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Puzzles for April, 2017
with constructor comments

Sat 4/1/2017
MCIASWARMHDTV
NOLALANAIAIRE
GUESSAGAINVSIX
SAUTEMOLES
PRIZEEERINESS
ACAITIMNNONOS
WASSONGSETTLE
GINORMOUS
SPRUNGAARPPSA
MEANTCNRRSIKH
UNSNARLSATTYS
HEXADBLURB
SPEDTWOBYFOURS
TORIEARLEPLEA
PESTDRESSHLIK

I wanted to try something a bit different. Experienced solvers become very familiar with common answers (OREO, etc.).

So I thought to use the most common clues that we take for granted ("Part of HOMES" for ERIE, etc.). My original versions had no "TWO BY FOURS," and had two extra rebus words in the corners. However, I felt the fill was not up to snuff, and the extra themers did not add to the surprise. After some suggestion and rework, the grid you see came to be.

I intended this for a Thursday trick and clued accordingly. Mr. Shortz, in his wisdom, decided this would be a nice April Fools' Day trick. Some of the cluing has been toughened up for a Saturday, and possibly to help disguise the rebus a bit more.

I just hope it's not too frustrating, nor too easy.

Sun 4/2/2017INITIAL DESCRIPTION
CHALKSMADEASALUTES
AERIALABOLLACLOSELY
SWIMMERWITHARCHEDNECK
SNAPPEAGAINFULERNIE
APPEARDEWIDS
MOSTLYARIDREDSPHERE
SANAAALSACESIDE
SKORDOTNUBSMIASMA
AIDTOLOCATEASTREET
SETRATEAAHAMYAYN
OLEANLGBTMETASTLEO
FIRILEAREZITHERS
THREEROLLEDINTOONE
CUERVODORAUNCSAGA
SANGNAGSATMINED
OTHERWISEKNOWNASYES
ASHDARATRIAL
STEERHEAVETOFRISSON
WINGEDANDSTINGINGPEST
ACRONYMDONNIEINCASH
SHYNESSPAGANASANAS

I've long been fascinated with self-referential stuff, from the mildly amusing (e.g., the Liar's Paradox, "This statement is false"), to the visually dazzling (Escher's "Drawing Hands," "Print Gallery," etc.), to the deeply troubling (Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem and its mathematical foundation-rattling), to the cosmically profound (Wheeler's Participatory Anthropic Principle of the universe, and the like).

While on the amusing side, I had stumbled upon self-referencing acronyms — so-called "apronyms," or "aptonyms." It recently occurred to me, "What great fodder for a crossword!" My first submission had five of them, including a few that Will wasn't that crazy about (e.g., ENERGETIC LITTLE FELLOW). But he and Joel were sufficiently intrigued that they offered to workshop the idea with me.

I shared a bunch more of my favorites, culled over time from various sources and my own addled brain. With Will and Joel adding their deft touches to a couple (A TOME LOCATING A STREET became AID TO LOCATE A STREET, for example), we ultimately landed on the six you see. Squeezing in six of such length made it challenging to keep the fill lively, and meant having to lose payoff entries such as the four-theme-word-crossing SELF-REFERENTIAL (and thus settling for the more subtle reveal in 69- and 120-Across), but I was very pleased with the final result and hope you had fun with it.

Once again, it was a huge pleasure working with Will and Joel. I was happy to see so many of my clues survive their expert and uncompromising editor's scalpel. It was also gratifying to sneak in a reference to our youngest grandniece, ABIGAIL, who I hope will appreciate the "tribute" when she learns to read.

Overall, I was sufficiently encouraged by the almost simultaneous acceptance of this and a not-yet-published weekday puzzle submission, after a disappointingly steady run of (however gracious and constructive) rejections following my "beginner's luck" first submission last year, that I think I'll stick with this new-found hobby/budding passion of mine for a while longer and see how it goes. Besides, Beebo (Abby) has quite a few siblings and cousins who may demand equal time.

Mon 4/3/2017
EGOSVAPORIRIS
BERTIRATENATL
BEERBATTERECHO
SKOALERASHAT
PUMPKINCOACH
SKIROERHEAS
OILSNASAAFL
BALLPARKFIGURES
BAESALTNAPA
ALEVEACTYAP
WATERPITCHER
NTHSUMOREAMS
ITEMCEILINGFAN
NEROKALELARIA
GREWSNEAKLONG

AGNES: Prior to December 2015, my only experience with crossword puzzles was solving them, a pastime that I've enjoyed since the late 1970's. Through C.C.'s generous invitation to collaborate, I'm enjoying the challenges and rewards of the nuts and bolts of construction. Most of all, I'm enjoying working with C.C. whom I consider both a friend and mentor. I'm very excited about our New York Times debut.

C.C.: This puzzle was accepted last Sept. Agnes and I were fairly conservative in our grid design due to theme entry length. I started making puzzles with Agnes in Dec. 2015 and we've had a few puzzles published by Rich (Jeff: Rich Norris, the LA Times editor). Agnes was eager to learn, and she learned so fast. She also works incredibly hard and is unfailingly kind, patient and accommodating of my background. I enjoy very much working with her.

