I made this puzzle about two years ago. It's actually a rewrite; initially, I had a couple answers (FLASH ART, AN ITEM) that Will and Joel rightly nixed, all of which led to the version you see today. As a big fantasy sports fan, I was happy to include the grid-spanning FANTASY BASEBALL, as well as some other fun fill.
Hope this puzzle is a pleasant lead-in to a wonderful long weekend!
I'm very excited to show off my second ever New York Times crossword puzzle, just over one year from my first one. Perhaps I will make this an annual tradition. It has been pointed out to me that I am the first female constructor to write a Saturday puzzle since 2014. For those who are excited because a female constructor surely means fewer sports references... sorry. I was really excited when I got "AL East" in there as an atonement for including "ALers" last time, which I am well aware is a term that has been used in the real world by pretty much zero real baseball fans, of which I am very much one. Additionally, as an Oakland resident, my clue for 32-across was also sports related (and probably too hard): "Curry, for one."
The seeds for this one were FOOD COMA and BABY BUMP (which morphed into BABY MAMA when I decided that ESPNS was too much of a stretch) in the northwest and southeast and ALONE TIME (which would have been a debut at the time I submitted) and I CAN'T EVEN in the northeast and southwest, with I CAN'T EVEN probably being my favorite thing in the grid. I have mixed feelings about BABY MAMA, since, as a phrase, it reduces women down to pregnancy vessels, but I'm happy to see it clued with the Tina Fey/Amy Poehler movie, since they are both awesome (even if the movie wasn't that great).
After the seeds, I was pretty happy that the middle section gluing the four corners turned out some nice entries as well. I hadn't attempted a grid quite this open in the middle before, and was delighted to get the aforementioned sports entries, as well as ROT GUT and PEN NAME to fall out. And I hope I gave at least one person an ear worm with 36-across.
Finally, as I wrote the puzzle last fall, my clue for 46-across was obviously different. (I believe I referenced the Curious George authors.) But I'm pretty excited that Will went the Star Wars route here. Rey is easily my favorite of the new characters.
As the first person ever to publish an "add-a-sound" theme puzzle in the NYT, I want to take this chance to thank...
You mean this gimmick isn't entirely novel?
Um, I hope you liked it. The "add-a-SHUN" idea came to me when I heard the phrase "tricky diction" on the radio. I thought for sure it was a play on "Tricky Dick," a political nickname familiar to those in my age cohort. It wasn't. So I figured someone needed to run with the idea.
My favorite parts of the grid are the northeast and southwest corners. All that open real estate looks nice.
I still need to get better at writing clues. Only 40% of the clues (55 of the 138) are entirely mine. Another 21 (or 15%) are essentially what I submitted, but with slight changes to diction or syntax — hopefully mostly for space constraints and not for content. That means 64 of the clues (45%!) come from Will and Joel (and maybe others from the testing process).
JILL: I'm excited to see this puzzle make it to the page after a few years in the queue. Jeff and I painted ourselves into a corner by choosing a theme that could only reasonably run on a single day out of the year, and only in the Monday-Thursdayspan. Thursday, July 4, 2013 was the most recent eligible date until today. Hello, old friend!
This theme popped up while we traveling, as our themes usually do. I'll be reading a book or daydreaming, and Jeff will turn to me and say, "You know, we haven't come up with any good crossword ideas in a while," and then I'll propose approximately two dozen terrible ideas that Jeff very politely pretends to consider, usually phrased as, "Hmm, interesting. Let's put it on the list." In keeping with the Infinite Monkey Theorem, I eventually land on a theme that makes Jeff's eyes light up. This particular idea came a little sooner than most, thank goodness. Turning an ordinal number into a fraction seemed like the kind of nerdy yet accessible theme that makes for a straight-over-the-plate weekday grid.
Although I'm pleased with how the grid turned out, I think we both wish that we could have found another option for the 'L' themer. L-DOPA isn't the freshest. Regardless, it was a fun collaboration. Stay tuned for our next joint project, due in less than a month. Hint: it's not a crossword.
JEFF: As usual, the collaborations between my wife and me are one part inspiration, one part genius. She's responsible for both parts, so I ... well, I smell reasonably inoffensive. Most of the time.
