DEREK: I had submitted several versions of this puzzle to Will and Joel to the extent that they (kindly) nudged me in the direction of finding a collaborator.
I had worked with Sarah previously on a few puzzling endeavours, including a small diorama for a National Puzzlers' League convention event. It has always been very enjoyable working with her, a theme maven who doesn't let me get away with crummy entries, and again our collaboration worked out well.
I was particularly bogged down with chunky groups of black squares for the rays of the SUN, but she streamlined the layout of the whole grid and made everything fall into place.
I am indebted to her for helping make this puzzle come together. Thanks.
SARAH: This is our second New York Times collaboration. I met Derek, a successful new constructor, in 2008, at an NPL convention. We thought it would be fun to work on a puzzle together.
When collaborating, we always choose to work with wordplay themes as well as those that require unusual grids. This astrological theme was Derek's and Derek's alone. In my opinion, he is a grid master. In this venture, he combined circular THE WORLDs along with a SUNny central rebus.
We worked together on some grid manipulation to lessen the black square count as well to make the puzzle more pleasing to the eye. It was fun getting the puzzle publication-ready and is always fun working with Derek.
JOHN: This was a fun puzzle to make with Mike! I think you see our diverse interests come through in various places — a little food here, a little math there, a movie or two. The last corner to fall was the NW, where we were completely stuck until we found something new to fit the ??????TOR pattern. I may or may not be a fast food fan, but BACONATOR certainly is a fun word, and allowed us to sneak in yet another pop culture icon with AUNT MAY.
We noticed that Will and Joel changed PBS/PELLA to BBS/BELLA; and fixed our unintentional dupe of DEAD SET ON at 13-Down and SET at 58-Across by changing PARTY to PARCH at 47-Down. How did we miss that?
MIKE: No idea, I guess that's why there are editors. They also reworked most of our clues, I suspect to make the puzzle a bit easier for those lacking intimate knowledge of the Star Wars, Marvel, and Wendy Universes. VOLUNTOLD is the portmanteau that brought us together but didn't make the cut in our last collaboration. I've heard it used at two different workplaces, but I hope it's inferable for those unfamiliar with the term.
This puzzle was constructed in September 2016 and accepted for publication in December. This grid layout has appeared in The New York Times before and I have always been struck by its pleasing symmetry and intimidating look.
In my first attempt at this grid I used my homemade grid filler, but it had difficulty with the open quadrants. Fills were hard to come by, which hindered progress, and meant that fewer fill possibilities came under consideration than I would have liked. The resulting puzzle, while a good effort, fell short of the mark.
In September 2016 I purchased a commercial grid filler and was impressed with how well it handled this grid. The puzzle we have before us was constructed using that tool. I went on to construct several more open grids using my new toy, some of which have been accepted for publication.
I have found that the two grid fillers complement each other well. When I don't have to deal with large open areas, I use both. In fact, I often prefer my old grid filler when seeking to fill areas that have pre-placed letters.
This puzzle was constructed in five stages — the small center, followed by each of the quadrants in turn. The center was quick and easy, and I decided to include scrabbly letters there because I knew the rest of the grid would offer little or no flexibility in that regard. The quadrants, of course, were more difficult and took more time. In the end I was surprised that the time it took to fill this grid was not significantly greater than that of a typical grid.
My favorite clues are the ones for ALFREDO (47A — Saucy name?) and AIR HORN (6D — Bleachers blaster).
Many of my favorite crosswords are ones that break the rules in some way, whether they use one-letter answers, answers that extend off the grid, asymmetrical grids, or other crazy variations. It might be that I enjoy the variety, or it might just be that a puzzle that breaks the rules has to be pretty good to get accepted despite its transgressions, but in any case I also get pretty excited about a theme that allows me to break the rules a little, as this theme's repeated answer does.
Thanks to all of the English teachers over the years who have taught me the rules as well as when it's okay to break them!
