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Puzzles for May, 2015
with constructor comments

Fri 5/1/2015
ESCAPEMECHANISMS
MONTECARLOCASINO
THESCARLETLETTER
SOTREEFSHUME
HATSPRAM
DONATEFEROCIOUS
ECOLIJULIETNTH
LEMONMERINGUEPIE
LASGASLOGPROLE
ANGELDUSTJOTTER
LEESPANE
DIALAKEEMOLD
ADRENALINEJUNKIE
METROPOLITANAREA
EASYTOUNDERSTAND

I constructed this puzzle the summer before junior year, which was less than two years ago but feels like the very distant past. Heck, even yesterday feels like the very distant past when you're a second-semester senior! Speaking of which, Will chose one of my puzzles for a date that's very important to us second-semester seniors: college committal day. Luckily for me, I made my decision a couple weeks ago: I'm going to skip college and become a full-time crossword constructor in my parents' basement . . . not!

I'm very excited to announce that I'll be attending Stanford University this fall as a prospective Computer Science + X major! CS + X is a cross-curricular Stanford program that allows you to major in computer science and an additional field of your choosing, such as linguistics. I plan to continue with crosswords in college, though I also very much look forward to exploring the thousands of new opportunities college has to offer!

Anyway, back to the puzzle. Having solved many crosswords with triple-stacked, quad-stacked, and even quint-stacked 15's, I decided I wanted to try something different. Inspired by Derek Bowman's puzzle with a single triple-stack of 16's, I set out to construct a puzzle with two triple-stacks of 16's. Armed with a smallish list of 16-letter entries and a largish amount of youthful spirit, I was able to come up with two 16-stacks that struck me as particularly lively. I remember discarding numerous other options in which one of the 16's seemed less in-the-language than the others or where there were simply too many ugly short crossings. Even in the final version, I wasn't thrilled with having to use SITU, MNEM, etc., but I felt that the strengths of the stacks outweighed the weaknesses.

I then moved on to the center "connecting" section, which was a challenge because it had to be very open in order to keep the word count below (or at least reasonably close to) Will's limit of 72. I knocked out a pair of black squares in the original pattern, allowing me to use HOT SPRING and the full name JESUS ALOU instead of just HOTS and ALOU. By an amazing stroke of luck, the other long entries that fell into place (LEMON MERINGUE PIE, FEROCIOUS, and ANGEL DUST) ended up being the exact sort I strive to include in nonstunt themelesses!

The short fill turned out quite smoothly, too, with one notable exception: JOTTER. I remember agonizing over JOTTER for the longest time and exploring numerous alternate fills, but the JOTTER fill came out on top every time. So JOTTER it was.

I had a lot of fun with the clues and was pleased to see that many of my originals made the cut. My favorite clue that didn't survive was "It may have a hot bust" for KILN — guess I'll have to save that one for some future indie puzzle!

For now, I hope you enjoy my puzzle. I've since moved on to triple-stacks of 14's, one of which I'm cluing up as you read this!

Sat 5/2/2015
GABORSOAPAGED
UTEROALLORNONE
ARRAYLEAKEDOUT
MAGNOLIAEMIGRE
GRUNTEDELEC
ALGEBRAEXAMEST
ROOMIESSTAMP
FLOESKILTS
GNOTEDUELERS
CPONEARESTEXIT
HALFKRAMERS
ONPOSTCURATORS
MELSDINERCOVET
PRESSTIMEKNEED
SAXEEMERSERFS

GOOGOLPLEX and GOOGLEPLEX were the seeds for this puzzle. My first attempt at pairing these seeds symmetrically in a puzzle used a different grid pattern with the seeds at 1-across and the last-across. That puzzle's submission resulted in a rejection from Will Shortz, but with feedback saying he liked the the pairing of these seeds. So, I decided to try again using a different grid pattern, which was subsequently accepted. I constructed this particular puzzle in December 2013, at that time neither seed had appeared in a NYT puzzle. The puzzle was accepted in April 2014.

Sun 5/3/2015 NON-STARTERS
BEAKSSHYERSAHARA
OXLIPTIMMARAOPENERS
BETSYANOOKOFTHENORTH
SCAMAMOKSITINSMAIA
REDLINESCECEBATED
EARTOONESHEARTBALERS
ARANAGPOLADANO
SEIZEDORMANCONQUEST
YALEUPETECOSTUSAIR
APGARSTUTIORTE
COWLARROWMINDEDAPEX
AHACPAAAAADAGE
PHYLABAHTMUNICREEP
OISEPOLLUTIONBLONDE
VOWELMTMDREDEE
HAMITEICEPIECEOFWORK
OBOTEISONFRACASES
MONTBHOPALIPODSPOT
EUROTRANSMITTERALEVE
SNOWCATTEASERSCERES
DENUDEOLORDHYMNS

Drop-a-letter and add-a-letter themes have been done so often that it's tough to get traction with editors for this type of puzzle. Consequently, I don't construct many of them. I made the exception here because a) I liked that the title is a little tricky (it's meant to be parsed as "No 'N' starters") and b) I liked all the theme answers, with a couple (A NOOK OF THE NORTH and OISE POLLUTION) that particularly cracked me up.

