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Puzzles for May, 2018
with constructor comments

View these same grids with comments from:
Constructor (29)Jeff Chen (31)Jim Horne (11)Hide comments
Tue 5/1/2018
HEFTSDTSOASIS
ALLOTIOUBLINI
SLAVENUEVOLEON
HISREARLEAGUE
SHANGRILANETS
LISASODA
CPASDATAPASTA
AIMLESSTREETOP
REPELACHETROT
SOMETONI
PAIDRIVERBANK
OFNOTEILYAGNU
ROADBLOCKMITER
TONGAPHIALIEN
STEERTENSLEDS

The original version of today's puzzle contained TURNPIKE, hidden in UTURN and PIKESPEAK. Will suggested replacing those entries so that all four hidden answers would be local roads - hence DRIVE. I also originally clued STRINGTIE as "Attire for Colonel Sanders," hoping impishly that a few solvers might enter WHITESUIT.

Wed 5/2/2018
JAVASATSFED
OVIDTURNSFAIR
LENAAEIOUALGA
TROPHYROOMASHY
TIESTABETS
PAWDDECOOPS
ADATENAPONAIR
POLKASTAKENDO
ALLOWELICREED
ESSAYRCALDS
ESCYOGAASP
ECONWINECELLAR
RENOLATCHAIDE
INCHSNORENAZI
ETETNUTTMEN

After hurrying downstairs one day, I stubbed my toe — the resulting pain soared up my leg, roller-coastered around my innards and finally skyrocketed through my head where it exploded like fireworks into the idea for this puzzle's theme. From pain to eventual pleasure in one not-so-easy step. Normally, I remain stationary and try to think outside the box when considering most themes.

It's been a couple of decades since the NYT published my last puzzle — I was a semi-regular contributor for both the NYT and Simon & Schuster throughout the 1990s and late ‘80s (back, it seems, when dirt was just invented) before stopping to pursue other hobbies. Recently, I've taken up both writing and cartooning, and have published two e-books apiece in both genres. The lure of crafting crosswords, however, still sings to me with its siren-sweet voice, so I've been making puzzles in bunches as of late between other projects. Unfortunately, I've been amassing numerous rejections. I might have to try the ‘hurry-down-the-stairs' trick again.

Thu 5/3/2018
ACCLAIMAILOAR
FRAILTYRNAPRO
FUMMIESMANDELA
AIMEDWEANED
DIDOSLICELADD
ICAHNFRODINGE
GENIUSTIERDER
COMPACTCARS
OREBATHOMAHAN
LEARSOEDADULT
DARESMAUGITCH
SLOVAKPLATS
ABUSERSLEASHES
WONREPESPOUSE
SYDOAFSTENGEL

I love rebus puzzles. Years ago, back when I was more of a casual crossword solver, I remember doing this alien abduction themed puzzle where several squares had "ET" in the shape of a flying saucer and then there was a bonus "COW" rebus square underneath it. It completely blew my mind.

I think about that puzzle a lot when I'm hitting a writer's block and want to feel bad about how much more creative and ambitious other constructors can be.

So I've been trying to come up with a good rebus theme for a while. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there weren't any car rebuses in the XWord Info database because it seemed like every "thing in a box" idea that came to me had already been done before.

Initially I was trying to do something with"boxcars" as the revealer but I found that the 11-letter "compact cars" made for a better grid layout, plus I think is a more fun answer.

Fri 5/4/2018
HACKTIVISMACID
IMPRESARIOFADE
STAYCATIONCROC
PSYSUEWALK
TROTXYLEM
RENOFATTASERS
OPENWIDEATTLEE
YESREDEALTCDT
ENTAILTAKESOFF
STONEDHASERIE
PARTYANNE
FASTREFWES
IMHOINELEGANCE
LOOMATLONGLAST
ESPYLETSDOTHIS

Today's puzzle is my first solo themeless puzzle after collaborating with John Guzzetta on my first three. Because we received some editorial pushback on previous portmanteaus, I worried a bit about stacking HACKTIVISM and STAYCATION in such close proximity. Will liked both, so perhaps these entries are regarded as more common.

Many of my favorite clues survived the edit, including "DC area?" for KRYPTON and "What has a lot in store for you?" for ONESTOPSHOP. "Long Division?" for AFCWEST did not make the cut however, likely because Howie has been too long out of the game.

POW Sat 5/5/2018
SNUGADAMHEEDS
POGOSOBAINNIE
UTAHHODGEPODGE
MONADMUONSTE
ENDLESSLOOPIRE
DEAFENAWMAN
SPARKYRHETT
ISAIDGOODDAYSIR
TOMEIWASABI
CRASSROOSTS
HERHIGHFALUTIN
HEFDAYOAGAPE
GETUPANDGOHYPE
MATZOGRUBTIER
ADOZESAPSANDS

The long seed entry, 37-A, was inspired by a scene near the end of the old Willy Wonka movie. Although, as I later learned watching the clip on YouTube, Gene Wilder never actually says this line — he only says, "Good day, sir!" It's one of those "Luke, I am you father," "Play it again, Sam" lines. Still a good entry though, in my opinion.

