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Puzzles for April, 2016
with constructor comments

POW Fri 4/1/2016
ORALBSOFTMOAT
DOPERCLOISONNE
DUETOBUDGETCUTS
SEDUCEDGRASSES
PALYAY
USSDOGSCASABA
THENEWYORKTIMES
IONARAETARP
CROSSWORDPUZZLE
AERATESOUPEEN
ABCRRS
ANOSMIARIOTACT
WILLENDTOMORROW
OCEANARIATAEBO
LESTREAMSWABS

Having gone 13 years without writing a New York Times crossword, I was quite surprised when Will Shortz contacted me and asked me to write one. After he revealed the reason, I was shocked. Perhaps I'm being a little harsh, but I think the newspaper executives who made this decision are being shortsighted and that the paper will lose many subscribers. Puzzle editors love symmetry, and Will said that since I wrote the first crossword under his editorship, he thought having me write the last one as well would make for a nice balance. You can imagine my eagerness at accepting the challenge.

After just a few minutes, I came up with the idea of breaking the news to the readers in the puzzle itself. Playing around with the phrasing for several hours, though, led to nothing that worked with symmetric lengths other than DUETOBUDGETCUTS, THENEWYORKTIMES, CROSSWORDPUZZLE, with no final line. Realizing that maybe I could write the penultimate puzzle, instead of the last one, was the key. If Will had something really special to run the final day, then my puzzle would work perfectly for the second-to-last day. Luckily, Will said he had just gotten a really special puzzle, so I played around some more and came up with WILLENDTOMORROW.

Figuring that this puzzle would be scrutinized closely, I wanted to keep the word count as low as a themeless, with no more than 72 words. Once I placed the four 15s in the grid I looked for problem areas. Only the ZZ of PUZZLE looked problematic, but that area ended up working just fine. Looking back at it now, months after I wrote it, my least favorite answers are EEN, RRS, and USS. Since it's a 72-worder with 60 theme squares, I can live with a few three-letter clunkers.

During the months between when I wrote this and when it was published, I was sworn to secrecy. According to some insiders who have seen tomorrow's puzzle and given some hints about it in some private puzzle-based chatrooms, it has a quintuple stack of 15s, is a double pangram, has 52 words with just 17 black squares, and all the answers are common with no partials, foreign words, or Roman numerals. You'll have to wait until tomorrow to see if you can trust everything you read on the Internet.

P.S. If you're interested, I have a subscription superhard crossword called Fireball Crosswords and a Kickstarter campaign going on right now for a not-so-hard news-based crossword.

Sat 4/2/2016
GAPTOOTHEDUPCS
ETHANFROMEMOAT
WHOLEFOODSPORE
GENESOREATHOP
ANISEPANDAPLO
WACDASHENJOIN
BUSHSRLEONI
HIBACHIEPITHET
OHARAPEDANT
GETSTOMLLESOP
WAHEMCEESPACY
ARMDEARTHEVEL
RYANGUITARSOLO
TOTOALTERATION
SUSSSKIRESORTS

BRAD: So it falls to Doug and me to refute the dire promise of yesterday's puzzle! HOORAHS for us. Will provided delicious tweaks to clues for 19A (GENE) and 56D (HARE).

I think this is one of the few times we've placed a seed entry at 1A. I usually try to tuck them in a few rows down. I always think of David Letterman when I think of the 1A descriptor, but Doug came up with two different cluing options — the one you see here and also Chaucer's Wife of Bath.

DOUG: I'm going to predict that Jeff comments on ALTERATION at 63-Across because it's a bland sort of entry in a long slot. And, assuming he does, he's got a good point. I like the rest of our longs, especially the HOGWARTS stack in the lower left. After placing DRACO MALFOY in a 2014 New York Times grid, Brad and I were taken to task because neither of us has read the Harry Potter series. Well, I recently bought the entire jillion-page series for my Kindle, and I'm planning to dive into it soon. I can't wait to find out what the heck a HORCRUX is.

Sun 4/3/2016JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS
CHIRACISMWADESCAR
HAMSADONAIALONETIME
INONEEARANDGENTLEMAN
AGNUSFEYEPAMAIZE
TABSWHEREIGHTTOKNOW
LIBSCHEWLASERONS
EGOFRAYBEEPDUBS
IHAVEEMYKEYSCLAUSE
ATTLEEANNETAKEIVER
ADDSITSCOOLSNEER
RAIDSAYTOABOILTAPS
AUDISWASNTMEGAIL
CRYMEISKOILYTHESIS
YALIESCANIMAKEOUND
RDASCATOCUEDMBA
BCSATILTBANSAMOK
YOULLCOMEEQUESTIBEX
RUBIORPIUSATERZA
ORANGEMENOUTTHEOTHER
TIRESWINGTAIWANSIRE
ECUSENDSELTOROTOS

I had the idea to literalize the phrase "In one ear and out the other" a long time ago, and the rebus part was I think the most fun way to actualize this theme. There were wonky ways to make the theme more or less elegant, I thought, while keeping it solvable: the circles were Will and Joel's addition, since they thought the puzzle played too hard without it.

I liked having all the entires be actual phrases, making the theme even truer, though it was hard to not repeat "A" too many times, and a few discarded phrases ("WHOSE SIDE ARE YOU ON?" I remember as one I was sad to see go) duped the common components of spoken language too much to stay; earlier versions had ear-shaped black square contortions (kind of) and fewer theme answers, since those crossing rebus squares, which I thought didn't need to conform to the theme, were getting tough to fill around.

