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Puzzles for June, 2015
with constructor comments

Mon 6/1/2015
PEPSILANEAJAR
ISAACOPALRUNE
SOLCERVEZASNAP
ASSCEEINHEELS
GUNITINC
SOLEBENEFICIARY
EZINEAIRCREE
COQSURREALTEN
TNUTPHOIDEST
SEOULSOUTHKOREA
RTETRIES
ABETTEDISMSPA
URDUSOULSISTER
ROUTTELLKIOSK
ASPSARMSEXPOS

This puzzle is a great example of the value of an editor, since much of the short fill along the top edge of the puzzle has been changed to make the puzzle more suitable for a Monday. Gone are a partial at 9 Down (A MAN), a stale crosswordese city at 3 Down (ST LO), an unexciting 7 letter word at 22 Across (UNREELS), and the obscure (but beloved!) ZUZU from "It's a Wonderful Life." Instead, we get the lively LOVE IN at 6 Down, PEPSI in a glass with ice cubes, served by the soup NAZI to JUNE CARTER IN HEELS.

And as a bonus, HI-C migrated from 4 Down to 23 Down. Its clue migrated too!

Tue 6/2/2015
BAUMAIREDVAMP
ABRASNAREIRIS
ABBRKUDOSNEXT
BEACHEROSION
AYNOWENLYCRA
ASSTSBSAHUG
PITCHEROFBEER
INREOASESAERO
LEARNTHEROPES
LAWASAAZERA
SPLATAJARPAS
HEROSANDWICH
TIDEAGINGEZIO
AQUAFRAILEZER
USEDTENSEPARE

First of all, I'd like to give a shout-out to the "fan club" that coalesced briefly to lambast the fill on my "Eight Letter" puzzle of 4/14/15. I affectionately refer to them as the ... (drumroll) ... H8ers (rimshot).

Moving quickly along, I've often thought that hidden-word puzzles are a bit like "word sandwiches," so this was my attempt to capitalize on that notion. HAM SANDWICH, with 11 letters, would have allowed another theme entry, but a three letter word sandwich didn't seem kosher to me. I wasn't very optimistic about this puzzle since BEACH EROSION seemed less than heroic and my submitted puzzle had an awful section of dreck fill in the middle. I actually had AEDES crossing AIDER — a real bad neighborhood. However, much to my surprise, the puzzle got the green light from Will on the first go-round.

Later I tried to talk Will into "THE OLD SWITCHEROO" as an additional 16-letter theme entry thru the middle but he was not interested in that tricky little transformation. Also, I suggested adding blocks to the middle to improve the fill, but I found out Will had already had Frank Longo clean that up. He did it by moving two blocks instead of adding two blocks- much more elegant. Frank is an ace solver and does a lot of NYT puzzle work behind the scenes with little or no recognition — thank You Frank Longo (and Will and Joel), for making some of us constructors look smarter than we really are!

Wed 6/3/2015
KOBEUPTOSLOTS
ORENREAPTAROT
NEEDALIFTEVOKE
GOFARFIRENYA
CLEANYOURROOM
TRALALANEON
SAKSAVEDEIGN
AGEFSERIESROO
RASTAANYRENT
OVERREVENGE
SOWHEREWEREWE
ARIEELITORCH
TAPASITSFORYOU
OTERISTIRDAMN
NESTSHYPOSNAG

This crossword theme evolved from truck brands to typical pickup lines to what you see today. The puzzle was initially rejected because of theme inconsistency. Will liked the re-imagining of the pickup lines but not the entry COME HERE OFTEN, an actual pickup line that was originally at 52-Across. Seeing a glimpse of interest in the emailed rejection, I asked if he would accept a revision. Fortunately he said yes and I sent 2 new versions. Will chose the one that he preferred (I know — what other one would he choose?) and suggested a few minor changes to the grid. I clued it up and the puzzle was finally accepted on September 17th.

It was nice to see this reject become a yes!

Thu 6/4/2015
CAVERNBADSIGN
ADELESADMITONE
MISSAYCASTAWAY
PATERNITYCLAW
MCCIAHA
DOSOHIESCAPS
DIRTSTAINSTOIL
RANATABVANILLA
ENOLCOMEDYTEAM
DATAIDOLSERF
GUTROBT
ISMSPAPERTHIN
TORIAMOSSIRICA
STATIONSOPENUP
EASEDBYTSETSE

I had been collecting companion entries, e.g. MOIL and TOIL, for making the Schrodinger category of puzzle for what seemed like ages. Much of that search was facilitated by Matt Ginsberg's clue database which displays alternate entries with the same clue. (For instance, if I were to look up SIT, one of the clues [Meet] would also apply to FIT ... which differs by a single letter). Short-entry pairs like that were easy to come by, so I scratched my head to find something longer and stumbled upon 10-D and 25-D ... which differ by two letters. Good enough, I said.

Oddly enough, the placement of those long Schrodinger entries into a thematic presentation came only gradually; I initially thought the puzzle would be themeless. Even so, it quickly made sense to place a single entry vertically because of the orientation of these CAVERN growths in nature. From there it took a long while before I decided to depict them as two distinct entries. First, it seemed redundant, but the other mental block was having two, long, nearly-the-same, single-word entries in a puzzle: very taboo. Eventually the theme notion struck me, and it carried the day.

Now, having said all that, I should point out that the puzzle isn't the sort of Schrodinger puzzle where either theme entries is correct in either location: they make the best sense with one particular arrangement ... and I'm so naughty for this sly prank: Someone should look up what percentage of the population doesn't know which is which.

Fri 6/5/2015
JOCKJAMSMENTOS
ALLFORITURBANE
IDECLAREREAGAN
AMATBILISIADD
LANESALVEOLAF
AISLEMAIPHOTO
IDEATEREJIGGER
SHOTSOLO
JUSTASECELDEST
ASKINTAOSNAPE
CHICFORTYORLE
KEADONATORBEN
ARREARFAKEPUNT
SIERRAEVENODDS
SNARKYSADTOSAY

As my mom always says: if JOCK JAMS doesn't get your party started, check your guest list.

Besides 1-Across, I was excited to include MURSE, FAKE PUNT, REJIGGER, and OH GOD NO. JAI ALAI in its full form is kind of fun, too. Overall, I think the longer fill has a nice bounciness, or life, to it in this puzzle — lots of multiword phrases help give that feel. I hope you agree! ORLE else...

