I've tossed a lot of puzzle ideas in the past because the theme letter numbers just didn't add up. The main entries in this puzzle needed to follow in sequential order to work, and as I went down the list and counted to 14 four times it was quite a surprise. This'll work. The fact that the first three entries each had an even number of letters dictated that there would be a fourth, a kicker to add another twist to the puzzle.
I'm a Broadway buff and see a lot of musicals. Last year, I wrote a puzzle about "Hamilton" for Lin-Manuel Miranda, the show's creator, as well as the cast. (Still waiting to see the show. Extra tickets, anyone?)
Anyway, I started this puzzle with a Hamilton answer in the middle and went looking for other one-word Best Musical winners whose titles would start other answers and whose names would still be familiar even to non-theatergoers. There were 12 such musicals and I was able to get six in the grid, including 5 that interlocked. Pure luck that I was able to use the same clue for CAINE and WIEST.
LOREN: A while back, Tracy and I connected on Facebook about the ACPT. When the conversation turned to the inevitable "You working on any puzzles right now?" we discovered that both of us had been kicking around the idea for an ICE rebus. I was thrilled when she suggested we combine our efforts because I don't have the construction chops to design a rebus grid on my own.
Any grid, actually. My MO is to think of a theme, decide on my theme entries, and head straight to Crossword Compiler. If Compiler doesn't offer any ready-made grids that work, I ditch the whole idea and go take a nap.
So Tracy and I came up with possible themers, and then she flat went to work. And work. And work. No telling how many grids she came up with. At one point I think "we" just decided it'd be too hard. Then a few months later boom — she emailed with this grid, and I was so impressed, I immediately got up from a nap to help with the tweaking and cluing.
I like the idea for this theme because a word "written" in a black square is unexpected and hard to see, just like that patch of BLACK ICE we've all wiped out on.
It was a pleasure to work with Tracy, a talented, inventive, resolute constructor.
TRACY: Many thanks to Loren for coming up with the concept and spot-on revealer for this puzzle! I loved the idea so much that I couldn't wait to get started on a grid (Nov. 2015)…
The problems started with the revealer BLACK ICE being 8 letters and not working in the center row of a 15x grid. It also didn't work on row 13 in the lower SE corner due to its symmetrical theme entry containing a black ice square on row 3 in the upper NW corner. So, I decided to put BLACK smack dab in the middle of the puzzle with ICE directly below it. This led to the B and the K of BLACK as unchecked letters, but I thought Will might allow it. However, as much as I liked the looks of this quirky grid, I just couldn't get good fill with 4 pairs of crossing hidden ICE theme entries, so we decided to give it a rest for awhile.
Fast forward to Nov. 2016…a year after our initial conversation and 8 grids later, I found that a simple change to a 16 x 15 grid appeared to solve all of our problems. I woke Loren up from her long nap with a surprise "COMPLETED BLACK ICE PUZZLE!" email so that she could work her Linguistics Major magic on the tweaking of fill words and cluing.
Thanks again, Loren — it was fun working with you!
Finn kicked off the generation of this theme by finding the phrase BASELINE VASELINE, which we all thought was evocative of some umpish impishness. Natan always likes adding layers of a theme to the clues, and the two of us and the class sat together in front of a long list of eye rhymes, composing absurd couplets. We're particularly fond of the silly clues for KOSHER NOSHER and MASSAGE PASSAGE, both group efforts. We were pleased to have enough options to be able to cross themers in the SW and NE corners.
Hopefully the fill's enjoyable, too; we were happy to get some nice longer answers in there, and since we like modern language, Natan (having been charged with reworking a corner with some iffy answers) is glad to see SWOLE has kept its place on the team.
One bright memory of this puzzle is the Sunday we spent working on it in Stamford, the weekend of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. Most of the JASA students attend the tournament, so we huddled around a laptop in the lobby, tinkering with the grid. It looks a lot different than it did then; hopefully any of the tournamentgoers who flitted by to guess the theme or offer a new entry have long forgotten, and so this is a brand new puzzle for them.
I was hesitant putting MALIK in 36D spot, afraid that he might stump some. That was a knotty area. Quite a few unexpected knotty spots in this grid.
ROLODEXES. Does anyone use them anymore? Or have they been relegated to US HISTORY (which lies adjacent to it in the grid — please don't ask me why CHEAP DATE lies adjacent to BORDELLOS)?
And is ROLODEXES the correct plural? Should it be "Rolodices," like vertex/vertices? As for me, I still use a Rolodex. In fact, I have one on my desktop — right next to a couple of boxes of Kleenices.