On the fill, glad I was able to get I'M ON A BOAT, WAGE GAP, HANG TIGHT, WASN'T ME, and a few other more modern entries in the grid. Hopefully OBELI is worth its surrounding colloquialisms.

The world, I guess, maybe, is better off without my wordier clues for many entries. I love, love, love quote clues for literature / pop culture references; ADA and VLADIMIR both had enormous excerpts of their lines trotted out for reasons pretentious and unnecessary. But damn, they said good stuff. Also, one of my favorite things about cluing is finding relationships between adjacent or nearby clues: I had originally clued LINES as [Subjects in Euclid's geometry] and LOGS as [Subjects in Euler's calculus, briefly], or something, and I miss those little mini topical excursions in the clues.

Anyway, hope you enjoyed it!

Mon 4/4/2016
GOPADMITSHIM
ONAONASSISACE
TETWAYNEKNIGHT
TRAILISWEAR
CLEARSIGNINTO
SURFTASSEL
PISTOLHEATLAMP
AGOREFCNNNOR
NINEBALLGASTRO
BEFAIRHIED
TODOPLAYBILLS
OHIOANNUOVA
BACKCOUNTRYBAD
ERECARPETSODE
YESTHIRDSROW

Just over a year ago Martin Gero, the creator of "Blindspot," hired me to consult on the puzzles for his new NBC show. When we started cooking up ideas for where to hide secret messages naturally we thought of the NYT crossword. We pitched Will the idea and he agreed!

So here we have a Monday puzzle that is also featured on screen during the 4/4 and 4/11 episodes. It was not easy to make! I had to put in a message for the Blindspot viewers while maintaining the integrity of the crossword. After lots of back and forth with Joel Fagliano, I finally settled on the theme of BACK COUNTRIES. This worked well because countries are large enough of a category that I had lots of options for themers. And with the secret message adding in another thing to juggle, it was helpful to be flexible.

Will and Joel pushed me to make the countries at least five letters (OMAN and MALI were too easy). I am particularly fond of CLEARSIGN (ISRAEL) and WAYNEKNIGHT (KENYA), and happy to give the latter his crossword debut!

Other rejected options:

  • CARMINA BURANA
  • NO BAGGAGE
  • DAIRY SECTION

Hope you enjoy the puzzle and the episode!

Tue 4/5/2016
PAIDEYEMEDAL
DRNOCOXDAREME
FENGSHUIRUSSET
SHORTWINTERS
AUDIOEPARIN
WHITEHOPELETGO
EFSACEONPOT
CRYSTALBALL
CURIEBIOAID
ONEALROCKCANDY
MEDLAAUNTIE
PAIROFJOKERS
OTTAWAWENTWILD
SEEGERNEVEDGE
ENDEDSPYROAN

I submitted this puzzle to the Times in October 2014; in January 2015, before I 'd heard back on the submission, the Times published a puzzle by Susan Gelfand that also used answers based on comedians' last names. While the themes weren't identical (Susan used phrases anchored by one last name, e.g. CAESARSALAD, whereas I used phrases consisting of two last names, e.g. ROCKCANDY), I feared that they had too much in common for my puzzle to make the cut. So it was a pleasant surprise when Will Shortz accepted my version.

From a construction standpoint, I could only come up with four phrases that fit the theme, so I was extremely fortunate that the theme answers plus the revealer broke out symmetrically. I hope solvers enjoy the result.

Wed 4/6/2016
BATSOHYESGIST
EUROPAULAALPO
STEPHENKINGBOOK
TOERINGTKOVIE
ATLSEINFELD
IRONSIDENEAP
DOYOUNEEDBANS
IDSPENTADSROI
GETSSOMETHING
EATSINSEASON
PARTYHATSRI
ARCPUPMEERKAT
PERSONALPRONOUN
ESAUTREATECRU
ROBESTOASTHAT

Many thanks to Joe Krozel for his assistance on this one. Most of the theme answers were ready last summer, but I was struggling with the right cluing scheme. Should their clues be the three different variations (as published), or should WHAT / IS IT be included as its own entry (split into 4s) within the grid, forcing you to uncover the phrase first, before cross-referencing it from the theme clues ("See X-/Y-Across," e.g.)? Joe's feedback went something like: "The first is Tuesday/Wednesday difficulty. The second is Thursday-plus, with hate mail."

Tempting ... but I chickened out.

The theme works better this way. It'd be pretty unreasonable to require mental copy-editing of an unknown phrase, as you'd also have to figure out capitalization and punctuation. I don't think it would ever have been published like that. Way too vague and confusing. All that cross-referencing would be tedious as well. Still, tempting!

Thu 4/7/2016
SARAHPINOHSNAP
OVEREASYPOMINO
REGATTASSLICES
ERSIBETILENE
ALAEINSERTS
SAYHELLOTOMY
EIEIONUNSOP
PLSSPIESONNEP
STPANAEMCEE
LITTLEFRIEND
LADANSERAFT
OBEYSLAICLSU
RAPBUMBEERTENT
ELMOREAPPACHIA
SLAYEDSAMSMITH

This puzzle was such fun to write, as so many things went my way. Of course, the quote needed to break nicely into two 12-letter chunks to get things going, but after that other cool things emerged while making this, such as Paul Ryan having the same number of letters as a rebused Sarah Palin, realizing that Brian DePALma directed "Scarface", and getting several rebus entries to intersect with the quote so that the grid could be pretty wide-open.