On this admittedly flimsy foundation, I invested the many requisite evening and weekend hours it takes me to make a Sunday puzzle, and was thrilled when it was accepted for the New York Times. I hope solvers enjoy it.

Mon 5/4/2015
DOHAPESOSALAS
AVERENERORISE
HAMANDEGGSCOIL
LLAMAMAYORNFL
SNAPPYCITI
ILODREAMACT
TRACEROAROMAR
AAHSTEPMOMERE
DDAYILEIAGREE
SAMADAMSCRO
ROMAFACETS
IBMNADIRISAAC
FLEXIAMACAMERA
SINEDRAMAABIT
OPTSSEXEDDOSE
Tue 5/5/2015
SWEETCAFEDOZE
PARSEAILSAXIS
ANITASWAPMEETS
GEORGIABROWNIE
SOTILO
MSNBARSTOOLIE
WATEROUSTUSA
ERASEPUBOSCAR
ALIEDENVIRAL
RAREBIRDIESEC
COGMRI
SHOCKINGPINKIE
MILLSTONEDIDSO
URGEAMADIDEAL
TEASLOWEADDIE

ANDREA: Michael came up with this idea of adding -IE back in 2012 which I thought was super fun; it's the exact kind of puzzle I like. We generated a big list (so big that I wanted to make it a Sunday ... still might!) but MB talked me down, even though there was some hesitation over the ugliness of 14s and I feared some confusion starting 1A with both a theme answer and breaking it in two to fit in all of SWEETGEORGIABROWN.

When MB came up with the solution of matching first word SWEET with the last word's reveal of ADDIE, we were good to go! Lots of back and forth over whether we could use BREAKFASTNOOKIE and GODSWILLIE ... we toyed with the idea of making this X-rated!

Upon acceptance, there was a request to redo the NE corner to get rid of some dreck (FREI, TARE, ILO) so we swapped out PERIMETER for SWAPMEETS and it all came together.

MICHAEL: Coming up with a NYT-quality theme is about the hardest part of puzzle making these days, and yet every week I see a clever theme and think, "Why didn't I — or Andrea and I — think of THAT?" When this one came to mind, I felt sure it wasn't original. After all, ADDIE ("Tatum's 'Paper Moon' role") is almost a chestnut in crosswords, so I felt sure someone would have figured out a list of "plus IE" entries. There was one non-NYT puzzle from many years before in the database, but it didn't have the ADDIE kicker and there was no overlap in our theme entries.

We had a lot of giggles when generating our potential theme entries. Andrea is the one to think of BREAKFAST NOOKIE, and I thought of GOD'S WILLIE (my proposed clue was "Florida?" but Andrea didn't get it) and we thought it might be an Onion puzzle, but those were the only good "blue" entries, so we went with this. It was still fun, even if it was clean!

Wed 5/6/2015
STRIFEPROTEM
NEEDIERALUMINA
ANNALEEGUNBELT
ITTMEFIRSTGIT
LOOMSENESUAVE
SNUBFREESMMES
STAIRSTEEPEN
SEASONS
GUTHRIEAANDW
LENAERNSTIIII
ATRIPACHINALL
DIERECEIPTLDL
INSHAPERESPECT
NOTATESRAILCAR
ONSITEKNOTTY

This puzzle theme arose naturally when I was looking back at my June 4, 2009 collaboration with Pete Collins. I pondered: What things go in cycles? The answer that immediately came to me included three of the 6-letter words featured diagonally in today's grid ... and a 4-letter word in FALL.

(Good thing I pondered it a little longer)!

Given my experience filling the aforementioned puzzle, I had a straightforward task on my hands.

Thu 5/7/2015
SAGERASPWASH
YAKOVELHIIDLE
EFILESOAPLION
SENDNATUREEEOC
SOTDEUCEUPE
ABSUALSPAY
CLAPTRAPLOPEZ
TIREICELDTIDY
SPINYSCREENED
TOESDAMGRE
DADEUNTYNIP
ELESGOINGGREEN
RIFTROPERERDS
UVEAAGEDEOLIC
MERLMESSSKEE

Thank you bloggers for the inspiration for this puzzle which came to me in the summer of 2012 after reading one of your posts complaining about the overuse of certain 3 and 4-letter words in puzzles! I remember looking at the list of words and thinking it would be fun and a bit rebellious to take one of those words and include it as many times as possible in one puzzle — as a rebus. I figured, if a certain word had been used 800+ times in the past, then what's another 14 times more?!