The theme for this puzzle, as thin as it is, came when I heard the phrase GRAB A CAB somewhere. I liked the sound of it, so I began hunting for other phrases with the same pattern. My intention was for this to be a Monday puzzle, but perhaps some of the non-themed vocabulary forced a push to a little later in the week.
My original version included the boxing ploy known as ROPE A DOPE, but the editor thought it was a little inconsistent since it doesn't follow the "verb-A-noun" form as the others do. Once again, one man's striving for variety runs up against another man's longing for uniformity.
Speaking of CHEAP DATE, when I submitted this, CHEAP DATE had never appeared in a Times puzzle before. I thought it would be a nice little debut. But in the time this puzzle spent sitting in the holding cell, CHEAP DATE has popped up — twice. Both times were by David Steinberg.
The main idea behind this puzzle was to create something kinetic — a continuous flow of sports action proceeding from top to bottom the way most solvers approach a puzzle of midweek difficulty. A single rally in a game of badminton seemed ideal to me because of the various kinds of 4-letter birdies that could be arranged on either side of the net, all six of them easily clued "off-theme." (I wanted very much to get architect Christopher WREN in, but couldn't make him fit.) A player SERVES, and the birdie zigzags across the net till IT'S OUT.
The 12-letter BADMINTON NET forced 16 rows for symmetry, which gave me just a little extra wiggle room for optimizing theme placement. Birdies kept moving around from one slot to another until they seemed to make the best fit. But the big job was the non-theme staggered fill in the center of the grid — from ION BEAMS to POLITICO — which pretty much defined (and confined) how good my short "glue" would be. Mixed results: OSE, ONA, ENC, IDI and PES are words I'd like to ban from my future efforts.
I loved making this puzzle and would like to try more where things can "move around" through some sort of landscape.
President Clinton and I met in 1984 — we were in a couple of daddy-daughter programs with our girls. I campaigned for him during four elections: three gubernatorial and one presidential. (I was running for office myself in 1996 and Bill, of course, rode my coattails all the way to a second term in the White House!) Occasionally, we worked New York Times crosswords together — well, he solved and I kinda acted like I was helping.
After meeting Wordplay principals Pat Creadon and Chris O'Malley at the ACPT in 2005, I encouraged Bill to take a meeting with them. He did so and became a star. (Along with Will Shortz, Merl Reagle, Jon Stewart, Ken Burns, Indigo Girls, Mike Mussina, and others.)
So, it was a natural, I guess, that Will asked Bill and me to team up for the celebrity co-write series. Still, I was totally honored. Will's "assignment" to us was a themeless puzzle, but he made it clear that he wanted something in the puzzle to reflect Bill's life and work. I hope we hit the mark.
Bill wrote the clues. I tweaked them a bit and sent them back to him for review. He circled a few of my tweaks and wrote, "Too easy and boring--might as will print the answers in the puzzle!" So, I backed off. And left the editing to Will.
I always wanted to try my hand at a triple-stack. They're often filled with gluey crossing answers, not a surprise considering how many triplets of letters must be worked around. It was a (mostly) fun process of attempting this grid over and over — and over and over — and over and over — to generate a stack that had both some sizzle and a high degree of cleanliness.
Ah, there was SPILE. As a "Hunger Games" lover, it didn't occur to me at first that SPILE might be esoteric. I would have paid whatever it cost to send in that SPILE Katniss and Peeta (when they needed to tap a tree to avoid dying of thirst.)
Okay, I admit it. I'm odd.
Triple-stacks often don't have many long crossing answers, or when they do, those crossing answers can be on the dry side. So I worked hard to stick with friendly and flexible letter combinations, like ANE (that became CANDY CANE), EAT (EATS RIGHT), ELD (ELDER WAND).
I can just hear the sci-fi/fantasy haters going off again about that last one, but ELDER WAND is at least made up of two real words, so non-Harry Potter fans (pagans!) ought to at least be able to infer it.
Really though, if you don't know what the ELDER WAND is ... you poor muggle. Now, if I had worked in ANTIOCH PEVERELL (the wandmaker who created the ELDER WAND), that would have been stupefy-level awesome. I mean … unfair and undesirable. Ahem. Yes, that's surely what I meant.
It's nice to be back in the New York Times — my last puzzle was all the way back in 2014, since I was on a hiatus from constructing for a while. I'm back in the swing of things now, and even have a blog where I post a free puzzle every Monday.
I like that the theme for this one produces a nice criss-cross pattern. The downside is that when theme entries cross each other (as every single one in this puzzle does), it makes the grid hard to fill. So there's more gluey fill (ALAE, ELEA) than I'd like, but hopefully, some of the long answers make up for it.
