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Puzzles for April, 2015
with constructor comments

Wed 4/1/2015
SOBIGTALCAMIE
AROMAABOODADA
STIEGJOYBUZZER
HOLLOWMAWSDAN
DRIBBLEGLASS
BROADENBAA
OENESAULONE
SQUIRTINGFLOWER
ESPNCIAOIBM
DOARIVIERA
TRICKCANDLES
YUPOTROSHOALS
PRANKSTERABBOT
EASEAONETABBY
ALSOSODAERASE
Thu 4/2/2015
CABANASRONAS
OPERETTARESALE
BLEEPOUTEASTLA
UNCAPORTRAITS
SEALIMEOHO
DIEMENON
PARRPCSERASE
ALEEEREOGLED
MUTILATESWOPAT
SPINALTAPAGO
GETEXERCISESAT
RUDIITELLTIA
EDINCOCASINS
DENGKREMEMST
SSSETE

TIM: Joe and I found two theme arrangements that allowed us to finish this puzzle. Because we weren't sure which grid Will and Joel would prefer if they liked the theme, we submitted both. Each has its pluses and minuses.

The alternative grid's biggest virtue is that its theme answers are well distributed throughout. The greater length of SHANTIES (8) over CABANAS (6) is another advantage.

There's a bunch of bouncy stuff (TRADE WAR, LIVE AMMO, ROOKIE MISTAKES, TAMPER RESISTANT, RUM RAISIN, SCIENTIST), but there's also a fair accumulation of junk (ADAH, RST, TSE, A KING, ATL, ENGR). From an aesthetics standpoint, SSSS looks much worse than SSS, while the triplication (and crossing) of SEASONED TO TASTE, REASON TO LIVE and TURN TO STONE is hardly ideal. And PARENTIS, a slice of abstruse legalese, might have been the worst submitted entry since the time some nitwit (that would be me) sent in a puzzle containing ADEEM a couple of years ago.

On the other hand, the spacing of themers in CABANAS isn't perfect, even if the placement of a theme answer at 1-A (one of Joe's original, starry-eyed ambitions) helps to make up for it. A few clunkers of its own aside, the overall fill of CABANAS feels a touch zippier, and I think both of us prefer it now that we're removed enough to judge through more objective eyes.

If nothing else, the opportunity to clue SPINAL TAP made this whole endeavor worthwhile.

POW Fri 4/3/2015
FORESAWCHUMP
FINALEXAMHIKER
ONTHEMENUELUDE
REAGILSWELLUP
BARMYSICKESP
ERICBEACHOLAY
STOCKEXCHANGES
AFRIKANER
TWICETOLDTALES
COENTRULYDANK
ANTSTATCYNDI
YESMAAMNBACUR
USUALPOORSPORT
GUILTSOMETIMES
APTLYFEDEXES
Sat 4/4/2015
BACKSLAPSKAGAN
OVERDIDITICAME
PERISCOPESTRAP
SRASKNEWSENNA
PSISAMDIAL
SAGALSUNNY
KOALASPINGPONG
INTOYOULARAMIE
DEEPFUNKLILACS
OLIOSTENET
NARCOSPEAS
OVERTDUESSHIN
RITASINTHENUDE
MERCISCHEDULEA
AWOKECHESTBUMP
Sun 4/5/2015THE CAPTAIN GOES DOWN WITH THE SHIP
SAJAKHAJANTCABALS
TAHITIEREADERAFLCIO
ONAGERCENTIMOPRIMLY
WEBSKATGONOWROGETS
ESPBETACAMNEWISH
RTEINTROSALESBDAY
QUOTIENTLUSTLOUIE
TAUNTERSADATSHOULDA
WHOCARESCUPIDOUNCES
PADPDASHOLEOPTED
CURGMSNUBKEY
FARSIAILSSUBJLAM
ROGUESSTEADGLOAMING
EVENBETHEWEDALMONDS
PERCYHTTPMELBLANC
SASHLEWISBABYSOBI
GROMITRATTERSLOP
VALUESNANOSEDOANNO
ELAPSEKNOCKONGERUND
TEMPERIINSISTERASES
OXEYESECONUSRABAT

This puzzle was born out of a desire to make a crossword based on Moby Dick. While brainstorming possible Moby Dick-related themes, I had some music playing in the background, and the song "White Flag" by Dido came on. This song contains the line "I will go down with this ship / And I won't put my hands up and surrender," and the theme idea quickly followed.

My favorite Sundays usually have multiple layers, so I spent a lot of time debating whether to give this theme any more elements (An anchor made out of black squares? A revealer within the puzzle? Two unchecked squares, both containing the letter "i," for "Aye Aye, Captain?") However, I decided that the theme entries were disparate enough that adding more complexity might be distracting, so the current version prevailed.

Thanks to Mr. Morris and Professor Roffman, both of whom have guided me through the murky waters of Moby Dick.

POW Mon 4/6/2015
LIFEOFPIHOTMIC
ICESTORMONEIDA
MARTINISLENNON
ELMSTUELITIST
SLITSAXON
EGOWOWEDDA
COLLAPSEDPAEAN
NEOLITHUNITARD
BISONEASYMONEY
CLEFRIOCPU
CELLITEMP
MOMBASATDSMAR
WHOAMIDIETSODA
AIRBUSUNFASTEN
HONESTDAYBREAK

When I first started constructing, I gravitated toward the thrill of constructing complicated themes or adventurous themelesses, thinking it was a better test of my constructing skills. But I'd also always heard from veteran puzzlers how difficult it is to make a good Monday puzzle: find a simple theme, but not an overdone one, then fill it with interesting words, but don't make it too hard.