The idea for this puzzle came when my MacBook word-of-the-day screensaver featured the term ex post facto, which I immediately saw in terms of theme possibilities. How many other entries could I find that start with a letter written phonetically? It probably wasn't very fruitful because I somehow zeroed in on the phrase "X marks the spot" instead, and saw that if I used EX, MARX and DESPOT I could, with a little poetic license, mimic that phrase.
Originally 29-Across was MARXBROTHERS, and the reveal was PIRATEBOOTY. Upon reflection I changed that to TREASUREMAP, which seemed to be more apt. After filling the grid I noticed that the two long downs each crossed at only one theme entry, which gave me some flexibility to relate them to the theme as well. OLDSEADOG crossed nicely at the S in DESPOT, however, I had trouble finding anything that would work with the MARX BROS. With the option of going to MARXANDLENIN available, I saw that the perfectly synonymous BUCCANEER did the trick. The addition of ISLE was serendipitous, and ARRR was deliberate (I was hoping for a September 19th publish date).
Thanks to Will and Joel, who excised a couple of "uglies" (my term) in the west and lower Mississippi, and greatly improved on my clueing.
I hope you enjoy the wordplay, whatever level of solver you ARRR!
I loved the idea of making a puzzle where all of the four letter words were the combination of two two-letter US state abbreviations. Of the 50 states, there are 37 that are capable of combining with other states to form words. (Sorry West Virginia and New Mexico!) Thus I could form a maximum of 18 words using the 36 of the 37 state abbreviations. (Sorry Kentucky!) Then I had to find a way to fit them all into the grid. After many iterations (I have 23 different named versions of this puzzle in Crossword Compiler, each one of which probably went through ten iterations), I found that stacking three of the theme answers on top of each other was the best way to fit everything in.
In my submitted grid, each four-letter word had an additional bracketed clue, such as for my clue for 5 Down: Lots [6/11], the answer of which is MANY. These bracketed clues corresponded to when the states were admitted to the union (6th for MA, 11th for NY), and I felt they'd help alert the solvers that something different was going on and help solvers track down the theme answers once they finished.
Without them, alas, I imagine the puzzle will play like a not-very-well-filled themeless puzzle for anyone who doesn't spend the time to seek out all of the states, but hopefully the revealer still serves as a nice "a-ha" moment. As always, I hope you enjoyed the solving experience and that the payoff was worth the effort!
JOEL: Andrea (the "Queen of Mondays") and I know each other from LA Scrabble before she moved to NoCal. At the California Open in SF in late 2014 she was mentioning to me that despite her many published puzzles, she wouldn't know how to even begin constructing a rebus. Somehow the idea of "TSA" came up and I told her I'd take a stab at doing a grid.
I sent her about 30 potential theme answers, of which she told me which ones she really liked (PATSAJAK, MORTSAHL, LIGHTSABER, YOUDONTSAY, WARTSANDALL, THATSAMORE). I liked "CROSS_CHECK" for the reveal, and she preferred "CHECKPOINTS". I deferred, and in retrospect, I think that was the better choice. We obviously couldn't get in everything we wanted (sorry, Pat), but I tried to get in most. We worked on the fill and cluing over a few dozen emails.
I have never had a puzzle published before (other than some I did for a throw-away years ago) and so I am thrilled to be able to check this off my bucket list. And in the NYT to boot! (Sort of like debuting on Broadway!) Only need about 50 more to catch up to Andrea...
ACME: Joel is a brilliant Scrabble player, a natural puzzle constructor, and a fun collaborator. It's his debut ... and a mini-one for me as I've never even been a part of a rebus. I loved this, WARTSANDALL! It's also my first puzzle in the NYT this year, and a Thursday no less! Wha?!
In re-solving it 18 months later, I recognized almost nothing, so it's been heavily edited or I've lost my memory. Perhaps a bit of both!
(Actually I found the original submission... grid totally intact, 1/3 of clues edited. I believe I came up with the original TSA for the rebus. Joel dug up at least 30 theme possibilities, which we whittled down to 8 and added the reveal. Joel built the grid where we put in 8s where the rebuses were to go.)
During the many iterations to smooth out the fill, we added the square in the upper NE and lower SW, and that did wonders.
