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Puzzles for July, 2017
with constructor comments

View these same grids with comments from:
Constructor (27)Jeff Chen (31)Jim Horne (2)Hide comments
Sat 7/1/2017
SOBAPLASTICBAG
THEMLISTENHERE
EDNAITHINKICAN
RESTEARNSANAME
EATITFATEAMIS
OREATOMSUTES
SMITHERSBRO
ENVIEDSEGWAY
CNNMATINEES
CHAIMILANRAO
POEMCANTGROHL
ROLEMODELSELSA
OPERASERIAHOUR
SENATERACEAGRI
TRASHTALKSBYES

With this themeless, I will admit that overambition might have gotten the better of me—but not by much IMO!

In an effort to go big, I set out to fill a dreaded quad stack and its symmetrical neighbor. If I remember correctly (it's been two years since construction, so give my cortex a break), I think I chose to put these quad stacks in the NE/SW, because, in my constructing experience, I've had the most difficulty filling wide open areas in those sections. In my mind, if I were to force many of the constraints to those sections and come out alive without too many blah entries, I might give myself a fighting chance to cross the finish line and perhaps add some nice entries in the less constrained NW/SE sections.

The central stairstep arrangement of black squares—going diagonally up from left to right—also helped by producing what I call a double coincidence of wants. In this case, those black squares make it so that, for example, the end letter of 6D is also an end letter for 32A, the first letter 37D is also a first letter for 37A, etc.

As for actually filling the grid, I started in the NE by placing I THINK I CAN in the second row, usually the most constrained row in a top stack. The result was bupkis. I then tried it in the third row and got a mostly good fill. EARNS A NAME sounded awkward when compared to the more common "makes a name (for oneself)," but I compromised for the stack. As you can tell from MADERA, CO-SET, and SAES, the other quad stack proved more difficult to fill cleanly. As I predicted before filling, the NW/SE wasn't overly difficult to fill.

At first, the clues looked unfamiliar. "Did Will and the team really rewrite that much?" I thought. In actuality, most of the clues were in my original submission ... except that a lot of the clues in the print version were my second or third picks. "Did I really write a fragrance clue for ARAMIS?! [looks at original submission] Huh! ... apparently, I did."

Overall, I'd rate this puzzle a B+. The grid design proved a bit too ambitious for my skill level at the time. However, I do think I'm getting very close to hitting my personal sweet spot.

Sun 7/2/2017THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD
NBCTVIGORSCRIMZAP
ALLIELANASHAMERICO
YOUREALLYGOTAHOLDONME
SOBERLYXERRANARACE
SEALGALLANTS
ALAABBACTAME
HINTATDRINKFEHLAS
ANDALEYOGIIDOSLIC
SEIKOSMACSEXILEMTA
LETTADAVINYLYAP
ELODSTDANLIE
TAVHANOIENGECHO
CLEELANDPLEAPREVIN
HAHMAINLUSHIONIZE
ELENRATAXCOCPSNOW
DARTSTEELGDS
HALFPIPEEARS
CLAMOREDALIRITCHIE
GOTTOGETYOUINTOMYLIFE
OARSEARLYSKISLOYAL
OTSSKILLTYPEETATS

This started out quite differently, so big thanks to Will and Joel for bringing more cohesion to the theme and solving some of the technical difficulties it presented. I've been a Beatles fan for a long time; I remember putting "I Want to Hold Your Hand" on the mixtape I made for an early crush, and this arrangement of "Blackbird/I Will" is a personal favorite. Hopefully, some of this puzzle's theme answers will leave solvers humming here, there, and everywhere.

For those interested in my other projects, I write a weekly, subscription-based puzzle called "Piece of Cake Crosswords," and I recently announced my upcoming Broadway Puzzlefest, which is an interconnected set of crosswords with a final answer. I also contribute to the American Values Crossword Club and Crosswords With Friends, for those who like lots of pop culture in their puzzles. Of course, nothing compares to the cachet of the New York Times Sunday puzzle. I hope solvers enjoy the ride.

Mon 7/3/2017
JAPANSOLORAND
IRATETWINALOE
LASERGUIDEDBOMB
TBSFOREORATES
AGEDSNIT
FOSBURYFLOPSIP
ASTINRONLANA
ICEDBRIBEAJAR
LANEROEGIANT
SROROASTTURKEY
HEADVATS
SHIELDRICHHAS
HOLLYWOODORBUST
ELSEARLOIONIA
DEANYELLEDGAR

Randy Hartman lives in Escondido, California. He has been constructing crossword puzzles since 1994 and is the author of four crossword puzzle books. Randy is a retired civil engineer who managed water projects in Southern California. In his spare time, he teaches engineering and construction management classes at a university. Randy has been ranked as one of the top college wrestling referees in the country for several years. He has officiated the NCAA Division I national championship seven times. During the winter he travels throughout the United States officiating NCAA wrestling matches.

Tue 7/4/2017
FOILVANSASPCA
UPDOELALRELAX
JAYGATSBYSAUTE
ILLROOSSEEMS
HOEMANET
YOUARENOTALONE
TONERNADALMIR
OKAYSTAINMAXI
MELEPICSPUTON
ELLEMACPHERSON
FLUMENOS
TOILSSEAMTNT
GOUDAWHYBOTHER
EGRETEARLARIA
MASSETHEEJULY

MANGESH: I am from India and stay in Mumbai with my wife Rupali, kids Advait and Eva (named after my favorite crossword answer), and my parents. By profession am an investment banker with degrees in mechanical engineering and MBA Finance. I began solving syndicated LA Times crosswords in Times of India in 1997 to improve my GMAT score. After a dozen years of solving, I moved to construction and (after dozens of rejections) had bylines in NYT, WSJ, LA Times and Games magazine.

