No April fooling; one week after my A.C.P.T. playoff puzzle, I actually have a Sunday publication in the Times! This achievement has eluded me for years, so I'm super stoked to finally "hit for the cycle" on being published throughout the week.
Funny enough, I originally built the 15x16 grid below (shown at left), intending the puzzle for a Thursday. I didn't want a single rebus-ized letter to be repeated anywhere else, and figured the special squares should always appear at the ends of answers. My only hitch was whether or not the last example, THERE'S NOT A LOT I CAN DO, was an unfair inconsistency or a fun final twist.
When I showed it all to Joel on a Subway ride, he not only thought the former was true, but that my other restrictions were unnecessary. He wondered if the idea would be best in Sunday form altogether, and it took me maybe a half-second to excitedly agree.
If I may say, I'm super thrilled with how this thing turned out. These theme answers seem like a fun set in themselves, and I'm glad to have worked in four sets of triple-stacked 8s as well as fun bonuses in YEAH MAN, BAR SOAP and NICE DAY. The clues for TOBACCO and OLES feel like some of my best work, and even the angles for OMAN, ALABAMA and AVE MARIA have a fresh feel. Did anyone catch the "It's lit" and "Totally, bro" one-two punch? That was — *sigh* — very intentional.
Curious to see how people feel about RIGHT FIT. I could've easily made this RIGHTFUL, but I thought the former was a interesting, lexical phrase. You hope that a new setting is the right fit for someone, no? Or, as I clued it, that your clothing has the right fit on you? Two certain people that I work with closely seem to feel otherwise ... so I guess I should brace myself for an earful in the comments :)
Happy solving, and may this puzzle not fool you as much as yesterday's early surprise!
I wanted to get a good number and variety of landmarks in this puzzle, and with five well-known places plus a revealer, I think I did just that. The fill is solid, with SAFETY NET, KING MINOS, and NERF GUN providing some pizzazz. Also, I've never been to Paris.
Letters-as-words puzzles have been done before, so I wanted to distinguish this one in two ways: 1) Spell a longish word with fun, Scrabbly letters; 2) make the revealer clue a dual-meaning instruction to the solver. I came up with THINK QUICKLY rather quickly, but it took me a while to flesh out the details. Since there are so many theme answers (8), most of them had to be short, and I was stuck on ‘L' for a long time. Once I thought of KAL-EL everything was super, man. (For more of my crossword-puzzling thoughts, visit my blog.)
I've written two books of baseball-themed puzzles and love the idea of cluing baseball jargon in a nonbaseball way. This puzzle actually relates five answers to a situation you might hear described by a baseball announcer, with the appropriate payoff at the end. The puzzle needed to be a little wider to accommodate the longest answers and I tried to make the answers sound unforced. Looking forward to the 2018 season!
This is the second themeless I've constructed that features triple-stacked 16s (the first ran in May 2015). Since 15x16 and 16x15 grids have only recently become kosher, I have many fewer 16s than 15s in my word list (~5,000, as opposed to ~17,000). Finding stacks of 16s is thus significantly harder . . . but also more fun, I'd say, since many of the 15s have been used SOO many times! I'm looking at you, A LOT ON ONE'S PLATE and A TEENAGER IN LOVE.
In this puzzle, I started with HELICOPTER PARENT on the top and THAT'S WHAT SHE SAID on the bottom. My criteria when making 16-stacks (or any themeless stacks for that matter) are 1) snappy 16s, 2) smooth short fill, and 3) room to work in bonus long downs. I'm especially happy with how I did on 3), since LUNAR ROVER, LEVIATHAN, REHYDRATE, and EZ-PASS LANE are all nice in my book! I also like the 16s—SONIC DEPTH FINDER is nothing to write home about, but I'm proud of my clue for it. And as for the short fill, only ENTR, PSF, and ETDS stand out as clunky to me. All in all, I like how this one turned out, and I hope it's a fun solve! In any case, I'll be back on Sunday with my first solo diagramless.