Touches that mean something to me personally include: ELYSE (which is my sister's name), MORTSAHL, a role model when I began my career as a topical quasi-political standup back in the day (he got his start and is still going strong here in SF), and the ATTITUDE / Miley Cyrus clue that we didn't write, but I totally approve of!
I really don't have noteworthy to say about the puzzle. The only thing I remember is that I noticed BLACK FRIDAY and CYBER MONDAY had the same number of letters and I thought it would be cool to start and end a puzzle with those. I guess technically the puzzle has a mini-theme, but nothing else in the puzzle relates to those terms, so the rest of the puzzle is basically themeless.
A few notes that comes to mind:
Glad most of my clues survived. A few that Will/Joel changed:
The revealer definitely came first in this one, followed by the theme entries. The trick was to find good theme entries without repeating the same middle O-letter word, but other than that, the whole thing came together pretty quickly.
Favorite non-theme entry for me is BLASTZONE, though I just noticed that there's a smattering of other somewhat military/violent vocab around the puzzle, with GIJOE / STAB / GORE / GASES / ONWATCH / REDS / EMBED / BULLET /SARGE — not intentional!
I sometimes worry that another constructor will beat me to print with the same theme idea. That happened here, when Jeff Chen published "Break a Leg" with the CrosSynergy syndicate last October (which was several months after this puzzle had been accepted). Jeff's theme entries all use leg bones, making his theme tighter than mine; the bones in my puzzle are from all over the place. Still, the ideas here are very much the same. I prefer to think of this as a case of "great minds thinking alike." Or more accurately, "feeble mind submitted first but great mind did it better."
I wasn't sure whether this would be a Tuesday or Wednesday theme when I clued it, so maybe that explains why just 30 of my clues (38%) made the final cut. Another 16 clues (21%) were modified slightly, meaning 32 (41%) clues in the puzzle are one for which I cannot take credit. Very likely, the ones solvers like best are from that last group.
This puzzle has a somewhat circuitous history. The idea came from a text conversation with my little sister (presented with her permission). I thought that this sort of joke had potential for a Sunday puzzle (which could be titled "DO I HAVE TO SPELL IT OUT FOR YOU?"), so I started compiling a list of abbreviations that were also words in their own right.
By the time I had done a pretty exhaustive search of abbreviations, I did not have quite enough possible theme entries to make a whole Sunday puzzle because there were not enough abbreviations that were spelled out letter by letter (like how ACT is actually pronounced "ay-see-tea"). However, there were many more abbreviations that were not spelled out letter-by-letter (like "sing." for "singular" or "in." for inch), so I ended up switching to that type of abbreviation to make the Sunday "THE SHORT FORM," which appeared a little less than a year ago.
I didn't want to waste the few spelled-out abbreviations I had found, though, and that's where today's puzzle comes from. So, a big thank-you to Sammie for taking the ACT and sparking two entire crossword themes for me!
P.S. If any of my other sisters are reading this, know that it was Sammie who entered her name into my phone that way.
This theme works because the eight letters in PHONETIC are all different and the eight code words spelling out PHONETIC can be placed symmetrically in the grid.
I also had fun writing some of the clues, especially the T.S. Eliot quip.
Will definitely saved me on this one. I sent him two very different versions — one with the minitheme that you see here, and one with a ton of examplars like this, but with unionized still far and away the best. He wisely decided to stick with what you see, and I hope everyone liked it!
As I often do, a video of Dr.Fill solving today's puzzle. It has no trouble with it, which isn't a total surprise because all of the words in the puzzle are obviously in my database.
Speaking of which, I've been working on both Dr.Fill and the my word list recently, trying to use some additional techniques from machine learning to improve performance on both sides. The word list is definitely better, which should help Dr.Fill as well, since one of its criteria when it's a bit confused is just trying to guess how good any specific fill is from a crossword perspective. The machine learning stuff on clue analysis is a bit more complicated, and I can't tell yet if it's going to be effective or not. I've got lots of time to get ready to challenge the humans next spring at Stamford, though!