I zeroed in on the overused prefix ECO from the list when I saw how many interesting words and phrases had imbedded ECO letters. (Yes, even KATI(ECO)URIC!). I also thought I could tie in the ECO words to some kind of an Earth Day-related revealer. It was only when I was writing my cover letter to Will, however, that I had the sick realization that Earth Day 2013 was going to fall on a Monday — not exactly a rebus friendly day! After my puzzle was accepted in January 2013, I looked ahead on a calendar to see when Earth Day would fall on a Thursday and was dismayed to see that Thursday got skipped altogether due to Leap Year in 2016 — so I wasn't really sure when I would see my puzzle published.

I was thrilled to get the email last week saying that my puzzle would be published today — not Earth Day — but just a typical Thursday in May. After all, "Going Green" is a practice we all should be adopting on a daily basis, not just on one day. Enjoy!

POW Fri 5/8/2015
SNAPCHATCLASSY
KETELONEHALITE
ICERINKSANIMAL
SMELTROEOIL
CANOEEROSENDS
ANONSMUGMAC
CGISTONEMASONS
HESSIANRENEWAL
ELECTRICFANEVE
MAZTHENCLAW
HEATVOIDROLLS
ELKCORDELIA
LIELOWIRONCHEF
ETRADENEWSHOLE
NESTEDGREEKGOD

A few random thoughts:

  • 1A was the seed answer and got scooped in other puzzles before publication. Eh, that'll happen.
  • With the pattern $c$v$c$vN $cOWELL (where "$c" stands for a consonant and "$v" stands for a vowel), 12D could have been Colin Powell. Love when grid flexibility pops up like that.
  • I've used this basic shell for other themeless puzzles, and I highly recommend it for new themeless constructors. No themeless construction is "easy," but this 72/29 is pretty doable.

Hope solvers like this one!

Sat 5/9/2015
MUFFINTOPKEBAB
ONEINFOURIVANA
ASIFICARENOTIN
TENETSPYGLASS
EATDIRTSUTURE
DTSAEONMUTATE
PLAYATTINTS
AGHAMETOOOGEE
NOUNSDARWIN
YENTASLUISFAR
SKYLABSEAHARE
AGELIMITDUTCH
MARINDOCTORWHO
AGENAENTERTAIN
HADESTENNESSEE

The seed entries for this one were 1-, 17-, and 58-Across along with 12- and 31-Down. I wasn't sure if 31-Down would pass muster, but I gave it a shot, and Will was okay with it. I wanted to get 58-Across into a puzzle for a little while since my boys are big fans of the show, and they begged me to try to work it into a grid, so I was pleased when I was able to get it into this puzzle.

I really like the mini-theme in the upper right side of the puzzle as well; 11-Down crossing 29-Across was a happy accident, so when I moved to the center, I decided to take it a step further by getting 42-Across in there, too.

I had a lot of fun making this puzzle.

Sun 5/10/2015 LITERARY CIRCLES
TKTOVUMVACROPEWAY
UNHNANODENYATEDIRT
LEECUCAMONGAGOGGLED
ILLTELLOFTENLIL
PLOYTEARFULGREENING
CPAANTROLLINGGAIT
GRUELINGMASTIFFMNO
RESOLDEWESALIENCES
ACTALBRIGHTENDEAR
BUTCHEREDYAOOAR
RRRBROKENRIBTLC
EOSWINBRANCHOFF
BECOMENATIONALSLR
PRISCILLACTNNORWAY
IONDIAGRAMEGGWHITE
LIFEISSWEETPRONEL
ELLIOTTSMAYISEEILLS
ODDDONUTSPANIEL
REWEAVEOVERAGAINAAA
EXERTEDRENTSPCAMSN
CORSETSADDTESTSET

Shortly after I taught "The Locust Tree in Flower" to a class of undergraduates, it crossed my mind that Williams' thirteen one-word lines might be a good fit for a 15x15 crossword grid. At first, I considered making each word an individual answer on a separate row, but this posed a problem: what to do with that cryptic "of," too short to be a standalone answer? Finally, I settled on concealing all thirteen words inside longer answers, which meant expanding the grid to 21x21. Doing so had the unexpected side effect of opening up just enough room for the title, the poet's name, and all four stanza breaks — a small miracle, or so it felt.

