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Puzzles for March, 2015
with constructor comments

Sun 3/1/2015NOTED ANNIVERSARY
OMGCLOMPSPECGORD
NILEVEGOUTERROTOH
ENACTSALZBURGAUSTRIA
SAMOANREAESSENTAL
JULIEANDREWSELO
PIPETSTSALWSUIT
EDASWEDESIGMA
THEHILLSAREALIVEFLAK
HOYAELATESVINGTIME
OMENSROACHTGI
RODGERSANDHAMMERSTEIN
GOLSIREETIPSY
OPERABUFFDENCHTILE
WINOBESTPICTUREOSCAR
LCDTVSUSANUGH
SASHIMTRIASIDES
DSTTHEVONTRAPPS
THRESOMETANARCANE
THESOUNDOFMUSICNOCAL
ORITSAXRUBIESTERM
DORSALIODESSAYES

The Sound of Music is, as it is for so many people, one of my most treasured movies. It never fails to put me in a good mood. It was such a staple of my childhood that I know the script—lyrics AND dialogue—by heart. So, for the many hours singing along to 31-Across that this movie gave me, I am thrilled to give back to it in the most minuscule of ways by recognizing, in the Times crossword, the 50th anniversary of one of the highest-grossing and most beloved films of all time.

Discovering that The Sound of Music was a grid-spanning 15 letters long was one of my earliest revelations as a constructor. Indeed, this puzzle started as a daily-sized 15x15 in 2009. To get to the final product you see today, it took five years of on-and-off construction, a few changes in grid dimension, and ditching several high-concept meta themes (for a while, the children's names were all hidden in the grid in the column number corresponding to their ages ... yeah, I got really deep into this).

Ultimately, I kept it as a straightforward anniversary puzzle with the twist of the do-re-mi rebus. That concept has been done before and done well, but I'm glad that Will agreed it merited an encore performance this time. I hope this puzzle makes you think of some of your favorite things!

Mon 3/2/2015
JAILSPARFRAUD
ELSIEHWYLENNY
STILLLIFEELIDE
TOTESAUREISER
CALLLETTERS
EMMETTOBI
ZEALSHAGNAMES
RAISEERAGLARE
ANNEXRINGERIC
PVTRACKET
MELLLAZARUS
OCELOTMOETBAG
OHGODTWOLLLAMA
LOOSEDAMEERIE
ASSADSYSYODEL

This is a" lllove llletter" to MELL LAZARUS, brilliant cartoonist of "Miss Peach" and "Momma" who has always dreamed of being in the puzzle. His ambition was more modest, thinking the unusual double L of MELL would be enough.

Lazarus solving the actual puzzle featuring him!

Mell is the friend and mentor to my lifelong friend, Tom Gammill, fellow cartoonist, SNL/Seinfeld/Simpsons writer (along with partner Max Pross) and one of the most upbeat, funny guys around. Tom and I wanted to honor Mell who is in his late eighties and conspired to make a puzzle for him.

Once I had the three LLL- idea in place, we brainstormed dozens of other entries, including BASEBALLLEAGUE, FALLLINEUP, TALLLATTE as well as my online Scrabble frenemy WILLLEE (Bassist for the David Letterman show, which Tom was an original writer for!)

After four rewrites to get rid of too many names and one ONTHE partial, the only thing changed in the grid was the last entry in the SW. Will changed YOULL to YODEL. YOULL was clued as "Try it, ____ Like it!" as in attempt as a bonus three LLL themer that had been too long to fit into the original grid.

"Ideallly" I would have liked TWOLLLAMA to be THREE-L-LLLAMA but that "ironicallly" didn't fit, as there are four Ls in that phrase!

By the way, I fear I'll get brickbats for the self-referential NAMES clue (34A: Andrea, Carla and Michael) but I swear that was changed from my tongue-in-cheek clue: "Some people drop them"!

Tue 3/3/2015
HOHODRAGSCOPE
ACERRISEKUDOS
DELTJOHNNYDEPP
ALLINTOLD
GONZOJOURNALISM
OTOBETSYBELIE
LEISULNA
HUNTERSTHOMPSON
OTOHEINE
ONREDEELERREX
FEARANDLOATHING
MBASZEBRA
INLASVEGASSCAM
KOALALUXEHUGE
ERNSTSTEWETES
POW Wed 3/4/2015
CUPIDSCALERAW
UPENDWOMANOVA
BONDTRADERSCAR
ANTIOMANISKIP
GATDACTYLS
CETOLOGYTHUS
ORRDROOPINTER
LOIREEKEAGATE
ASPENSERINRAN
LATESUBTITLE
DEEPENDSIB
ERASBINGEIDEM
FOXPLAYINGSOLO
ODEMONETSERBS
EELSCATSASYET

The inspiration for this puzzle actually didn't make it into the final submitted version. I was watching The Bourne Ultimatum on TV and wondered if Matt Damon (who had sworn off the character) would ever be Bourne again. That was the catalyst: BOURNE AGAIN (Clued for the second film he did: "Matt Damon, in 2004?"). Then it was on to a quick search of characters that have had sequels, and BOND, ROCKY, and AXEL came very quickly. Various other characters made a case to be included (OCEAN, BUZZ, GOD), but I couldn't get a clever enough clue.

I almost submitted the puzzle with those four entries, but I had the nagging thought that BOURNE was the only homophone in the bunch. Cue the Sesame Street song playing in my head: "One of these things is not like the others…" Fearing a rejection, I went back to the well and came up with SOLO, which led to a very pleasing clue. And being a diehard Star Wars fan (I have faith in you, J.J. Abrams!), I was doubly pleased to include that entry.