I might have set a personal record with this puzzle for "Most Submitted Clues Surviving Edit." Being 65% math nerd, I'm particularly proud of the clues for 24-Across and 26-Down.

Sun 5/6/2018LET'S PLAY TWO!
ABEAMITSTIMEPHOBOS
BOXTOPNATALIELONELY
BATTLESHIPRISKAWARDS
ATRARAEASASITIN
ACQUIRETICKETTORIDE
MACHULIBILOERE
OSHEASTROADHOCOMAN
THESISSORRYDIPLOMACY
ROELIDDIESUNOCO
IRSBAMAOATSECO
NEEMEMORYTROUBLERBS
NILITOOWEREYAM
BLINISGUSASSAGO
CRANIUMTWISTERSINNER
HAVESIGHSYVESEAGLE
IVETIOACUGROSS
CONNECTFOURCHECKERS
DOLLYROOIRAALMA
FIEFIETABOOOPERATION
ERRATAATASKETOPENTO
ZESTERBANTERSEDGES

As much as I like, nay love pizza, no 3-Down for me. Plus, I'm lactose intolerant.

Mon 5/7/2018
MTFUJIDATAGAL
POLLENOWENOLE
GROUNDSCREWRVS
EELEASYAEGIS
AWEDORLON
EATAPEACHSNAP
ASSETPANEZIT
SPHTOOLBOXOLA
TABSUPEPALES
IDLESTAYSAWAY
ROGETETTA
RINGSSOARSKA
OLDTUNASASHIMI
ALEEMITTAILOR
DESRAPSIGNORE

I had been working on a puzzle with a musical theme, and my husband, "helpful" as always, had been suggesting all kinds of words that I just had to include. One was "Oscar Hammerstein." Now, that puzzle was already very difficult to compose, with all kinds of constraints, so I just laughed. "It's not that easy, you know," I told him. However, there was a hammer, just there. So, I put aside the musical idea and set to work on this toolbox puzzle — not that Oscar Hammerstein had any more luck making it into this puzzle than into the first one.

Tue 5/8/2018
PACKATLASMAPS
ICONHAITIEVIL
SUREWHYNOTMAXI
APNEAUNCLESAM
CROSSCOUNTRY
TABASCOEMIT
WRAPHOPGOOFS
ILLBONJOVIRIO
NOLIESHEHALL
REBAOTHELLO
BACKTOSCHOOL
GUESSWHODPLUS
ARCOSTARTAFIRE
MAIMTOTHEUCLA
ELLEONIONLESS
Wed 5/9/2018
FROGCLASPBEACH
LENAHATCHIMDUE
ISAYAMORELIVER
PEDAMAZINGGRACE
TRITIPPOPENAS
OVERRICEMARCRY
PETEOARSAWED
VENTILATTE
PRIXSIGHBAIL
LOUPOMDEEPENDS
AWLOMENFORGED
SEEINGDOUBLEEAT
ERODEATRIAALMA
RUNONLISTSMOAB
SPELTSTASHPUNS

My original submission included RUM BABA / RUMBA and MEMENTOS / MENTOS. But Will thought it was confusing, having so much doubling. Apparently he doesn't know just how bad my vision is!

A big shout-out to my local Starbucks and their delicious VENTI LATTEs. And to their menu written in teeny-tiny text that all blurs together for me.

Thu 5/10/2018
IRATEBLAHSLAM
REFITEERIEEAR
KARMAAFTRANTH
SLABONTHEMONEY
SIRENFURYROAD
MODERATORINME
LOSIBARTEE
KNOCKEMORALIVE
RATBEESFAN
ERSESERVEDOUT
NICEIDEAODOUL
DEADCENTERONTV
ISPABODEEDDIE
VEEMURALGLINT
ENSEGADSGETGO

Hello fellow crossword enthusiasts! It'd be an understatement to say I'm positively thrilled about making my debut in the New York Times (or anywhere for that matter!). A life-long lover of solving crosswords, I decided last year to try my hand at making them in any spare time I could muster as a stay-at-home mom of four young children. What began as a personal challenge has become a full-blown passion, and I don't think I'll tire of this any time soon.

As a solver, I especially love the extra gimmicks in the Thursday puzzles, and I was inspired to try something fun with the black blocks (although in this case it was only one!). DEAD CENTER popped into my head, and after making sure the idea hadn't already been done, I was off. And, as a side note, this avid Beatles fan was tickled to include LENNON in the puzzle.