Inspiration for this special puzzle was two-fold. First, I wanted to use crosswords to bring people closer, to cross-pollinate ideas. My daughter Eva loves the song Fireworks by Katy Perry which has this phrase FOURTH OF JULY as symbol of achievement and victory. I thought what better day than Fourth of July to celebrate the idea of bringing people closer.

In November 2015, I happened to meet Brendan over coffee, and I bounced off this idea with him. He agreed to play ball. So an Indian and an American decided to come together to make a crossword for the US Independence Day. We thought that was one cool crossword friendship.

We quickly put on our thinking hats online (email and WhatsApp chat) — given the 12 hours time zone difference and around 12k kilometers between us. I came up with the idea to use FOURTH OF JULY with the four theme starters (JAY, YOU, ELL, WHY). Brendan quickly smelled, with ELLE, this idea could be sold. Brendan suggested the theme entries. We traded a few grids with theme entries and realized we had to ditch FOURTH OF and live with JULY. I was green at construction and Brendan could have graduated at Brown in construction :) He took the lead in filling up the grid.

My dream came true the day Will sent the acceptance mail. After years of rejection, that YES was something I really had waited for.

The second inspiration for me, personally, is the pride I take in the Make in India campaign launched by our current Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Making this special puzzle in India for the US was my way of contributing in a small way towards the Make in India campaign. Another cute play on the US-India confluence in the puzzle is that TAJ (the symbol of India) joins with JULY (the revealer answer).

For me, this crossword is special in many more ways. NYT is celebrating its 75th anniversary and I cherish the opportunity to contribute in a small way to this cultural heritage of US. I realized how deep crosswords are ingrained in American culture when I briefly contributed to the Pre Shortzian Puzzle Project. Crosswords are truly culture carriers. Studying them gives you a sneak peek into the culture and society that enjoyed those times.

I dedicate this crossword to my father who celebrates his birthday on July 3. He learned to write the English alphabet with me in my kindergarten. He is a proud father today!

BEQ: I've hung with Mangesh at ACPTs before, where we were both judges. Nice guy, and I was happy to help him make this one.

Wed 7/5/2017
ASCAPSRIUFOS
SHONEOILSROBE
CARTROUBLEBOON
OMNIENSLOADED
TUSSAUDALONG
LIFEONTHERUN
OPTINFRIOONO
LEAPTFAMELUDE
ESCFEMALIPOS
GOONVACATION
STARTENIGMAS
HETEROCDCEASY
ALASFLIGHTRISK
ISNTFINIAIMEE
LADSDEFNESTS

FLIGHT RISK was the seed for this here theme of travel,
From which the other entries did finally unravel.
Among the better candidates that never saw the light of day
Are MARINE LIFE, LIFE COACHING, and LIFE FINDS A WAY.
Finding phrases with names of board games is anything but easy;
How many can you think of that use the word Parcheesi?

Thanks to Will and Joel for looking at a couple of revisions. Special thanks to Tom Yuval for the feedback and support.

Thu 7/6/2017
RSVPSIGHBRAD
UPCSOSLOEURO
MARTINLAWRENCE
ARRSDYEDAFTER
BAETEXTBIPODS
FITESPBONA
ASIANEBAYTPS
BIRDSRIMSTONE
NEOPIBBPYLON
PARAOBIEWE
BISTROKORNDAM
UNTAGGAPEMANY
STEPHENHAWKING
TREETALLONCE
SORTATOMREEL

I have to shout out two indirect inspirations for this puzzle:

-Elizabeth Gorski, the Crossword Nation auteur: it was in one of her Crosswords with Friends puzzles that I first saw the triple-black corner design that you see in the NW and SE here. I was like, "Wait, you can do that?? The universe won't implode??" It's bailed me out many a time when I've had to fit in almost-but-not-quite-grid-spanning theme answers, and it was indispensable for this puzzle. Also, I think it looks pretty.

-Zhouqin (C.C.) Burnikel, the LeBron James of crossword construction: I'm totally biting her style here with these double-stacked long downs (1&2-Down, 33&34-Down).

Hope you dug it.

Fri 7/7/2017
NAILSALONSTRAP
INVIOLATEPOISE
MOONLIGHTINSTA
EUROSEWINGKIT
SKYLABRODEUP
ERINROSERED
VAGUEBOOKSOLE
EDEMAFYIMANSE
RUTALLNBATEAM
BESTBUYGOYA
RIENZITOPCAT
IMITATORSROLO
MADTVNEILSIMON
PROLEENFORCING
SAFERSETPIECES

I wrote this puzzle the day after I saw MOONLIGHT, which instantly became one of my favorite movies. I submitted the puzzle to Will shortly after the film won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture — Drama (and Mahershala ALI was nominated for Best Supporting Actor); I guessed that if and when the puzzle were published, both MOONLIGHT and ALI would get Oscar-related clues.

I'm glad some of my favorite clues made it into the puzzle, including [Where to stick a needle] for SEWINGKIT, [Business meeting?] for NETWORKING, and [Dimensions without planes] for NOFLYZONES. Some of my other favorites were deep-sixed, unfortunately: [Maria Bamford, for one] for COMIC, and [One of four in Mississippi] for TITTLE. I liked the new clues for ENFORCING [Putting teeth into] and for BOT [What may have a strong net effect?].

