JAMES: We constructed this puzzle a little over a year ago. Ashton constructed the eastern half of the grid, seeded with my entry, CHA-CHING!, and I put together the west, seeded with Ashton's entry, THE CLOUD.
I think Ashton's NE is particularly good. We often rate entries on a scale of 0-10, with 0 being a "sale-killer," and 10 being reserved for what we consider explosive, top-shelf stunners. To stack two 10's (CHA-CHING and AI WEIWEI are 10's in my mind) and incorporate a ton of other entries that I consider 8+ is gorgeous work. His clue [Cash flow statement?] ups the ante in that section even more.
A final thought: although WSW isn't the best entry, I thought it was pretty cool that it fell in the WSWernmost spot of the grid. One of the clues left on the cutting room floor hinted as much. Oh well.
ASHTON: James's seed entry, CHA-CHING!, is one of my favourite entries in a long time. It's evocative, melodic, slangy, positive, and implicitly exclamatory. To sift through the language of daily life and unearth an ultra-rare gem-phrase that combines a lot of wonderful traits like this, and then start fashioning a freestyle grid around it, is the single greatest joy in puzzling for me.
Will changed a number of clues (for the better), but he kept my clue for 54-Across, which I came up with while thinking of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail". I really liked Will's clue for 66-Across. Mine was not nearly as clever.
I wonder why BASED / DEZ (Cowboys WR Bryant) was changed to BASES / SEZ? DEZ is legit, but maybe the "Z" could be problematic crossing NIETZSCHE? I don't remember the seed entry, but ROC-A-FELLA / HOOCH / YACHT is my favorite section. Also pleased with the overall smoothness.
Hope solvers like this one!
A list of possibilities sat around in my hugely bulky and totally unorganized "ideas" folder for at least a couple years, which is not at all unusual. (And which does have its disadvantages. I can't count the number of times that a percolating theme has shown up in print with someone else's byline.)
Anyway, the lengthy incubation was largely because my various permutations kept coming up short in two ways. First, I really wanted to use WOLF'S DOWN, for Wolf Blitzer, but could never get it to work. And second, I didn't want to have just one woman in the group, which is the way things kept ending up. Finally, I just got tired of seeing this, decided on the current set, and waved it goodbye in November of 2012. But now I see that the whole male-female balancing act was unnecessary because Will changed PAT from Benatar to Sajak, thereby leaving Carrie as the lone female. I never really liked using "Benatar" anyway, so I'm not real surprised at the change.
The clues! I was amazed to go through them. Other than PAT's gender transformation, my clues remained mostly intact, with only a handful of substantive changes. The one that stands out was for STATUTES at 22D. Will's is fun and mine was boring. Thanks, Will!
This project started out as a themed puzzle with corner entries like MERMAID and REELSIN — that puzzle was not reeled in. Then I tried a Thursday version where you had to complete the seven letter corner entries with the word FISH — my favorite was STANDOF(FISH) clued as "Shy". Will was standoffish (my puzzle came up shy) and felt the theme entries were interfering with solid fill. He recommended a mini-themed Friday version and that managed to get accepted. I seeded the upper left with GANGNAM because it had just passed Justin Bieber as the all-time most popular YouTube video. Thankfully, with AMERICA's help, it worked out.
In case you enjoy grid art, here's another fish-related puzzle I sent Will. He felt most solvers would not figure out the image, but try to guess what it depicts and what the 17 letter middle theme entry might be. (Here's a clue and the answer.)
Hope you enjoyed the fishing expedition!
These dog days of summer call for a Sunday puzzle whose bark is bigger than its bite. A not-so-hard theme and fill seem appropriate for a sultry summer solve. The inspiration? The Obama family pooches — Bo and Sunny, our current, very cute, White House dogs.
I imagine that the pressures of the Presidency, along with the loneliness of the office, are eased by the presence of an unconditionally-loving pet. Over the years, our First Dogs have achieved sufficient fame to warrant a puzzle of their own.
As I constructed the grid, the primary design challenge was to surround the central doggy face with enough white space to make the face smile back at you.
Dog owners, I hope you'll work this puzzle with your pooch at your side, with extra ORTS on hand. Thank you for solving!
