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Puzzles for April, 2014
with constructor comments

View these same grids with comments from:
Constructor (27)Jeff Chen (30)Jim Horne (4)Hide comments
POW Tue 4/1/2014
ARGOSKATRIFLE
MOUSEPADSORION
BESTTHREEMISDO
ISHHEMPBASHES
ERATENE
HUMBLERAISIN
IVIESMTIDACOB
NEXTHEADSLIRA
TAUNOLTEMONTY
SPRINTCOUGHS
ATEHOOT
SCENTSAUDISEC
TOSCAOUTOFFIVE
UNPINUNINSURED
BENDYRTESNINE

Since I expect a lot of XWord Info's avid readers are puzzle constructors, I'll limit my comments here to my quest to wrestle this puzzle into shape, but I'll include some other notes on the Wordplay blog.

The grid layout you see here is the 3rd iteration of this puzzle, and by that I mean the 3rd grid I filled completely. According to my Crossword Compiler folder there were 43 versions that crashed and burned. A quick glance at the theme answers and you might think that an infinite number of grids could have accommodated all those short H/T words, but the fact that those words had to be paired with one another (across and down) put significant constraints on a symmetrical 15x15 grid. Tense was also limiting; BASHED and BASTED work in the past tense, but BASH and BASTE don't have the same number of letters. I added the additional constraint on myself to try* and space the theme answers out into different sections of the grid as much as possible.

Things were further complicated when I got Will's comments back after my first submission. He said he really liked the concept, but wasn't sure about a few of the H/T theme words. For example, I tried to use "Flag" as a clue for HIRE (as a cab) & TIRE, and "Turn" for SHEER & STEER. Looking back, Will's feedback vastly improved the puzzle. So even if some folks take issue with the clues for some of the theme answers... it could have been worse! Once a few of my theme H/T words were tossed out, the whole grid had to be scrapped to accommodate the constraints I mentioned above. Will also had to change the majority of my clues to get this puzzle in on a Tuesday; my favorite clue that was victimized by early-week editing was "Yankee's lineup?" for SCENTS, and the clunky but imagination-triggering "It's only legal if you're shorthanded" for ICING.

I am absurdly excited and honored to be the newest member of XWord Info's Schrödinger puzzles page. I'd put the odds at me attempting another one of these puzzles at no less than 50/50.

Wed 4/2/2014
DADEJUMPNEWAT
ITONORCAACELA
SWORDHILTPOTOK
COBAINITATHEE
ORIGAMIIGLOO
SKEEUNDRANOFF
DEICERTEDDY
SEAIRANHITSRI
PURSESIEGES
ARMPITMAOELSA
YEOWSSTREETS
NOWAOCDNIPSAT
SNAKERARECATCH
FESTSONYXSEEM
WAHOODEETTRYA
  1. A few months ago, I sent the White House a letter stating that, in 2005, I became the first puzzle constructor to use OBAMA as an answer in a New York Times crossword. With my letter, I included a printout of every Times clue for OBAMA to date (pulled from xwordinfo.com) because I thought the president would get a kick out of seeing it. Last week, I received a note in the mail that contained a handwritten message from President Obama thanking me for the memento. Good stuff.
  2. If you like crosswords (you're reading this so ... you might), you should think about getting a book that's coming out this month called "TEDTalks Across, TMZ Down." It has 90 crosswords in it. And they're pretty good.
  3. If you are a young person reading this (14 is young; so is 33) and you think you might, sorta, wanna construct a crossword, I strongly encourage you to do it. As a college student, I sent an embarrassing-looking piece of filled-in graph paper to Will Shortz and his response could not have been more encouraging. If you happen to publish a crossword, it will open doors for you. Do it, do it, do it.
  4. I always love seeing Will's improvements to my clues. These originally-submitted clues are simply for your amusement: ORCA (15A): Animal whose name features the postal abbreviations of U.S. states it swims by during migration. POTOK (19A): Novelist whose name makes him sound like a proponent of marijuana legalization.
Thu 4/3/2014
AHEMSNUFFSAID
RADIOSASIANFLU
CHANUKAHMENORAH
SAMISENBUOYS
EKGCOT
CHAOSTHEORYMEA
AORTATWAFISH
CHARLOTTEBRONTE
TUBAOSHATSEA
IMSCHAINSMOKED
KOSSAT
ASNAPRIBCAGE
CHCHCHCHCHANGES
LAILAALILABRAT
UNSORTEDSCARS

David:

The most remarkable thing about this puzzle is that Jeff and I were freshman roommates at Stanford in 1989-90. At the time, neither of us were really puzzle people. But eventually, completely independently, we became accomplished constructors — especially Jeff, who's a constant presence in New York Times puzzles and runs XwordInfo. I construct the weekly Jewish-clued Jerusalem Post crossword puzzle, which is syndicated in more than a dozen North American Jewish newspapers. This link shows several examples.

Being a crossword solver isn't so unusual. Being a crossword maker is, and being a crossword maker with lots of published work really is. It's just weird that we each stumbled across this highly specialized avocation separately.

I'm the one who first wondered if the four English ways of pronouncing the phoneme "CH" might be a good theme, and Jeff tied it all together with his brilliant 15-letter revealer at 58-Across.

My favorite clues (at least among the ones I wrote that Will kept!) are 23-Across ("Sin Alternative?" for COT), 40-Across ("It's big and brassy" for TUBA), and 11-Down ("'60s do also called a 'natural'" for AFRO). I know it drives some constructors nuts, but I thoroughly enjoy finding new ways of cluing little words that appear in puzzles all the time.

Fri 4/4/2014
SATELLITESTATES
ADELAIDESLAMENT
MARINEINSURANCE
SINGINGTOGETHER
REISIEIDIO
SBATROTSUMO
LISROZRAH
SNEERATGUESSSO
HEXEMITAC
AZOVMAPALAS
RIMYARMRTS
SACRIFICIALLAMB
AMIGLADTOSEEYOU
GASOLINESTATION
ANTSINONESPANTS

Martin:

I like to think of today's double-quad-stack puzzle having a long-lost triple stack little brother from 1996. Do you see any similarity between the grids? In reality, any similarity is just a coincidence, but an intriguing one, nonetheless.