Where possible, I tried to use theme answers unrelated to the poem's words. (Hence MASTIFF instead of, say, STIFFLY.) OVERAGAIN would have been UPAGAINST, but that section just wouldn't fill properly until I shifted AGAIN to the right. Special thanks to Will for his clue at 60-Across, which brought back fond memories of classical-music broadcasting in college. (Never assume you can fake your way through the name "Władysława Markiewiczówna" on live radio.)

Mon 5/11/2015
BOOMSPDASGIF
IMSETORCAMENU
CALLOFDUTYONCE
SNOOKIBUSDEAL
DEBTANAIS
EASYBALLOFFIRE
RPMSERATYSON
INATROUNCEKOS
CELLORUHREMU
HALLOFFAMEELSE
WALLEBARN
WHOMUMPPAWSAT
HORAFALLOFROME
ILLSFLOETASER
ZEDYETISPASM
POW Tue 5/12/2015
LAGCASITAASTI
APERIOTEDSWAN
NPRURBANDESIGN
DEARMEALLAN
HAREBRAINEDIDEA
OLDEMSTLEN
ANGIOSAGELY
BROADMINDED
TRENDYECLAT
OATBROURDU
WHIPPERSNAPPERS
TIARANASSAU
ELASTICBANDAGR
LOLACEASEDLOP
KOLNASHLEYENS

The idea for this puzzle may, just may, have evolved during a quieter day at the office. Sometimes you don't have to look too far for inspiration, I guess.

What's hopefully fun about this one is the sense of motion it implies. I'm particularly excited though about the graphical elements introduced in 48-Across; nothing wrong with good ol' reliable circles and shaded grey squares, but I'm very happy that Will Shortz was up for something different here.

Originally KNOBANDTUBE, as in the old style of electrical wiring, was the first theme entry in this puzzle but that was deemed too obscure. Anybody overly disappointed to see it go? (If you've ever had to replace knob and tube wiring for real, you probably weren't disappointed at all to see it go).

Enjoy the puzzle, but kids, don't try this at home.

Wed 5/13/2015
ALKAISMMOPYON
DOINSHALALAEWE
ASTICITIZENKANE
PETTHREADSHRED
THETHIRDMANANDY
SENECAEEK
TAILHARRYLIME
ORSTHEWAROFORO
THEWORLDSATOP
ROOMORITA
SHIATOUCHOFEVIL
HASTAPRIESTACE
ORSONWELLESETAS
APUTENSILEPORC
LYEIDSASSARTE

I've made a few tribute puzzles. Although I thought they would be straightforward to construct, I've learned that they come with certain specialized issues. First, is the honoree famous enough? Then, which day of the week will the birthday fall on? It is most practical for a simple New York Times weekday tribute to occur from Monday to Wednesday, to avoid the trickery of Thursday or (in general) the totally themeless format of Friday and Saturday.

For Orson Welles, the Wednesday placement allowed a middle-ground of construction. The theme answers are basic enough: film titles, a famous character, and Welles himself. To make things a bit more complex, I included seven theme entries and stacked three of them at the center. This also allowed for some open areas with long Downs in the NW and SE.

Thu 5/14/2015
LFMASTSHRIVEL
ARALSEAYOUBETC
SANDLERSOMEWAY
YEETOTESEGO
NGERABBEYGMEN
ANAABRIMBAER
BURSTOUTNORTE
POUTMONT
FAINTLAUGHING
EPEEGODNOCOO
TRODCOLDSBERT
ARCVILLAYAR
BERETTASWAYING
IRYLEGSHOMONYM
TOPKNOTWAUKES

The grid had to look exuberant. Wouldn't anything fewer than 10 HA's, split four ways, look too polite to be an outburst? I wanted to match the revealer in spirit and not simply in meaning. So: 12, because 10 would lack symmetry. They had to intersect — children from large families must sometimes share beds — but I was otherwise content to keep the theme entries random. HAIRY LEGS notwithstanding, the resulting grid isn't exactly my idea of sexy; given the constraints, I'm not sure it needed to be. HAIRY LEGS, GOD NO, ART BRUT, ETAGERE, HALCYON, TOP KNOT, and the ARAL SEA are enough for me.

Fri 5/15/2015
DARKANGELTRAP
INACLAIRECHEMO
KIMJONGUNHERBS
SIONADDTOCART
PENNEHILOATOI
BETESETUNREST
ADOSTRESPASSES
ARTYEP
GQMAGAZINELAPS
SUITESNTSODIN
TESTSASHICALL
RESIDENCEMAWS
INUREDATAPLANS
NISEIOLIVETREE
GEARRECEIVERS

To be frank, I was fairly shocked when Will accepted this puzzle in May 2014. (I sent it off in January of the same year for those curious about the publication timeline.)