POW Sat 6/6/2015
INTSEVILQUEEN
OMOUTMADEAPLAY
WEIREISLANDERS
ENGRETTENTACLE
SHORAGESAT
STOISTSEVEN
PRISONRTHDIVA
AOKFYIEWEBEG
DUESOFMASTERS
STAIRTRAITE
LIBENTRADA
TELEPORTSERING
IRONSTONEAMODE
TICTACTOETORRO
SNOWWHITESNEE

When submitting this puzzle I was aiming for a Thursday, but I suspect that the overall difficulty of uncovering the trick moved the puzzle later in the week. Hopefully, the shaded squares will clue solvers into the fact that there is something unusual going on.

The idea for this puzzle started with that trick, of course, and the trick itself forced a lot of the grid design. I wanted to center the mirror(s) on a diagonal. It would have been awkward to start or stop a reflected entry on a mirror square, so I could not start a mirror in the top left corner or end one in the bottom right. Using a single mirror would have required a 14x14 or 16x16 grid, so I settled on the two-mirror design in the puzzle.

Next, I wanted to embed some hints for the solver in the grid. I went through a few possibilities (e.g. NARCISSUS) but SNOW WHITE and EVIL QUEEN kind of jumped right out once I considered the MIRROR MIRROR on the diagonal. As a bonus, the convenient equal word length let the entries fit nicely in opposite corners. The grid was getting pretty constrained at that point, so DWARFS didn't make it into the final product (though SEVEN remains with a non-theme clue).

Filling the center was hard, but not for the reason you might imagine. The MIRRORs are no more constraining than fixing a particular answer in the grid. However, all the reflected answers are at least 5 letters long and they intersect with each other, making this, in effect, a pretty open section.

POW Sun 6/7/2015THE CALL OF THE RACE
UPCASISIMPACTSODS
STEADIESTGUITARUNIT
EARLYLEADAFLAMEREDA
PHILSYOSTFADINGFAST
ALPOWOLFCLEFTS
ONTHEOUTSIDECOHORT
ICEAXESACSFORAERA
SOMNIROSEBARONSRET
ESPCLOTHBACKSTRETCH
OBSESSAUSTACHOO
GURUGAINSGROUNDHENS
OHARAOKLAVOODOO
TURNFORHOMEKUDZUTSP
TRYLYSINEKALETOHOE
OATETESTUNAACCENT
ABACUSMAKESACHARGE
VOTENOVAILSKOR
INTHEMONEYAITSVIOLA
ALOEOBERONBYALENGTH
LAOSVIAGRAMCDONALDS
SYSTATRESTSOSASES
Mon 6/8/2015
MEDSTAMPACRAP
AMOIAXIOMREPO
CINDERELLAALAS
STEERSLOETATS
DOGSILOVEYOU
STEROIDONESWM
DEADTIJUANA
SALEMMANSLATE
RAWEGGSIRON
ASPRANEFFECTS
MARATHONOONA
EMERYVATRADII
NOMEDEMOLITION
RAINALEROEATS
ASEAMSDOSSNAP

MAN movies. There certainly are a lot of them. I restricted myself to films with titles that go ____ MAN -– no hyphen (sorry, Spider-Man), and no leading "The" (like The Omega Man).

Now I need a volunteer to build a similar puzzle around film titles that go AMERICAN ___. Off the top of my head you've got PSYCHO, HISTORY X, SNIPER, BEAUTY, GRAFFITI, and GIGOLO to start building around.

Any takers?

Tue 6/9/2015
WOMBATMMECOST
APOLLOAASINCA
REDEEMCITATION
ARCHNEWYORK
SEATTLESLEWNEE
AXISALLYUSSR
GADINGESPA
AMERICANPHAROAH
DIYDOOMMRI
MUSSAEROONES
ISUSECRETARIAT
KEROUACDIRE
AFFIRMEDNEGATE
DUELEDUGNOMES
OLDSSEESANTAS

Many people in the puzzle world know me as the founder of puzzle technology company Puzzazz. Of course, I solve the NYT crossword every day in Puzzazz (I used to solve in pen). What some of you may not know is that I've been a puzzle creator as long as I've been a software developer, and this is my 13th New York Times crossword. I'm also the author of four books of Logic Crosswords, a contributor to Cryptic All-Stars, and editor of Mike Selinker's Killer Cryptics, David Steinberg's colorful Chromatics Crosswords, and The Year of Puzzles, all available in Puzzazz. I also recently came out with The Librarian's Almanaq, a paper puzzle book, which is, ironically, one of the very few puzzle books that can't be in Puzzazz — you have to tear the book apart to solve it.

American Pharoah, just the 12th Triple Crown winner

I got the idea for this puzzle right after the Kentucky Derby. AMERICAN PHAROAH is a great name with an unusual spelling, and it's 15 letters long, something cruciverbalists notice. We count letters in everything! I thought of the idea of a Triple Crown puzzle, with three 15-letter winners. I had no idea how few winners there had been over the years, and it turns out that there are no others with 15-letter names. But then I noticed that the names of the previous 4 winners had nice symmetry — two 11's and two 8's, and American Pharoah could go in the middle. A puzzle with the last five winners felt very elegant. I checked if I could get a nice fill, and I could. Now American Pharoah just had to win two more times. After the Preakness, I contacted Will and pitched it to run right after the Belmont Stakes, if (and only if) American Pharoah won. He liked the idea but wanted a better fill. I ended up reworking the grid from scratch, and clued it for Tuesday difficulty.

Fingers crossed, I sent in the final grid and clues almost a week before the race. If American Pharoah didn't win, it would all be wasted. Since you're reading this, you know the gamble was worth it. Thanks, Will, for taking the gamble with me.

When I comment on others' puzzles on Wordplay, I list my favorite entries and clues. So here goes the same for my own puzzle, and I'll provide a little extra background.

My favorite non-theme entries are WOMBAT, KEROUAC, NEW YORK, GNOMES, TOM CLANCY, MIKADO, and EAMES. You'll notice these are mostly long. In filling the grid, I focused on two things — interesting long entries and a really nice upper left corner, to get solvers off on a good footing — this was extra important because none of the theme entries intersects that top left section. I also dislike partials, so spent extra time avoiding them.

