It's pretty standard for Will and co. to change a large number of your clues between submission and publication, and the changes are almost always for the better. However! I cannot sit idly by and watch my RED BEAN ice cream clue vanish. It — in addition to other typically Asian ice cream flavors like matcha and taro — is delicious, and I wish they were more popular in the U.S. (and therefore easier for me, personally, to find). My crusade is just beginning, though — I never intend to clue TARO as anything but an Asian dessert flavor again!
As with many constructors, this marks the fulfillment of a long-time dream. I've always loved playing with words, and back in middle school I would eagerly await Will Shortz's next Sunday Puzzle challenge, tuning in to NPR at exactly 10:41 A.M. (But who's counting?) In college I was inspired by the work of Dustin Foley, who wrote a daily puzzle comic strip. Back then I was filling 15x15 grids printed from Microsoft Word, and the results weren't particularly encouraging. (To wit: Once I tried asking a crush out via crossword on Valentine's Day. It went unsolved.) Puzzling at Brown really took off soon after I graduated, and I vowed that one day I would join the ranks of Shortz-certified Brunonian cruciverbalists. [Insert training montage here.]
I'm a huge road trip enthusiast, and over time I've come to realize the importance of certain life skills… like navigating the secret menu at In-N-Out Burger. (Psst… think Will would allow "Animal Style" in a grid?) I first considered a SECRET MENU puzzle in 2014, lamenting that the only decent phrase I could find a secret "menu" in was PRIME NUMBER. Years later, "IT'S A SECRET" struck me as a good revealer, leading to this puzzle.
The veritable cornucopia of potential thematic material led to high ambitions and an inevitable Grid Reckoning. It eventually led me to attempt a theme answer stack à la Patrick Berry, though the challenge left this mere mortal with the unfortunate TELNET and cheater squares at 6- and 65-Across. Considering that every down answer intersects between one and three theme entries, I was pleased to keep the damage fairly contained. (I know, ID EST can be a bit of a party pooper… though initially he's great.) Hopefully MARKUP LANGUAGE—the ‘ML' of ‘HTML'—isn't too outré for a Monday puzzle. My favorite find was WHAT A GENTLEMAN, a comment I've heard in the wild! SHOPPER, à la GRASSHOPPER, was the coolest possibility I didn't incorporate.
Hope you enjoyed the puzzle! I'd like to thank Jeff Chen, who has a) put up with me for years as I've learned the ropes and peppered him with random crossword ideas; and b) made great resources available for budding constructors everywhere.
Proud indie constructor here, and proud to be making my NYT debut with this puzzle. The theme is straightforward, for sure, and it's a bit lucky that the theme worked out to allow left / right symmetry. The fill also comes in reasonably simple, including a fair amount of baseball-related answers (some clued that way, some not). Overall, though, it's pretty clean, I think, and that's something I strive for in every puzzle I make, whether it's a simple one like this or a fifty-eight-word freestyle.
A good chunk of my constructing philosophy, in fact, comes from my experiences as a solver. But I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge that constructing for my own site, and receiving feedback from solvers, has influenced me as well. (There's too many to name here, but: you know who you are, and it's always appreciated.)
In any case, here's hoping that y'all enjoyed solving this puzzle as much as I enjoyed making it.
Why should the top three guys get all the glory and the medals, I ask?! Go FOURTH and shine, underdogs, and May the FOURTH be with you... oh hang on, that's the other date....
This one started off with JULY FOURTH as the revealer, but after some wise words from Will and Joel about "July" confusing the issue, what you see now is the improved result. They also called for some topic diversity to the original set of "famous fourths," leading to the something-for-everyone current set.
Favorite entry (or should I say entrée) : SUSHIROLL. If this was followed by some ICEE / CREAM (groan) as a FINALE, then what a HAPPY FOURTH that would make eh!
Constructor's logs : this was submitted in January 2017, rejected in March and brought back to life in April after improvements. There was another July 4th themed puzzle slated for 2017 at that point, so this was moved to 2018.
The idea for this puzzle was inspired when Donald Trump made the unfounded charges that he was being wiretapped by President Obama at Trump Tower. It got me to thinking what government agencies might go undercover to listen in on our conversations. Four came to mind: FBI, DEA, NSA, and CIA. Since each of these three-letter agencies hide themselves I thought I could hide them in a crossword and "wiretap" the puzzle solver.