DAVID: Bernice sent me the idea for a H?LL vowel progression using the theme entries HALL OF FAME, HELLO DOLLY, HILLTOP, HOLLYHOCKS, and HULLABALOO as a possible Orange County Register submission in early March. I thought she was on to something, especially since a quick check through several puzzle databases didn't turn up any similar puzzles, but I felt the puzzle could be even better if all the theme entries were single words and if the one tougher entry, HOLLYHOCKS, were replaced with something more instantly recognizable, like HOLLANDAISE.
I came up with the current theme set and suggested turning this puzzle into a collaboration New York Times submission, which Bernice was enthused about. Bernice took first crack at the grid and fill but wasn't very happy with what she produced. As she put it, "The words are out of Google, and there are too many abbreviations which are my pet hate . . . It has words like El Nasi which of course nobody would know. Do you? How about the ballplayer Yao? Isn't that wild?" One of the things I love about working with Bernice is that we have such different knowledge bases — to me, YAO Ming is instantly recognizable, but I had to look up Jed Clampett (in the HILLBILLY clue), since he's from way before my time!
Anyway, since both of us had concerns about entries in her original grid, I went ahead and redesigned the puzzle from scratch; after many hours of tweaking the wide-open corners to make them as Mondayish as possible, I came up with the current fill. Bernice was much happier with the new version, though she sagely pointed out that having ATE IT and I MADE IT was slightly problematic.
We ultimately let this slide in the interest of keeping the fill as clean as possible, though, and Bernice went forward with writing a first draft of the clues. I edited some of the clues to make them slightly easier and/or more modern, though I left the Jed Clampett one alone. We submitted the puzzle a few months later, and the rest is history. It's always a pleasure to work with my "adopted grandmother" — I hope you enjoy solving our puzzle as much as we enjoyed constructing it!
I don't remember much about what inspired this theme. It's just one of those silly phrases that got stuck in my head, and fortunately the letters cooperated on the grid. I played with various combinations of TV docs/actors (determined to include at least one female doc/actress who was widely known, Jane SEYMOUR) and eventually it all came together. Hopefully George CLOONEY and Patrick DEMPSEY also appreciate their appearance in the puzzle. If they would like to share their appreciation, they should definitely give me a call to let me know!
I personally like solving "container" puzzles and being made aware of words hidden inside familiar phrases — I hope others get the same type of enjoyment from this one.
How are crossword construction and crossword solving similar?
First, they both allow for great "aha!" moments. I had one such moment when I hit on crossing UNDERPASS and ELEVATED HIGHWAY in the manner used in this puzzle. It got even better when I found another 15-letter word that fit the theme and provided reasonable crossings.
I hope solving this puzzle gives you a similar "aha!" experience. I tried to leave the clues on the theme answers vague enough to enable a mid-solve discovery of the trick underlying the puzzle.
Second, my Achilles' heel in both construction and solving is that I can't spell to save my life. My first submitted grid contained PEROGATIVE, which (I learned) should be spelled PREROGATIVE (d'oh!). Fortunately, I was given a second chance, and I was able to produce the revised grid you see here. I blame growing up in the era of auto-correct for this deficiency.
Will liked it, proposing to run it on the day before the anniversary (I think so it wouldn't be all over the news already?). I agreed, but earlier this year, I had hesitations, worrying that the low theme density would turn off Thursday solvers.
So I redid the puzzle from scratch (grid shown to the left), brainstorming a few oblique theme entries. MADE THE CUT felt like a fun one, and after a long search, DIAGONALLY (clued to reference J.K. Rowling's DIAGON ALLEY) seemed pretty good too. It took me a few dozen tries over a few weekends to suss out a workable grid. But in the end, I didn't like it as well as the original. Luckily, Will assented to run the puzzle on the day of the 100th anniversary as I had originally intended, with PANAMA CANAL as a mini-themed bonus entry.
I would have preferred PANAMA CANAL as a pure Easter Egg, uncircled and tough to find. (My original clues for CARIBBEAN SEA and PACIFIC OCEAN were [Start/end of a famous passage hidden in today's grid], misdirecting people with the word "passage.") But I've studied crosswords for a couple of years now, and I've realized that a big portion of Will's solvers — perhaps a majority — wouldn't have found it, putting it aside with a feeling of annoyance. Too bad that PANAMA CANAL had to be so blatantly obvious, but I understand the rationale. It's not easy to satisfy a huge range of skill levels and desires within Will's millions of solvers.