When this quote struck me as the basis for a theme, I immediately thought that someone must have used it before, as it is an oft-quoted line. I searched around and could not find it ever used before. Then, the day after I learned this puzzle was coming out today, I encountered the write-up of this Wall Street Journal puzzle.

It fascinates me that two published puzzles used this well-known line within a month of each other! On the heels of "Gridgate", I'm confident that Matt Gaffney would rate this a 1 on his "Crossword Suspicion Scale." It did get me wondering what I would have done if I got the rebus idea after seeing Mr. Kahn's puzzle…I think the uses of the quote are different enough that each puzzle can stand independently, but it would have definitely been something I'd have to consider.

Thanks to Will and Joel for the terrific clue editing. I particularly loved their 17- and 31-Across clues (REGATTAS, EIEIO). I'm psyched that my clues for 55-Across and 39-Down (RAFT, INTEL) made it through — so much fun getting ?-mark clues through to publication and seeing how they tweak things in general.

Fri 4/8/2016
BADDAYLAPCAT
OTOOLETEAROSE
NAUSEAFUNHOUSE
ANGERSARABRUT
MEHTAPINKETCH
INNSWATSONSHE
DUNCANHINES
TALKINGHEAD
GOESONADIET
AIRASHMANDARK
SPEAKMOLDSDIE
KHANPARSHOBBY
FORTERIEFIREUP
ONEIRONARCANA
REDCAPXRATED
Sat 4/9/2016
MOFFATCHANNELS
ECLAIRSCOPYEDIT
RAYKROCCUTABOVE
GLEECLUBNTHPEA
EARALFREDOGERM
TRIFOLDNORM
OSBORNMOOONION
THEBIGBANGTHEORY
CELIEANGHARDEE
LIARSCARERS
BLTSPIETISMSML
AGTDINEVIDENCE
TALLONESEROTICA
OMELETTESENATOR
REDCROSSNELSON

Well, it would seem I have the honor/curse of batting cleanup for St. Patrick this week. (Hey, Kameron, if you're out there reading this, I'll take one of those "I Survived ..." t-shirts [referencing his 11/14/2015 note], assuming I don't drown in negative solver feedback over the weekend.)

Accepted in October 2013, this puzzle was my third accepted NYT themeless out of seven attempts. I started with the central 16, THE BIG BANG THEORY, and then I placed black squares below the two G's hoping that I'd find at least one spicy -ING word/phrase. After those initial block placements, I went for as much open space as I could muster without going over the 72 maximum word count. (For some reason, I remember still wanting to clear the word count despite the extra column.)

In retrospect, I like the relatively wide-open space, a few neat entries (e.g. NO HARM DONE, EDO PERIOD, LIVERMORE [clued in reference to the new element], BROMANCE, TROLLING, HOUND DOG, GLEE CLUB, and some others), and the nerdy vibe overall. However, there's also a bit more glue and/or "killer" entries, notably APT TO, NYAH, BATOR, SES, SML, and BASINETS, than I'd allow in my current submissions. Looking back, these trade-offs are a bit hard to stomach, but I hope they don't detract too much from the puzzle's positive aspects.

As for cluing, Will and Joel changed a lot for the better IMO. Top honors go to 20A, 21D, and 31D with honorary chuckle points for 15A and 4D.

POW Sun 4/10/2016SOMETHING IN THE WATER
CHEERUPALAMOPASTRY
LATRINEJUDAEAELAINE
AVENGERATLANTICOCEAN
SERIOSINOUBOAT
SANERUNESCOANNUSB
IGARAFTALERONTAP
COLORADORIVERGONDOLA
LEVERETGRANDCANAL
GEESENASSTEELMILL
ORSOROOSTSMITENAE
HICSROBCATASSBEIT
IDAWACOASPENSASKS
OILTANKERHANVERSA
ARABIANSEATRAWLER
NOTASTECHESAPEAKEBAY
SNORTSTEPPARDOBE
SRSBAIMAITRECROSS
FERRYRUTHHOTEL
NEWYORKHARBOREVELINE
AVATARAGEONEREELECT
HARDLYNOWAYEXPOSES

This puzzle took a few iterations to get it where it was. Placing the various boats, ships, etc above and below the bodies of water was not so easy to do without resorting to lot of junk entries.

In my original composition I had THE DEAD SEA with a FLOATER on top of it. If you have ever been there you can actually lie on top of the water because it is so dense. Will saw it as a non-watercraft so FLOATER had to go out. I substituted OILTANKER on top of ARABIAN SEA and worked hard to fill that middle left area with that combination and three long down entries crossing them. The corresponding right middle area with GONDOLA atop GRAND CANAL was also difficult to match up with decent fill.

I started with the UBOAT under the ATLANTIC OCEAN. It's a one-off so I hope that the solvers will get the reason why that's below and not on top of the water.

Looking forward to the responses to this one.

Mon 4/11/2016
CARGOEPSPANTS
ABHORNEOACURA
SLOPECRURODIN
KEMOCHORERIPE
BOWLINGLANE
FOULRAPS
TSPREALALEPTA
ATOLLDIPSWIRL
MOOEDATEUNTIL
PALACESSKIBAGS
THURATAB
BRAPOCKETSRAT
LABSIRISHLENO
UGLYCANTIOATS
RUEDAWGEEODES

RON:

Though not a great solver, I've been a puzzle enthusiast for a long time. Early in 2009 I discovered C.C.'s Crossword Corner blog, and by the end of the year I was a contributing blogger. I now post there two Wednesdays per month. A couple of years ago she invited me to work on a puzzle with her, and we've done a few collaborations since. She's been an inspiring and generous mentor to me and several other partners in puzzle construction.