Of course, with NY Times solvers being as smart as they are, they would figure who was spying on them as soon as the theme clicked in. I provided a "helper" by including the entry WIRETAP in the lower right of the puzzle (this clearly made the puzzle easier to solve — I wonder if most solvers want that kind of help or not).
Rebus puzzles with multiple unique rebuses are more challenging to solve than ones with the same rebus throughout. It's nice when you can connect them with a theme, especially one that is also related to how they appear "undercover" in the grid.
The entry ILL LIVE, which is making its debut in the NY Times, came to mind when my grandson banged his knee and went into full histrionics. I said to him "Don't worry, you'll live."
Have a great summer.
Today's puzzle, a mini-themed Friday, came about purely by chance. I set up a random grid with two intersecting 15s, a departure from my usual layouts. I then spent many days in search of the perfect phrases to populate the two 15s. I rarely begin with ‘seed entries'; I just prefer to create a blank grid and see what develops.
I had fiddled with MEET IN THE MIDDLE early in my search and didn't love it. Although I thought it was cute that it ran across the middle of the grid, that by itself wasn't enough to warrant my keeping it. It was significantly later that I stumbled across RACE TO THE BOTTOM running from top to bottom, and miraculously, it interlocked with MEET IN THE MIDDLE! I did a little happy dance, thanked the crossword gods for their assistance and then proceeded to work on the other 68 words in the grid.
Today is my wedding day! I am marrying the man of my dreams, Quinton Beck, at the Princeton University Chapel this afternoon. We both met at Princeton as undergraduates through various singing groups, and are currently living in Arlington, VA. Look out for a #TellUsTigers feature of us on the Princeton University Instagram account later this month if you want to hear more!
Our main wedding favor is a 40-page booklet of puzzles themed around our lives, all written by me with some contributions from groomsman Alan Southworth. The puzzles are mostly crosswords or crossword variations in a range of difficulties, with some variety puzzles mixed in. It was a lot of fun to make, and I hope the guests enjoy!
So on to the puzzle today — I started with WACKY TOBACKY crossing DANK MEMES, and then added THAT'S SO NOT OK, which I found highly amusing. This puzzle was a bit of an experiment in that I tried to mix "trendy" fill like the above with fill that has (as the editing team aptly called it) an "intellectual vibe" — more obscure, yet valid entries that my nerdy self found interesting (like APHERESIS, IDIOLECT, and BENJAMITE.) I don't recall seeing many themeless puzzles try this combination of fill, but the result is likely a bit of a tougher challenge than usual. Guaranteed this style won't appeal to everyone, but hopefully, it'll be an interesting and not-too-frustrating change of pace! Maybe we'll even see some DANK MEMOS...
I'm very thankful that the editing team could run one of my puzzles on this special day!
I remember thinking about nouns being persons, places, or things, and wondering if I could find strings that would contain two-word phrases for all three. My first try with this theme was a weekday puzzle with four 16-letter themers. Will's team liked the theme but not the execution. For instance, they didn't like KitCarsonCityMap because Carson City was named for Kit Carson (hello!) and because the meaning of City did not change from the "place" to the "thing".
It took a lot of digging to find six themers given those constraints but the 21x sizing brought lots of new possibilities into play. The big hangup was finding two-word place names where both words were flexible.
The editor team nixed ALL LEGS initially, but they had a long discussion about it and decided it would be fine with the right clue. ONLY TOO was another borderline acceptable entry that required careful cluing.
I wanted to get some long down action into this puzzle, but the 110 letters of theme material made that difficult to pull off cleanly. I imagine this puzzle will play a little easier than the average Sunday puzzle, which would be fine with me since I'm a lousy solver. DOGNAP was my favorite entry to clue — I think "Grab some chow?" is even better than the one we used, but it had been used before.
Australian Psychologist Alan Richardson took a group of basketball players, divided them into 3 groups and tested each player's ability to make free throws. The first group would practice 20 minutes every day. The second would only visualize themselves making free throws, but no real practice was allowed. The third group would not practice or visualize. The results were astounding. There was significant improvement on the group that only visualized; they were almost as good as those who actually practiced!