So there's that. Plus, BEER BELLY feels kind of trite to me or like I'm trying too hard to be edgy yet safe, and these days I would work harder to remove a boring entry like INDISPOSE from a stack. However, I do like GYPSY JAZZ for its unusual letter pattern, DEBUSSY because his sublime piano music is a paragon of the form, and STAR WIPE because it belongs to my favourite class of crossword entry: those that refer to things which are reasonably familiar even though their names are not (though they can be inferred with the right clue).
As for the clues, while I was pleased to see that most of my tricky ones survived the editing process (such as 30D and 18A), a lot of neat trivia that reflects my interests was cut. This is, of course, understandable, as the puzzle should be balanced and fair for all solvers, so I'll defer to Will's judgment there. Plus, my clues tend to run long, sometimes for the sake of cramming some neat fact in there but mostly just for comic relief, so cuts had to be made. I did appreciate Will leaving in my shout-out to my home province Saskatchewan at 29D (as far as I know, I'm the only NYT constructor from any of the three prairie provinces), though, and I'd like to take credit for the vaguely Peter Gordonesque gross-out clue at 19A but I can't.
Since I don't have much else to say about this puzzle, I might as well hijack this constructor's notes blurb to do a little shameless self-promotion, although perhaps doing it after callously cutting down my own unremarkable work isn't the best tactical play. At any rate, I'll be putting on a crossword solving tournament called The Indie 500 along with (and trying desperately to not be completely eclipsed by) indie crossword luminaries Andy Kravis, Erik Agard, Evan Birnholz, and Neville Fogarty. It will take place in DC in May of 2015. The puzzles will be...different than what you find in the NYT. And there will be pie.
Anyway, despite my misgivings and reservations about today's offering, I do hope that it could provide at least a modicum of amusement to your weekend. It doesn't really matter how I feel about it, as long as a few more people smile a little more today because of it.
No matter the publication, I love squeezing some of my world into the puzzle, and I know Will appreciates it too. His clue for 61-Across — one of the answers I was excited to work in — is phenomenal: [50 Cent piece] for RAP VIDEO. Completely justifies changing my original clue, "Spitting images?", which I was proud of but is probably to esoteric for the Times readership. MAN PURSE and SNAPCHAT were two others I was excited to slip in the Times. The theme has been a long time coming. I developed it with my two best friends on our Eurotrip the summer between High School and College, and it was sparked by my still-passionate obsession with the greatest duo in history phonetically hinted by 75-Across. If you disagree, I dare you to listen to the entirety of "Abandoned Luncheonette" without feeling some real feels.
The NYT crossword has been a benchmark throughout my evolution. I interned with Will and published my first puzzle during the summer of 2008. This summer, I'm headed into my senior year of college. I spent the summer in Forks, Washington on a fellowship. I lived in an RV with the head of Team Forks, the last surviving "Twilight" tour company, taking pictures and interviewing people in the town. Here are the pictures. I know wherever I am in 7 more years, I'll still be solving and constructing.
Honorable Mention: Alpha-Bits, Kix
Also, this puzzle is dedicated to all the local fishermen around 96th St. We often run at East River Park and hash out puzzle ideas!
I am very excited to be debuting my first published crossword. I'm 28 years old, and I've been trying my hand at construction for the past three years. I teach History to amazing High School students at 10X225 in the Bronx, and they know very well about my crosswording habits. My wife, Kim, supports the addiction as well. The cat, Charlie, enjoys sitting on my computer while I attempt to construct. I began constructing after going to see Will Shortz at a Times Talk. I told my friend Pete about it, and we sat down in a coffee shop with some graph paper and tried to come up with a puzzle, figure out the grids, etc. Since then, I've submitted several puzzles, and this is my first one accepted!
As for the puzzle, I am actually at a loss for where it came from. It clicked that in the Wizard of Oz each of the three characters was searching for something at the end of the Yellow Brick Road. I wanted to play off of that "search" idea, and so I looked for phrases that each ended in the things each character was searching for. Originally, HEROINE, which crosses down the middle with DOROTHY was not going to be a theme answer, as it would have to fit through three theme answers. However, after working through some words, I realized that HEROINE would fit, and it would cross with DOROTHY. Pretty cool.