Thu 3/5/2015
SHIESSTALAG
TEABAGTIMECOP
ARMADADONALDTR
BABYALBSIRPEU
TAUTONEARM
AHICMAJDROP
TENETNEWAGE
FALLINGBEHIND
RASCALRANTO
TWINPEPEGSA
HONDASSELF
RUGLAPGORYDET
UNAMERICSIERRA
DIORAMATATAMI
DOOHANRIYAL

Sometimes the Muse gives you an idea and you just have to go with it, regardless of whether an audience exists for it. That's how I felt with this one. I wasn't sure it was NYT-appropriate, but I did the best I could with the idea and submitted it, not expecting an acceptance. Apparently though, according to the Interwebs, last year was the Year of the Butt. I didn't know that until just now, but maybe that's why Will gave it the go-ahead.

But he actually didn't at first. My submitted puzzle had a different revealer, one that was a punchline to this joke (which, as far as I know, I made up entirely): "What caused the market panic among investors in long johns?"

Answer: THE BOTTOM FELL OUT (cue rimshot)

I liked that puzzle better because I felt it was funnier, and since the phrase is 16 letters, the grid was bigger, and I had more room to space things out. But Will preferred my alternative revealer, FALLING BEHIND, and the normal-sized grid.

The grid was difficult because I wanted the BEHIND words to be isolated vertically (meaning blocks above and below each). This made for quite a challenge and many "cheater" blocks. I also ended up with those two large chunks of blocks on the left and right. (But to my sophomoric mind, I justified them by squinting and imagining a pair of cheeks with one side sagging.)

So, is this a new low for the NYT? Has the NYT hit bottom? Will this bit of cheek cause the NYT to be the butt of all jokes in the crosswording world? Well, just be thankful Will used the clue "Lagging" in place of my original clue: "Going into arrears".

Now to collect my booty...

Fri 3/6/2015
AFCSOUTHTOKLAS
MARINARASANITY
PRIMERIBPROZAC
LIMOSTINEXTRA
ESPNDOTARDAIM
TENURETYCO
SPRAWLEYECOLOR
IROBOTNOMORE
DINOSAURTWERPS
ECRUCREPES
SEECONCURMUTT
ALAMOSETLEMUR
LIGERSITSADATE
ANADEMPETNAMES
DENIALTRUELIES

Before submitting crosswords to the NYT and other venues, I tried filling a number of what I call "practice grids" to empirically find the limits of my fill capabilities. Many of these practice grids still (rightly so) remain unclued and unsubmitted mostly because my early fill attempts were not up to par. Despite the "wasted" effort, this practice served as a valuable learning tool and helped form the foundation for one of my personal constructing mantras: YAHOO (which I'm using as the backronym You Always Have Other Options). A revision can be as simple as a cheater square or as involved as a total revamp; regardless of the way one finds it, great fill always waits for those resourceful enough to seek it out.

Today's puzzle, a revamp of one of my "practice grids," serves as a nice example of YAHOO. In my "practice grid," I tried to fill the black square pattern in this grid to mixed results. After some analysis, I felt that the fill was a bit heavy with proper names and crosswordese-y stuff, e.g. TARTE, O-CEL-O, NEN, LEONORE etc.; however, I did like the stack in the NE corner and used it as a starting point for another iteration. It was at this point that I added two symmetrical cheater squares to (1) help eliminate LEONORE and (2) segment the grid just a skosh to allow for a little more fill flexibility.

If the filled NW section, particularly GAHAN, NESS, and the dreaded EMAGS (inelegant in the singular and just plain awkward in the plural), of that iteration had not bugged me so much, you would have likely solved this second grid. However, even after submitting that version and receiving Will's acceptance email, I still tinkered with the NW until I eventually found the fill you see in the published version. Incidentally, this new NW, which contained the word ONES, also meant that I needed to scour for a new SE (since the SE section in the previous version had the entry ONE AM). Fortunately, because I was only dealing with triple 8 stacks, that section wasn't too difficult to rework.

Looking back, the SW section, in particular SML, ABOU, and MEDI, stands out as a slight sore thumb, but I hope my extra efforts in other parts of the puzzle still make for a delightful solve.

Lastly, in case you're curious, Will/Joel didn't really change many of the clues this time around. I counted at least forty clues that went completely unchanged and only eleven new clues that went in a totally different direction from my original submission. Not all of the unchanged clues are "originals," but I will gladly take credit for 15A, 16A, 17A, the 33A/12D combo, 37A, 4D, 14D, and 46D. However, IMO, Will/Joel take the cake with 25D's clue. Until next time, YAHOO(ooohoooh)!

Sat 3/7/2015
FROMATOZPEEDEE
LEMONADELARYNX
ICEBOXESITASCA
MILNETTLESLOM
SPEDSOILSJEDI
YETISJEDTOXIN
VAPORVISINE
HOMEKEYRAGBAGS
INASECMUCHO
TEXTSKITTYPEB
SOWSDFLATSEMI
QUEBACKBAYZIP
UNBORNCALAMINE
ACEDITAGONIZED
DERATEPANGRAMS

Greetings, Word Nerds!

Firstly, let me just quickly point out some facts that I extracted from XWord Info:

  1. This is the 7777th crossword published within the "Will Shortz era".
  2. I am the 777th constructor published within this era.
  3. This puzzle lands on the 7th day of this month.

This could very well be the 7th wonder of the world of crosswords?!