My first attempt at this theme hid scrambled state names in phrases, but most of the states were only four letters long. Will and Joel wrote back that "hiding California in AFRICAN LION is beautiful (!), but....they were not impressed with the shorter ones.
They suggested I try to find some longish states (seven or more letters) where adding one letter and scrambling led to something interesting. That turned out to take a LOT of digging because most state names (like Illinois and Hawaii for example) don't have easy letters to anagram with — none of these five phrases had ever appeared before in the NYT, and three of them were not even in any of my word lists. They all Google well though, so I decided to give it a shot.
When I got the preview version of the puzzle last week, I needed all six crosses to get SENT UP (my memory is not great) because I had never heard this phrase used as a synonym of "parodied." There is a LOT of support for this clue in dictionaries, but I surveyed five word-nerd friends of mine, and none of them had heard of this usage. I think if I were an editor, I would have to lean toward dictionary definitions over my personal experience, but I'm sure sometimes it's a close call.
This is one of the puzzles I'm most proud of at this point because I did not think it was going to be possible and it turned out way better than I had even hoped for.
This one all started because I really liked the idea of creating a word chain that could be hooked back to its beginning. But it didn't take long to realize that this was a difficult idea. The first challenge was to find ten consecutive in-the-language phrases that would accomplish this (and that were of course also symmetrical). The second was cluing the theme; how to best indicate the chain (with each word overlapping in two different phrases) and the looping aspect to the solver? I'm happy with how it all turned out, but with five theme phrases essentially unclued, thought it might have been destined for a Thursday… hope that not too many Wednesday-lovers were annoyed with this one!
In the original version, I was determined to use RUBBERCHICKEN. This led to RUBBERCHICKENCURRYHOUSE… etc. but when Will Shortz didn't like CURRYHOUSE enough, I realized that the RUBBERCHICKEN may have been too much of a stretch (sorry). As it turns out, this led to the serendipitous discovery of CLOSEDCIRCUIT instead, which seemed to make for the perfect (unclued) middle to my word loop.
The initial idea for today's puzzle involved intersecting theme answers: chickens for the acrosses, roads for the downs. That might have worked if I'd been able to find examples of well-known fictional chickens beyond FOGHORNLEGHORN and CHANTICLEER, or well-known breeds beyond RHODEISLANDRED and CORNISHGAMEHEN. A pity, since there are plenty of colorful and evocative breed names that deserve to be better known. (AUSTRALORP, anyone?)
Favorite clues: [Polish target] and [Stable stuff]. Clue I was saddest to see not make the cut: [It's hit by horse enthusiasts] for both 2- and 3-Down.
I hope solvers have fun with this themeless; I was glad to be able to work in what seemed like a good variety of entries without too many compromises. As a solver, I enjoy when the mid-length entries are lively, and I felt like luck was on my side with this one — for example, 6-Down and 25-Across were both "Hm, I wonder if that would work..." ideas that panned out. I suppose that's a sideways way of saying that I didn't go looking for a 6-Down, but maybe sometimes you look up and you find yourself with one anyway. C'est la vie.
PAOLO: Full disclosure: I've been an admirer of David's puzzles/general constructing vibe for a while, so constructing this puzzle was a dream. Our first meeting was at Lollapuzzoola 9, and it was fun talking to one of the very few young-gun crossword constructors around. We hit it off, and naturally, a collaboration was bound to happen.
This was the second collaboration (the first was rejected, sadly), coming from an email chain that started about a week after Lollapuzzoola. I sent him the SE corner (seeded by BECHDEL TEST), and he sent back an email a few days later with the bomb NW stack you see right now. After that, I filled in the top and bottom center sections, he filled in the NE and SW corners, and we were done. I'm still in awe of his NE section in particular-- so Scrabbly, so good.
After that, it was a matter of writing the clues (the good ones were his, obvi), and sending it to Will. Looking at it now, a few clues got changed, but I'm just glad that my clue for DAB made it.
All in all, a really smooth collaboration, and a fast one too-- our constructing styles seriously click. Hope you enjoyed (and hopefully this won't be the last Steinberg/Pasco joint you see!)
DAVID: One of my favorite things about Paolo's puzzles is how they capture his voice so well: They're super modern, ridiculously smooth, and full of Hamilton references :). So when Paolo sent me the awesome lower right stack you see, I was quick to hop onboard!
Getting three seed entries from my word list to stack in the upper left was both a ridiculous stroke of luck and a testament to Paolo's grid design skills. Paolo also writes great clues, so he may say that the good clues were mine, but y'know. . . . In any case, Paolo and I have more collabs in the works, some of which will hopefully come to papers near you!