I'm a retired Materials Engineering manager from a major car company. My lovely wife Gloria and I have 11 wonderful, talented grandchildren, and following their various activities help keep us busy.

I love word play of all kinds and occasionally amuse myself by writing haiku and limericks. My other love is music. I'm an active amateur musician, playing trombone in two local jazz bands, a concert band and a symphony orchestra. The jazz bands have been willing to play some music I wrote and arranged.

C.C.:

Will & Joel asked us to remove NLE (15A) from our original grid. They also felt that PHO/OTRA (24A/36D) crossing might be hard for a Monday grid. The puzzle was officially accepted on May 6, 2015. I had fun fiddling this grid with Ron. He's incredibly patient and creative.

Tue 4/12/2016
ATHOLSASASLAN
SHAMUTUTCHAMP
FRYERERACRYER
OEREFRONREAR
REINDEERSAWBIT
MADELOAMYDECK
EMERILSANDTAO
DOFFIDID
STPCLUBROOTLE
SHAMALAMOWHAM
WRYESTHAMONRYE
OHNODRYEREER
SWEAROATFEATS
PIECENIAENDTO
ANDESANGOLSEN

Whereas my first three NYT crosswords were published within one or two months of their acceptance, this little guy sat around for twenty months. It's a pretty simple theme, so maybe that had something to do with the long wait.

The original version of this puzzle had HOP ON POP as the theme. However, the H on top of the P proved to be quite challenging and, while Will and Joel liked the theme, they weren't crazy for the fill. So HAM ON RYE was born and a better puzzle made. I do remember that in Joel's acceptance email he said the five instances of HAM being on RYE was quite challenging to pull off and a key factor in the puzzle's acceptance.

Hope you enjoyed!

Wed 4/13/2016
BTWETHNOLASSO
AHANATCHAPNEA
TELEVISIONCRUET
HOSNISHOECDS
SCHERZORISK
MOUNTAINDUET
UGLYNEOSTIPSY
NAEGIORGIOOPP
LEAVEFRANENNE
VANITYFERRET
INFODENSELY
ANNUGGSAERIE
MAGAZINERACQUET
PLOTZAGENTCGI
MANLYWANDSTES

As is sometimes the case, the idea for this one came from what would wind up being an unused entry: COLLISION CORSET. Not sure why that popped into my head but, there it was! So, armed with/infected by that, I went in search of phrases that could work the same way — with the added ET sound, plus the change of spelling/meaning to the base words — and came up with these. Though I like them all enough, my favorite is VANITY FERRET — mostly because I could see myself strutting around with one of those, looking down my nose at the less fortunate, posh-pet-challenged passersby.

Not too many clue changes from my original submission, but, for vanity's sake, two worth noting. For WANDS, I'd wanted to give a nod to my daughter, Sarah Kate, and her love of all things Harry Potter, so had offered "Diagon Alley purchases." Then, for YOGI, I'd looked out the window and thought of my neighbor, NYT sportswriter Harvey Araton, and plunked down "'Driving Mr. ___' (Berra book by Harvey Araton)." Well, those didn't make the cut, but at least I get to mention friends and loved ones here!

Thanks again to Will and crew — and, happy puzzling!

POW Thu 4/14/2016
LACEDOSESCHEW
IMUPOPERAOATH
NASHLATINNICO
ERTECHICKENR
ANOMIEAEOLUS
LAMESBBCGROAN
RITEAIDSEL
WATERSLIDES
CIADREIDEL
APNEAADABOOST
DONNYBMINNOW
ANNARBORMERE
VIBEROOMYUSER
IDEABAYOUSILK
ESTDSNOOKKEYS

Nice timing for this puzzle to appear with summer just around the corner!

I always debate: shaded squares, yes or no? Such hints can substantially change the difficulty level of the puzzle by giving the game away too early. However, I think the shaded squares work well in this particular puzzle because RUN, the first "water slide" is so non-specific. It should take a little more than one theme answer for the solver to realize that each set of shaded squares represents a type of water course that flows downhill.

I enjoy constructing Thursday puzzles like this one because of the additional challenge of finding a workable grid pattern. There are a lot more constraints here than meet the eye since the theme answers cannot be placed symmetrically. Each answer also injects an extra pair of black squares, where the "water slide" starts. The insight that LAMESTREAM and WATERSLIDES can cross is actually the crux on which a workable gird pattern depends in this puzzle.

Another aspect of constructing that I enjoy is the serendipity that arises when you are building the grid. Often, there can be multiple entries that can be used as fill, but choosing among the various subtle combinations can be fun. For example, in this puzzle:

  • Pairing EPHEMERA with HAIR LOSS (sigh)
  • Having the BROOK in DONNYBROOK run down into a BAYOU
  • Seeing ANN ARBOR (the city where I live) appear in the grid

I wouldn't go out of my way to have any of these occur, but it's fun to integrate them when the possibility arises.