See that black square at the end of 46-Across? I hate that square. It and its northeastern counterpart add 6 three-letter words to the puzzle. I had a good fill in the northeast without it but just didn't like the fill I came up with in the southwest. So I sat on the puzzle for a long time--long enough that I doubt QUINOA is trendy any more--hoping the constructing elves would sneak in one night and fix it for me. Alas, they never came so I conceded defeat and added the blasted black square.
I would have greatly preferred a cheater square at the first letter of CHASMS,but ??SMS is not really going anywhere. This is one of those instances that makes me think cheater squares don't deserve such an ugly name. My noncheater was much more perfidious. Oh well, hope you enjoyed all the squares you got to fill in.
Talk about beginner's luck! This was the very first puzzle I ever constructed or submitted, anywhere, and I thought I'd swing for the fences and go straight for the Sunday NYT. Why not, right? I was more than pleasantly surprised, a few months later, to have it accepted! Having since had two subsequent puzzles rejected (followed by a less-than-stellar performance at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament), I'm now suitably humbled, and fear that I might be a one-shot wonder at this. But I do plan to keep swinging!
When I first got the idea for DOUBLE FEATURES and asked Will some pretty naïve questions about how to turn it into a NYT-worthy puzzle, he very helpfully referred me to cruciverb.com. I was amazed how much free advice was out there, much of it from Nancy Salomon who, it turns out, likes to mentor first-time constructors. I contacted Nancy, and she gave me some excellent pointers. With respect to the specific theme, however, she felt she was not the best arbiter of popular movies, so she referred me to Jeff Chen.
Jeff proved to be a tough sounding board, but incredibly generous and patient. While the themers, grid, fill, and clues (pre Will's expert editing, anyway) were ultimately all mine, Jeff guided me through each step of the proper, systematic way to construct a puzzle. He was so thoughtful and instructive, particularly in the way he critiqued some of my early attempts, that I offered him co-authorship credit, which he graciously declined.
So thanks again to Nancy and Jeff, and I hope you enjoy this puzzle about one of my (other) favorite pastimes.
Delighted to be making my Monday NYT debut! Among this puzzle's original clues: "Driving range?" for ROADWAY, "Event for those who know the ropes?" for REGATTA, and "Where many shots land" for BARS. Apologies to those who thought the Seinfeld character was named "Neuman" and wrote "DUI" at 61-Down. (Since partial phrases longer than five letters are generally frowned upon in crosswords, I chose not to clue 63-Across as "I feel like a ___!")
Not long ago I rewatched Baz Luhrmann's take on "Romeo + Juliet" starring a very young Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. Set in a fictitious but thoroughly modern "Verona Beach," the movie is true-ish to Shakespeare with the Montagues and Capulets at war, swords and knives replaced with a lot of guns, and of course "a pair of star-cross'd lovers." A fun movie if you haven't seen it.
It made me wonder though if we'd ever seen star-crossed lovers crossed up in a crossword puzzle. This was all the more interesting since I noticed that STAR CROSSED LOVE is 15 letters long. If I ran this phrase across the middle of a puzzle, could I find sets of star-crossed lovers to go in each of the four corners?
Let me tell you, there are a lot of options! John Lennon and Yoko Ono would do. But then so would Clark Kent and Lois Lane. Or Janet Leigh and Spencer Tracy. There's also Burns-Allen, Cash-Carter, Geller-Green and Butler-O'Hara!
The trick was to find couples who were real star-crossed lovers, whose last names could be crossed, and hopefully who could be set up symmetrically in a grid. BURTON-TAYLOR fit the bill, and it just so happens that their names fit symmetrically right across from BEATTY-BENING. (Although in fairness Burton-Taylor was a famously rocky relationship while Beatty-Bening have been together for years.)
BOGART-BACALL was another obvious choice. But here the symmetry failed me. In the original version of this puzzle, I did have a solution: I used Clyde BARROW and Bonnie PARKER in perfect symmetry across from BOGART-BACALL.
The problem of course is that all of the others are actors and actresses who are/were together on and off the screen. Bonnie and Clyde were real-live people who have been portrayed in the movies, but it just wasn't consistent with the rest of the theme. So we went with PITT-JOLIE instead, damn the symmetry. And so far, damn the "star-cross'd"-ness. They're still together, right?