When I started constructing the top stacks for this puzzle, I though it would be fun to use a 15-letter word/phrase that is commonly seen at the very bottom of stacked puzzles: SATELLITE STATES, and placing it at 1-Across, at the very top. In this position, its abundance of low-point (useful word-ending) Scrabble letters, normally an advantage, would be all but useless.

After I finished what looked like a promising top stack, I then contacted my friend Joe Krozel to see if he had an "orphan" stack or two, that we could meld into a finished puzzle. By luck he did. Our first draft had 10-D SLUG, and FAIN in its mirror position. Luckily we were able to open the grid up more (and reduce the word count to 66) by extending both entries to SLUG IT OUT and SAMMY FAIN. We got lucky that day!

Joe:

When constructing my first dual quad-stack puzzle around 2010, I assembled a library of half-filled grids containing a single quad stack at the top or the bottom. So, I had numerous potential matches when Martin presented his upper quad stack to me; I just had to search my library for the closest matches, then Martin and I would move squares around to unite the two puzzle halves with the proper symmetry.

I started the lower quad stack with the lively seed entry AMIGLADTOSEEYOU. The vowels at the front and back ensured that 55-D and 60-D would be words rather than some all-consonant letter strings like SSSS or SSTS.

Sat 4/5/2014
WHOAPRIMALURGE
HARMLEGALIZEIT
ABABIDOBELIEVE
TALESETEXTFER
INERTAYLAREIN
SEXSYMBOLLORNE
IRALULUCUT
TOMKITEDUCHAMP
ISTPORKNAE
DEATHPATTYCAKE
ONESKENSMOTEL
ORRTHEOKENOBI
FIONAAPPLEELAN
UCBERKELEYYING
SHESAIDYESSAKS

Ashton:

A quick intro: I'm a Ph.D. student in computer science. James and I met during our undergrads at McGill, where he first introduced me to crosswords, and, later, to the idea of constructing them. I never thought I'd be a "crossword person," but it has turned out to be a weirdly perfect combination of many things I love (language, pattern, misdirection, etc.). I think of constructing as a craft, or a minor form of art, and it makes for a great creative outlet for me.

When James and I collaborate, I usually start off with the first corner (seeded with an entry from James), then pass it off to James who fills in the opposite corner (seeded with one of my entries), and we try to design the grid so that the 3rd and 4th corners can then be finished simultaneously. This is because I'm a hopeless puzzle perfectionist and love the freedom of the first corner (but my solo output is mostly a folder full of first corners), whereas James is much better at making shrewd compromises to squeeze great corners out of constrained situations — I open, he closes.

I did the top half of the puzzle (seeded by LEGALIZE IT) and James did the bottom (seeded by SHE SAID YES, although I was thinking of the ecstatic phrase). I'm especially excited about this one because it has a lot of answers that feel very "us," like I GOT YOU, MAKE BANK, DUCHAMP, and PATTYCAKE.

James:

Despite almost ruining our friendship (PEELINGS led to a heated debate), it was a blast making this puzzle. Ashton's NE corner, in particular, is a beaut, with LEGALIZE IT crossing REEFER, and my favorite clue, [Drive to drink, e.g.] for the super-fun PRIMAL URGE.

Speaking of cluing, our cluing method for our collaborations involves each of us writing a set of clues without talking to each other, then brainstorming as we merge them. That way, we get two perspectives — that is, assuming we don't have the same clue... and that Ashton manages to finish his (3+ months to write clues is not unusual for him!).

And finally, a huge thank you to Will for agreeing to run this puzzle today. I reached out to him a few weeks back about the possibility of having it in the paper on the day I propose to Kate, my one, and he graciously agreed. 58-Across will be a keepsake for life.

Sun 4/6/2014 AT TIMES
JAMMAROONETALMAORI
ARIAMANDAMILOORLON
MEDICINEDROPPERNAIVE
BASSESCOLTREVOLVER
TADISMZOOTASSERT
CARYBALIEYELIKE
ATEALMONDSMANIACS
FOAMRUBBERSTONEOCT
EMMETTOYSTERCRACKER
TWOSPASSESEINE
MACROALLBETTERKNEES
USAIRDEIONSASS
CHICKENTENDERLOOSED
KENREADYBACKBURNER
NETCOSTABSOLUTELI
ROTSCALPLUMGASP
MEDICIDONTYAMWOK
SNACKCOUNTERGROUND
DANKEBATHROOMSLIPPER
OCCURINREODIOUSORE
STEPSTEAMTEASETNOW
Mon 4/7/2014
PAIRWEBDUAL
ANNOSHRUGANTE
DOUBLEORNOTHING
RUSTICSOOTOO
EKEROBEDRS
JANUSYENTA
HOPEDOETROUPE
ANARCHYSWOONED
TUSSLERHOZERO
STEELAISLE
YAPHAHAARM
SAGVIAOPAQUE
TWINENGINEPLANE
URGEGENUSIBIS
DYADSATFACE

I live in Cornwall, Ontario, Canada, a bordertown to northern New York.

When I was a teenager, my friends and I went through a phase of trying to outdo each other by inserting big words at random into our conversation. To avoid embarrassment, I studied the dictionary in search of words I could impress people with and became interested in words and their origins. Around this time I started doing crossword puzzles and years later wondered how the puzzles were made (did the words go in first or the black squares...?).

I get by with a little help from my friends. I get lots of help from my friend Ray Bryant. Ray is from Oxford, England (his PhD stands for Posthole Digger) and is my go-to clue man. When someone told his wife that Ray seemed outspoken, her response was, "Not by anyone I know." Yet when I would come up with a clue having too many words, Ray would ask me, in typical British form, "How does this novel end?"