Tue 4/4/2017
XFLGRATESTAID
ERARELAYCOSMO
NOSERVICERAYON
ODEAOBIPESO
NORSELITERATURE
TUTGEMWAX
EMBERSAGEMINI
NEUROSCIENTISTS
DARNCURDIMHOT
ORSJABVEE
NATIONALPASTIME
ONUSYIPICON
JAPESPINOCCHIO
EXERTINTROARK
TENTSAGASPTAI
Wed 4/5/2017
SPITCABSPOMP
SHINEROPAHSPUR
MAÑANAPEÑANIETO
IVANFLEXORSNOW
DETECTORSPAREME
GRATATNGORBS
ESSBASIEBASSOS
PIÑACOLADA
NONONOULTRASEP
OKEDSODPEPSI
SIESTASGASTRAPS
ENDICEWINEINAT
JALAPEÑOSELNIÑO
OWESLOOTPINSON
BASKARTSDAHL

This is my second crossword published in the NYT though it was actually the first one accepted. The impetus for its construction was the infelicity of having to enter the word AÑO in crosswords as ANO (for those not in the know the word ANO has a less-than-savory meaning in Spanish). I thought — let's make a crossword where the word AÑO is written properly!

I started by brainstorming words containing an ñ and experimentally intersecting them. I considered using the word EÑE as a revealer, but once I hit on having SPANISH and ESPAÑOL cross EL NIÑO there was no turning back. I expanded to 16 columns to simultaneously accommodate PIÑA COLADA (a central themer with an even number of letters) and provide just enough room for adjacent horizontal theme entries at lengths 6 and 9. Isolating each section of the grid in this manner reduced the strain created by having crossing theme entries.

Although the horizontal theme entries are symmetric, it would have been ideal to also have symmetry in the vertical themers. Unfortunately, there weren't enough options to pull that off.

As submitted, the theme clues did not use cross references. For example, SEÑOR was clued as [Man of La Mancha?] and AÑO was clued as [Year abroad?]. SPANISH and ESPAÑOL had the same clue, which alluded to but didn't explicitly mention the letter ñ. The new cluing is more solver-friendly though — especially for people without much exposure to Spanish.

Some other musings on changed cluing: As submitted, PEÑA NIETO was clued as [Obama's Mexican counterpart], which was true back in May of 2016 when the puzzle was written (how time flies!). Understandably, my original clue for COPERNICUS, which referenced young Doc Brown's dog in the movie "Back to the Future" didn't make the cut (maybe next time...). Finally, I'm not completely on board with the new clue for WOOT (to me its meaning is more hooray or yippee than wow).

POW Thu 4/6/2017
ESTDXMANLIVE
ACHEMEGAARIL
TERABYTESBTEAM
UNEIGAAGEE
PEELERPATTIE
XENIAMARAUDS
PSATTWEEOGRES
ATLXSANDOSNAE
REARSSEASGELS
INDEPTHLURID
STYLESMUFFED
YEASUGGUVA
VIVIDTUNASALAD
IRANAMPMALDA
PANGRACEHOES

X is a strange letter. It starts the fewest number of English words by a significant margin, but we make up for this by *overusing* it in other areas. In mathematics (my college major), we are first introduced to x in elementary school as the multiplication symbol. Then as we take algebra in middle school that usage completely goes away, and x is used instead to represent an unknown number in an equation. As if that isn't enough, when we next move on to functions, x is typically used to represent the independent variable in functional notation. Why? Why do we abuse x like this when we have dozens of other symbols we can use? I mean, given how many kids struggle with math literacy, you would think we could make it a bit easier on them, no?

Anyway… for this puzzle it was helpful that x can be used in so many different ways. I haven't been making many rebus puzzles of late (lest they become as overused as x), but I thought this idea — making the rebus symbols mean something different each time they're used — was new enough to warrant a puzzle.

I hope it isn't lost on the solver that the letters X and O do not appear in this grid at all outside the theme. This put a pretty substantial limitation on my fill options (as it turns out, O is a very useful letter in crossword puzzle constructing), so the grid isn't quite as clean as I would like (see TWEE crossing ENE), but I think it mostly came out alright — eventually. The first two iterations of this puzzle were sent back with a "not quite" note. Well, you know what they say: Third x the charm!

Fri 4/7/2017
BLUFFSBUYERS
RANOUTPOTOMAC
ARMORYHEREWEGO
CRADLESONGSROT
HUDTUNETAUT
SPEAKEASYBELTS
SIXYEAROLDS
FIRESCREENS
MEDICALCARE
BADENTEAMSTERS
ERASSHADNOW
AMYSTONECIRCLE
TIEBEAMSORIOLE
ITERATEBADREP
TENORSSNEERS
Sat 4/8/2017
ANTIGONEWATT
HOUSEPETDONEE
ETCETERAQUOTAS
MAKESDODUELIST
RENDSWATCHES
ROOTBEERAERI
WWIIVETPRAT
COTNETIZENODE
ANILSPLITUP
NEMOCALLSFOR
THEODOREFOES
FOLKARTCASHBOX
AREOLEROBABANK
ISSUEADRIATIC
LESTDEADHEAD

WWIIVET was the seed for this one, a curious string of letters I saw in a D-Day article a year or two ago. Not only is it bizarrely fun to have a *WIIV* series of letters, but I have a feeling that there are plenty of WWIIVETs who are avid crossword solvers. I thought it would be awesome to give a shout-out to the greatest generation.

If you're not already a daily reader of XKCD, you're missing out. And Randall Munroe's book, "What If?" is amazing. If anyone out there is still trying to find me a birthday present ... (cough cough).

While I love puzzles featuring stuff that personally interests me — chemistry, basketball, bridge, books, physics, etc. — it does nag at me that such a narrowly-targeted puzzle will probably go over poorly with people that are much older than me, much younger, more cultured, more academic, etc. So when I build themeless puzzles, I try hard to sprinkle in at least a little for all types of people. Hopefully with ROB A BANK, ANTIGONE, ROOT BEER, FOLK ART, DEADHEAD, and the aforementioned, there's *something* that made you smile.