Fri 4/15/2016
FALSIESBARTABS
ISAIDNOEXURBAN
GUYCODELOSESTO
TSELOVEINSORR
RUTHREYESBLOT
EATATREBTAUPE
ELEVENDESISTED
ENIDRIMS
CHANDLERRESEAL
HALOSRAHDARLA
EMITTRIOSXRAY
WBACHILLAXAMO
TOSPAREDUBSTEP
ONEOVERECOCIDE
YESISEEMEXICAN

I built this crossword in May 2014. I don't remember all the details of the construction process, but I believe I started in the upper left corner with GUY CODE, which was a big deal back when I was a junior in high school. Once I discovered that I SAID NO and FALSIES fit on top of GUY CODE, I was off and rolling! SOEVER bugged me a bit, but I was happy with everything else, so I decided to accept the tradeoff.

Next came the lower right, which I seeded with DUBSTEP. ECOCIDE and MEXICAN seemed like interesting choices, and I especially liked the CHILLAX/BASS SAX duo, so I moved onto the upper right. I was pleasantly surprised to find a lively fill for that section given that it was already constrained by BASS SAX and BELIEBER.

The last part to fall was the lower left. Over the years, I've built several themelesses using this grid, and I've found that there's always one corner that refuses to be simultaneously clean and lively! No matter how hard I tried, the lower left was not turning out the way I wanted. Luckily, I eventually stumbled upon DERRIERE and CHANDLER, and I figured that these entries combined with CHEW TOY and HAM BONE could make up for blah bits like ONE OVER.

Looking through the clues, the 17-year-old within me was sorely disappointed that FALSIES was changed to refer to fake eyelashes instead of fake boobs! I was so proud of the clue "They fill their cups"; also, I've never even heard of falsie eyelashes. Now that I'm almost 20, though, I have more of an appreciation for why Will/Joel made this change. 1-Across tends to set the tone for a whole crossword, as well as its constructor; I wouldn't want anyone to view me as misogynistic (definitely not true!) or immature (well, that one has some grounding, but hey, I'm still a teenager for 8 more months!).

Happy solving!

Sat 4/16/2016
BAMBOOSHOOTMSG
IMEANREALLYCEO
BARRELCHAIRCAN
RIMEANNOTATE
FBICASESAFAR
RAENSAADEXECS
ASSESRANOUT
GETTHEWRONGIDEA
HOLISTEPOXY
PERIWIGCNNLIE
ALECCHEEZITS
GLASSJARALIT
AIDHOMOERECTUS
NOMINTAKEVALVE
STEMYSTERYMEAT

I'm quite fond of themeless puzzles in which triple stacks in the NW and SE corners open out into surprising territory in the middle. I started this one with MYSTERY MEAT, which is not only gives me a chuckle, but which contains very "end-friendly" letters. This solves a problem I've encountered in which the bottom entry of the bottom stack, constrained by such "end-friendly" letters, can often be something less than stellar.

Some of my favorite entries here are on the shorter end: MCCAFE, ADEXECS, FBICASES, and CHEEZITS. I MEAN REALLY unintentionally evokes SNL's "Weekend Update" and my SETH MEYERS entry from December. GET THE WRONG IDEA is one of those expressions that seems harmless and generic but, upon closer inspection, is rather contextually specific (e.g.: "I think you got the wrong idea about my intentions," or "now don't get the wrong idea or anything...") And finally, composers of the ARS subtilior, a style the flourished in 14th-century France, produced some of the most beautiful manuscripts and crazy rhythmic ideas you'll ever encounter. "More subtle art," like crosswords--and the "American Pie" octalogy.

Sun 4/17/2016EXPANDED WORLDVIEW
NACHOOLSENBLOBSHAQ
ETHERNOOSELOVELGBT
ANIMALHOUSEONESEATER
TINLIAISEWERENT
ENUFONEASYSTREETMBA
REARENDSOHOANSWERS
ALEATWORSTESAI
STUMBLINGBLOCKFIGHTS
HOSEABARIHAIRDO
ARESDESIRESBELTOUT
GMOSEXANDTHECITYUNE
SENSATESEABASSPICA
CRESTSMOLEAUJUS
RENOIRCOMMUNISTSTATE
IDIOIMAMESSRIS
SUNBURNPDABREACHED
ECOREDSOXNATIONHEXA
TAPEUPDIGITSDIP
TIMELAPSEGOOGLEEARTH
APEXSTIRFUGUEGREEN
JOLTTHEASTANDAANDE

My favorite types of Sunday crosswords are those involving some sort of trickery, unusual gimmick, or other "outside the box" features. So of course when I sat down to write one myself, I did pretty much none of that.

Instead, this puzzle is a relatively straightforward theme with a focus on clean, lively fill. It won't wow you with meta-level discovery or a maximally perfect, algorithmic-generated theme set; it simply aims to be fun.

My hope is that for at least one solver (or team) out there, this is the first Sunday puzzle they successfully complete. For the rest of us, I hope you enjoy the fill along the way. If it's not to your taste, there's always the promise of a new puzzle tomorrow. Happy solving!

Mon 4/18/2016
GLIBCRIMEFOUR
ROMAAESOPANNA
ONANSEABISCUIT
KICKBACKPASTE
RUBECHAD
ZADORAGOODEGG
EXALTBELLEOER
SILLBREADMANE
TOESEUSSMETRE
MYSPACEWEASEL
LAKENAST
OASISCAPSLOCK
STUDMUFFINOPEN
HOMEGROVEAERO
AMORHOSERFLAX

Jack Luttrell

Would somebody pinch me? I can't believe one of my puzzles is in the New York Times. My Dad (pictured to the right) would be so proud! He loved crossword puzzles.