On occasion, I've been ahead of the puzzle realm curve at the NYT with the use of a specific crossword entry.
In 2011 I had a grid with BUTT DIALED rejected as being unfamiliar, only to see its debut by someone else in 2013. The faucet manufacturer MOEN sunk the first version of one of my puzzles in the late 90s, but the brand has appeared 18 times since then. This puzzle initially featured the classic SLOW ZOMBIE at 1-Across (as opposed to the FAST ZOMBIES of "28 Days Later" or "World War Z") — I guess it will remain to be seen whether the zombie dichotomy will be deemed relevant by the NYT during some future apocalypse. So hold off adding SLOW ZOMBIE and FAST ZOMBIE to the XWord Info Word List just yet, Jeff.
In this revamped version I kept the grid pattern from the failed undead ZOMBIE draft and the entry ZENO'S PARADOX but scooched it from its original 5-Down position to the opposing 21-Down slot. The surrounding fill evolved from that seeded entry until this completely different puzzle emerged — hopefully a lively and enjoyable solve.
As usual, thanks to the NYT team for crafting some of the best clues in the puzzle, including 15-Across, 4-Down, 40-Down, and 58-Down. And apologies to Anna Gunn, who was cut from the original draft.
ICYMI: The Puzzle Collaboration Directory is a Facebook group created to provide resources for people of color, women, and other underrepresented folks who are interested in learning to make crosswords. (If you're not on Facebook, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll get you started.
As they say, the tenth time's the charm. After a year of encouraging rejections from Will and Joel, I'm happy to make my NYT debut on a classical note.
I like themes that require two steps to find the solution. (For example, Trenton Charlson's 'Battleship' NYT puzzle, in which an answer like PTCRUISER becomes PTXXX.) Matt Gaffney's contest crosswords often depend on this kind of double deduction.
The theme clues I submitted began with: "The sounds of..." followed by the relevant Down entries. This led solvers first to the composer ("The sounds of BATE + HOE + VENN?"), and only then to the idea of a famous composition ("The sounds of Beethoven?"). Will's re-cluing flattens these two steps, which I worry makes it less satisfying to solve. But in Shortz I trust.
The big challenge was fitting the 11 phonetic entries. My sense of order demanded they run downwards, intersecting the Across themers. But with such a constrained grid (45% of the fill is theme-related), I paid a high price in cheater squares.
Shoutout to Nancy Salomon for her mentorship and generosity. In the same welcoming spirit, Raph Levien and I built a free online tool so anyone can try their hand at puzzle-making. It'll even print a Times submission when you're done. Enjoy at keiranking.com/phil. (And feel free to get in touch. I like people and job offers.)
I like rebus puzzles, both solving and constructing them. This one went from theme idea to submission without too much of a struggle. All the theme entries are the same as in my first version except FISHBOWLS was originally at 39-Across.
I'm really happy with the theme entries, a couple of which came from the XWord Info list and Jeff's list. My wife and I had recently streamed SAUSAGEPARTY so that fell right into place. TEAMCREST was a Hail Mary pass of trying different combinations of words that end in AM with those that start with C. if I remember correctly there weren't many more if any cable channel trigrams that were workable acronyms and not abbreviations such as SHO. I guess I could have expanded to 4 letters with ESPN, but I would've had to find a crossing for the unappealing CATCHESPNEUMONIA, (is there one?).
Thanks as always to Will, Joel and crew, and thanks to Sam Ezersky for incorporating my clue change for 42-Across, which I mentioned to him at this year's ACPT, where he was the constructor of the final puzzle. Hope you liked this one.
I was inspired to produce a low-word-count pangram after seeing Patrick Berry's very Scrabbly 7/15/2006 puzzle. The starting strategy was to get at least two of J, Q, X and Z into the same quadrant. I think I tried seeding every quadrant with just the letters J and Q until I produced what is seen in the NE.