The difficulties in the fill came in the northeast, center and southeastern portions of the grid. It took a few re-writes to get some of the three-letter fill to be better. The center was very tough since it was restricted by multiple theme answers. My favorite answers in the puzzle are GROUPONS, KLUTZY and CLASSISM. As a history teacher, the Wizard of Oz is often seen as an allegory for the Populist movement, which was partially a fight by farmers against the wealthy big business owners. So, I appreciated that CLASSISM ended up in the puzzle.
Finally, I found out that the Wizard of Oz premiered in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, where I went to camp for ten years of my childhood.
All told, I've very excited for the puzzle, and hope everyone enjoys!
The reason 8 is considered LUCKY (66A) in China (Japan as well) is because its pronunciation is similar to the third character in this image, meaning "Prosperity".
4, on the other hand, is profoundly unlucky. It sounds like Chinese character for "death". So, you might not find 4th or 14th floor in some Chinese buildings.
The original grid had all the themers running horizontally, I then realized that if I switched two of the them to the vertical they each serendipitously crossed the reveal symmetrically. The one remaining issue was a SW theme entry to balance POLE POSITION in the NE. After a few tries and some back and forth emails, Will accepted POISON POWDER in July, resulting in a surprisingly quick turn around for a rebus puzzle.
My favorite clues are 25-Across which is a newbie for a well-worn 3-letter word (LEI), and 44-Across. My favorite clue which didn't make the cut and admittedly was a bit of a stretch of the old "?", was 21-across clued as "Feathered friend?" as in "tarred and feathered". Will greatly improved on my cluing, especially for the theme entries, as usual.
A word on the "sausage making". I do not use any crossword compiler software to create my grids (I can hear the snark already: "Yeah we can tell"). I'm not of the graph paper and stacks of reference books school though, I do use an Excel spreadsheet for my grids and clues, and I use XWord Info and OneLook as helpers in weaving the words together.
I hope you like this puzzle, my seventh with a few more in the pipeline.
Some additional constructing notes:
Finally, I want to use this as an early opportunity for a promo, and say that I am in the process of creating a blog, where I will present a self-constructed weekly crossword much like several of the other indie websites out there. I'm still working on some of the basic setup procedures, but I have an arsenal of puzzles already created, mostly themelesses, that I am excited to share with the public—they may be a bit racy for NYT standards, and have some college-kid flair thrown in the mix. Anyway, look for me in the coming weeks as I move this blog forward; thanks in advance for the support!
I thought it would be fun to try to build a crossword with the opposite approach: the solver would have to discern the clues' thematic feature *before* she could make progress. Each clue would be a microcosm of the overarching theme, and deciphering just one small riddle from anywhere within the grid would allow the solver to unlock the whole thing. A kind of fractal puzzle, if you will.
There were two requirements of the deleted letter. In the first place, it had to be very common. The deleted letter also needed to allow the revealer to be clued like everything else, so that the theme would be embedded within the cluing itself. When I saw that "hint" would reduce to "hit," and that the revealer could be written as though it were a four-part song, I settled on N. Because of its frequent usage in consonants clusters N worked out well.
The major difficulty of construction was that unless an entry was an everyday noun or verb, it was unlikely that it would clue satisfactorily. Entries such as QUASI, LOSES IT and AXON were all chosen specifically for their tricky possibilities. I scrapped a previous grid pattern and its half-clued fill when it got to a point where both ROSE RED and CERISE were necessary and I couldn't figured out how to clue them without repeating the same word containing N.
The usual thank yous and kudos go out to Will Shortz and his unheralded band of behind-the-scenes assistants. Changing my POET clue from [Date, e.g.] to [Doe, e.g.] is so, so cunning. Their ERSATZ clue is beautiful, and is one of my favorites.
*N.B. Ashish Vengsarkar and Narayan Venkatasubramanyan pulled off a similar (and brilliant) theme with TEN ORS back on December 6, 2008. In his Wordplay notes Mr. Vengsarkar mentions the difficult time he had persuading Will to accept the puzzle. As this puzzle encountered no such resistance, I owe them a debt of gratitude. I hope this puzzle in some small way measures up.