Although he worked six days a week and had five kids, he found time to experience and enjoy life. His interests were varied; he played golf, learned how to fly a plane and happened to be the best tourist ever. He dragged us to every tourist spot in the Midwest. Sunday mornings he would crank up his Grundig (think Moon River by Andy Williams), sip a cup of coffee and complete the Chicago Tribune crossword puzzle. Only when he was finished would he go on with his busy life.

He died when I was 18, but I still remember the joy and peace I felt watching him on Sunday Mornings. It is because of him that I learned to love words, puzzles, and life itself.

I cannot thank my mentor, Patti Varol, enough. She has endless amounts of patience, and her generosity is stunning. I really can't imagine how, or why, she has stuck by me for the last several years. I'll be forever grateful.

Tue 4/19/2016
SPARDRENESTS
OUTEREARMINTED
PROVIDERAPRONS
PELOSIAESOP
YELLCARDSBOSS
TIARASHERTZ
ATTSTEWMIDDIE
PAWHEADSUPELL
PHOBOSEARPREL
TOBATSAIDOK
SEALTULLEELIS
GLARERENATA
FIGAROECONOMIC
ICEDINSANDBANK
BURSAEVEIRAS

I was trying to get as many HEADS in the Down answers as possible and, at the same time, keep answers consistent with a Tuesday puzzle. When I found one answer (TWO BAGGER) that had two HEADS, I thought it would be nicer if another answer also had two; finding one that worked took some time but I like the result.

Wed 4/20/2016
TWOSWACOGHOSTS
AEROAFROOILCUP
GRANDSLAMODDONE
GETCHOMPEDERIC
IWOJIMAHATTRICK
NORAETATOIASS
GLINTROUGES
FOURTEENPOINTS
SEENATNORAD
ARCEAROOFWILE
FOULSHOTNONSELF
RATAONEPARTDOE
AREYOUTOUCHDOWN
MISERSROTERUES
ENTREEARODETRE

For most puzzles, one of the most time-consuming components is scouring word databases (both online and mental) to find a symmetric set of theme entries. For this puzzle, though, I got very lucky: The first three scoring terms I thought of were TOUCHDOWN, GRANDSLAM, and HATTRICK, and it was quick work to look up a 1-point play from basketball, which immediately gave me a set of 4 themers that added to 14 and that spanned (what I think are) the most widely-watched sports in the US.

Thu 4/21/2016
LIENISHMOPPED
ANNOTATEUPROOT
MASSAGERDROWNS
BLUEGRASSDATE
SLEDELHIHERBS
UTEELKGEEK
WOODYPLEASEDAY
ARIPALNYEORE
FALSEDARTWINDY
ETTEDYEGNC
REYESETTUEBBS
CHILDRENSDORY
TBOONEINSTORES
YEOMENETHERNET
RENEWSSOYMEDS

This puzzle was the product of a moment of clarity while watching a football game: "Wow, saying FALSE START is hard!" You should try it--try to say "false start" at normal speaking pace while ensuring that the S sound in "false" is really distinct from the ST sound in "start." It's hard to do without making the ST sound into more of a D sound, at least for me. A linguist might be able to explain why, but since I'm not one, I won't try :).

I decided I'd try to find some other examples of two-word phrases that had that same kind of sound combination. Turns out, they're pretty rare--the six I include here are very nearly the only ones I was able to come up with (although STANDS DILL/STAND STILL and LAS VEGAS DRIP/LAS VEGAS STRIP were other ones I liked a lot). It's as if phrases that are hard to enunciate are uncommon or something! I guess I got lucky that these six are not only pretty amusing, but that they also are of symmetrical lengths. Good fortune for me!

One other thing of note here: the astute among us might notice that PLEASE and NOSE have Z sounds instead of S sounds, strictly speaking. I fretted something fierce about this--are S and Z sounds "close enough?" However, I happened to read a note by Will on XWord Info for another puzzle that also did some wordplay on S sounds, and, to heavily paraphrase, Will essentially said that the difference between S and Z didn't bother him in that case because they largely worked equally well to accomplish the wordplay. So, I decided it was worth the risk, and I guess he thought so too. So not every "inconsistency" in a theme is one that dooms it, which is a point well-remembered for us constructors!

POW Fri 4/22/2016
SMARTYPANTSGPA
MADEYOULOOKRAM
ORDERONLINEESP
TITLEEDGINESS
ENOSRARENENE
CONGAPEDI
BIRTHDAYDRAGON
OVARIESNAILGUN
ZYDECOSOLOISTS
OLINWILES
EACHANOSPUMA
CATHOLICFINER
AGOLIVEALITTLE
FUREMERGENCIES
EESSPREADSHEET

I'm very excited to have my first published Friday puzzle. After banging my head against various hard surfaces over the years while trying to come up with clever themes, I finally decided to focus on themeless puzzles. I think end-of-the-week is where you'll find me hanging out in the future.

This being my first themeless though, I'm not that surprised that my clues got a major overhaul from Mr. Shortz. I think my favorite clue that did make the cut (and one that I thought was a goner for sure) was "Fox coverage that may be controversial" for FUR. I also contributed Norwegian Ridgeback (though not the Chinese Fireball) from Harry Potter for DRAGON. I was a huge "thirtysomething" fan, so that's why my OLIN is for Ken, and not Lena. And my love for Dr. Seuss knows no bounds, so I'm glad to have introduced GREEN EGGS to the puzzleverse.