Secondly, since I am making my New York Times debut, I thought I'd comment briefly about how I got into the whole crossword constructing thang, step by step:

  1. At around 16, I began solving Monday-like NYT crosswords found in local papers or "easy-to-do" puzzle books.
  2. By 18, I clued in on the patterns, broke out the paper & pencils; then, began to piece puzzles together bit by bit.
  3. Closing in on 40 now & I'm happy to announce that my crossword constructing skills are still ever-evolving.

Thirdly, the cluing for this crossword was originally designed with an unusual amount of acronyms for the purpose of using A through Z again amongst the acronyms, as to add to the already incorporated pangrammatic mini-theme. That idea did not make the cut, and therefore a significant amount of cluing adjustments were made by Will and his team. I am, however, still pleased with how the puzzle turned out, and hopefully you'll think so as well.

Sun 3/8/20153.1415926 ...
ACTPUMAPROTEARREM
PLYESAUREPERIEAYE
ROTENEGGESEMADHATER
SCUDGUILTRIPSADDS
DEARSIRRITABLEBEFOG
OSLOSESAMESEEDSLIRA
NELSONTHERES
STYNEILKFCHAIRESP
SATERIOAWLS
CHATKITELMPALALPS
HOWIWISHMLIPIEASILY
EGOMANIALINETRUSCAN
CAKEDLYINGONTOKYO
KNESSETANGSTPROCEED
SSNBOARISEEDRS
ICOULDCALCULATE
ASCENTSADASTIRSUP
MUTINYOSMOSISRECTOR
ERUCTCRAPSHOOTAROSE
TATLEHAREETUIDOTED
ELDERENIDDATESWAYS

Martin Gardner

This puzzle is dedicated to Martin Gardner, one of my all-time favorite authors. It was in his book Hexaflexagons and Other Mathematical Diversions that I learned about the sort of mnemonic found in this puzzle. He also created an annotated version of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, so I associate any Lewis Carroll reference (including my favorite theme answer, 26-Across) with him. I highly recommend his work to anyone who likes brainteasers, math, or wordplay.

Mon 3/9/2015
BETASAPSSHAPE
OVENBREACOBRA
RISKTAKERHOBOS
ECLAIRLIFERAFT
STAARMUMA
TROUBLEAHEAD
ALOHANEALLIE
LIMESIRSSWANK
AMAACRENOLTE
SORRYCHARLIE
EENSIPACT
CLUEMEINBETTOR
AISLEBOARDGAME
PREENATRAIRAN
SARDIREFSFIST

I've enjoyed solving crossword puzzles for a long time. About a year ago, I wanted to learn how to construct. Fortunately, I found a mentor, Nancy Salomon, who was willing to guide me through the process. Thank you, Nancy! I've always been a fan of board games and that led to the idea for this puzzle. This puzzle was my third submission to the NYT, and I was thrilled when it was accepted and slotted for a Monday. Exactly nine months later, here it is.

Tue 3/10/2015
KEAJABSCOBALT
ILLEPICACACIA
SPEEDIERREBELS
MARTINLANDAU
ESTAMAINSTAY
TOSTADATOSHIBA
GINSUKNEW
PAPERCARRIAGE
MAMAIPADS
GRASSLELAPDOGS
MISSPENTCROC
BATTINGCOACH
RESORTPARENTAL
EXPOSEIZODERE
SOAKERNIKESTP
Wed 3/11/2015
WOMANISHCLONED
OPALOCKAOOLALA
RAREMEATRADISH
ELSAATSIGNLES
SEXTIEUP
PESTSABSDROPS
ARTTVTRAYGLEE
BARTCHILIEIRE
STARRECIPESOY
TOWEDIKEMEHTA
BEEPSHUN
AVEBUTWHYTRUE
MERLOTREDCROSS
ERRANTAIRBASES
SAYYESPROSPERO

I came up with this puzzle idea back in 2012 when Michael Sharp (aka Rex Parker) was coordinating submissions for American Red Crosswords, a collection of 24 donated puzzles compiled to raise money for Hurricane Sandy victims. Anyway, Rex liked the idea behind this puzzle but was concerned that it was too similar to one he had already approved; he encouraged me to hold onto the puzzle, though, as he felt it would ultimately be salable. So I sent Rex a different crossword, which ultimately made the collection, and submitted this one to The New York Times.

To my delight, Will liked the puzzle — in fact, so much that he wanted to use it for the 2013 ACPT! Unfortunately, I had to inform Will that Rex had already seen the idea, which meant that the puzzle couldn't be used in the tournament since Rex would be competing. On the bright side, the Wednesday queue ended up being so long that the pay rate for daily puzzles increased, so I'll have more money to *drumroll please* fund my eventual college tuition with!

Looking back on this puzzle, I'm particularly pleased with how the fill turned out. My favorite entries are BUT WHY, AT SIGN, and OPA-LOCKA, all of which will be making their New York Times crossword debuts today, and the grid ended up necessitating only a few pieces of crosswordese and a smattering of proper names.

I've noticed that Will and Joel seem to be increasingly emphasizing clever clues in early-week puzzles, which I think is a delightful way to spice them up for those of us solvers who have "seen it all"! I especially like their "Something that's just not done at the dinner table?" for RARE MEAT and "It's a gas up north" for ESSO.

Hope you enjoy this relatively straightforward puzzle — the next time you see my byline, there's a good chance it will be on a Friday or Saturday. Mwahaha!

Thu 3/12/2015
LOLITAMAWSORS
ANODESGRIPBOT
VASSALMALIIDO
STAREDCDTOWER
PLAYSWITHLANE
EARSGUNANTS
ENTOMBMILAN
PTSIOSDIXAPE
ASNERTERROR
OPENMANEBON
SUREINTHEHOLE
BROWSESHOMERS
ODDAXONROADIE
RUELIFESTRADS
NEDETTAYESYES

After a year-long hiatus from constructing crossword puzzles, I decided I was ready to try again. I had an idea, but I was not confident enough to proceed on my own. I introduced myself to Jeff in July 2013 and asked him to help. Thankfully, he was up to the challenge.