Today is my first foray into "easy" puzzle territory. At first, Will thought it was almost too easy, since you can write in the whole theme once you get one of the sets of circled letters. I'm glad we agreed that the lively fill made it worth your time. Here's hoping that my non-puzzle friends are able to solve this one!

Tue 4/7/2015
SCARFEARPIMAC
PODIAKWAIWAXY
ICONSBEDEVILED
COUGHMEDICINE
EATISRAREMSS
DOUGHNUTHOLE
CROONITSADAM
RANIANGSTLEVI
AMENNAHELLES
TOUGHONCRIME
ESPONOOSEFAT
PLOUGHTHROUGH
SNICKERATSURER
HANDVALEOZONE
EGGSOMENNORTE

It's exciting enOUGH to have my first puzzle in the Times, but all the more on my 50th birthday! I wish my grandmother were alive to enjoy this. As a kid growing up in the Sacramento, CA area, I started solving crosswords with her when she visited from Baltimore. I helped her with the sports clues and let her take the opera ones. (Neither of us specialized in Malayan apes or Assam silkworms.) Today I am a database developer and aspiring bioinformatician in the Boston area. I caught the construction bug when I attended my first American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in 2010.

The theme of this puzzle was inspired by a collection of early Dr. Seuss writings and cartoons entitled "The Tough Coughs as he Ploughs the Dough." I always wondered why they didn't name it "… Ploughs Through the Dough" to include a fifth pronunciation of "OUGH." I have attempted to rectify that with this puzzle.

The first version I submitted in June 2012 included the theme entries (in order): TOUGH CROWD, COUGH MEDICINE, PLOUGH THROUGH, and DOUGH HOOKS, with SEUSS as a bonus in the center. Will asked if I could make PLOUGH THROUGH the last theme entry since it has two OUGHs. I submitted the revised version in December 2012 and it was accepted in January 2013. Alas, I wasn't able to keep SEUSS in the grid, but I'm glad I could include him in these notes.

Thank you to Will and Joel for their editing. I'm pleased that half of my clues made it in with another 20% only moderately changed. I'd also like to thank Brendan Emmett Quigley for his suggestions and encouragement.

Wed 4/8/2015
TRIBESLTEMPO
ROTEELIORWELL
ATRAPLUSUGANDA
CAIROMAWRHELM
ETESEPEISLAO
SEDGESASSOTT
ORCHESTRAPIT
AREAORELENA
BESTRAPALBUM
CDCACSASSIST
NSATCIARRCOE
ETREENDSDIANA
WAGGEDITSATRAP
STOGIEDIEAUTO
ETONSONELSAT

This puzzle was accepted in June 2013. I was not fond of having a 8-letter entry as a reveal. They force stacked 6's immediately (in the SW and NE corners) and way too many 3-letter entries for my skill level back then. Will saved me again with a clearer clue for the reveal entry.

Thu 4/9/2015
CHICHOPESTAGE
LANELEPERAHMED
ETALLATTETRIMS
ACNEODIELION
THEBOYFCRIEDWOLF
RADORALAAA
SPRITBLUEPENCIL
WHETGUESSSEINS
EASYTARGETHEDGE
ESEOMNISAD
TELLMESOMETHINGT
LETSNOSENAIR
NUEVOCAUSEEDNA
INREMERREDSISI
BASESLYNXSAUL

The first draft of this puzzle had no rebus squares — just theme answers containing WHO, WHAT and IDONTKNOW, with those letters positioned above the answers FIRST, SECOND and THIRD. Will suggested that the gimmick would work better if the players were positioned consistently and more directly above their corresponding bases. After trying to make this work for longer than I'd care to admit, I retooled the puzzle into a two-way rebus.

The next challenge: finding a suitable (and suitably long) theme answer for [IDONTKNOW]. A draft with [IDONTKNOW]HOWTOLOVEHIM crossing THE[THIRD]MAN was rejected as too obscure, but expanding the grid to 16 squares wide solved the problem nicely.

Fri 4/10/2015
BOOGIEONSPEC
ACRONYMMAKEDO
SABOTEURSTIRIN
SLIDESHOWEMMET
OATERALIFSAFE
MLLESLAS
AWOKEMOLEHILLS
LIVINLAVIDALOCA
GREATIDEAYOYOS
EERSMARM
RFDSALITBOTCH
HEINZIRENECARA
INDIESALCATRAZ
SCIPIOLINEONE
SETSTOSOTTED

In the Xword Info constructor notes for the 13 September 2013 puzzle, Patrick Berry commented that he has "come to like making themelesses with wide-open centers, because if you can complete the center you'll probably make it across the finish line." My initial response to this was something to the effect of "Bah! You tease us lesser mortals." Yet, my curiosity led me to take his advice, and, by Jove, he may have been onto something.

Fearing the inevitable open-square bonanza, I preemptively added the "staircase" arrangement at the top and bottom. The 15-letter center spanner, LIVINLAVIDALOCA—which just screams for themeless usage in so many ways—came into play when I noticed that my designed grid made for decent crossings with the entry (i.e. it has lots of vowels and a few mid-word letters).