The inspiration for this puzzle was the phrase, "I'm Tired." My son Dan is a new father — he and his wife Emily don't get much sleep, so they're often yawning. (Could be my frequent subject of the crosswords I'm constructing, of course, or other people's grids that blew me away.) Emily and Dan are patient with my chatter, but you know how it is — friends and family are either into crosswords or they're not. But when I realized "I'm Tired" could be a phrase said by cars, it was, ahem, off to the races. That would have been the title if this went to a publication that used them, and the revealer would have been something other than TIRE, such as TREAD.
I'd been trying to think of something interesting you could do with circles besides highlighting words. I'd played around with various ways to do eyes — dots, dashes, etc., but they weren't working. Then it struck me it would be a cute theme to have circled letters that look like tires, hence the Os. I usually do tricky, Fireball type puzzles — it was Will who saw this could make an early-week puzzle with a unique twist. He sent back my first crack because it had MERCURYSEVEN — Will wanted all the car makes to be current. LINCOLNLAW matching GERALDFORD also stalled out, but LINCOLNPENNY/ HARRISONFORD finally ran smoothly. I tried various grid designs, making sure to have no bumps in the road (blocks) between the pairs of circled Os. Much appreciation to Joel Fagliano, who was a tremendous help in improving the fill.
I'm a retired Biology professor, keeping busy now babysitting my one-year-old granddaughter Adeline, and setting a world record for most novels never published (35 and counting.) Long interested in cryptic crosswords, particularly of the fiendishly difficult British sort, I only recently began constructing American-style grids. I compete each year in ACPT and play in an over-the-hill soccer league on Sundays.
Meeting Lisa and working with her on this puzzle was an absolute blast. Many thanks to Will for setting it up.
After a little brainstorming, we were leaning towards a theme involving music or something to do with glasses. (People who were "framed," maybe?) We couldn't resist working Lisa's signature song into the theme, so we checked out a list of #1 songs with one-word titles. (What did constructors do before Wikipedia?) We eventually came up with a fun set that spans decades of popular music. And we guarantee that at least one of these songs will give you an earworm! The best potential theme entry left on the cutting room floor could be clued as [Botching the lyrics to a 1997 #1 Mariah Carey hit?] (11 letters).
We had difficult theme entry lengths to work with, but the grid gods smiled upon us. No ugly clumps of black squares, and a great set of four long downs, the highlight being BOBBLEHEAD.
Working on the clues together was my favorite part of the collaboration. And I ordinarily hate writing the clues. I especially like what Lisa came up with for JODIE at 29-Down. Using the initial capital letter to disguise a surname is a veteran move.
Lisa's a natural. If she ever gets tired of writing songs and touring, she has a bright future as a crossword constructor.
This puzzle is dedicated to my dad, so I love how it happens to be running close to Father's Day! I started solving crosswords soon after my dad started solving, and we always used to work the Wayne Robert Williams (may he rest in peace) and syndicated New York Times puzzles that appeared in The Seattle Times as a team.
My dad knows a ton of older pop culture, so between the two of us, we started off being able to solve Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and sometimes Thursdays. We can now get through almost any crossword, but we solve independently since he likes to savor the puzzles and I like to speed-solve them! That said, we still trade thoughts about the New York Times crossword every day—when I'm at college, I make a special point of Skyping him and my mom (also a regular solver now) so we can keep this ritual going.
I always get excited when my crosswords are published, but no one gets more excited than my dad! He reads the comments on XWord Info, Wordplay, Crossword Fiend, and Rex Parker; he also loves to watch me construct and often suggests new entries for me to add to my word list and even rough theme ideas.
The inspiration for this puzzle was my dad's "asparagus idea," which he's been nagging me to construct for years. After noticing that ASPARAGUS breaks up into ASP, ARA, and GUS, he got so excited that it was kind of adorable, and I knew I had to make such a puzzle at some point :).
That point was a few months ago when I decided to sit down with this idea as a special surprise for my dad. The breakthrough came when I noticed that ASP, ARA, GUS, and the horizontal parts of two "plus signs" would fit perfectly across a row of a 15x grid. I then decided to restrict the theme to 9-letter entries where the second and third three-letter chunks also formed a word. This meant that ASPARAGUS had to go (sorry, dad!) because aragus isn't legit.