Sat 4/23/2016
RAGEQUITGYMRAT
OHIDUNNOSORELY
SENDAWAYTUMBLR
SAGDECORHESSE
IDESDATASET
ROTNAFTARUM
OHARASSTARGAZE
ROLEXESSTDENIS
EYELEVELSMERSH
MASVEGASESA
RAREBITEMMA
TOGASLATHEPAS
ARABIAMARSBARS
LAZBOYBROMANCE
ELAINEASBESTOS

I think this puzzle may have been the first to benefit from my "seed list," an extensive list on my phone containing entries that I think would be cool to put in a puzzle (alphabetized and sorted by length, because when it comes to crossword obsessiveness, it's go big or go home). 1A, 9A, 64A, 10D, and a handful of other entries came from that list. Unfortunately, the primary seed entry (RAGE QUIT) would end up being scooped two times before publication, but whatchagonnado.

Some scattershot points of interest:

  • As usual, Will, Joel and the rest of the team made some fantastic edits to the clues. My favorites are those for 46D, 60D, and especially 28D, among others.
  • Unless the entry gets scooped within the week before this puzzle's publication, this is the New York Times debut for TUMBLR! Compare that to the crossword performance of REDDIT (Appeared in the NYT 3 times) or TWITTER (Clued in NYT as the website 6 times). It's okay, Tumblr, you consonant-heavy website, you. We still love ya.
  • Sweet Fancy Moses, my ELAINE clue made it through without changes! As an avid "Seinfeld" fan, being able to reference one of the all-time best TV moments was a real… kick.

That's all from me. Hope you enjoyed the puzzle!

Sun 4/24/2016"TEE" TIME
LARDAOKSASHSPLASH
OVERRIPEAMINOORALLY
CASUALTYFRIDAYRANSOM
ATONCESLIDPATTYDOWN
TALKERSALGAHES
EREOEDSENAMORJOIN
PANTYHANDLERREPRO
HALERHAILSADHATPIN
ICETEADELLRISOTTOS
RENTALSSOARCOVEYS
EDGYBATTYMOBILELIZA
TRAUMASETIORBITER
CHOWMEINRAMPSANEST
PIECESPEAROLOBESTS
BANKSREALTYNUMBER
JOSSWEIRDOTSARCAM
DABARCHRIPTIDE
BUSTYFAREPILEGUANOS
ANYONESAFETYCRACKERS
SINKERTRADEREDEEMER
EXCESSUNDOUSERADS

I was thrilled to have my first published puzzle occur on a Monday this past January. Now I'm ecstatic that my Sunday puzzle will appear! In both of them, my priority was trying to keep the "gluey" bits and "crosswordese" to a minimum.

The inspiration for this puzzle came when cluing "necktie" for another puzzle as "Casualty of casual Fridays". I searched for other phrases that changed meanings when "TY" was added to the first word and also had second words that could be clued differently. After finding about a dozen viable ones, I decided to try to construct a Sunday puzzle.

First, I attempted to have all 9 theme answers going across, but I could not get a clean grid. Luckily, two of them could be placed going down. My first submission had POTTYBOUND (clued as Headed for the head?) at 44-Down, but I was asked to improve on this. Luckily, again, PETTYROCKS could take its place.

Being that I am so new at this, I am proud that of the clues I wrote for the 9 themers, 6 were unchanged, 2 were modified slightly, and only one was rejected ("Song about Keller Williams" for 89-Across). About half of my other clues remained intact. Thanks to Will and Joel for improving on all the others, especially "Chatty Cathy types", and for coming up with the great title.

Will and Joel's supportive suggestions are helping me to improve. As Joel commented, "It's not the FLASHIEST of grids." I hope that all solvers, even the CASUAL ones, will enjoy working on this puzzle.

Mon 4/25/2016
ABANGKITEITIN
LEROIADINBONO
LANTZBOTTOMROW
STEAMROLLERERA
ELSOEOERROBI
TESSMMLISPIT
CSIESTREET
MRINBETWEEN
FOUNDEREDY
CLUBHYPEASHE
OURAMOOZSTOG
LMNPALMREADING
AMFMRADIORILED
DOURMENUANTSY
AXLESRISHASTE
Tue 4/26/2016
SERFSFLUDOLT
ALERTSAIRCOVER
GAPEATDELEGATE
ELONGATEALLOK
EEGSEASE
GRIMMAPPLEGATE
RUNYONOILSWIM
IRTMUSICALARM
EARLDENHOCKEY
FLOODGATESHEDS
WRENTATA
ICARETAILGATE
NAVIGATEWORDUP
CROSSFITAVIATE
HAWKTEEENSUE

The seed for this puzzle came when I was filling a different puzzle and two -GATE words ended up crossing in a corner. I thought that inelegant and decided to take out NAVIGATE. But I jokingly thought to myself, "I wonder if I could clue that as ["Avatar" scandal?]." And thus a theme was born. As the former managing editor of my college newspaper, I like to imagine two copy editors squabbling over whether or not to strike out a word. I can totally picture us Speccies dubbing that "The Great Dele-gate of 2016" or something.

I had targeted this puzzle for a Wednesday, so Will and Joel toned down the difficulty of the clues ever so slightly. Some clues left on the cutting room floor include ["The price we pay for love," per Queen Elizabeth II] for GRIEF and [Animal form of Harry Potter's Patronus] for STAG. My original adjacent clues for AWAKE and TIRED were, I think, too cute by half: [Pre-coffee, technically] and [Pre-coffee, alas]. But really, I'm just pleased they kept my original clue for MUSICAL: ["Hamilton," e.g.].