Of course, many thanks to Will and the NYT editing team for their patience with me as I learn the ropes, and especially Sam Ezersky who helped me to really make the fill shine. I hope you enjoy the solve as much as I enjoyed the construction!

Fri 5/11/2018
SOUPSUPPERSIA
TOPTIERBIGTIME
IHEARYAINGEMAR
FLAMEIGLOOIWO
FARESUITSLAB
ELLENEMOSNARE
DAYTONMUDTIRES
IVORYSOAP
SPINAWEBCLERIC
MANGECEOKRONA
AIDSWHAMRAFT
LSUSHERESIDLE
LACONICGULFWAR
ONTRACKAMILATE
JOSEPHSADEYED

DAVID: Sam and I often joke about how my themelesses are always Fridays while his are always Saturdays. Since this puzzle ended up on a Friday, my style *clearly* dominated! Just kidding—as with most of our collaborations, the effort was very much 50/50. I don't remember much about the construction process, but I think we started with Sam's zippy SPIN A WEB/SMALL OJ/PTA MEETINGS corner. Once we had the upper left in place, we knew we were onto something. Overall, I'm happy with the balance between smoothness and lively fill in this one. Hope you enjoy!

SAM: Always an honor to work with one of the #GOATs of the cross-world. David is now a full-time puzzle editor while still swamped with schoolwork at Stanford ... I really don't know how he does it. And, of course, let's not forget that every last puzzle he makes is top-notch!

This puzzle collected a bit of dust, as David and I both have enough on file individually that this needed to be staggered out. I believe we made it around the same time as our LIFE OF PABLO themeless, which ran the weekend of the 2017 A.C.P.T.! David is correct that I anchored the grid with SPIN A WEB ... but that was only after he gave my original NW corner a beautiful makeover to what you see now. You can tell that the SE corner is his as well, since it's silky smooth and still quite lively.

Lately, I've grown to realize how much a good clue can elevate an otherwise normal answer. Take David's clues for ROADWAY and STIFFED; just like that, those answers now feel like highlights in a grid. I think our clue for I HEAR YA (one of my personal favorites ever, might I add) makes that whole corner feel zippier. Even the "Jarhead" reference in the GULF WAR clue provides nice variety without seeming too arcane, as not everything needs to be wordplay-dependent. Would love to hear solvers' ideas on this.

As David said, enjoy our latest published collab! Hope none of you fell for JELLY BEAN with that ????Y BEA? pattern ...

Sat 5/12/2018
AKITASCHASTE
VERONAHOEDOWN
AROUNDLOWLIFES
LONGSFORMOTEL
OUCHFROSTSIZE
NAHBEAKERSEER
CEMENTSHOES
FALSEBOTTOM
RETRACTIONS
GOTMENCKENEAU
ACESRAKEDAMIN
SEALELOYCLODS
CAPITALNMOONIE
ANOMALYOROIDE
NOTELLDEFCON

This puzzle was my Mount Everest. That enormous swath of whitespace in the center was the ultimate challenge — I can't even count the number of minutes I spent watching my crossword software automatically fill it in, while I ate some pasta.

That's what I didn't know about making crossword puzzles: it requires a LOT of effort and battery power for the computer to do all the work. As the ultimate cruel joke, I actually had to reach under my desk at one point and fetch the power cable, to charge my computer and prevent it from succumbing to sheer exhaustion.

Somehow, the puzzle came together (I'm not sure when; I left to play GTA for a while), and the end result is this beautiful piece of crosswording for which I obviously deserve the credit. Accolades are accepted, in both written and monetary form, thank you.

POW Sun 5/13/2018LOVE AT FIRST SITE
NBAJAMPSASSWAMBAT
SATIRERUNTIAGOSOLE
FRENCHCONNECTIONEATS
WRAPSONREPEATOPERAS
ELIOCTAORSOHYDRA
ELONBOOYAHDREAM
PENGUINSEANBEANERA
ADESTUDFINDERHOMEEC
BESTIERUBBERMATCH
AWEDBERYLNASTIES
PETPASTATRISHRNS
FASTCARMASONBOGS
ACTIONITEMSFLIPON
CHEESEOPENFLAMESMET
EERTRINIDADMONDAVI
NANASPACTENAKIN
AZUREMIMEHENSTEL
MINERSTOOTSIESPAIGE
APINORGANICCHEMISTRY
SPOTROUTCALEONESIE
SONTOYSKNEEBATONS

NEVILLE AND ERIK: We don't really know what to say. Our hearts are very full at this moment.

It's an honor and a privilege to work with the Times team, who pushed us to improve on our original fill and preserved our constructorial voice through the edit.