My original clue for TONGUE was [It may be silver or sharp], which I wasn't particularly attached to. I was surprised to see that the new clue for TONGUE included "Mandingo," especially given the negative associations with the word, and that "Mandinka" seems to be the preferred name for the language and still does the punny work of starting with the same letters as "Mandarin."

POW Sat 7/8/2017
ASSALIBIPROB
DECADESOLDRARE
ADAMSAPPLEOPIE
PERPEPACBER
TRYSTHEADSTAND
BCUPSLOTTA
CROWINGSMARTER
REVILEEYELET
AMENITYSLIDERS
FORESODEON
TURPITUDEGENOA
SLURERRROMA
HALECEILINGFAN
ODESHOVERBOARD
WEDSNEMEATRE

This puzzle has a long story behind it! I was inspired to do a quad stack of 9's after solving this gem from Byron Walden and Brad Wilber in 2013. After tearing my hair out trying to get the lower left to work, I discovered that Byron and Brad made constructing such a themeless look much easier than it actually is: Every stack I was finding had either too many subpar short entries, too few interesting 9-letter entries, or both!

I soon realized that having four top-notch 9-letter entries plus no junk in the surrounding fill was going to be too hard given how unoptimized my word list was at the time, so I decided to shoot for 3/4 top-notch 9-letter entries plus smooth crossers. The magical seed entry turned out to be WINE PRESS, which I picked because a) I think it's a fun entry and b) lots of 4-letter entries end in R, E, and S. If memory serves, this puzzle sat in my "Works in Progress" folder for a long time after I filled the lower left, because I was literally getting nowhere with the upper right.

Fast forward to January 2015. After playing around with the grid for the gazillionth time, I finally found a match for the lower left! I was stoked and quickly sent the puzzle off to Will ... but my hopes were dashed by the rejection email that came a few months later. Will liked the grid and most of the fill but objected to HOTBOXING, a stoner term that roughly translates to "smoking weed in an enclosed space, such as a car."

I saw that getting rid of HOTBOXING would mean completely reworking the upper-right corner, so this puzzle sat around for another year until a random Friday night in college when everyone in my dorm was partying. A bunch of guys were playing beer darts a few doors down, and I remember thinking, "Now there's a killer entry for that upper right!" (You can see why I don't get invited to many parties.) So I threw down BEER DARTS and set to work on the upper right. A few minutes later, the guys down the hall came in, and they were totally pumped that I'd stuck beer darts into a crossword puzzle for The New York Times!

So by the time I was done with the puzzle, I ended up with both an acceptable revision and some serious dorm cred. I hope you enjoy!

Sun 7/9/2017FIRST FOR KNOWLEDGE
ASSUAGESBETCHAAMANA
CHIPMUNKFAILATSOLED
TOXICITYFREEZEACROWD
SECDEETDDAYFENNEL
HOVERERRORFINAGLE
ONAPARSPOOFNEEDY
KARENCHEAPFRILLSSAW
IRANBALEDACIDBELA
ECCEHOMOSPACEXORALS
TRIREMERBIARARAT
BAEFELONIOUSMONKCHE
AFRAIDTOMMADDASH
WISPSKRONOSTEENWOLF
DRIPBEAMABUTSAFAR
YENMIFFBUSTERSSNAKE
RELITNAIVEORKNEY
DONEFORRENEEFROYO
INAFIXNEARLARAFBI
SECURITYFRETLANDOFOZ
CURESISITMEANGELENO
SPELTMETHODSKEWERED

Sound change themes are one of the oldest tricks in the book, of course, but I think they can still be great if executed well. When I thought of FELONIOUSMONK, I just had to write this puzzle. I had a devil of a time coming up with a title — anything that seemed like it was making fun of speech impediments would be unseemly, so I figured the title would have to be just another example of the sound change. I submitted "Oaf of Office," not least because of the implied dig at Trump, but I like "First for Knowledge" better.

Back when I wrote this, BAE had never been in the puzzle, so I wondered if Will would go for it — but I see it's been used twice since then, so I guess it's hit the mainstream.

Mon 7/10/2017
ABETOUCHPSST
MACSIONIAUCLA
ALOHASHIRTPROS
SICEMTREEEVE
SHALOMMEIRTOWER
EARRIOSHRINE
SISINOPEACTED
PAXROMANA
SOSADSPITSACK
ARTSETTICSHE
MIRSPACESTATION
PGATIRERESIN
RAPTWORLDPEACE
AMISANITADIED
SINKNEEDYDRY
Tue 7/11/2017
PASSJDATEATIT
ARTIPINONFINI
PEACHESANDCREAM
ANNAGAIOUSWE
YACHTSACREDCOW
ASHEATVNORA
ROMEOHOARDS
POWERCOUPLE
PERILSAPNEA
ELONDUGBAND
ACTEDCOOLESSIE
THEOAFEOSPEC
BACKGROUNDCHECK
OPTOPLACEICEE
GOSSIDLESPTSD

I tried to remove OPE, but I did not like any of the versions I had in the upper right corner. Quite a few hesitating moments when I filled this grid, including EL CHAPO, who was just recaptured when I made this grid. I did not have circles in my submission.