I wrote a Java program to mine my word list for possible theme entries and discovered there were just enough good ones to make a puzzle out of, something I'd initially been worried about. I threw in MINCE/WORDS as a bonus, and the rest is history.
Since I won't be back in the Times again before June 18, Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there, and I hope you enjoy this puzzle!
Greetings, solvers. Just a bit of snarky, frivolous, late-week fun. Never seen the phrase YOUR OTHER LEFT in a crossword before, felt compelled to rectify that. Got a couple of yuks out of this one, hope you did too (I'd feel silly laughing by myself).
Have a great weekend, everyone.
Sometimes it's a choice phrase or two that fuels my themeless-constructing jones and sometimes it's the grid. In this case it was the grid.
I had a yearning to tackle a wide-open grid pattern with a stair-step center of 10 longish intersecting across and down entries. To somewhat simplify the challenge of the task, I settled on this particular configuration which breaks the fill into 3 sections: a broad SW to NE running swath that feeds narrowly into separate NW and SE caverns. So to fill, you just simply (polite cough) populate the central zone with mostly multi-word phrases that have a bit of sparkle or single words that can be elevated with the clues, then hope you can come up with two breathtaking fills for the other two areas. I'll leave it to you if this one came close.
At least, I was able to add 10 new entries to the excellent XWord Info Word List! As always, thanks to Will and Joel for polishing the clues.
One of the most important steps in crossword construction is coming up with great clues. In this context, it is fascinating to observe how many words have more than one — often two or three — disparate meanings. For example, if a puzzle has the word "yen" in the answer grid, the clue could be "Desire" or the unrelated clue "Japanese currency". In another example: "bark" could be clued as "Trunk cover" or "Kennel cry".
As a long-time constructor, I thought this situation could make a fun crossword. So I set out in "Think Twice" to explore this concept (spoiler alert!) by placing not only the words but also their multiple definitions into the puzzle itself. The first draft of "Think Twice" had a number of such examples. Will Shortz and Joel Fagliano then suggested adding a further nuance, i.e., linking the examples of the dual-definition words into a circular chain. I think this greatly enhanced the puzzle; in effect, it became a puzzle within a puzzle, giving the solver the task of deciphering the interactive word/definition chain.
Here's hoping you'll enjoy this thought-provoking exercise.
I am very pleased to have my 2nd puzzle run in the NY Times! I have to give credit to some college friends for helping me bring this together, they were spending a beautiful summer weekend with my wife and I and we started bouncing around "boy meets girl" names, there are actually a ton of them! Some that weren't used: Chris Christie, Edmund Hillary, Hugh Laurie, Buddy Holly. So it helped to have a bunch to choose from to make the puzzle and the fill work. Not too many fill issues since there were 4 theme entries including the revealer.
Thanks to Will and Joel for coming up with some improved clues and answers, I liked the way they took "neo" and "con" and made them into one answer (now why didn't I think of that?)
I don't remember what sparked this puzzle. I do remember consulting the dictionary to check the proper spelling for each written-out letter.
Most of my clues seem to have survived intact. I don't notice any major changes, though my clue for BEE STUDENT referenced someone in the annual Scripps-Howard tournament, and my TEE BILL clue was in relation to a pro shop rather than a souvenir shop.
I submitted this in mid-August, so it hasn't been languishing too terribly long. As always, I hope you enjoy it.
I hope only that the quaint, slightly out-of-the-ark feel of the revealer elicits a chuckle. With the theme juxtaposed against some rather fresh fill, like NSFW, CHABAD, FRITOPIE, BOOYA, GOOGLEIT, the puzzle seems to me to approach a nice balance between classic and trendy. Yes, there are some choices in short fill I wouldn't normally make, but the slew of newish-feeling entries, given the straightforwardness of the theme, seemed worth it.
The original theme clues only stated the date and type of work (1977 film, 1871 novel, etc.); the edited version here is much easier. Hopefully, the different categories of work allow for at least one of the answers not to be in the wheelhouse of the solver, so that some challenge remains.