Besides that setup, there's really not much else to discuss. Because of the low word count, I didn't have too many options for the surrounding fill. I'm not overly fond of the ROLLOVERIRA/OVERDIDIT dupe, OMS, RFDS, PERMALLOY (though I do like its portmanteau-iness), SOO, and maybe MLLES (the French equivalent of the crossword-y SRTAS), but I think 6 or 7 clunkers is not bad given the wide-open grid.

If you like listening to music while solving, you'll no doubt like this blast from the past. Or, for a more recent video:

Sat 4/11/2015
RAJACERBICHEX
UTEMADEIRAAXE
PATFRANTICNIN
ELLSATTESTEDTO
ELIOTNESSINB
NETCEO
NOINTERESTLOANS
ALTERNATEROUTES
BEATINGARETREAT
SALESASSISTANTS
NIEPOG
ARCPLEASESIR
RUNSACROSSDAME
UPISHIATSUTAX
ETCCANTEENAGE
DOEANTHERSYES

Quadstack crosswords (i.e., crosswords with at least one set of quadruple stacked 15s) are still a fairly recent innovation. When such puzzles have been featured in the NYT over past four years or so, they've created some controversy. While many solvers seem to love the challenge and report a great sense of satisfaction when they finally crack the puzzle, other solvers have decidedly more "lukewarm feelings" towards the genre. The latter comes from the perception that the fill, especially in the stack area, is often hard, obscure, and substandard... or maybe all three!

With this in mind, I tried a few years ago to construct a quadstack puzzle, that could theoretically be clued with "easy" Monday-level clues. This was intended merely as a personal exercise, so the one I actually submitted had the usual tough or tricky Friday/Saturday clues.

Now that you've tackled a dreaded NYT Saturday quadstack puzzle, I share with you a version with the identical fill, but unofficially reclued in a manner that I hope less experienced solvers may be able to finish. If you have friends who normally get stumped on the NYT Friday/Saturday puzzles, please ask them have a shot at my "low octane" Monday/Tuesday rendition. I don't think there's very much in the way of obscurity to trip them up!

Also, keen-eyed solvers may notice that this puzzle contains the word BEAT in two of the longer entries: BEATING A RETREAT and HAND-BEATEN. At the time, I offered Will Shortz an alternative: replacing HAND-BEATEN with MOUSE-EATEN. However, Will said that he preferred HAND-BEATEN, and was not overly bothered by the BEAT dupe. So ... if you love the puzzle as it stands now, I'm happy to take full credit. However, if you're bothered even a wee bit by the dupe: it's all Will's fault!

Happy solving!

Sun 4/12/2015LOOK WHAT TURNED UP!
SWABGMCRPMRHETT
CHICAALOUOUIOEUVRE
HASATGUTBOMBSPAPAYA
IMHIPATHENASPECPIP
NAYHOMESANTIOCHETA
ONOOPENESCROWERROR
UTNEFENCEINSHOUT
SAWYERRAGAASPLINTY
USERAGERLAGOVEN
SPRATREPLETEPAGODAS
HIEARABSFONENAOLE
ICHOKEDFARMBOYLIEGE
PEPEITOOWEDAXED
LISTSAPBMEOWEDGARS
ACEITRUDOLPHCROC
LEACHCOLONSEBAYTLC
ACTECOTAGEBRAYSLAO
LAMTONESTALERPAYTV
ANALOGGOTOTOWNELATE
NOTIPSERATOESLOSER
DEEDSSLRNPRLEIS

Five guesses as to why this huge Monty Python fan put ANTIOCH into the grid. (Three, sir!)

O LORD, bless this Thy hand grenade that with it Thou mayest blow Thine enemies to tiny bits, in Thy mercy.

Okay, so the Holy Hand Grenade of ANTIOCH, from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," might be a bit too esoteric (sadly). I tend to give Will an alternate clue for these types of answers, and he wisely decided to skip straight to it.

I had a few other theme options I considered, but the deep basketball term BOOMSHAKAL(AKA) for a rim-rattling monster dunk felt a bit too out there (also sadly). Keeping a puzzle accessible to a majority of solvers always has to be one of my main goals, so I sometimes have to tell that devil on my shoulder to keep his trap shut. His usual response:

THE HELL I W(ILL)!

Okay, sometimes I listen to him. He's kind of fun.

Mon 4/13/2015
SLEEPSSOONBUS
YELLOWSUBMARINE
SHESLEAVINGHOME
TIMEAUSSIETAS
GRRQUANT
BRAVASALBUM
MURALUVULAFAB
WHENIMSIXTYFOUR
SRALISLELORRY
TERRAGERMAN
ANCHOIRS
LBARAMINOMINE
PAPERBACKWRITER
HERECOMESTHESUN
ARIAYESHONORS

I got interested in trying to construct a crossword after seeing the movie "Wordplay" and thinking, "I can do that." My first several attempts taught me that it is a lot harder that it looks. At some point my brother-in-law in New York told me, "Someday you're going to have a puzzle published in the Times." I'm glad he was right!

Special thanks to my friend Pavel of Pavel's Puzzles for great advice on how to improve my construction and for encouraging me to submit to the Times the puzzle that is now before you. And thanks to Will Shortz for saying he liked the theme the first time I submitted this puzzle, even though CRXS and MOKSA were not acceptable entries, and for accepting the rewritten version the second time.