Sun 4/9/2017HAVING NOTHING ON
ABBOTSCATCRIPROOS
CLOTHARCHRENEKENDO
HOBBITHOLEAIDEOFTEN
TORSWINEMYGALSALOON
MOVIEBUFFOONSPLEENY
BASESTENLLORAX
PRECUTSAUSAGEFESTOON
LARUSSACDTLIFEECRU
ACTATEENEGOASHEN
YESHORSEDRAWNCARTOON
BEREAASLARGOS
SMALLMOUTHBASSOONTUB
PINUPULAOHNOSUPE
ERTESERBLPSEDWARDS
WAILINGWALLOONWHYNOT
ELEGYAOLOBOIST
IMPALESFLOODLAMPOON
MAINDRAGOONRIVALGOP
ADAIRLOCIDOMINATORS
MANNYAGAROPIESELMA
SMOGDOLEASTRHADAT

The genesis of this puzzle was seeing OON in some puzzle, laughably clued yet again as a legit suffix. (I would say that I've never put it in a puzzle, but I'm afraid to check.) The few dictionaries that list it don't actually say what it means. They just blame it on the French and leave it at that.

That said, it was pretty easy to come up with lots of options. For a long time, HORSE-DRAWN CARTOON was the only 17. That puts it in the center and segments the grid unpleasantly with Utahs (3 blacks next to 2 blacks) or Merlesque staircases on either side, unless you can do some fancy long crossings on the downs on the H and the opposite N. I couldn't make it work, but trying made me very familiar with the possible intersections.

I was just about to downgrade it to GROCERY CARTOON, when I realized STRIPED BASSOON could be upsized to the much funnier LARGE-MOUTH BASSOON. The rest came together pretty nicely. LARGE had to be swapped out for SMALL to make REFLEX TESTS possible on the other side, but aside from the nasty little section in the Southwest (RWY, I'LL DRY, ugh), it worked well enough to leave a lot of room for some interesting non-theme entries. With such a straightforward theme, it's a good idea to spice it up a bit elsewhere. Hope you enjoyed it.

Mon 4/10/2017
RAISEABODECOB
ORCASCOREDACE
SEANCONNERYLEI
HANGMEDIAPLAN
TSADISHING
TIMOTHYDALTON
ATEEASESIT
ROGERLUGMOORE
RNACADSWII
PIERCEBROSNAN
LIBERALINK
IRASMEDALINTO
FINDANIELCRAIG
ENDDICERCUTER
RAJSCHMOSNORE

This is my first-ever puzzle in The New York Times. I am so excited and honored. You see, I am a 51-year-old man without a computer, who has submitted at least 75 other puzzles to Will since 2008. Frankly, I lost count! I make all my crosswords by hand, then send them by snail mail to my good friend and partner, Nadine Anderton, who serves as my sounding board, personal editor, and conduit to crossword editors.

I am in prison in Washington State, and have been for 26 years. I did some pretty bad things in my youth, but now am dedicated to changing my life, seeking redemption and forgiveness, and making amends for my actions. In addition to making crosswords, I am a contributing writer for Prison Legal News, a national publication focusing on issues relating to the criminal justice system.

I came up with the idea for this 007 puzzle while talking to another prisoner who was interested in how I made crosswords. I was showing him how to number (by hand, of course) another puzzle when I screwed up on 7-Down. It ended up a mess and looked a bit like "007," which we thought was funny. So the idea was sparked. I took out my crossword dictionary and found that the James Bond role had been played by more people than I had thought. Everything worked fine symmetrically, except for the 10-letter ROGER MOORE. My solution, as you see, was to break that up in the middle. Thank God he has two five-letter names! In honor of how I got the idea, I decided 7-Down should be 007-Down, and the "Bond" entry there would be what ties the puzzle together.

I've long been fascinated by crosswords. In 2008 I saw the documentary "Wordplay" on PBS. In it Merl Reagle showed how to make a puzzle from scratch. I paid close attention. When the show was over, I set out to make my first crossword, sure I would sell it for thousands of dollars! It took me several weeks and a lot of trips to the prison library to have the staff librarian look up words I needed to complete the puzzle. It sucked, and it still sits in my crossword folder.

For filling grids, The Million Word Crossword Answer Book, by Stanley Newman and Daniel Stark, has been my mainstay. It's what I use to make all my puzzles. I used to draw my grids by hand, but later took a class where the teacher was cool and made me some blank grids on her computer. Since then I keep making copies of that. When I get an idea for a puzzle, I use a crossword dictionary to help me come up with and verify theme entries. I then sit down with a pencil, pen, eraser, and my Crossword Answer Book, and start my grid. I am told that most crossword builders use computers these days to make their puzzles. I can't even imagine that.

Once the grid is made and it complies with all the rules, I do what is the most fun part for me — the fill. I'm to the point now where I can fill a 15x in 60-90 minutes on a good day, and 3-4 hours if I really box myself in. My biggest issues are obscurities and the fact that the Crossword Answer Book only goes to seven-letter words. After that it's just my "imagination."

For clueing I use an unabridged dictionary, a crossword dictionary, a Scrabble dictionary, and the back of the Crossword Answer Book. For anything I still can't clue I turn to Nadine, who has access to the Cruciverb database. Then I take out my manual typewriter, type up the clues, take a Sharpie and make the black squares on the grid, type in the numbers, and finally neatly write in the words with two sharpened pencils. I pop it in the mail to Nadine with instructions on where I want to submit it. She enters it into Crossword Compiler, fixes my mistakes, and makes suggestions for improvements. Once we agree, she sends if off and we cross our fingers.

I love making crosswords, but I thought I'd never reach the top of the mountain by joining the New York Times club. My life hasn't been easy, and I've done many things that have hurt others, but that is in my past. I don't know what the future holds, but I am determined to be a good and productive member of society. The modest income I receive from selling puzzles will someday help me successfully reintegrate back into society.