The procedure obviously involved judicious autofilling of successive quadrants; At first I used relatively high threshold values for autofill and eliminated clunkers from my word list with each successive fill, but eventually that left me with very few candidates for completed fill regions. Out of necessity I lowered my autofill threshold and looked for underranked entries which might be tolerated. So, for instance, JAILABLE and UNNAILED were allowed because the surrounding fill was quite satisfactory.
As I moved out of the NE quadrant with J, Q, Z, B, C and G checked off my difficult-letter list, I focused on two main issues: 1. Where to put the letter X, and 2. What to do about G and Z which now spanned two quadrants. (The latter issue was actually more urgent since I probably had plenty of words beginning with EX- … or could eventually invent new ones).
So, as I looked at the G, I decided that the last letter of 14-Down should be something common (R, S, T, L, N or vowel) and specifically considered flexible endings like GHT, GLE, GER, GED and GES. Separately, I decided that 26-Down would probably start with ZIP and 32-Across would have many possibilities ending in UP. This turned out to be a good starting strategy even though the final fill strayed from what I had anticipated. So, the SE quadrant was attempted second — because of the ZIP limitation mentioned above — and a few tentative fills were produced. With each of these candidate fills, I checked off additional letters from my difficult-letter list. At the completion of the SE quadrant, G, F and V were then accounted for, and that mainly left K, H, Y and X to be allotted between the two remaining quadrants.
Beyond the choices for 32-Across ending in UP, I expanded my seeding possibilities for the SW quadrant to specifically include TAKEASIP and HAVEASIP … because they immediately accounted for K and H respectively (while allowing 14-Down to end in an easy letter S. The fill accompanying HAVEASIP looked strong and allowed me to account for the letter Y. So, all that remained was to pack X and K into the NW quadrant. This partially involved luck, but I was also forced to accept one entry beginning with RE- and another ending in –ER. I decided I could live with those two specific words: RESOLE and CUSSER … even if the latter was prominently displayed at 1-Across.
Second puzzle in a fortnight! If you weren't sick of me after my April Fool's offering, then perhaps you'll be sick of me now ... my seeds for this were indeed the ridiculous-looking MICRO-USB and the even-more-ridiculous-looking DOT CO DOT UK.
For those of you that like your Saturdays on the crazy side, I hope I've hit the sweet spot with that crossing from hell. For everyone else that found themselves muttering certain four-letter words at myself or the puzzle, perhaps there was at least a bit to enjoy in the remaining 66 answers.
If you don't see my byline in the next two weeks (you shouldn't), it's because I've gone into hiding. I have no need for RIOT GEAR.
P.S.: The word "web" was originally omitted from the clue for 3-Down. Consider yourselves lucky.
Bucket list item achieved—I've got my first NYT Sunday puzzle! Yay!
I don't know about other constructors, but I can't "force" a good theme out of me. I have to be lucky enough for one to "come to me," and thankfully this one did. It was inspired by WALK ON WATER, which felt worthy of building a puzzle around. After batting around some ideas, I somehow noticed that WALK ON could become WALK-ON, which changes its meaning in a way I liked. So, I hunted for other, similar phrases, and when I realized I had found at least nine, I had to make the scary decision: whittle, or go for a Sunday puzzle? I guess I chose correctly!
Because my themers were short and easy to arrange, the grid design and filling went (for a Sunday) pretty smoothly. The SW fought with me, but I ultimately won out. MISSES A CUE was a big help--I got it from XWord Info, I think!
By far the biggest challenge was the NE corner. Originally, I had EAT SUPPER at 13-D, which allowed that corner to fill easily. Will didn't enjoy this phrase though, so I had to try doing without it. That proved tricky; the first several fills all introduced dupes—sometimes, even three or more! The dupe Gods seemed determined to get me. I'm bummed the final fill has TRISTE, BAL, AT A, and APEAK in the NE, since that is more "glue" than I would normally allow myself, but I'm still pleased with the zippiness I was able to get into the long fill overall. I hope everyone has fun with this one!