Some clue notes:

  • [Marsupial that looks like a small bear] for WOMBAT — I like the extra information that makes the clue seem a bit harder than it is, and a snappy clue for 1A is always important
  • [Mrs. en français] for MME — I like the fact that the clue is in French yet perfectly clear. I also learned that the language français is not capitalized.
  • [W.W. II foe] and cross-references for AXIS, ALLY, and USSR. I put AXIS and ALLY adjacent for the cluing opportunity; USSR was just a nice coincidence that I didn't have connected in the clues I submitted
  • For WAR, I also considered a clue based on War Admiral, but I felt it detracted from the puzzle; I like Will's sly reference to Man o' War
  • [1 1 1] for ONES — boy is it hard to come up with a fresh clue for an entry that the NYT has allowed 684 times before
  • [Sch. in Terre Haute, Ames or Pocatello] — This was inspired by the dispute over who owns the rights to the initials USC (Southern Cal or South Carolina); for the record, there's also a school in Normal, Illinois
  • [88 or 98 of autodom] — Will's clue, nice
  • [Eponymous chair designer] — I've always loved the groundbreaking work of Charles and Ray Eames. We have one of their chairs, a 40-year-old "Aluminum Group" one, not the eponymous lounge chair that most people know.
Wed 6/10/2015
ANNBETAPAYTO
ROESLAIDOREOS
MEGOROUNDWELTS
YARROWOSTEAL
ROTOUTORROCH
SPINNINGWHE
AFTSSTEMAISIE
TREESOHSPRELL
TOATEERIADAIS
ASTHEWTURNS
RHODEOSTALAG
WALRUSIRENEE
PLEBEROLLINGST
OGLESESSOASTO
PASTSDOUGTEN

Surfing through the tv channels one summer 2013 night, I passed by an old rerun of the soap opera "AS THE WORLD TURNS" and a crossword idea was hatched. I then looked for other phrases where something was rolling, spinning, rotating, revolving, or going around. I was initially surprised at the constraints I ran into when filling the grid, especially since I only had four theme entries, but that was due to the four or five letters "rolling" 360 degrees beneath each theme entry (and I use the term "rolling" in quotes as it's impossible to make a perfect circle in crossword construction). However, with the exception of a few unsavory fill words including everybody's favorite crossword washstand vessel (EWER) and coastal inlet (RIA), I am satisfied with how the puzzle turned out.

Thu 6/11/2015
ITLLCEDEALOE
NEAPACERBCAPT
DAYSLARGEMOUTH
ULTOGREDARRIN
LEODODGEMONACO
GARDENEARS
EVENSPARTIBAH
MESAERNIEDALI
ESTASIDEWORLD
ANTSMARRED
GRUDGEMATCHIVE
RESALESAGSSIN
IMAGEMAKERSTAG
PAGESHEBAFETE
EXESAROWOREM

Will asked me to revise this puzzle twice. The first time was to clean up some ugly fill, but the only way I could rework the words was to change a theme answer to one with less pop (LARGEMOUTH to AVERAGEMAN). Will liked the cleaner grid, but asked that I keep LARGEMOUTH in, and, after I added two blocks, I was able to do it. Through such attention to detail, Will in effect polished the puzzle while allowing me to do all the work myself, which I greatly appreciated.

I came up with this theme after solving a puzzle with an embedded-word theme and seeing if I could think of a new one. I was thinking Wednesday for this puzzle, because the theme didn't seem tricky enough for Thursday. But I'm guessing the shape of the grid swayed Will toward the more difficult day. He said he would toughen up some of the clues, and now I think it fits Thursday quite nicely, even if the theme isn't so out-of-the-box.

An example of a toughened clue was that for ANTS. Mine was the tepid "Wingless creatures related to wasps," and it became the crisp "Mymecophobe's fear." While most of my clues were basically kept intact, the clue changes made the puzzle better. My first priority is to create an enjoyable solving experience, and I hope this was just that!

I'm a former journalist, schoolteacher, and business owner, and now I teach yoga. Crosswords are a hobby. I am thrilled at having my NYT debut!

Fri 6/12/2015
MOTETAJIKISTAN
ACREONARAMPAGE
SEALJEWELRYBOX
SAVENOWNEESGT
ENEROBELAY
XFLOGLEDDESKS
ORTKEANUYALIE
DOITEVENTSEAN
UNMETIFNOTASA
STEERDIEGOZOT
NIPATISERE
HUGSALDELIBES
ELECTROLUXLANE
INTHATCASEALTA
RAZORBACKSSLOT

Did you notice my new picture? I actually looked exactly like my 14-year-old photo until last week, when I magically aged four years. How did this happen? I contacted the spell-caster who haunts Rex Parker's blog comments, and just like that, I looked my age! I'm still waiting for the girl of my dreams to knock on my door and beg to date me, but the spell-caster seriously changed my life. You should contact him, too!

Anyway, this puzzle dates back to November 2013. My initial seed entry was JEWELRY BOX, and I was thrilled to discover that TAJIKISTAN fit two rows up without necessitating any unfortunate entries in the upper right. The other corners didn't turn out quite as smoothly, but I was nonetheless pleased to work in MASS EXODUS, TRAVEL TIME, ELECTROLUX, RAZORBACKS, and SLEAZEBALL. And I really like how LA VIDA LOCA intersects the tens in the lower left!

If I were constructing this puzzle today, I probably would've been tougher on certain pieces of crosswordese (EELER, ENERO, ORT, ISERE, ALTA, etc.). But that's just me being a perfectionist — after all, themeless grids with four triple-stacks of long entries often require more compromises than other themeless grid patterns. I hope you enjoy the puzzle — and don't forget to contact that spell-caster!

POW Sat 6/13/2015
ZEROWASTEYUCCA
EXOTICPETOBOES
TAXISQUADDARES
AMYSURNHANDLE
FINERYGOOS
HAMLETCOATING
ONAIRSKATEBRB
UNIBROWSTANLEE
RONEXISTSPEED
DESTINYRERUNS
DOVEDENVER
EMERGECIGWAGE
RINGOSHRINKRAY
ENTERARTFORGER
KISSYSOUTHPOLE

BRAD: The seed entry at 57A (SHRINK RAY) was in an early draft of the grid that appeared on 2/21/15, but I pulled it out of there when the stack you see here presented itself. The editorial tweak to the clue eases up considerably on the original [Facilitator of filmdom's "Fantastic Voyage"], but it makes sense looking at the general degree of difficulty in that corner — Doug's great clues for DENVER, ART FORGER, SOUTH POLE, my definition of REGIFT, etc.