Aside from constructing crosswords, I am a patent attorney in the Seattle area and like to play the piano.

Tue 4/14/2015
GAGAAIRESTEES
AGESGRETARATE
THATSGREATISHE
EARHIESTASTER
SIEGTITTERS
STRESSSIGHER
HEATHSETHSEEG
ARTIEIGHTAGRI
HATRAREESSGTS
ERASERGETSET
STREETSTITI
TERESAHARTAHS
ERISSTARTERSET
TREEIRISHATRA
SIRSAEGISGREG

When I first started constructing three years ago I was immediately drawn to "stunt" puzzles — one vowel only, no E's, no three or four letter words, twelve Hawaiian letters only (my son goes to UH), quadruple pangram, etc. I did develop some tricks to make it easier, but overall the puzzles tend to have compromises, making them hard to get published.

When Ray Young beat me to the punch and came up with a quadruple pangram in a 78 word 15x15 grid on 3/20/13, I abandoned that project and decided to try the other end of the spectrum. I saw that Peter Gordon and David Kahn held the record for fewest letters at ten — I doubt they even knew or cared about it. I submitted a nine letter puzzle with four long entries starting with Q but Will gave it a "nein". Will also did not like my first eight letter puzzle but he thought this second one had reasonably clean and interesting fill considering the constraints.

If you're thinking of trying to see "how low can you go" the good news is that it is definitely possible to make puzzles with fewer letters — I think five letters is doable. The bad news is that each dropped letter causes an exponential drop in available words, making the resulting puzzle rather monotonous. Will likes innovation, but he definitely does not like boring.

Hope you enjoyed these eight letters — there are a few groaners, but you have to love EASTER EGGS!

Wed 4/15/2015
LEFTJABJOLIET
ALLYALLMADEMAD
GIORGIOONEOFUS
SAGAGIRDUP
NBATAJMAHAL
BUTTERFLYRARE
AMOGAELMADMEN
SOTHEBYBADSPOT
SKEETSHERDELI
EARLBILATERAL
SYMMETRYTOA
STAYATRAGE
CHALUPAILLWILL
DINEDINDOSIDOS
SPAYERENDGAME

The idea for a theme of seven-letter phrases where the first and last three letters are the same came after glancing at my phone when the Daft Punk song "Giorgio By Moroder" came on. It's always fun when a cool idea like this comes completely by accident.

I agonized over whether the revealer BILATERAL/SYMMETRY was accurate enough, because I could see the argument that it more aptly describes a palindrome like RACE CAR. But if you think of the three-letter strings as chunks, it works. Also, I couldn't think of something that would better describe it.

Finally, I'm of the opinion that some in the crossword world have taken the whole 'grid dupe' thing way too far — I remember an early puzzle of mine receiving a negative review just for having two UPs crossing each other. First, I don't think most solvers notice this sort of thing. But even if they do, I'm not sure how it detracts from the enjoyment of the puzzle that much. Every rule should have a good reason behind it, and this one has always seemed a little too dogmatic for not enough cause.

All of this to say, the MADE MAD/MAD MEN dupe doesn't bother me at all. MADE MAD was fixed by the theme, and MAD MEN is a fresh, modern answer that's particularly nice now that the final season is airing. If they were crossing, I'd probably have to lean against it, but otherwise I don't mind it all.

Thu 4/16/2015
PETERRATAASHY
TARSIEDUCFEUD
ASIANLITELEGS
YOUGOYOURWAY
LBOSBECAME
DIVEINPIELAN
PETITEBACKWARD
ESSEMOMATTA
DRAWKCABBATEHT
AEBWARTESTRA
LERUALAELP
ENIMOGLLIDNA
AJEDENALRUOCS
DOZISUPOIKAHK
SEEDTSENNEMEY

JOE: This puzzle concept came to me when I noticed that the two main theme entries were equal length: constructors lo-o-ove when that happens! The literal interpretation of them virtually begged running them in opposite directions. To build up the theme further, I decided to run the corresponding background fill the same direction. Next, the theme suggested that I might enlist a collaborator, so I called upon Pete. From there, I would fill one half of the puzzle, flip it around, and ask Pete to fill the other half. So that was the basic logistics.

When I construct, I think about fairness to the solver. I guessed there would be solvers who would be very unhappy about the trick in the lower half of the puzzle, so I addressed this in two ways. First, I included the helper entry BACKWARD in the top half of the puzzle ... preparing the solver ahead of time. Second, I made sure that the theme was completely absent from the down fill so that solvers could opt out in that way. That was the least I could offer.

By the way, the other "helper" entry DRAWKCAB was more of a joke than anything else ... not much of any help to the solver I suspect. But it was fun to claim that — technically — the same word appears twice in the puzzle!

PETE: Yes, this one was definitely Joe's idea. When he asked me to go along for the ride, I was more than happy to.

Beyond what Joe said, I'll just add a couple of things. Did you notice the necessary palindromes (ESSE/MOM/ATTA) through the horizontal midline of the puzzle, and BOB vertically intersecting MOM? My clue for BOB was "Go up and down", which I thought was appropriate given the circumstances.

Second, did you notice PETER in the top half of the puzzle and JOE in the bottom? Of course you did.

