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Puzzles for March, 2016
with constructor comments

View these same grids with comments from:
Constructor (27)Jeff Chen (31)Jim Horne (7)Hide comments
Tue 3/1/2016
ESSOHAWKASPS
TIEROLEOGREEK
HEXASEEPAMATI
EVENSTEVENSLPS
LEDGEICUZEE
EVELKNIEVEL
UNPCEOSALEVE
KEROGENHANDLES
EVERYGOVASST
SEVENELEVEN
REDEATYIPES
RMNALLABOUTEVE
HITONAWOLSTEN
ENEROLARDMENS
ADDSAYESERTE

This puzzle, which I like to call "Eve All About", was submitted 2 years ago in March 2014, aiming for a Monday audience (I missed). I guess KEROGEN and KOPECK ruined it for a Monday…

The revealer / idea really just came out of the blue. With that in hand, the remaining theme entries followed quickly, though the symmetrical EVEs around the grid took some work to get a clean fill. After finishing the fill however, an "Uh-oh" moment struck me during cluing, when I realized that Americans rarely used EVEN STEVENS to mean "balanced", but instead used EVEN STEVEN. The former is much more common in the UK where I'm from, so it didn't even occur to me till then that I had a problem. Luckily, after a frantic Google search, I was rescued by the Disney TV series of the same name, and in the process learned quite a bit about its etymology.

As for EVEL KNIEVEL, I remember seeing him in his snazzy outfits on TV when I was a kid, and thinking, "Hey, that doesn't look too difficult, I can jump 20 double-decker buses easy, what's the big deal?!" That's the amazing thing about a child's mind — nothing's ever impossible, and, anything goes. Luckily for me, I only had a push-bike to experiment with…

About half of the clues survived the editing process, and that's a good ratio for me. Pro-skater Tony HAWK didn't make the cut (rightly so, since it would have made that area too difficult), but "Tri and tri again?" for HEXA did. Personal favorite entries: PETPEEVES / SEALEVELS. Note: even though in real life the first bothers us a heck of a lot more than the second, we should really pay a lot more attention to the second!

Wed 3/2/2016
AHEMABETGAPED
MADELEARALIVE
ABITTARALUCAS
ZITICOUNCILMAN
ETHERECO
ROLLSENDURE
MOCCOACHABEL
ORZOITWOULDSEEM
SEALSUGARRKO
TOREROREPOS
AWLOHARE
PENNEANTEPOKER
MERITDEALRIGA
ALIKEEMMAETAS
STEEDNOELSANE
POW Thu 3/3/2016
AMMOSTESTAB
LAUDETHNOEWER
MUSEUMOFHISTORY
ALICUREALLTON
CALERRAGO
AQABASIMBENIN
NULLLIMOSNERO
VINEEGANSECON
ITOFANGIRLABE
LITRESECARROW
STEELTESTS
SLAGACED
NICOISEWAFTING
IMEANITEREADER
LOOKINGDEEGATE

A couple of months back, Evan Birnholz espoused his theory that music and crossing words have much to do with one another. I've always thought that a good crossword works like a piece of Bachian counterpoint, in which both the vertical (harmony) and the horizontal (melody) are required to maintain absolute integrity.

As music theorists will tell you, in non-equal temperament, F-natural isn't necessarily the same pitch as an E-Sharp, and C-sharps could be different than D-flats, depending on how you "arrive" at it and depending on where it is "going." Equal temperament allowed for these equivalences, at least on the written score. You'll see then, pieces of music — particularly ones employing a lot of chromatic harmony — mimicking what happens in this puzzle, where it's, say, an E-flat melodically, but a D-sharp vertically. A type of musical pun.

I completed this grid relatively quickly, though admittedly, getting to the end was a series of fortunate events. Some of my favorite entries--FANGIRL and FELLINI, came after I chose to redo the whole grid post-acceptance. Interesting note: DEFLATEGATE was originally clued as a 2014 scandal, but indeed, it happened in 2015...at the 2014 AFC Championship.

Fri 3/4/2016
BEDABDULJABBAR
RPICARTOONLIKE
OHSCHEERLEADER
WEPTRISESBELA
MARTANOGNAN
PERIWIGSNAB
DRACONIANSEPTA
FATESFHAKAROL
SLEPTTITLEROLE
SETBLOTCHES
ZACPADUSAIR
EDOMIRANITBAR
RADIOLOGISTIBO
ONETWOPUNCHTLC
GARTERSNAKESEA

So this is my second crossword published in the Times, and if you compare this puzzle with my previous one, you'll notice a host of similarities. Both are themeless, both feature stacks of 11-letter entries across the top and bottom three rows, and both are built around the seed entry of a famous NBA player. Last time, back in 2014, it was KEVIN DURANT; this time, I give you Kareem ABDUL-JABBAR. I swear, I have other ambitions in life beyond cramming as many basketball players as possible into Times puzzles. Eventually I'll have no names left to play with besides FESTUS EZELI or someone equally obscure. I should quit now while I'm ahead.

Anyway. This puzzle was a joy to construct — I remember it began with the realization that the fun CARTOONLIKE fit perfectly beneath ABDUL-JABBAR, and it all flowed from there. I liked getting to sneak in PERIWIGS (which I've always thought is a cool word, no?) and ONE-TWO PUNCH.