I remember riding a roller coaster at Silver Dollar City a long (long) time ago. At one point in the ride, everyone yells "Fire in the hole!" before taking a plunge. That *has* to be where the idea came from. Otherwise, I don't know where my brain got it.

One of Jeff's best suggestions was to have the "holes" segregated from the rest of the black squares in the grid. I think it makes for a better representation. Jeff did a lot of the heavy lifting on this one, and I couldn't find any reason to change what he created.

The clues received their usual editor's touch, and my favorite (new) clue is for 19-Across: [Response that has a nice ring to it?] IDO! It's so hard to come up with new ways to clue entries that appear so frequently.

Thanks again, Jeff, for the collaboration. And thanks, Will, for publishing our puzzle.

POW Fri 3/13/2015
IDBADGESHARLEM
TARBOOSHAREOLA
ANECDOTESAVOIR
LESSDARKAGES
OSTRADIOSREPS
OUTOFTHEBLUE
ASTINFOOTIRE
SPILLITSTRIPED
SETONUSAPSES
ALLIWANTTODO
YLEMSIMONEESA
PACECARSTRIM
DRAGONREARAREA
AUGERSYULELOGS
DEEDEESPECKLES

Friday the thirteenth, huh? It's a great day to see and solve a puzzle in the Times!

What was on my mind two years ago when I wrote and submitted this puzzle? I tend to start with two phrases that have not been in puzzles much, if at all. Ergo, ALL I WANT TO DO and OUT OF THE BLUE. Once the grid was built around them, I'm sure I just tried to fill it with ILSA's (in-the-language stand-alones)—I count 18 of ‘em, 20 is typically my goal—while minimizing the need for clunkers to glue them in. I'm sure I agonized over IN A SENSE and HAS A SHOT, as I don't like to have even that small of a dupe in a grid's fill.

I'd have preferred to avoid OST, which I like neither as a German direction nor a bony prefix. YSL would have worked if BRESL were a word. I'm not a big fan of YLEM either at 47-Across. FLEM (short for my last name) would have worked out great if only the ASSAF, a breed of Israeli sheep, were more widely known.

As for the clues, Will did a great job as always. Eight or ten of my originals survived the edit, but the final product is A-OK, in my opinion.

Sat 3/14/2015
LOBSTERBIBNSFW
ANIMANIACSOHIO
MONEYTALKSRENO
ANGELTAYSLED
REOOMANSMELTS
SRICOCAGUM
WHISTERICBANA
SHAMWOWBAHAMEN
HARPISTSTIRED
OCRFISTINN
VAULTSPACEPRU
EMMAHETWIRES
LOPSEATENALIVE
ELHITHEINSIDER
DESKCARTWHEELS

I constructed this puzzle partially (ok, fully...) while sitting in my office at the PRU in Boston about a year ago. As of this week, I've moved from Boston to New York, so the timing is perfect for having a Times puzzle!

Looking back, I don't think I'd settle on this NW today — even great stacks can't really justify the ON ONE / ENT / REO / TAY and especially BSS (which I misguidedly tried to save with a risqué clue) pileup in the crosses. Squeaky-clean fill is more of a goal of mine today than it was when I made this. Still, the flipside is that it allows for what I think is a pretty cool stack.

I expect OCR to be divisive, but I'm a fan. It's fresh, (somewhat) modern, and quite common in a variety of circles. Seems like a fair Saturday entry.

Thanks as always to Will and his crew for the punch-up in the clues. I can take no credit for the brilliant clue for 1-Across.

Hope you enjoy!

Sun 3/15/2015MAKING CONNECTIONS
PROSPECTFRISCOIGAVE
HISHONORAUSTENORBIT
INLETLIEINSUREENOUGH
SKORTNEARSTRYIT
REEFQUACKSEATSAT
INFIDELCASTROGENOESE
MOONIOBEINBOXSEATS
AFLATPGASPARTASWAT
RUINEDSTSUSMCAGE
INCANOPENERSNOOARED
INJURYTAMPERING
VERSELITINFIELDGOAL
AVERASEANOLORDLY
NEAPCAPERSYOUSODAS
INDUCTTAPEMAYNTEMO
SLUSHIEINTAKECONTROL
HYPHENSCARJOAVEO
BSIDEIEVERCROWE
INFANCYPANTSLINKEDIN
FARCEEARNITSNEERING
SMOKYSLEEPYEGGDONOR

This crossword was designed to annoy Jeff Chen. He often talks about how it's a good idea to space out your theme answers for maximum flexibility. So what did I end up with? Every theme answer is adjacent to, or overlapping, another one.

My previous Sunday puzzle also had an overlapping stack at the center, so I wanted to see if that could work again. After I had the first two, last two, and middle three theme answers in place, I tried many, many different layouts to find the best spots for the last two pairs of themers. This one was the winner once I lucked into the southwest corner with fresh entries SLUSHIE, HYPHEN, PUSHBACK, and CHESNEY. (And ACTINIC, but I'm less proud of that one.)

The northeast corner was by far the hardest to fill, but because I was so enamored with that southwest, and I had tried so many grid configurations already, I didn't want to move or add blocks. (If you regularly read XWordInfo commentary, you know that moving blocks around is the right thing to do.) Anyway, I was locked into BRUNEI, GOTSORE, and EYEEXAM up there. The seven-letter slot at 43-Across was the biggest problem, because the ideal fill would be a phrase starting with GET (GET TO IT! GET ON IT! GET IT ON! GET IT UP! GET LAID! GET BENT! OK, now we're getting out of NYT territory). But I wouldn't let myself cross GOT with GET, so the current boring northeast is the best I could do.