P.S. To all those competing in next month's Indie 500 Crossword Tournament: may God guide you in your quest.

Mon 5/14/2018
LEEROBLAPOULT
ARTEFUELLUCIE
BITEVALVEATLAS
SCUBAKICKSTART
ORBSEMO
LILKIMDIYWAIL
ANOEOSINTINNY
SCRATCHANDSNIFF
SURLYELSIESET
ORELPASELDERS
OTCAMIE
PUNCHBOWLOUGHT
AROARFIGHTCLUB
PLUTOFRAUEELS
ASNEWSEEMSNAP

This is the kind of puzzle that used to just need three long themers, but Will has challenged me to go for at least four including a reveal. This one has four PLUS a punchline. Lots of theme fill to get into a Monday.

I had never heard of a BITEVALVE, but I needed a BITE other than BITE-SIZED so it would have a different meaning for BITE. Proud it's not been used.

Recently went to hear David Mamet speak and he pointed out TSELIOT was an anagram of TOILETS. That was my takeaway from the Pulitzer Prize winner!
(And appears as 38-Down)

Tue 5/15/2018
ATARIJPOPADD
TIMEDBUONOFRO
IGIVEARGOTLIE
LEGAPBIOAGAVE
TROLLEYSSTACEY
IMDBDOORDIE
ALALAITFUND
STANDUPCOMICS
WEEBJERKEEK
ORANGESTFAL
REWELDGRANDAMS
SNAREORANGSUE
HAYASPICIRATE
IDAMOUSYRUNTS
PETSYSTLEAST
Wed 5/16/2018
TOPICSTATSLAY
ANODEURIAHABU
JEWELSVERNENYC
EDIENEDDESK
GRRCLODDEBUSSY
RUTALTMEL
AMOSTIPAUDRA
TOOLOOSELAUTREC
ARLENGATHIGH
ACSITSVIE
BLAZEPASCALESS
RILEALACAST
ATLFRENCHTWIST
NEOASPEREAMES
DRYNEHRUSPEAK

BILL: This theme came from the observation that much of French culture is widely known in the United States and thus the personages that were riffed off of were familiar names. When you think of French history — the Bastille, Marie Antoinette, Joan of Arc, De Gaulle — or French sites — Cannes, Versailles, Napoleon's tomb — or French artists or food, the infiltration into American consciousness goes way beyond the size of the French population in the U.S., relative to other countries.

This puzzle could not be done on four German cultural figures, or four Spanish cultural figures, or even four British ones (That's a challenge, constructors!). Especially with the coverage in our group — a painter, an author, a philosopher/mathematician, and a musician, all born more than 150 years ago.

Thu 5/17/2018
CLAPAGAVESAME
HEROWEWONILYA
AMESNEWORLEANS
DONTASKDOORMAT
SNAILNONPRO
TATTOOADAM
RAJRIOTSORE
ETAMAY1718MEL
DAZSBULBEAT
ADZERIPSAW
BASSETLASTS
INAWORDBILLNYE
SANANTONIOLILI
INDYANIONODES
SASSSENSEPERM

My wife and I were vacationing in New Orleans last November and they were making plans to celebrate the 300th anniversary in May. Since the Big Easy often evokes colorful images, it seemed like a good theme for a puzzle. Then as dumb luck would have it, I found out that San Antonio was also celebrating its 300th anniversary in May and also has 10 letters … and I could also cross two other themed answers with the cities. The tricky part was fitting the May 1718 date in the middle of the grid.

An extra twist (and one I hadn't thought of when I wrote the puzzle) is how cool it is for this puzzle to be running today. Because if you look at May 1718 a little differently, you get today's date (which is also coincidentally the 20th anniversary of a Sunday NYT crossword I wrote with my daughter Hillary, "Green Eggs and Hamlet.")

POW Fri 5/18/2018
IMACOPLAWLOBO
NOTONEIOTAIRAN
STARTERSETMINE
AIRPOPSESPOSA
NOUSECARTNHL
ANNEWARSTORIES
PRIDEPARADE
SOUNDMIXERS
TOSSESASIDE
OWLETMOTHSJEEZ
HOVLANEMENLO
SPACEKSAYWHEN
TABUINTERWEAVE
OILSNAMECALLER
PREPGMCHYSONS

This puzzle is somewhat of a tribute to Patrick Berry's Friday puzzle from January 10, 2014. I fell in love with his puzzle's wide open grid, and it was after doing this puzzle that I decided to try making themeless puzzles myself. My version, now several years, later has a similar layout to his, with a "gaping maw" (as I affectionately like to call it) in the middle.

It took a lot of trial and error, as you might imagine, to fill the center. My goal was to make each of the longer entries in both the 5 stacked Across answers and the 4 interlocking Down answers interesting, as well as stay away from proper names, as I had had a habit of overusing them. Overall I'm very satisfied with the result here.