I like punny themes... the more groans the better. Constructors, like Merl Reagle, Rich Silvestri and Cathy Allis, who are among my favorites, have done great work in this genre, especially when they created puzzles with outrageous or clever puns around a particular topic.
"Misquoting Scriptures" tries to do that. It probably started with IN THE BIG INNING, something I probably heard or read related to how the Bible could be connected to baseball. It's a beautiful pun in that it is quite euphonious and funny to think that the Bible would have anything to say about baseball.
Some solvers don't like puns and some who do are strict constructionists about the pun being an exact or very, very close sound-alike, such as GARDEN OF ETON and A MARK UPON CANE are in this puzzle. But, like Merl and Cathy, I'm a little more forgiving about how close in sound a pun needs to be if the entry fits the theme and the clue and solution generate a smile or groan. FORBIDDEN FLUTE and ASSAULT OF THE EARTH are two examples of less rigorous euphony, yet still fit the theme in a funny way.
I'm sure my constructor colleagues who also like these kinds of themes will agree that it sometimes hard to find a balanced set of punny theme entries for a Sunday puzzle, all of which are so tight with their puns that the substitutions are all homophones. That is something to strive for, but should not, in my opinion, be determinative of whether a pun-based theme should fly or not. For this puzzle I was happy that all the theme entries fit the clueing template "The Bible on..." and none were too far astray that the original word being manipulated was not easily identifiable with the original quote.
I was also pleased that I was able to construct this one with a fairly low word count and a lot of theme squares. With some guidance from Will and some reworking, I think we minimized the unappealing and crosswordese entries.
Now I'm thinking about "Misquoting Shakespeare" e.g. TWO BS OR NOT TWO BS — What the Bard thought about when spelling Caribbean?
Hope you enjoy the puzzle.
Although I was thrilled to receive Will Shortz's notification that my puzzle would publish today, I was even more thrilled to learn that my daughter in California just gave birth to a baby boy, Orion. We'll be headed out there next week.
I'm a math professor at Ohio State, two years away from retirement. This is my first solo puzzle, but I constructed a couple of Thursdays in 2009 with my son Stephen. The puzzle's theme stems from his great enthusiasm, way back in elementary school days, for Swiss Army Knives. He made a special school project full of arcane information about them, printed on the hinged paper blades of a gigantic knife.
Stephen and I went to ACPT together a few times; while I stayed consistently in the middle of the pack, he kept getting better, totally kicking my ass. We haven't managed to get back since the arrival of his own little boy Charlie, now 2 years old.
I wish I could remove the black squares between 24A & 26A and its symmetrical spot (REMO / LEN & EME / AIWA). I tried to give the grid more flow but failed. The theme entry choices were rather limited.
I constructed this thinking it was a hard Monday or easy Tuesday, and that was when the theme clues weren't plumber-specific, but here it is popping up on a Wednesday. Hopefully the puzzle presents enough of a midweek challenge for everyone!
The idea for this puzzle came to me as I was watching the documentary IVERSON, which I emphatically recommend, even if you're not big on sports. The grid went through a couple of revisions, chiefly to remove this extra theme answer: [The blood of Jesus, say?] (6,5). I am fully at peace with that decision.
I am less at peace with what is going on at 4-Down. Not my clue, not my president, not my breakfast test. If this worsened your solving experience at all, my apologies.
On the bright side, I got a kick out of the shortcut at 12-Across and the vocabulary at 40-Down (both Shortz et al.'s finds). Not sure I'll ever have occasion to use the former, but I promise to work the latter into as many conversations as I can think to.
Thanks for reading, and stay well.
When I opened my Crossword folder to review the history of this puzzle, I was surprised to find just one lonely little file in the folder. Most of my puzzles go through many variations, with file names that include "rev.", "v.6" or other indications that I've gone back to the drawing board multiple times.
Even with puzzles that fall into place relatively quickly, I still often pull out my least favorite 50% or so, redo those sections, and then compare the two versions side by side; the better version gets clued and submitted. Apparently, this one was a keeper from the get-go. I hope you agree.
Happy Memorial Day Weekend!
I began this one while listening to an episode of "StarTalk", hosted by recently published constructor Neil deGrasse Tyson. His guest, planetary scientist Carolyn Porco, was discussing the famous "Pale Blue Dot" photograph, and it seemed like a good seed entry, so I put it in.
I'm mostly happy with how it turned out. I do wish I could have come up with a cleaner middle-bottom (Texas) section though. I broke two of my personal constructing rules here: (1) No pluralizing uncommon names; (2) No partials. I justified (1) by the fact that both ETTAS, James and Jones, were jazz singers. (I'm not sure why exactly this is a justification for me, but it is.) And my clue for I ATE was "Already had dinner," which would make it a full sentence, not a partial, but it was changed during edit. Does it not work?