POW Tue 4/11/2017
WISHLAMBSWAMI
AKIOALOEIONIC
SECLUSIONGENRE
PAKISTANZANIA
DENPHS
NICARAGUATEMALA
OKAYMONKREBAR
ENCGENTILENYE
LOTSAEIREDEEN
SWITZERLANDORRA
OEDTAM
UNITEDNATIONS
TAKENBEANANGEL
AVERTACIDOLIO
BASSOYOLOSENT

Happy Passover!

It's so exciting to share a byline with my oldest son, Zachary. This is my first and his second puzzle published in the Times, and Zach has a few more that have been accepted for future publication. While both our names are on the byline, Zach should get almost all of the credit — it was my theme idea, but the puzzle would never have been created without his guidance and hard work.

The whole family was involved — my husband Steven helped by writing a computer program to spit out all of the possible country combinations (guineabissaudiarabia anyone??), and Zach's three younger siblings all helped along the way with the fill and clues. Maybe someday we'll get a puzzle accepted with the whole "Spitz/Roseman Family" credited!

The idea for this puzzle came to me almost seven years ago — I was taking a crossword puzzle construction class (yes, there are such things!) through the Cambridge Adult Education Program — with the accomplished puzzler Brendan Emmett Quigley. The class was filled with smart, motivated people, and I was very intimidated — they made it look so easy.

The goal of the class was to come up with a puzzle theme and then work on the fill together, and hopefully, submit it to the New York Times by the end of the class. My theme wasn't chosen, though, and I wasn't motivated enough to work on it all by myself once the class was over. So it sat for many years until Zach got interested in puzzles and I begged him for help. We first submitted it almost two years ago, and it was rejected. But before Zach went off for his second year of college he looked at it again and resubmitted it, and it was accepted. Patience was rewarded, for sure.

I first started doing puzzles with my grandfather David Heller, who was a soft-spoken man but showed me a very different side as we sat and did the Sunday puzzle together and he (not so) quietly cursed Eugene T. Maleska. My mother and sister have long been puzzle-doing companions, and Zach also benefits from the rabid Scrabble players on his father's side of the family — they are a ruthless bunch.

In our immediate family, the daily puzzle is divided among various family members — and some of the most amusing fights in the house have happened when Ella, our youngest, has come home from school and saw that someone added words to "her" puzzle day — amusing for the parents, at least! Once everyone has smartphones, I gather they'll be solving alone in front of screens, which seems a little sad. Some families have beach houses or real estate fortunes to pass down, but ours has the love of words, and has lots of fun playing with them together.

Enjoy!

Wed 4/12/2017
MANUPRIDLOPES
ALITOAMYINEPT
ROKERCANAVERAL
GUESSTIMATES
EDSCISMATADO
HOMEINVADER
SHAPELTDCENT
WALLSTREETCRASH
ALEEHOCAEREO
MARXBROTHER
PLOIAMOTSWAC
SPLITTHEBILL
MAPLELEAFALLIE
ANTEDSROTIMER
GNAWSTARSPANK

Classically, I think of going Dutch as going 50/50 on a bill. In an ideal world the long theme answers would be phrases that split famous Bills' last names evenly. Unfortunately, finding enough Bills with even-numbered last names that split nicely into interesting phrases proved surprisingly difficult.

Wikipedia defines going Dutch as "each person participating in a group activity pays for themselves"—so with that definition in mind, I think this theme still holds up, as long as you imagine that you just ordered salad while your date got two pre-meal cocktails and the lobster but oh-so-conveniently hasn't responded to your Venmo request yet.

Thu 4/13/2017
IPADSPYSIMBA
BIGOSHOOATEAM
ENIDMOODLHASA
GOTOHEOHERSIDE
SADATLOAN
OTAWAEDKOCH
GAPNALAINSUM
ONEPOATOWOPOATO
STRUTTOONYES
HITMENFLASH
PRIMLIOTA
TRIPLEOVERTIME
CAIROZBAROTOS
UPTOPZESTRECT
BEANSOYEOROS

This puzzle went through many transformations (e.g., TRIPLE[OT] and even 3OT serving as possible revealers) before I settled on the final set of theme answers. Not too proud of ESTS, RECT and [OT]ROS congregating in the bottom right, but that corner was just a big bad bear to fill, even with an extra black square at the end of 51-Across. Overall, I'm pretty happy with how the rest of the puzzle turned out.

Will and Joel smoothed out the solve by tightening a lot of the clues, though I do wish some of my attempts at being cute also made it to print: "Barely show?" for FLASH, "Call it a knight?" for SIR and "Medium for a musician?" for MEZZO. Maybe next (over)time.

Fri 4/14/2017
POTROASTSCAT
ABOUTTHATSOAVE
TOUGHLOVEPUTIN
HEREATERANNAS
SRSRAINDATE
BOOTHNBCAPED
BADRAPSYEAS
STEALINTALLONE
IFSOEXPEDIA
SWATAWLHEDER
PARLANCETAP
ARIASREHEMCES
SHOCKARENAROCK
MOSESBALALAIKA
SLEDTIMESLOT

It's a good Friday indeed when you see your hard work hit print. Almost a year ago I experienced the thrill of debuting a puzzle in the Times, so today marks a satisfying year of causing re-sharpened pencils and whittled erasers nationwide. May there be more to come.

I don't remember much about the genesis of this puzzle, but I do recall the SE falling together nicely, especially BALALAIKA and ARENA ROCK, which are unfortunately rarely found together outside this crossword. What I loved most was Joel and Will changing the clue for HER, lest we forget what we passed up.