My effort to also keep the corners wide open came with some sacrifices. The NW feels a bit like Jenga with all of those interlocking shorter words, and the SE has the unfortunate plural HYSONS, which I only personally accepted because I had actually had hyson tea before. It allowed me to keep RARE JEWELS though, so looking back I still think it's justified. Even so, it may have been worth adding an extra black square to these corners to give some more wiggle room...

I enjoy making lower word count themeless puzzles, so I'll probably stick with these types for a while. Hope you enjoy!

Sat 5/19/2018
SLOTCANYONAPPS
AIRBAZOOKASHOP
FLEAMARKETLOWE
ETSBRAETEETER
REIDREDWORM
CAMERACAREBED
ATOMSWATERPOLO
LANICASEDLOIN
ABSTRACTSMOTTO
BATELKSNETHER
ADEPTLYROES
STRODEBOCKKEG
HIHODOUBLETEAM
EMIRIFYOUSAYSO
SETSTASTETESTS

For about five years, I've managed to take annual trips to Zion. It must be my favorite place in the world to explore (and my kids have been good sports to come along.) So 1A seemed like a natural seed entry. It's funny that my clue, "Place for the narrows-minded explorer" was changed to mention Zion.

My original grid had a cheater square at the A of APPS, but I noted the possibility of changing it and waited to see what the final decision would be.

Sun 5/20/2018RHYMES, SCHMYMES
BUGBITEIGLOOTIPSTER
AFRICANBROODIMALIVE
BOOZESCHMOOZEAPPAREL
ASKPERUUKECREAMERY
BOSOMTOOAAA
TAGUPAOLNUTSSCHMUTZ
IGORSCREWTETHEINIE
DEERSCHMEARARTEFACTS
YESSIREEVEEAIDMOLT
RODDESPITEHIRES
MACEDNOSCHMOMUSKS
BOGUSTECHIESWIM
ARABDEWINSSIXPACKS
RESIDENCEDUCKSCHMUCK
BASSOSOLESPIEDEBAY
QUITSCHMIDTABCSNARE
HOEAHIARMED
BASEPAIRMENGAYEBUC
OUTRUNSHALTSSCHMALTZ
SNIGLETAMOREKATRINA
STROLLSDETOXSTOPPER
  1. SCHMEAR was a theme entry in my last Times puzzle, which means I've had two in a row with schmear-related theme entries. Maybe I should just make it my thing.
  2. I originally had F THAT at 99-Down, although I figured it probably wouldn't fly in the NYT. And indeed, Will had me replace it. Luckily, it was an easy fix.
Mon 5/21/2018
JEANPALMHASNT
ORBSIPSOOCHOA
BABYALBUMTRAMS
STANCEAFIRST
CHILDPRODIGY
EBBTORINO
TEENVOGUETOAST
CAREENSIMILE
HUMORADULTSWIM
MODULEAPP
SENIORMOMENT
ACORNSPEEWEE
GOTATGHOSTTOWN
ELATETERIROOD
SIXEROXENASKS

I'm super excited to have a crossword published in the New York Times! I've only been solving crosswords for about a year and a half—I began when my cousins introduced me to them over Thanksgiving in 2016. After that, I and was hooked—I now joke that crosswords are my only hobby.

About a year ago, I was hosting a potluck on World Giraffe Day (June 21), and decided to try to make a crossword with giraffe trivia for my friends. It did not follow the common rules of crosswords (it was asymmetrical and had unchecked squares) but I had a lot of fun making it, and all my friends really enjoyed solving it. After that, I decided to try to construct crosswords to submit to be published.

This is the second puzzle I submitted, and I went through many versions of it trying to get the cleanest fill possible before sending it in. Thank you to my family and friends for always being willing to be test solvers and for tolerating me frequently talking about crosswords!

Tue 5/22/2018
CODAIDESBABEL
LAIRNOMEINURE
URSAMAJORGOTAT
ESOBESOGODDESS
BYTETERINEG
GEECHESPEEDO
ARYANONDOPE
LASSOLAOENOLA
ERRANDRYDER
TREATYTOPOOF
WONHESSELON
ENMASSESCORNED
EDICTGREATBEAR
TETRAEARNILSA
SLYERLYESSLEW

I had always wanted to try to make a picture puzzle, so I brainstormed images that could be done with a very small amount of dots to be connected. BIG DIPPER or LITTLE DIPPER was one of the first ideas I hit upon, though it was harder than you would think to get that asymmetric constellation positioned just right! I went with BIG DIPPER for the friendlier 9-letter count, along with its fellow 9-letter partners URSA MAJOR/GREAT BEAR.