PS. See if you can think up any good theme entries like mine with these phrases I couldn't use: TIE-IN, LIE-IN, COME-ON, MAKE-UP, TAKE-IN.
When I originally submitted this puzzle, I sent in two versions: one with the reveal in the SE and one with the reveal at 1-Across. I could see the fun in both having the vowel hint to help fill out the grid (as would be the case if it was the first clue) and as having it as a more traditional reveal. Will liked the traditional way which suited me just fine. Another interesting twist was how to treat "Y": when is it a vowel and when is it not? I ended up removing all Ys in the rewrite to avoid the confusion (though was really sorry to lose the crossing of "ODE TO JOY" and "YO MAMA JOKE")
This is my second Times puzzle, and while the excitement of the accomplishment is less the second go 'round, it is only ever so slightly less. I've got a frame picked out and a place on my wall already chosen. Here's to running out of wall space before either my brain gives out, or our robot overlords make crossword constructors expendable.
BRUCE: This was entirely Pete's spelling brew — I just got consulted on the fill. I had recently done a Valentine's puzzle that utilized stacked central themers in a 16-high grid, so that seemed like a great way to make this difficult construction symmetric. Even so, this was a tough grid to fill cleanly.
PETE: Yeah, I had the idea for the theme, but I had a heck of a time filling the grid. Those three HEX-on-YOU occurrences really made for some headaches. I finally threw it at Bruce who had the brilliant idea to go with a 16x15 grid. That gave it a little more breathing room (if we can all ignore EOUS — as in nausEOUS). Plus the supersizing enabled Bruce to place one HEX/YOU pairing smack dab in the center of the grid. I think that's a nice touch. So, in the end, the grid is 90% Bruce's handiwork. I think I redid one of the corners — not that I made the end product any better, but so that I could say I had a hand in filling the grid.
The most difficult part of getting this puzzle published might have been working up the courage to send it to Will. I've had this theme for a long time, maybe before my first NYT puzzle was published. I remember Peter Gordon said no at some point. Finding theme answers isn't so hard...if you're OK with them being short. Certainly, numbers like TRE, FOUR, and CINCO will work, as will elements BORON and CARBON (based on their atomic number...or actually, the clue would mention how many protons the atom has). But all of these are 6 letters or less. Long entries are harder.
The only decent long entry I thought of is MARTIN BALSAM, which I can clue as [Actor who portrayed one of this many angry men] (he was Juror #1). Maybe one of y'all can come up with enough good ones to make a good puzzle. Add COUNT THE SQUARES as I did, and it should work. I give you my blessing.
So, having two 9-letter and two 8-letter thematic answers feels less than satisfying. But adding shorties didn't feel like it added much, and Will seems to agree. And it does make the grid look different, and the theme answers stand out less. So that's something. I hope solvers enjoyed the change of pace, as well as the unusual theme.
When Will asked me to make this puzzle for the 25,000 mark of the New York Times Crossword, I was honored and a little intimidated. I haven't made a themeless crossword in several years, and the bar has gotten so much higher for the smoothness and liveliness of the fill.
From a constructing perspective, anchoring in the two long Down entries put some extra constraints on filling this with as many lively, fresh phrases as possible. I started with that bottom right stack, and built up, finishing in the upper left corner. My focus was on limiting the amount of names and getting solid words and phrases that could receive fun clues. I think a lot of puzzles now look for the flashy modern answer, but to me, something like ELEPHANT or CONTINENTS can be just as good, just because of all of the fun cluing possibilities.
Anyway, here's to many more Times crosswords in the years to come — it's a dream come true to get to make and edit them for a living.
Hello, fellow Cruciverbalists!
When I'm not puzzling away, I'm working on my Ph.D. in molecular biology with a focus on breast cancer treatment via nanotechnology. I got started in puzzles because of my grandfather, who always did the Sunday NYT crossword ever since I could remember. For some reason when I was a youngster, it always seemed to me that grinding away at a crossword was such a grown-up thing to do. So I took the challenge and gave the Friday through Sunday puzzles a shot with much computer assistance, since my family had the Fri-Sun package deal for the Times.