Including the name LOUIS C.K. in a puzzle was always something of a bucket-list goal, as the comedian has always been a favorite of mine. Funny, though — I thought I was so original for including Louie at the time I wrote this puzzle, as he'd never been featured before. Then his name showed up three times shortly thereafter — once each in November 2014, January 2015 and March 2015. Great minds think alike, or something? At least I had the neat twist of crossing the comic's name with TITLE ROLE, since he has one on his FX show. It's the little victories.

As for the clues, I'm happy with a few that I wrote (especially the "pyramid scheme" wordplay for CHEERLEADER), but I'm equally grateful for Will sprucing up some of my duller clues with some flavorful ideas of his own. "One who can see right through you?" for RADIOLOGIST is great. Wish I'd thought of that. Also the BAHRAIN clue in the print edition includes a picture of Bahrain's flag, which is crazy. I didn't even know that was a thing.

Sat 3/5/2016
TAUTNOSIREEBOB
ARNECRIMESCENE
LASHILLBETHERE
CLORISERLERAT
USUALONUSCMDR
MENNONITELOUIE
SADVASTTINGOD
PETERFALK
TAMALEEARLJEB
ANITABAREITALL
BODSCOTEAISLE
ITTGLAMANEMIA
THEHEIRESSRISK
HEREANDNOWENOL
ARMWRESTLEDENY

The crossword we see before us is actually the third version that was submitted using this grid skeleton. I recall several aborted attempts at this grid before I completed a fill that I felt comfortable in submitting, in the summer of 2013. It was rejected, and from that effort only HERE AND NOW made its way into the final version, although not in the same word slot. The second version was submitted in late 2013, just when I was starting to get the hang of crossword construction. It too was rejected, but the top and bottom stacks and the vertical SILENT TREATMENT got a thumbs-up. The final version, incorporating these elements, was completed in June of 2014, and was accepted for publication in September of that year.

It's interesting to revisit an early construction that one hasn't seen in a while. Thankfully, there aren't any entries here that make me cringe, but my style definitely has changed since this puzzle was produced. More than I realized, this puzzle is tailored to the over-fifty crowd. I hope younger solvers aren't put off by that.

My favorite clues are 26A: MENNONITE: [One speaking the language Plautdietsch] and 56A: ARM WRESTLE: [Try to win hands down?]. I can't claim credit for either.

Sun 3/6/2016IN CHARACTER
FLOIMAGEFOTOAGAIN
BARFODORTRAINBRUTE
OURCOMRADEOFMERCUTIO
MRIRIOINNOREEONS
BANQUETGHOSTTOTALS
HUSSUESHORNTOW
MAIDSELDERLYMONARCH
FATCATSMALAYIDAHO
ARCHEARDOIAIRODES
SCHEMERAGAINSTCAESAR
ALONEAHEMS
LOVEINTERESTOFOLIVIA
BENEEGOEVESONMOON
LALAWALAMOGEARING
EVILANTAGONISTSPICE
DENCOIFSSIBACE
EMOTERMACABRETHANE
MICEIDAABEEERCEL
UNHAPPYMALCONTENTTRU
SCALEEELEDRADIIODD
SATYRSSTSANSELRYE

I had just seen "Something Rotten!", a very funny Broadway musical, and I was looking to do something to commemorate the upcoming 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death.

The theme came to me when I realized that FRIEND OF MERCUTIO (where FRIEND later became COMRADE) included the name ROMEO. Coming up with other answers and getting this puzzle accepted was a struggle. My original submission had a few themed answers Will and Joel felt were either contrived (OPHELIA'S COMPLEX SUITOR, anyone?) or hid characters with only four letters in 21-letter answers (e.g., VILLAIN UNDOING OTHELLO). They liked the concept, though, so I focused on shortening the answers and adding some 5, 6 and 7-letter characters. I stuck to Shakespeare's more popular plays and Will/Joel offered a lot of feedback along the way. Finally, deleting SHAKESPEARE as an answer, which I did at the very end, makes for more of an "aha" moment.

Mon 3/7/2016
OUTERFAQABUSE
WHAMOASUFUGUE
LUMPSTHERACHEL
SHARIFLARK
GENIALLYETCH
UFOSVIESAYHEY
SETSERASEEME
ANC90SFADSMEN
UNHIPLIENANA
SEISMSEWEACTS
ALSOMETADATA
LOUDSMURFS
DRMARTENSBREAK
ACUTENITLANCE
PAGESSLYELATE

In June, 2006 a puzzle of mine ran in the New York Times with the central revealer 80SFADS. Since that was about 10 years ago, I figured — why not a sequel '90s puzzle?

I tried to cut a wide swath culturally and categorically with the types of fads I chose, but with only two pairs of symmetrical entries, I was obviously quite limited. Noticeably absent is a hip-hop fad. I tried to get one in, but the fads that were distinctly '90s didn't fit (e.g., overalls with one strap undone), and the ones that did fit weren't distinctly '90s (e.g., high top fades).