Fri 4/17/2015
GNAWHIMOMCERT
ROSAOCULIILIE
OFTHESAMESTRIPE
SURNTHSTARZAN
SNOWDENSERIA
KRISSTROBAG
CLEANSWEEPRENO
HOOPTAXERETNA
OAFSWHERESTHAT
OMGBIOSSLAW
ECONOTIEGAME
NANOOKBEDERAS
ONINTIMATETERMS
STUDEFRONMEME
ESSOSAINTONYX

After a few of my themed puzzles were accepted by the NYT, I decided to try my hand at a themeless grid. Will Shortz has noted that only 1-2% of his themeless submissions are from female constructors. I want to improve on that number.

Ride 'em, cowboy!

Peter Collins' grid with six spanners seemed like a good place to start. (Eventually, I needed to move a few black squares around to get clean fill.) I keep a running list of vocabulary words to enter in my crossword database. Fifteen letter entries get special note — I was glad to include ELIZABETH WARREN in the grid. I enjoyed reading her latest book and following her career in recent years. I thought HOSTESS TWINKIES was a fun entry too. SNOWDEN would also have been a debut entry for the NYT at the time of my submission but Brendan Emmett Quigley beat me out.

I'm trying to improve my cluing. My submissions for TARZAN, SNOWDEN and ELIZABETH WARREN — "A swinging guy", "A revealing guy" and "Wall Street concern" didn't make the cut. They were a little vague, even for a Friday. A clue like "Lover of Jane Porter", gives you the information you need yet can also misdirect by giving the last name which you don't usually hear and may never have known. I missed the opportunity to link SAINT and BEDE, but Will and Joel did not. I appreciate their editing expertise.

I am pleased to have my first solo themeless published in the NYT and hope you have enjoyed your solving experience.

POW Sat 4/18/2015
TRODCABOEFILE
RAKEANALDIDOK
ICECOLDBEVERAGE
BELIEVEYOUME
ARYDIASLAPDOG
LSDINNINGLINA
OOPTEAPARTY
ECKHARTCRACKOS
THECLASHNED
RELOIROBOTINS
ETYMONWOREGOA
ELEANORRIGBY
SOUNDSLIKEAPLAN
OTTOIACERSELA
LOEWEREMYORLY

One day, for some reason, I randomly thought of the phrase "believe you me," and it struck me as a strange and amusing idiom, so I decided to put it in a crossword puzzle. The result was my first published themeless. I made it several years ago, and looking back on it critically now, I think the short answers are a little too "gluey," but I still really like most the medium answers and especially the six longs — ICECOLDBEVERAGE was Plan B after the snappier ICECOLDBEERHERE didn't take, but I think it's a solid stand-alone, and then you've got two sharp colloquialisms, "The Simpsons," The Beatles, and "Boogie Nights." Can't go wrong with that collection, if you ask me.

I was a bit dismayed to see my clue for DIRKDIGGLER was changed. I submitted "1997 film character who is finally revealed in the end." (Clever, huh?) But Will changed it to a very straightforward clue, perhaps because the reference (and thus the cleverness) would be lost on too many people. I sometimes forget that not everybody loves all the things I love.

One clue that did not get changed is "1980s baseball star Lemon" (CHET), and this is a good thing because it affords me a not-completely-tortured segue into unabashedly plugging my self-published baseball book: "Urban Shocker All-Stars: The 100 Greatest Baseball Names Ever." It's got a section in it about baseball names in crossword puzzles, so it's somewhat relevant to solvers. You can order a hard-copy at Amazon and get an e-version on Kindle. Want to know who baseball's crossword puzzle king is? Buy my book! (Although, if you are a seasoned solver, you really "ought" to know the answer already.)

Sun 4/19/2015DOUBLE DOWN
CHEAPMKTCHINTHIGH
EATSALONEWHAMOHOSEA
DIRTYINENHEARTARMING
EGERFREERANGEROOSTS
ASTOTETEALBEE
URIHEELSAYIDORIFT
SOMMERAJAMNYUKENDO
ATPAREBONIESARCSIN
GOODATUREDFINALOTICE
ERRORALSSNIPBUN
STRAYEDPRESSUP
QUMKOANSAPORALF
LAUNCHARTYEVENINGTAR
ALONSORESEEDSBEIGE
ROTITITIESSARATOUT
DEANBAABAATREENES
GORENASWEEARL
MIKADOTACOSALADATRA
STATIONAGONPAPERRAIL
ROYALIRONSOVERACTED
PROBETANSEARGHANA

DON: The German physician Franz Mesmer inspired this theme. The name MESMER has always intrigued me, and I noticed that it nearly repeats itself except for the last letter. I started looking for other similar words. Then I came up with the theme idea to introduce the words into a puzzle. I asked Zhouqin to join me in the search. I can't remember who or how, but we decided to have half of the down theme words repeat the first two letters of a six-letter word, and half would repeat the last two letters. This made it much easier to find down theme answers and to fill the grid. Funny thing is, MESMER did not make it into the puzzle.

ZHOUQIN: I remember we rebooted several times in the filling process because of the dupes. So easy to dupe those little three words in our Down theme entries.

Mon 4/20/2015
TSKTSKPLOYCBS
APIECEHEROOUT
JANEANDDICKUNE
LYEEASYA
MARYANDWILLIAM
MODETOADINNS
TOUSLEWRAP
GRETELANDHANSEL
GILTOTOOLE
OREOOBOEAMMO
JULIETANDROMEO
INALLGAH
BLTLADIESFIRST
WOEECONPURINA
AWSNECKSNAPON

I originally made this puzzle for my parents, whose names are in adjacent theme answers. (You guessed it — I am the son of Gretel and Romeo.)