I had a similar issue with 71-Down, where OPENLY would quite improve that little section (eliminating the need for TENNER/RASE, for instance) but dupes with INCAN OPENER. I don't think that kind of duplication is necessarily a dealbreaker for Will Shortz, who tends to be lenient about such things, but it's inelegant and I'd rather avoid it.

Overall I thought the freshness of some of the long fill, and the amount/amusement of the themers, would outweigh all the glue in the grid. As a solver, I like to see more new/unusual fill even at the cost of more junk. As a constructor... I'm a really good solver.

Mon 3/16/2015
BABSAPESTREAT
UCLARELYBURRO
SQUIRTGUNSLUMS
SUEDEDOAEDYS
TILFRIEDSHRIMP
ORASONSHETAO
PEWSONSTALENT
GETSHORTY
ALTTABHOEEGGS
TIEVETZENYON
PEEWEEREESEMRI
ESTARIMIONIC
ALIVESMALLTALK
COMETHYPEISLE
EWERSASPSSTAR

I filled the grid around the "Q" and 22- / 26-Down (running through three theme answers). Usually 3x7 corners don't really do it for me, but I'm happy how this one turned out.

Oh, and I grew up watching 39-Across. But that was before Travolta turned into whatever creepy hug monster he is today.

Tue 3/17/2015
JARSTAMIMBACK
ODIEIMOLALALA
LATERMANALISON
TMZAIRERANIS
UNDETERMINED
BSATAUALE
MASTERMINDPOP
HEIRLAIRDSPOT
ATLBUTTERMILK
MRIADEONE
MONSTERMOVIE
AGOGSILASBEE
BROLINMIDTERMS
OEUVREEVEWIMP
LATELYDERWEAN

This was my second submission to Will and my first acceptance, so it will always hold a special place in my heart.

The puzzle began as part of an actual midterm I made for a DeCal (a program at UC Berkeley that allows undergraduate/graduate students to lead a self-designed course) on how to solve and construct crosswords. After the inimitable David Steinberg encouraged me to send Will some of my work, I thought of using this puzzle.

Well aware of the theme's relative simplicity, I checked XWord Info to see if the same theme had been done previously in the NYT. Indeed, it had! But, wait ... I had added an extra theme wrinkle that Mr. Bessette had not implemented: having the TERMs in the exact center of each entry and not just somewhere in the middle. Awesome! That seemed to me enough of a variation to reprise the theme some five or so years later.

After I had spent more time perfecting the fill (due to the theme density, many of the downs cross two or more themers and were therefore heavily constrained), I sent this off to Will and received an acceptance email in early November of 2013. Sometime in 2014, after learning of Will's new assistant, I happened upon a lovely article detailing Ms. Shechtman's "puzzling origins" and experiences working with Will. In the third paragraph were two of the same theme entries in my puzzle — plus one I had overlooked — and the same added theme wrinkle! At least I now felt qualified enough to utter the tired cliché, "Great minds think alike."

Albert Gleizes

Still, the coincidence got me thinking: Is an idea or product still original if it was fully developed without prior knowledge of a similar, preexisting idea/product? Or, because of this time factor, would the idea be labeled a variation, a reinterpretation, or, worse, a rip-off? Then, to what extent is originality and craft affected by this race to beat others to the punch? Would Albert Gleizes have been a cubist had he known Pablo Picasso would eventually become the major pioneer of the art movement?

Anyhow, this is my long-winded way of saying that IMO an original execution is just as important as an original theme. Though we might try, we can't all start art movements. Even Ralph Waldo Emerson admitted, "All my best thoughts were stolen by the ancients." Sometimes, originality is simply a fresh look at an old idea.

Wed 3/18/2015
FEDORASUSCOPS
EPISODESPILLIT
DIVISORMONOSKI
CARIBBEANQUEEN
INEAIGINST
AWLSISLETS
CHITIDYBACKUP
DOMESTICWORKERS
CANVASHOBOESS
ARAWAKPLAT
SAWNSOIMHO
PREDATORDRONES
RENEGEDAMSCRAY
ANDREASBEEHIVE
YAYSLYSTROKES

Despite only having three theme answers and a short revealer, constructing this puzzle was actually tough. The difficulty had to do with the lengths of the 14-letter entries and the 7-letter revealer. Unless I wanted six cheater squares, the QUEEN and DRONES entries had to go in the 4th and 12th rows (not rows 3 and 13, like usual). Under most circumstances that arrangement wouldn't be an issue, but here it was a problem, because the 7-letter length of the revealer meant that the top and bottom three rows had to be broken up with 3-block stacks in the middle column. Having those stacks then required threading a 9-letter entry down through three theme answers (no way to break it up), which doesn't always work. Luckily, it did this time. One restraint on theme arrangement was that QUEEN had to be on top.

Another difficulty with this grid was the impossibility of increasing the word count while holding the 3-letter words to a reasonable level. I could have added blocks into the corners to boost the word count to 74 or 76, but doing so would also have boosted the 3-letter count to 18 or 22, and made the solve much choppier. You can see how fortunate I was to be able to fill the open corners while still running four longish down answers through them. It was worth staying at 72, I think — especially since the SE corner filled so smoothly.