Lastly, I am glad a female George (a nom de plume, of course) made the cut. Ms. Eliot is not unique here. I'm looking at you, George Sand.
When my muse first dropped this "dirty" little idea on me several years ago, it was presented as more of a challenge than an opportunity. Almost an "I dare you to try and fit 13 theme entries into a 15 x 15 grid!"
So started a steady cycle of submissions, rejections, and complete rewrites. At one point in the process, Joel even commented that "the massive amount of theme material might make this too tough to construct cleanly." With the 50th anniversary date looming, it finally occurred to me that using mirror symmetry might provide less constraining grid designs. My next submission came back with "almost a yes," and after a few more tweaks, my work on this one was finally over.
This puzzle was by far the most difficult and time-consuming of my limited work to date. The challenge was not so much a matter of selecting good fill, but more a function of finding "any" fill that might work. The statistician in me points out that only ten words in the final grid do not contribute at least one letter to a theme entry. Squeezing in all the theme material also required 9 of the 13 entries to intersect with each other in some fashion. So while "glue" like SLYS, RRS, OPP and OPE were less than optimal, I am content knowing I considered countless alternative options.
For those who want to keep score, other "dirty words" used in earlier failed submissions included: POLITICS, LANGUAGE, DANCING, SHAME, MIND, RICE, POOL and DOG.
Fast forward to this week: I was very pleasantly surprised to see the puzzle run on a Thursday, the actual anniversary date of the movie. I felt my accepted submission was geared to earlier in the week. But Will and Joel appropriately took the cluing up a notch, while still leaving the spirit of most of my original clues intact. If I had a choice to reclaim one clue, it would be "Carrie Underwood hit that includes Ajax as a lyric" for "Dirty" LAUNDRY.
Many thanks to Will and Joel for their steady and patient advice. I hope the gimmick doesn't reveal itself too early, and that solvers enjoy the end result.
Postscript: If pressured, I might admit that the answer to 57-down was intended to subliminally influence the opinion of certain NYT crossword reviewers. (You might notice that multiple other words could have been used instead.) With news this week of Adam West's passing, I would rather dedicate both the clue and the answer to his memory.
I'm very humbled and excited to be debuting in the New York Times, especially on my favorite crossword day of the week - Saturday! I'm a relatively recent graduate of Princeton University where I studied Music and Computer Science, and I currently work as a technology consultant onsite at the SEC in DC. I'm also an avid singer (baritone), composer (mostly choral music), and music snob (currently a lot of Roomful of Teeth and future bass.)
I began doing New York Time crosswords at breakfasts in college with some friends and quickly got addicted. Soon after I began trying to construct some of my own puzzles — I found the process had a lot of similarities to what I was studying at school with music composition and coding (I'll let y'all imagine why.)
My fiancé and I had been singing along with "The Schuyler Sisters" from the Hamilton soundtrack multiple times in a row one night when I thought it'd be a fun idea to use Angelica, Eliza, (and Peggy) in a new puzzle. I crossed SCHUYLER SISTERS with ELLIE KEMPER, a fellow Princetonian, and set off from there. I'm happy that I was able to reference several strong women and people of color, including Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose "Between the World and Me" I coincidentally started reading last week.
I'm proud to say that I made this puzzle completely by hand, which was a fun exercise. It took a long time to construct, but definitely made the whole experience much more palpable.
Lastly, I want to give a special shout out to Ariana & Drew whose wedding I'll be celebrating today! This puzzle is dedicated to them!
I've always disproportionately enjoyed plays on silent letters; this is the second crossword I've written themed around them, the first being what eventually became my 2016 Indie 500 puzzle. I'm not entirely certain what's so interesting to me about silent letters. Maybe it's how strange they are as a construct, and how unpredictably they can appear in English (much to the chagrin of non-native speakers). Or maybe it's the fact that, despite their ubiquity as a concept, different people can mean different things when they talk about them. Not sure! All I know is I've gotten some nice crossword mileage out of them.