After a while, I weaned myself off the computer and can now do most of weekend puzzles solo. I still need my grandfather to help out when I get stuck, which is not too often ;) , since he's way better than me in filling out proper nouns.
But what got me into construction was having a lot of time to kill in the lab. Back in undergrad, I used to work with bacteria, and for several weeks each day, I had to wait 3-4 hours for the bacteria to grow enough to do my experiments. So eventually it dawned on me to attempt making crosswords during this time at the campus library. My first submission was a mother goose theme that I made on graph paper.
Themeless puzzles were especially difficult at the start when I was trying to determine, for instance, the kinds of long phrases that Rich (at the LA Times) and Will liked and the appropriate single to multi-word answer ratio in triple stacks.
Anyway, to make a long story short, on my eighth attempt I got accepted in the LA Times and my tenth or more (I think) the NY Times. So to all you aspiring constructors out there, keep at it, and don't give up!
Successful addition/subtraction puzzles rely on legitimately fun themers, so it bears noting that HAD LESS HORSE MANE was David Steinberg's lol-worthy contribution to this puzz.
My original clue for STARES AND STRIPS was something like, "Studies the bed before doing a chore." I'm interested to see if solvers in the #MeToo era find the print clue fun or problematic.
This was an exceedingly rare, once-in-a-blue-moon puzzle for me: Once the phrase "go first" popped into my head, the theme idea and all four theme entries were a done deal within, say,15 minutes. And within an hour, the grid was finished. That just never happens.
I submitted the puzzle close to a year ago, without the circles. I thought the revealer would make everything obvious enough without them, and that people would have a nicer aha moment by seeing it on their own. But yeah, it's Monday.
Only a pair of clue changes to note—the Michael Jackson ones at 11- and 12-Down. I could never have written them, never having heard of the song. But then, you all probably knew that!
The idea for this puzzle came while solving Andrew Ries's "Stagger Sessions," a 20-crossword EP. In one puzzle, ELBA is clued like so:
[Idris who's a counterargument to John Donne's "no man is an island" bit]
I immediately noticed that NO MAN IS AN ISLAND is 15 letters, and thought if I could come up with some other men whose names were islands, I might have a theme. All I found were CUBA GOODING JR., BRET EASTON ELLIS, DOCK ELLIS (an All-Star pitcher who supposedly threw a no-hitter while on LSD), and the fashion designer PERRY ELLIS. The ELLIS names didn't work with the other theme lengths of 9, 13, and 15, so I thought this theme wouldn't work. But then I realized I could make it a left-right symmetric puzzle, and the grid worked nicely with just 72 words.
I contacted Andrew Ries to make sure he was okay with me adapting his clue into an entire puzzle. He said that he had had the same idea seven years ago, and had CECIL RHODES and JOHN IRELAND on his list, but not CUBA GOODING JR. He said JOHN IRELAND had the problem of repeating LAND with NO MAN IS AN ISLAND, and back then IDRIS ELBA was not nearly as famous as he is now, so he scrapped the idea and ended up incorporating it into the ELBA clue. He gave me the go-ahead for my theme, and here we are.
I woke up one morning one day after a night of heavy partying and just didn't feel RIGHT. I was groggy and feeling OBTUSE with an ACUTE pain in my head. My REFLEX response was to examine every ANGLE and do a 180 to get myself out of this mood. So I decided to create a crossword puzzle — which finally put me STRAIGHT!
Puzzles with answers that must appear with specific clue numbers are challenging to construct because they require precise gridwork. One way to control which clue numbers correspond to which answers is to use "cheater" squares (black squares that don't change the puzzle's word count). For instance, the black square before 10-Across reduces all subsequent clue numbers by one. Without that square, the answer SEVEN would be at 25-Across instead of 24-Across.
