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Puzzles for April, 2021
with Constructor comments

Thu 4/1/2021
MYGODDEVELF
BUONOEYESSLUR
AMOCOCRAPLMAO
VERYRELIGIOUS
SEEMUYRAM
HARHARSCAREDOF
ESSENTIALLYARI
BTENMMITVAD
OLABADMOUTHING
PASSEDBYNOODGE
OARSUNLET
BLENDEDFAMILY
BORGPELTGENRE
QUIZSPAYHICKS
STEPBRTAHOE

Hope this thing elicited just as much "17-Across!" as "18-Across!" while solving. Happy April Fools, the best holiday in puzzledom!

Shoutout to the late, great constructor Henry Hook for inspiring this one — featuring a longtime favorite band as a themer — and all the other fun puzzles that have riffed off overfamiliar clue-speak over the years. I'd always wanted to make something similar.

A variation on Henry's "with" trick seemed like a good starting point, though I never got very far. Then one day I randomly discovered the IN ITSELF / "Inits." + ELF find, and realized I could tie it together with Henry's trick and other related wordplay. Each answer would be its own joke, so the solve could twist your brain all the way through. And I figured that having ELF appear as a grid answer — as opposed to the simpler [Inits. before elf] — would best disguise the gimmick.

As I continued to brainstorm other ideas, I figured that constructing the grid would go smoothly, given the flexibility:

  • I could use an answer like INHERENTLY and INTRINSICALLY instead of ESSENTIALLY.
  • The "with" trick could be modified in both answer and clue ("with OVER," "with FOR," etc).
  • When the "in slang" / SLA___NG wordplay came to me, I could use MBA instead of MMI, for SLA(M-BA)NG, and then an answer in the grid like ACTION-PACKED.

But "and OTHERS"? That bit of wordplay took forever to flesh out. In fact, the elaborate combo of 64-/65-Across, a now-cherry on top of all the trickery, came only by dumb luck! I'd practically given up at one point, having been unable to find a single fair crossword answer to proceed "OTHERS" ... pretty remarkable that two, STE and PBR, saved the day.

BLENDED FAMILY, though, felt like the only real option to associate with this "stepbrothers" find. What else was both on target and in the language? And STE / PBR needed to be side by side in the grid, so solvers could clearly see their combination. Maybe ELF and another 3-letter themer could pair symmetrically opposite those two, and the last could sit squarely in the center?

Before I knew it, I was racking up constraints — and especially pesky shorter ones — which forced the grid skeleton you see now. It contains a bit more 3s and 4s than I like, which explains a slight crossword-y feel in things like B-TEN, OLA, both TV AD and AD REPS, RKO, etc. But I'm hoping the positives still outweigh the minuses in things like BBQS / QUIZ / SONGZ (a debut?!), DOORMAN and its clue, the two 10s, and fun words like TONIGHT, SPIRAL, ORANGE, SAMMY, SLIME, NOODGE, etc.

Now, did you enjoy the puzzle? Hope the answer isn't [No. after 1-Across]!

Fri 4/2/2021
ANIMALFARMBAKU
BONGJOONHOARES
IVEMOVEDONLOAM
TACBESOILANA
SEWSRUNNERUP
TITLEARNETT
ATALLSARAHBUS
RESELLSELEMENT
AMYDAUBSHORDE
FORMATELIOT
DEBUNKEDBIEN
ELATEIDIGGPA
GENZLEDERHOSEN
ACTESWEETTREAT
STUDDEATHSTARE

KYRA: I'm very excited to have my first NYT crossword published! I met Sophia at Carleton College, and we've been constructing together for about a year and a half. Before we started, I liked doing crosswords but was not very good at them, so constructing had never even crossed my mind as an option. But Sophia encouraged me to go for it anyway, and (with a lot of help from her) I've made it to the big time! (And an added benefit to constructing is that I'm also a much better solver now too!)

Outside of crosswords, I'm a research assistant in a neurolinguistics lab in Abu Dhabi, and when I need a break from thinking about words, I like to bake, craft, and dance.

SOPHIA: I'm honored to be a part of Kyra's NYT debut. This puzzle was one of our first collaborations; when we began constructing it, we lived a five-minute walk from each other, when it was submitted, we lived in different states, and now at publication, we live 11 time zones apart! It's been great to stay connected via crossword construction even as our lives have physically moved apart.

Sat 4/3/2021
BEATHALLSKALE
RASHICEUPIPAD
ARSEGESSOCOSI
CLUTCHTHICKSET
HAMHOCKLUSTRE
SPERMNNERILED
IMSOEXCITED
FLIRTATIOUS
ALLTATTEDUP
PLAITYONSAUTE
AMUSESTEENMOM
RANGETOPTROPIC
KATOAMISHTILE
ATENRILEYCREE
SADESTEALHESS

There's a love story in here somewhere.

  • ALL TATTED UP
  • FLIRTATIOUS
  • I'M SO EXCITED
  • CURIOUSER
  • KICKS IT UP A NOTCH

But, alas, at the end (as so often is the case),

THE THRILL IS GONE

Sun 4/4/2021 GAME CHANGERS
SNARFJUSTSOMANNERED
WALDOUNPACKITSALIVE
IDEALBREAKERNEWHAVEN
FIXKEYENAMELPARS
TRAUMABUNTSERIOUSLY
LUSHESAVERSE
LAWNSTUDENTSARLOSAW
SINAIMERLOTSYSTOLE
AMBCOBSCRUBSHASTE
TEASBEDSOFAIRSOGOOD
PEORIAONETWO
LINEDETECTORETANCOS
THECWSEADOGIREALA
DORSALSLEBRONGOMAD
SPFROOSLABOROFGLOVE
ADULTSASLOPE
INVISIBLESINKGLOBAL
CHOODARWINSIAERA
HOTWATEREXTRAINNINGS
APIARISTRARINGTRIOS
SETLISTSSMOOTHSANTO

We had fun trying to devise seven wacky theme entries that were all baseball-related. (Yes, we know the outfield grass isn't called a LAWN but cut us a little slack here). LABOR OF GLOVE was the first really solid theme entry we hit upon, and it gave us hope of coming up with six more.