My initial submission from about 16 months ago, which Will had me rebuild completely, was a train wreck. In order to avoid open corners with stacked 7-letter entries, as well as to be able to break up the central column, I put the revealer in the middle. What's the problem? The number of 3-letter words. There were 26(!) of them, or one-third of the total. This grid is pretty embarrassing ... so bask in my ignominy.

It's interesting to see how quickly a new, topical entry with scrabbly letters becomes mainstream. When this puzzle was accepted in its current form last January, LOUIS C.K. had never been used in the NYT before. In fact, I remember being worried that he wasn't NYT-worthy. A little over a year later, and he's already making his third appearance, despite having seven letters and a weird pattern ending in -SCK.

And finally, you're missing out if you're not intimately familiar with Billy Ocean's CARIBBEAN QUEEN. She's simply awesome...

Thu 3/19/2015
SELBYINCHJAM
ONEADSELAERA
CROCSMAXEDRAN
HONKPAYTVRUBY
INSTEADTEXAS
ODIEORIGAMI
TIMBURTONISLAM
ANYASOLOSTELE
BOSSAMETACOMET
UNHINGEHIER
ACCRAILLICIT
CARSASSNSCANE
OHOSTUNGSHINS
PENAEROTENET
YMAGREWUSERS

Did you notice that (1) the theme entries are entered vertically and (2) they're arranged in alphabetical order from left to right? This is supposed to mimic the actual arrangement of encyclopedia volumes on a shelf. (The sort of "extra effort" BEQ said he was championing in a response to his Ten bullshit themes post.)

The original idea for this theme came from the old "How to Hug" joke. My first thought was to have entries spanning the whole alphabet in a Sunday sized puzzle and title it FROM A TO Z. But I couldn't think of any good entries with a Z word, so I scaled the theme back.

Why would you go by "King Philip" when METACOMET is so dope?

The main trick constructing this puzzle was coming with theme entries of the form <word> TO <word> where (1) the phrase is well known, (2) the two words are in the correct order (LEFT TO CHANCE wouldn't work because LEFT follows CHANCE in the dictionary) and (3) the two words had to be fairly close together, otherwise it would be a rather thick volume (RIGHT TO WORK doesn't work because R and W are too far apart).

Once I had a set that worked, there was the problem that I needed to use lots of black squares because of the difficult lengths of the theme entries, which is why there are only 74 words in the puzzle. I got lucky to find TIM BURTON and METACOMET to cross three of the theme entries, and two good long vertical entries (JERUSALEM and MY SHARONA) to parallel two of them.

I submitted the puzzle to Will in October of last year, he said yes to it on 20 Feb, and amazingly decided to publish it less than a month later. I'm particularly grateful for this as I'm attending the ACPT for the first time in five years, and this puzzle should still be in peoples' memories. I'm guessing Will wanted to publish this while people still remember what an encyclopedia is.

Fri 3/20/2015
ENDSITARROWS
BOOTLEGRONNIE
BIGYEARSEASTLA
EDTSTAMMERILL
TEARSNAILOPIE
SAGERDRSSITAR
GIANTSLALOM
MICKEYMOUSE
COMEUPPANCE
LONERHANEENSY
IMANSENNADINO
NPRPEWTERSEAU
EUCLIDSRILANKA
ATHENASAUNTER
LEYDENSECEDE

I am a retired nuclear engineer, and I live in Kitchener, Ontario. I started constructing crosswords in the summer of 2012, in order to try out the computer program I wrote for filling a crossword grid. After I debugged the program, instead of moving on to another software project, I stuck with crossword construction. Looking back at my early efforts, I can't believe I actually submitted them.

Since then, there have been many rejections. It's taken a while to learn how to use my tools properly, to improve the wholly inadequate word list I started with, and to get a better feel for the crosswords that appear in top publications like The New York Times. Things started to come together for me in the fall of 2013 and, as I write this, I have sold a handful of puzzles.

This is my debut crossword in The New York Times. I will remember it primarily for that, but also for being the first crossword I sold that didn't require any revisions to the fill. I put this puzzle together in late 2013, after I had taken a break from crossword construction to do some much needed work on my word list. The striking grid layout, with its crossed triple stack 11's, has appeared in The New York Times before.

When I did the construction I had already experienced many rejections, and had not yet sold a single crossword to any publisher. In that circumstance, you have doubts about everything you produce. In particular, I remember wondering about GRANDNEPHEW and OILSEED. They're both not-often-used terms that didn't offer many possibilities for clues. I didn't get my hopes up when I submitted the crossword. I was elated when it was accepted.

I would like to thank Will Shortz for his improvements to the clues. My favorite is 31A: [Event often with gate crashers?] GIANTSLALOM.

Sat 3/21/2015
JUMPINJACKFLASH
AHOOSIERHOLIDAY
NOCAUSEFORALARM
EHSZAPSACTSIN
FUNINK
ITEAUSMMAGE
ORANGEPOPSICLES
TURNEDTHETABLES
ATTENTIONPLEASE
SHODLTDAYES
MOTDSL
YESBUTEDUCSLO
ONEAFTERANOTHER
GETSTOFIRSTBASE
ISTHISSEATTAKEN
POW Sun 3/22/2015UPSIDES
WBALEFLAPHAMTVDAD
AINEDROSAACEBRAISE
RONGDRINKSSHAREONESB
TLEOIIGATAENEIDDAU
SAXEDGINESSTINYOUT
BEADEDCLIMBINGOWL
SSTAREMOOTTMNT
TANYAPOKYNCAA
TOSELFPHONECOLDMEAL
EVENALITTLEBOREAVAI
TAXSTRUMSMAMMALANV
ORTHEARLTASMANIANDE
NYSENATESICKOLESSER
LAMEBCCSNSYNC
ODESMORKASHACT
URNTHEWALLSOOMPAH
FTEAOAFPEACHPIERED
ALSPOLISHPRULEGALI
CISIONTREEDIGESTIVEA
ENUDESSRAOBEYUNAFR
DEPOTTAPGEREPANTY