I am trying something different with this Thursday puzzle. Usually, I start with a grid gimmick, and then I identify theme answers that work with that specific gimmick. Here, I started with a theme category, and then I found different gimmicks to express theme answers that fit the specific category. I'm hoping this results in a fun solving experience in the sense that uncovering one gimmick doesn't necessarily give the whole game away. It was fortunate that each gimmick turned out to use exactly two entries, as this gives the puzzle a slightly more uniform feel than otherwise.
I had a lot of fun with this construction method. I hope you enjoy the results!
We are delighted with the publication of our second collaborative quad stack crossword for the New York Times [two others have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, and others may be found at this site, including the just posted "Eight Across." Reviewing our files, we find no less than fifteen separate versions, all generated, modified, and optimized over an intense week-long period in July 2014 that in turn followed a painstaking multi-month process to identify several potential seed quads.
To the best of our knowledge, this is the first published quad stack that contains three grid-spanning vertical entries of length 16 that are symmetrically situated and cross the central quad. To discover GREAT_BARRIER_REEF, MAKING_AN_ENTRANCE, and TEN_THOUSAND_YEARS required much tenacity, intuition, and no small modicum of good luck. Note that the adjective TEN in the third of these 16-letter entries could just as well have been ONE, TWO or SIX, and we did indeed debate their relative merits and completed appropriate alternative grids. We settled on TEN because it was tied to a specific definition [Banzai], whereas the others seemed somewhat more arbitrary ("green-paintish," in constructor parlance).
As for the four 15-letter horizontal entries comprising the quad, AMASSED_A_FORTUNE and HURRICANE_SEASON are also New York Times debuts, whereas AFRICAN_ELEPHANT previously appeared in themeless puzzles by Byron White and Patrick Berry and the only Shortz-era mention of STICKS_AND_STONES was in a Monday (themed) crossword by Peter Gordon.
Intermediate drafts of this puzzle had SANAA (Yemen's capital) in column 7 and OF_ELD (a not entirely desirable partial) in column 9; this intersected the present tense AMASSES_A_FORTUNE. Not satisfied, we changed to past tense (S to D), and then stumbled across DANAIDES, which had been used twice by Farrar and once by Maleska, but not during the Shortz era. Nevertheless, as the link amply demonstrates, we convinced ourselves that this entry derived from Greek mythology would still be an apt late-week puzzle word, and were thrilled to note that SEINFELD could now be placed symmetrically.
This is my second puzzle in the NYT. The first was a Monday puzzle over a year ago.
I started constructing this puzzle after I got a super nice and encouraging rejection letter from Will Shortz on a previous themeless submission. Jeff Chen, with whom I had collaborated on a different puzzle, was willing to help, and reviewed many different versions of this puzzle. (Thanks, Jeff!)
I tried to make the longer answers interesting while keeping the undesirable fill to a minimum. Hope it worked.
Originally, I'd thought this puzzle would be slated for a Friday, but I am happy to see it run on a Saturday.
The inspiration for this puzzle was a dinner with other young constructors at the ACPT. A whole group of us went out to an Italian restaurant in Stamford (called Zazu, which inspired us all to try constructing mini puzzles with ZAZA at 1-Across after our meal) one night and then to a Mexican restaurant the next night (whose name was regrettably much less interesting from a crossword constructor's standpoint). We had a lot of fun talking shop and tossing around crossword ideas on the spot! I'm quite sure I'm forgetting some names, but I know the group included Kevin Der, Sam Ezersky, Joel Fagliano, Neville Fogarty, Josh Knapp, Natan Last, Kyle Mahowald, and Finn Vigeland. There wasn't a single person at the table whose work I don't consistently admire, so it was truly an honor to be included!
Anyway, I believe it was Natan who brought up the idea of puzzles themed around games. As a group, we recalled that Frogger, Pac-Man, Clue, and Monopoly puzzles had already been done. At the time, none of us could think of any games that hadn't been done and that might lend themselves well to puzzles. Nonetheless, the idea stuck in the back of my head, and I continued to think about other possibilities throughout the tournament. Finally, on the journey from Stamford to Stanford, the idea of doing a Space Invaders puzzle suddenly came to me! I also decided on the spot that the puzzle would be a Sunday rather than a daily. When I got back to my dorm room, I probably should've focused on making up all the schoolwork I'd missed while at the ACPT. But I felt inspired, so I set to work on the puzzle instead! (The work did eventually get done, of course.)