Wed 7/12/2017
CHEFCHAFEUNUM
LULLRUBINNASA
ARMYUBERDRIVER
PLOPSCLEEVERY
ALBAPIMA
THEPAYPALDICK
REDEYEGUSTELS
EMIRBIGOBOE
KITSHOTMOHAIR
HOLIDAYAIRBNB
NOSYERLE
SICEMSPAYALTA
GMOPOPCORNLEAN
TULLDANNOLILT
SPAYANGSTYAKS

PATRICK: If you wanted to bottle the enthusiasm and effort Elayne put into this puzzle, you'd need a vat! Although the two of us live about as far apart as two contiguous U.S.ers can (she's in L.A., I'm on the east coast of Florida), we were able to meet up in Orlando midway through our collaboration, after a show of hers at the Dr. Phillips Center.

Her act was as brilliant as it's ever been — smart, quick, topical, friendly, and with a good dose of local flavor thrown in. Alas, the meeting was brief since she was jetting off to another gig soon after. The only opportunity to talk came as she worked a table in the theater lobby immediately after the show. It was to raise funds for her non-profit animal rescue and advocacy organization, Tails of Joy.

ELAYNE: When the NY Times offered me a chance to do a puzzle with Patrick Merrell, I thought with joy, "Crosswords With the Stars!" I only hoped I'd be a little closer to being Amber Riley than Kenny Mayne, since incredibly, they gave me Derek Hough. Needless to say, I really can't dance. But, like Derek, the talented Mr. Merrell was patient, kind, funny, wonderful, and the best partner you could ever hope for. We laughed for months, and we hope that joy made it into our puzzle. We hope you enjoy it.

Thu 7/13/2017
IMPDOCGASLIT
FARINAXAGEONE
STIFFARMGUESTX
XOFTEARANTAT
SAFEEERIEIKE
OUIANKLEBITER
DEXISMSILOS
ALEPHUTASUTRA
AWASHESPRIT
OUTDAMNEDXAFT
NNEBASIEXIFY
ETALIIPENCIL
CURATEOCEANMAP
UNEVENTUMSIDA
PEDANTTYEXON

One day the phrase "X marks the spot" just came to me; immediately, the crossword angel in my head interrupted to tell me that this could be a puzzle theme with X representing the word "spot". Then the crossword gremlin barked that surely it has been done before. And I looked and I looked, but never found such a puzzle. So I forged ahead.

Will/Joel liked the theme but had me rework several swaths, due to ugly fill. Because of this the puzzle was greatly improved. They kept most of my clues but substituted some excellent ones of their own, like the one for STIFFARM. I was able to balance the Xs in the theme answers, three at the end, three at the beginning, and one in me middle.

That's it from glint to print. May this puzzle bring solvers a hearty aha and some delicious headwork. I hope it hits the spot!

Fri 7/14/2017
SADSACKDISCUS
CLUTCHESONTAPE
RIGATONIALYSSA
ABUTPOLNEXTTO
PIPESVESTAAA
BEEFEDSNIT
HARBORMASTERS
TENGALLONHATS
TURKEYDINNERS
ORESUNDOES
ETAHOPITYPES
TUFFETNHLSHAW
ARTISTGOODTOGO
GREASESCREENER
SORTERKENMORE
POW Sat 7/15/2017
AMAZEBALLSDICK
TAXEVASIONANON
TRILATERALTORE
UCSDIVANLENDL
ARSEWISEST
SADATROCIOUS
PURINAAVENGERS
ADAMSOKSHANOI
SIGMACHICURSOR
ROCKMELONEKE
STALKSANTS
ORCASBLOCCULP
BAITPLUTOMANIA
ACNESEXSCANDAL
DIGSTWEETSTORM

I made this puzzle last summer, after watching too much of the Republican National Convention. I don't think I consciously tried to make a Trump-themed puzzle, but let's just say that my seed answers were TAX EVASION up top and TWEETSTORM down below. Given that, I'm especially pleased with the bottom right corner, which turned out very... presidential. 25-Across!

I can only assume that the editors sensed the vibe, because they changed my original clues for 25- and 28-Across and made them both [Deplorable]. I also really like their new clues for TAX EVASION and LIAR. Happy to see that my clues for ARSE and LIRA made it, though I'm still in mourning for my original ROOK clue, which was [Half of a straight couple?].

They also changed some squares in the top right corner, presumably to be able to clue 20- and 21-Across as a full name (my submission had RENDS at 13-Down and TWIST at 14-Down). These changes had the unfortunate and/or humorous effect of juxtaposing 11-Across with the end of 1-Across, not too far from 22-Across.

Overall, I'm excited to be published on a Saturday!

Sun 7/16/2017IF THE SPIRIT MOVES YOU
OLAVSPJSNEBSPOSH
NADIRSHAIERLEAPIAN
LIVEITDOWNWRENYESNO
ANATYINANDYANGDRAKE
NINLMAOFRONDBIALYS
DETRAINWEIRDEARN
AONEREINKKNITTING
SEGUEFRANKBETOFOE
OLEGDORRSOLARADAMN
WISHFULSHARONACUTEX
COCKTAILLOUNGES
INFUNTOWELEDCOSTNER
WALTZASADAKNEWMOAN
IVEPLAYRANASFONTS
NEDROREMCOROTALPS
EPOSCRUETILOSTIT
STIVESPHONYSPARANI
AIDANSEEADOCTORERTE
ITEMSATWTUNEDUCATED
DRAPELEOIIBNMISERY
ELSAERNANCOVERNE

ACME: Back in 2010 I met Pete, and inspired by his Jack in the box puzzle, came up with the idea ORDERSAROUNDOFDRINKS 21 and in six quadrants have a drink name in circles (TOMCOLLINS, VODKATONIC, etc). Pete thought this could work: "DRINKSALLAROUND 15 [Generous patron's offer and a clue to this puzzle's theme] or AROUNDOFDRINKS 14 for a 20x20 ... could get cute and put OLIVE on top of the MARTINI circle etc. ..." and thus started a 50 email exchange, countless grids, almost seven year odyssey towards a Sunday puzzle!