Tue 4/21/2015
GPASUPPERLEO
AIREDMACROEXC
SATURDAYSABBATH
IRAISESONAR
SESAMESEEDLINE
MOTTSTREPENTS
UNECLAMOR
SIMPLESIMON
CDRATEAPU
CASHIEROUTGUN
ALTISOLIDSOUTH
ELANDEMOTER
SURGESUPPRESSOR
ADEMUSEENIKON
REDSNARLNIPS

This puzzle was accepted in July 2013. It was my first NY Times acceptance.

I looked through a list of theme types and thought that combining alliteration and a vowel shift would be an interesting twist. Since then I've seen a few others that used the same basic theme type, but at the time the idea was original to me. The theme came together rather smoothly, though I did play with the positions of SESAMESEED and SOLIDSOUTH, looking for the smoothest fill.

As I look at the fill now, USTEN is my least favorite since the highway would normally be written US-10. However, I'm pretty pleased overall. As usual, Will changed a lot of the clues — about half. He also changed the letter in square 1 from S to G, a change with which I disagree. I think the two abbreviations GPAS and SAS are roughly equal in goodness/badness, but using GPAS as 1-Across means starting with a weakish entry. Starting with SPAS means starting with a real thing. To me that's preferable.

I hope that the solvers enjoyed this puzzle.

Wed 4/22/2015
ATVCAMESAIDNO
PHIACEYTENORS
PEPDANEISAIAH
CREDITREPORT
MOONYHOLEPUNCH
IPODROLOTOPE
NAMECALLINGWAX
ROZAAS
HUBTRADINGPOST
EPICPOCOELMO
HIGHSCORESADAT
PAIRSOFCARDS
JOANNETRONAHA
UNPEGSHEADYUM
TOILETYELPSPY

ALEX: Our original version of this puzzle had a very different theme arrangement: it was not NAME CALLING but CALLING TIME, and the revealer was not PAIRS OF CARDS but HOUSE OF CARDS. Moreover, the revealer was not positioned well, as it was the second of the six themers. Eventually, I realized that the revealer basically had to be moved to the end, and I was a little daunted by that because of it being 12 letters. Still, I set my mind to it, and Sam seemed to like it a lot when I showed it to him.

After filling and cluing this new version and running it by some friends, we sent it to Will in June 2013. He replied just one month later, saying he liked the theme but HOUSE OF CARDS did not really explain it. Additionally, he asked us to rework some of the fill, and we tried to go above and beyond his instructions to make the puzzle better before sending him our revisions on August 21 of that year. Indeed, he said it "turned out pretty nicely" when he replied on August 29.

Thank you, Sam, for being such a great friend. We can't thank you enough, Will, for everything you've done for this and all our puzzles … and we hope you enjoy our puzzle!

SAM: I would not be writing NYT-caliber puzzles if it wasn't for Alex. This is more than just a compliment to him, his kindness, and his constructing abilities … it's the honest truth. Here I was, a naive 16-year-old, eager to get involved in my newfound passion of crossword construction. I had prowled the Cruciverb-L mailing list for months at this point, wondering what it would take for me to finally step up and take puzzling to the next level. Sure enough, Alex, whose name I recognized from his delightful June debut, posted a thread asking for construction help on an ambitious puzzle he was designing. I hastily wrote him an email, addressing him as "Mr. Vratsanos," feeling inferior … and he responded almost immediately, welcoming me into the so-called "Crossworld," and praising a few of my ideas. I was given a shot like never before, and it meant the world to me.

Although that particular construction effort rapidly failed, the rest is history. Alex introduced me to my future mentor, Vic Fleming, and between the both of them, I learned to stand on two legs, which was an unfamiliar feeling to me at my age. This is my eighth puzzle in the NYT, and I currently publish a new puzzle every week on my blog, The Grid Kid. This whole puzzling nature has become a regular thing for me, but what you've solved today is different than any other puzzle I've ever made. This was more than just a puzzle; this was an opportunity.

Thu 4/23/2015
PUMPSEPICMAZE
SNAILAIDEALAS
YOUCANTTELLPUNS
NAMESALEMTA
ERAMAAMMORNAY
TOKLEPTOMANIACS
CLEARDATES
HEAPHEINEKELP
CREWSSINAI
BECAUSETHEYTAKE
ASITISEARNMED
TCMNOBSIEGE
THINGSLITERALLY
LENOHEREGEESE
EROSYUANYARDS

BRUCE: This puzzle had its origins at a dinner table conversation at the National Puzzlers' League annual convention last year. I repeated the joke and David counted letters in his head and announced that it could almost be split into four 15s. With an assist from Stanley Newman, sitting in between us, it fit exactly and David and I agreed to collaborate, with Stanley bowing out.

David filled the grid, I wrote a first pass on the clues and we bounced the clues back and forth until we reached consensus. One fun thing about collaborating is getting a different take on construction and cluing. Despite years of experience, as this was my first puzzle for the Times, David's perspective on "Thursday difficulty" was valuable.

Of my clues that survived editing, my favorite is "Way-out challenge?" I was glad Will kept my Thumbs-up and Thumbs-down clues but I wonder why he changed Cleveland to Toledo.