My list of potential theme entries, created March 8, 2011, contains moot point, Miss Piggy, make peace, Marco Polo, Menlo Park, match play, mud puddle, milk punch, mail pouch, match point, melting pot, mobile phone, market price, massage parlor, master plan, mashed potatoes, May Pole, melting point, morality play, motion picture, mountain pass, mud pie, and mouse pad.
As a matter of style, I wanted theme entries that were "true" M.P.'s, no M.Ph.'s, M.Pr.'s, etc. I also wanted to be able to cross two pairs of answers. Being able have four 4/5 letter-count patterns crossing on P, plus two 5/4's was a tad serendipitous, but I'll take the added elegance brought about by this. The layout also facilitated placement of the reveal in a corner.
The original grid, submitted in March 2011, had only 33 blocks. Will asked for a revision to eliminate some clunkers from the fill. Adding four blocks, including the cheaters (which I don't like), did the trick.
This went on for about three rounds. Boy is it difficult for three people to agree on what "pun" entries work! When we finally got the nod, I think we were both so excited we sent each other basically filled grids. This grid was David's although Gareth further revised it in a few places. The finished product is much better than the original one we submitted — we're both very happy with it. Patience often pays off! Thanks to Will for sticking with us on this one and for leaving so many of our clues alone!
I'm one of those 6% in Patrick Merrell's recent survey who does puzzles by hand, so I poked around and found a preexisting Times grid with the right letter count in theme answers going across, then flipped it 90 degrees, tweaked it a bit, and slapped DOWNWARDS in the center. Darn the luck, I couldn't make it work! So I split it into DOWN and WARD with a central block, and other words started to fill in very nicely.
At 27-Across, with N _ P_ _ W _ locked in from three theme answers, NEPHEWS is the only possible fill (according to databases), interestingly enough. I think it's a pretty cool word here, and I love Will's only slightly misdirective clue for it. I'm much less proud of 31-Across RECUE and the 52-Down partial E FOR, and will labor in the future to keep these wince-able words at bay. Patience!
This is my first themed puzzle for the Times, and I honestly believed it was Tuesday-ish, but no, Will figured it better for today, with the advantage that it was time for a Thursday puzzle without rebuses.
There's been some chatter about which puzzles are harder to make — themed or themeless — and I can say from experience that a publishable themed puzzle is much harder for me. But I hope to keep at it, with focus on early to mid-week theme ideas. Thanks, all.
I started this puzzle by first coming up with strong, new seed entries for the first and last across answers: CROWDSOURCE and REST ASSURED. The latter entry had the added benefit of having great letters for a bottom spot in the grid. Then I spent time going through different fill options until I found strong entries for the other four long across spots.
I had CHECHNYA as another seed entry due to its being in the news. It also hadn't appeared in the puzzle before, until Ian and Katie Livengood used it 11 days ago! Oh well. :)
I focused on trying to find solid fill throughout the puzzle as well as several new entries. I hope people enjoy the result!
The grid pattern I chose for this stunt is pretty common, though it's actually surprisingly challenging to work with. Since the longest entries are just 7 letters (and shorter entries are typically less exciting to editors), it's important to put extra effort into making the 7-letter entries as lively as possible. However, using too many lively 7-letter entries often leads to iffy shorter fill; therefore, as I discovered, the key to working with this grid is striking a balance.
The most frustrating part about this grid is that one corner almost always ends up being less exciting because of the constraints posed by the other three that have already been filled. In this grid, the least exciting corner was the upper right, though I was pleased to be able to squeeze in GO-GO BAR, GANGSTA, and BASS ALE. As usual, Will did an excellent job of editing my clues — I especially love the ingenious "Piece of trash?" for JUNK ART!
Since my themeless puzzles tend to engender strong reactions on crossword blogs, I thought I'd say a few words about why I build puzzles the way I do. One thing I feel is missing from many puzzles these days is modern references, which I personally strive to include a smattering of in my themeless grids. I understand that some solvers dislike such references, but I also realize that the New York Times crossword has a broad audience that is becoming increasingly younger. All things considered, I try to include a mixture of younger references (such as IPAD APP) and older ones (such as GO-GO BAR) to appeal to solvers of all ages. I understand that I can't please everyone, so my goal is to have at least some entries that will be particularly meaningful to each age group and to make the rest of the fill age-neutral, where possible. I hope you enjoy this puzzle!