Pete will tell you I finally cornered him at the 2017 ACPT and said next grid you send me, I'm filling it, cluing it and NO MORE IMPROVEMENTS! (He is a multi-talented creative genius and kept thinking he could do better!)

(response from Pete: "Andrea is too kind to mention that after she had clued the grid I sent her, I found something I couldn't live with it and redid it one more time ...so she had to clue it twice!")

Because Pete got the reveal in the puzzle (crossing with COCKTAILLOUNGES!) we also needed to come up with a title, which of course, as a namer, is my favorite part of constructing!

We needed drinks with 4 8 and 12 letters to make it work... It's a little ironic as I have never been a drinker and had never even heard of a TIAMARIA nor PINKLADY, but I love it! Bottoms up! Skoal! CHEERS and all that!

PETE: My last published NY Times puzzle was in 2013, the year after I started doing the MMMM (Muller Monthly Music Meta). Thirteen crosswords a year is right at the limit of what I can create, so I reluctantly had to stop submitting puzzles to other venues.

Andrea had invited me to collaborate with her on this idea seven years ago (!), and I had started in on it but ultimately gave up because I didn't love the fill enough. I guess sometimes I can be overly picky (Andrea liked some of the grids I came up with just fine.) She gently sent regular reminders to me and encouraged me to keep at it. I promised her that I would definitely get to it within a year. That was in 2015.

I studiously avoided Andrea at the 2016 ACPT, but she managed to track me down anyway and extract another promise that I would finish within a year. Only an extra year late, and seven years after we originally started, I took another shot at a collection of theme entries that we liked, and made it a lot better. Andrea did almost all the cluing (I changed a handful of her clues).

Hope you like it!

I do miss having crosswords in the Times and hope to find time to start submitting a puzzle or two per year going forward.

Mon 7/17/2017
STRAWCDSHAM
SPEEDODREWIDO
AIRFORCEONETEX
INNSSUMOECOLI
LESSTRIKETHREE
RASLIAM
LATEXGIMMEFIVE
ALITMOVESISEE
GAMESEVENANSEL
ELANUGG
ONCLOUDNINERAM
BEASTIONSJUDO
EARODDSANDENDS
YTDMINEAUDITS
SOSENTGEICO

When constructing a crossword, the more flexibility you have in your theme answers, the easier it is to fill the grid. This means that this puzzle would have been much easier to make if the theme had been loosened up a little bit. For example, allowing any odd numbers (rather than using exactly the set of single-digit odd numbers) would have made construction easier because it would've increased the number of possible theme answers by allowing phrases such as FRESHMANFIFTEEN or FOREVERTWENTYONE.

The puzzle also would've been much easier to make if the numbers were not necessarily presented in order--for me at least, the start of construction usually involves lots of moving theme answers around to find the arrangement that works best, but having them in a fixed order removes a lot of the freedom in theme positioning.

However, I thought it was important to restrict the theme to being exactly the five single-digit odd numbers presented in order because a theme of "phrases ending in odd numbers" didn't seem quite tight enough without these extra features. Luckily, there are enough phrases ending with ONE, THREE, and FIVE to make the theme workable despite these constraints.

As always, thanks to the editing team for making this puzzle much better than the version I submitted!

POW Tue 7/18/2017
CHALLAHLEFTS
SATIATEBETRUE
INVESTSTRICORN
STAIRCASEWIT
ITSTOBYTNN
ECOMACYFEE
ALEBANKSORDID
ESCALATORCLAUSE
REUNESPORKPEW
BTWREMYDOE
GEEDORAMAN
ONTHEUPANDUP
SARALEECOSPLAY
STALLSEVILEYE
ASYLASECEDES

Patrick Berry's use of stair-step blocks in his themeless puzzles inspired this puzzle's creation. The large block count forced me to keep the word count lower than a typical early week puzzle, a constraint that challenged the balance between visual appeal and clean fill.

Since the acceptance of this puzzle I have become much more familiar with ESCALATORCLAUSEs, which have so far failed to make a difference in the ultra-competitive Seattle-area real estate market. If you're a crossword fan with a craftsman-style Everett home you'd like to sell, please let me know!

Wed 7/19/2017
RACESALUDLAT
CLAMALIBICMON
APPOINTEESHARE
TOYOURHEALTH
CASINOSLIFER
ALICESTIRAMISU
REMOARSON
DRINKDRINKDRINK
NONETEMAC
MARKETEDGODIVA
IDEALMONSTER
DOWNTHEHATCH
SNAPOVERWEIGHT
TARASERIEROID
IDIPROSTTOPS

MICKEY: This puzzle is one of a number of collaborations between Pawel Fludzinski and me, both for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and other publications. The idea probably arose at dinner one night. Pawel is a wine consumer. In our research, we found two toasts that I really liked, but they did not fit the theme of the puzzle. They are: "As you slide down the banister of life, may the splinters never face the wrong way" and "Everybody should believe in something — I believe I'll have another drink."