When constructing this puzzle, I thought the black squares would look nice arranged as a '2' in the centre of the grid. This added to the challenge of creating the four 'main highways' surrounding it with 2-related words (double, second, twin, two). I find the more words you put in a grid, the more it turns into cement, and becomes "as unyielding as the grave." (Song of Solomon 8:6, New World Translation 2013 Revision)

I would like to thank Will for the "second helping" suggestion for which Ray came up with a simple one-word clue, showing that less really can be more. Anyway, I'm at a "loss for words" to describe how thrilled I am to have this puzzle published.

POW Tue 4/8/2014
TACHMADAMLETO
SPRYANODEOXEN
KEEPITDOWNWANT
SWEDESASSCHA
GUTSYWRAPITUP
PIELITHEIRATE
STATBRAGRO
MOVEITALONG
MIXNBASASH
EASESGOUDASEA
CUTITOUTUPSET
OREANIAUDITS
LOAMKNOCKITOFF
ARLOEERIEAVIA
WASPYARDSSETS

What's better: LETO with a fresh clue {Jared of "Dallas Buyers Club"} or VETO? In a vacuum, VETO always wins — it's got the scrabbly V, it's not a proper noun and a has a number of clue possibilities. But with a new and improved LETO clue ... (Thinking) ... nah, I should have gone with VETO.

Oh, this puzzle was inspired by Sam Donaldson and Doug Peterson's wonderful 3/26/13 offering. The magic of reinterpreted spoken phrases!

Hope solvers like this one!

Wed 4/9/2014
PSSTPAWSMUSKY
OMANAGEEOPINE
TILTPAREALLEN
ALIWATERSNAKE
TENSILEKEN
ODEONSTRADDLED
RESOATERA
WHATSINTHEBOXES
OBIGEESET
WORDINESSSITUP
ONEICECUBE
FIRSTLIGHTSOD
MASAIASHETSAR
RINDSTOESALTO
SNOOTENDSBESS

I am an architect but mostly retired now. About 4 years ago while I was still working in a Seattle architectural office, I had a 3-day weekend to kill while my wife was away for a few days. I decided it would be fun to try my hand at designing a crossword puzzle, since I enjoyed doing them so much. Kind of an architect's approach to many other things in life.

Without any computerized assistance I tried to work out a theme of literal words that do what they describe, like BACKTRACK going in reverse, etc. I got totally into a zone and time stood still for most of the three days. I knew I was hooked! Ever since then, I realized that crossword constructing would have to be a part of my life. Of course my goal, which I knew was a long shot, was to get a puzzle some day in the New York Times. I recognized fairly early on that without a computer program I would spend 99% of my time trying to just get basic word fills to work out. After installing a crossword program I was off and running! Now I need to always have a puzzle somewhere in progress or I feel like something is missing in my life!

The thing I find so satisfying about crossword constructing in my retirement (I like "crossword designing" better; "constructing" is what the contractor, or constructor, does after something is designed) is that for me it is a great substitute for architecture. Designing crossword puzzles is really not unlike designing buildings. You need an overarching concept or theme like "WHAT'S IN THE BOXES?", followed by a development of elements that support or relate to that theme (6 symmetrical letter groups), which then have to be worked into a structural network of support elements (like black squares). The supporting structure needs to have a predictable consistency (like symmetry) and needs to be relatively efficient (no more than 43 squares) and placed in locations that will allow the theme to be accommodated in a seamless and logical manner (symmetry again).

As with a building design, everything must meet code (like no more than 78 clues and no words less than 3 letters) and also comply with acceptable industry conventions (no off-color or depressive terms etc.). Beyond meeting the functional aspects of the design, the main ingredient, just like in architecture, is in the creativity used in producing an end product that will be more than just the sum of its parts. And of course, the design has to be approved by the "the Owner" who uses and pays for the design services and who in this case happens to be Will Shortz! ;-)

The inspiration for the "WHAT'S IN THE BOXES" puzzle was the result of thinking about what every crossword puzzle has in common for the every puzzler. Broken down to its very basics the question for the puzzler is always trying to figure out what IS in each of the boxes. This puzzle takes it to the next fractal up by making larger "boxes" and then having all 6 of them also be types of boxes.

Thu 4/10/2014
ATVILLAUSTIN
BLACKTIESBARRO
AGGRIEVEHOWARD
BOGAMERICANPIE
AREAPATPTA
REDSKELTONREAR
POLIOCORN
CHECKEREDPAST
SUCHSMEAR
MINTWHITESALES
OMGSHETINE
PIRATERADIOBRA
PAISANMONOGRAM
EMETICSIXFLAGS
TIRADEONSOSE

I constructed the first version of this puzzle in December 2012, intending to run it in The Orange County Register, because Six Flags Magic Mountain is a major Southern California attraction, and I'm always short on crosswords with themes that tie into California. I was pleased with how the puzzle turned out, so when I discovered that Six Flags also has a branch in New York called Great Escape, I decided to submit this one to The New York Times instead. Will liked the idea but didn't feel that green flag was as in-the-language as the other five flag phrases, so I suggested replacing my green entry with a black one (as in Black Flag, the insecticide). Will felt this would be an improvement but still had concerns about a handful of entries in the nonthematic fill, particularly LGE and, ironically, OCR. I added two more cheater squares and produced a fill that we were both happier with, so I proceeded to reclue entries that had been changed.

Assuming this puzzle would run on a Tuesday or Wednesday, I wrote up a set of midweek-level clues, erring on the side of easiness, and sent the puzzle back to Will. Will told me he planned to run the puzzle on a Thursday and mentioned that I might want to beef up the clues a bit. My favorite of the harder clues I wrote is "It might come with a bill" for MINT, though my favorite clue in the puzzle is definitely Will's "Made it?" for TAGGED, which I had to stare at for quite some time before having that "aha!" moment! Coincidentally, Will chose to run this puzzle the week of my AP Physics class field trip to ... Six Flags! I hope you have as much fun solving this puzzle as I did hanging out with friends, consuming a sapid pulled-pork sandwich, going on a few roller coasters, and thinking about physics, of course ;) !