Sat 4/15/2017
STATORALBLCDS
OATHMETALBLOT
CHEESECAKEJAGR
KIMMELDEAFSPA
STPETERKANSAN
IOCTOTOBOARD
HITTHEBRICKS
SPACETOURISTS
PHONESERVICE
IONICNORMMUD
TOYCARESIASON
FATPAWSTAKETO
AWAGTHEJONESES
LAIRTOXINRUDE
LYLEYAYMESPUD

Looking at this puzzle again with fresh eyes, it feels clean and well arranged, and is of solid quality all around. Though, I do wish I had added a little more sizzle with the longer answers. There are many good entries, and even more excellent clues, many of which belong to the editorial team, so this should (hopefully!) still be a fun solve.

Sun 4/16/2017SADDLE UP!
NAFTABIGAIDEAEGGOS
ELLENAMEXCARDSZORRO
ALISTTHEHUMANTORNADO
RAPTCHOKESBARMAGNET
HARBORAPPASSPAH
CISCOKIDEARLMALE
RIODIABLOALAFOE
PRIEDEATSLONERANGER
MANSESNAHSILVERDOME
SUBSOWSOITSEEMS
ALLOREPWIZWASLSAT
ROYROGERSGALNAG
TRIGGERINGPOWWELOST
SENIORYEARSNAPTONTO
EDYSKIGIRLSCOUT
BCCSSTEMPILEITON
ALEMDTMBADOOMED
DALEEVANSUTAHANOHOH
BUTTERMILKDONUTSTALE
EDICTPLOWSINTOPENCE
TECHSSETHSOURADDED
Mon 4/17/2017
WDSCDROMAPBIO
IRAAWARECLUCK
LULULEMONHADES
SNARLERLONGS
OKRABOOBOOBEAR
NSYNCDUALTWO
IOSRBIREST
PUPUPLATTER
PRIMREAAIL
IONETDSPALES
GOOGOOEYESPITA
SCARFAMUSERS
ETHICVUVUZELAS
DELTAOTERIODE
DRESSNERFSWED

The theme for this puzzle was too easy for FireballCrosswords.com, my superhard subscription puzzle.

Left on the cutting room floor were JUJUMUSIC, TOOTOOSOLID (from a Hamlet soliloquy), and ZUZUBAILEY (George Bailey's daughter with the petals in "It's a Wonderful Life").

Tue 4/18/2017
SEESETTELASS
TILTREARSARIA
AREAASSAIRATS
REALISTSTILES
ETESASEA
ALTAIRALISTER
SARISRITESLAT
STIRSELESRITA
TETSTEEREATER
RETAILSATREST
ELLSESAI
ISRAELSALTIER
RIISETATSIRAE
ELLERELEEEASE
STERLESTSSTS

My last Sunday puzzle was titled "Uh-oh," and I'm sure some people feel that way about stunt puzzles in general. I submitted three or four of these seven letter puzzles a couple of years ago, and they all got rejected — even one I really liked that had the seven letters circled in a Big Dipper shape with the one theme entry SEVEN STARS. Will and Joel felt sorry for me and suggested I try one with anagrams.

I took this acceptance as an invitation to try a similar theme with six letters, but I've submitted three of those now with no success. The rejection letters usually include wording like "we're not sure we're ever going to like this theme...". It's not that the vocab isn't clean, it's just so repetitious.

My eight letter puzzle started a new (thankfully short-lived) club, called "The H8ers", which was a dubious honor — I'm expecting some H8 mail with this 7 one also, but I'm hoping there are others out there who find this type of puzzle interesting.

Wed 4/19/2017
SLAWJANUSAQUA
TECHABOVERUNS
EREIKERRIMATT
MONSTERMASHKOI
SITKADAYMARE
EDGERSURFS
PLAYAREAMANGIA
RONSENEANNULS
EKEOUTLIENEE
VICUNAAPR
DRAGSHOWSHIA
NEOSAWEDINHALF
OATSRENOCILIA
TSARBARRAGLET
EELSOTISRHODE

AX: I have been a passionate devotee of the Times puzzle for more years than I can count. When I travel, the daily puzzle is one of the things that makes me feel close to home. I am also very happy that my children seem to have caught the bug, and are far better than me at solving. Getting to try to make one for the great Will Shortz has been a true highlight for me, and I am grateful to Brad for his expertise, inspiration and patience.

WILBER: I minored in applied piano at college, and I'm still occasionally a church player, though when Will paired me with Mr. Ax ("call me Manny") he was only aware that I had a general classical music bent. I wanted a theme with some musical component, if possible, and once we sketched out a decent idea, Will and Joel had the brainstorm of the visual grid element and deftly tweaked the roster of theme entries to allow them to cross, thus clearing the middle.

Another frequent collaborator of mine, Doug Peterson, lent a hand with the nitty-gritty of grid design. Manny himself ably put crowning touches on the puzzle fill (including the revealer) and was game to do an even split of the clues. (I counseled against RUNS at 16A as a duplication of a theme entry, but I see it's back and I get it - TUNS or DUNS is not exactly commonplace.) After years of solving, Manny showed a nice affinity for New York Times style, I think - my favorites are 1A, 23A, 32A, 53D.

We worked over e-mail and by telephone, sometimes from wherever he was performing (Brahms concerto no. 2 in Milwaukee, Beethoven concerto no. 2 in Detroit, etc.), and more recently from his home as he was premiering the HK Gruber concerto with the New York Philharmonic.

Given my puzzle bylines over the last several years, you might correctly surmise that I derive lots of satisfaction from co-authoring, and this was one I won't soon forget. Beyond the joys of connecting with Manny and his enthusiasm, it's a special way for me to mark my 50th appearance in the Times, as Will mentions in his intro.

