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Puzzles for May, 2016
with constructor comments

View these same grids with comments from:
Constructor (24)Jeff Chen (31)Jim Horne (5)Hide comments
POW Sun 5/1/2016 STELLAR WORK
FORAGETORIDISGUSTS
AMULETPAWEDOCEANMAP
CABLECHANNELDERRIERE
THYMUGGLESFAROESE
SASHPOLIORIPOPEN
LOKIPEALRIGHTSIDE
UNITEDAIRLINESTKOS
TAPENADESCEDARGRIST
EMPLOYERDEANICEIDEA
PIECIENTOLURK
BROKEREDASETTLEMENT
PUMAODESSAEIN
NADERISMAFTKEROSENE
AVERTHOMIEGETANEDGE
MIRAROMEOANDJULIET
EDMCMAHONSUMPASAN
RODENTSTEAMSHGTV
HALIDESELASTICHIE
EGOTISTSACTINGCAREER
MRMISTERSEEMSOCULUS
POACHERSHYPESTEPPE

BYRON: The idea for the puzzle was Joel's. I was psyched when he asked me to collaborate on it, because I like puzzles which play with crossword conventions, and I am a big fan of Joel's puzzles generally. For an easy puzzle, you want the structure of the theme to be evident right away. For a trickier puzzle, you want the revelation to come right at, or possibly just after the end. For this one, I envisioned the typical solver getting it somewhere in the middle, maybe just past halfway through. Too soon, and it becomes just a slightly odd themeless. Too late, and the joy of the joke gets washed away. Hopefully, we found the right mix.

JOEL: Had a ton of fun putting this together with Byron. One thing we debated in the theme stage was whether a clue like "*Search party?" for ED MCMAHON was fair game — after all, it completely eliminates the quote marks used in the show "Star Search," not to mention the space between "Star" and "Search". We agreed it might be a little cheap, but that hopefully it would add an extra "aha" layer for the solver.

We both favor wide-open grid patterns and constructing challenges, so our styles meshed pretty well when it came time to fill the grid. I've always felt that Byron is one of the best themeless constructors, so the task of working on a Sunday with him with big chunky corners like this was very cool. In the end, I think we kept the compromises to a relative minimum while working in some nice longer fill, but I'll be interested to read how solvers felt.

Mon 5/2/2016
PEPSIAFROANDS
AVIANSOPHLEAH
TESLAPRIMETIME
AWAITYVONNE
RHYMESCHEMESSN
LOOIESLYNX
EWWKAPUTSYNCS
SIZEMETOOZOLA
SEALYDANKETAU
FORAENDSIT
ABAWELCOMEHOME
BIGWIGAROMA
BLAMEGAMEIRONY
IBIDIDEOEMCEE
EONSESOSSATAN
Tue 5/3/2016
ABEDABAFTABCS
LEVIRIDERLOUT
BEESMOOLAEZRA
ABRAHAMSLINCOLN
GENENUT
HARRISONSFORD
RAZEDREEFOUT
CITEPICOTBABE
ATELEDACORAL
ICHIROSSUZUKI
YESONAN
FREDDIESMERCURY
REARARUBAETAL
OSSONIMESRAGE
STYXSCORESHAM

This puzzle's theme is a variation on a much overused one, and I hope solvers don't find it too straightforward. I remember coming across a puzzle from many years ago that used HARRISONSFORD as an entry, and I started wondering if there were other famous people with similarly automotive last names. I was unaware of Ichiro's last name, as his jersey features his first name rather than his last, and discovered this fact with the help of XWord Info. Furthermore, I was a bit worried that Freddie would not make the cut, since he was born Farrokh Bulsara, while the other entries featured birth names.

The fill, too, I think I could have improved, particularly those 4x4 corners — I would be interested in seeing if I could rework the grid structure to allow for longer words.

Overall, however, I'm happy to make my second appearance in the NY Times with another celebrity-based theme, probably surprising to those who know me and my pop-culture averse nature.

Hope you all enjoy!