Fri 4/11/2014
MOVEBACKBBKING
IREALIZELIESON
DELTARAYUGANDA
VADERPEGTET
SPEWEDRAJAH
IOTASFACEMASKS
GORYKAFKAESQUE
HBOKITTENSURL
TAPDANCERSNATE
SHEDTEARSDORIC
TESTSDIVEST
ANNMCSCURED
TOOTOOPOPELEOX
THEASPIDECLARE
NOLOSETEDTALKS

This was one of those rare themeless puzzles where my construction and seed entries began at the center rather than at 1-Across. I fondly recall ZOLAESQUE from "Wordplay", and partly inspired by that, found KAFKAESQUE could fit nicely among other fun phrases and went from there. The grid is a little closed-off, which allowed me to first insert the marquee central answers and then attack the quadrant of corners individually. The NW corner was actually the last filled, and much of that time was spent trying to find a solid entry at 3-Down that could also support quality entries around it. A little bit of research led to VELVET ROPE, whose clue I wish I could take credit for.

For the last year or two, I've been focusing on attempting to create perfect Patrick Berry-style (BERRYESQUE?) grids free of clutter, and while for this one I'm happy with every entry of six letters or longer, those few ORKs, TETs, and KEAs still irk me. Thankfully they're not terribly obscure, but not ideal. That staircase of S's also isn't the best, but they all end common phrases without awkward or contrived plurals, so I can more than live with the result.

Overall though, I am very happy with how this puzzle turned out! There's definitely a joy in creating something lots of people will hopefully enjoy, but there's also no harm in always striving to do better. Makes for even better crosswords down the line, which benefits everyone!

Sat 4/12/2014
COLBERTBUMPCHE
EVERSOSORRYOAR
LEGISLATURENIN
TROTARSODISTS
INSMAOSUIT
ASGARDVIRGIL
HEELSDARKSTARS
ALOEHASTEATOI
BACKBENCHFREON
ASIAGOSETSTO
DOCENTSBAY
ONHIGHOAFAWES
LIIHEATSENSORS
CONARCTICOCEAN
ENGMYCOLOGISTS

Anything can inspire a themed puzzle. My inspiration for an unthemed puzzle is usually an anchor word or two, and for this market fresh is better. I've enjoyed "The Colbert Report" since its debut, so COLBERT BUMP at 1-Across made a dandy debut entry. GEOCACHING at 27-Down is another debut entry. I've enjoyed the hunt several times. You can read about the activity on — what a shock — Wikipedia. MYCOLOGISTS in the SE corner is another debut item, and so are BACK BENCH, MAO SUIT, HEATHERY, and BINGHAM. DARK STARS is new, although DARK STAR has been used before clued using the racehorse or the sci-fi film. Likewise, the singular entry CONSULATE has appeared before.

I supplied two clues for every entry; Will kept many of them, tweaked some more while retaining the sense of my offering, and — what a shock — rewrote many.

Sun 4/13/2014 IT'S TAXING
ZOOSARMBERRASCRAP
SAFEAREAPALAISCRIME
ARTGLASSONHIGHEAVES
WITHHOLDINGCONSENT
APIAAURAEARTH
MANYHAPPYRETURNSPILE
PROERELOGHAMAN
SANDRAROLLTHECREDITS
ROBBERYESCROWTRU
RAPIDEDAMSOOPPAIR
ENUFTABLEFORTWOUTNE
PANTAPOORIONFREED
ARCEBANKSANNETTE
SCHEDULECHANGEELEVEN
THEASAARUSEOVA
SYSTEMERGENCYSHELTER
APRILALASEENY
BRILLIANTDEDUCTION
LEROITIERRAHELLIONS
OZONEANNEALTELETHON
WANEDSONGSSLYYOWL

One of the things I enjoy about constructing is finding ways to weave my personal interests into my puzzles. One was named after the German city where I lived for a time ("A Whiff of Cologne"); another included my favorite musical artist, John Hiatt, as an entry for the first time ever in the New York Times; and so on.

Today's puzzle is in the same vein: it's a 21 x 21 tribute to my brother, Mike, a CPA who disappears around February 15th every year, only to re-emerge in mid-April after having helped his many clients pick their way through the complicated puzzle that is our tax code. Congrats, Mike, on making it through another tax season!

Mon 4/14/2014
ADAMPAILGLOOM
NASAALOURUMBA
THEREYOUGOAGAIN
ELATIONEXPENSE
SLEWEER
MARINARAYSMAP
OBESEWORECOMA
THEIRFINESTHOUR
TOSSOLGARINSE
OREDOTELAPSED
BEDDEED
STLUCIAAGEGAPS
THEYREGRRRRREAT
ARNIERITEERIE
BOONEACHEWORM

This crossword is one of those cases where Will kind of deserves co-authorship. The original puzzle I sent to him featured a 16x15 grid that featured THEYREWATCHINGUS in the centre. I battled to find a 15-letter THEYRE answer to balance the other two themers... Will liked the concept, and casually suggested I used THEYREGRRRRREAT and slot it in as the final answer. Such an elegant answer — why didn't think of that!? This theme is born out of exasperation with Internet commenters' poor grammar.

POW Tue 4/15/2014
LADENSEMISVAL
ASONETRADEEMU
HIGHTREASONRIM
RAGABASSDODGE
INSIDEEDITION
PRECISANT
LABELAMIDOMIT
USALOWBLOWAPE
SAGEPEAKHORSE
ATEPERSON
OUTSIDECHANCE
PRIEDSLOWHIFI
AILBASEONBALLS
RADINERTORLON
THETANKSADEPT

The original idea was TAKE YOUR BASE as the revealer, clued as "What a batter hears after hearing the starts of ..." But 12 letters didn't lead to a clean fill and do umpires even say "Take Your Base?" So I switched to BASE ON BALLS and was able to pull it off.

I'm in the middle of developing a crossword app of my own and hope to be in the App Store by July 1st. Solvers and fellow constructors are invited to like the Facebook page.