"Want to order a pizza?"
"Nah, I ate."
Hmm… it does sound a bit awkward.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this one overall, and if you didn't, I'll thank you to not THROW SHADE in my direction.
The challenge here was finding fully plausible cooking instructions (grammatically) with indisputably unsavory connotations. In other words, you gotta have a verb and an object, so CUT IN LINE, for example, would be a no-go on both counts. I am particularly fond of 96A, which twists my linguistic processing a bit to get the original and contextual meaning of the idiom to jibe.
Original clue for 47A: Reciprocated sin? Not sure if that implies some sort of revenge film-type scenario.
Will kicked this puzzle back due to my original entry at 39A: MIX YOUR METAPHORS, asking if I could change it to what it is now. The original thinking there was that recipes would likely direct you to either "mix the metaphors" (aforementioned with the correct quantity in the ingredients list) or "mix your metaphors." (The latter, I suspect, is far more prevalent among those homey food blogs that Pinterest every step of the process, so that even a sink full of dirty dishes comes out looking Country Crock®-chic.*
On a related note, there was a second revision I sent later that mysteriously didn't make it to print. It contained a tiny revision in the upper-right corner, making 22A: VAPE and 26A: ETTA. Those with eagle eyes might spot why that emendation was made...
*I actually secretly love those blogs.
SETH: Jeff and I have collaborated since 2014, and it's great fun. For this one, we wrote around 150 emails, some of which read like an absurdist script...
Seth: PITINO and RAISA seem fair, but the AKIMBO, SENECA, GRIT, and MATING goodness of Version C gets my vote.... Maybe, for a themer... BEST DAY EVER?
Jeff: Hmm, maybe a reach. I'm not a SpongeBob watcher though.
Our original plan was to make the units of time narrow down to an AHA MOMENT. Couldn't quite make that work.
Hope your solving time isn't a dog's age on this … and thanks, Will and Joel!
JEFF: Ah, Seth, that sneaky devil. He keeps changing the order of our names just before submitting the puzzle to Will! He deserves first authorship on this one.
Seth is a brainstorming monster. I love getting his emails, usually loaded with 10+ ideas to consider. They don't always contain a usable seed idea, but more often than not, something sparks another thought, and it morphs into something fun.
For this one, it took us a while to zero in on the idea of PRIME TIME being "synonym for good" + "time duration," but I thought it would be great … if we could 1.) get all strong phrases, 2.) have crossword symmetry, and 3.) present them in a logical sequence.
Some constructors would still do the puzzle without the third constraint, but I felt like it'd be too inelegant for my taste without that. It meant we had to do a ton of research. Luckily, another of Seth's strengths is his tenacity in research. Soon, he had a gigantic list of possibilities for us to sift through.
RED LETTER DAY made the construction challenging though — not only did it require a 16-wide grid, but it sort of cut the puzzle in half. Took a lot of trial and error, testing and ditching layout after layout. Finally, I felt like the skeleton you see was promising — enough room for some long bonuses, while not looking problematic in any one area — and Seth took over from there.
We always have a lot of fun going back and forth, comparing possibilities for various regions (although I can't remember how SpongeBob was related now). In the SE for example, I badly wanted to work in DOUBLE O (as in double-O 7), but DOODLES made that area much smoother. Ah well, the solver comes first.
I wanted to try to bring new life to a familiar crossword gimmick with this puzzle. We see circles in crossword grids every so often to highlight hidden words or letter patterns. Less frequently, shaded squares are used in the same capacity. Why one and not the other? With a theme of "notable Greys," I had a real reason for picking shaded squares over circles for a puzzle. Of course, just because I had a concept did not mean I could execute it, but when I found TV's Dr. MEREDITH Grey inside of HAMMERED IT HOME, I knew that I could actually construct such a puzzle.
Mr. Shortz and his team did a fine job editing this puzzle, including removing the entry AND (now ANN) when I also had A AND E in the grid. That said, one of my favorite clues didn't quite make the cut: [15-year-old video game player?] for XBOX. But hey, you can't be too tricky on a Tuesday!
When several letters will work in a given square, I'll often choose the one with the higher Scrabble value, which tends to make for a more interesting grid. In today's puzzle, though, I deliberately broke this rule at the intersection of 41A and 30D. PIER/COP would have worked, but solvers might have (rightly) wondered why a PIER was intersecting the "fishing line" halfway down the grid. (As for CAVIAR, consider it a bonus theme answer.)