A few technical things: I think the clue for 14-Across contains an inaccuracy. The Wham-O product appears to be stylized Slip'N Slide, without a space between the apostrophe and the N (this is how it was written in my submission). Also, my original clue for FIVE0 explicitly referenced the remade version of the show, as the original is "Hawaii Five-O" with the letter O at the end, not the number 0. The clue isn't wrong as stated — there is a TV show called "Hawaii Five-0" — but I wanted to remove the ambiguity. Oh well, no biggie.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the trip down memory lane. The good thing about making a puzzle like this is that even if it's not very good, a certain segment of the population will like it anyway because it reminds them of the good old days (it's the same phenomenon that makes Jimmy Fallon popular). And so, I will leave you with some '90s fads that didn't make the cut: flannels, Zubaz pants, starter jackets, Reebok Pump, Hypercolor, Umbro shorts, Beanie Babies, Tickle Me Elmo, Pogs, frosted tips, Baja hoodies, No Fear tees, snap bracelets, wallet chains, chokers, hacky sack, pagers, and the Spice Girls.

Does anybody else have the urge to play some Sega Genesis?

Tue 3/8/2016
INATRAPSTRANDS
MESHUGATRAVAIL
FUSEBOXJUNIPER
IRENESOCAL
NATSETTHETABLE
ELSALOANYEN
SEOULSUITED
OTTOPREMINGER
SHRINEMAMIE
WHOIAMBRUNG
MINUTESTEAKPAR
SHALEAORTA
ASSUAGEFURCOAT
HAIRNETARMHOLE
HOPPERSBLASTER

I constructed this puzzle just over a year ago. At the time, I was making almost all themelesses, so I decided to construct a themed puzzle for the sake of variety. I'm not sure where the inspiration for this puzzle came from, but I was fortunate to find just enough types of fur to scrape together a theme set. Interestingly, both OTTO PREMINGER and OTTO KLEMPERER would've worked for the center theme entry—I chose OTTO PREMINGER because I felt he would be more familiar to early-week solvers.

I settled on this grid pattern because I wanted to give solvers something a little different from the "several theme entries with a pair of long downs" structure used in most themed 15x15 crosswords these days. I personally use the traditional layout the majority of the time, but when I end up with a theme set that I could go a different direction with, I like to switch things up.

The 74-word grid with all the 7's was definitely a challenge, but I was pleased to work in MESHUGA, JUNIPER, and BLASTER. Keeping the less savory bits to a minimum was significantly harder, but I'm pleased with how the fill turned out overall (with the exception of NATALE, which the Tuesday solver in me is grumbling about!). I hope you enjoy my puzzle.

One of the RAs in my dorm just started solving the New York Times crossword—as of right now, he only attempts Mondays, so I'm hoping this puzzle will convince him to graduate to Tuesday!

POW Wed 3/9/2016
SLEDOWESPUN
AESOPRAYBOISE
NATUREPRESERVES
THERICHTIREOUT
AYESHAPELYTPS
MOONJELLY
ALVINESTLOUPE
BOOKENDHAIRPIN
BOLEROPUEBLO
EPTSLOWJAMRAT
SHELATEITCASE
SOFEWTIMBRITS
LADYMARMALADE
ECOLAWIRATER
SENECAEMBEDS

The PRESERVES, JELLY, and MARMALADE themers are pretty much inflexible. So it was annoying that JAM, the one theme entry that had a few options, always seemed to land on an even letter count (TRAFFIC JAM, PEARL JAM, etc). Thus I had to go with a shorter theme entry (SLOW JAM) which introduces some confusion with 22-Across. But hey, the resulting pattern allowed me to focus on long fill. It was only after I finished that I realized it's a 69-worder.

Any resemblance to a space invader or Disney's Reluctant Dragon is purely coincidental.

I clued 41-Across (EPT) as "family planning brand" but I guess that didn't fly.

Thu 3/10/2016
ATADCAMUSBARI
THEEOZONEODED
LEONLUCIABUNS
FLIWERTIOLEA
CLIMBSTECHSAWY
YEAALAIEMOTES
DANSALECALERO
HIWACCINE
ASLANSLEDDECK
PEORIAIDOSPOI
REWINGUPLASHAT
ITTKANCIWIES
OHIOSTARZEDTV
REDDSIREEGREW
IDEEILIEDEARS
Fri 3/11/2016
RASHADLACERATE
EZPASSTOLLLANES
HEAVYCASUALTIES
ARMEEBSIDES
BASABOPGA
TAKEFORAFOOL
FEMININEWILES
BARITONESAXES
MOUNTAINBIKER
THREESTOOGES
ARECTNTAG
OMELETOSAGE
AMERICANLARCHES
MADECONCESSIONS
PAULKLEELOSETO

The seeds for this puzzle were planted some nine months ago, based on the following rationale. It's well known that 15-letter answer words (or phrases) are very common in daily-sized 15x15 crosswords. In themed puzzles, they are easier for constructors to work with than slightly shorter words of length 13 or 14. Alternatively, stacked arrangements of grid-spanning 15's can have an impressive appearance in unthemed crosswords. Unfortunately, quite a few of the 15s found in such puzzles suffer from from overuse.

It occurred to me that a richer and more varied assortment of entries could become available by drawing on somewhat shorter words of length 12 and 13, and set out to find five longish answer words that could be stacked "stair-style" through the center of a themeless grid. It took a steady 4 or 5 months of experimentation to come up with a grid that I liked enough to show Will. His response to the overall idea was enthusiastic, but he pointed out several specific long words that he felt were too rare to be usable.

Thus, an additional 4 months were required to develop the final grid that you see today. I would like to thank Martin Herbach and George Barany for helpful feedback and encouragement throughout the process. Surprisingly, Will scheduled the publication for a mere month after its acceptance. Happy solving!