POW Wed 5/4/2016
LISZTANITASAN
INTOOLONGFELLOW
STIRSINFILTRATE
PREACHSOFIARRS
SOSAOUTCLIME
LIFERKITBAG
TAMEORUEASELS
PELEISOMEROLLA
BATTENIOSONLY
ARARATDRAIN
SMOREMUSEALT
ITOTRACIMUSTER
MANZANILLAPOLIO
FITZGERALDOFALL
NEZTENSENASAL

Today's puzzle began with the realization that "INTO EACH LIFE SOME RAIN MUST FALL" consisted entirely of four-letter words. (Apparently, I wasn't the first to notice: three-time ACPT champion Trip Payne built a cryptic crossword around the same realization several years earlier.) I had always assumed that this line was a '60s-era mantra à la "Turn on, tune in, drop out," so it was something of a shock to learn how far back it dated. My only regret: not having enough space for the symmetrical theme answers INKSPOTS/RAINYDAY.

Thu 5/5/2016
TATEBIBSINDC
ROSIEACREDEER
BLACKSHEEPTAME
IINSTALETAROT
TFALAMAZINGGR
YESESANIONANO
GASDENBLAU
ARIETTARIPLEYS
DERROLDCEO
JLOAVERSTOTAL
INTHEHOLEDEMI
NEWELOPERARIB
TSARJULESVERNE
TORNASETISOUR
ONESMETSVERS

The inspiration for this puzzle came from another puzzle I was constructing that included the entry ACE IN THE HOLE. It struck me that it would be fun to interpret that literally. That idea led me to try hiding ACE in a solitary black square and building words around those. I had never used that gimmick before so it was a nice opportunity to see if I could pull it off.

The construction had one major challenge: where to place the ACEs and, related to that, satisfying the symmetry constraint for the theme answers. The four theme entries exploiting the two corner ACEs were the easy ones. The two side ACEs worked well for their corresponding across entries, one of which is the revealer. However, it took a bit of work to settle on the down entries for these two since ACE had to appear in the middle of those entries. There are surprisingly few decent choices for these. Eventually, I settled on ???ACE???? (and its symmetric counterpart) leading to the grid you see.

Will and Joel improved a number of the clues to make the puzzle appropriate for a Thursday. I'm very happy with the result. I hope solvers enjoy it!

Fri 5/6/2016
CARDCATALOG
GAMEOFTHRONES
GOTINTOHOTWATER
LASSOESUSSTATE
OTCTSP
SEALABSITSLATE
SENEGALSATINON
ARNOBRAT
CJCREGGNOGUCHI
HARNESSSTEPHEN
AGAIRE
SUNDOWNPLANFOR
MAKETHEBESTOFIT
RECRIMINATION
DOAGOODTURN

NYT crossword fanatics may recall that I had a puzzle in February last year that used a similar figure-8 grid. While I was constructing that one, I was forced to add cheaters to the 7th and 9th rows to get clean fill, which ended up leaving me vaguely dissatisfied with the shape of the puzzle. This ended up nagging at me so much that I thought I'd have another go at filling the grid I really wanted to use, and this time managed to succeed. Happily, Will liked the second puzzle too, and I got to sleep well at night again after it was accepted.

It will come as no surprise that 12-Across was my seed entry at the top. Given that the current constructing community skews young and geeky, it's a little strange that the entry is only making its NYT debut at the start of Season 6 of the show — might be the awkward 13-letter length.

Played around a lot with the middle of the grid, going through about 4 or 5 versions before I was finally happy with what I had. I especially wanted everything going through CJ CREGG (another seed) to be unambiguous — you're out of luck with that name if you weren't a West Wing fan.

Clue I was saddest to lose: I originally had 41-Across as {Fry in England}, but Mr. Colbert took his place. Apologies to all my QI-loving friends.

Sat 5/7/2016
PONIARDSMACPRO
IMONFIREUPROAR
SIGHTGAGSTARVE
ATOESMELTFOAL
ARMARABTUGS
THREADSLETSSEE
OHENRYTANS
WHATSNEWWITHYOU
HALOCREEPS
MARRYMEREADSTO
AQUAINTOPOW
DUMBCARDSNEMO
RIBBEDAMERICAN
INLIEUCASHSALE
DOESSOINSOMNIA
Sun 5/8/2016 TRAPPED MOISTURE
SAGESHADAJARFAST
ATRIABITESUREINTER
SWORNAGRASLICESERVE
HAWEDCHANGEYOURHWAYS
ARTCHOORATTRIOWET
HMAINCOURSESKIM
KARATETOSSWOWSCALE
REMIDRANKDIDITITIS
ORONOANASONATANSEC
FINELINEDOGGYHBAG
TEEINCMOLESNOBJAS
HOTHWIRESTOOLBELT
SOSORUINEDIRRYOWIE
ABETOSLINROASTAINT
DINEREENSEWNHORSES
SLURGOODASGOLDH
EYESEASBRRIERELAB
SALTHOFTHEEARTHANITA
THEHUSTLERFAIRNADAL
HOSEREEROTROYNEALS
OSOSROANSENASYLA

This type of rebus puzzle has been done more frequently in the last few years but the goal here was to make the Across themed clues and answers funny. The original working title of the puzzle was actually "Aqueous Humor".