Starro in action!

We started the opposite corner with EXOTIC PET, and it was cool to have several Scrabbly entries settle in around it. Totally random that UNIBROW has made its way into 3 or 4 puzzles I've been involved with…I'd better take care not to develop one. I still have a few clues for it in the bag; the one here is Doug's, who I feel had a particularly inspired day when he sat down to work on this set (SWINE!).

DOUG: Brad mentioned that SHRINK RAY came from a draft that looked quite different by the time it was accepted. We've become quite adept at repurposing discarded entries, and sometimes we're even able to build a grid around an orphaned stack. I like to think of our grids as starfish. Because you can whack off an arm and use it to grow a whole new starfish. That really works, right? I think so, but bear in mind a lot of my starfish knowledge comes from comic books. Starro the Conqueror is one of my all-time favorite super-villains. (You think I'm joking? Look him up.)

Sun 6/14/2015THE IN CROWD
ONPAPERCHATSALCAPP
FAILUREOILRIGDAUBED
FIGHTINJUSTICEITSPAT
AVIAKEELSTKTPESOS
LETITGEDROOSTPASHA
GENERALINFORMATION
MOLECOAMSVOUSTOG
BRAININJURYJETESITE
ADONISEPAEROSAVER
SOSADSLIPONULSTERS
COURTINJUNCTION
EQUALTONESTERLOOPY
LUNNMARKFRATOOKTO
RASHOSESSISTERINLAW
ODUESTDAPTYOSASS
PRIVATEINVESTMENTS
OUTEDDREADHOBSIGMA
PARCHEURLAMARPOOR
LEBEAUCRIMINALINTENT
IDLESTTOCOMELAYETTE
USENETNEONSSLEAZES

The theme started with IN VESTMENTS. Seemed like a breakup that could lead to some interesting wordplay. I thought there would be plenty like PRIVATE IN VESTMENTS where the IN word could be split and form some fun phrases. Oddly enough, it took a lot of work to find these seven — words like INCREASE, INVOICE, INSPECTOR, INSECT didn't have pairings that made a phrase that could be clued easily.

This is the kind of wordplay theme I like as a solver. It's on the traditional side (no rebus, no circles, no meta). I call it sort of an Alice in Wonderland look at the language. I find these kind of themes hard to come up with but very satisfying when I do. Merl Reagle does this the best.

I'm also pleased I got this one down to a 132 worder. I am motivated to go for low word counts because it force me to include longer fill entries that solvers don't see as much. I also find it forces me to come up with entries that I've never used before (e.g. TEEN IDOL, JENNERS, LOOPY, AB POSITIVE, etc.)

I hope no one is offended by BRAIN INJURY in the puzzle ... my feeling has always been if it's in the language and I could read it in the NY Times then it's OK for a puzzle. There have been lots of NFL articles about brain injuries. I once got a letter from a solver ticked off that I use CRAZY as an entry because it he said it made light of mental illness (this puzzle has LOOPY). I guess I'm also not a strong believer in the "breakfast test"... crossword puzzles should not be taken that sensitively IMO ( I once did a whole puzzle about unappetizing foods, e.g FRIED LICE, BEES AND CARROTS, et al). Like Merl says..."twisted but fair."

Thanks to Will for publishing this one. The best editors, like him, always make my puzzles better.

Happy solving!

Mon 6/15/2015
CABALSMARINAS
ASATEAMOLDNICK
LINOCUTSTANLEY
MAGNACARTAOEDS
CRYULRIC
RATERANYLEAST
EREEARNELNINO
OINKNSYNCTRIG
RESIGNMOOSEPA
GLENNPEWAPRES
GUARDBMI
EMAJDUEPROCESS
SOLOMONSAVANNA
SOTHEREINASUIT
ORANGESDRAFTS

Ever had a great idea only to learn that someone had already thought of it? I was pleasantly surprised when this puzzle was approved in February. It didn't seem likely that I would be the first to submit a Magna Carta theme when the year of its 800th anniversary was well under way, but I was lucky this time. I was asked to revise both the grid and the content so that it could appear on June 15, Magna Carta Day, a Monday. Two rewrites (and two "cheater squares") later, the puzzle was accepted. It then went through the editorial process: sixteen clues were unchanged but 28 were modified to varying degrees and 32 were new and improved, all in the spirit of greater Monday-friendliness.

Nicholas Vincent, author of "Magna Carta: A Very Short Introduction," said that "John really was an absolute rotter through and through; the worst king in English history." Even A.A. Milne wrote "King John was not a good man," and Robin Hood had no respect for him according to Disney. To make John behave, he was forced by the barons to seal the "Great Charter," but as soon as he was away from Runnymede, he asked Pope Innocent III to have it annulled. The charter, later named Magna Carta, was pretty well ignored by everyone at the time and no English king was ever again named John.

Here's something for physics buffs to ponder. Living at the same time as Pope Innocent III was Antipope Innocent III. One wonders, had the pope and antipope ever met, would they have annihilated each other in a burst of photons and gluons?

Hope you enjoyed the puzzle and are having a jolly good octocentenary.

Tue 6/16/2015
IPADIVSSCAUP
MOSENETCHEESE
HOTFUDGEBURGER
ICECREAMSTAIRS
THROATSGTOSSE
INLAREVUP
MASSIMONTACIT
ONKPLEPEWWAVE
POSSEMETALNYE
ASNERTOTO
ADAPOSREGALER
LOGJAMMARINARA
ONIONSRIGATONI
HOTDOGEDURIIS
ATAILSSNALEE

Hmmm. I can't remember what sparked the idea for this puzzle. More than likely I was just hungry at the time.

Originally I had a symmetrically placed TOP/OFF in the grid, but we (by "we", I mean Will Shortz) thought it wasn't necessary and served to make the fill that much more tortured. I agree that the puzzle's better without them.