Sat 3/12/2016
BROADENSGROSS
BOXSOCIALMELEE
QUESTLOVECODEX
PRYHABITINKS
IKEATENDSLOSH
TESTSGOUTROO
THATSWHATSUP
FAIRLYNOTYET
PENCILPUSHER
ARTNYESDODOS
RAISECOSTLESH
ALDAASHERNPR
SCOLDSHAREWARE
KATEYTOPSEEDED
ITEMSWEEKDAYS
Sun 3/13/2016DON'T SUE US!
DSTDEPTSOREOASKSTO
RNAAPARTPETASCOURS
POPSICLERSTICKNARNIA
HOPESOSIETHEREDS
ITEMTUPPERWARERPARTY
LYRICTAEOHYESIAM
OPUSMINEPESETA
VELCRORSTRAPDECODE
ASOFTENRUNCHEROOT
STOLEHEHEYOLOTOE
EEKXEROXRMACHINEMAN
EWSLONEPOLOCEASE
HIJINKSEKESTARTER
TABOOSFRISBEERGOLF
GOTSETTOROIDED
UBIBORERATASPASM
TEFLONRPRESIDENTALTO
FOOTERSMRIESPIED
GAUCHEPINGPONGRTABLE
OINKEDIDEAITISIILL
ORDERSNOOBTONERSAT

Initially, I thought about making this a two-way rebus that was the letters OR in one direction and the registered trademark symbol in the other, with the idea being that solvers would have to figure out to write the R inside the O. It seemed like a bit of a stretch to have solvers figure out the writing-one-letter-inside-the-other part, though, so I changed it to the current version.

POW Mon 3/14/2016
SCATCATTYTBAR
UHUHALOHAHOPI
FETAPLAYWRIGHT
IRONWOODANGIE
KANTSENEDS
SISSYBUTTED
EDUSHAREHOLDER
REBAELUDEMORE
BATTLEFIELDWIN
LEADINOWNED
ALESSEBOZO
LATKEFIREBIRD
GRINDSTONEBLUE
AVEOLARGOLIMB
EASTYIKESYAPS

There are so many ways to play around with people's names. That's obviously not original as far as crossword themes go, but as long as it's fun it passes muster for me. I think what inspired this one was "playwright." A word or phrase you've seen a zillion times suddenly takes on new meaning--and voilà! Here it became a matter of finding compound words where the first part could be a verb and the second part could be a recognizable name.

I sent this to Will in September, so it hasn't been languishing for very long. And I can report that there weren't many clue changes, with none I'd consider significant. The theme clues are all word for word as I submitted them—which is not always the case! I hope you all enjoy it.

Tue 3/15/2016
AMOSLUNGJAWED
LOREETALENAMI
MACADAMIASITIN
STATESOFMATTER
BESWEAR
PASHATUBERTAO
ALTARSTAIMANN
ICESKATINGRINKS
NOAHIOCHECKLE
SAMCLEARBESET
BAREAPO
SOLIDLIQUIDGAS
DIALSEBULLIENT
ONTOPDEESVEND
ZESTYAXLEEKES

Three's the charm, they say. Unfortunately I had to go through that cycle 6 times before getting here. Meaning this is exactly the 18th puzzle I ever constructed, but my first ever for the New York Times. So, good to be here.

As a first timer, perhaps I should say I work for the UN, I've lived overseas for many years in many different places (currently Bangkok), and my background is in engineering, philosophy and international affairs. Somehow those three fit together well enough. These days I mostly focus on environmental issues.

So contemplating groups of threes, I think I was sitting in a meeting one day having trouble concentrating. So my mind drifted toward groups of threes, as it does. There are so many! From the Wise Men to the Blind Mice to the Little Pigs, from Three Dog Night to Three Days Grace, from the Stooges to the Musketeers to the Holy Trinity. And in the inanimate world the list continues: there's earth, wind and fire; the sun, moon and stars; rock, paper, scissors; and of course … liquid, solid, gas.

Now most of these potential themes have been worked over pretty well already. But the cruciverb database told me that STATESOFMATTER was as yet unused. As well, this nice 14-letter word is exactly the same length as LIQUIDSOLIDGAS. So I was off and running. Choosing H2O as the matter in question, I looked for phrases that included ice, water and steam that hadn't been overused already.

ICESKATINGRINKS had never seen used, runs to 15 letters and could go smack dab in the middle of the puzzle. So putting that in place and with the other themers as my guide, it turns out that WATERTANKS and STEAMBOATS are both 10 letters and fit perfectly and symmetrically at 11D and 26D, locking all the theme words together quite nicely I thought. So there you have it.

One last point for the purist in us all: yes, there are more than three states of matter. If this puzzle had a title, it would have been "Forget Plasma." According to Wikipedia, I guess we should ignore "Bose–Einstein condensates, neutron-degenerate matter and quark-gluon plasma" as well.

Wed 3/16/2016
ELMIRAJOKEPHI
FAUCETAXELAON
FRIEDONIONSUNO
SARDINETEFLON
NAVALORR
PICKLEDPEPPERS
PALSROSSIVOL
UGLIERANGELA
NEBVOIDSORLY
STEWEDTOMATOES
UTASHAMU
MRHYDECONSIST
ONEDRUNKENCOOK
PERATRABEATIT
EREYELPALTARS

There's not a whole lot of theme in this puzzle but I wrote it because I liked the payoff at 62-Across. I also tried to use long Down answers that haven't been used too often before.