Wed 4/16/2014
JUMPEWOKOMARS
AFARCOREHASAT
YOGILOBEBRINE
MAIDENVOYAGE
ENCAMPOATGEL
COLLISIONTHEORY
ROOELSSET
UNGERKATRAJAH
DEAGASECO
TIPOFTHEICEBERG
ODOILEELOPES
TITANICSINKS
ADAGEKNOTTUFT
LITERLATEOKIE
STORYEGADNEXT

My interest in the R.M.S. Titanic surfaced in my youth when I read Walter Lord's "A Night to Remember." Years later, I lived in St. John's, Newfoundland for a spell. This placed me in the proximity of Iceberg Alley, the frigid stretch of the North Atlantic which spans from Greenland to Newfoundland. On several occasions icebergs would appear "out around the bay," as the locals say. Experiencing such natural phenomena firsthand fueled my fascination with icebergs and the maritime disaster.

The phrase "TITANIC SINKS" was part of the headline for the Boston Daily Globe, the London Herald, the Baltimore American, the Globe (of Toronto), and, of course, the New York Times after the historic wreck of 1912. In the spring of 2011, anticipating the centennial of the disaster, I constructed this puzzle with that headline as the reveal entry. MAIDEN VOYAGE and TIP OF THE ICEBERG were fairly obvious inclusions, but I really like COLLISION THEORY because in this puzzle it takes on a double meaning. Indeed, there have been many theories about what caused the collision and how it could have been prevented.

By the summer of 2011, the editor and I agreed upon this version as the best of several grids I had constructed. My puzzle was initially penciled in for the anniversary week in April of 2012. Later, when Mr. Shortz received several Titanic-themed Sunday grids from some great constructors, my publication date was justifiably delayed. My initial reaction to this news was akin to, "OH, BOTHER." Two years after that decision, I am thrilled to have the puzzle in print. Repetitive theme aside, the grid is pretty solid. 102 years after the shipwreck, I tip my cap to the survivors and say a prayer for the souls who perished in the icy waters off the coast of Newfoundland.

Thu 4/17/2014
GOONJOTEACH
AMNOTAWETYCHO
WALSHREXHEROS
PROWESSTSELIOT
WENTPAID
ARIASEND
COTTONYILOSTIT
HUHOKEMUSHAY
ETEFASTONEEMP
SHOTTHINKROSE
SOHOTACEDUROC
GUERRECANADA
ASAOLDPROSNES
MERTHROUGHKAT
ESTITEMSSDS

MARY LOU: Gary Cee's May 29, 2013 puzzle (HAT in HAND, JUST in CASE, etc.) sparked some ideas and I emailed Jeff. He had mentored me for several months by this point and we'd had one other puzzle accepted by the NYT (which has yet to run!). Jeff had been thinking of a similar type puzzle with 'through/thru' phrases. I researched phrases, we batted ideas back and forth on which to use and what the revealer should be. Jeff did the grid design and we worked on the fill and cluing together.

I thought it quite appropriate that astronomer, TYCHO Brahe, ended up in the same corner with PAID through THE NOSE. He lost part of his nose in a duel and wore an artificial one for the rest of his life.

If you have some crossword theme ideas and need a mentor, I cannot say enough good things about Jeff — he is very talented, patient, encouraging, prompt in corresponding, a fount of good advice, open to other points of view and a genius at grid design. Nancy Salomon also mentored me through several early puzzles and I appreciate her generosity and advice as well. Crossfire software has definitely been an asset as has the xwordinfo.com site developed by Jim Horne and maintained by Jeff and Jim.

I am a Specialist in Blood Banking (SBB). My hobbies include photography, reading, bicycling, hiking, and swimming. I like a Marcel Proust quote which I thought applicable to photography and puzzling, "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes." Both hobbies have given me fresh and different perspectives. As Will Shortz has noted, solving and constructing puzzles are two different skills. Constructing has given me a real appreciation for those who create(d) puzzles, especially prior to the days of software and databases, not to mention those who make their living in the crossword world.

Fri 4/18/2014
FOSHIZZLECANST
ATHENAEUMEPOCH
STANDINGOLITHE
TORORIGGLAMOR
OMITETALIIULE
NANASHGTVSCAT
ENGINEEYETHRO
INLAWRUNAT
MASTTABPAYOLA
ARCSSNUBPALIN
NEAPASCALTOOT
MARMOTOMARONO
ARIALALANARKIN
DUNNOLIKECRAZY
EGGOSECOSYSTEM

This puzzle began, as so many themeli (Jeff's note: what a great pluralization of "themeless"!) do, in the northwest, where a stroke of luck and some sage advice allowed me to extend 3-Down from SHARING to the awesome SHARING IS CARING. Unfortunately, from there the grid was already fairly constrained, and the compromises required to fill it are a bit too evident. There's definitely some other good stuff throughout the puzzle (I really like NOT MUCH TO LOOK AT, despite another "AT" dupe...), but there's also too much junk. The eternal constructing struggle!

In any case, I'm pleased with this puzzle, and I hope you are, too. Fo'shizzle.

Sat 4/19/2014
LESSCOMPLICATED
ONEAFTERANOTHER
THEGOBLETOFFIRE
HATESDWARFEIS
ANOSDIRKELVES
ICIKENAIREESE
RETEGGPANESTD
IGAUAR
SNCCSOMBERICE
COLORSIEVENAY
ATONEMAJAHAME
CASSPOSEBASEL
CLEANASAWHISTLE
HOSTILEREACTION
ITTAKESALLSORTS

I originally constructed this grid in October 2012, inspired by Steve Salitan's October 6, 2012, Saturday puzzle. In fact, my original grid was identical to Steve's.

When Will told me it was a near miss, I decided to jettison the bottom stack and replace it with TEAR ONE'S HAIR OUT, ARMED RESISTANCE and STEPS ON ONE'S TOES. Now, the fun began. Will let me know that 11-Down (C. OF E.) was a puzzle-killer, and losing Church of England meant having to abandon Steve's beautiful grid. After ten more emails back-and-forth, Will sent the "this is ready to be clued" email in February 2013; music to any constructor's ears.

