will left only 11 completely unchanged. He made what I would consider minor modifications (like changing [One of the "ice giants"] to [A solar system "ice giant"]) to another 24 clues. That means he completely re-wrote the remaining 31 clues, including, alas, [Newsman Donaldson] for SAM. (My other favorite was [Some fixed figures] for STATUARY, though looking back that was way too hard for an early-week puzzle.)
Normally I would want a higher percentage of my clues to make it through to the end, if for no other reason than my wanting an editor to have confidence that I really do know how to clue a crossword. But I'm fine with the percentage here, as I was originally conceiving of this as a Tuesday crossword instead of a Wednesday puzzle. After all the revisions, it feels more like a Wednesday puzzle to me.
I was happy to fit six theme entries into the grid, especially since the last one paired off three others. I also liked that the arrangement of the theme entries allowed for some open corners, which we don't often see in early-week grids. Sixty theme squares isn't impossibly dense, but the grid does betray some of the complexity in making it all work, at least in my hands. (Hello, SSGTS, A SOU, and SOLEA!) Still, I hope solvers find it entertaining. Those that didn't can just ... go away.
The inspiration for this puzzle came from Matt Gaffney's meta-puzzles, which I enjoy very much. Every so often, he addresses the solver directly in the puzzle as part of the meta, and although at first I found it strange, it kind of grew on me, so I decided to make a non-meta puzzle that included direct address. I was rather pleased when I realized that the different GET phrases all exist. The big challenge, though, was that GET up and GET down aren't as symmetric as they feel like they should be, making it quite hard to construct a symmetric grid.
In spite of the initial difficulty, the fill came out okay, and I enjoyed the cluing. 10-A, 52-A, and 28-D were my favorite clues, along with the matched pair at 39-A and 34-D. Solvers might be interested to know that my original version was a bit more difficult, with the GET phrases not given but clued, so 18-A would have been clued as "Gripping read ['Don't stand so close']," 24-A would have been "Oil containers ['Show us your funky dance moves!']," etc. I guess that Will decided that it would be too difficult or weird that way.
As always, I hope that solvers enjoyed the puzzle.
Sometimes you stumble upon a word (entry) that has to appear in The New York Times crossword and you can probably guess which entry that is.
I've been constructing seriously now for about two years and this is one of my first themeless attempts. I learned a lot making this one ... which was done mostly on my cell phone during work breaks.
I like ZOO EXHIBIT and HOME PORT, and even though my favorite clues were rejected, I'm still pleased overall. The clue for GRAPE JELLY was originally about meatballs.
Thanks to Will and Jeff and everyone else in the cru community. The comments provided have been most helpful.
I saw a clue for AHA and — wait for it — the light went on in my head. The AHA MOMENT spelled out as a light bulb was the next logical step, followed by THOMAS EDISON and INCANDESCENT LIGHT BULB (a 21!). I toyed with listing other Edison inventions or accomplishments, but a quote seemed more appropriate.
The construction was tricky since I couldn't have the themers running through the middle of the grid mucking up the circled answers. But aside from two or three short clunkers, I'm pleased with the fill. I paused at inserting DNA MOLECULE and OPEN CIRCUIT since they seemed too close to the Edison/electricity/science theme, but eventually decided to roll with 'em.
Hope solvers enjoy the puzzle!
A year ago, I was reading something that made mention of George Carlin's Seven Dirty Words banned from the airwaves. I'd heard his stand-up routine on the subject a long time ago, but my recollection was fuzzy. I wondered how many of the seven I could name, so I made my guesses and then looked 'em up. Depending on how you score it, I got three or three and a half right (not tellin' which ones ... OR what my wrong guesses were!), and then the thought flashed: wouldn't THOSE be a riot to see in a puzzle! Well, of course that exact idea was going nowhere, but the DIRTY WORDS seed was planted. And the clue I submitted for 60-Across was [George Carlin's list of seven, or the starts ...].
While it's a simple and pretty vanilla theme, what appeals to me is the juxtaposition of the opulent FILTHY RICH against the modest (dirt cheap?) GREASY SPOONS, and the saintly STAINED GLASS against the irreverent DIRTY WORDS.
That and YERTLE the turtle.
So, here's mud in your eye—hope it was good, clean fun!
My thoughts on this puzzle in list form:
This puzzle was inspired by Matt Gaffney's Orca-nominated "At the Present Time," which used the traditional 5th, 10th, 15th, etc. anniversary gifts in the clues numbered 5, 10, 15, etc. Thinking of that puzzle as I ate lunch at the University of Delaware in April 2013, it struck me that chemical elements and lining up their atomic numbers with the clue numbers might work just as well.
