Special thanks to Will (and Joel!) for the extra time spent discussing this puzzle, which I revised more than once.
It's always interesting to see what happens to my puzzles between submission and appearance. On this puzzle, I clued all the horizontal words with circles as (SMALL SPOILER ALERT) simply [See circled letters]. But Will decided to make it a bit easier. Not sure who was right; my clue had been used in a similar "Kangaroo words" puzzle in the ACPT one year, although that puzzle was much somewhat more straightforward, cluing for example "israELi AirLine" as [See circled letters]. So this would have been a bit trickier.
I thought of the theme itself while sitting in church one Sunday. Then I spent the rest of the service trying to think of examples to use. This was good because I stayed awake but bad because I didn't pay attention to the sermon. There was no test afterwards, so it all worked out ok.
Meanwhile, I seem to be losing my touch a bit on the cluing side, as many of the clues that I thought were clever or topical didn't make the editorial cut. I used [Seahawks' star Marshawn] for 21-Down and [Berry, repeatedly] for 44-Down. I used [Disney actor] for 67-Down in light of the (fairly) recent film. Perhaps I am simply too old to recognize topical when I see it. (I must confess that I transitioned from one ACPT age division to another a couple of weeks ago.)
Not that I will ever compete, of course. And Dr. Fill remains comfortably in the "juniors" bracket.
If you want to see Dr.Fill solving today's puzzle, here it is, below. I apologize for all the video flashing and whatnot; it's courtesy of my Mac's upgrade to Yosemite. I'll try and track it down before the next ACPT.
Not surprisingly, DF does pretty well on this puzzle, since all of the fill consists of actual words or phrases. It makes a few mistakes early on, but has no trouble correcting them. The solution is found in well under a minute, but it then spends bit of time checking its work and looking for a theme or rebus possibility before announcing that it's done. Correctly solved in a bit under two minutes.
I hope everyone enjoyed the puzzle!
I was surprised to see that I had the Monday crossword this week, as I couldn't recall any Monday-level puzzles of mine that were in the New York Times queue. In fact, when I first set eyes on the grid, I wasn't convinced the puzzle was mine! Luckily, looking at the solution jogged my aging little grey cells. I constructed this crossword in honor of my all-time favorite detective four years ago, when I was 14 and fresh out of middle school. Yes, I built this puzzle back in the days when my hair stuck out like crazy, Paolo Pasco was just a handful of years past the fetus stage, and I dreamt of having a girlfriend someday. Oh wait, that last reminiscence still applies--I guess some things don't change as you get older!
Anyway, I remember being super stoked when Will informed me that he liked my theme. After removing a number of stinkers from the fill under Will's expert guidance (including URGER, INGLE, and ALC), I received an e-mail saying that the puzzle (my third) was accepted. Interestingly, though, Will felt so strongly about running the puzzle on an anniversary of some sort that he wanted to save it for 2020 (the hundredth anniversary of the first Poirot novel)! I remember being a bit disappointed that I'd have to wait for so long but excited that I'd created a time capsule in Will's pipeline. I mean, what graduate school girl wouldn't be impressed if I told her I'd built the puzzle nine years earlier?
Looking back on the puzzle today, I'm not thrilled that I made the reveal the second theme entry, and I don't think I would have put quite as many partials and abbreviations in the fill. That said, nothing in this puzzle makes me cringe too much four years later, and I still love how the little grey cells are shaded in the center!
As for my puzzle coming out in 2015 rather than 2020, I'm kind of glad Will lessened its solitary confinement sentence in the deepest recesses of his Monday folder. I hope you enjoy this easy blast from the past, because I'm quite sure none of the other puzzles I have in Will's pipeline will be Mondays. Mwahahaha!
The theme answers were originally laid across the puzzle. Will liked the idea, but thought the "___ by ___" pattern would make more sense if the theme answers ran down instead. So I gave it another shot and that's what you have here. My original theme clues included "with ‘by,'" which Will changed to "literally," which makes the puzzle tougher to solve.
I've been dipping my toe in the water of lower word counts and more wide open grids. It gets more and more difficult to keep a clean puzzle with a few zippy entries the farther one goes in that direction, yet I feel it's something of a badge of honor to fit a fun puzzle in an expansive grid. The repetitive TOs and OKs obviously aren't ideal. However, removing any of them would necessitate either an awkward bit of crosswordese or the elimination of entire sections of the puzzle. Given those alternatives, I'll take the entries as they are.