Thu 4/20/2017
AWAYSOLIDATIT
SIZEPLUMEBONE
ONUSRADIIROVE
FORHEAVENSSAKE
IVYMIDACT
TVAMARRECTO
WHACKAMOLELIP
SHESIMBUESAVE
PINLAMEEXCUSE
ATALEARSHMS
RETAINBET
RUNFORTHEROSES
GIRDFATALTOKE
NCAAATOLLALEX
CELTTEPEELOST

The theme of this puzzle arose in a manner that I suppose is common for many constructors — a word (or a word in a phrase) suddenly triggers a thought process that ultimately leads to a crossword. Here, I noticed the one-syllable word English word SAKE can be transformed simply by a variation in pronunciation into the two-syllable Japanese wine SAKE. When applied to FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE, the standard English phrase becomes re-defined into a rather amusing concept by using the Japanese meaning. With this revelation, the essence of a constructor's "aha moment" had taken place, and the hunt for other words that could offer parallel transformations began.

It turned out that there aren't many relevant choices. In the completed puzzle, the letter E is the consistent transformative focus, shifting in pronunciation, with the E changing from a silent to a voiced vowel in three of the entries. This is nice, although it is partially a side effect of the apparent dearth of options. In the end, three of the key words referred to food or drink. There is another edible option — PATE — but the English meaning of PATE (the top of the head) did not offer any common or reasonable phrases. Thus, LAME might be considered the outlier of the group, but I like the humor of LAME's altered meaning in the puzzle, so the thematic set seems OK to me.

The length of the theme entries was a bit awkward — two 14s and two 10s — with letter positions leading to the stepped wedges that bracket the grid. But the layout did allow symmetrical pairs of relatively long downs — 8s, 9s, and 10s — giving the opportunity for a few interesting entries.

Finally, when one submits a slightly lengthy quote as a clue, it's never certain that it will be retained through the editorial process. So I'm particularly gratified that the trenchant quote from Mark Twain is present.

POW Fri 4/21/2017
APSESPAUSEHAG
CREMAASSETUTA
TOTUPPIECHARTS
OFTSMEARTACTIC
FOLDERGNILLA
GREATSCOTTDEAN
OMIGOSHOHMS
DANRIATEAOHS
TIASAFROPOP
PIPEHELLOKITTY
ENLAIIBNLIDS
GRAMMARNAZIMAT
GOGOBOOTSALITO
EAUANNEEMISER
DDEDEALSBETSY

This is one of the first themeless puzzles I ever constructed. My first version was rejected, and I set it aside for a while, and then after this version was accepted, it sat in the queue for a while longer, getting jumped by a few of my other themeless puzzles.

Looking over it with fresh eyes, I like it. The Texas region makes me cringe a bit — ANNEE crossing RONA and LINTEL is less than stellar — but I'm quite satisfied with the rest of it. My favorite answers are GRAMMAR NAZI and GO-GO BOOTS (not coincidentally my seed entries). To my knowledge, neither has ever before appeared in a crossword puzzle, and I think the clue for the former ("Type for who this clue will be annoying?") is pretty clever. I really like my submitted clue for the latter too, which was basically the same as the published clue ("Iconic part of Nancy Sinatra's early attire"), but I omitted one word: Nancy. Of course, the solver will immediately think of Frank Sinatra, which is the trick.

In another bit of misdirection, I hope fellow baseball fans will appreciate the clue for TOTAL BASES ("A batter receives four for a grand slam"), once they realize RUNS BATTED IN doesn't fit.

Sat 4/22/2017
HEBRIDESMESSES
AQUILINEAXILLA
JUICEBOXZANILY
JACKASSTHEMOVIE
ILKSAWSJEER
PREPPYMAR
CHEROKEEPAPIER
BADIDEAROXANNE
SHINEDMAKINGDO
EGOBITEME
CUFFTANSAYA
ARAISININTHESUN
PILEUPCAREWORN
ECCLESATALANTA
SHODDYREDDRESS

That corner is going to be the death of me. The first themeless I ever submitted seven or so years ago contained a variant of the HEBRIDES/AQUILINE/JUICEBOX/JACKASS stack seen here. That puzzle was declined, but I felt like I could do something more with all that Scrabbly goodness, which resulted in hours of grown-up whimpering and hair-pulling. (Lesson learned: symmetry means that for every cool wide-open section you pull off, you have to do it again on the other side.) By my count, this is the fourth time Will has seen that corner, which doesn't include the ten or so attempts I didn't waste a stamp on.

The right half is where most of the unique entries ended up, but I find the left half much more satisfying (though I'm perversely proud of BITEME). You can probably guess the stuff that makes me wince, like SAYA/ANNAS, which I'm calling the sticker price on finishing the mirror-image corner that lost me seven years of sleep. SLIVERING was once SLIVOVITZ, which I couldn't quite make work, not for lack of trying. And the HWY/AWS crossing was the least of several evils—I could have gone with AWL, changing MAZES to MAZEL, but I'd rather have an awkward three than a boring fill-in-the-blank five ("_______ tov"). Grit teeth, smile, carry on.

All in all, I'm pleased with how it finally turned out. This is my first published crossword in five years (and my first themeless ever), having quasi-retired out of frustration at not being able to build the puzzles I wanted to create. In the end, that expletive-deleted corner's potential was the ghost that brought me back into the game, and so for that I'll embrace my albatross warmly.