Along the way, I learned (1) to avoid made up phrases [IT'S A TRADE SECRET, ATE A LOT], (2) that the letter I and the numeral I are not the same [as in APR I crossing WEIRD], and (3) if I ever wanted to see my own themeless in the NY Times I needed clean fill [no ENER, OSI, NO EAR, ... N PEPA, etc.]. Will and I ended in the SE corner where I learned my final lesson: it's better to have an obscure four-letter word than an obscure longer one. And, that's how HAME found its way into the grid. Hope you enjoyed it.

Sun 4/20/2014 ON WHEELS
SCABSECSASPSSTEMS
ELLATAROTSCOTTTUROW
CIVICPRIDEHORNSONATA
TOYOUTEALBLUEGOESON
NEAROERCALDER
MUSTANGSALLYIRR
BOLEROSNOTSTOPCOCKS
AMINDDDEANOALOHA
OCABARBEROFSEVILLE
EMBARGOVFWPOUNDON
SASELINOISYINTCES
IDIAMINITTEYESORE
SANDIEGOCHARGERARC
ANTONDUOOROONEAL
LOOSETEASMMEWORDAGE
UEYBEETLEBAILEY
TBILLSGEOOTIC
LOUSESBIANNUALLISLE
OPTIMACARDCSFORESTER
COTTONBALLODEONBLOT
KLEINSLYEARKSNONE

Frantic question overheard in my building lobby more than a few times: "Where'd I park the car?"

This puzzle was inspired by and dedicated to Alternate Side Parking — the NYC tradition that drives semi-clothed New Yorkers to their cars at strange hours in search of a parking space.

What do these folks do while wait? They drink coffee, talk on the phone and solve crosswords. I am sure that these folks will swing into high gear and crack the thematic code in no time flat: names of car models sit atop circles that contain the letter O. That's where the rubber hits the road — the solver is asked to inflate each circle with an O and imagine a tire.

Yeah, that's right. I'm making puzzles with tires. For car owners, this should be right in their wheelhouse. For those who don't own cars, I hope the gimmick doesn't fall flat.

But just to be fair, I (someone who doesn't own a car but who makes puzzles while listening to "Car Talk") made sure that the puzzle rolled off the assembly line with something for everyone. The cars are made by different manufacturers and parked in themed entries that have nothing to do with cars. If you're like me (someone who knows nothing about cars) you can still solve the puzzle!

One last question: Did you find your car in the puzzle?

I hope you enjoy the solve today. And if the puzzle drove you up a wall ... you know that's music to my ears.

Mon 4/21/2014
STUDIOBABYLAS
ASSISIANTEYET
HOMEPLATEUMPIRE
LSATPOIERNIE
BANKMANAGER
RODMANATIT
OREOSZEROFEMA
BLACKJACKPLAYER
SYNCEGOSALERT
ASTATILDES
CENSUSTAKER
ABOILDIXRAVE
COUNTEREXAMPLES
TOSARALCOMBAT
IKENAPEONSALE

As a high school math teacher, I use the word "counterexample" fairly regularly, but the idea for using the word as the basis for a puzzle theme struck as I was being a student, taking a grad school math class this past summer. Sitting in a lecture, trying to track a proof that was a bit out of my reach, the mention of a "counterexample" set my mind in a different direction, and I started trying to come up with people that count for a living (likely not the kind of thing my students daydream about!)

Realizing that "counterexamples" was 15 letters long made me intensify my efforts, and I lucked out by finding two other 15-letter examples and then two 11-letter examples. Getting two words to cross three theme entries made filling the grid a little easier, and I enjoyed the changes Will made to many of my clues, as I'm still trying to find the sweet spot of easy but interesting clues for a Monday puzzle.

As I was constructing the puzzle, I was inspired by my first, and perhaps the ultimate, "counter example", a certain monocled denizen of Sesame Street. Imagining him in each of the four roles amused me (he'd be easy pickings for a pit boss!) and poking around the Internet, I found this clip from the late 80's, in which I greatly enjoyed seeing the confluence of Count von Count, New York, and the setting for a 17-Across.

Tue 4/22/2014
KAMPALAHAMCCS
IGOOFEDELILON
TICKLEDNUTCASE
TOSEAATMAREA
COMMONSTOCK
ESSOLOOFAH
TICKEDOFFERASE
ENTIREDEARIE
SEVENMCLINTOCK
ISOMERAOKS
TICKETBOOTH
ULNAUSNAUDIE
RIOTACTBUTTOCK
BETICEOPENTOE
ODEDORSCREENS

Obviously the simple concept for this puzzle was the visual animation of a pendulum clock (going further I was thinking of those "moving eyes" cat clocks). I realized early on that I was in some trouble when the only entries I could come up with that did not have a S-TOCK ending was an old and probably unfamiliar to many John Wayne movie and of course the "bum" entry. Those two entries would dictate the length of their partners on the other side of the puzzle, also limiting those entries as well. So to critics I would say I recognize that the puzzle fill is not as good as I had hoped it would be. If I had to do over again I might have tried to add a central vertical entry in the vein of say "time marches on" but again I don't know if I could have pulled it off given the constraints of the grid. I'm delighted that Will Shortz thought enough of the concept of the puzzle to accept it, and I hope that solvers take some enjoyment in the visual play here. Time will tell.

Wed 4/23/2014
SCHIRRAGRISSOM
ERODINGNOREPLY
VAMOOSEACETALS
EVENSASKCAT
NESTSTHEDIE
EDERTORRID
MACNOTOKOKAPI
ALASHEPARDCAP
TORSOSHOALEDS
SUPERCINGE
EEYORERETAG
CONOEDSMERL
ATTEMPTENTENTE
LOESSERWHEREON
MERCURYSLAYTON
Thu 4/24/2014
BOLAALMAHULAS
ELALNOELUTICA
RITEGARBSAFES
EVERYONEOFTHE
TEXTILEMELBAS
PARSDECENT
MARNECUTEOLGA
CLUESHASEXACTLY
CONSIRANMOSES
ONSTARNORA
YEACEOCANTATA
FOURSYLLABLES
PETRICOOLAGES
ATEATAGCYLANE
CARLYRAKELESS

Inspiration this time began with recalling a puzzle I published more than 20 years ago, by the late, immensely talented constructor Elizabeth Wilkinson. All of the clues in her "T PARTY" 15x15 started with the letter T, and there were multiple T-shaped black square patterns. That puzzle got me thinking about clue-restriction themes that would be somewhat more opaque.