In a similar experiment, solvers of today's NY Times puzzle showed nearly the same increase in muscle tone as those gym rats who spent their time working out and getting all hot and sweaty! Those who solved puzzles from other venues actually showed a slight decrease in muscle tone except for the hand that held the pencil or pen. Researcher I. Mosley Guest attributes the phenomenon to that same power of visualization as in the free throw study. Apparently, just the very thought of doing curls and lifts and a twist as you write in the answers is enough exercise for the day, with the bonus of not needing to shower afterward.
We in the cruciverbal industry have long known that crosswords do make us smarter. For today at least, and with the final theme answer notwithstanding, they can make us physically fit as well.
This puzzle took close to two years from conception to publication. I started brainstorming in August of 2016, submitted it to the Times in October 2016, and got an acceptance in February of 2017.
Even though this was my third accepted NYT puzzle, it's my tenth to be published. The disparity is primarily due to shorter queue times for Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday puzzles. For the past few years, Tuesday has had the longest non-themeless publication queue. I wonder whether the disparities in publication queue length among different days of the week correlate to disparities in the number of puzzles submitted that are appropriate for that day. Or is there something inherent to puzzles of particular difficulty levels that makes acceptance more or less likely?
My original theme constraint was just phrases with a three-of-a-kind and a pair. This more permissive interpretation of a FULL HOUSE allowed for lively phrases like BUSINESS SCHOOL, FOR GOODNESS SAKE, and CLASS STRUGGLE. Ultimately, however, I decided that the theme would be better served if the five letters were always in a row with the same 3-2 ordering. Although that reformulation significantly reduced my options for theme entries, it created a much tighter theme and (I hope) a stronger aha moment for the solver.
Along the way, I also changed the revealer from FULL HOUSES to the more natural-sounding FULL HOUSE, which opened up better cluing options, and aligned the three circled areas vertically to create a more ordered feeling for the grid.
Back in 2016, the TV show FULL HOUSE re-entered the national conversation when Netflix released a sequel called "Fuller House" with most of the original cast reprising their roles. That show is now filming its fourth season. We'll see if it lasts as long as the original.
At a mini-conference last year, the first speaker of the day used the term BUZZKILL, which I connected to my battle earlier that morning with the alarm clock. By the end of her presentation, I had worked out the rest of the theme.
This puzzle is dedicated to Katie, my wife of fifteen years, whom I married in 18-A and who may never forgive me for introducing to the 49-A.
I'm not exactly sure how I came up with this idea, but I remember trying to brainstorm other possible theme material, though that came to an end quickly (What? You mean AA BOTTOM isn't a thing?) Fortunately, I realized that it might make for a fun mini-theme. Mirror symmetry seemed to be the way to go, and I decided on stacks of 8-letter entries as I figured it made the most sense to start off with the larger stacks. This decision was confirmed when I noticed that ZEROES IN and ZOETROPE stack rather nicely, and I worked my way from there. Once the top of the puzzle came together, I looked for interesting longer entries for the bottom that would fit well with the ZZ TOP revealer (which I guess could have gone anywhere in the stack, but it just seemed strange to not put it on the top).
To be honest, I have mixed feelings about this puzzle. I still like the mini-theme, especially as a sort of callback to the theme of my debut. Speaking of which, it's interesting to think about how my constructing philosophy has changed over time. I am finding that the more I construct, the more I discover about what makes my voice as a constructor unique, and this puzzle stands out to me as not entirely capturing what I currently recognize as my constructing "voice".
EVEN NOW, I really like some of the entries, especially ZOETROPE, WHIZ KID, HOW GOES IT, and the duo of ZOOMS OUT and ZEROES IN, but some of the other fill doesn't feel as much like me, so to speak. For instance, though POP DIVA and IRON MIKE seemed like entries that solvers / editors would find snazzy, they don't really resonate with me personally. NIMRODS, HAVE-NOT, WEIRDO and SEXPOTS in the aggregate also aren't as attractive to me now as they perhaps were when I made this.
The voice of a puzzle can also shine through its cluing, and though I don't have a ton of favorites from this one, I am glad to see that my clues for ELEGY, WHIZ KID and SIXES survived. Personal philosophical pondering aside, I hope that you got some enjoyment out of solving this odd duck of a Friday puzzle.