I originally rounded it out with NORTH POLE, as in that's where you would always see the BIG DIPPER, but Will and Joel didn't think that was as strong a connection. Also, I had presented the themers in what I thought was a logical, sequential order (and all horizontal) but that presentation cluttered the grid, made for some yucky fill, and gave me triple black squares in the northwest and southwest corners.

Joel and Will suggested NORTH STAR, as in that's what the BIG DIPPER points to. That caused me to abandon the horizontal lineup and go to a pinwheel design of the grid, which improved the fill and cleaned up the blackness. I still had some ugly fill in the northwest until David Steinberg offered a very elegant solution of moving a couple of black squares.

What I'm curious to know from the solving community is how obvious the circles were as far as being in the shape of the Big Dipper in the unsolved grid. Since I started with that image, it always leaped out at me, but did others process it immediately? Our stargazing ancestors picked this pattern out of the sky (twice!), so maybe it's hardwired in our brains regardless of whether it appears in a cluster of stars or a grid of squares!

Wed 5/23/2018
BUMSHAHAPALE
ALOEOPENOPEC
STREETARTNEMO
IRAFRIOGYRO
CALIFORNIAKING
PODGHETTO
SPEARLAGGIRL
COXTIEDYEFED
AWOLZOONOSES
LENOVOAMI
PRESIDENTELECT
PREPPASSMOO
BOASSOUTHPARK
ASTIECRUTIDY
MEETTHUDALSO

SOUTH PARK wasn't the first theme entry I came up with, though my original plan was to clue it as "Inspiration for this puzzle's theme, expanded?" The rest of the theme entries came from several hours of reading through lists of abbreviations. I originally had one more theme entry in the center—TIN ORE (from SNORE)—but Will made a good point that Sn isn't a direct abbreviation for tin. I thought about redoing the puzzle as a standard 15x15, but 14s are a pain to work with in a standard-size grid, and I was already pretty happy with what I had. After replacing TIN ORE with the nonthematic TIE-DYE and weeding out SMOKE SESH (which Will felt was too "out there"), the puzzle ended up in the form you see it today.

Thu 5/24/2018
DISHMARCOSTROT
ACTIARTHURHERE
WHINNYMEETSERIN
SARGESEELWOOD
OBIESJERRYCELLO
NOTSHOTSHELEN
DUDDECLEAK
PASTYHOODING
REVSNRADAD
STAKEITEMSRIG
PAYGROUPONHARSH
ACERUNHCALICO
DOSESPOONERISMS
AMIETENDEDBOAT
YARNSNEEZEINNS

Thanks to the NYT team, not least for their incredible clue at 62-Down.

Also, see if you can figure out this theme answer that was left on the something room floor: [Breaking pitch thrown by an oddsmaker?] (6,6)

Fri 5/25/2018
IMSTUCKDEEPFAT
HATESONINDIANA
ONADAREADUNITS
PORNSEALEERIE
ABUELDERSSN
SMUGTSARSCHOW
HAREEAVE
UNSNARLTHANKED
NOTTRUEHOSTELS
TNTETC
AHBLISSVROOMED
NUCLEARFOOTBALL
DECOTORICACTI
EVESALACKMOON
SODABLUESANNE

Doug Peterson beat me to debuting NUCLEAR FOOTBALL a few years ago, so I took it off my list of potential seed entries. He's so great with his snazzy seeds; it's no surprise that he gets fantastic entries like T-SHIRT CANNON into crosswords way before me.

About a year ago, Mary Lou Guizzo asked for help with a Valentine's Day heart-shaped puzzle. (Stay with me, I promise that this all comes together.) I liked her idea, but I didn't like that she had used asymmetry to help with the fill in the center of the heart. After trying out a few dozen arrangements, one stuck in my head — a goal-post set of black squares. Maybe something very cool there … what if we could find phrases that related to both football and to love?

Alas, that didn't work out. We did have a lot of fun brainstorming what BLOCKED PUNT, TOUCHDOWN, and THIRD AND LONG might mean for Valentine's Day. Heh.

Shortly after, it occurred to me that I had never seen this goal-post pattern used in a themeless. I was curious to see if it might open up some possibilities, a new layout that might allow for more long answers, minimal 3-letter answers, more mid-length, whatever — just as long as it was something new.

After trying a few dozen arrangements, I hit upon something close to this current version. It had room for a single 15-letter seed entry, so I scanned my lists and my memory banks to see what FOOTBALL-related ones I could use. NUCLEAR FOOTBALL kept popping back up, so I finally gave in and decided to build around it.

Long and twisty crossword journey. As they usually are.