We know some solvers don't want to see any sports references in their puzzles at all. Sorry, folks. But there's still plenty to love in this one: music, movies, bird trivia, trigonometry. And it could have been worse. It could have been a golf puzzle.

Mon 4/5/2021
DOGOAKCHIEF
ERRPINAAGENDA
ACIDTRIPWIIFIT
NAMESTEAMSITE
RAPSCASTE
INCITERENOLCD
POODLECUTDRDRE
ADUEDENIMAHAT
SENDSLOCALDIVE
SSTMAINLOITER
YOUINPAPA
PUSHDEFERNUNS
SLEAZETAKETHAT
STARESCREWONE
TATERLYEHAM

Intersecting theme entries often makes filling easier, but it also creates knotty spots at times. Quite a few compromises in this grid's left & right middle sections.

POW Tue 4/6/2021
ARSBARCAREPA
PECLOVATOSOB
HEAVENSTOBETSY
ISPOSEMORASS
DEETSTOTES
GEEZLOUISE
BOOSEATACSIN
FRAGNOSEMAGE
FSTOPSILOS
SOSOONRISERS
DWELLERS
SNAGTOADMAGS
HILOCOWSOVEN
APOLLOPALATE
MAHLEROBLIGE
STAYEDTAYLOR
Wed 4/7/2021
HAJJITVADFATS
ANAISELLALIEN
HORNEDTOADURAL
GEORGIAPEACH
ECHODISANCHO
ROOIBOSSYSTEMS
ANTSYPOETSET
MARIOBROS
YSLNUKEREAIR
ECOTONEPRSAVVY
SOURSMAOGAYE
MURIELBOWSER
AREAOOPSYDAISY
AGEDIDEAAPPLE
MEDSNESTMEARA

What a thrill it is to be making my NYT debut today! I'm 21 and a senior International Studies major at Macalester College from Laramie, Wyoming (special shout-out to any constructors from the Cowboy State!). I can't think of a theme concept more perfect for my first NYT acceptance than MARIO BROS. This one is for all the video game nerds like myself whose lives have been blessed by Shigeru Miyamoto's brilliance. If you're someone that is unfamiliar with Mario or doesn't enjoy video games, I'd highly encourage you to learn more about the Mario Bros franchise — if not for the gameplay or storylines, for the artistry behind them like the music and graphic design.

The inspiration for this puzzle came to me while watching a CNN interview with 53-Across. The not-so-subtle "A-HA" moment triggered by Mayor Bowser's last name sent me down a rabbit hole to see if there were enough Mario characters with names that were both recognizable to a wide audience and that could be disguised at the end of crossword answers. Much of the rest was luck: the length of the best theme answers for the only four characters that met both criteria (TOAD, PEACH, BOWSER, DAISY) matched up beautifully (10/12/12/10) and stacked favorably on top of each other. I dropped MARIO BROS in the center of the grid and swore to myself I would not give up until a puzzle came together.

Stacking theme answers opened up the puzzle nicely, giving me 14 slots of 7+ letters to add fun non-thematic fill to the grid. It's near impossible to convert every single one of those extra entries into colorful assets, but I hope there was enough ROOIBOS, PR SAVVY, TEACH ME, JINGOISM, SNL HOST, etc. to make it an enjoyable solve.

Finally, please reach out to me at adrianjohnson435 [at] gmail [dot] com or at my blog — I'd love to hear from you. Whether you're a constructor looking for mentorship, test-solving or collaboration, a solver looking to provide feedback, or someone after a custom puzzle for a friend, all messages are greatly appreciated!

Thu 4/8/2021
BCCSALAMOFIST
OAHUBERYLACAI
APIERONTHESCENE
SNLOUTIEOTTER
DEBTROCS
WHATSUPDOCKYAS
RICHSIRDEPOSE
ENTERTOMTRUTV
ADOREDNABOGRE
KIRFOREVERMOOR
HUGOMOOT
ATTENOBOESTSA
QUAYDEMOGRAPHIC
UGLYABHORSITH
ASEATARDYISEE

This puzzle was accepted about a year ago, and was probably constructed about a year prior to that. I had to redo the grid on account of a large amount of undesirable short fill. It was a bit of a struggle before I landed on something satisfactory. The themer lengths are convenient enough, but I guess their somewhat scrabbly letters made for less flexibility than one might expect.

It's kind of surprising (at least to layperson like me) how many different words there are for where you park a boat. Worked out well for this puzzle, though.

Fri 4/9/2021
PFFTDIGESSAY
ALAIWISENUTSO
TAKETHEHIGHROAD
EYEBEAMSRAUNO
MARTPHONETAG
SPECIALSAUCE
WEAKBAYPEEPER
ANTLOLCATSNAE
NASSAUHEHTERA
ONTHEREBOUND
STANDBYSREAM
AHLGOPWALTONS
POLARBEARPLUNGE
OSAKAUREYRIOT
REHABPENNASH

It's good to be back in the Times. I submitted this puzzle in July 2019 and don't recall the seed entry or how it all came together. Just that I tried, as always, to strike that elusive balance of lively words and phrases without too much annoying stuff in between. Did I succeed? I hope so.

Regarding the first part of 3-Down, no shade! I've eaten my share of veggie burgers, most of them juicy and delicious, as well as chick'n in its many tasty forms. And while Mickey D's wasn't on my mind with SPECIAL SAUCE — my clue was "Hard-to-define quality of a winner" — I like that crossing and want to thank the editing team for (among other improvements) bringing a "real" burger to the table. Big Mac, meet Impossible Whopper.