Wed 6/17/2015
URGEDWINSOME
SEESAWJALOPIES
EVOLVEEYEBALLS
RURIRMAXED
SEGDEANSLEARS
EBBSPASCAT
MICROCAULKADE
UNSOWNUDONDIP
SACICELPIPEUP
ITOERASEGIMME
NITSSAPHEY
GETUPTREATART
BRATECHWAR
ONELINERTODATE
TIMEZONESOURON
TAUTENSDIDNT

DAVID: Molly attended one of my crossword programs at the 92nd Street Y in NYC a few years ago and won the crossword-solving contest at the end of the program. We've been brainstorming a bit since for good theme ideas and this puzzle is the result ... and Molly's first in the NYT!

MOLLY: I met David at the 92Y and he was kind enough to tutor me on my puzzlin'. A couple of previous submissions to Will Shortz on my part had been rejected (for sound reasons), so I thought it would be funny to submit a puzzle with the theme of rejection. (Har har.) In a confounding twist of events, this one was accepted. I'm grateful to Mr. Kahn for schooling me the dark arts of crossword puzzles!

Thu 6/18/2015
SUPRAPHILSTLO
APIANAEROSMITH
MOUNTAINTOPONYM
INSTILLSPOKER
ROESHOE
BLACKANTONYMS
ERICHMAILSEAT
GEEKSPACENALA
OATSPUNKMINES
MORTALSYNONYM
EYREENT
PADREINASENSE
NEWYORKMETONYMS
ATHENIANSODEUM
TAOSBLOTNOTTE

The idea for this puzzle originally came from the observation that there are a lot of METONYMS in New York City. Mulling this around led to the idea of NEW YORK METS becoming NEW YORK METONYMS, and I was off to the races!

The race turned out to be a marathon. Most of my NYT puzzle submissions result in a direct "yes" or "no". This puzzle unusually went through four iterations before reaching the final product --the difficulty was coming up with acceptable theme answers. For the curious, here are some rejected theme answers, and why they didn't make the cut:

  • WRITE HOMONYM (I apparently have been using a non-standard pronunciation - d'oh!)
  • QUEEN ANONYM ("anonym" was too obscure)
  • (E)N PSEUDONYM ("ensued" is boring and it is an outlier in that the base phrase isn't two words)
  • OLYMPUS MONONYMS ("Olympus Mons" is obscure unless, like me, you read too much science fiction).

Two other points:

My penultimate submission had the four themers in a different order. Will and Joel pointed out that starting with two plural themers creates the expectation that all themers will be plural. So, I reworked the puzzle to alternate them singular, plural, singular, plural. Will and Joel were even willing to sacrifice a tiny bit on the fill to get this pattern.

My difficulty in coming up with theme entries means that there are only four of them in the puzzle. In retrospect, I really like how using only four themers let me open up the grid and work in some fun longer answers. This is a nice tradeoff, and I plan to try it again in future puzzles.

POW Fri 6/19/2015
SATCHMOAMRADIO
INAHEAPNAIROBI
NOTONCEGIBLUES
EXECARPELERTE
ORWELLIAN
JOHNSTEINBECK
REPOSTANADANO
ETALMADAMAFAR
CELICAIMHERE
ECONOISOLA
ARSWISNANUSB
SACAGAWEADOLLAR
AMERICANPALEALE
MINERALDEPOSITS
ISTILLDONTGETIT

Today's puzzle coincides with my father's 83rd birthday, so I dedicate it to Prof. M.J. Ashwood-Smith, aka Dad!

About a year and a half ago, my files included a puzzle that quad stacked 15s on both the top and the bottom. However, there were too many problem "crossers" running down though one or another of the quad sets. Most of these problems were in the top row, but because of normal crossword symmetry, any possible fixes to the top quad created additional problems for the bottom quad. I was about to abandon the project, until one afternoon in a coffee shop, I noticed that the lower quad might work quite well alone, as the basis for a puzzle with Left-Right mirror symmetry. Moreover, I noticed that two extra 10-letter words (27-and 28-D) could be thrown into the mix.

A few minutes later, I sketched a suitable grid on the back of a napkin, leaving a reasonable amount of flexibility for the rest of the grid. I was happy to get in JOHN STEINBECK and ORWELLIAN, and the rest of the puzzle came together nicely around them. My only qualm was that I had to allow everyone's favorite bump in a log, KNAR, into the puzzle. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time the New York Times has used such a grid arrangement with a quad stack on the bottom.

With Will Shortz's blessing, I've also created exclusively for XWord Info a version of the puzzle that has the identical answer grid, but most words clued at the Monday/Tuesday level (clues written by MAS and George Barany). This is to make the point that wide open quad stack grids can be built using, for the most part, easier words that are accessible to early week level solvers (for the handful of slightly hard words in the grid, I have made sure that the crossing words are all easy).

But wait, there's more. With George Barany, I created a sister puzzle, which also has Left-Right mirror symmetry, but this time the quad is on the top (it had similar origins, where we had to toss a bottom quad). You can find two versions; unfortunately, both of them had an unfamiliar partial at 14-Down, and that was enough to be a dealbreaker. Still, George and I think that you'll enjoy these.

Happy solving!

Sat 6/20/2015
WINATLIFETARTH
AMINOACIDAWARE
SPANDRELSPECAN
SOGOVALEASEIN
USAFAXIOMSCPA
PERILENDORASE
SALADGENDERED
IRAQSERB
STEAKRUBYIELD
TEALWAILPLEAS
JAGFIDGETSANE
OREGONPARKVIC
HORUSHAVEABEER
NULLSOPENTABLE
STYLEPINTEREST

I'm very happy to have my second themeless puzzle published in the Times! The seed for this puzzle was the bottom stack HAVE A BEER/OPEN TABLE/PINTEREST. As I mentioned in the notes to my last puzzle, clue writing is a skill I've been working on improving. Thus, I was pleased to see 38 of my submitted clues used in their original form or with minor changes. Original clues include 1A, 35A, 54A, 1D, 8D, 30D, and 49D.

I learned the word SPANDRELS from an evolutionary biologist friend several years ago. In that field, according to Wikipedia, it refers to a "characteristic that is a byproduct of the evolution of some other characteristic, rather than a direct product of adaptive selection." Some have argued that human language might be a spandrel resulting from the evolution of our brain. I chose to use the more common architectural definition, but I hope solvers who are interested in evolutionary biology will enjoy finding SPANDRELS and DARWIN together in the puzzle!