POW Mon 5/9/2016
SOYACOSTSPREK
ASECDONHOLACE
ALOHASHIRTASHE
BOWENPARTYHOP
FEEDSUED
SHOWMETHEMONEY
HOURMFAPHONE
ADMBAYMAREIDA
LOOIEEMOACER
FIRSTRESPONDER
STANSTUD
SEQUENCENINES
CLUEGOLDENCALF
ALITIRKEDTRIP
REPONEONSSCAD

Who knew that there were so many phrases that include a two letter state code AND the nickname of that same state? And that they broke out symmetrically? When I first submitted this puzzle, Joel and Will liked the theme, but felt the fill was too bland, so this version is an extreme makeover. From my perspective, landing DONHO atop ALOHASHIRT was well worth the extra effort.

It's hard for me to believe this is my 20th puzzle in the Times. A long-time solver, I started constructing several years ago after attending a workshop given by Andrea Carla Michaels at the late, great Silicon Valley Puzzle Days event. Andrea demystified the process and encouraged those of us who were intrigued with the idea of constructing to give it a try. When my first puzzle was accepted, she was almost as thrilled as I was. Since Andrea is one of the great constructors of Monday puzzles, it seems karmatically correct that #20 for me is also a Monday — a symbolic 15x15 tip of the hat to a terrific mentor. Many thanks, Andrea!

Tue 5/10/2016
ABCSCLOWNINSO
HAHAAEGISSEER
SLAVEARLWEAVER
CTASKEDDIAS
JOHNJAYDADAS
INANERTONYHAWK
MYMANSAABNSA
HARTCRANE
ENSOUISOASES
TOMSWIFTMORALE
CREPEBIRDMAN
ILEAMOOGRAP
PETERFINCHURSA
AGEDELECTMIEN
WADSNOSEYSADO

My frequent collaborator Kevan Choset had a similar theme back in 2006, so I have to give a shoutout to him. But after BIRDMAN won the Oscar for Best Picture I couldn't resist. Sorry Kevan!

I wanted to stay away from his entries and put in new ones. Had to overlap with FINCH, but 5 new ones ain't bad. Was pleased that I got 7 themers in there, but at the expense of some fill.

Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed it!

Wed 5/11/2016
ROSAAMESSCREW
ENTRMINTTIARA
DEARSANTALARRY
TOBEORNOTTOBE
ONLATEMUMABED
PEERTOBEISTODO
ATMSSTOIC
CASINOSRETAKES
ALISTBOYS
TODOISTOBESWAN
STETIONHOPETO
DOOBYDOOBYDOO
CHOPSCALLSIGNS
OBOESAGEENICE
TORSOREOSGEES

Last fall while at an art fair, I ran across these Shakespeare, Socrates, Sartre and Sinatra "quotes" twice in one day. By the second time, I realized that the number of letters in the phrases matched — and a possible theme was born. I suspect like most readers of the constructors' comments on XWord Info, we observe things around us through a unique lens of letter counts, interesting words, and other filters of a crossword constructor.

Of course Will and Joel greatly improved my clues, changing about half of them and tweaking the grammar in a handful more. I originally assumed this puzzle would appear on a Monday (perhaps Tuesday) if accepted, so their editorial assistance tightened the consistency of the degree-of-difficulty of the clues. As a still relatively inexperienced constructor, I find setting the right tone for clues as one of the more challenging aspects of construction. I often get enamored with a possible clue, without fully appreciating whether or not it is appropriate for a given puzzle.

In the end, I hope solvers share the same moment of amusement from the theme that I did when I ran across it (twice!) last fall.