My favorite clue to make the cut? Hmm, let's see … Oh, who am I kidding? It has to be 17-Down. After 28 years (and literally dozens of non-Seinfeldian NYT Crossword appearances), the time has come to recognize Ms. Hatcher for what is surely one of her most memorable roles!

Sat 4/10/2021
ADSALESTWADDLE
DEADASADOORNAIL
OLDACQUAINTANCE
NUDGESILKYNOG
IDLETAKESTYRA
SEEMYGODRABIN
ASPENDECOCT
ETUDESRIBEYE
DYEJOBDONUT
REMUSSOCKSSIT
EPPSBALKSUHNO
AILJONASCLOGS
MEATANDPOTATOES
OCTOBERSURPRISE
NEEDSTOTENANTS

Hello again. I've been out of the NYT themeless game for a solid half-decade, but it hasn't been for any lack of trying. I've still been constructing and cluing and submitting as much as ever, but the competition for a weekend spot in the Times has just gotten insanely tough. Considering what fantastic work the Agards and Weintraubs and Waldens and McCartys and Collinses and Pascos of the world are cranking out on a regular basis, it's an honor just to sneak in there with one Saturday puzzle of my own every few years.

I'm really happy with this one. I especially liked DEAD AS A DOORNAIL — it may seem to some like a fairly blah 15-letter entry, but it holds sentimental value for me. My grandfather, the original Evans Clinchy, had an annual tradition of reading "A Christmas Carol" to the family every Christmas Eve. He passed away in 2009, but I still have fond memories of all my relatives gathered around the living room fireplace and my granddad reading that opening sentence: "Old Marley was as dead as a doornail..."

I was playing around a couple of years ago with my favorite 15s, trying to find pairs of them that stacked nicely, and I came across DEAD AS A DOORNAIL and OLD ACQUAINTANCE. Once I had that dynamic duo, the rest of the grid practically constructed itself. I was lucky to have a few fun bonuses like ROCKS OUT and DREAM ON fall into place along the way.

That this grid also includes not one, not two, not three, but four references to delicious, delicious meat is a happy coincidence.

Sun 4/11/2021 MERGER MANIA
CIRCEABRAMOBJECTORS
UBERXHUEVOBEAVERHAT
LIFECOACHESINBALANCE
DETERSYRUPTONEPOEM
RELAYDYLANUSS
UKETEARNOOKTIBIA
SINGLESBARSDRIVENUTS
UNDEADATEAMBEELIST
ADULTSCEPTERSSTELMO
LAMEMMAISOSPUTTER
TROUBLESHOOTERS
MIGRANTOAFPARMTSP
AQUILADOCILITYOPINE
SUITCHEHEIDIMIAMOR
TIDEPOOLSSPAMFILTERS
STORETIEDBAILCEE
ALEARROWBLAIR
BARESALLSIZEDENNUI
ANIMATIONPOLOGROUNDS
GETINHEREUNLITDICES
SWELTEREDPESTOETHAN

DICK: I "met" Will Nediger by requesting his mentorship, freely offered on a Facebook group of cruciverbalists. That led to our collaborating on a number of already published and pending publication puzzles, and we have developed a pattern for our collaborations, which held in this case. I come up with a theme idea, and related grid entries and clues that I think will make most editors jump for joy, and Will shows me how wrong I am while suggesting how to take my idea and make it ideal.

We then trade back and forth about theme entries within the construct Will has outlined, and when we have an agreed set, Will constructs the grid and locates the theme entries in it. I take the first crack at filling the remainder of the grid, and Will takes my draft and improves it dramatically.

I then take the first crack at drafting all clues. Will revises to create contemporary references for some of the clues, eliminate my tendency toward verbosity, make necessary grammatical changes (co-authoring with a linguist makes one wish he had paid more attention to grammar in grades K through 6), and suggest substitutions where he believes the approach I have taken can be improved. Because his suggestions are always improvements, after his round of revisions, we submit them.

Collaborating with Will is always a learning experience, which is a precious experience for an octogenarian.

WILL: This is a deceptively simple theme — it was much harder than expected to come up with a set of consistent theme entries (brand name + generic product, where both words have sufficiently different meanings in the base phrases, and where the brands are owned by companies with a lot of name recognition). The editing team didn't like a couple of our original options, so they gave us the go-ahead to stick with 7 themers, with a pretty low number of theme squares for a 21x21, which let us focus on keeping the fill as clean as possible. I hope we succeeded!

I was pretty sure the editing team wouldn't keep the clue [Capital in the 21st Century?] for CEE, but I had to go for it anyway. I'm in love with the [Birkin stock] clue for BAGS, though — thanks to whichever editor came up with that gem!

Mon 4/12/2021
ENDSOCHOMOBS
BARNAHABAGUE
BREAKFASTROLLS
WIKITHAIELSA
OHDEARTINTDIP
BAESTRANGELOOP
ILLSEEGSIGNS
TBSPARTS
AWGEEALEACCT
THEWESTWINGAHA
TATROWETACTIC
ATOILEEKMALL
INSIDEBASEBALL
FILMZINEADIA
STEPETTALYNX

AIMEE: Ella and I had a lot of fun filling this puzzle together, particularly the big corners. It's not super common for early-week puzzles to have such big open corners, but the lengths of the themers we had required it for this one, so we tried to make the most of it. I think my favorites may be WHAT IFS, GET ON IT, CAT LADY, NARWHAL, and DREIDEL.

ELLA: This was the very first puzzle Aimee and I ever made together. It was a great puzzle to learn on because the corners were a perfect canvas for experimentation and iteration. And we definitely had fun with the clues! Hope you enjoy solving this one as much as we enjoyed making it!