In creating this puzzle, I narrowed my definition of a silent letter to be one which, when removed from its word, leaves a string whose most reasonable pronunciation is identical to the that of the original. In the case of the theme entries, this is natural — since I was leaving a legitimate English word (homophonous to the original), the most reasonable pronunciation would have to be unchanged. When I decided to make myself cross the silent letters with other words where they're also silent, though, suddenly I needed to be very particular about which words I used. For instance, under my narrow definition, the G in SIGN is not actually silent — removing the G leaves SIN, which is pronounced differently. This made finding crossing Downs all the more difficult, adding additional filling constraints everywhere.
Originally I thought it would be best to include a note or something to explain why the silent letters spell KNIGHT. The note would read something like "What holiday standard is hinted at by the circled letters?", which leaves you with SILENT NIGHT (after applying "Silent Treatment" to the K). I hope that meta element isn't lost on solvers!
Also, I see 49A was edited from my original submission (TAP -> TRY), most notably changing PSL into YSL. This means I've lost a bet with my friend, who predicted this turn of events. I guess the NYT isn't yet basic enough for that. (I'll note that I made sure excising PSL would be easy before I put it in the grid :P).
Some people like to solve crossword puzzles on trains; I enjoy solving them on airplanes (I fly quite a bit for my job, with Delta being my airline of choice). It would be nice to say that this habit was the inspiration for today's theme, but no such luck. Instead, the idea came from realizing that repeated mergers have reduced the number of major airlines in the U.S. to four. Aha — four is an excellent number for a crossword theme!
I like challenges. My first attempt was to place five 16-letter entries in the grid (the theme entries you see here, the revealer, plus an ...AMERICAN theme entry). Unfortunately, the theme density caused too many weaknesses in the resulting puzzle, and I compromised with a shorter ...AMERICAN entry in my first submission. Will and Joel encouraged me to go even farther; I dropped a theme answer to liven up the fill, which resulted in a stronger puzzle overall.
Sometimes puzzles don't come out exactly the way you originally intended (I wound up with only three airlines and four grid-spanners), but the process is always fun.
I don't remember the moment when I stumbled onto the butterfly images, but I do think they look best when they are bright orange. We did go with solid bars around the edges on the final newspaper product, but we decided not to draw little "bodies" between the squares.
My first try at this puzzle had ELUSIVE as a theme entry, since "Elusive Butterfly" was a pretty big hit by Bob Lind in 1966. The melody and lyrics were very familiar to me when I listened to it, but it drew a blank for Will and Joel so they turned it down. I think I remember throwing a few more possibilities their way without success, but Pete Collins thought I should try ORIGAMI butterfly since it Googles well. If you want the full experience there is a nice video online showing you how to make one in no time flat.
Pete Collins also helped with the fill on this effort — I was hoping to be part of his 100th NYT puzzle publication but he turned down co-constructorship. He'll have to sit on 99 for a short while longer and make do with a big THANK YOU PETE!
Speaking of flying things, I am staying near Princeville on the Hawaiian island of Kaua'i this week and here is a picture of me with two nene. I talked to a local Hawaiian woman who confirmed that these are them. She told me they were rare thirty years ago but not any more since they are protected. I have read that nenes are nonos in crosswords because they are so scarce but I can tell that they are not that rare!
One of the things I am enjoying as I gain experience in the world of crossword construction is learning more about the technical details of the process. I discover a lot by trial and error, but I learn that others analyze the process, and they have interesting and helpful wisdom to share.
For example, this puzzle initially had EYESEEEYE in the middle. Including a fifth theme answer seemed like a good idea, but I did have way too many 3-letter words in my puzzle. I couldn't seem to reduce the number, and I didn't think to blame that on my innocent-seeming fifth theme answer. What I learned from Joel is that a middle 9-letter answer (which has to have 3 black squares — "blocks" — on either side of it) tends to force a lot of 3-letter words because the perimeter columns must either be side-by-side sets of 7-letter words or side-by-side sets of 3-block-3, which makes for a lot of 3-letter words. It seems so obvious, now that I've had it pointed out to me! So now that Joel and I SEE EYE to EYE, you don't see EYESEEEYE.