Sun 4/23/2017A CENTURY OF SONG
MAMMASCRUSTAMALFI
GORILLASHEREELAGOON
ATISKETATASKETENNUIS
LEOSCABERNETBEGUILE
ETSEQYEWALOOFASSET
SINUSEARPFFFDADS
DIMITRICONSUMER
ISHTUNDESOTOJAIME
NEOLITHSNINOSICSRS
JAWATAPEADOBESUTRA
ELHILADYELLAGRAY
SPITZERIESEOSZLOTY
TUGIDSTNUTCONTINUE
PHONEHOTDOGNUIGMS
TVCAMERAFOSSILS
AGHADUILUSTTEALS
CEELOTRUCEPATSCALE
ELMTREEPHASESINKTEL
TAOISTISINGLIKEIFEEL
ATONEDTENETSINSULTS
LONERSSTARSSALLYS

I am so grateful and amazed that my first published crossword is with the New York Times... and on a Sunday no less. What a place to start!

It was during my college years at Vassar that I really got into crosswords, not on campus, but when I'd visit home. It became a ritual that my dad would hoard the Times Magazines so that we could do the Sunday puzzles together when I returned. We'd take turns, and each time I'd try to "crack" the theme before he did. In the beginning, I didn't have a chance at finishing one on my own, but I did so many that soon I was getting the themes before my dad even got a chance to look at them.

Solving Elizabeth Gorski's 2013 Secretariat puzzle was a turning point for me. I was completely floored by her ingenuity and wanted to know exactly how she pulled off such a cool trick. So I started looking into what it takes to make crosswords and made a few for fun.

Three years later, I found myself with a lot of time on my hands after finishing grad school. I started to wonder about the world of crossword publication and got in touch with Nancy Salomon, who kindly gave me a crash course in puzzle construction. I learned so much from her, and there is simply no way I would be here without her tough love and incredible patience. With her help, I went from struggling to find the right construction software to having this puzzle accepted by Will in just under six weeks. It's been one hell of a ride.

I'm very proud of today's puzzle, which honors one of my all-time favorite musicians. The grid went through many iterations, but once I decided on using a phrase as the connection points for the image (instead of alphabetical connectors), it started to come together. I hope you like it!!

Mon 4/24/2017
HTMLCHEFPSALM
OWESIOTAEERIE
WORDSALADGAPED
TAMWOEIRATE
OMAHAENOSGMT
NOTHINGBURGER
THIRDSEINE
SWIMPANSYDOSE
POSITOPENS
COUCHPOTATOES
ALPROLEBANGS
PRIEDGEEIOU
SEOULHUMBLEPIE
EASELARABMEND
TRESSTINSURGE

Nothing Burger. I've been hearing it again and again, especially on cable news channels which I watch way too often. Today, Nothing Burger makes its NYT crossword debut. I'm serving it up with a first course, a side and dessert. Dig in.

Tue 4/25/2017
IRAQTRIGCBGBS
MENTROSAHELOT
BODYGUARDIBIZA
URIAIDGAMEBOY
EGESTSNEVE
COMPUTERPORT
SAMESEZCARVES
PRANKZZZSIENA
AGREESLIIONER
MOVIETHEATER
PEASSAYIDO
ICELANDCOSMEX
BORATFRONTPAGE
MITZIUNUMAGUY
SLEETNAPEHOME
POW Wed 4/26/2017
VIEWAPBMENTOS
ACNECOOAVIARY
REDDFOXXNEXXUS
YESSIRSAYNO
ANGERNSFW
MEANTOAREDARE
ALPOANTIVAXXER
DIEHARDVINROSE
EXXONMOBILANNO
RIADYLANDYSON
ARMSAGGRO
LEASHAMARNA
TJMAXXDOSEQUIS
ROOMIEARPUGLI
YEASTSDRYASEA

I don't always construct crosswords, but when I do…

I'm a third-year English major at Ohio State with an emphasis on creative writing. In my spare time, I enjoy playing strategy board games and rearranging letters in my brain. Though I'm a lifelong fan of Scrabble and word puzzles, I wasn't really bitten by the crossword bug until a year or so ago. For some reason, 'words' such as QAT and ZA had always seemed second nature to me, but having to know the names of minor European rivers seemed frustratingly obscure. It's a good thing I finally came around, as crossword construction feels like a natural fit for me.

The notion of a theme that was inherently Scrabbly appealed to my inner Scrabble fanatic, and building a puzzle around double-X words seemed like an interesting concept. Because of the small number of possible theme entries and the restrictions of symmetry, as well as the constraint of positioning DOSEQUIS as the last theme entry, I settled on six themers of lengths 10, 8, and 6. The most challenging part of construction was designing a grid layout that allowed for 8 and 6-letter themers in the same row, while also working in the 10-letter theme entries with smooth crossings.

The first section of the grid I filled was the center, locking down GONDOLAS and ARRIVING early on. Though these aren't the most exciting long down entries, I was glad to be able to work in some snazzier seven-letter bonus fill in DIE-HARD, BOX SEAT, and VIN ROSE. I also am rather partial to the side-by-side juxtaposition of YES SIR and SAY NO, and the pairing of FRESNO and MADERA.

I had fully expected Will and Joel to change the vast majority of my clues, so I was pleasantly surprised that approximately three-fourths of my clues made the final cut, although some with minor improvements. Of the clues that survived, I particularly like 8-Across, 10-Down, 20-Across, 23-Across, and 70-Across. That said, my favorite clue of the puzzle by far is Will and Joel's ingenious "Shot blocker?" for ANTI-VAXXER, which I had originally clued as the less eloquent "One against taking a shot?" to echo the clue for TRY at 61-Down (which I was pleased to see also ended up making the cut).

Hopefully, you enjoyed your solve, and if you didn't find this to be the Most Interesting Theme in the World, I'll have something for you next time!