After Will had accepted three of my first seven themeless attempts — two of which [the MTV.../GRAND... and WIISPORTS themelesses] have already published — I tried experimenting with different ways to build themeless puzzles. In my last NYT themeless, I locked the black squares in place first and then scrambled to find nice fill for the center that would also enable clean corners; however, with this puzzle, I started with the NW stack and tried moving a few black squares around until some goodies (GIGAHERTZ, ERUDITE, K.C. JONES, RAM INTO [with the vague clue]) locked in place.

This technique produced a pretty nice, albeit proper, NW section but eventually led to a more difficult time in the South — STRASSE, ATTIRER, IN SCALE, NTS, and AD-AWARE standing out as particularly irksome entries.

As always, Will and Joel did an awesome job spiffing up the clues. My favorites among their edits are [Goes one step too far?] for TRESPASSES, [Class for model students?] for ART, [200 at a 500] for LAPS, and [Grp. of 300 people?] for PBA. I'm also glad my clues for NAP, MAWS, DATA PLANS, and OLIVE TREE could stick around for publication. Unfortunately, my original clue for KIM JONG-UN, [Whom Dennis Rodman called "a friend for life" in 2013] didn't make the cut.

On a completely unrelated note, I really hope North Korea doesn't hack NYTimes.com today.

Sat 5/16/2015
DRIPPOTBEATSME
REMORSEUPDATED
UPPSALALEAKING
GROTTOCLEMENTE
CIRCESLYSUGAR
ZETAALOFTPOLS
AVERAGESOUT
REDDIAPERBABIES
LITTHETORCH
ASTINARISNOOR
SPANGROMPENNI
HINDUGODWESSON
ANGELOUTITMICE
RELEARNONRADAR
PLEDGEDMOONERS

A couple of clue edits caught my eye. For 1-Down (DRUG CZAR), I had [Coke head?]. I would have gone with [Pot head?] but for 1-Across. As such, the clue felt a little crass to me. I love the edited version, which works the same kind of joke in a much subtler fashion. (Jeff: [Highest officer in his field, ironically]; "Highest" — get it?)

For 8-Down, I had the somewhat rococo [Teddy Roosevelt's third-party endorsement?]. It interests me that my version made the first part of the entry easier to find, where the edited version gives a big hint for getting the end of the clue. It might be an easier clue that makes the puzzle harder, since the top of the entry is one of only two ways into the NE section. Fortunately, the baseball trivia at 20-Across is well-known to many, and easily findable for anyone else who gets really stuck getting into that corner.

Sun 5/17/2015 TO-DO LIST (ABRIDGED)
BREADSROMAODDSSTEM
MARINECORPSKEEPSCOOL
WINDAWATCHAPLAYAPRANK
NOELTIATHANROADS
AMENHEESTOW
THUMBARIDEAWAVEAFLAG
LESSSORPMEELTUG
CREDFLATCRIMESCENE
DOAFLIPACOINAPHRASE
SNOOZEHUESSETSIN
MTMNOWSIPBOAETA
ARARATSALECHANTS
RUNALIGHTAFIREASHOT
CITYSTREETSUMSRULE
SSRABASAMBATBOY
MAKEACATCHABUSATABLE
ACNEARKPADS
WORLDAGRIALBTOOL
FILEARETURNABOOKATRIP
TVANTENNAKARATEKICKS
DEFSATOMSHADYESSES

I originally titled this puzzle "Multitasking" because certain words serve more than one purpose and the individual tasks would overlap — much as they seem to do when one is multitasking. But alas, not everything survives the edit.

At any rate, it's a complex theme idea today ... one which took many more hours to flesh out than a simple rebus or letter subtraction would. (Just try to create your own string of three overlapping tasks: PUSH A BUTTON, BUTTON A SHIRT ... oops I'm stuck). Plus, I don't particularly enjoy solving those "conventional" forms I mentioned — and that's just me — so I never make them. Instead, I push really hard for something new and unexpected — the sort of theme I myself would most enjoy solving. Lets hope that's what solvers got today.

Mon 5/18/2015
EMUPAPERSTEAK
RANALICEEAGLE
ROWWITHERINGLY
ORIONODES
LILLIANSAMOSAS
LANDEDMISHIT
TRIGAPEDCHIME
HANGMANIAAFEW
EDGARLICITTDS
FILLETMENIAL
TOYSHOPSTEREOS
EWERDISCO
OFFHANDEDLYSTS
PLAITANNIELEA
TUXESLOADSYTD

I created my first puzzle while house-sitting for my daughter in San Francisco in 1996. I thought it would be a fun time-filler. I had no computer program, no computer and, of all things, no dictionary — I would drop in to the San Francisco library from time to time to look up a word. I drew the grid with a ruler and pencil and began filling it and erasing and erasing until the paper was in shreds. I was elated to get a conditional reject in the mail from Will Shortz who coached me through several reworks. What a guy!