Tue 4/13/2021
APPSTRAYSWISS
IRANOHSOTONIC
DOPEROADRUNNER
PEELEHEEDARE
HORRORFILMETRE
WSJTOOAEGEAN
YEASRISING
MOUNTAINDEW
FRIENDDAVY
NAPALMEMTKEA
ERASBALBOAPARK
AERMULEPOINT
ROCKYSTARTEDIT
BLEAROREORAGU
YALTASNAPSNOB

This is one of those themes that grew out of a different, failed theme idea. I started with the idea of using the theme clues [Rocky's friend] and [Rocky's foe] with the answers BULLWINKLE and APOLLO CREED. But I couldn't come up with another pair of [Rocky's ___] clues that worked as nicely, despite much effort and much cursing of Paul McCartney for not naming the guy who shot Rocky Raccoon something more interesting than DAN. So that was a bust, but in the course of searching for characters named Rocky, I hit on the phrase ROCKY START and realized that I could make the puzzle you see here.

If I had to do this over again, I would probably find a way to replace NAPALM, as it doesn't exactly give off the fun and positive vibe I've been aiming for with my more recent puzzles. It also was not super smart, construction-wise, to hardwire N__B_S and R_M__N into the grid, as there's only one good entry for each of those patterns, but the grid thankfully filled pretty smoothly anyway.

One fun fact: MOUNTAIN DEW first appeared in the NYT crossword almost exactly 50 years ago today (April 12, 1971). It was clued as [Corn squeezins], in reference to moonshine. This is the first time (out of four appearances) that it's been clued as the soda.

I hope you enjoy(ed) the solve!

Wed 4/14/2021
CAMOCLARAFRA
RAMENSEWERLET
OPERAPARTBAGO
BONEWEARYORMAN
HONTREBLE
MOTRINSAYSNO
ABRAMHELPEYES
LOAMLAMBOWALE
TEMPELIAMENSA
PAINTSTARTAR
ADORNSFEE
DELTSHEREWEARE
DWIELATEECRUS
TENCOUNTSHEEP
OYETATASTOAD

Hello everyone! I am a senior at the Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco, and I will be a freshman at Harvey Mudd College next year. At my school, every senior pursues a year-long project in which they get to compose a product around a topic of their choice. I devoted my project toward the goal of getting a crossword published in the New York Times, something I doubted I could do at first. It is an incredible honor for me to realize this in front of my teachers, many of whom are prolific solvers, and I am eternally grateful to everyone who helped me get here.

I got the idea for this puzzle when I was thinking about how to combine crosswords with my lifelong love of numbers. This puzzle invites people not to look for a consistent set of symmetric theme answers but rather to find them in improbable locations. It is also a pleasure to be the first to use BONE WEARY and the second to use FLAMBOYANT and LAMBO in a Will Shortz crossword. I love these answers, and I always enjoy seeing other constructors embellish their work with their own style.

I will be donating all of the proceeds from this puzzle to the St. Anthony's Foundation. They are a fantastic organization that provides meals, clothes, technology, and other essentials to San Franciscans in need. If you would like to join me in supporting them, you can do so here.

Thu 4/15/2021
SUREDIDMACABRE
OVERUSEINERROR
TAXICABCALCIUM
HARSHACTA
PUSSYCATWADES
OPTSUNAGI
STONEPRESEASON
IWOMEAGAINNCO
TOPSECRETTRACI
INTROAFAR
GORDONOSEEUMS
TRIOASHEN
HALCYONMIDDLEC
ISECONDAKIHITO
SPROUTSNONSTOP

BEQ: Before COVID forced me into "seclusion" (i.e. covering for Tabtiha's homeschoolin' and otherwise trying to keep Chez BEQ chuggin' along) and my schedule was a bit more normal, I would routinely buzz Ben about all sorts of nonsense. Maybe there'd be theme development (Ben covered this), or maybe I'd get his take on Matador's latest release. Loads of other topics in between.

But last year was a bit of, how do I put this?, "work when I can" kinda thing, so I missed out on a lot of regular chit-chattery. Not just with Ben, but with loads of people. Regardless, now that Tab's back in school, and I'm moving back to more (ahem) "normal work hours" (when you're a lifer like me, what truly is a normal work day?), I'm hoping to be talking to Ben again more frequently. Who knows? Maybe we'll come up with another theme.

BEN: It's a treat to be sharing a byline once again with longtime pal and crossword mensch Brendan Emmett Quigley. As with our previous collaboration from last May, Brendan and I joined forces on a phonetic theme. Over the years, Brendan has often consulted with me on getting the specifics right for phonetically themed puzzles he's worked on for various outlets, including his own site. Many's the time we've argued over linguistic fine points like whether to treat the unstressed "schwa" sound (/ə/) as equivalent to the vowel in "cut" (/ʌ/ in the International Phonetic Alphabet, aka "wedge").

This time around, Brendan had the idea for the MIDDLE C gimmick but needed help coming up with a good set of themers. Using resources like the CMU Pronouncing Dictionary, we were able to put together a strong set of theme entries in which that middle /si/ syllable could be spelled in a variety of different ways. It was satisfying to be able to pack in seven themers plus the revealer without sacrificing the fill quality. As usual, Brendan's keen eye for gridwork and cluing ensured that the results would be top-notch.

These days, in addition to writing my weekly language column for the Wall Street Journal, I've been pitching in on a fun new venture called Beyond Wordplay, sure to be of interest to crossword puzzle fans. Check out our website and monthly newsletter, and also keep an eye out for the Beyond Wordplay crew at the virtual Game Night at the upcoming American Crossword Puzzle Tournament!

Fri 4/16/2021
HOPSCOTCHSTRAW
UNSHAPELYIRAQI
STEELTRAPTOPAZ
HOCZIPPERJIBE
POMSRAMADAN
ASTANAOLSON
CHORESNIPEHUNT
TAFTSKINSOHIO
SQUIBKICKPRONG
EMOTETUSHES
COLDWARSANE
IPODLACTICGPS
VIGORCOACHFARE
INAWEKATHIELEE
LENNYSTEINWAYS

My original submission had completely different NW and SE corners. Each section had one word Sam encouraged me to try to eliminate. I'm grateful I was given the opportunity to rewrite it.

Thanks as always to the editing crew for cleaning up and improving the clues.