Other cheater squares may have different effects on numbering. For example, the black square before 28-Across doesn't affect the clue numbering at all, but its symmetric counterpart after 41-Across changes what would have been 44-Down into 49-Down and decreases the clue numbering for the intervening clues by one (after 49-Down the numbering is unchanged).
Generally speaking, cheater squares in the upper-left corner of a region reduce all subsequent clue numbering by one, cheater squares in the upper right reduce the numbering of clues by one until the shortened down entry, whose clue number is increased by the number of intervening clue numbers, and cheater squares in the lower left and lower right leave clue numbering unchanged.
The unedited version of this puzzle clued the gimmick in the opposite direction. 5-Across and 41-Across were clued as "See previous answer" and 22-Across and 46-Across were clued as "See next answer." The words OVER, SEVEN, WINKS, and FIFTY were clued without any reference to their clue numbers or the combined meaning. Perhaps that cluing approach is too difficult, and many solvers wouldn't realize that reading the numbers in the grid in combination with the answers creates a new meaning (i.e., 1 OVER or 40 WINKS). I miss the elegance of the original approach, but if the change improves the solving experience, then I'm all in favor.
As you probably guessed, this puzzle started with SEETHING and SEE THINGS. Really looking forward to seeing how everyone reacts to such a long "dupe"—at 1-Across/1-Down, no less! Working with stacked 8s crossing stacked 9s was brutal, though, especially since two of the long entries were already locked in. Not thrilled with the resulting crosswordese, though I do really like BEER MONEY, EYE CANDY, LOSE SLEEP OVER, ETHICAL DILEMMAS, and especially I CAN TAKE A HINT. All in all, I appreciate that Will let me bring some variety to the Friday themeless slot, and I'm pleased with how this puzzle turned out given the constraints. Hope you enjoy!
ANDREW: Another Kings-Lieb creation! Well, maybe more of a Ki-Lieb creation, since John did the lion's share of the work on this one. After Oxford Dictionaries declared POSTTRUTH as 2016 "Word of the Year," I knew it had to be a 1-Across. Thankfully for this puzzle (and sadly for everything else), facts are still flexible and POSTTRUTH is still relevant. NOPUNINTENDED was my other significant contribution (I sifted through a sea of dad jokes for the right clue, so I hope you groaned at the one I chose), and then John brought the sparkle with the other stacks.
JOHN: Writing a themeless from scratch is a daunting task, so when Andrew brought me a promising, half-filled grid and asked me if I wanted to fill in the rest, I jumped at the chance! This ended up being a "2-for-1" puzzle, as the last across entry in the first draft ended up as the seed for our first published collaboration last August. I was on a Mr. Robot watching binge at the time we wrote this and was psyched to get RAMI MALEK into the grid.
Also, Andrew and I are excited to be hosting the second edition of Boswords, Boston's crossword puzzle tournament on Sunday, July 29. Registration opens on June 15th and you can find more information at boswords.org, including info about last year's tournament. We hope to see some of you there!
This puzzle's genesis sprang from overhearing someone jokingly use the term "PC police", and being amusing at the thought of an actual militia enforcing a ban on Macs. That one was one letter too long to fit in a Sunday grid, but it opened the flood gates for theme potential.
The first draft needed a few thematic edits, including a breakfast test-violating reference to a popular action figure brand. Thankfully, there were enough two-letter acronyms out there to find a few substitutes, and I'm pleased with the final result.
Hope everyone enjoys and gets a chuckle or two!
I remember driving down the freeway a year ago and hearing someone on the radio use JOCKEYS as a synonym for underwear. I think some basketball player got faked out of his or her jockeys. This was news to me, and it got me thinking that there are quite a few underwear synonyms with wordplay potential. I remember my dad being excited right away that I had an underwear puzzle accepted by the New York Times — mom, on the other hand, had a few questions ...
My food pun puzzle of 1/3/18 had the phrase RIDE UP, which has multiple possible meanings but ended up being clued as "What underwear may do, annoyingly" — I'm thinking skivvy humor may be under-appreciated, and I hope solvers have some fun with this.