It is always a great experience to collaborate with Pawel. Although he is relatively new to the game, his constructions are masterful.

PAWEL: Mickey has been a terrific mentor as I entered the world of crossword construction a few years ago. I could not have gotten started without his help, support and encouragement, and what limited success I have enjoyed to date I owe to him. He is a true friend!

Thu 7/20/2017
REBECCAINFLATE
EXEDOUTSPOOLED
WATTSTHEPROBLEM
ACTATOMSTASTE
RTESOSUBERTIE
MARLAMADAMS
OPIATESTREE
HOWESBUSINESS
SONSALBANIA
ONOCAYTRYST
CONTACAMISAPS
KLEINECOLEHOE
HULETTHEDOGSOUT
OLEOOILENGROSS
PUGNOSEMAYISEE

This theme was inspired by Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First?" routine. The question words who, what, how, why, when, where, which lend themselves to homophones. Since the first three directly correspond to names I came up with three fifteens that could be punned.

Making it a 72 worder with lots of sevens enabled me to have a better fill. (I also got to put my daughter's name in at 1-Across — REBECCA.)

Fri 7/21/2017
MBASJIFFGARTH
ERIECANALADIEU
NOMEANSNOLATER
INEEDAMOMENT
NONECUTUPS
DANGDRESSREMS
BELBIELTRIVIA
ANIMISTINABIND
CANAPEADOSTIL
KEELALLOTREMY
ENSEALEASE
BIGGIESMALLS
ARYANMETALHEAD
JONZEIDRISELBA
ANTESZAYNSKED

This crossword was born after I noticed something in crossword puzzle forums. Whenever people complain about trivia in crosswords, the first thing they attack is automatically rapper names. Not, like, the 1950's Olympians or bygone opera stars that show up in crosswords from time to time. It seems like it's always, without fail, the names of popular rappers. It doesn't even matter if the artist in question has sold millions of albums, or how many times their songs have been on the charts— rap references always attract ire from some part of the solving public.

My natural response was to make a puzzle seeded by a 12-letter rap artist. If you're a fan of BIGGIE SMALLS, I hope you got something out of seeing his name in the puzzle. If you're unfamiliar with his name, that's fine too. As long as you feel you learned something.

Rant aside, I like the feel of this puzzle. It's not perfect, but the grid definitely has my vibe. I'm a fan of a lot of the debut entries— 59A, 7D, 21D, and especially 35D have been in my list of seed entries for a while. Plus, I love the works referenced in 5D and 42D, and I'm always glad to sneak a Lady Gaga reference (39A) into the Gray Lady.

Playing you off with this!

Sat 7/22/2017
CLASSICATBAR
LATTEARTCLAIRE
ENTERNOWLUSTRE
ADAPTSICEMMOB
THISASTROLOGO
SONCRETEKOJAK
EREEPICWINS
FRIENDREQUEST
LOOSETEAUPS
EASEDELVISCAP
TMENSPELTLAMA
SHABASRAMIRES
LANCETTSAAGENT
INNATESIGNHERE
EDENSCENTRAL
Sun 7/23/2017BACK ON THE CHARTS
ACMEHASONIBMCNN
MOONSELOPEONEARYE
FLUSHAILESOUTANDOUT
MENUOPTIONSNTHDEW
TREESLITTLEPRINCE
NUKENEAYEAAPIAJAX
OSEPAZDRYINKEST
HONOLULUABAANEEWTO
ONYXESLAHRMLKHELL
WEALTHDOUGIEPROLES
IMEPROBONOEAR
MAPPERBITEATTINPAN
AGESAJACPOSETERNE
DOAFCCNIKEWHATDIDO
EURARCTANAECMEN
OTBNOORGITNIHCASS
FIRSTCRUSADESEWED
AAADSOCANITRYSOME
PANTSUITSASAMILANED
AIDIPOSRESINERNIE
WRYANNDRANGEARN

This puzzle was inspired by a monthlong hovercruise Elon Musk organized for the most important brand influencers from across all social media platforms. I remember looking philosophically out onto the sea from the balcony of the Nootropics Suite, sipping on my Matcha Soylent and listening to the statistically most thought-provoking sounds according to metadata when the epiphany came to me: what if there were as many singers in a puzzle as there were amazing digital content creators on this very hovership? I immediately got my crossword AI, Pencilton, to crowdsource reactions to that concept. Fun fact: this was actually the last puzzle I created before I started constructing completely in virtual reality. For updates about my industry-disrupting journey into the future of crosswords, sign up on solvetheinternet.com & to all my fans–stay branded ;)

Mon 7/24/2017
WASABIENDASH
FOREMANVAUNTED
RONZONIEVENPAR
OHOSTOLEARI
DOLEDTOKCAUSE
OODLESOFNOODLES
FLOWINNS
PEAANISEEDSHE
LAITYNOVOSHEA
AGRAAIDEDLENS
NETCOSTLESABRE
ERRORSPOBOYS
ABBYCADABBY
GAVERARERIGGY
AXELISLETNAPE
YELLATOMSGNAT
Tue 7/25/2017
SPEWADAPTSRAM
ALTIESCARPENO
MEANTTHEWORLDTO
SALDANALEASED
SMARTALECK
ARGOPADTERA
BARREDNAUTILUS
ADALUCKYMETSK
FINALOUTPELOSI
TODDJOSANON
JOBHOPPING
BAUBLEENCASES
SPREADTHEGOSPEL
ISOIDOIDOSAGA
XERRAWESTETSY

I had wanted to make a puzzle around this theme for some time, so on a tough day in spring 2015, I immediately felt better when I noticed that the phrase "scream at the world" contains the name MATTHEW. I already had some phrases for MARK, LUKE, and JOHN, so I went to work with inspiration from Chuck Deodene's March 31, 2010 puzzle (which had SPREAD THE WEALTH as a revealer). Over the course of several versions, George Barany and his team provided incisive and timely feedback, and Will and Joel further improved the puzzle with their editing touch. My favorite new clue is the one for TANK TOP, and I also enjoyed learning about the BLAIR House.