Sun 6/21/2015CLIMBING THE CORPORATE LADDER
ISISTESTSOTOHSTAMP
DUNEERNIEHEROEASYA
AGFASILEXMENUGEHRY
ALLELESOBPOSTABIO
TRUEFAHOLYWATERRIAL
ALERTDENOTEDBELINDA
CONSOEDGETSONIC
TAZNGSDAYSEATBELTS
FAMILIALSPECTSCION
EKESDREAMTAERO
THREETHEARTISTOKNOW
ROOTINSTEPHATE
ISAIDINTHAREALISTS
PENNYANTEHOWWASETC
GAUSSPGAEENPAIL
EDMUNDIBARNARDSOTTO
SEEPIDLEHANDSALLACY
TAROTIONMIRAFRESH
ONEPMOUSTBEALLATIT
PISANUPONANITAXENA
SETSISENTLOGICERGO

One of the advantages in doing this puzzle was that I was that working with a true word count of 144—not 137—since seven across answers are unclued and don't figure in the end total. The areas around the turns can be thorny, but the extra wiggle room is definitely noticeable throughout the rest of the grid. Because of the depressed word count, I made an effort to keep it at 137 rather than going to 139, which splitting up SUGARLOAF and STITCHING would have done. It seemed better to use cheaters to keep the fill clean and push the word count a little lower with those open corners.

Wow, my clue for HOLY WATER ([Liquid harmful to vampires]) is dorky. Really dorky. I can't think of another good way to clue it, but that's pretty embarrassing. Thank God there's not another entry in here with a clue that points towards too much time having been spent in high school playing D&D-based video games ...

... Except for POLEAXE. Son of a #*(!*&. Why should anyone who isn't a military historian or a knight at Medieval Times know that poleaxes and halberds are similar weapons? Great question.

Can I disavow authorship of those two clues in exchange for arrogating to myself credit for the clue for SEXOLOGY? ([Study for a Masters?])

Here's a gratuitous Seinfeld reference for Jeff:

Although, one wonders if "War and Peace" ("Voyna i MIR") would have been as highly acclaimed as it was had it been published under its original title, "War, What Is It Good For?".

Mon 6/22/2015
AQUIACIDSSYNS
WALTSAMOATOOL
ATTEMPTINGAGUA
KARMAATTESTING
ERAINCASWEB
SMELTIFEAR
JOSHNYETFARGO
ATTUNESATTIRED
GRATAMAXIRADS
SANTOLINUS
DEMTIDESZAP
ATTRIBUTEMIAMI
LEAFATTRACTION
TELLSELMACRUE
ONLYSEEYAHERD

Wordplay themes like this usually get slated for Tuesday/Wednesday, but I think it's nice to provide the Monday solver with a curveball every now and then. The repetitive nature of the joke here worried me a little, but I remembered really enjoying Michael David's puzzle from 2012 that had a similarly repetitive theme.

I also liked that this theme felt modern, but didn't really require knowing anything about Twitter beyond that @ symbols are used. Hopefully, that would make it appeal to solvers of all ages.

Finally, I'm continuing my crusade of low word count Mondays. I wasn't able to get to 72 this time, but I think this is a pretty smooth 74-worder (the middle-left with OTRA/GRATA/SANTO is probably the choppiest section, but they're all Monday-easy). I couldn't decide if SHUTTERFLY was overdoing the Internet vibe of the puzzle, but I think the clue saves it. I was proud of the clue for TAXIDERMY, which is definitely hard for a Monday, but sometimes you come up with a perfect clue and it's hard to pass up.

Tue 6/23/2015
ROADTOADTOLD
AUTOUTNECAPER
BROMANTICCOMEDY
ESPIDOSAMENS
ORRAPER
HOPEANDCROSBY
CUREDEATINAON
AMOSMINUSHYDE
TINCIGNAMOOED
DOROTHYLAMOUR
APTSLCD
LANCEERICYMA
SONGANDDANCEMEN
ICIEREDIEMCAT
BOLDBALDBALI

I actually watched "Road to Bali", for the first time this weekend on YouTube. For its time, it was a pretty hip movie, what with inside-Hollywood and political humor, a few cameos, and breaking the fourth wall to wisecrack to the audience. My favorite line was when our heroes were captured by a tribe of cannibals. As they were being marched to their certain demise, a little boy runs out of the crowd of people and starts tapping and poking at them, the boy's mother hurriedly pulls him away and says: "Now junior, I told you not to play with your food" — that was a laugh-out-loud moment.

This was the second puzzle of mine to be accepted for publication, so you can see that Will does really try to space out word ladder puzzles. I was looking for something that was a bit off the beaten track when researching "xxxx to xxxx" phrases, and came upon the film title "Road to Bali", which I had not seen until the weekend prior to publication. I did see "Road to Utopia" on TV as a child, but that wouldn't work unless it was an add-two-letters word ladder (hmm...).

My original grid lacked the two cheaters which turned two of the "L"s into "T"s (on the sides of the grid). I really liked that the original made the middle of the grid look like a letter box movie screen, but there were too many "uglies" without those cheaters. Will and crew provided the fix, and cleaned it up a bit. In the SW I was wedded to having COSTAR at 38-Down crossing DOROTHYLAMOUR and providing her clue, however that also resulted in a few less than desirable entries. The Roman numeral unfortunately was inoperable.

I did have my qualms about the theme being dated and possibly turning off younger solvers, who would think it, and by extension me, less than hip. My advice to them would be to make a visit to their local Blockbuster and rent a VHS tape of the movie, they might like it =).

Hope you enjoyed the solve.

Wed 6/24/2015
KISSCAPOASSAM
INCAROADNITRO
THEPIERRETRAMS
INSTATEFEEBLE
TBAOMARBRADLEY
VIRGOSOATETS
STIRGARNET
SOUTHERNCROSS
BRONTEOKAY
STDURIFUTILE
CHINESEFLAGTEN
REVOTERODGERS
AMISHFIVESTARS
PODIADEERTIER
EBERTADDSALPS

Natan Last and Finn Vigeland have taken over the J.A.S.A. crossword class reins, but I had a blast making this one back in the Spring of 2014. The theme answers originally had five asterisks (or stars) in the clues, so I'm not sure why that didn't make the final version. But otherwise pleased how this one turned out. Favorite answers include TRUE THAT and the apt SRS. Hope solvers like it!