Thu 5/12/2016
ADMANSODADEG
IDEALSIRISAGE
TVCREWMARATHON
SERERFONTOLIO
WRESTLINGPRISM
ASPSONEDAMAME
REIDADEONE
TRANSPARENT
UNEACETETS
FARMERSUMANOE
ALISTESTIMATED
CINECAREALANA
ABSTRACTSNOCAT
DIESTOAADELIE
ESSTOWSEASEL

Inspiration for this ONE came to me in a grocery store parking lot. Though I've never seen the film, (M)AR(A)THO(N) popped into my head and struck me as being theme-worthy. Excited by the prospect of a new project, I brainstormed suitable revealers as I shopped. Fellow consumers undoubtedly questioned the sanity of a grown man talking to himself while counting out the length of familiar phrases on his fingers. Somewhere in frozen foods, INITSELF (one-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight…aha!) came to me. A phrase that's in the language and conveniently equal in length to MARATHON! A theme was born, even if in my preoccupied state I forgot to bring home the EDAMAME.

Over the next few days I scoured word lists for other thematic candidates and came up with a couple more. LABO(R)(A)(T)ORY and C(O)N(V)(E)CTIO(N) seemed legit and rounded out the first grid. Will and Joel liked the concept behind the original submission, but wondered if there could be more consistency in the theme answers. RAT was the only example with consecutive circles and OVEN was the only 4-letter example. I gladly went back to the drawing board to find ALIST good enough to cut the cruciverbial mustard.

It took several weeks of editing to yield today's offering. This is by far the most workshopped of all of my puzzles. The revealer INITSELF ended up on the cutting room floor. (S)(E)N(A)(T)E and PRE(S)ID(E)NTI(A)(L) were promising FINDS, but lacked symmetrical partners. A final set of theme answers was eventually assembled. Grids were constructed. Grids were reconstructed. Clues were written. Much time and CARE was taken to ensure a quality product. It's a MARATHON, not a sprint, right?

Thanks to Will and Joel for your advice on this one. I hope you all enjoy it!

Fri 5/13/2016
PAJAMABOTTOMS
IMAGINEDRAGONS
VANESSAWILLIAMS
EZINEABLERAT
NEEDSPLAYSERE
APPALLHDTV
SAGARIAFIERCE
ETERNALSICHUAN
ATTESTCOREMRS
GABSTRUSTS
RCATSHIRTPRIG
AKCATOMCRUDE
MAKEMINEADOUBLE
DATINGAGENCIES
TALKSNONSENSE

DAVID S.:

Dave and I met at the now-defunct Silicon Valley Puzzle Fest back in 2012, which feels like just a few months ago to me! Time flies when you're busy with crosswords, I guess. Anyway, Andrea Carla Michaels and I were giving a presentation about crossword construction, and Dave (who at that point had just started constructing) was one of the more enthusiastic-looking audience members. He approached us after the talk and showed us some of the puzzles he had been working on, which I remember being very impressed with. In fact, our first collaborative effort, which appeared in the Los Angeles Times back in 2013, spun off of one of the puzzles Dave showed me that day!

Dave and I have remained in touch ever since. I was thrilled to see him make his New York Times debut with an ingenious Paint It Black puzzle in 2014! He followed that up with one great themeless after another (and a handful of fun themed puzzles to boot!). Dave was also one of the most accurate Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project proofreaders—he used to make Excel files with all the mistakes he would find, which were always both helpful and fun to read.

I don't remember much about the construction process of this particular puzzle (my 50th published New York Times crossword, built back in late 2014), but I'm pretty sure we started with my bottom stack in one of Dave's insanely wide-open grids! We went through a ton of possibilities for the top before finally settling on the one you see. Most of the clues are Dave's, though "Piano-playing Cat" for STEVENS was definitely mine!

These days, I haven't had as much time for crossword construction, but Dave and I still keep in touch . . . even though he went to Berkeley and I ended up at Stanford! We hope you enjoy our puzzle.

Sat 5/14/2016
SNOCONESSOUR
LOCAVORETHINE
AVEMARIATOILED
GELATINRWANDAN
LORIJOETORRE
TOOLCASELINC
SNOOZEDALEK
IBMSAWZALLLDS
PERMNBATEAM
REPOWAGESWAR
OVERDONEFLOG
MEASUREFAULTED
INNEEDCELLMATE
SOULSOLDLATIN
EMTSPLAYPENS

About 15 years ago, a buddy of mine bought a house. As an industrial designer, he had grand visions of rebuilding the fixer-upper into an avant-garde mansion appropriate for his aesthetic sensibilities.

Walls got sledgehammered, windows smashed, and he wielded a SAWZALL at anything that looked at him funny. When we asked him if one column (which he had already sawed halfway through) was load-bearing, he stopped and asked:

"What does load-bearing mean?"