In addition to the "XYZ" idea, I submitted an alternate clue for ZIPPER, [Onomatopoeia in your pants], and secretly was pulling for that one. Why does it make me laugh? Have I just not grown up after all these years?

I hope some part of the puzzle made you smile because that's the whole point, isn't it?

Sat 4/17/2021
FUNFETTICRAFTS
AVIATIONRUBRIC
MATTHEWSINSOLE
HERETICSZEN
ENTERRACKWEST
BOARLONEPEN
BMXSOFTCHEESE
SABBATHRAGDOLL
DRAGRACERSLOO
ACENOAMRIPS
PACKFORMCADET
IRKFLINCHES
LEEWAYFOODCOMA
ONTIMEENDEAVOR
TASTERDEADLAST

I built this puzzle around an existing grid layout, rather than building around a marquee answer as I did for my first themeless. I took inspiration from Ian Livengood's 5/8/2015 NYT grid that I found when browsing the XWord Info archives (in his constructor notes, he recommends that new themeless constructors try it out) and created my own take on it.

I was very surprised to see this slotted for a Saturday since it has the maximum word count and few proper nouns, so I'll be interested to hear how the difficulty level plays for solvers. I didn't realize how many food references were in the puzzle until I finished it, at which point I actually went back and edited the SW corner to remove yet another food entry. Now I'm off to eat some 1A in celebration!

POW Sun 4/18/2021 A RARE FIND
LOCALTHOUJAKE
PARTIAFCHENNAATON
STAREMOAELTONWARD
MISSIONIMPOSSIBLE
ITSALOSTCAUSEENOLA
MRIISLETSLIN
PENPALOLEELONEMEA
HISNOISEROCKANT
GMAILGUTGASHIDS
RIDSPSSTOILSUPNET
ANAHEIMRATBITEMAR
SIMSCISSORFERRERA
POWCATHAYBAYSANEW
IRESHAYRONSTUDS
NESSASHAYINGTIE
GOTTOSHAYNERASPED
OUIHAYLEYBRA
ICONSNEEDLESSTOSAY
NEEDLEINAHAYSTACK
SELAALGERSEELAILA
URLSMMHMMSSNOLDEN
ETSYSTYENASTY

So happy to be making my New York Times debut! This has been a goal of mine for quite a few years now. I'm not exactly new to crossword-making though, far from it. I've just mostly been making them in a different language.

I was born in Stockholm, Sweden, almost exactly 30 years ago, and have probably been making crosswords for well over 20 of them. I don't even really remember at what exact age I first started, but I was very young. As a kid I used to make crosswords in my native Swedish for a solving audience consisting mostly of my parents, but at the age of 20 I started contributing regularly to a Swedish crossword magazine, which I continued to do for a few years.

Over time though, I started to grow a bit bored with Swedish puzzles and felt that I needed a new challenge, so around 9 years ago I decided to try and see if I could solve an American crossword. Turned out I couldn't. So I continued trying until I could, and ever since then I've been solving the NYT and other American puzzles daily. Coming from a constructor background, it was always a no-brainer for me that I wanted to learn to construct American crosswords as well.

We Swedes may be very heavily influenced by American culture, and are usually ranked as some of the best non-native English speakers in the world, but there are obviously still some culture/language barriers I have to deal with when it comes to American puzzles. But part of the fun in doing crosswords is getting to learn new things, and I'm probably learning just as much from making them as I am from solving them, and am really enjoying myself in the process.

I started making this particular puzzle back in September, submitted it in November, and it got accepted just over a month ago, in early March. It came about very spontaneously, inspired simply by hearing someone use the expression "like trying to find a needle in a haystack," immediate realizing its potential as a basis for a theme, and within seconds I started working on the puzzle, without even so much as an idea as to what to actually do with it beyond the central gimmick. I honestly didn't even have much hope that it would actually work, as it required stacking so many theme answers directly on top of each other, which is never an easy task. So I was really pleased that it actually did turn out to be doable, and that it eventually made it all the way to getting published in the New York Times.

I had another puzzle (a low-word count themeless) accepted at the same time as this one as well, so you can definitely expect to see more from me in the future.

Mon 4/19/2021
SLITPETASKOSH
MACEIRONPALAU
ITEMTENDATEST
THEPRICEISRIGHT
HESEFTUSE
SVUSTPTEA
TOTELLTHETRUTH
SONARARRAORTA
YOUBETYOURLIFE
RNSASPOKS
FAXJAICTS
CLASSICGAMESHOW
OUSTSHOPININE
ONTOEEBANANYA
LEAPTWINGPAST

This puzzle is very, very near and dear to my heart because my life has been one big gameshow! YOU BET YOUR LIFE. TO TELL THE TRUTH, I choose to live on air and a semi-barter system; I decided to press my luck on gameshows because THE PRICE IS RIGHT. (Not the best retirement plan in the world!)

Over the years, I've lost on "Jeopardy!" (Or "come in second" as my therapist has taught me to say!), appeared on "Weakest link", "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire", "Scrabble", "Win Ben Stein's Money", and "Wheel of Fortune", where I managed to win a $50,000 motorhome!

I still watch the CLASSIC GAME SHOWS nightly on "Buzzer". This puzzle is my tribute to the most formative experiences of my life.

Tue 4/20/2021
RAJAHGIZASMOG
ACURAANINHAHN
MAIMSBONDOLGA
PICBEERGROWLER
EARLDEETEEL
SUBWOOFERRITZY
PAARPARHAH
AERATEDROSETTA
TISBUMAARP
EGESTBOBBARKER
VOLLORIRUDE
ELITEYELPERHIP
ROXYVEERODORS
SNIPEZRAROMAS
OGREYESMAGENT

Fun fact: I found out this puzzle was accepted the same week my wife and I found out we were expecting our first baby! For nine months, I wondered which would arrive into the world first. In the end, baby didn't want to be upstaged; Miko was born on 4/7! I've been solving the puzzle aloud with him every night since — gotta start 'em young, y'know?