Before I left the dining hall, I had come up with the grid you see now. I received excellent feedback on it from George Barany and his team, and was thrilled when Will accepted it last June 30. If you've enjoyed it, you may also enjoy this unpublished puzzle by Charles Deber, which has a few of the same theme entries.
Will put a very nice spin on the revealer clue, my original one being "With 38-Down, property of the first part of the starred entries that matches that of the clue." As for the fill, my favorites are YOU LOSE (I like Will's new clue), I'M SAD (ditto), ONE WOOD, JEOPARDY, SQUIRES, and PHDS (another great clue). Thanks, Will!
This puzzle began at Positive Pie, a restaurant in the very small town of Hardwick, Vermont. It's known for its delicious pizza served from a wood-fired oven and for its selection of craft beers. While anticipating both of these pleasures, and studying the menu decorated with its design of +'s and π's, my husband started the discussion of pizza/pie/pi theme ideas. The pizza pie piece eventually fell by the wayside, except for its circular shape.
The puzzle went through some revisions of the fill, during which FULL got moved around a lot. I hadn't realized what a hard word it was to "fill" around! I have to thank Will for livening up my clues. I was glad to see two of my favorites still there (for SERENADE and HOEDOWNS), but I can't take any credit for "It wraps around a chest at the beach"!
Hope you enjoy the π.
My seed entries were the 3 bodies of water: HUDSON BAY, DANUBE RIVER, and OKEECHOBEE. Also, since I'm a big fan of music from the first two decades of rock and roll music, I frequently use songs from that era in my puzzles. This time, I was able to use ON A CAROUSEL although I wasn't quite sure Will would go for it.
I think the inspiration for this one was seeing some other puzzle where the juxtaposition of certain entries played into the theme. I just can't recall which puzzle that might've been. What I do recall is that this grid was rather tough to fill — tougher than you might expect given that there are only six songs in the grid (by the way, my title for this was the rather bland "Six Numbers"). Since the themed entries are not symmetrically placed, as I attempted to fill the grid cleanly, I'd constantly plunk a black square down in one area only to find I'd wiped out part of a themed entry in another area. For a long time I tried to squeeze in a seventh song (the Temptations "CANT GET next to YOU"), but I eventually gave up.
One minor inconsistency I just now noticed is that five of the themed entries has a preposition hinted at by the placement of the words/letters (AROUND, ON, IN, AFTER, BY), but not in the sixth (RISING).
I'm glad Will kept my clue for "Alibi IKE." As a boy, I remember my dad reading that short story to my brothers and me. It was one of the few times I saw Dad laugh so hard he was incapacitated. The other time I recall is when we went to see "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World" at the theater in the early '60's. When Jimmy Durante died on that hillside, and his leg shot out and kicked the bucket, I thought Dad was going to need medical attention. Childhood memories like that are priceless.
I first thought about this theme when I overheard someone on a TV show say "Ma and Pa." I don't even know what show it was because I was just passing through the room. (Anyone who has constructed a crossword will probably tell you that the curse that comes along with it is that anytime you hear a phrase, you immediately begin to think of theme possibilities.) Anyway, I thought of MASQUERADE PARTY and MASSAGE PARLOR immediately. I decided to research whether it had ever been done before. There was a NY Times puzzle in 2001 that used MA AND PA as the revealer, but it used MA__ MA__ and PA__ PA__ phrases. So, the MA__ PA__ pattern hadn't been done. A little more thinking and research led to MARDI GRAS PARADE (which I thought was cheating a bit because it's three words, but it was such a good phrase I decided to go with it) and MACARTHUR PARK (I have to admit I don't like the song).
When I submitted the original, Will returned it and asked me to get rid of some junk (EDO, GAR, E MAG, LBOs, and the partials A PLEA and I AM A). I had to rearrange the grid shape slightly to make this work to my satisfaction. In doing so, I learned first-hand that the crossword gods giveth and they taketh away. Reworking the grid allowed me to find EX HUSBAND and URSA MAJOR, better than the original PROUD MARY and CINEMATIC. However, my one regret about this puzzle was that in reworking it, I lost the words GYRATE and REAR which had been right next to each other (yes, deep down I'm still 13 years old). But overall the fill turned out much better I thought.
I wasn't very happy with UNAPT crossing A NAP. But I was willing to make that sacrifice for URSA MAJOR.
Hope you enjoy it!