Thankfully, Shawn is still alive.

Sun 5/15/2016 EXHIBIT A
CARSCARCEMPAASHAWL
ONOTAVERNELLETABOO
AGGRAVATEDASALTRILES
SLEETSRESISTINGAREST
TERSESODOMHEART
MINSKSNAPEUDORA
CRUZTARTHATSAMORAY
UNDERATACKELIOTNAME
BADOTELLOWEARMATES
STUPACKBEATON
APATCHYHELICOPTER
SLATERGIVEITS
LIBREOUSTLOCATESAY
EDITPARKAARIVALDATE
ALOANATLASTLOPIBET
KENNERKITTWHOSE
ISLAMAREASCARDS
CHANGEOFADRESSKERSEE
RICOHYOUCANTWINAMALL
OVINEARNODEAFENWII
CEDEDLEANSENSESSAG
Mon 5/16/2016
IDINGTIMEKALB
MANIAANEWAMIE
BROKENBONEBEBE
EENLEOIMONET
AMINVOLLEYBALL
TETONALABEE
TEAPOTSOLDS
DINNERTABLE
SPOTTAKESTO
PANAIRURBAN
ALARMCLOCKDOPE
METOORHEAOPS
MAIAWEREALLSET
ELONARIAMETAL
DENSRENTAISLE

A while back I read that the word with the most definitions in the English language was "set." So, I set out to create a puzzle whose theme answers were all things that can be "set" in different ways. That left trying to find a revealer that would tie it together. I played around with a few things, and decided on the phrase "We're All Set," which did a good job of describing the theme. In addition to the theme answers, I really like the first two down answers, which are colloquial phrases — I'M BEAT and DARE ME?

I hope everyone enjoys the puzzle!

Tue 5/17/2016
BEADIPODDOGGY
AXLESARAATLAS
REDLETTERSTOVE
SCOWSHOTSHOWER
ETRESHEM
HASBROSODAPOP
AIRBUBBLENAPA
ULTSEABEESGRR
LEASHORSEMEAT
SYSTEMSTRASHY
PDASPEED
BONEWHITENERVE
EVITAGOONAHEAD
DETERORNEANNA
SNERDRESTYESM
POW Wed 5/18/2016
AVAFAMINESAME
MOCOCELOTTRAY
ANTARCTICCIRCLE
ZAIREHAHRESTS
EGOISMDEFOE
DENEELONTAPE
SENATORRHEA
THATSAMOOTPOINT
HAIRCARRIED
ENDIVETENFAT
KESHASIMONE
IRKEDORETORTS
FANTASYBASEBALL
SNOWPAYSINYEA
OTTOASSERTSRS

I normally avoid 3/6/4 edge breakup, but the theme intersection in this grid made the design necessary. It gave me the smoothest fill.

Thu 5/19/2016
AJARBLOBACRID
COVEYOYOBUENO
THEPRIMESUSPECT
LANUTERUSBOT
INGOTSNOTHOME
KNEWHEWASCOOKED
EARNLIDROSSI
AFTERHE
SLEETAAAGUSH
WASGRILLEDBYTHE
ANTOINEALMIRA
PEEGAZEBOLIV
POLICEDETECTIVE
ENLAITATESTET
DEEMSOLAFPYRO

When I retired from McGill University, where I had held academic and administrative positions for almost 40 years, I set myself a goal of having a crossword puzzle published in the Sunday NYT. I had never constructed a puzzle before, so as you might expect, my first two efforts at Sunday puzzles didn't make the grade. But crossword construction was as engaging as I had anticipated, and, although I switched to weekday puzzles, I didn't let multiple rejections otherwise deter me. My lucky 13th submission got the nod from Will, as did my 14th, which is the one appearing today.

As a solver, I like the gradual reveal of humorous crossword quips and the change they offer from standard puzzles. I came up with the idea for today's quip while reading a list of cooking metaphors. It took quite a while to get the language right, but I knew I had it when I laughed out loud at my own joke. Unfortunately, the 67-character quip seriously constrained the fill, so compromises led to more names in the puzzle than I would have preferred.