On a behind-the-scenes note, I'm pleased that a majority of the final clues were my own. While my grids' fill has improved, my cluing quality has lagged behind. Of course, solvers shouldn't notice much of a difference, as each puzzle is expertly edited before being released, but it's satisfying to have a greater sense of ownership over the final product.
I love cheese! Out shopping one day, I noticed the various ways cheese is packaged. "Say, cheese would be a nice idea for a Monday puzzle," I uttered to myself.
JAY: This puzzle is the fourth collaboration between Dan Kantor and myself, and as it just so happens, the third that has a restaurant and/or food theme. My last solo puzzle had a dairy theme, and the next collaboration we have scheduled to run is—spoiler alert— food related as well.
In the case of PULLED PORK, I don't know that we consciously set out to do another food themed puzzle or that we started with the words "pulled pork." I think the idea came more from wanting to construct a puzzle where a particular word's letters were stretched, broken, split or pulled apart.
I will say that each time we receive payment for one of our collaborations, we use the money to have a nice dinner out with our wives. And now that the NYT has raised the price it pays constructors, we can even splurge a bit. At any rate, I'm suddenly hungry.
To find themers, I wrote a program to generate a list of English words made entirely from the letters A, H, I, M, O, T, U, V, W, X, and Y. (I was conflicted about including U because my handwritten U's are not symmetric, but I decided to go with the letters that are symmetric in type.)
Then, since most of the single words were not very lively (with some exceptions, like HOITY-TOITY), I brainstormed phrases containing those symmetrical words. Probably the hardest part was making sure no two theme entries had any words in common.
After this puzzle was finished, I spent more time than I would like to admit looking at my computer in a mirror.
This crossword was submitted earlier this year, so it is fairly fresh in my mind. My biggest concern had been whether it could be painlessly implemented using the submitted solution, which had four blank squares, one at every "break" point. I see that an instructional note was used, to deal with this.
The final version's grid fill is slightly different in the NW corner than what I had conjured up (IKON changed to IHOP, ASKIN changed to ASHEN). The grid turned out fairly Scrabbly, but that's not something I ever especially shoot for. I do, however, enjoy making unusual puzzles, with weirdish theme slants and at least a few oddball words. (Hi, all you SHAVETAIL H-HINGEs!) Not surprisingly, all my puzzles have landed on a Wednesday or Thursday, so far. (Or in the "too darn weird for us" reject pile, of course.)
I always include a title on my submitted puzzles, and I dubbed this one "Divide and Conquer". Hopefully, solvers will be able to do just that — and have lots of fun in the process.
I like exploring rough waters. Low word count themelesses are really tricky, so most of my ventures in this area haven't been very successful (that's code for "they stunk up the joint"). In fact, I had thrown in the towel a few years ago, vowing never to waste my time on low word count grids, most of which necessitate heavy crossword glue and not a lot of colorful entries. What sort of solving experience is that?
And then Tim Croce used a grid pattern I had never seen before, one I thought was visually stunning. Not only wide-open and ultra-low word count, but it was something that looked like it should be hanging on a wall (kind of like a KNIFE BAR!). I liked it so much, I decided to get back on the horse and see what I might be able to do with a similar layout.
I'm a big fan of feature entries, and Tim's grid only allowed for nine-letter entries, nothing longer. So I shifted some blocks around, tested out what might produce flexible patterns, and settled upon a layout featuring two 13-letter words. THOUGHT POLICE was on my mind after having re-read "1984," so I tested that out in both of the slots. When it became apparent that HAN SOLO, one of my favorite characters of all time, might work crossing THOUGHT POLICE, I decided to dive in.
Some hundreds, maybe thousands of iterations later, I had worked out two of the quadrants pretty well. But the area in the middle wouldn't cooperate, not allowing me to knit the pieces together. Ugly situation, potentially untenable. Quit-worthy. I came up with a few options, but nothing would hold the quadrants together at 20D, a key entry. After dozens of hours sunk into this venture, it felt like the puzzle had beaten me.
But, I'm stubborn. I ran through several sources to search for everything under the sun that might possibly work in that slot. When PEN CAPS popped out, I reminisced about using pen caps as projectiles in rubber band slingshots (my parents were politely asked to remove me from Chinese school), I decided to see where that led. Thankfully, things fell from there.