My first "Upsides" submission was a 15x15 grid. Will Shortz said he really liked it, but he pointed out a glaring flaw. The Across answers along the left side were actually scaling *down* the wall, before continuing to the right. Like with STUNG hiding STUNGUN, here:

S
T
U
N
G U N

I'd convinced myself early on in construction that my left-side Across answers were climbing, in that they were *overflowing upwardly* against the wall. I immediately saw the goof when Will said he didn't understand the left side. So, back to the grid, I made sure the direction you'd read the climbers was going up:

W B A L E
A
R
T
S

But fixing the left side was insurmountable in a 15x15 grid, so I upgraded to Sunday-size. Which meant the chance to expand some climbers into longer, juicier answers. As well as smooth over some of the subpar fill from the smaller grid.

The southeast DIARY formation was the first set of climbers to go in, interlocking relatively fast. By far, the WARTS group in the opposite corner was the most difficult to nail down. I guess it's easier to start with the back parts of answers? The most enjoyable construction challenge was getting the TETON climbers to avoid repeated words. NO TAX, NOT EVEN A LITTLE, NOTE TO SELF were carefully chosen as to not share the same beginning word.

Really pleased how this turned out. Hope the solve was fun and a nice mystery!

Mon 3/23/2015
JAMALMADLYBLT
OBESEIBEAMIOU
KLEPTOMANIACUB
EEKHAITIOKIE
MARCHMADNESS
FLAILSREAR
OURSMECCAOFT
CATSCRATCHFEVER
HUHHEXESDEMO
IVANGOGRAY
FASHIONCRAZE
OUTSUSOFAACT
ADOMEDIAFRENZY
MIRGRINDKAYAK
STYTREYSSTARE

"Much Ado About Something" was a working title I used for this puzzle. It had its germination last spring as I was watching the NCAA basketball tournament, a.k.a. MARCHMADNESS. As a sports fan, I decided to use the term in a puzzle and work "bracketology" into the clue. With that foundation, I thought about the crazy state of the human condition and the behaviors that demonstrate our passions and madness (said the cruciverbalist, knee deep in crossword puzzles). I considered lots of other possibilities during the theme development phase (Beatlemania had been used recently, e. g.), but eventually MEDIAFRENZY and KLEPTOMANIA paired up nicely as 11-letter entries, and FASHIONCRAZE matched up with MARCHMADNESS as 12-letter ones.

Those four terms were probably enough for a decent early-week puzzle, but I wanted a fifth to give it more clout. It was serendipitous when CATSCRATCHFEVER aired on a local radio station. Ted Nugent's rock euphemism provided an interesting 15-letter expression to sandwich in the middle of my puzzle. Longer, unique entries like BICKEROVER and ARTHISTORY added some depth beyond the theme as I began to fill the grid. I must be mad about geography, too, because my fill ended up containing a veritable world tour from RENO and the OZARKS in the USOFA to HAITI, TROY, and MECCA.

A year after its inception, I am pleased to have the puzzle published during the 2015 basketball tournament and in the week leading up to the other form of March Madness — the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Stamford, Connecticut.

Tue 3/24/2015
PEARLTHAWLARA
INTHEEASEEVER
SCHOOLCLUBGAZE
TOLDAHAFARO
IDEALSLIFELINE
LETOTSSLUICED
DESKHERAZEDS
TIMETABLE
MODEPACEADDL
PARAPETLTDIAL
SKYLIGHTREBATE
TWASWOEALIS
CRAWSTICKSHIFT
DELAEACHSANAA
RELYAXESNIGHT

Initially, I was playing with the concept of "Opening Night," in which NIGHT would be the 'opening' for various other words. I had accumulated quite a list of words that could follow NIGHT, and then had that lightbulb moment when I realized that I could combine quite a few of them into their own entries. Cue my happy dance.

I remember the first time I had seen a puzzle with the double preceder theme, thinking that was brilliant and how could a constructor ever find a word that could precede both halves of the entries?! This one just fell into my lap when I wasn't expecting it. Looking back on it now there are definitely fill words that I am cringing over, but I still like the theme very much.

POW Wed 3/25/2015
ATOASTDELAWARE
NUDGEDENAMORED
OPERASESTEEMED
IDESRUINOVA
ECOEENPRES
AHAENDBAY
SUVNEILEENSY
ALATONGANSHOE
UNPENASIMORB
TEDTAIWEB
SAGAPCTCRS
TVACLAWCAST
AIRPLANETHRESH
RADIATORREDNO2
KNEEDEEPIDIDSO

I can't recall what compelled me to build a crossword around Duchamp's Nude… maybe seeing the painting in a Dada exhibition at the Whitney when I was 12 years old, or listening to Tom Stoppard's radio play Artist Descending a Staircase. In any event, the idea for the "staircase" layout came to me easily enough, though I had a rough time trying to fit NUDEDESCENDINGASTAIRCASE into the grid until I remembered that wasn't the painting's full title. (If you're feeling charitable, consider the "2" my homage to the mustache Duchamp painted on the Mona Lisa.)

The northwest and southeast corners were trickiest to fill, as evidenced by the antique crosswordese at 2-Down. I can only say in that answer's defense that Roald Dahl mentions the TUPI language in Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator (alongside, naturally, Tungus and Tulu). On the other hand, it was a kick to discover after the fact that I'd started with ATOAST and finished with a cheeky IDIDSO.