I have to thank Will and Joel for their enormous help and seemingly endless patience. Although they enjoyed my humor, my initial submission was far from acceptable. Many entries fell short, and the middle line of the quip was off-center, a departure from crossword-theme symmetry that was a show stopper. I revised both the grid and the entries — twice. Finally, I submitted two alternatives and, with changes suggested by Joel, we settled on a grid, which I then clued. Given other constructors' comments, I wasn't surprised that quite a number of my clues were changed, in several cases making them more contemporary, but I was pleased that some of them survived and I'm delighted to see my first puzzle in the NYT — my first puzzle published anywhere.

This whole process has convinced me that retirement is a great stage in life for starting something new. It affords the time to develop and hone novel skills, so I'm still hopeful that I will eventually see one of my puzzles in the Sunday NYT.

Fri 5/20/2016
ROGERTHATBOTCH
AROMARAMAACHOO
REFUSENIKRHETT
EGOHAGEMERGES
GARBEDBOAEIRE
ANTISFONDARIA
SOHNITOOUTLET
EGGMCMUFFIN
ANJOUSBFFTENK
SOUMAGOOMIXIN
PUGSFAXCOSTCO
ERUPTEDMENDEC
CILIAGUESTBOOK
TSARSEARTHTONE
SHREKTREASURED

I had a lot of fun making this puzzle. I love the string of consonants in EGGMCMUFFIN, so I put that in the center and worked in the two long down answers. From there, it was a matter of seeding the bigger corners with interesting entries and building it out.

My favorite part of the puzzle is the upper left corner, and I love the (accidental) placement of AROMARAMA next to ACHOO. I imagine a lot of sneezing going on as the different scents were sent wafting through the movie theater.

I hope everyone enjoys the puzzle!

Sat 5/21/2016
MISAPPROPRIATES
THEGREENLANTERN
GAVEITANOTHERGO
ETERNALOPTIMIST
SENCLEASP
TMIRANIOTIS
IMHIPROLFUMA
MEDALJEDODSON
DNAEDENROCKS
BUYSETATCIA
LASILELAI
HADAHEARTOFGOLD
UNIVERSALREMOTE
GIVEMEONEREASON
STARSTUDDEDCAST

I've submitted a couple of these stack puzzles in the past, and the advice that I've received from Will and Joel is to maximize the impact of the longer entries. This makes sense because the stacks restrict the entries so much in the other parts of the puzzle that it is hard to be creative. Based on that criteria, I like how both stacks in this particular puzzle came out.

GAVE IT ANOTHER GO on top of ETERNAL OPTIMIST amuses me. For 16-Across, don't blame me if you spent too long trying to remember Frodo Baggins' middle name ... well, actually, go ahead. I guess I *am* to blame :)

Sun 5/22/2016 RISE AND FALL
KTELEPSONSEAJUDD
ARNOMARCOFIRMPROAM
RICAPROTAGORASEDEMA
SCHMITTHANDTVGUEST
TIAMOISTEDUCESYET
SANMARINOALKALIPELE
TAGIONYENGLOSSA
NEABEGSNANOS
CELESTADONIMUSOHMAN
OCATRIRAPTLYSLIME
MOUNTAINHIGHVALLEYLOW
ENDOROSWEGORUENUT
ROSIESTYRENEMEOWERS
SAMOADEALDNA
GAMETETNNGINWIM
ANASTIEOFFAAARATING
STYONSALENOMARNEO
PIERROTVEERENDWITH
AFLACHEARTELLOFECTO
TULIPAMISPIANOPALM
RANTTILOTTERTREE

VICTOR:

I think that the best puzzles I construct, and I think that "Rise and Fall" is one of them, are those in which the idea has a moment when it seems impossible to execute in a publishable puzzle. Triple-checked letters pose a particular challenge because they constrain the fill but do not reduce the number of words in the puzzle, so meeting the NYT's guidelines gets difficult quickly. In the case of "Rise and Fall," fitting the black squares around the mountains and valleys was tough, and then the sharp corners were messy, but it looked fillable when I started out with it (in mid-2014!). Of course, months of false starts later, I was still unsuccessful, so I asked Andy to co-construct it with me.

I like Andy a lot, he's a terrific filler and collaborator, and he seems to think a bit differently from me, which makes us able to find solutions together that we (at least I) might not find alone. The first thing he did was suggest adding MOUNTAINHIGHVALLEYLOW across the middle, which was a great addition to the puzzle — and which is a rather strange song (and not the one by Tina Turner that I suspect most people think of when they see it).