Wed 7/26/2017
PAINEAMCFAKIR
ACRESGALALITO
WHOSTHEREMLLES
SENTANYONEHOME
SLITIDA
SAVIORHAGIMIT
WRINGTOBEALONE
AIRISRAELIODS
MAGICWORDMERIT
PLOTODDKANSAS
SLRPETS
IGETANAMENLIEU
TAXIDMANOHANDS
CLIMEOTCOVINE
HATESSEEBETAS

Some bio: I am a newspaper editor in Detroit. I have had some mystery short stories published in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, where I was once the managing editor many, many years ago. I recently had my first play, "Clutter," produced at Theatre Nova in Ann Arbor, and I am the artistic director of a small theatre company called Pencilpoint Theatreworks here in Ypsilanti. Ann Arbor constructors James Tuttle and Peter Collins are local celebrities in my mind.

My puzzle went through three revisions over the course of a year. Will was incredibly patient with me as I worked through refining the theme answers and the fill. This was the sixth puzzle I had submitted for Will's consideration so you can see I'm a slow learner. This particular theme came to me as I recalled days when my son was very young, and he went through a period when he was delighted with "Knock Knock" jokes. We would spend time before bed making different ones up. I thought combining knock-knock jokes with a crossword would make an interesting hybrid.

One theme answer that didn't work for Will that I thought was funny was the classic, "Hutch who?" with the response being "gesundheit." He wanted the responses to be complete sentences, which is the better idea, but I shed a few tears letting "gesundheit" go.

Thu 7/27/2017
MASCOTSPASTA
ECTOPICUNSAFE
TRAVELINGINCOMF
RIVENFOEOREO
ODEEMITTERERR
PROFUSSAT
FLUBEAUFSCALE
OARRECTOAID
FUNEHUNTERMDS
ORDEALTSP
RDSBEDPOSTSHE
TOADOURPECOS
HOLDDOWNTHEFORT
REAIMSHOTTUNA
SYNGEORESTES

The origin of this theme probably duplicates the thought processes of many crossword constructors. A phrase is noticed or comes to mind, and suddenly the crossword section of the brain lights up, and one thinks "That could be a crossword theme!" This nearly involuntary reaction is both a boon and a bane to the constructor's life as one tries for a balance between normal and crossword-based brain function. "Sure," the brain says, "I might be able to find phrases including FORT, and then both figuratively and literally HOLD DOWN that word by placing it vertically within other words." And then the work begins.

There are only a few short or medium-length words that contain FORT (long words would have created problems with placement within the grid), so that put a constraint on the relevant connecting vertical entries. Their ultimate placement also necessitated the added "cheater squares," whose presence I sought to compensate for using the somewhat low word count.

As I look at the clues for this puzzle — as always, a combination of original submissions and clues created by Will — it seems to me that the overall result is a puzzle that is somewhat easier than usual for a New York Times Thursday crossword. I suppose I will see if that evaluation is accurate when solvers' commentaries start appearing on the crossword blogs. In any event, I hope most people enjoy the puzzle.

Fri 7/28/2017
BESTMUSICALDJS
ETPHONEHOMEOAT
THREEINAROWILE
TOASTSTAICHAT
ESTEDUELSLAP
TROISIVES
CROSSOUTPREENS
HUBCAPSCOUNTON
ENTERSCOINTOSS
WARNNORSE
FUELELLETSPS
MESSYWOEGETAT
OVIMICROMANAGE
NEVPLAINSPOKEN
OREHORNETSNEST

Ok, Jeff, I know what you're going to say: look at that big ugly diagonal thing sitting in the middle of the puzzle. I know, I know— but in my defense I didn't realize it was an issue until you pointed it out in one of my puzzles last December. This grid, and my previous offending grids were already submitted before I knew better. But I assure you that now when I create a puzzle, I have a little invisible Jeff Chen sitting on my shoulder, reminding me to avoid dividing grids in half. I also strive for grids with 14 eight-letter words or more, another strategy I learned from you. Those two guidelines have definitely made my puzzles stronger, and I have you to thank. So… thank you Jeff!

As for commentary on this particular puzzle, not much to say, other than I'm glad I finally snuck BETTE in the grid, which is my mom's name. My mother has been solving the NY Times crossword for more than 60 years, and even though I began solving (and constructing) relatively recently, the Times puzzle has always been part of my world thanks to her. So this one's for you, mama bear!