The yellowing puzzle is framed on my office wall. I try to maneuver visitors over there hoping they'll ask me about it.

Tue 5/19/2015
SLOBSBRIEFAZT
AEIOURIATAGEO
FALLENANGELGRR
EVESENDOAPRON
REDHEADSLOE
OBLIQUEANGLE
ADLIBUGGYAYA
MOESOMEHOWTNT
ASTINILAMENS
JESSICALANGE
DACENESTEGG
KHAKIACNEHALO
NANCONRADNAGEL
OTCLOYALONEAL
WEEEXAMSGERMY
POW Wed 5/20/2015
SACSPEALMADAM
HELPRATEAROSE
ORALAREARIGHT
VISAVISAVISA
EASTERMESHJAB
SLYRIGLATINO
ABELABELABEL
FLAWAGOLEWD
RIDERIDERIDE
ERASERENOPSA
TAMBAASSNORTS
PIESPIESPIES
RAZORPURRTONE
EXISTEMITIRON
DEPTHNESSCYST

When I first saw this puzzle's edited version, 57-Across (PIESPIESPIES) had me genuinely stumped until I figured out the twist Will had added. (My clue: "Movie sequel in which a shipwrecked boy catches sight of baked goods?".)

Also new and welcome was the "Simpsons" reference in the clue for 33-Across (ABELABELABEL), originally the rather nonsensical "President Lincoln, put a nametag on Cain's brother!'?".

For the record, I briefly considered another sitcom-themed answer: IDERIDERIDER (Motto for one heckling "Boy Meets World" actor Strong?).

Thu 5/21/2015
ABEETOLDEBARK
BRAGHROAROQUE
BARGEEARTHSIGN
RELOFMONKEYS
ORSPAGED
DECORSBAREAYE
ERODEDRIERREEF
BAROABIDEELLE
TSIMPSONLAZIER
EENAHOYEXACTS
EDGERACE
RAISEDTHEBAR
BARNSTORMEVADE
BIESELIEAESOP
SLOTMINNDRESS

This one went through the submission-rejection cycle a few times before it was deemed ready for prime time. The last snafu was due to my not noticing that I had DEBAR as one of my fill answers. Needless to say, with BAR being an integral part of the theme, that was a bit inelegant.

Having five instances of BAR on top of ??? constrained the fill to some degree. Does anyone like to start off with a partial phrase fill-in-the-blank at 1-Across on a Thursday? Maybe. I guess it does give a quick toehold. There were few other options given that 1-Down was ??BR.

I didn't like resorting to the prefix BARO- as one of my BARs, but that left-center section gave me few other choices, and the others (I forget what they were now) resulted in even more tortured fill. I recall that at one point I thought I'd solved the problem only to discover that I had ERASED crossing ERASED. Such is the life of a constructor.

Fri 5/22/2015
SEALEDWITHAKISS
ALLOVERTHEPLACE
BAGGAGECAROUSEL
ANIONSATESSPF
DTENATMOSKUTI
ORRHELENAIMEE
ASHOREEARNER
AMICUD
MONIESHUMANE
BINGETTOPSALP
ILLSBEATSGINA
SEEIRANISAVOR
TRACTORTRAILERS
RUSSIANROULETTE
ONHANDSANDKNEES

I started working on this puzzle as an exercise in "How to construct a Triple Stack." I wanted to understand the magnitude of the trade-offs between interesting 15s and interesting everything-elses. I also wanted to maintain an open grid, because my own personal gripe with many Triple Stack puzzles is that there's only one way to attack them: whittle away at 3-, 4- and 5-letter fill until you have enough of the stack to intuit the long answers.

So I started with the top and bottom 15s as my seed entries, and then chose a grid shape that would feel open but still not impossible to fill. I think the top stack came out zippier than the bottom stack, but I was happy to avoid a preponderance of terminal esses that can sometimes distract from otherwise nice answers.

Other notes: I'm also happy to see "Afrobeat music pioneer Fela" make his debut. I tried to sneak him into an old, rejected puzzle submission a few years ago, on an easier day of the week. He seems worthy of a Fri/Sat puzzle, though, as long as the crosses are fair. I'm also very pleased with the cluing. Many of my favorites made the cut, and Will's additions are excellent.

I hope you enjoy!