My favorite of David's clues is definitely "Female that sounds like you?"

I've been constructing puzzles for more than 20 years, founded the Microsoft Puzzlehunt in 1999, have served as an assistant editor of the National Puzzlers' League for the last ten years, and recently published my first puzzle book, Jumping to Conclusions, a book of hangman riddles available through Puzzazz. I'm currently working on a set of puzzles for June's Puzzled Pint.

DAVID:

The National Puzzlers' League convention is always a lot of fun, and last year was no exception! I was lucky enough to be sitting at a table with Bruce (aka Vroo) and Stan Newman (aka Famulus) when Bruce told the kleptomaniacs joke. I noticed that the original joke almost split into four 15-letter entries; if the wording could somehow be tweaked, the joke would be cruciverbal gold! Luckily, Stan came to the rescue by almost instantaneously coming up with a fix! Unfortunately, I remembered reading somewhere that no more than two constructors can be listed in a Times crossword byline. So Stan graciously bowed out of the collaboration.

The grid ended up being much more challenging to fill than I'd anticipated because the traditional grids with four 15-letter entries that I considered all had five-letter entries intersecting the first and last three letters of the middle theme entries. Since our theme entries had to be in a certain order, and the order happened to produce unfriendly letter patterns for those five-letter entries (such as K???C), I had to resort to a completely nontraditional pattern. My goal for the fill was to include as many lively entries as possible, as quote puzzles can get a bit dull otherwise, but at the same time to keep the short fill as clean as Stan would've wanted had he been a collaborator! So I kept the word count down to 74 and, after many hours, ended up with a grid that I felt had few trade-offs; Bruce was happy with it, too.

The cluing phase was the most interesting part of the collaborative process. Bruce made a Google spreadsheet with columns and columns of data about the total usage of each of our clues, whether they were similar to others in databases, etc. After many back-and-forths, we ended up with what I felt was an awesome set of clues! As always, though, Will and Joel elevated the clues from awesome to EPIC!

Overall, it was a pleasure collaborating with Bruce, and I look forward to seeing what ideas germinate at the next NPL convention. For now, both of us hope you enjoy the puzzle!

Fri 4/24/2015
CATALPAPOLYSCI
TURNEDTHEHEATON
STINKSTANKSTUNK
CONESERMASCDS
AMISONKEYSKIT
NATLADENLETME
STRESSEDVETOER
IODATECANTON
OCTETSCONTENTS
AWOLSDAMESESE
RELSFAVESPSAS
LAUKINERMARIA
OPENTOCRITICISM
CONFERENCETABLE
KNELLEDAMASSES

When I sat down to solve my own puzzle this week I had long forgotten the fill ... though 17-A was a nice reminder of the quality I was striving for. In fact, I feel pretty good about all the 15-letter entries: I try to find previously unused ones, and perhaps one or two might not even be in other constructors word lists. Beyond that, I was happy to get a lot of scrabbly letters into the fill.

There were a few entries I had no recollection of: CATALPA, INKSTER, EDELS and KINER. Nor do I really know these items from their clues — but I'm happy to say that none of them intersected, so I feel pretty confident that the no-Google solvers will be able to complete today's puzzle in its entirety. Some will probably even suggest that the puzzle was too easy ... another "paper tiger" as I like to describe sparse grids that are unexpectedly conquerable.

Sat 4/25/2015
SKRILLEXORDERS
THEDOORSFORNOW
RADIOERAFOODIE
OKDTWANGFONDA
VIIIENDEDPORT
ESTOPDONORTAB
NRASTRATEGO
SOVIETSSAMESEX
CHOCOLATGBS
AYNPANAMOTTER
PENASALADSOTS
USERSALLOTMIT
LIGETIYOURCALL
ADUNITUNBEATEN
ROTARYPETEROSE

Ah, SKRILLEX. I can't say I'm the biggest fan of his music, but his name is too fun to ignore, and he's a pretty "important" pop musician. Definitely grid-worthy, IMO. Still, I was glad to get LIGETI in there to class up the musical selection a bit.

Cool logo!

If I could take back one decision I made during construction of this puzz, I would opt not to cram REDDIT into the NW. It was a mistake to fetishize "freshness" at the expense of smoothness there — particularly since the answer has been scooped twice since I submitted this grid!

I'm quite proud of the NE. It's silky-smooth, with three fun down answers plus FOR NOW, FOODIE, SAME-SEX, and STRATEGO. That's basically what I'm striving for in every corner. Results may vary.

One aspect I find interesting about this puzzle is the unique vibe of each corner. The NW is a classic high word-count first corner, with a bold 1-A and a cool stack. The NE is all about smooth. The SE is the funky corner, with E-TILES and RSTLNE stacked. And the SW is the tricky vocabulary corner, with SCAPULAR and the challenging-to-parse OH YES I DO crossing LIGETI and AD UNIT. Hopefully that provides variety, and gives something for everyone.

Hope everyone has a great Friday night and Saturday. Enjoy!