Class member Dan Chall adds: "Ian did a great job in leading the construction of the puzzle. It was great fun to participate as we went through all aspects of the puzzle, from agreeing on the theme, to the development of theme answers, filling the grid, and completing all the clues."

Thu 6/25/2015
ASTAABCSBLOKE
SHOPTERIRIVET
POPOTTLESUPEAT
CEILINGSECARTE
ADDONCARELESS
GOOPPALMA
MOBYBEAUESTAB
AIRDEEPLUEEBB
PLACEPSISIRAQ
SUCREASSN
RASPERRYCAFFE
ODEONSIMEANTIT
MARATLEADBELLY
AGIRLELLESEEP
NEEDYODINTETE

This puzzle had its genesis when I was a neophyte constructor back in 2008. I wanted to try a rebus puzzle and built one around the theme of "Peanut Butter Sandwiches," PB being the rebus. I submitted it to Peter Gordon at the now-defunct NY Sun and, to my dismay, he rejected it. The basis for his rejection was that PBJ is better known than just PB. The rejection hurt at the time but, of course, he was right. I put the puzzle away.

Several years later — for reasons I don't remember — I decided to look at the puzzle again. PB as the chemical symbol for lead just jumped out at me. The reveal LEADBELLY followed quickly. I tweaked the old puzzle to get the theme entries to align nicely and sent it off to Will. The result is what you see today. I'm happy with the finished product.

This puzzle is a testament to perseverance. I still consider myself a rookie constructor — always more to learn. But what I learned from this one was not to give up on a puzzle. A little tweaking may very well salvage an otherwise unpublishable crossword.

Fri 6/26/2015
MANSPLAINPOSTS
IMATALOSSUBOAT
LUSITANIAPORKY
ASAPMETSTERE
ELENAGALEYAP
CNNBORONILL
RHODEBINETMOO
HANSAGNESSNOW
IVSPLUGSEWOKS
NEORENTSNET
EINORSOODESA
TARTSRANTOGO
DANAESALTSPRAY
ULTRAHITANERVE
OLSENONEPLAYER

It's been on my bucket list to construct a crossword for the New York Times for a few years. In fact, in 2013, I made it a New Year's resolution to figure out how to submit a grid and possibly get one accepted... only then my MIT Mystery Hunt team won the event in January of 2013, which gave us the dubious prize of spending our 2013 writing the 2014 Hunt. And bonus for me, I got to be the director of the whole thing, which meant no time for trying to construct one measly crossword when I had so many other puzzle writing responsibilities on my plate that year [my favorite being the one where I dressed up like a bee to perform a bunch of songs bee-capella]. But in a weird way, I did achieve my New Year's resolution that year via my hunt teammate, Kevin Der, who convinced Will to let him use the New York Times puzzle to hide a Mystery Hunt answer. [Incidentally, crossword origami really should be more of a thing than it is.]

Once we had finished with the 2014 Mystery Hunt, I slept for about a month and then decided it was time to get back to that dream of constructing a puzzle for the Times myself, and I went about asking Kevin for advice, which was invaluable. Around this same time, the crossword blogosphere seemed to blow up around the topic of female constructors... particularly female themeless constructors.

So, obviously, I decided that my only option was to tackle a themeless. And if I could give it a bit of a feminist flavor, all the better. And thus my first seed entry, MANSPLAIN, was dropped into an empty grid at 1-across.

The other seed entry that I was deadset on including was SORRY I'M NOT SORRY, inspired by my friend Laura. This phrase called to me only after I had made the stack in the upper left, and the combination of that one 15 letter entry and the MANSPLAIN/I'M AT A LOSS/LUSITANIA stack more or less led me to the grid shape, with two other 15s spanning the grid. NASAL CONSONANTS aren't super flashy and IS IT GOING TO RAIN? isn't going to knock anyone's socks off, but I quite liked that HAVE IT ALL, with its female empowerment overtones, was able to slide next to CONSONANTS.

And SALT SPRAY, HIT A NERVE, and ONE PLAYER made up a pretty nice triple stack in the bottom right, buoyed by SWEET PEA. (Incidentally, have you ever tried to use SALT SPRAY? I have, and it just turned my hair into a sticky mess, with very little in the way of waves. The bottle lied.) TAKE A LOOK (at my first NYT crossword!) and PUP TENT closed out the long entries I liked — plus the bonus of the U BOAT clue sitting atop the LUSITANIA clue. I normally don't like cross-referenced clues, but when the clues are adjacent, I don't mind.

A few bits of crosswordese snuck their way in: DANAE, STERE, ODESA, BINET, OYER... ugh. I took German in high school, so ALTE and EIN don't bother me nearly as much as they might bother some people. I'm pleased to see that Will left the two references to my home state in the clues, (Minneapolis to Duluth and Senator Franken), but was sorry to see "They're high in Manhattan" for RENTS go. Will actually kept the majority of my clues — including the one where I snuck my first name into the puzzle, but his trivia for RARE and "Space race?" for EWOKS were definite improvements.

In general, I don't love the center of this grid and don't love the aforementioned crosswordese, but for the rest of my life, I will get to say that I debuted MANSPLAIN in the New York Times crossword, and that is a pretty awesome claim to fame.

For those keeping tabs on the "women writing themelesses" phenomenon, I wrote this one with a hybrid approach of by hand and onelook and grep. I could have used some more mature software, but that just seemed too easy.

Also, 31-across was a complete freak accident and I have no idea how that happened. But that one's for you, Dad. Happy belated Father's Day!

Sat 6/27/2015
PANFISHROMAINE
ARBORIOARALSEA
RICOACTGRACIAS
FONTSWOEMATTY
ISEEBARQSNANO
VOWTAXCUTSGIN
ESSAYSSICKJOKE
IPSATREE
MCDREAMYOINKED
ILESLEEPININE
SASEEXLAXFATS
HITATCPUYOSHI
ARIZONAPGATOUR
PONYCARESPOUSE
SLEEKEDRASSLED

Usually, when I start with a formation of black squares, it's not particularly close to what I end up with. But this is an exception. I usually like to start with stacks of 8, 9, or 10 and intersect them with stacks of 5 or 6, because that's what usually works. Whenever you intersect stacks of 7 or more with other stacks of 7 or more, that's when it gets challenging.