As for this puzzle — it actually wasn't inspired by a DOG at all, but rather by a Tweet that referred to a certain once-ubiquitous figure in American life as a CARNIVAL BARKER. This immediately set my crossword spidey senses atingling. Such a colorful 15-letter spanner (when pluralized) — I just knew I had to build a puzzle around it.

I was able to think up BEER GROWLER and SUBWOOFER pretty much right away and figured I should develop a full set in no time. Instead, I spent two full days spelunking the depths of canine onomatopoeia thesaurus.com pages. At one point, I remember coming up with a themer idea literally in my sleep, yelling, "I've got it!" and writing it down in my bedside notebook. When I woke up the next morning, I was amused to see that my sleepy self had scribbled down... KING ARF-ER (9). Thanks for that, sleepy Adam. Ultimately though, I hope you all agree that ELITE YELPER is enough of a thing to be crossworthy.

Big thanks to David Kwong for suggesting BOB BARKER instead of CARNIVAL BARKER, allowing for more traditional symmetry rather than the "Dog Paw" layout I had originally (three vertical themers spaced at the top of the grid, and then CARNIVALBARKER horizontal spanning across the bottom), and also for talking me out of cluing the themers as "Brewery watchdog," "Naval watchdog," etc. Sometimes it's best to keep things simple. Thanks as well to Sam Ezersky and the whole editorial team for all the help and for taking my last-minute suggestion for the clue on 3-Down!

Wed 4/21/2021
ABASEBERTR2D2
BUNTSUVEABARN
BONETRECLAIMED
RYANREYNOLDS
WOOTNYUMSN
ANIGALSHECATE
DONDELILLOOTOS
COTANPIECLINT
ODORCOCOCHANEL
PLUNGEKILOGRE
YERONSIPOD
PATTONOSWALT
SWEETRIDEANNIE
AWLSAPEXWICCA
C3POLESTSTEEL

This was a fun puzzle to write. I like the playful twist that comes when you get to 42A. If only May the 4th fell on a Wednesday this year…

Thu 4/22/2021
MAPLEONTOPSCI
IGLOSHOHASCOL
SEANCONNERYIKE
UNCPOEMCHAI
SCENTSSHOTER
EYDIESECTPITA
CASHBARCIG
PIERCEBROSNAN
RONUBERPOL
EWANLADYTENOR
PETRELTYRONE
RIANSHMONSA
TAZDANIELCRAIG
ADZIDONTAORTA
BEYTATTODCTEN

Hello Crossworld! (How I've longed to say those words!) I'm a word-loving high school senior with an interest in languages and linguistics (currently studying Latin, Russian, and for some reason Welsh). I submitted my first puzzle to the Times when I was 14, hoping to get a crossword published before the end of high school. 32 rejections later, and with only two months until graduation, I was surprised to learn that this was actually going to happen!

The idea for this puzzle came to me when my dad suggested that I create a James Bond-themed crossword. It occurred to me that "007" could be converted into a rebus, and I immediately set about creating the grid. I think I got a bit overexcited by the idea, as I submitted the first draft without really considering how gluey it was. It took another five drafts and countless failed iterations before this puzzle was clean enough for publication. I still don't love SCI ILE NLER, but the fill is light years better than it originally was, and I'm pretty pleased with the result overall.

Thanks to Wyna Liu for remaining patient while I struggled to remove the OCAS SOOTS VOOM CKS UNROOF ESTAS ALADY DIR SFC etc. which populated that first grid, and for her incredibly helpful cluing suggestions. And thanks also to the editing team for spicing up my clues (I love the Amanda Gorman reference). And for keeping "Page break?", which I'm particularly proud of.

POW Fri 4/23/2021
ABETSAMEXRIOT
DRAWLLIMEWEDGE
AERIEBRUSHFIRE
MALTESEAUDEN
SKYPARAPETS
FRONTROWSEATS
STRIVEBEEFFRO
ERODEDIMOTTER
TISROOTPRIEST
HOTAPPLECIDER
MASERATITIM
FIBERMANCAVE
IDONTCARENOSIR
TEDDYBEARENTER
SAYSSRTAREEDY

So... what are you doing this weekend? If you're reading this before noon on Friday April 23, it's not too late to register for the 43rd Annual (but first virtual) American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. I'm one of the puzzle constructors and I'll be hanging around the chat rooms with over a thousand lovely puzzle enthusiasts. I'm incredibly sad that another year is going by without an in-person ACPT, but it looks like Will and his team have managed to pull off an impressive weekend filled with fun and interesting events.

As for today's puzzle, it feels like it should have run in October rather than April with HOT APPLE CIDER and concerns of an EARLY FROST. I submitted it last April so I'm not sure what was going on with me then... other than the fact that by April of 2020 time had begun to lose all meaning.

I'm glad TIM the Enchanter stopped by for a visit (and I implore you to take him seriously when he warns of dangerous creatures with nasty big pointy teeth). I also liked the editors' clue turning EMU into "lemur".

Anyway, despite my mini fall theme, it's definitely spring here, so I'm going to go play in my garden for a while, figure out WHAT'S FOR DINNER and then hopefully see you at the ACPT this evening!

Sat 4/24/2021
DIMBULBFLING
AWAYTEAMMEANIE
WISEACREREDANT
NNEHARRYSTYLES
IRKREMOPFIRE
SWARMLEGOREST
PITIESNITTI
ANISTONSTRETCH
KABOBSENHOR
TEARSTEPEDENS
ALLITIARASUV
POINTOFVIEWSEW
TIGGERIMSOSURE
ASHLEYSPORTAGE
PETESSPELLED

MIKE: I had only wanted to publish a NYT puzzle on a Saturday someday so it's extra sweet that this is my debut! Kristian and I have written many puzzles, and most collabs have gone like this: I get stuck with about half a grid, maybe with a few marquee entries I'd like to keep, and then he keeps the best stuff and finishes the grid, also taking care of house-keeping issues like cheater squares and such.