Right off the bat, I knew I wanted to represent the aliens as ETs, though I wasn't sure how many to include or even how they would work thematically. I tried several other arrangements before settling on the one you see. My most compelling alternative was having four ETs in each row, but I didn't like how short all the ET entries would have to be (since the grid is only 21 columns wide). I also wasn't finding enough ET entries that were legit with or without the ET using any other arrangement.
Next came the MOTHERSHIP at the top. For the longest time I was convinced it wasn't going to work as I experimented with block pattern after block pattern! I tried having the M where the P was and even having the word read counterclockwise. Then somehow, by a stroke of luck (which I partially credit to having happened to have added SKI BOOT to my word list just a few months earlier), I found this solution. I was relieved to see that the surrounding fill in the upper center wasn't a complete disaster. Next came the safe zones at the bottom. I was originally shooting for three such zones, but that just wasn't working—I didn't want any "extraneous" blocks to mess up the visual and I also wanted to squeeze in the revealer SPACE INVADERS. I was initially distressed about the unchecked squares, but once I realized that SAFE would fit into them, they became an asset in my book! I then stuck in the CANNON and started filling.
The LASER was actually a complete coincidence. One of the fills I was looking at happened to include PRESALE. Looking more closely at the fill, I was ecstatic to notice that it contained LASER backwards! So that fill ended up being the keeper for the upper left. Another challenge was that the grid originally had 142 words. Knowing that Will's word limit is 140 and that he prefers even lower word counts, I knocked out a pair of blocks in the second-to-bottom row of the grid. As a result, I was no longer able to keep other ETs out of the fill (and the short fill got a bit yucky in places—I'm looking at you, EEE, SSR, and RET!), but I figured these were small prices to pay for the awesome ROCKET FUEL. Getting the semithematic ROCKET FUEL and AIRPORT BAR to fit symmetrically in the lower part of the grid was yet another lucky coincidence!
The hardest part for me was the middle right. I really, really didn't want to get stuck with EARED SEALS at 45-Down, especially since I already had the obscurish (to me, at least) ALGREN in that area and several other weaker entries. I lowered the minimum score in my word list as far as I could, and all of the sudden, I hit upon a fill with ELDERBERRY! The reason it wasn't showing up before was A GUT, which I'd given a really low score for being a partial that didn't feel particularly in-the-language. I mean, no one my age ever says "bust a gut." It's always LOL, LMAO, Hahaha, or even Bahaha (that one's for you, Sam Ezersky!) these days. In any case, this reminded me of the value of not deleting anything from your word list, because you never know when it might rescue you from the dreaded EARED SEALS.
Despite all the trouble I had with this one, the construction process proceeded quite rapidly, and I was soon ready to work on the clues. For me, the biggest cluing challenge was the ET entries. I wasn't sure whether I should, say, clue both PRETEEN and PREEN or just one of the two. I ultimately decided to clue only PREEN so as to get the idea of SPACE INVADERS across as cleanly as possible. Will and Joel changed more of my clues than usual this time, which I totally don't blame them for, especially since I'm much more used to writing clues targeted at Friday/Saturday audiences than at Sunday ones. I was disappointed to see "Center of the high school pot scene?" for ART ROOM disappear, but my "Place to get drunk before getting high?" for AIRPORT BAR fortunately made the cut!
Well, I could ramble on for hours about any crossword puzzle, but I'll stop boring you now. I would like to mention, though, that I realized from the get-go that this puzzle would be quite polarizing. In other words, solvers were either going to know the game and get the theme or not know the game and be confused. I also realized that some of the visuals were a little off in terms of size when compared to those in the original game. For these reasons, I tried to insert as much liveliness into the nonthematic fill as I could so that there'd hopefully be something for everyone!
With that, I hope you enjoy my puzzle!
I built the first grid for a HEY JOE puzzle in August 2011. The theme answers I used at the time had some issues:
So I did what I've done with about 50 other grids I've built over the years … I let the grid sit on my hard disk without clues and never finished it.