I also continue to be amazed at how crucial each fill word is. Nearing the end of the revision process, I had a solid draft of this puzzle, with some fun long fill. Alas, it included SANDH (as in Green Stamps, or Shipping and Handling), which Will called "a puzzle-killer," so that draft was officially dead. As solvers, we all know that unappealing words creep into puzzles with some regularity. But it isn't for lack of trying on the part of the constructor or lack of attention on the part of the editors!
While most solvers and I are unlikely to FACEMEETFACE, I do hope that this puzzle made some of you EARSMILEEAR!
ASHTON: GOOGOOGAGA was the inspiration for this puzzle. One of the most rewarding parts of constructing puzzles for a long time has been discovering the kinds of answers I tend to like. I've found that part of my voice involves including nostalgic, child-like answers when I can. GOOGOOGAGA was the natural extension of this and seemed just crazy enough to seed a puzzle with.
JAMES: As in these notes, in our collaborations, I usually come in second to bat cleanup. After Ashton had fashioned this puzzle's somewhat daunting SW, I was a little nervous about filling the opposite corner in the NE. Given the constraints, I think it came out pretty well. From there, the two of us worked together to hammer out the final corners, which are trickier than they look. We were fortunate to find IPADAIR for the pivot into the SE, where initially we thought only DEADAIR worked. Sometimes a single tweak can be the difference between smoove and gnarly. Enjoy!
The seed for this grid was LAP DANCERS, but Will preferred TAP DANCERS. Go figure. He even suggested a fix: make ADDLE ADD TO and CREAM CREAK. Since I hadn't had a puzzle accepted in more than a year, I was delighted to comply.
The entire bottom half of the original grid [see left] required rework. Can you see why?
If you guessed ESOP, OSSO, UTES, TETS, AGEE, SNERD, LEAS, LEVAR and LARA, go to the head of the class (it was pretty bad). NAVIGATE, BRACELET and CARELESS aren't very exciting, either. However, all's well that ends well. The SE corner is now my favorite part of the puzzle.
I do have a small bone to pick with the cluing. Will replaced nearly three-quarters of my clues (a new record for me, I think). Two missing in action that I like are 46A ‑ Followed but never met [PARALLELED] and 31D - Tight slip [CORSELET].
Oh, and one more thing. Noticing that the grid contained both OAKS/OKS and LA LA/LAA-LAA, I clued OKS as 1-Across minus one and LA LA as 12-Down minus two. I never expected those clues to make the cut, but I thought it was worth a try.
I'm looking for a course in remedial cluing if I can find one nearby. Perhaps, Swarthmore College will offer one in the fall. I should add that Will's cluing is a lot tougher than mine. ‘Dendrochronology,' what isthat? [And, I was worried that having BOLES in the grid might be a puzzle killer].
Hope you enjoyed the challenge, and kudos if you solved it without googling. I would have needed to google a lot.
I was born in Strabane, Ireland, like the great Brian O'Nolan (aka Flann O'Brien, aka Myles Na Gopaleen), who would have been a great crossword constructor had he turned his mind to it. I started constructing crosswords more than fifty years ago while at college, and, after contributing to a variety of publications, got on the team at The (London) Times in 1975.
I became Crossword Editor at The Times in 1995 and continued in that post until emigrating to the US in 2000 to join my wife Swapna. She has no interest in crosswords but we do work very closely together on a mission we would describe as humanizing mathematics education. I continue to contribute occasionally to the Times, and to the Guardian as Brendan (another Irishman who came to America, more saintly than me).
Also, for about eight years I have contributed the cryptic puzzle every week for the Sunday Telegraph. I enjoy doing the New York Times puzzle most days and particularly the cryptic definitions of which my all-time favorite is: Rake over the coals? (3,4,2,4)
I'm very proud of a postcard from Colin Dexter, creator of Inspector Morse, congratulating me on a clue: For whom right and wrong can go in ledger? (9,5), and who included a character named for me in one of the television mysteries.