After coming up with the fixed-syllable idea, I offered it to Will with his choice of all three-syllable or all four-syllable clues, without having a specific day of the week in mind for it. Will accepted it for a Thursday (which he continues to be non-rebus short of), and chose four syllables.

The fixed-length message didn't leave a lot of flexibility for its placement in the grid. The crucial thing I wanted to take care of first was the Down answer for the X in EXACTLY. FEDEX looked good, and I placed the black squares nearby in such a way as to have as many options for the EDE crossing letters of FEDEX as possible. Then I placed the rest of the blacks, trying to have as low an answer count as possible. I briefly flirted with a 72-answer grid, but couldn't get that to work without answer compromises, so I reworked the grid slightly to the 74 answers finally used.

There were two additional subtle aspects to filling in the grid. First, the puzzle couldn't have any partials requiring fill-in-the-blank clues — how exactly does one pronounce underscores? Having abbreviated clues/answers seemed more of an inelegance than a problem to me, since one does pronounce many common abbreviations as if they were the spelled-out words. Still, I had wanted to avoid abbreviations entirely, and nearly did so — there's only AGCY in the answers and "yr." and "Mrs." in the clues.

Writing the 74 four-syllable clues turned out to be rather slow going, to come out to my satisfaction. Cluing "tough" for a Thursday was extra-tough with this added restriction. Also important to me was to avoid any clues that seemed unnatural or "forced," wanting to keep the theme a surprise for as long as possible. One more special wrinkle I had to watch out for: avoiding words with multiple common syllabifications. That's why my first thought of "Holy mackerel!" for YIPES wouldn't have worked.

Still, the harder clues turned out with all the variety and difficulty that I strive for with my less-restrictive tougher crosswords. Sometimes, that difficulty comes from a lesser-known fact about a well-known thing (like LATEX used for the scratch-off layer of lottery tickets), sometimes from multiple possible answers (at least four five-letter ones for "Colleague of Kirk"), and sometimes forcing you to think about things you know in new ways (like "Hive, in effect" for NEST). I'm pleased to say Will felt the need to totally redo only a dozen or so of my clues.

I hope I succeeded in surprising and pleasing you with this quirky theme.

Fri 4/25/2014
CHILLAXGAGARIN
HAVEAGOADRIANA
UVINDEXTERRIFY
MREDSOPHSESOS
PEDALXKEIDEM
HOLOGRAMHAD
DEJAVUSEXSCENE
EXENEMYRITALIN
BALDSPOTOUTLAY
SMLESURANCE
POETLIDKRAUT
FASTGLOATWNBA
IPHONESPARADOX
LEONINETROUBLE
ARTSALESTYLETS
POW Sat 4/26/2014
CAMPHOWDAREYOU
EVERINAUGURALS
DIDOMELONBALLS
ALITOATSEAEAR
RACECARDWTS
SUMMITOKBUT
EASTLASEWYOKE
CALVINANDHOBBES
OREOACEATOAST
NEWTOHYDROX
ERNWIFESWAP
ARTLIMOSSEEME
RETROVIRUSAWAR
ANYONEELSETOTO
BELTSANDERSNIT

I built this puzzle in June 2013. I'm glad with how relatively clean it turned out, though I've found that as I've built more puzzles in the last year, I've developed a pretty nasty aversion to partial phrases. A WAR is hardly the worst answer one can have in a puzzle, but I look at it now and I wish I could swap that out with something else. Constructors, take note: I asked Will if he would accept SNES (the initialism for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System), which would take the place of SNIT and thus make A WAR unnecessary (as shown in this fill), but he said that SNES would be a "near puzzle-killer." Me, I like the Super Nintendo, though I can see why it might not fly well for the Times. Diff'rent strokes, and all that.

I'm thrilled to get another Saturday slot, but due to a little bad luck, this puzzle's appearance in the Times is actually slightly bittersweet for me. I enjoyed solving Ian Livengood's excellent puzzle from December 27 of last year, but look at 8-Down from that grid. My wife can confirm that I blurted out "Oh, son of a b****!" when I cracked that answer — he beat me to debuting CALVIN AND HOBBES in the Times (it's only the best comic strip of all time, and I won't hear any other suggestions otherwise). That little hissy fit wasn't directed at Ian — he didn't do anything wrong, of course. Nor, should I add, did Will or Barry C. Silk, who scooped me on ANYONE ELSE on August 2, 2013. But the long wait time between acceptance and publication means that sometimes other constructors can beat you to the punch on marquee answers or themes while you wait. It's just part of the business, and it's partly what motivated me to go independent with my own crossword website, where I can publish my work right away.

Still, I don't think solvers will mind having seen CALVIN AND HOBBES recently in the Times, and besides, other publications have used it as a marquee answer as well. For all I know, there's some constructor out there who got a puzzle accepted with HOW DARE YOU in it, and now they're gnashing their teeth about that!

Finally, for various reasons, I usually hate it when people say "Gosh, why did so-and-so have to play the RACE CARD" in normal conversation. It's always struck me as a term that allows those who use it to ignore the very real impact of racism in the present day. But as a crossword entry, I love it — it's a contemporary and somewhat edgy phrase.