POW Sun 4/26/2015WHICH IS WISH
SUBURBSCALEDBRIDES
AVENUEORSINOGRANITE
GULPEDLASTDISHEFFORT
ALOESTAVELOAORES
LAWNSHARESPLASTER
SEEKSHEEPTHRILLS
BCCWEEKETAETAIL
YOUBETTERWASHOUTNSA
GATEDHYOIDPLASMATV
UTESCATSRANCHO
MIXANDMASHKARATESHOP
FORESTALITHIFI
FINETUNETUNICMETUP
ONEMUSHTOMYSURPRISE
AGAINAIMTREETED
MARSHMADNESSLAGS
OLEMISSPOKERSHIPS
ROLLTENAZUREOKRA
SHEAFINSPECTORNOWNOW
VITTLESIMPENDDAMONE
POSEURPURSESSKEWED
Mon 4/27/2015
BLEWDOITHASH
VOLESORTAOHIO
DUMBSTRUCKOOZE
STSIREHECKYES
TRAMTIA
KICKEDINTHEHEAD
NORTEORALCPR
AWESGOTATMOTO
CADOREOCANTO
KNOCKEDFORALOOP
ARENOPE
STREAKSEARSHE
FROSGOBSMACKED
PETAOASESHERD
DEERDRACAWAY

I fell in love with the word GOBSMACKED, thus this puzzle. As it turns out there are some really fun phrases that mean the same thing. I was just lucky that BLEW and AWAY match lengths to give me the perfect reveal.

This puzzle was accepted a while back, but just recently when looking at the grid, I decided I could do better so I asked Will if he'd consider a revision. Happily he said yes and with his input the end result is much improved over my original submission.

I really didn't know how to clue the theme answers as they all mean the same thing. My idea was to leave those clues blank, like they've been blown away, and use BLEW/AWAY as the definition for all. I like what Will came up with much, much better.

This is my third puzzle for the NYT and what's really exciting for me is that it's my solo debut. I hope that, while maybe not mind-blowing, it'll bring a smile or two.

Tue 4/28/2015
CBCDOGOODSTP
TOAEGOTRIPPOO
ROBEROSIVEIRT
BORDENSAGETEA
TOOTSTRISBART
ROSEFOOTMETOO
USECLUBSOR
SQUAREROOTS
USBROAREPA
SNOOPSTOPATOR
TORTDEAFPILOT
ROPEDINTREMOR
UGHPETDOOROTT
CIASTROPHESAN
KENSASSESEXT
POW Wed 4/29/2015
ACHSBFLATUSED
NOAHREESETIVO
DONAERNIEIDES
RIGHTTRIANGLE
ONADATETINES
GROGTRAPEZOID
MUMOVOETNA
LOBPOLYGONEEK
IRASAAARED
RECTANGLECOVE
ROKERLARGELY
PARALLELOGRAM
CHARWAIVEOTIC
REINODDERNENA
OWNSLEANTEXES

It may surprise some to hear that I have fond memories of high school geometry. But I hope that even solvers who don't share my appreciation for the subject matter will pick up on the fact that this is more than just a connect-the-dots puzzle; the clues to the theme entries invoke the standard labeling convention for POLYGONs (starting at one VERTEX and going either clockwise or counterclockwise).

My goal when thinking up this puzzle was to create a grid featuring multiple images created by connecting common nodes. To maintain clarity, I kept it simple and went with basic shapes. This made for a pretty blah set of theme answers, taken at face value, but I think the conceit of the cluing redeems this.

I imagine there may be some geometrical nitpicking about the RIGHT TRIANGLE outlier — it's the only non-quadrilateral, and it's more specific than any of the other polygons (the TRAPEZOID in the grid is technically a "right trapezoid" too). But I think the right triangle has enough of its own identity as a basic shape to merit inclusion. Also, every RECTANGLE is technically a PARALLELOGRAM as well, but I decided to go with the casual name for each polygon, so this didn't really concern me — no one in their right mind would see a rectangle and immediately think "parallelogram."

I hope you all enjoy the puzzle. I'm especially looking forward to seeing the XWord Info guys work their color-coding/animation magic on all the polygons — I always get a kick out of that stuff!

Thu 4/30/2015
CODEREDATTACHE
ORIGAMIGEISHAS
PIGGIESHANKERS
POEHLERBARERDA
ELSEROESSOW
RETARBLTSWEEP
DOWELOFLATE
AAHCADENCERAW
FREAKYHOKUM
TERMSEENDUETS
RCALIMPFLAT
TSKTHOREAUFAIR
ONESTOPTOPLINE
WARTIMEALDENTE
SPRUCESLOOSEST

Just a week after my debut crossword I got an email from Joel accepting this one without any changes. Will and Joel liked the theme and the "big, chunky corners" and said that it would be tentatively scheduled for a Thursday. That surprised me because I always viewed Thursday puzzles as having some sort of trickery as part of the theme. In the same email, another submission that I thought was Thursday material was rejected as being "a bit too crazy."

Will addressed my comments to him in his notes for the 2/5/2015 crossword, "In truth, though, at least to me, Thursday is just supposed to be harder than Wednesday and easier than Friday. That is all."

About half of the clues were toughened up to be Thursday-worthy. My submitted clue for POEHLER BARE was "Sensationalist headline for Amy's autobiography 'Yes Please'?". I was going for a more subtle approach to the word "bare" with it being more about her revealing details of her life. Will went the more direct route. Good thing that I didn't use "Kerr bare" — "Revealing cooking show featuring the Galloping Gourmet?"!

Of the clues that were changed, my favorite was "Paper work not usually done at the office". My favorite clue that survived the cut was "Skips the rite stuff?" (for ELOPES).

Hope you found this "air" apparent crossword to my debut to be the right stuff for your Thursday puzzling!