Sat 5/23/2015
HATCHETJOBMFAS
YEAHIMSUREARGO
ESKIMOKISSNEON
NOELSCOTCHEGG
APIECEENBLOC
AHASYOULIE
SCENESHOPWRIST
TOXSTOODONMTS
EDITHOFFICEBOY
MATHISSNAG
LERNERKRONOR
PLACEABETTUNA
RENUROCKGARDEN
OVERFLOODLIGHT
WISESANDPAPERS

With the bar for freestyles currently so high, I feel the need to go beyond building a grid around a single seed entry. HATCHETJOB is a solid phrase for sure, but it really wouldn't be a complete puzzle unless I could stack it with two other quality entries and have their crossings up to par.

Of course, the challenge is to pull that feat off several times in one grid. On top of that, cleanly bridging between the "seed stacks" is often as tough as filling those open white spaces!

Sun 5/24/2015 A TALE OF MANY CITIES
JUSTALUMMBAHOTDATES
UHAULTERAOOHATHENIAN
LUIGISTUDFARMGREWINTO
ERNSTETSONNETALSO
SATTHAIERSTESSONYRO
FUSENONOONKPNOSOAP
CORENIGHNABEEGGSUDE
SHAYEROOEDERCOKEKIN
PANSWONKYEMOIRISNAB
ORCDYNEALLYWAGSROTA
TAIRAYSWEEBALESEWER
SVENHELMACDCGNAW
TACOKCARONBYOTOEHEF
AROWERISNAYSUHOHAXL
GELJEEROSHTIREDETUI
SALOWEDAQUASTUNWIDE
AWEKOKOTUMSOMNIAMES
LAGGERWISEPINAGINS
EYESKENSERINRAHMATV
HASPHAZARDTITOYEE
MARATHONHEREITISFRIAR
OVERRODEERIGOALFANON
BAGPIPESMSNOGLEOGRE
Mon 5/25/2015
HANGIMPSBIGOT
ALARMAREANODE
VIDEOCLIPBUYIN
OBIVOTETYRANT
CIRCULARFILE
OLDRKOQUO
GIVETRAINBUFF
TORECRAMSRIOT
MOONSHINESOPS
INNTENSKI
SOCIALPOLISH
REMARKNORANEO
ECOLIINAILEDIT
SHOVERUNTSIZE
TOTEDELSEPEEL

Here it is! I am excited about my third NY Times crossword. This puzzle was inspired by a rather fabulous nail buffer that my friend Doris showed me. It has four sides, including "file nail edge," "smooth nail," and "shine nail." I added clip and polish, changed smooth to buff, and tried to think up some good theme entries. I especially like "train buff."

The grid was not easy to construct because the theme entries needed to follow in nail grooming order: clip, file, buff, shine, polish.

Coincidentally (?), this puzzle follows the Times' recent exposé on nail salons. However, Doris's inspirational nail buffer is meant for home use.

I submitted this puzzle in early July 2014, and it was accepted in late August.

POW Tue 5/26/2015
BESTCOPATUSHES
OTTOOWENASHORE
CHILDSEATNEUMAN
CARLOSBIRDSNEST
ENSMEMOAOUT
MITASTOPBCE
JAPANGREERFLOW
ALLYOUNEEDISLOVE
MPAABOSSAPETER
BOXDELTAGED
SARIWARNSAT
MATCHGAMEEDITOR
OLEOLELIFESTORY
MORRIELRONENTS
STREAKEDGEMEAT

This is just a puzzle conceived while listening to the song, with its repetitive use of LOVE. I hope Andrea (Carla Michaels) in particular gets a kick out of it!

Wed 5/27/2015
OBAMATRADETVA
VIDALWAKEDOAR
AGORAANIMUSTNT
EPIMIAMIPEG
CATSCANTSKIBOB
DREARYPEERAGE
LSDOASESNIGHT
BUSHWASNT
OCTETOESTESTA
LOWNOTEATRAIN
ALIGNSMATHISNT
GSAHOOFSTHY
KATYDIDNTQUITS
ITETRITETAMIL
XEDSTEERSLIMY

This theme came about while I was on lunch duty (one of the less glamorous aspects of teaching in a middle school). While daydreaming, I decided I wanted to give crossword construction a shot and was determined to create a theme before the lunch period was over. Immediately thereafter, a student playfully accused another of stealing her friend's bag of chips: "Katie did it!" she said. Katie defended herself in the third person: "No! Katie didn't!" Beginner's luck for me. It's proven much more difficult since to devise solid themes.

Nancy Salomon was gracious enough to mentor me through the process of construction. I am so grateful for her sharing her expertise and for the incredible amount of time she has spent communicating with me.