Sat 7/29/2017
DUCTSCANILIVE
INAWEEASYMONEY
ESSENCEMAGAZINE
TAKESANAPMETAL
AVESMYRRHNILE
RETTONOOOGALT
YDSWEDCUTELY
KIWIKRIS
CRUETSYAMLSD
PHEWOCTNEGATE
RIGANOBIGALIA
ICEINBOULEVARD
MANTOMANDEFENSE
ENCIRCLESTUNIS
DAYSAILSSPENT

Thanks for having me back so soon - I wasn't sure if I'd be allowed back at all after my last puzzle for the Gray Lady, which I hear was raisin' quite the controversy.

Anyway, there's way more "I'm not convinced anyone has ever said this in real life ever" answers than I'd like in this grid: EFTS? CUTELY? VENALLY? DEADEST? TWEEST? Get outta here. Not wild about AVES or MCI, either. Otherwise, I like it. The editing team did a great job dialing up the clues.

"Girls Trip", which takes place at Essence Fest, is currently in theaters, so 16-Across (one of my seed entries for the puzzle) feels timelyish.

POW Sun 7/30/2017BY DESIGN
JOTTIMIDSNAPIHEARD
ANAOPINEHULASOPHIA
MAXWORKTHENIGHTSHIFT
EDITSSAUDEOEELLE
SATEONPINSANDNEEDLES
IRONLIONSBRAVAR
VETSEATSBOAPARAGON
HIHOSIMCARDORE
CREDOFITTOBETIEDEDT
HAREMACREENDESEZ
ETUDEJEEPHEATCHORE
WINERICELSAROVER
SOWCUTANDDRIEDENERO
UNALAPORTEPEER
PSYCHESTESPILESTAR
OARCSATIMERTHRU
SHOOTSFROMTHEHIPLESS
REALREGAEROKYLES
TAKEUPACOLLECTIONINE
AVERSEHOOKEERIENAT
SENSEDEDGYSPADEELS

ISAAC: I've been doing the crossword puzzle in the New York Times since high school (an eternity) and the first time my name was in it my mother called and said: "you've arrived." It's with glee that I accepted the task to work on one in this illustrious year of anniversary.

I started with the idea to create a round grid that looked like a button. I actually measured the puzzle and hand ruled the grid to illustrate my idea. Within a day or two, I was informed that it wouldn't work because the round idea created too many two word answers, even one word answers which I gather are forbidden. Next, I came up with an idea for portmanteau-ish designer / famous names with answers like TOM FORD MADDOX FORD and FRANK STELLA MCCARTNEY which also got sent back for reasons I still don't understand. I guess there's a lot I don't know about puzzle making!

David and I settled on the following puzzle which I think is engrossing and a lot of fun. And I think more than so many other projects I learned about a latent obsession I have with not only doing puzzles but making them and I think my mother was right. With this puzzle, I've definitely "arrived."

DAVID: Working with Isaac on this puzzle was a lot of fun, and I appreciate the fact that he gave me plenty of his time and input. Originally we started throwing around fashion-related themes, thinking the puzzle would run on a Tuesday or Wednesday. For example, we thought about answers where the last word is a fashion item and the first word is changed to a verb (e.g., SHRINK WRAPS, STICK SHIFTS, etc.). Isaac also thought that something called "Designer Mix" (MADONNA KARAN etc.) might work.

We finally decided to do something else: answers, not normally connected to fashion, as they might be clued by a fashionista. The answers we came up with were too long for a daily, so Will gave us the go-ahead for a Sunday puzzle. The main problem was coming up with enough good theme answers that could be clued in a funny fashion-related way. (One answer that didn't make it into the puzzle was SUITS TO A TEE for "Casual Friday alternative?").

Solvers, enjoy!

Mon 7/31/2017
TREKWANNAPEPS
YALEINBEDELIE
PIKEPLACEMARKET
ONSPECELMERS
LAOSBNAI
MACESTAISTPAT
ASOFPANDAMULE
GIFTLITEREGGS
OAFMARINEREAT
ONETONNANTES
EULERSATES
WASTEISTROOTS
HUHSPATULAURN
IDOTITANICNIA
ZIPSEATTLEDOG

I constructed this puzzle a few months ago after reading one of Will Shortz's Cruciverb announcements about his inventory. I saw that he was shortest on Sundays and Thursdays, which was no surprise because those are the hardest ones for me to come up with. But I also noticed he was short on Mondays, which interested me because I'd never given much thought to constructing early-week puzzles. So the next time I sat down to construct something, I decided to target Monday instead of Friday/Saturday.

One of the first things that came to mind for some reason was Seattle. In between long stretches of living in California, I lived in the Seattle area for four years, which is where I first started constructing crosswords (for a fifth-grade project—see photo!). So I thought it would be fitting to pay homage to my "crossword roots."

I knew pretty early on that I wanted the focus of the puzzle to be the Space Needle grid art. Luckily, SPACE NEEDLE was the perfect length to make a grid art design out of, though it took me a few tries to come up with a convincing enough Space Needle. Once I realized that PIKE PLACE MARKET was 15-letters long, I was off and rolling. Noticing that the reveal SEATTLE would fit right between the S and the last E of SPACE NEEDLE was a huge stroke of luck, and I quickly banged out the rest of the grid from there. In fact, I was all set to send a version of the puzzle with RuIN/YuLE in the upper left corner when I noticed I could change RuIN to RAIN. After all, what puzzle about Seattle is complete without mentioning its signature weather? I initially worried that I wouldn't be able to balance RAIN with another theme entry, but fortunately, PIER came to the rescue.

All in all, I had a lot of fun constructing this one, and I hope Seattleites appreciate the shoutout! And who knows, I just might be back with more early-week offerings :).