He knows how much I love cluing, so he lets me have first crack at the clues, then he'll edit those and let me have a last look, and voila. I absolutely adore ‘?' clues — my fave part of the whole process is coming up with clever clues for as many entries as possible. It doesn't hurt our creative process that we've been close friends for over 30 years.

As for me, I've been an avid solver since 1996 or so, but I mainly solve (and construct) themelesses. My earliest constructions were dreadful. Early in 2020 (not originally having to do with the pandemic) I really dove in. I found dozens of unfinished drafts, and started many new projects. I work at crossword construction most days, some days for hours. I have a Ph.D. in poetry — my 2nd book, "Letter to So-and-So from Wherever," is available from C&R Press. I'm also a singer-songwriter — my band CLOP's album, Fame For Zoe, is available on iTunes, Spotify, and elsewhere. I'm also a self-described KenKen expert.

KRISTIAN: We met on our first day of college, and we've been friends ever since. I'm so happy that his debut puzzle is a Saturday NYT puzzle, as it has been a dream of his for years to get a themeless puzzle published in the Times.

This puzzle started the way most of our collaborations start — Mike sent me a partial grid with some great entries, and I worked through it to try to fill it without compromising the good stuff while trying to minimize the not-so-good stuff. I'm really happy with the result. I really like Mike's stack in the upper left corner and I like 9-Down and 30-Down. I also love some of the clue changes that the editorial team made, with my favorite being the clue for 63-Across. I hope everyone enjoys the puzzle as much as I enjoyed working on it with Mike.

Sun 4/25/2021 STRETCHING EXERCISES
POEMPHILTRIPINFECT
ENTOURAGEHURLSOOTHE
PECORINOCHEESESCOTIA
LASSHUHAQUADUCK
ALTOELITES
ARISILKALEXEELBIG
HANDNOOBLACEDSODA
ENCODERASSLEDHIYALL
ABIDESELLGLUTENFREE
SOFREAKINLY
DYETUXPARRAISIR
BESTRAPPERFORMANCE
THIRSTEASYBREED
VANITYIMEANITSOYEAH
AIDECOEDSDOMEARGO
DRYRAHBUTTPUTSYET
LATEPAPERSSCAM
ROLWORAWTRUESUP
ORIENTBENICIODELTORO
DAMAGEOPUSMOANK
ELOPEDYANKSHOWAPSE

HI YALL (55-Across) from Austin, Texas!

I'd never seen the 7 members of this tight theme set executed in a puzzle before, so I gave it a go. The first iteration was a 21x called "Put Some Muscle Into It!" where I added each muscle to a phrase for wacky results. Like:

  • S[QUAD]CAR TISSUES
  • GUILTY B[AB]Y ASSOCIATION
  • SHEPHERDS PI[LAT]ES

After this version of the puzzle was rejected ("didn't quite excite" the puzzle staff enough), I noticed enough material for a solid rebus theme but wanted to execute something more unexpected. Because this theme set lends itself to the notion of "stretching," I landed on sharing each muscle between two Across answers. After construction, I realized I might have been channeling this fun 2019 Sunday grid "That's a Tall Order!" by Finn Vigeland.

Several theme answers near the top and bottom were cemented fairly late in construction, as real estate and interlocks allowed. But ABSO-FREAKING-LUTELY and BEST RAP PERFORMANCE were locked at center from the beginning as seed entries and motivation for knocking this version out.

Favorite answer/clue combos that made the cut:

  • 85-Across ["And, uh, that about covers it"] SO YEAH
  • 76-Down [Name of the girl on "Game of Thrones" who said "A girl has no name"] ARYA
  • 103-Down [Like the clue for 103-Down?] META

Hope you all enjoyed this one!

POW Mon 4/26/2021
VISAPRIMPAMOR
ESPNLAMARZONE
THEYAGAMEAPEX
WHITECASTLE
OTISSERE
ADJOINNEARBY
BAASURFACEOUI
BINGMOOREMSRP
AREARLOTLIEGE
YALEEDSURGE
SQUADPCTBEARD
AUSDELOUSERKO
METALAUDEADIN
BEEPSYRIATENN
ANNEASTORANGE

LORI: I'm very excited to have my first puzzle published with one of my favorite sons as a collaborator. The puzzles have always been a family affair. My father-in-law would solve the puzzle in pen as we watched in awe. My husband Alan, who I refer to as the big guns, as he can crack even the toughest of puzzles, continued the tradition. He and I would solve them together with our sons always eager to help. And now of course, named for my father-in-law and taking it up a notch, Eric is a master puzzle solver and true cruciverbalist.

The genesis for the puzzle came during a family vacation, including my other favorite son Marc. In transit to pass the time, we were brainstorming ideas for puzzles; and as someone who is preoccupied with food, this theme occurred to me.

I'm a retired hardware engineer and former chip designer. The love of puzzles and problem solving led me to study engineering, with a brief stop in art school on the way. I'm a voracious reader, volunteer, activist, and cooking enthusiast.

I was happy to be able to include JANE AUSTEN, one of my favorite authors, but was disappointed to lose the reference to Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (Producer Ron MOORE) in the clues, another favorite. Our original submission had OPI at 61-Down, clued [Kinky in Helsinki nail polish brand], which would have been an Easter egg for my dear friend and puzzler extraordinaire, Judy, but the editing team changed it to make the puzzle more Monday friendly.

It was a lot of fun to produce this with Eric. He led me through the entire process of building and clueing it. The silver lining of the pandemic was the time with my guys and taking a hobby to the next level.

I hope that you enjoy solving it.

ERIC: With theme answers of length 9, 10, 10, and 11, we were quite constrained in designing the grid. This led to some subpar fill towards the bottom of the grid. On the bright side, the top of the grid was mostly unconstrained, which let us easily add all the letters needed for a pangram.