We went back and forth on a few iterations and finally managed to get something we liked with 144 words. Close enough, right? Wrong. Will sent it back for being too wordy, so we hacked at it for another couple of months and got it down to a 140-worder. I hope that people liked the puzzle. (P.S. I started with KILIMANJARO instead of SAINTHELENS, but that proved impossible. Such is life!)

ANDY:

I don't much to add, except that I always enjoy working with Victor. His theme ideas are always unique, which makes the process of constructing the puzzle much more fun.

POW Mon 5/23/2016
HASHHOLEREHAB
ELMOAMENERODE
ROUTLIAMPIVOT
BUTTOFTHEJOKE
ELMSOSRAT
HEADOFTHETABLE
SEXSOARSTOOP
PAPANAACPMAHI
EVERYSHOWRAD
NECKOFTHEWOODS
TNTDRUDEN
EYEOFTHESTORM
PEDALFOUROREO
HALLEEDGEUSSR
DRYERTOEDROTE

I'm excited to be making my New York Times Crossword debut!

I just want to throw in a quick shout-out to my good friend Zachary Spitz, a fellow first-year student at the University of Chicago, for introducing me to crossword construction and helping me workshop puzzle ideas in our dorm lounge.

I only started solving crosswords last fall, when my co-workers at a campus coffee shop first introduced me to them. I'm particularly glad that HOT TEA and JOE made it into my grid!

When I was constructing this puzzle, my main priority was to end up with a clean fill. I spent a lot of time polishing the puzzle and ridding it of as much "crosswordese" as possible — I think it worked out pretty well, but I'll let you be the judge!

I'm very happy to be published and I hope you'll be seeing some more of me in the future!

Tue 5/24/2016
KEGSRAVEDAJAR
UGLYITINAHOLE
DOORPHONELINES
UNWISELIDOAXE
WANNASAYWHAT
BOOOSSOLAI
ADRAWSHOULDERS
RIMSBOGUSEZEK
RESOURCESSNIDE
NNEETTUODD
SIZETWOSOPUP
UNEISPYSEPIAS
MAPLETREESSNAP
ALPOEATITEZRA
CLOTRHINOTAPS

I don't recall how this idea first came to me, possibly when passing a bar or when looking at some PHONE LINES or something similar? So I made an initial grid and set of clues, and was pleased to see that Will liked it, except for one theme entry at 62 A (MAPLE TREES). After some discussion back and forth with Will, we agreed on the current entry at 62 A, and I revised the grid and clues for that affected area.

In an effort to get some nice fresh entries in the grid, I was pleased to get in DAEDALUS, GLOW WORMS, EZIO PINZA, BREWSTER, SAY WHAT,
SIZE TWO, et al. Hopefully these compensate for a number of common crossword words, such as those strewn a bit throughout the grid: NNE, VIOL, LIDO, etc.

I also liked how I was able to get two abbreviated parts of NCAA into the puzzle; I felt that was a nice plus.

I hope you all enjoy it! Hopefully you won't need all your mental RESOURCES for this one!

Wed 5/25/2016
AMOJAFFADRAKE
SENINALLWOMAN
CASHMONEYAWARE
ADLAIDUSKYTAM
PEARCARSONCITY
UTURNADEE
ALGRAGUOOPS
JOHNNYONTHESPOT
ATTAAWOLEDU
ROMAIRKED
BENCHPRESSAPSE
ADACHARTFRIED
KIDDOROTTENEGG
ENEROADORECEE
DARYLTEPIDERR
Thu 5/26/2016
SLAVSETASLOAM
TULIPSALEUNPC
AMATIQUICKTIPS
REMAKESBONZO
STOLENFINENBA
SLOMODEBRIS
ANGIEAXISLILT
ROUGERHOSINGE
OVENSTOWANGER
MESSUPLAIRD
ALTGAPEMASALA
SIGMAOPTIMAL
TAPASBARSODIST
ATOMOVALGESSO
JETSTOGOASHES

I think all parties were enthused about the finds in this quirky theme and about the number of theme entries that were able to be incorporated. The tricky thing here, though, was the issue of double cluing—how could I clue the long and short forms without making the puzzle too easy? Joel and Will's solution is elegant. To me, it seems to make the theme fall into the (unexpected) category of "wordplay on a base phrase," in which the base phrase is assumed to be a common expression that the clue doesn't actually refer to. (So, you'll have to accept that GUEST SPOT is a "thing," since only G-SPOT is referenced in the clue).