I ran the HEY JOE idea by Brad Wilber and asked him if he could figure out how to fix it. Brad suggested coming up with theme answers based on Joe's who aren't real people, such as Joe Blow, Joe Boxer, Joe Camel, Joe Cool, Joe Mamma, Joe Six-Pack, etc. I didn't like losing Joe Cocker and Joe Montana, but I liked Brad's idea, so I went with it.
Brad and I started off collaborating on this puzzle, but then ended up not because he got too busy. I'm glad I get to give him partial credit here. Thanks Brad for your help!
A bunch of "Estee" phrases — 111 letters of interlocking theme material but not the most riveting theme. I'm happy with the way this puzzle turned out, but to tell you the truth I would rather write about my recent ping pong showdown with Will Shortz:
I happened to find myself in Pleasantville recently (the city, not the state of mind), running an errand for the ACPT. Peter A. Collins and I were supposed to pick some things up from Will Shortz's house and schlep them to the tournament site in Stamford, CT . We got there early — you don't want to keep Will waiting if you are a puzzle constructor — and he told us most of the stuff was at his Ping Pong Palace — aka the Westchester Table Tennis Center. When we got there he brought out these high powered inverted dimple ping pong paddles (I was hoping for the old sandpaper surfaced ones myself) and invited us to rally with him!
Will has played ping pong 1000 or so days in a row now he says, but I am not a total slouch at the game myself. I grew up with a table in my basement and I've twice won ping pong tournaments on cruise ships — for my last "gold medal" I had to beat a crafty 75 year old Asian woman in the finals and she was sporting the dreaded penholder grip! I'm a year younger than Will and my arm span is WAY longer — I'd been dreaming of this showdown for years....
Part of my strategy (in addition to trick serves and throwing out distracting questions about anagrams) was to wear Will down by hitting a few wild shots off the table and forcing him to run them down, hopefully having to reach under davenports and such to retrieve them. This was working perfectly, sort of — I lost the first 20 or so points but he was starting to look a bit exasperated. At one point after retrieving one of my errant shots I thought I saw him clutch at his lower back a bit like I might have aggravated an old injury. Then, out of the blue, he came up with a feeble excuse about the crossword tournament starting soon and having to drive there and we had to stop the match! Here is a video excerpt, mercifully compressed to 13 seconds.
I have two pieces of advice if you are thinking you would like to play Will Shortz in ping pong. First, keep your favorite paddle in your back pocket any time you are within shouting distance of him, because you never know when you will be pressed into service to help him in his quest to enter the Guinness Book for the most consecutive days of table tennis. Secondly, don't play him for money.
FINN: After Natan was abroad for a semester, I had the good fortune of taking over the reins at J.A.S.A. (the Jewish Association Serving the Aging). When Natan returned, we decided to co-teach the class, and we have a blast every Sunday with our amazing students. It really doesn't feel like teaching but more a seamless collaboration between eight people. There are a lot of laughs as we try out boundary-pushing entries or draft clues we know Will would never accept. I'm pretty sure this concept originated when we were stuck on brainstorming themes, and I just drew a circle on the chalkboard, hoping it would lead somewhere. For no particular reason, I drew more circles, and a theme was born.
NATAN: Co-teaching the JASA class with Finn is pretty lovely, and instructive besides. I'd never spelled nor smelled PATCHOULI, but love its letters. I did a quick run-through of modern dating as we discussed "ARE You The One?", a matchmaking reality show my friends and I love for honestly no good reason. As a class, we agree that bonus theme material is always great to shoehorn in provided it doesn't look too forced, and I think all the extra slots we found made the final cut. The class is a lot cleverer than I am; our first drafts at cluing often read like cryptics (mine read like TV Guide), so I'm glad to see a lot the double clues and references shine through, even on a Wednesday. Hope you like it!
Like most crossword constructors, I am always looking for a way to break a word in two or add or subtract one or more letters from a word or phrase to get something new. I started with the idea of "LOST ART" and had a great time searching for words that could be altered by the removal of the letters ART.
It's particularly satisfying — and hopefully fun for the solver — when the altered words bear so little resemblance to the originals, e.g. CAR THIEF becomes CHIEF, MARTINIS becomes MINIS, THE ARTIST becomes THEIST. Squeezing in eight symmetrical themers plus a reveal without compromising the fill was a challenge. I was happy to get in "TAKE THAT" and "FEEL FREE."