Thu 5/28/2015
CSIASPECTAHH
ALUMSTATUELOO
CELLOSUITESBUT
ARTOORAILPASS
CIASPIESNARNIA
ISNTSVUEINK
AYSCLAPADPAGE
EVENODDS
ABBESSSPITHEM
REARUAEMANE
TEDIUMBLUETITS
FREEMEALRETRO
OMGALTERNATION
RUGMOTTOSNAPS
MGSINASECANY

The concept for this one tumbled out of a brainstorming session with an up-and-coming constructor; it sprung out as an offshoot from another idea we had been discussing. He declined my offer to co-construct, but I'd never have come up with this one if it hadn't been for him spurring me on. So, I thought I'd at the very least I'd acknowledge him:

Be on the lookout for Lars V. (55-Down)!

Fri 5/29/2015
TAPSCLAPTONGA
OBOEHEALTHFOOD
YOKEINRAREFORM
SUESSTONEHENGE
TRADEONVEREEN
BAGFULKIA
ABATESAINTHOOD
ROMEGOTTOORZO
EYERHYMESARGON
APEINSANE
ATBATSPANTENE
BYACCIDENTHIHO
UPSTHEANTEIZOD
ZEROESINONDELI
ZBARSSENDEDEN
Sat 5/30/2015
KIDSMEALFRAMED
EMINENCELADYDI
DUXELLESICONIC
SPIREATANYRATE
FETEWESTASHY
ROCSNARLSAT
ERRSORSTWISTS
DIAMONDBOLOTIE
OTTERSRANNAME
LETTUCESTED
IDOLASSTHIES
DONTERASEINLAW
INSERTERUPTIVE
ONESIELISTENED
MATTERLABORERS

BRAD: The ambition and versatility of Sam's work intrigued me from his very earliest appearances. He can deliver fresh, well-turned themes and also notably elegant themeless puzzles. He did lots of the heavy lifting here; I contributed the starter and the last corner, but he set me up very nicely. We've done others together since then in which the collaborative process itself might warrant a bit more discussion. Nice to have some longer entries feeding into the center from the border — no islands in the design. Quite a good number of our favorite clues made the cut, too.

SAM: I enjoy Brad's puzzles because they always teach me something new. The process for solving his puzzles usually goes something like this: (1) tentatively write one answer after another; (2) finish the grid feeling uncertain about four or five squares; (3) look up the answers where those mystery squares cross; (4) change 90% of the uncertain squares to the correct answer; and (5) vow to brush up on opera, literature, and other elements of the humanities.

Constructing with Brad is a similar process: (1) receive a partially completed grid; (2) look up three or four of the answers; (3) realize they are real words (and, in fact, darn good ones); and (4) try to contribute something of equal value. It's great fun to work with him. Brad mentioned our success in getting some clues to stick; specifically, 32 of our clues (47%) were left as is, 14 (21%) were polished but retained their original concepts, and the remaining 22 (32%) were completely overhauled, nearly always for the better. (Our original clue for 40-Down referenced the quarterback of my favorite NFL team, but I guess philosophers are a little more high-brow.)

Sun 5/31/2015 MAKING PROJECTIONS
TACOTEACHPILLSARF
ALBUMWANDAINDIADEL
ITSNOWONDERLOFTYIOU
TRESSKRONASKORT
TAMERPROFITIRONAGE
CIRCLERABIDRTEENS
AMOKGOTONSUHWEET
SEMIANNUALTOMFOOLERY
TRANSFATCOLOURSNOI
LILTSEAWORLDSNAP
ANDESKELVINSQUADS
TORYHOARSENSNOUN
OVODECRIEDVANISHED
MAPLELEAFSSMARTPHONE
DEFEATSROOMYIMAC
NOVNNELAPUPSTNICK
PAWEDATSENSEITWEET
ASNERRELICROUES
PAMALEXAHIBERNATION
ALEWINITEKEBYKASHI
SSNSECTSRELAXTOMB

The phrase DROP DOWN MENU was a lifesaver in constructing this puzzle. Every decent grid arrangement I found required a theme answer to end with a U, which was troublesome because U shows up so rarely in word-final position. Luckily, DROP DOWN MENU saved the day.

Originally, MOUNT MCKINLEY was going to be MOUNT VESUVIUS. I made the switch to MCKINLEY so that you can view the grid as a map of the US with Florida and Alaska in roughly the correct places.

I thought it might bother some people for SHARK FIN to have no symmetrical partner, so I put the answer RANCHER opposite it. RANCHER is another term for a ranch house, which explains why it does not stick out of the grid—ranch houses often lack basements.