POW Sat 5/26/2018
POPAPILLLETSBE
AMAZONIAIVOTED
TESTSFORDENADA
ALTTONGANERTS
KEELSOLIBIN
ITSODDENDGAME
CROWDPLEASER
PLAYTHEPONIES
THELEGOMOVIE
HOMEROWESTRUS
ENOVOLEYETI
CENTSNOTCHHOT
USTOURWHATSAPP
REELINEASTASIA
EXALTSSNAPCHAT

More Saturday puzzle good times! This grid layout is something of an old standby for me, with the three long central answers balancing the mid-range entries in each quadrant. A few bullet points about this one:

-I believe DOTEDU was a first in my debut all those years ago, and it looks like this might be the first DOTGOV to grace a mainstream crossword. Be on the lookout for DOTLIMO and DOTDIAMONDS in future puzzles.

-Yes, I wasn't all that happy with the THE trio in this grid. In my own halfhearted defense, all three of those entries are pretty solid & if you're going to repeat a word, the most common in the English language isn't a bad choice.

-Two companies of eleven-figure Facebook acquisition offers in one quadrant! Stacks like these are the funnest to create.

Hope this one is a 34-Across! (sorry...)

Sun 5/27/201821
COASTATATIMECHITA
MANTLETRISTANHOTELS
AGEFORDRINKINGLEGALLY
YETBREASTSCRIESETD
ASIAOMITHAMSEXON
NUMBERONEALBUMBYADELE
SPELLPOEDIDDY
ARABSPCTTENLB
GUNSINAMILITARYSALUTE
ONETOOMANYELIEWIESEL
OCCBLTOPTTRI
FACSIMILESMALEFICENT
SPOTSONALLSIDESOFADIE
RITASINNSTENS
SHOUTWCSOESTE
WINNINGBLACKJACKTOTAL
ISAKEUROELLEFAVA
LPSHAVANASTIERSREP
LETTERSINTHESEANSWERS
SEAGALNONAGONETHANE
DRILYSLOGANSLSATS

I'm a musician (Kid Beyond) and meditation teacher; I moonlight in game and puzzle design. This idea came after a long day in the recording studio.

I liked the notion of cluing "21" with 21-letter phrases, allowing a meta-reference at the bottom. And I loved creating a grid with horizontal and vertical symmetry — it feels like Mexican tile art.

The first draft had a bunch of grand ideas — like running the puzzle on January 21, with "1/21" cluing DATE YOU ARE SOLVING THIS. Will gently told me all the problems this would cause... so out it went.

Another ambitious idea was to cram 21's throughout all the clues. I whipped up about 50 of them: references to Century 21, "21 Jump Street," the 21 Club, pop stars Twenty One Pilots and 21 Savage, etc. Most of these were too stretchy for Will, but he graciously kept a few.

This is my second puzzle for the Times. I remain humbled by how many hours go into making a good idea great — pushing for ever-better fill, redoing the whole grid over and over, trimming blocks down to the bare minimum...

Many thanks to puzzle sensei Tyler Hinman for all his tireless feedback, Jeff Chen for xwordinfo.com and his wonderful Word List, Antony Lewis for the indispensable Crossword Compiler, and of course Will for nurturing my work!

Hardcore puzzlers may note that this puzzle has only 126 entries, the lowest Sunday word count ever. Now that I've broken a world record, I won't have to take up competitive hot-dog eating! What a relief.

Mon 5/28/2018
TRAMPSCHARTS
ARAMAICAILERON
PUTONAHAPPYFACE
HERSNOTITSULU
IDAPOOLTOYMOT
DACHALAOABASE
STEALDSLWISER
DATADANG
BREAKINTOASMILE
REAMSCAMSONES
ACRESERERUFFS
OCALAPETIT
FULLOFGOODCHEER
EPIGROWLATLYE
ESPSOANDSODEB

Unlike most puzzles where the creative process begins with the theme and theme entries, this one started with the central grid art. Making grid art is a nice diversion from typical crossword construction activities, and every once in a while I experiment with different block configurations to try to create something puzzle worthy. Even moving just a couple of black squares by a single space can often completely change the resulting picture.

Once I had the basic smiling face in place, I went looking for appropriately happy 15-letter phrases to accompany it. Although three theme entries is a bit low for a themed puzzle these days, the constraints imposed by the grid art made that choice the most promising. Likewise, because I wanted the grid art to stand out, I chose to leave large areas of white space around the edges of the puzzle. I would have preferred to leave off even more of the black squares, but I couldn't get the grid to fill as cleanly without them.

For experienced solvers that breeze through Monday offerings, I hope they enjoyed uncovering the six non-thematic NYT crossword debuts (SCHOOL DANCE, CAPITOL DOME, SO CLOSE, POOL TOY, PALAK, and GROWL AT). I think that's the most non-thematic debut entries so far this year in a Monday puzzle.