Thu 3/26/2015
ALPHASABUDHABI
PARENTNINEIRON
AYEAYETOILETTE
SLYTHERINSDIOR
SASOPEDOHEXT
NOSERINGS
LEOIKETHOU
INTENSERIVALS
PLEXLESPDA
SPINSERVE
GOTONOFAASEC
IMACRINSECYCLE
MALENUDELAMOUR
PHONESEXINCODE
SANTAHATSTATES

I'd normally be grumbling about the god of symmetry forcing me to use the insipid central theme entry (plus all those not-technically-cheaters but rather-cheaterish black squares). I'd have preferred the zippier SUSPENSE-RIDDEN or at least the more common TAKEN SERIOUSLY. But then the theme isn't that awesome without the placement. The shading may make the puzzle less Thursdayish, but given all the extra black and the plethora of 3-letter entries it necessitated, I wouldn't want anyone to miss the design.

Even then, you work so hard to get the best makeup and costume and lighting for your star and some supporting starlet, meaning the southwest corner, jumps out and steals the show. I'm guessing it's the only part that will get much attention. I can live with that.

Fri 3/27/2015
BIGMACREPEALS
ENRICOOPENSUP
ALAMORTLEADSTO
TABERNACLECHOIR
STSNEBOHORSE
MIALINPUTTS
ENTITESISS
UTAHSTATE
ISAATMSSHH
TASESOASHOI
IPODSGRIMASP
LATTERDAYSAINTS
STOOLIESTINKAT
IONBEAMENCAGE
TWEEDLEDEARER

This puzzle is a nod to cruciverbalists who have been thwarted by the ugly five-block monstrosity known as the "Utah." Who hasn't scrapped a puzzle or had one rejected because it contained too many of these? So I decided to face the problem head on. Enjoy! And go Aggies!

Sat 3/28/2015
BIKINIWAXOHJOY
ECONOMIZEDUANE
DEATHSTARERICA
LALOESLROLLER
AGASTEEPENBOZ
MESSYNAILSAVE
PRODCARTIER
SCARUMTEATRO
NOTEPADBEAR
ALOENAPACRISP
POMLITCRITMIR
CRIPESGEMFORE
HAZEDLAXATIVES
ADEPTOMAGAZINE
TORSOLEMONZEST
Sun 3/29/2015CALIFORNIA, HERE I COME
TABORSBLADESPLICATE
ACADIAEOLITHRUNRIOT
STREAMINGINCAEMBASSY
TIROENZIDESISLIP
EVENPARCASTELSEWHERE
BATESEWARLURID
UTTERADAGESRELIEFS
DEEPSPACECANINEMEDAL
SOIREESTRASATIRE
NOTONCEDOESITTOE
YOUMAKEMEWANNACASHOUT
ALFALETAPITWORKS
LATESTDNYCORNIER
ALEUTREALLYBIGCASHEW
SADCASESAUCEDREINE
HEIDIILLAGERTE
BACALLHANDLERBERSERK
AVERLENIHILTALAD
LETITIATHELIFEOFPICA
TRUSSEDTALONSFLINTY
OYSTERSIDOTOOFUDGES
Mon 3/30/2015
JOYWHOBBC
LUREIREDAYLA
BIRDSOFAFEATHER
BEYASPGOOSE
QUOPROPREPOSE
FOEICEKEN
EYREGNUSRODS
FLOCKTOGETHER
OSURAPABBES
XERPITAPLAYAT
PIEPALCSI
CECEHELIBRER
CLEARFORTAKEOFF
AIRMAILONEHOUR
ROSETTASTARKLY

This was one of my early puzzles from 2012 and I was NOT very optimistic about it. I didn't like the asymmetry, I didn't like the fill, I didn't like the 30 (!) three letter words, and I was afraid the birds looked more like stealth bombers. I did not think a puzzle about stealth bombers would fly.

The stealth birder. Er, bomber.

Will must have been up in the air about this one because it sat on his desk for six months — he eventually wrote me saying that he really liked the bird art, but could I clean up one corner of the fill? By that time my fill skill had improved some, and I took the opportunity to make wholesale changes, all of which were approved. Six months later I suggested more changes, some of which were approved. I still don't like AYLA, BEHR, and ABBES, particularly for a Monday, but at least Will and Joel came up with a current Beyonce clue for BEY. Long after the redos I realized this puzzle grid has diagonal symmetry like the kite puzzle I did, but the theme entries are vertically (not diagonally) symmetric.

I wanted to point out the birds pretty directly in the clues, ala the fish puzzle I did, but Will just hinted at them ("Flier in a V formation" as the clue for GOOSE). There certainly is something appealing about a little "grid art" oyster lurking in the background for the observant solver, but it surely will fly over the heads of some Monday solvers. At one point I was considering ALFRED HITCHCOCK at 49-Across — I think he might have liked this puzzle!

Tue 3/31/2015
PLAYASTIRLITUP
REMOPAINEIRONS
ONIONRINGSTERRA
MANHOODEIRETEL
OWNLASERBEAM
ALLOWMIRTHELLS
TEAHAULEARL
VERBALGYMNASTICS
YETIEATSNIH
CONTSEAMYURIAH
HIGHHORSESAE
ALIONESAUGUSTA
SETINCOFFEEBARS
TRIPETREADERIE
ESSAYSTYNENAPA

Will seems to like a good sports theme — he's run baseball and football crosswords that I have sent him. I don't think anyone has tackled gymnastics. I hope solvers enjoy it.

Now let me get back to that lacrosse puzzle I've been working on ...