Thu 4/27/2017
CENTRALSUDOKU
ORCHARDNAUTICAL
PRIESTSUNBEATEN
ASSETMTMNOLA
MARSHEIRE
SWIMITERATEABS
OHMYCARETDFLAT
CEASERATESATYA
KEYDIETARYNOSY
MUNIPSSST
CODEONONAPES
HAIRCUTSERASURE
IHATEYOUMEFIRST
PUZZLESQUARES

My original idea was to create a Sunday-size puzzle with a full 9x9 Sudoku grid in the middle. Even if you let black squares substitute for one of the nine letters, however, I'm pretty sure this can't be done. So I decided to try a 4x4 grid instead. This was definitely simpler, as I could alternate vowels and consonants and use just a few common letters.

But a 4x4 square (and the entries that use it) isn't really enough theme material. I saw that I could add SUDOKU / PUZZLE and CENTRAL / SQUARES on the top and bottom rows and that would spread the theme material out. It also gave me a lot of bottom row letters that are hard to work with! The sudoku grid is also pretty hard to work with and required lots of black squares nearby to make the fill work.

This puzzle's wacky theme (Will's e-mail to me started "Well, your "Sudoku 2x2" is crazy ... but in a fun and novel way.") is matched by the wacky grid: 16x14, no long theme entries, lots of short entries, but also several mid-length nontheme (hopefully fun) ones. I'm glad to get my tenth solo NYT puzzle published, but if it's not your cup of tea, feel free to say I HATE YOU.

Fri 4/28/2017
DAFTCAMECHIPS
ACROPOLISRUNES
WHATADUMPALCAN
GENTLEMENSCLUB
EARNZAKBRR
BARTAFOREAAA
GODEEPENTRTIC
MUDDASNERTINE
ANICLODECHOED
ICCIONICREND
LETTMIASAP
SEXYANDIKNOWIT
MODEMLEMONLIME
SUTRAAMARYLLIS
STOOPWONTSENT

This is the oldest puzzle I have in the New York Times queue: It dates all the way back to June 2014, the summer between my junior and senior years of high school! Looking back on this puzzle now, I have mixed feelings about it. I still love SEXY AND I KNOW IT . . . yes, I'm totally a dork for getting excited about a trashy song from 2011, but it brings back so many memories for me! I also really like ACROPOLIS, GO DEEP, WHAT A DUMP, LEMON/LIME, and PEA-BRAINED.

Then there's GENTLEMEN'S CLUB, which I'm honestly less fond of as an entry now, since the whole concept of a gentlemen's club is kinda gross. Gentlemen's club is certainly well-known enough to appear in a crossword grid, but it's just not the kind of thing I'd want to showcase in a themeless now that I'm no longer a teenager. I still got a chuckle out of my original "Where less is often more" clue, but I'm glad Will and Joel went with something more neutral.

I also wish I'd made the lower left more lively—BOUNCES OUT and ADDICTED TO are both a bit bland, and I can't say I love ICC or XERO. I do like GO DEEP, GMAIL, and CITY MAP, though. Overall, I'm pleased with how smooth the fill in this one turned out, and I'd say there's a nice amount of zip. So even though this isn't my favorite themeless Will has on file from me, I'm very grateful it's being published!

Sat 4/29/2017
ASHBBCSCRAWL
THEATEAMARABIA
MEACULPANATANT
FERNGIRDMATTE
ESTEETIEUPTEX
EHSKOALASCORE
DILLYDALLIES
SOUNDINGBOARD
GEORGESMILEY
ITSASTOVESGEE
GAPSTINESTEAM
ASONECRABONTO
TIRANAOWLSNEST
ODESSAEAUDEVIE
NESTEAYESAND

I've always liked crosswords with wide open centers. To my eyes, they often look like printers' errors, because of the dearth of black squares in the middle... and I admire a good "dearth", on occasions.

However, one problem with open-center grids is that they can be very segmented, meaning that the central open area could almost be a separate mini-puzzle (I'm hardly innocent in this regard, incidentally). I hope today's puzzle is a bit more solver-friendly than some of my previous efforts, because of the long intersecting across and down entries that run through the center of the grid.

Also, I tried to make those six long entries as interesting as possible. But I only succeeded with five: CAPITALISTIC won't exactly set the crossword world afire. Maybe GEORGE SMILEY and MARILYN MONROE will provide a bit more zing!

There's one word in the grid that may be an eyebrow-raiser: 18-Across: NATANT. If you're unfamiliar with NATANT, it means "swimming" or "floating" (you'll find it in a regular college dictionary). I had considered removing it, but I thought it an interesting word for a Saturday puzzle. However, if you don't like NATANT, I hope the accompanying photograph by Jazmin Miranda will make up for it.

Sun 4/30/2017NEW ENGLAND CHATTER
GRIDASNAPCLOCKPDF
AIDELEONIOUNCEFRAU
SPOCKPLUGSACALLTOOMS
HALOESETALIIHATES
AYEASLOPERACEME
HOTSPECIALISTCHASSIS
INEULMSCALIATRI
TURNITUPTHEBODOFAVON
ESSENESEASTRAMONG
GARBFLEATOETOTOE
BOWLPASSINGMOCKREND
EPHEMERAADIAKENO
GEICOICKTWASAUDIS
INSTANTCOMMADROPSEAT
NIKCOOLIOMAUAGA
STEPSINASHOTINTHEDOC
DOUSESTENETSELS
SMARMCHILLSLLBEAN
LOWCOBDIETITSMYPOTTY
UTAHAROLLNEPALWORE
REYHYNDEERASESNIT

I got the idea for New England Chatter (Chowder) after hearing "It's My Party" on an oldies station, and suddenly hearing PARTY as POTTY. Researching the many AR_ sounds that flip nicely with a Boston accent was lots of fun — there were so many good possibilities that it was hard to narrow them down.

The idea has been used before, so I also wanted my theme selections to be as fresh as possible. By the way, my two other faves are THE BOD OF AVON and INSTANT COMMA.