SAM: Unbeknownst to Byron, I've wanted to get a theme like this published for years. I submitted a 19x19 grid with OUTSTANDING DEBT to the Indie 500's inaugural guest constructor contest, though there were clearly superior puzzles in the pool. I had another 15x15 construction with DOPE SHEET, SICK DAY, COOL BREEZE, etc., but I just wasn't in love with the theme set enough; how could I refine this idea more?
It wasn't until recently that I realized my flaw in execution: the DEBT in OUTSTANDING DEBT didn't really change meaning from its base phrase. OUTSTANDING BALANCE came to mind, and I liked that I could interpret the phrase as a completely different lexical chunk: an asset for a gymnast. It wasn't long after that I thought of RADICAL MOVEMENT, and noticed that these could be clued quite crisply ... as "compliments"!
I was so sure this time around that my puzzle idea could work out ... until my theme well went dry. AND I still had to get everything to lay out symmetrically. Enter Byron, who, after hearing my pitch, quickly came up with SMASHING PUMPKINS and SWEET TALK, much to my amazement. OUTSTANDING BALANCE would have to become OUTSTANDING BILLS, but that was OK by me. I not only had a full theme set now but an opportunity for another Sam and Byron collab, which was such a blast the first time.
So we happily set off to make an easy, friendly 140-word Sunday ... LOL, you thought.
"Let's shoot for 124 [words]!," I chatted Byron, adding a laughing emoji so I could pretend I was totally joking about trying to break records and not insane. Fortunately for me, Byron is, in fact, insane, too. As you can see, we ended up "settling" for 128, though that's probably for the best.
BYRON: Collaborating with Sam is fairly predictable: it's not going to be easy, but it's going to be fun. We both like wide-open grids that are a challenge to fill at all, and then require many iterations to fill well. We ended up with some great chunks that we didn't use just because they didn't work with other parts — the downside of having lots of connectivity and maintaining symmetry. The BARBADOS section ended up being the linchpin — credit to Sam for figuring out that bit out. Hope you enjoy solving it as much as we enjoyed making it.
This theme has been done a few times over the years, so I did my best to use answer phrases that weren't in those previous puzzles.
AMANDA: We'd submitted quite a few puzzles before this one being accepted. The themes ranged from too silly to too familiar. There was always feedback though, from Will, Joel, and Sam, and it was very insightful and encouraging (even for puzzles that now make me wince!) Every "no" helped make the next puzzle just a little better and we kept learning how to make better puzzles. I'd bounce theme ideas off of Karl and he'd often have something fresh that I hadn't thought of yet.
But this puzzle actually started in the opposite fashion, with Karl having an idea and me doing the fine-tuning. I remember wanting entries that fitted the FLYINGCOLORS theme, but weren't just generic flying things. BLUEBIRD was a slight concession, but it also being a "symbol of happiness" helped justify it.
I do love the song at 32-A, and the editorial team's cluing for it! I feel like we've come a long way together and am very excited for our first solo effort to appear here.
KARL: This, our first theme as a couple, was especially fun to work with, snowballing from a morning conversation. With airplanes in my dreams, I groggily mumbled to Amanda something about her being a BLUEANGEL pilot. We bore out a theme with a potential next color-flyer pair: REDROBIN, and from there, we didn't look back. We put a bit of ourselves into the entries, from kicking off with our favorite farm-fresh CA dish in 1-A, to some fun Jackson 5 songs. Thanks to Amanda for being a wonderful and positive partner. We hope you enjoy the puzzle!
I submitted this puzzle as a Thursday with the rebus squares uncircled. My idea was that the grid would be an archaeological dig site where solvers would uncover the "fossils" one by one, ultimately realizing that they spell TYRANNOSAURUS REX.
As for the actual construction process, I came up with this idea while I was waiting for a flight at JFK, and I built most of the grid in the airport terminal. I was especially excited about crossing DIG SITE with F[OS]SIL, and I made a point of making the rebus entries as lively as I could. When I got home, though, I realized there was a problem: My theme entry OEDIPUS R[EX] felt too similar to TYRANNOSAURUS REX. After redoing the bottom, I ended up with the current version.