Being a musician, I'm happy to see the reference to Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt's "Oblique Strategies" retained (I've known many a composer to use these lateral thinking cards for stimulus), and for the NY Times, the omnipresent producer gets a novel clue. Estonian conductor PAAVO Jarvi breaks up the cluing monopoly hitherto held by the Flying Finn Mr. Nurmi. The TAJ Boston reference is also new; I distinctly remember the Christmas parties I attended there years ago (as a plus one when I lived with my more "adult" roommate who worked for a company that would hold holiday parties at such establishments).

Looking back, the inspiration for this theme must have come from some (ironic) attempt at doing "teenspeak," wherein everything that could possibly be shortened does. Totes.

Fri 5/27/2016
SCRAMBLESHAWED
WHATAJERKOVATE
MANICOTTITAXON
LARSENMIENS
BARTOKFUELS
AMEGILLSPET
RIALLENINSTOMB
OGLEERICADEBI
NOTAGBACKSSTAR
SSRROLESIND
ONENDSHOCKS
BLOATFATTEN
LAPAZOPIONEERS
ALECKRICOCASEK
HARPYDESDEMONA

APIE... I really don't like APIE. Everything else looks pretty good to me.

Sat 5/28/2016
ZIPPERGLACES
SNARLUPRESULT
ASSESSEDINSTIR
ZOTATTELETGTI
SNOBSELIGBLIP
AGRIPSULCEASE
GALAXYQUEST
NATOMEMBERS
HIPHOPMUSIC
CANESRONNATTY
ONESHADSTNEHI
ASIROSETEASEP
TORNUPLETSSLIP
ELOISERETRACE
DONNEDSOISEE
Sun 5/29/2016 BEST PICTURE ADAPTATIONS
HERCABINEDNAQUADS
ORAALEROSBEERHUNTER
LIVSILENCEOFTHEIAMBS
ACELACORNYAIT
REBAPOOLTRIPPY
THEVASTEMPERORSTARER
REVISIONABUTLIMO
UNIDUNCESWITHWOLVES
SCEPTERHAPRIPENE
SEWEREASYCOOKIETIN
GONGWITHTHEWIND
FLAGPOLESOREOEARLS
IAMISALASGASMAIN
FRENCHCONFECTIONNEE
TINEEVIEMONGOLIA
HARASSABEAUTIFULMINK
TATTERCRITLINK
ANIEERIESIEVE
GERMSOFENDEARMENTMIX
MYHAIRLADYHEINIEANA
AEONSEROSDCTENDOM

This puzzle might be the most straightforward Sunday theme I've had in the Times, but hopefully it's no less enjoyable. I love movies, so it was a lot of fun to go through all of the Oscar Best Picture winners and see which ones were one letter away from odd, funny phrases.

One choice during construction was to add the two extra 10-letter entries right alongside longer counterparts; this made the grid a bit less wide open, but with a theme like this, I figured it was worth it so that more solvers would find their favorites Oscar movies in the grid. I'm hoping this puzzle brings people delight as they enjoy their long weekend.

Mon 5/30/2016
MARXISOLDEKOA
AVERDOMAINELL
PINACOLADASEDO
SATYRHENOPEN
SALSADANCING
ASLWOOOTT
DEADLASTOVERDO
DAZEFOALSTEAT
STYLESROADSALT
SUEUMALEO
DOUGLASADAMS
ANNETASNOBLE
REDTOSSEDSALAD
KIAINHEREROVE
SLYMEATAXSWAN

I've come to realize that when I'm writing clues, I often have little idea how hard the clues are. For instance, in this puzzle, I included, "Lethal edge?" as a clue for ELL, "It has a moving lexicon, briefly" for ASL, and "Groups in quarters?" for OCTETS. I like these clues a lot, but in retrospect they are absolutely out of place on a Monday. This is why editors exist.

Anyway, I liked this puzzle because the theme phrases are all lively and interesting, and I was able to get two good long downs in as well. Will et al. added the circles, which add to the Monday vibes of the puzzle. Hope you enjoyed it!

Tue 5/31/2016
IMOFFMTIDASMU
CRUDEOAREDTAR
ESTREETBANDUGG
TRIOEDGE
SKYYIFORMATION
PLEASESAOSCOTT
HELLOLGBT
EPLURIBUSUNUM
RELOTOPIC
MARACASMAESTRO
ILOVEPARISHOOP
SAMEOCHS
ESCOHENRYTWIST
RKOWALDOYIKES
SAMNYLONEIEIO