Meaning, I only had another half to do.
The entire grueling experience reminded me of my original clue for PEN CAPS: [Hard things to chew on in class].
A theme like this instantaneously reveals itself. Don noticed a phrase, MINK STOLE, where the last word doubles as a noun and the past tense of a verb not related to the noun. This is a quirky sort of aspect of our language that we thought would be interesting for the crossword puzzle solver.
We intuited that there are many similar examples, and that such a theme had the potential for a Sunday-sized puzzle. To find such phrases, it was helpful to look at a list of verbs and their past tense forms. We did find quite a large number of examples — it is not often that we 1.) have quite a few theme entries to choose from and 2.) make the intersection of two theme answers possible.
Don created a grid design that did not fill easily. Zhouqin finished off the design, and that was when she noticed two pairs of theme answers could cross. After we were done inserting theme answers, Don saw that there was still space to enter one more down the middle at 45D.
It is risky to have so many theme answers and still be able to come up with good surrounding fill. We give great credit to Will Shortz and Joel Fagliano for encouraging us to find better fill in the NE and SW corners after our submission. Those were difficult areas to fill, and we thought we had exhausted the possibilities before. But having a fresh start on it, we were able to improve the areas greatly.
We will admit that sometimes we force a fill because we like certain words or phrases, and that may have been the case here. It is difficult to admit to oneself that the fill is not good enough, and to better keep looking — we are glad that we have editors who cared enough to point this out.
This was a puzzle where the title came after the fact (sometimes the title drives the theme idea). Don came up with AS IT WERE almost immediately, without thinking much about it. It just sounded right!
I'm pleased to see I've reached a milestone with this being my 50th puzzle in the NY Times. It was fun in retrospect to see how personal this puzzle is for me in that 1.) it's a Monday, 2.) one of the clues is "Acme", 3.) it's a pangram, and 4.) it's about joy. I'm BEAMing at 1-Across and I'm LAUGHINGOUTLOUD at the reveal.
I wanted to do a puzzle with HARDY HAR HAR ... which is old-fashioned with something modern. Once I realized LAUGHINGOUTLOUD was 15 letters as was HARPERVALLEYPTA and HARDYBOYSSERIES, I was on my way.
The challenge was the second HAR. In my original submission I had HARLEMBOYSCHOIR but had failed to notice that I used BOYS twice (HARDYBOYS and HARLEMBOYS). So Will suggested he'd accept the puzzle IF I could substitute in a different phrase.
There aren't that many phrases in the language that start with HAR to begin with, much less exactly 15 letters, so it was a nice coincidence that I stumbled on HARVARDGRADUATE just as I was headed back East for my 35th reunion (OK, I threw in YALE at 18D for equal time).
Since the grid was pretty restricted in the order which things had to appear (I only had flexibility in swapping out the second and third HAR), Joel Fagliano helped me substantially lay out the grid so I could get as smooth a fill as possible. He deserves structural credit here!
I particularly like MADCAP and "So's YER old man!" My favorite corner is the Northeast, where SAIL crosses ALEE, and JESSE/ OZAWA/ EZRA and SWEE' pea all play together with EASE.
The idea for this theme came to me when I was solving another crossword and noticed that the word "east" was hidden in the center of ADELE ASTAIRE. I found it surprisingly difficult to find other suitable theme entries meeting this criterion. I was on the fence whether to include the two theme entries across the middle of the grid — they are outliers both in terms of length and consistency (E-A-S-T in the answer is pronounced as "east," and it does not break across two words). In the end, I decided the puzzle was better with them than without them.
My favorite part of constructing puzzles is cluing. In researching ways in which an entry might be clued, you pick up a lot of interesting information. Two of my favorites in this puzzle are 3-Down (WANG) and 46-Down (PAC MAN). On 3-Down, I expect some solvers were looking for a five letter answer (APPLE). And the limitation in 46-Down's clue exists because the game implodes at level 256 (binary 0001 0000 0000). The game's level register has only eight bits, and the software does not make allowance for going beyond level 255 (binary 1111 1111).
This is my tenth puzzle published in the NYT, a personal milestone, and if I've learned one thing at this point in my short constructing career, it would be to give the solvers what they want, and for many it's a Thursday rebus.