Having noticed the Harry Potter anniversary coming up, I decided to see if I could manage what for me is a completely different genre. I was able to do it finally with very patient help from Will Shortz. Then I asked Richard Rogan, current crossword editor of The (other) Times, to allow me to do another on the same theme and same day and he kindly agreed. I think having puzzles in both Times on the same day is a first.
By the way, I've never read any of the Harry Potter books or seen any of the movies — they are surely great of their kind, but not my thing.
(Answers to clues cited: DON JUAN IN HELL, and RECORDING ANGEL = R + anagram of CAN GO IN LEDGER)
I wish I had a great story about how I came up with this theme while coming up to bat at home plate, gritting my teeth and staring down the pitcher, but I was never very good at baseball. Scared of the ball, really! Ultimate and soccer are my team sports of choice.
No, the "go down swinging" idea just popped into my mind while sitting in the car in a grocery store parking lot. I came up with some synonyms for "strike" and fleshed out the list of theme phrases using XWord Info on my phone. I think the "go down swinging" revealer is the nifty part since it summarizes the theme two ways--by referring to the three strikes and you're out, and how the answers visually "go down" the puzzle. Perhaps solvers will have a pleasant a-ha moment at the end.
When I got home and laid out the puzzle, I paid special attention to getting good entries in the six long slots (four down, two across). Jeff's word list makes this work so much more interesting, but I still get lucky once in a while and come up with something that's not found there (PRE-ALGEBRA).
One final note of interest is that my original 55-Across/Down was BARF/BRA. My playful "gag me with a spoon" clue was not enough to allow this entry to pass the breakfast test.
My pal Kevan Choset told me this joke a few years ago so I decided to turn it into a puzzle. I bet he's super mad at me right now. Hopefully he's not reading this post.
It wasn't that easy to get this quip to fit. I had probably a dozen different versions of it, varying the "connecting" words and the tense of it. JACQUESCOUSTEAU was always going to be a 15, but the rest required a lot of massaging.
It is a humbling honor to make my debut today. For the past 15 years, I've been regularly traveling to Long Island to visit my in-laws. The mornings always begin with delicious bagels and a copy of the NYT puzzle for everyone. It's not a competitive affair . . . but let's just say you don't want to be the last person to complete the puzzle. I came home after Thanksgiving a couple of years ago and decided to give constructing a try. My mother-in-law remains one of my indispensable test solvers of new puzzles.
The inspiration for this puzzle came from a playdate my son was having. I overheard, "Jamaica me crazy!" which got me wondering. I printed out a list of countries and capitals, and put on my pun hat. I came up with more than could fit in this puzzle, such as "DO A ONE HAITI," "ACOUSTIC QATAR," and "Suggestion for a Mexican who can't stand the heat? - NORWAY JOSE." I still have the list of countries, and pull it out on long drives to quiz my kids on international geography. I'm sure by now I've completely squelched any desire they may have had to see the world.
One area I need to work on is gauging puzzle difficulty. I was surprised to see this puzzle pegged for a Thursday. When it was, I was expecting my clues to be made more difficult. Instead, they were made clearer/easier. For example, specific geographic hints were added to the themed clues. (e.g. The original clue was "Request for clean up in the Gulf.") Obscure allusions to the actual name of the "Theme from Rocky" and Henny Youngman's trademark one-liner were replaced with universally-understood references. Clearly, I owe flowers and a note of apology to my mother-in-law.
Pretty typical Friday fare with a pretty typical back story. I put in a couple of long seed entries (CHARM OFFENSIVE and FRANZ FERDINAND) and went from there. I was happy to find HA-HA FUNNY (making its debut), and I was relieved to find Lindsey VONN — she saved me in the SW corner.
I'm also glad my clue for HANOI survived. When I first learned about recursive algorithms The Tower of Hanoi was the example problem, and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. After seeing it, I wrote a computer program to solve it and kicked it off with 100 discs, wondering how long it would take. It ran for four days straight on my parents' Power Mac before I killed it. I later learned that if I would have only waited like 600 billion more days I would have seen it finish.