It was fun to work on this puzzle with my mom, and I hope you enjoy solving!

Tue 4/27/2021
CLOPSNARFOTTO
LAVSNADERFAIR
ICEICEBABYFINN
PERLEONSEPIA
BOURBONSTREET
SCOPESINAIRE
SHOTSFAXING
TIKIJULEPORZO
CHUTESSPAIN
ABOUNOSPRINT
MINTCONDITION
BREAKIRAEYEA
EDITSUGARDADDY
RIDETAINTWAGE
SEARYETISEYES

I began constructing puzzles when I was 15 after I got grounded for a month. With no TV and no friends to play with, I started handwriting crosswords on graph paper with an old dictionary for reference.

I still use a book regularly while constructing to help with the fill, rather than my database.

This puzzle is my first NYT and it's being published on my birthday! I was also excited to sneak both of my bloodhounds' names into the puzzle.

The 1-Down and 1-Across clues were a nice touch to my theme, and I'm sure that's a big reason this puzzle ran this week. Cheers!

Wed 4/28/2021
SELFSTIRSJAMB
SPURTONIOARIA
NINEAESOPBEND
CASEYATTHEBAT
CASTASIDE
SENORASURFER
GLOTVSETIKE
TIARAOLAHAREM
CANADAGEESE
CHECKPLEASE
ALIMEAERRSAN
RADIISACRE
OPENANDSHUTCASE
MENDARIESIPOD
ALTOBYRNEDENY

The idea for this progression hit me late one night while mulling over the potential of 58-Across as a themeless entry. Maybe it's a kind of reverse semantic satiation (a term I just learned from "Ted Lasso") where if you stare at a word long enough, it can actually gain meaning.

I figured there would be a decent number of options for CAS-E, CA-SE, and C-ASE, but realized there are very few entries that begin CASE without using the word itself. I'm a baseball fan who married into a family of even bigger baseball fans, and I knew I wanted to start the progression with 20-Across. Given the lengths (13, 15) and relatively fixed placements of those two answers, mirror (left-right) symmetry was required. With rotational (180-degree) symmetry so dominant, I always enjoy seeing what the mirror will reveal.

Somewhat surprisingly, this arrangement of stacked themers seemed to yield the best fill, though some compromises were necessary, as in the wide-open "North" section. I suspect many solvers won't notice or care, but I do hope some enjoy the unusual layout, including the 2x2 Tetris blocks on either edge of the grid's middle.

The clues reflect a harmonious balance between my submission and fresh ideas from the editorial team. They injected new life throughout, with 17-Across a prime example. 42-Down is saltier than what I would have dared submit — but I loved seeing it! I appreciated the essence of my clues being retained in many places, especially 28-Down, 43-Across, and 27-Across.

Thu 4/29/2021
WOOFORCABATHS
HURLWINGUSEUP
ITWOULDBEASHAME
SPOUTSCOPEROD
KURTZLPSORB
STSHILDAIFMY
SERRANOROLFE
HAIKUWERE
COYERPINESAP
TOBEBRENTPIP
HMSSAOWISER
RECALIGPONCHO
ONESYLLABLETOOL
BONUSELLAERLE
SWEETDAMNREED

Until 2020, the only way to submit a puzzle to the Times was through the good old US Postal Service. I always liked submitting that way — it made me feel super cool to write "Will Shortz" on the envelope.

Only problem is, if you read the submission guidelines carefully, you'll realize you're not actually supposed to write "Will Shortz." You're supposed to write "Will Shortz, Crossword Editor." Which seems like a small difference... except I'm writing this envelope by hand, and I've already centered "Will Shortz" on the page. So now here I am having to cram "Crossword Editor" in increasingly tiny print off to the right as I hopelessly careen toward the margin, ultimately rendering the last few letters of "editor" so absurdly small that you'd need an electron microscope to decipher them.

I'm not sure what about this typesetting blunder screamed "crossword theme," but something tickled me about the idea of having to cram a bunch of letters into a rebus square at the end of a row because I couldn't adequately predict how much space I needed to fit a theme answer. And something tickled me even more about the futility of it being a haiku, as if writing a word small enough would somehow make it not count toward the poem's syllable limits.

Ultimately, I'm really proud of this one. I feel like there's a lot of "me" in it. Hope you enjoyed!

Few other things:

  • It's odd how many pet-related bits of wordplay I included both in this grid and my previous one, considering I've never had a pet. I'm going to have to talk to my therapist about this.
  • I hope you agree I was able to save PINE SAP and LPS with fun clues!
  • Thanks to Joel and the whole editorial team, especially for the clue goodness on BUSES, and for the fun interplay at 62/63A.
Fri 4/30/2021
VASEDRESSSHOES
IPOSBASICCABLE
TOUTAUSTRALIAN
ALLAHLIEINEND
LOSTONEVENT
GEESEISEENOW
BEASODASDRONE
ITRYNIPINMIEN
BICEPATTICSAT
SCHWINNGREET
SKOALHERMAN
ERAACRIDERATO
LANECLOSEDAKIN
SIDEHUSTLENEMO
ANYGUESSESTRES

I kicked off this puzzle with LANE CLOSED. I've always been a fan of street signs, and it made me smile to include a ubiquitous phrase that most people would recognize but wouldn't often have cause to write down. From there, I built out the SIDE HUSTLE/ANY GUESSES/DIANA ROSS corner, then worked my way around the rest of the grid.

I'm grateful that the editors saw the fun in some entries that aren't explicitly "fun" –– looking at you APOLOGETIC, ONE AT A TIME, SITE VISIT, and DRESS SHOES. (Speaking of DRESS SHOES, I'm glad that more of the world has caught on to sneakers as formalwear these days, not that I've had anything to dress up for in a year...)

Thanks to the editorial team for the fun clue for GEESE and for keeping my true-to-life clue for VASE. I hope you enjoy solving this rules-and-regulations-heavy puzzle!

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