Finally, I was particularly happy to position BREAK INTO A SMILE so that it "breaks into" the central smiling face. I hope at least a few solvers notice and appreciate this touch.

Tue 5/29/2018
ODDDUCKSABRAMS
PARANOIANOOGIE
ALANALDADHARMA
LEIAFREEEMAIL
SSNDHLRAM
SUEANNNIVENS
WARHORSEAILEY
ALOUSHAPEPSAS
SAUNALATTEART
PITTTHEELDER
IAMMSNCAM
DRESSSIZEHUGE
RADISHEDUCATES
AVENUESONATINA
BINGESTRIDENTS

The theme for this puzzle is not obvious as one is solving (especially given that my original submission had circles around the tripled letters) so I wonder if this will feel like a 74-word themeless puzzle with some after-the-solve head-scratching about the theme. I look forward to hearing how solvers experience it.

There are many fun things about getting a puzzle published in the Times, but perhaps my favorite aspect is the long-distance cluing tutorial I get from seeing the final product. Comparing the clues I submitted to what Will, Joel and Sam ultimately come up with is a great lesson in cluing. The subtle and major changes they make always improve things and point to how I could have clued entries more appropriately or pithily (Me: NOOGIE = Headlock accompanier, often, Them: NOOGIE = Unpleasant accompanier of a headlock). I often give a mental fist pump when a fun or novel clue I spent lots of time coming up with makes it through intact — for this puzzle my fist pump went to LEIA.

Finally, thanks to KID FLASH for being a thing. Not much else fits the K??F?A?? pattern, so this grid doesn't happen without him.

Wed 5/30/2018
LIPSACETATECHIP
OKRAMORALESRANG
BEEBPLAYERSORCA
APOLLOMIASMA
TEENATIERS
RESETISLETROMPS
UNCUTSTILEAVILA
BARRETILESNEXUS
BASRANIXOGRES
ALBSUMPREDST
GIBEJUMBLEDABIE
UNLVUSROUTEHAZE
AGEESTINGERAGES

SANDE: It's a real thrill to publish my first NYT puzzle. I've been solving these things for over 60 years, first cutting my teeth on the NY Post, then graduating to the Times, in the days when an ANOA would paddle his PROA to a STOA in GOA. The puzzles have changed so much since then. Used to be that if you could find a word hidden away in an old edition of the OED, Britannica or Gray's Anatomy, it was "legal." No brand names, no hip expressions were allowed.

I submitted two puzzles in 1972 when Will Weng was the editor. The daily had a bad word in it, BULTACO (a Spanish motorcycle). I knew the word wasn't legal, but I was hoping that Mr. Weng wouldn't notice it: fat chance!

Decades later, after retiring as a faculty member at Florida State, I brought an idea for a Sunday puzzle to Nancy Salomon, through cruciverb.com. She passed me along to Jeff, and we're now collaborating on our third puzzle. My advice to solvers considering trying their lot at construction: if you love waiting for Fridays and Saturdays, you'll find that constructing your own is like having the hardest Saturday you've ever faced, open and challenging you — all day long. There's nothing like it. But I do recommend working with an experienced constructor: you have a lot more to learn than you think.

This puzzle was a pleasure to work on because the Scrabble theme opened up so many possibilities. The theme is multi-layered. First, there are four racks of mixed-up "tiles," which when solved announce the flow of the game: PLAYERS ARRANGE JUMBLED LETTERS. Second, there's bag of mixed "tiles" (anagrams) in the center section. Finally, the two reveal clues tell you that it's a SCRABBLE game and that there's a MIXED BAG in the middle. So much going on!

Thu 5/31/2018
TAPMATEYGHANA
ALAAMUSEAARON
BETAPIETALINEN
APTSESCAROLE
CHIPSIZETAXI
SECYBYENOW
LAMLANDSSOHO
ITSALLGREEKTOME
NORMASIDENYS
EZPASSKARO
THETAOMICRON
FIREEXITTAZO
ONCUELAMBDATAU
ECARDTREADOWN
SASSYSINGSNAS

I'm delighted to have this crossword appear in the New York Times. I'd like to thank Will and the other editors for helping to bring the puzzle into shape, and especially for having the good sense to nix a theme entry which had so endeared itself to me that I willfully overlooked the absurd difficulty in parsing it: OMEGAALPHA ["Behold, the enormous French mountain? Yeah, right!"?]

I've always enjoyed the sort of wordplay featured in these theme answers, where — as in the charade or heteronym — the letters and their order remain the same, while the spacing changes to amusing effect. I sometimes see it as a special kind of anagram, another longtime obsession of mine. (Readers of this column who are also interested in anagrams and an extra bit of daily wordplay might enjoy a puzzle series I've been running at AnagramsAroundEve.com, with crossword-style clues with anagram phrase solutions.)