Did you find yourself solving five mini-puzzles instead of one puzzle? I hope not too much. This puzzle is a bit compartmentalized — there are only two ways into each corner. So I tried to make enough entries at the entry points into the corners so that (a) solvers wouldn't get stuck from entering a corner by two unfamiliar entries, and (b) the entries would be recognizable from the letters in the middle. That is, if you were working from the middle out, or from one corner to the middle then into another corner, you wouldn't (I hope) get shut out of a corner due to unfamiliarity.

A constructor's personality, it's said, comes through in their grids. One may surmise that, with two video game references, one of which being a seed entry, I am a big gamer — but I've never owned a video game console. Nor have I or would I ever use BARQ'S or anything like it. However, I did include 60-Across (PGA TOUR) and 1-Down (PAR FIVE) and did clue 4-Down (FOOTE) with two of my favorite things in mind.

By the by, for 52-Across... my original clue ("One starting a movement?") would definitely be better served for my website than for the Times. I appreciate that Will wanted to keep the clue at least a little palatable and — pun intended — didn't want to push it.

POW Sun 6/28/2015GETTING IN THE FINAL WORD
UNJAMGLOBEREVLOKI
CAUSEAHMADAVEMINED
LASERNAGNAGNAGINTEL
ANTACIDSMAUNAGOAPE
WHATHAPPENSSRIS
BONSAIHUMESSTSINT
DEPOTSCOMEDICYODOG
AMITEMIRCEDETO
YOUVEGOTAFRIENDSEWN
BAMPREYRIVETERTROT
ENDUSESILOSETHICS
DEEMSAMPLERMONATHE
DNASCOULDYOUPUTTHAT
METEORWITTHINS
CAIROSTPETERPOUNCE
PADBACHAMATGEORGE
ELMODOUBLEDOVER
SLICKSPAINECLECTIC
TITHETOWNDRUNKLAURA
ONIONARDERATOAMBER
SGTSSKYDRESSLEAST

This was inspired with a theme entry that didn't make the cut:

PUSS IN BOOTS, or PUSS IN BOO(S)TS

I really dug the idea of smoothing over the last word of the X in Y gimmick with an entirely new word formed by the overlap. There weren't too many possibilities I found that could fit the pattern smoothly. A couple others from the cutting room floor:

TIED UP IN KNO(T)TS
LIES IN WAI(S)T — Hmm, that doesn't have a pleasant sound to it. Good riddance.

With the eight themers that made it, the biggest challenge was positioning the overlapping "final" words. Because they're not symmetrical, I spread them into as much open territory as possible, without making the positioning of other black squares a nightmare. The resulting grid makes the corners a bit like islands, which isn't entirely ideal. But puzzling out the answers in those corners is still entertaining, I think.

An edit from Will and Joel I appreciate is the clue for MOE, the final word in YOU'VE GOT A FRIEND IN M(O)E. "Good name for a lawn care guy." Since it's part of a theme answer, I like the riddle angle here, which is less gettable than my original clue (referencing the Simpsons bartender).

Lastly, as a wink to the solver, I made the final Across answer in "Getting in the Final Word" the word LAST, from the themer CAME IN L(E)AST.

Hope this was a fun one to tackle!

Mon 6/29/2015
NEEDSLOGSFRAT
EMMACAIROLEVI
WEBCRAWLEROPEN
TRACERSERGEANT
ARABICNORCUE
MLKALICEWALKER
ODESYAHSPY
MSDOSOUTHOTEL
LEAREVNATE
BLADERUNNERXCI
AIRPERTROMPE
KEMOSABEBLEATS
ELANRADIOFLYER
RODEUNITSEERO
SWAGGEESEERAS

TODD: This puzzle started with an e-mail to my fellow constructors about my WORD LOOP puzzle (squee!), where I mentioned I was now just a Monday short of hitting for the cycle (or, as one clever solver called it, a "Shortz top"). Andrea offered to help me create a Monday puzzle. How could I refuse?

Well, actually, I *did* refuse at first. Because at the time I wanted to hang up my spurs and stop submitting (this was *before* the WORD LOOP puzzle was published ... and reviewed). I felt like I was letting solvers down, and once my puzzle was published I couldn't fix it. Andrea said she understood, but urged me not to quit. So I suggested a couple of theme ideas to her, we went with the second one.

First, she came up with two improved theme entries, then I created a workable grid for our theme, which she filled. The grid had some nice entries we removed (like BARACK and BB KING) because it meant using entries like ABAD (a bad idea) and OTAY (less than okay). We fixed these, but couldn't fix DACCA in the upper left or EERO and SROS in the lower right.

Andrea sent Will our puzzle in late January of 2014. Will accepted it in early June, and a year later it's ready to solve. We hope everyone who crawled, walked, ran, or flew (or just logged in) to get a copy will enjoy our joint creation.

ACME: The nice theme was Todd's idea but I changed two entries (T-BONE WALKER became ALICE WALKER and AISLE RUNNER became BLADE RUNNER). He was a fun and easy to work with collaborator.

Tue 6/30/2015
JARSCOTAROMA
ABEHOTSGROBAN
BARROCKGARDENS
LOSERABSLAW
POUNDSIGNSBITE
ANTISMAGPOSER
WEEPTAZWILKES
PRICETAGS
ABBEYSLOXTODD
CRETESLOSERIO
RATSFIELDTRIPS
OVAAUFEASEL
BACONSTRIPSNOI
ADAPTSAMOITMC
TOMESOPTSSAY

Money talks. As I recall, seemingly out of nowhere, MONEY TALKS popped into my head. Instead of viewing it as the idiom it is — meaning money can have great influence — I looked at it literally as "the musician Eddie Money talks." I then thought it could be clued as MUSICIAN SPEAKS and it seemed to have possibilities as the start of a theme. From there, I compiled a list of other potential theme entries in which this same type of clueing would work. So although MONEY TALKS never made it into the grid, I guess you could say it was influential in its own way...