Wed 4/27/2016
CHASMOATCAVED
HAIKUMLIALIVE
ELLISBELLMINIM
NOSLAGOVENETO
ISAKDINESEN
BEDIMSWEE
ARIDEASEACHES
ROBERTGALBRAITH
ESSAYASTARENO
ESPRIPSAW
GEORGEELIOT
REBORNANNAYES
ANIMAANDYSTACK
SITESICECIRRI
PESOSREXANNUM

Over the past 10 years, my wife and I have been slogging through a list of "The World's 100 Greatest Books" as presented by Intelliquest (available on Listology.com, for anyone interested). Last year, I got to "Middlemarch" by George Eliot, who of course was not a George at all. Having recently read and thoroughly enjoyed the latest Robert Galbraith novel, I thought that women with male pen names would make for an interesting theme.

There weren't as many as I'd hoped for, which made symmetry difficult. And there was redundancy: two of them were named George (Eliot and Sand), and all three Bronte sisters took the surname Bell. Eventually, I decided to pair ROBERT GALBRAITH with a revealer, which turned out to be "What each writer in this puzzle has in common: TWO X CHROMOSOMES." However, Joel and Will thought that the revealer wasn't particular strong — or even necessary. In fact, they felt that not providing the author's real names anywhere in the puzzle would be frustrating to solvers. So, it ended up being a case where having a revealer was actually detrimental, which was a new learning experience for me as a constructor.

After going back to the well, I discovered ANDY STACK, whose books I had never read but my wife had. And with Andy (Ann Rule) having just passed away in July, it was a nice way to memorialize her. Have fun solving, and hopefully this puzzle inspires you to pick up a book by one of these authors!

Thu 4/28/2016
TNARGROPEPES
CIRUASENATADE
ABBAJTHESAURUS
SABUTAVATAR
CIMONOGREITALO
STEGOROVALSCH
IOLENANAS
DNETSEWEASTMAN
STFISAIRY
BBEOTTOSARDIS
EUQIPTURNSTILE
STUOPSTOLLS
ELASETIHWOOMPH
TETREVESPUPAE
SRESWEYETHYL
Fri 4/29/2016
FIVEAMJETBLACK
ACADIAINREASON
BYLINEGOODTIME
SUETSUPIDEA
STEIDTAGSNERD
HAMSTERWHEEL
ORELLESTROVE
PENALTYHEAVING
SUMMAFORERGO
PASSIONFRUIT
TABOOUNDERSNO
ALOESNLEASE
SORTDATATERCET
THERAVENSTMARK
EASYREADEVENSO

Since this feels like my weepy Oscar acceptance speech, I want to first and foremost thank David Quarfoot for introducing me to crosswords. David was my calculus teacher at the Roxbury Latin School (where fellow constructors Sam Trabucco and John Lieb also hail from, and where I will begin teaching next fall!). Seeing that I was interested in other word games at school, he showed me the ropes of cruciverbalism. My first crack at constructing was for our school newspaper. I made the grid by hand, tore through the paper after too many erasings, and ultimately misspelled a word in the finalized grid. In spite of that initial trauma, I've been addicted ever since.

This was my first puzzle accepted by the Times, back in April 2015. The seed entry for this puzzle, POPCORN BRAIN, ironically got the puzzle rejected when I first submitted it. So I substituted PASSION FRUIT and redid the bottom half of the grid, and voila! I got THE RAVEN and EASY READ out of it, so the English major in me was pleased. Shout out to Will and Joel for improving many of the clues.

As for myself, I hail from Dedham, Massachusetts and am finishing up my senior year at Dartmouth College. I study English and film history, and am working on a thesis focusing on the cross-pollination of cinema and literature at the end of the nineteenth-century. When I'm not reading or building crosswords, I enjoy improv comedy, film criticism, and table tennis. Will, I'm coming for you!

Sat 4/30/2016
FACEPLANTANKHS
STATIONERRENEW
HEGOTGAMEOXEYE
AMENHOTEPSTELE
RPINOSALEHOP
PONCEMENUJOVE
ANTISGAOLER
SHOPVACMASHERS
LAURYNKAREN
ASTIGANGAQABA
PTSGOBANGSAN
JOCKOAVERAGING
AROARSETABLAZE
CURVEEROSIONAL
KNEADDYSPEPSIA

According to my records, it's been about 4 years since my last submission to the NYT — but then I've always been a streaky sort of constructor. The last few years of my puzzling spare time I spent digitizing old crosswords for David Steinberg's ambitious Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project, from the NYT newspaper archives going back to the debut of its puzzle in 1942. It was a diverting time, moseying through the passing decades of Americana and reveling in the ever-changing usage of our language. And once that was done, it seemed natural to submit some new ones.

This is the first of several to come. FACE PLANT with the clue [Result of a bad trip] was the starting point. The fill flowed from there without a hiccup, which rarely happens. Did upgrade the lower left from FANATIC crossing FALLOVER, AGUILERA, NELLIGAN in an initial version to the more lively (and less name-laden) SHOPVAC/SLAPJACK, otherwise not much heavy massaging was necessary.

Will's acceptance email included: "The fill has a lot of tough vocabulary, but it's all fair game. It should make for a tough test for even the sharpest solvers." Hopefully, it didn't cause much 61-Across :).