Ideally, the revealing phrase would come at the end of the puzzle, i.e. the Southeast corner, but with a seven-letter reveal, it fit better in the center.
Since trying themeless puzzles, I've gotten really comfortable with rejection! Here I took a step toward simplicity, kept my two 15-letter seeds well separated, and tried to keep the liabilities to 0-2. It was sent in December 2014 and accepted in May 2015.
Thanks to Jeff Chen for his feedback on this grid! I don't know how you find the time to answer your emails, but you're a huge encouragement to new constructors!
I'm delighted to make my crossword debut today! I'm 28 and originally from the Boston area, though I now live in California where I am pursuing a mathematics PhD at the University of California, Davis. Besides math and crossword puzzles, I am passionate about self-supported bicycle touring, i.e. traveling hundreds and thousands of miles on a bike with all my camping gear and other supplies. Apparently stubbornness is the common theme of all my favorite activites.
The first few puzzles I created were acrostics in the style of the biweekly Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon puzzles in the Sunday Times. These were my favorites growing up, and it's possible I've done (or attempted) every single one since they became a feature in 1999. Unfortunately for me, but fortunately for the world, Cox and Rathvon have a monopoly on producing these for the Times.
To help me construct these acrostics, I wrote a simple computer program to keep track of which letters from the quote I had used, and to number them in the answers below. This piqued my interest in using computers as a tool for crossword constructing in general. After a few efforts at making crosswords by hand, I started writing programs to scrape text from the Internet to create word lists, and to help me search for words and phrases that fit with a partially filled grid.
I soon discovered that most constructors use commercial software such as Crossword Compiler and Cruciverbalist to make puzzles, but I've steered clear of these for three reasons: first, I enjoy messing around with computers; second, I have a graduate student's income; and third and most importantly, I'm a huge believer in the Free Software and Open Source Software movements. (I would guess I'm the only constructor to typeset my crossword submissions using LaTeX!) In some respects I am probably making things harder for myself by not using the commercial software, but I think it also creates an opportunity to come up with something novel.
My first two submissions to the Times were rejected. One of the issues with those puzzles was that they had too many short words--there were isolated corners and "boxes" of short words on the sides, with only a few long words running in between. So for this puzzle I set out to make as open a layout as I could. I started with the three long acrosses and the center down entry, and then looked for a long down to run into each corner. At this point the letter combinations pretty much forced the placement of the rest of the black squares.
Will and Joel enormously improved this puzzle by rewriting a substantial portion of the clues. In the eight or nine months since I submitted this puzzle, I've gotten a little better at coming up with good clues, but I still find it very difficult and time-consuming. I actually have six completed grids right now that I'm totally happy with, but which are still missing clues.
I was first introduced to crossword puzzles in college when my friends and I would attempt to solve the NYTimes Sunday puzzle collaboratively, lingering over Sunday brunch in the dining hall, procrastinating instead of studying.
A decade later, by then fully accustomed to spending my Sundays with the NYTimes, I had this great idea (IMHO) for an essay that would have been perfect (IMHO) for the "Hers" column that ran weekly on the very last page of the NYTimes Magazine. But I knew that being published in the Magazine was a ridiculous fantasy, so I didn't even write the essay, let alone submit it. Well, it turns out that this dream actually did come true — I just had a few of the details wrong. I had imagined the wrong genre, and I was off by one page! (I'm excited — can you tell?)
But I will KEEP IT TOGETHER.
As I composed this puzzle, I set certain constraints on myself. First, I absolutely wanted to keep FITBITS and NITWITS. I liked the way their pairs of ITs were so tight, they were fun words, and FITBITS hadn't been used yet. They did, however, force pairs of longer theme answers to be only one row apart, with the IT locked in a fixed location within the longer words.
Also, I didn't want IT ever to be "it", except in the reveal. So the shorter answers that crossed the long theme answers couldn't be, for example, GOTIT or ITSME. That ruled out a whole lot of options.
I hope that these touches added some elegance to the puzzle, and perhaps some fun to the solving process. I am certainly delighted to have spent a Sunday morning with you, and I hope that you have enjoyed the company!