Thu 3/17/2016
PESTOARIASNOD
ONEUPBANDEEDU
PREVEUNADVISED
SATANISTSEST
UGHTOECANTEEN
PEERATCRUOGRE
NBADRAFTGIT
ARIALREPOASES
CONEVAPERON
EMUSAMTOKSANA
VENTURATANPOG
DAMTURNOFEVE
WHATAPITYTOXIN
HOTMAZESERECT
OWEINEPTSASES

Ever heard Tuvan throat singers? My dad was really into them growing up. Their music is absolutely otherworldly.

As for the theme: it was important to me to have every entry in the puzzle contain a clue, meaning each of the "turned" answers had to merge with other answers in the puzzle, rather than occupy their own unique location (with "-" as a clue for those spaces). My hope was that, in doing this, the solver might be misled enough on an initial pass through the puzzle that the revealer could offer an "aha" moment. I also wanted EVENT to "turn" on one of the three middle letters of EVENT (not the beginning E or the ending T), for consistency.

Finally, because the turned entries aren't symmetrically located, the grid layout was more constrained than it otherwise would be. In spite of this, I'm pretty happy with the longer, nonthematic across and down entries. Hope you enjoyed!

Fri 3/18/2016
MINICARSTRAFE
ONTHEMAPIBANEZ
IDEALIZETANGLE
RUSTRENOIRELK
ESTEECNNELOI
LAVIECREPE
TRAVELCHANNEL
LESTERPEARSON
SILVERBULLETS
PEEPSOSLER
YAPSASHSOSAD
WHOGREENSHOLY
AERIALROEVWADE
RATTLESTEWOVER
EDSELSANSWERS

A few notes:

  • When I construct a themed puzzle, I start with four or five, sometimes six, theme entries and then find a grid into which to fit them. When I construct an unthemed puzzle, I start with a grid and fill that.
  • I like to challenge myself with a difficult-to-fill grid, so I choose a grid with a low word count and as few blocks as I can manage (66 and 34 here). I also use as few three-letter words as I can. (The present puzzle has eight.)
  • I use as many long entries as I can, which lowers both the word and block counts.
  • For the fill, I like to use as many entries as I can that have not appeared in puzzles before — I maintain a list that I constantly update when I hear new, unusual, or otherwise fresh words and phrases. As of the beginning of March I had debuted 25 words in three previous NYT puzzles. My list includes, for example, VIDEO ARCADE GAME and LAND SPEED RECORD, which haven't yet appeared in any major crossword puzzle.
  • None of the four 13-letter words in this puzzle has appeared previously in a Times puzzle, in the Shortz era. A few of the shorter entries are also new. I also remove from my list short, obscure words like AEI, ANSA, ARON, AROO, DESE, GSN, MRC, MWF, RANA, RATEL, and SATO.
  • In my puzzles I keep to a minimum words that end in -S, -TION, -TIONS, verb forms that add -ER but do not otherwise rate a discrete dictionary entry, and other bland constructs.
Sat 3/19/2016
STJUDENUDISTS
CHENINLOVESEAT
HEAVEDONELLAMA
MONETSSCALAWAG
ADASHMIISNARE
LOUTSANTADYAD
TREEHUGGING
ZELDAFITZGERALD
MICHELLEWIE
AMFMSCENESENT
MARONHPSJUDGE
PROPOSALHARDEN
SINESTROENGIRT
UNDREAMTWIENIE
PASSERSSEDGES

This one was in the oven for a long time, as one might imagine. It was about half-filled last year when Will asked me to construct for the ACPT finals. I thought about trying to finish this one for the finals puzzle, but it looked like it would take too much work to finish in time, and was a little too name-heavy at that point. The actual finals puzzle ended up being about as much work, and even more name-heavy. Shows how much I know.

I was very tempted to clue ZELDA FITZGERALD as the inspiration for the Eagles' "Witchy Woman," but opted for the clue as is, to clue her by an accomplishment, and possibly misdirect a few solvers into trying SCOTT instead. He really should have dropped the F. off his name if he wanted more crossword love. Hemingway clearly was way ahead of him in that regard.

Sun 3/20/2016DOUBLE-CROSSED
BUTTFESSHADJCESAR
STOICEQUIOREOAMPLE
CREPEAUNTHIPSLIEUP
HIPPOCRATICOATHCREME
OLAYASTANAHULUCNN
OLDGROINSHESALLTHAT
LOSALAMOSTIMCARB
GUTENMIMOSATAUNT
CNETSOLBARMEMBER
PRIDEPARADEADDEDBWI
HICLUAUSUNIONLIP
IMOFORITUNDERDURESS
SETSADATEPISPUSH
HAIKUSTPATSSMILE
NILEANOMIAMIDADE
PRETTYPENNYOPCITCOL
REPLEANOILPANHOWI
ASAMIGOESUNDERGROUND
GETINOKRABODEAPPLE
UNCLEDIALAVONDOLOR
ETHOSASSTDANANEWS

I came up with this idea around the time of my symmetry puzzle, which had a somewhat similar concept of every letter being used twice except for one.

I knew I wanted the extra letters to spell something, and at first I was aiming for "The Leftovers", the hit HBO show. But I couldn't find a good leftover V example, and I wasn't even sure some solvers would know that show.