Shhh! Please don't tell my dad I constructed today's puzzle. I don't think he reads the bylines, and I'd like to get his unbiased opinion before he finds out. We've been daily solvers for decades and often compare notes when we're done, such as the time my friend, Bobby, and I asked Dad about a four-letter entry, clued "Flat," that we got entirely from crosses but couldn't understand. I pronounced it over the phone as if it rhymed with plod, shod and trod. How else would you pronounce TWOD? Dad explained it, TWO-D, we all laughed, and Bobby and I still laugh about it 19 years later.
This is a long way of saying I apologize if you were tripped up by the hyphenated mini-theme, two entries I hope were much easier for you to parse than TWOD was for me. And here's hoping the puzzle didn't fall TWOD for Dad or for you. Previous versions of this grid featured crossed themers TIFFS and TOFFS at the center, but that put too much pressure on the fill. My favorite themers are FUTZ, such a wonderful word, TOFFS, because they do SNEER, and the iconic, but reportedly coincidental, 2001: A Space Odyssey letter shift of IBM/HAL.
Thanks to Will and his crew for selecting my puzzle, redoing the northwest corner, and retaining some of my clues. Although this is my constructing debut in any publication, it represents a return for me to newspapers. I was a sports writer and editor for 28 years for dailies in Cambridge, Mass., Savannah, Ga., Jackson, Miss., and Atlanta, although never for THESUN. Nowadays, I'm a tax lawyer in Silicon Valley.
I have no interest in poker, yet curiously I have now debuted both POKER TABLE and POKER TABLES to the New York Times crossword puzzle universe. The singular entry shows up today, and the plural one appeared in my first published NY Times puzzle in 2011 — which feels like a million years ago.
I do love cooking, however, and this puzzle is chock full of food related terminology: EATS, SPAM (ew…), ANISE, SABRA (hummus), RAISINS, PINK SALT, SPATULAS, NOSE TO TAIL, and that's without counting EGG HUNT or DEWARS. Hmm… this write up is making me hungry. I'm going to get some breakfast while you enjoy the puzzle.
When I was making this puzzle, I tried a couple of new things. First, I emphasized freshness and quality for the grid-spanners in the stacks. What I like about the result is that most stack spanners are either new appearances or fun entries like "There's no I in team." What I don't like is that the crossing entries are weaker than what I would have preferred: you usually don't get a free lunch in crossword construction.
Second, I wanted to see if using left-right mirror symmetry instead of regular crossword symmetry would make constructing the quad stacks easier. Answer: not really. It does let the two stack sections have different shapes (what I'm calling the open block of white squares at the top/bottom of the grid), but mirror symmetry constrains each possible shape a lot. This symmetry also puts a lot of pressure in the middle. You can see that I needed a ninth grid spanner to hold everything together, and this wound up being a weak-ish entry.
I've been taking a break from crosswords for a while due to general business in my life. However, it's really fun to have a puzzle appear, and hopefully, this will get me motivated to finish up some of my half-done puzzles.
I know some people like tales of construction dabbling and derring-do, but I prefer letting a puzzle stand by itself.
So instead, here's a bit of theme-related trivia: The 24 films in the puzzle garnered one hundred 94-Downs (OSCAR NODs).
The biggest surprise is that The Poseidon Adventure snagged eight nominations, although the only winner was its original song, "The Morning After." Ugh, remember that one? Additionally, the movie was awarded a Special Achievement Oscar for special effects.
I still remember a synopsis of the movie that ran in the New York Times TV listings back in the '70s: "Big ship turns over. Eyefilling, sure. Plus the world's dullest passenger list. Ship of meatballs."
All that said, I remember enjoying it at the time, including all those meatballs.
I have a few confessions to make about this crossword:
Given all that, despite this crossword's theme, I have no expectation of getting PUZZLE OF THE WEEK. Disappointment of the Day, maybe.
This was my only puzzle submission over the last two years, so I was very pleased to receive an unqualified "Crossword — yes!" from Will and Sam. I constructed this with Thursday in mind, but they felt it would be "an interesting Tuesday changeup." Here's hoping that solvers agree and that they don't mind being thrown a couple of curves (intertwined at 7-Down) so early in the week.
As I clued this as a Thursday, many of my clues couldn't survive the transition to Tuesday, which needs to be easier. But a couple of my favorites remain: see CHICO / MARX and EONS.