Sun 4/27/2014 PREDICTABLE PARTINGS
PIERSSATEPITSSTABS
ARLENCROPOPECPOSEY
WASGONEINAFLASHROSAS
EARCANDYRESTEDKITT
EASTCONSMITOSIS
BLEWTHEJOINTBENEFIT
AIRDUCTTAPEELF
CLASSYRTESABASEROB
HITTHEROADGLOMTORO
RICERSLIPPEDAWAY
MONARCHCROONEMERALD
FLEWTHECOOPIROAM
AILSALLYMADETRACKS
SOLBALOOFETEESCROW
MANUNERRINGUAE
COOLESTQUITTHESCENE
PURVIEWBUTTASEA
UTNEDOTOATINSPIRES
TOADSRANLICKETYSPLIT
TUTORDUETFOILMELEE
STENOSTROONLYSTAGE

When I started constructing six years ago my goal was to land a Sunday NYT. At last! My success is no doubt due to the fact that I recently gave up all impure thoughts. It might also be due to the 12 theme entries and 122 theme squares but one never really knows for sure, does one.

The seed was TOOKOFF [The ecdysiast ...] I was then pleasantly surprised to discover how many idiomatic ways there are to depart, but just enough to make for a tight theme. Now that my goal is achieved it seems safe enough to revert to impure thoughts, yes?

Mon 4/28/2014
TOFUSANKAESQS
APEDCAIRNAQUI
HEADTOHEADRUIN
INSERTCURBEEL
TETRATETEATETE
IDSCEOAMAZES
GELATOKEDS
BODYDOUBLES
COLTSATEEN
ONETWODEGMAW
MANOAMANOANIME
EDDNAVISTOLEN
NASHHANDTOHAND
OTISANJOUINDY
WENTSTANDTOSS

It's great to be back! My last crossword puzzle was published on April 12, 1984 in the NYT, and then, like Rip Van Winkle, I went into a very long slumber.

Back in the early 80's I had 38 puzzles published by various syndicates, including 14 in the NYT. I was taught the craft by Eugene Maleska and Margaret Farrar, and I have fond memories of their letters and encouragement.

Then I got busy with family and career, and put my crossword things in a box, which I looked at wistfully from time to time over the years, but always put back in the closet. Now my family is grown up and retirement beckons, and I have the time to construct crosswords again. The 30 year hibernation is over.

A few years ago I stumbled over various crossword blogs including Wordplay and XWord Info (of course!) and the wonderful Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project headed by the prodigious David Steinberg. I purchased Crossword Compiler for Windows, and studied current construction norms. Things have certainly changed since the early 80's!

Today's BODY DOUBLES crossword is the result of a year-long collaboration with Will Shortz. The original puzzle had six themers, all of the form [body part]-[TO/A]-[body part], and "Body Doubles" was the puzzle title. Will suggested the removal of TOE-TO-TOE and MAN-TO-MAN from the puzzle to tighten up the theme. I was surprised that Will would want to reduce the thematic material, but saw that the remaining four themers formed a really elegant and balanced group (two sets of doubles within doubles). I then suggested moving the title into the puzzle as a fifth themer, and when Will agreed, rewrote the puzzle completely and resubmitted. But that wasn't the end! Will asked for several more revisions to improve various fill words before accepting the puzzle, and after he decided to run the puzzle on a Monday, he made further changes so that the fill and clues were more "Monday friendly."

BODY DOUBLES is also a homage to crossword themes that were very common 30 years ago: the repeated word theme. For example, one of my early puzzles in the NYT featured card game expressions that have entered the language (HELD ALL THE CARDS, CARDS ON THE TABLE, IN THE CARDS, CARDSHARPS). A theme like that is not allowed nowadays because of the CARD repetition. BODY DOUBLES skirts the rule by having the repetition contained within single entries, and so the puzzle is a blend of the norms of the 80's and today ... just like me.

Will gave final approval to this puzzle on April 10. When I happily informed Will that it was almost exactly 30 years since my last puzzle appeared in the NYT, he said that he would try to publish the puzzle soon ... and squeaked it into the last week of April. Thank you, Will!

And did I mention, it's great to be back!

Tue 4/29/2014
JUTSPUPASANER
AMIEUPONUTERO
DAMERESTNEWAT
EMERGENTSWASTE
DISLENOPOMP
TAOSFARRALA
ORALBAFROSPUG
RUBLEBITHIERO
EELTRUCEIRREG
OSERATEOPEC
CLOYBOREOSA
HIHATCOVERALLS
AVANTAXELCUES
VERGEPENSAMEN
ESTERESSEINKS

This puzzle was one of two that I constructed with this theme. The original idea of NEWSPAPER COLUMN as the reveal came while I was thinking about vertically themed puzzles, which unlike horizontal themes almost always have their verticality as an integral part of the theme. The other version included "THE" in its three 15-letter themers, as in: THE SUN ALSO RISES; THE GLOBE THEATER; and THE POST EXCHANGE, the latter of which did not pass muster with Will. Readers usually refer to their papers as "the Post", "the Times" etc., so I did like that version, however I had a difficult time coming up with enough suitable theme entries, thus I went with the version you see today.

I like the published version for its four theme entries, several of which are debuts. TIMES TABLE CHART might be a bit weaker than the others, however I think most people are familiar with the term from their elementary school days, or their children's. The rest of the fill is fairly clean, so all in all I'm happy with the result, as I hope you are too.

Finally, thanks to Will for accepting this puzzle and improving some of my underwhelming clues, although I think my clue for 42-Across is a nice bit of misdirection.

Wed 4/30/2014
MOBIMMADOPTS
ETASAUCEANOUK
STRIPCLUBREPRO
HORNACRSMACKS
NEWHARTLUSH
BASINSDROLL
OSHEACAANTUB
NIAMACVSPCUSO
EARERASASRED
PALINBLUESY
MACELIPBALM
ITUNESARTACAI
LORENTRUMPCARD
ELVISOSCARREO
SLEDTEENYPAL

I had quite a few PC & MAC candidates to choose from, so gridding was not as challenging as I had imagined. Still a bit tricky at spots. I hope foodies and food bloggers spread "pomegranate arils" & "acai bowl" quickly so ARIL will not be treated as crosswordese, and ACAI will not be just a a trendy berry that often stumps some on our blog.