For about two months, I tried to come up with these out of my head/through manual searching. I'd take a word that already had most of the letters used twice (COMMON, e.g.) and then search on phrases with that word (COMMON SENSE would've worked, leaving over the C, for example). I had about 15 or 16 of these, but they didn't spell anything apt and I was generating insane-looking pages in my notebook of scribbled out words. I realized I was never going to be able to get a good set on my own.

So I reached out to Jeff, who was able to write a script that generated a list of all the answers in his database that fit this pattern. From there, I was able to fill in the holes of the letters I still needed to spell out the meta answer. Huge shout-out to him for his help in putting this together, and his general role in helping constructors everywhere with their craft.

Mon 3/21/2016
LSDSOFAUNTIDY
OURPOOLNOOGIE
SMASHHITWRONGS
EMILELAFITTE
SENORARUSHHOUR
IREELFRESUSO
TYRABUNTESSAY
TRASHHEAP
ADIEUSLEDAPBS
RUNTSPRETRAT
FISHHOOKNEWERA
PULLTABCANIT
REAMEDHUSHHUSH
UNCASTLEANPTA
EVENSOONTOSAM

Despite my employment as a librarian, this puzzle's theme did not originate from my day-to-day work. As it was not my intention to perpetuate the shushing librarian stereotype, there is no need to revoke my membership, American Library Association.

Instead, inspiration came on a drive home as my then-first grade daughter listed off all the words she knew that ended with the -SH sound. My brain sprang to action, compiling two-word phrases that contained a SHH string. Once I hit upon the revealer, which is itself a theme entry, I knew my backseat passenger had given me a winning Monday theme.

So if you're reading this, my accidental co-constructor, dinner's on me tonight. Your choice. But keep it HUSH HUSH, just between you and me.

Tue 3/22/2016
BOMBATALLATMS
ODIEDETOOCOOK
BOCADEFOGHOJO
ONADIETSISENOR
TRIBECA
KOALAMENPIQUE
AMIESENSEDULL
TARGETDASANI
ORSTOVWAXYAZ
HOMEGAMES
SPCAPSATSAMFM
LEASTPIKFLORA
ALPHABETIZATION
SLEEPERNOWORSE
HARDEESSONNETS

Don: There is no memorable inspiration for this puzzle. It probably grew out of thinking about alphabetic order. Why not just order the consonants? The "how" of it proved to be more challenging than one might first imagine.

It was decided to confine alphabetically-ordered letters in sequences of words that fill entire rows. We did not know how many rows this would take. It turns out that three were enough. Designing a grid was a challenge. We ended up having to use a grid with right-left symmetry.

An experienced solver can tell just looking at the grid that we're up to something difficult, since there are not many long answers and the top corners are very simple in design. The word ALPHABETIZATION worked well as a reveal answer for the theme, a nice 15 to cross the grid.

C.C.: We accidentally put SRS in 44-Across spot (where ORS is) in our submitted grid. Thankfully Will & Joel caught our goof and redid that section of the grid.

Wed 3/23/2016
WASTEMRTMOSS
OCEANSIOUABLE
NEXTDAYAIROLIN
TRUSTNARITA
ABOUTLASTNIGHT
THEONECANEYE
DATAAERIAL
STARTINGALLOVER
TOMTOMVIVA
SHOOPEPIECES
LONGLOSTFATHER
UNLESSHOWSO
ICONTRIPLETIME
CHATOURSLEDGE
EONSREDFLASK

I've always been impressed by Alex. I first encountered his work when I got tired of formatting my NYT crossword submissions by hand. It was such a relief to find his "puz2pdf" app, making my crossword life a lot easier. Another of his programs helps search for themers fitting the "both words can follow X" theme type.

The latter program made me curious — could he somehow write code to find answers where "all THREE words can follow X"? I'm a little tired of the "both words can follow X" trope, but I thought it would be really neat if we could up the ante.

Turns out it was a trivial task for him. We tried a few different key words, and when we hit upon "time," the list was long enough that it felt like we could mine it for good answers. Alex was rightfully skeptical when I mentioned how much I liked LONG LOST FATHER as an entry, but a little soap opera research (it's such a common trope) made us both happy with it. The grid work did take us a LONG (time). Apparently FATHER (time) is taking his toll on me. Now, to make up for LOST (time) ...

A lot of fun to work with Alex on this! Now, who's going to be the first to find an "all FOUR words follow X" theme …

Thu 3/24/2016
HALESTDCCUP
APPLEPIESATIN
LOGICALFALLACY
OPALLIVECHAT
ADONEW
EBECAUSECIRCUL
SEXZIPSOUSA
NATEJECTTBAR
ECRUADLIBAGR
SOAKSOARNEE
ONSEKAMGNINOSA
IGOTEE
CRASSESTASTI
BEGTHEQUESTION
CEELOUNFROZEN
DROPEATSEDS

We first started talking about some kind of CIRCULAR REASONING puzzle at the 2015 Minnesota Crossword Tournament (where we'd met a few years prior, after both constructing puzzles, and hitting it off both interpersonally and cruciverbally). We started thinking about a Sunday-sized puzzle (a large circle of marked squares containing "CIRCULAR REASONING WORKS BECAUSE ..."), but we couldn't come up with enough good additional themers to go with the circled squares, so eventually we swapped to a 15x15 concept using a "circular rectangle" instead.