Many thanks to Will Shortz et al. who gave me a chance to fix and resubmit this puzzle after the initial draft I sent in a few years ago had a bunch of 3 letter bird names which were correctly adjudged "too short to be interesting." Also for improving my clues as usual. I wish I had thought of that clue combination for 68- and 69-across, but at least anyone who doesn't read these things will be fooled into thinking I'm that clever.
One thing I learned through making this puzzle is that the word RAVEN will not flip itself into GARDEN VARIETY no matter how long you stare at it. I also had ideally wanted to squeeze in an additional theme answer (GREBE/CANDICE BERGEN) but couldn't make it fit. It was probably for the best, though, because I think HERON, EGRET, CRANE work well as a trio since they all fit into the "skinny birds with long necks but aren't storks" class in my layperson taxonomic system. I'm sure there's an ornithologist out there scoffing at my bird ignorance.
The inspiration for this puzzle was the too-late-can't-sleep thought that #FOOLISH would be a neat answer for a clue like [Hashtag for an ashamed Pennywise?], with # standing for POUND. I liked the idea of blending what # has meant and means now. I'm a science teacher and, when I've written something like "# of atoms" on the board, some students have quizzically asked what I mean by "hashtag of atoms." How cool that symbols adopt new meanings over time ... and how interesting the misunderstandings that causes!
While the original Twitter angle didn't pan out, I still loved that # has so many distinct meanings and wanted to explore that here. That I was able to fit OCTO / THORPE into the puzzle as an Easter egg made me even more excited about the grid. Fingers crossed that you have a rewarding, aha moment while solving. (I'd be remiss if I didn't pay tribute to Anna Shechtman's related # puzzle from May 29, 2014. I didn't know of her puzzle until after I'd submitted mine, but it's certainly in the same concept family and should be acknowledged!)
Finally, I'll note that my original clue for HANDYMAN was [Gendered term for a fixer upper] — it's important to acknowledge how gendered our society is, even if my clue didn't survive final revisions.
While I have the space, I wanted to promote two fantastic crossword packs to benefit charity: Women of Letters and Queer Qrosswords (which I edited) are both collections of fun, modern puzzles written by and themed around women and LGBTQ+ folks, respectively. Each packet features an array of constructors, including many big names you'll recognize from the New York Times crossword byline! You can get each packet for as little as a $10 donation to a worthy charity. Check out the websites for more information.
After about the tenth commercial I saw that starred Captain Obvious, I decided he was definitely crossworthy. I wanted to make a puzzle with four or five names like that, but I ran short. This is the only puzzle I have ever made where I thought my cluing had anything whatsoever to do with the puzzle being accepted — I had to change part of the fill, and lots of my clues got changed, but Will and his team decided to use my two theme clues word for word.
We started this puzzle trying to get three lively entries to stack nicely in the center, and I think we succeeded with FASHION POLICE / JUICE CLEANSES / GENDER STUDIES. We love brainstorming tricky clues with the JASA class, so we spent a lot of time coming up with clues for these three marquee entries, and we came up with a few beauties that hit the cutting room floor:
We also really liked [Root cause?] for TEAM SPIRIT.
We were very happy with how the grid turned out — there were lots of fun long entries (PAD THAI, JEOPARDY, FUN SPONGE, DC COMICS, NEURO LABS) and very little junk.
I almost never go below 140 words on a Sunday, but this one's only 136, thanks to the theme being relatively light. Hopefully, this allowed for some fun fill.
I originally had SEX SWING at 6-Down, which was just a bit too graphic for the editors. (In my last puzzle, I tried to sneak F THAT into the grid, so I guess it's becoming a recurring theme.)
Initially, C.C.H. Pounder was in the grid, but I couldn't fill it with her in it. Too bad.
The high-scrabble count letters in the theme answers ended up majorly constraining the grid design. A few of the other layouts that I tried were highly segmented, which I try to avoid. JAZZ HOP and SHOWBIZ were two of the only entries that would cross the two theme entries in this layout, and since they were both lively, I stuck with them.
I was pretty happy with the fill of this puzzle overall. I felt like I was able to cram lots of good stuff in without making the short fill suffer. I hope you agree and enjoy it!
Also, this is probably my last puzzle for a while. It turns out that having a kid has significantly cut down on my free time.