We went back and forth a bunch of times on the long entry, which had to be changed to have even length so it could fit as a rectangle — CIRCULAR REASONING {WORKS CORRECTLY, IS GOOD, IS USEFUL} BECAUSE ...? — before finally settling on Tom's idea of the MAKES NO SENSE version.

But the 15x15 version that we started with was, it turned out, a real bear to grid/fill to our satisfaction. It took a long while to figure out why, but eventually David realized how ambitious we were being: the two 14s imposed major constraints on the black squares in a 15x15 grid, plus the long 38-letter wrapped entry was causing some really tough letter combinations in both directions when it turned a corner — we had a ton of theme squares, and by necessity there also wasn't good separation between the theme entries. Switching to a 16x14 grid relaxed the black-square constraints from the 14-letter themers, and we were off and running.

Our original submission was a little nastier for the solver: we'd simply clued what's now 28-Around as 28-Across (and completely omitted the numbers in the squares now numbered 24, 32, and 50, which was the only hint that something strange was going on).

We hope that everyone enjoyed solving it!

POW Fri 3/25/2016
PENPALSLOWJAM
AVIATESTONEAGE
CELLOSPAPERCUT
KNEELHATSEKES
ALSACEPOL
HALLTIESINEPT
OBIEARRANTMOA
HANSOLOVITAMIN
USEREFLEXBONG
MERGETONEUNTO
NASHOUSED
ODORRENESHEET
HATERADESTABLE
ODETOJOYPEBBLE
HASHTAGARISEN

I submitted this puzzle with GREXIT [Greece exiting the Euro] in the NW corner. It was an entry I'd been saving for a few years and was disappointed it was eventually nixed. Oh well. The placement was strategic, though, knowing it'd be an easy fix if I had to redo that section. Maybe BREXIT in a few years?

The HATERADE / ODE TO JOY / HASHTAG SW stack is one of my favorites — something new, something old, high brow, low brow, etc. Also, I've been trying to spice up my 6-letter answers. Stuff like PEN PAL, PEBBLE, REFLEX, etc. can keep solvers engaged from start to finish.

Really happy how this one turned out. Hope solvers like it!

Sat 3/26/2016
DRAWSMEANSIT
ROSINMOMJEANS
IDYLLMARMADUKE
FEELTEXMEXCST
TOTALIDIOTSETS
COLUMNEAPOE
LAMESASATANS
CETERARATINE
MATHISCOVENS
ASHENDOTERS
STERMEMORYHOLE
SARCOVERSEXIT
INCAHOOTSDELLA
FERRARISATILT
STYMIEDESPYS

I wanted to make a very low word count puzzle, and I picked this grid because it seemed like the most doable option. The four big clusters of black squares really help the constructor. They are like low word count "training wheels."

I started this puzzle in the northeast with MOMJEANS and then spiraled counterclockwise finishing in the middle. The last 20% of the puzzle took me about ten times as long to finish as the first 80%. The strain is evident with the EAPOE, SATANS, RATINE stack, but overall I can live with it (and E.A. Poe is much more widely used than I first thought).

The lynchpin in the whole thing is MEMORYHOLE, which, to my knowledge, is making its crossword debut. I had MEMORY???? for the longest time and kept cycling through various options (e.g., MEMORYCARD, MEMORYLANE), but couldn't get anything to work right. Then one night I was working on the puzzle listening to Dan Savage's "Savage Lovecast," and a woman called Dan saying she had a one-off affair, asking if she should tell her husband about it. Dan told her that if she thought she would never do it again then she should not tell him and instead she should slide it down her "memory hole." How serendipitous! Who knew marital infidelities could aid the construction of crossword puzzles?

Truth be told, I don't love the super staircase layout of this grid, but as a changeup to the typical long-stack themeless grid I think it works pretty well. Plus, it's got LETHERCRY in it, so I just gave everybody between the ages of 35 and 45 a Hootie and the Blowfish earworm for the day. You're welcome.

Sun 3/27/2016PITCH IMPERFECT
NICESHOTTORMENTACTV
OVALTINEAVIATORSOBA
DONTSQUEEZETHERICHMAN
ERNOSNOREAPURPLE
ERESNTHLSUTALL
WELOVETOSEEYOUSLIME
ALLRIENNRAPEDESTAL
GLORYSPIKEHEELSEMU
EINEATOMDRESALMA
DEIDRETHISDUBSFORYOU
DORMOSHEASIRI
OBEYYOURTSHIRTJESUIT
WAXESROEDREIENDO
IRAJEOPARDOUSINFER
ESCAPISMLEIRAIDRAT
THEFABRICOFOURVEILS
MIENNAERNARENE
BOTANYEYEVALCNBC
YOUDESERVEABAKERTODAY
ORDOENTENTEIMPEDERS
BEEFROSSSEANAILEDIT

Out of the 60+ puzzles I've done for the NYT since 2005, it looks like this is only my 4th solo Sunday: "Overcharged" was constructed under the tutelage of Nancy Salomon; "Secret Santa's Helpers" was made during my holiday phase (see also Halloween and the 4th of July); and "Figure of Speech" was one where I got lucky with crossing theme answers. This latest Sunday was lots of fun to make, and there were a slew of entries that didn't make the grid for one reason or another. Some favorites:

  • OH, WHAT A FLEEING (14) "Excellent exodus!"?
  • GOOD TO THE LAST PROD (17) Cowpoke's credo for maintaining cow-poking quality all day?
  • THAWS IN YOUR WALLET (17) Melts where one's money is?
  • EXPECT ROME, PAY LESS (17) Slogan for a discount Italian travel agency?
  • IT'S FRINGE-LICKIN' GOOD (19) Reply to "Why are you dippin' that tassel in honey mustard"?
  • THE SAN FRANCISCO TATER (20) Bay Area spud?
  • THE QUICKER PIP-PUCKERER (21) What gives one of Gladys's backup singers a sour face?
Mon 3/28/2016
CASHSLAPSPOSH
LUTETORAHANTE
ADAMSAPPLEIBAR
SIMIANAMINOR
STINGHOTPOTATO
IONAPACEWIRED
CRABARTANDRE
APPEALING
SPIREGINSATE
ARMEDROMANMAX
TOPBANANAEVENT
VIOLINEMERGE
FINNGLASSONION
EDGEHOPUPACED
ZEESTWEENLADS
Tue 3/29/2016
SETSUHAULPSST
IGOTSALSARITE
LADIESTEESIDOS
ONAPARSTEVENS
YETLOULIBYA
AMOSPANPIPE
FANAONENASSER
ALLDOGLEGSCRO
RIYADHOSLOOIL
LISSOMEJUNE
STERNUKEMAN
HALOGENCARDED
ISAKGOLFCOURSE
ETTEOCEANLEAK
DEERSOOTYELIE

There are some things about this puzzle that I really like.

  • I like that the sets of circles are symmetrically placed.
  • I like that the themed entries (are there three or five? — more about that in a minute) all run through a set of circles, with DOGLEGS running through two.
  • I like the atlas-y feeling middle of the grid, with LIBYA, RIYADH, OSLO, MALI, EL PASO, and ERIN.
  • I like that I no longer play golf, and now have a hobby (crossword puzzle construction) that actually pays me a little bit of money.
  • I like that I was able to fit the names of my three children — ELIE, ESME, and ESAI — in the grid. (By the way, the baby's on its way — ELKE if it's a girl, ESAU if it's a boy?)
  • I like that, in the spite of the presence of ELIE, ESME, and ESAI, the fill was not too ugly, given that diagonal entries often put a real strain on a grid.

Now, about those themed entries. DOGLEGS and GOLF COURSE are certainly legit. What about LADIES TEES? They're definitely on golf courses, but they don't really have anything to do with doglegs. I also have the symmetrically placed ON A PAR and CARDED in the grid. Themed entries? If so, they're very, very weak. "On a par" has nothing to do with golf, other than sharing the word "par". "Carded" could be clued in a number of ways. I chose to clue it (and Will & Joel chose to keep it clued) in a golf sense.

I hope this gets you ready for the Masters, which starts in a little more than a week. I don't care much for golf on TV, but that course is so gorgeous, I often tune in for just a peek.

Wed 3/30/2016
PASSEACEDASSN
FAKERGUARANTEE
CHEMICALTESTING
EPCOTKINDA
TOBEMEALTICKET
STARRSLAINORE
PILFERGIG
CLIMATECHANGE
IERTHORAX
ATOSTAIRARISE
DIRECTMAILSLED
DRAMAVOWEL
SATELLITECAMPUS
ONORABOUTWEANS
NARYJUGSANNIE

Like any global climate change negotiations, this puzzle took shape with a lot of give and take. Once I came up with 5 theme answers I thought I was headed for a 76 or 78-word puzzle for sure, but with the relatively tame letters that made up my theme answers, I realized I could get more aggressive and ended up with a 72-word puzzle. This sacrificed some quality in the shorter answers (sorry), but I now have an even greater appreciation for those constructors out there that make 72-word themed puzzles look squeaky clean. Also, with a nine-month old in the house, who has time to write four to six extra clues?

I hope you were able to sit outside and bask in the warmth of an extra 1-2 degrees while enjoying this puzzle. And if you didn't enjoy it, please toss it in the recycling and not the trash. The planet thanks you.

Thu 3/31/2016
OPTEDIMDBIDIG
VERVEDEERLENO
ONEANDONLYOSSO
INSNULLANDVOID
DABISSOJETTA
AMIDSTSLIPOUT
LEERCESSNA
SNATCHANDGRAB
WAFERSIMAN
HOTSPOTUPSIDE
ALITOTAPECDC
VIMANDVIGORARK
EVERAIDANDABET
NILEMOETADLAI
SAYSELSEYAYME

ELLEN:

It's always fun to work with Jeff. The seed for the puzzle was contranyms, which are words that have two or more opposite meanings. For example, BUCKLE can mean both "fasten" and "come undone". That's hardly where we ended up with our theme, but that's what brainstorming is about.

I love some of Will's new clues. "Mass distribution?" for WAFER or "Current events?" for TIDES. That's good stuff!

JEFF:

Ellen and I have been collaborating for a few years now. We've brainstormed dozens — probably hundreds — of ideas by now, but we've been so selective about what we pursue, only producing six puzzles to date. But Will has taken four of them; a much higher success rate than mine alone.

Says something about Ellen!

I had forgotten how far "off-track" we went from our original discussion about contranyms. That's such a cool part about our process — we almost always land at a much more interesting place, miles away from where we started.