This idea occurred to me at work, the phrase COMPRESSED AIR had rebus written all over it. When I had the chance I researched whether anyone had published this theme before, and found to my surprise they had not. I then went about finding words and phrases that included the trigram AIR, fitting as many of them as I could into the grid. A couple of the entries involve the word "air" itself which I wanted to avoid, however I thought it was not fatal to the final product.
The original puzzle had the central entry UPSTAIRSDOWNSTAIRS running east-west but I changed it to the more apropos north-south. It also had ten entries that Will asked me to replace, and I was able to switch out nine of them. The two clues of mine which I hoped would make it and did, were 27-Across, and 62-Down, as always Will and Joel livened up a lot of the others.
Hope this puzzle satisfies that Thursday rebus jones.
See? I told you the other puzzles I have in the queue are more challenging than the Monday that ran earlier this month!
Anyway, I constructed this puzzle last March, when I was experimenting with stagger-stacked grid patterns involving 9-letter entries. When I build stunt themelesses of this variety, I limit myself to just one seed entry, which I place at the bottom of the stack. I decided on JUST RELAX since it struck me as fun and lively, hadn't been used much (just three other times, and not since 2009), and contained easy letters toward the middle of the stack (T, R, E, L, and A). Also, the J in JUST RELAX was convenient in that it was Scrabbly yet off to the side (thus not restricting my options much), though the X in a prime position made the entry a bit of a gamble.
That said, there were still too many options, so I decided to take even more of a risk in insisting that the second-to-bottom entry in the stack had to start with a Q. Much to my delight, a stack without any major compromises fell into place, though the grid still struck me as a bit closed off — at the time, I had an extra pair of black squares above CIDER and below BRONX. Since CIDER and BRONX struck me as especially expandable, I opened up the grid and plunked down APPLE CIDER and BRONX CHEER.
My next task was to determine what the two grid-spanners would be. PERSONAL SHOPPER was an easy choice, since it both fit the best and seemed especially fun! And although LINCOLN MEMORIAL struck me as kind of neutral, I appreciated that it was solid, allowed me to use LOUDSPEAKER, and didn't necessitate any irksome short entries. After sifting through numerous options for the rest of the fill, I settled on what you currently see.
I wasn't thrilled with SLUE, EDY, or SOC, but was quite pleased with how everything else turned out, so I called it a good day with the fill and whipped up a set of clues. I was pleased to see that more of my clues made the cut than in some of my previous published puzzles, though my favorite part of the post-submission process has always been discovering the ingenious new cluing angles Will and Joel come up with! For instance, their "Place to lead a private life?" is much, much better than my original "Two, ten, or sixty" for BASE. My favorite clue in the puzzle, though, is one of my own: "Call girl employer?" for AVON! Maybe that's why I'm still single!
Well, with that, I hope you enjoy the puzzle.
I constructed this puzzle in March 2014. My seeds for this puzzle were HJ HEINZ and CHANNEL SURF.
My goal was to have a themeless puzzle with a high "Scrabble average." Fortunately, I was able to produce a pangram and include a few longer entries making their NYT debut: IRISH JIGS, EVOTE, HJHEINZ, CHANNEL SURF, RUN AGROUND, JAZZ QUARTET and JUNIPER OIL.
I keep a notebook in my backpack that's filled with scribbled half-themes. One day I was leafing through and noticed the line "The Anagrammys" and this theme sprung from there. It wasn't until late in the game when Frank Longo pointed out these weren't all Grammy-winners, as two of them were only nominated but never won. So we switched to the current title, which I think still captures the idea pretty well.
The fill here started with those long downs cutting through three themers (SPOILER ALERT and LETTER OPENER) and then I focused on making those stacked sevens in the middle lively and clean.
In the clues, I'm always happy when I can find a new angle on a familiar crossword answer. So while the IMAC clue was a little long-winded, I think it provides a little more fun than usual. As a poker player, I was happy to get that fresh angle on OUT, as well.
Hmm, I can't think of much to say about this one. I have no idea anymore what prompted me to consider the revealer phrase as potential puzzle fodder. But once I did, it was relatively easy to find words and phrases that fit the pattern. Create the grid, and voila, done! Well, obviously not quite. Still those clues to be written.
It goes without saying that Will changed some of them, but I didn't notice anything major. In general, for a Monday, his clues ease things up a bit.
Looking at the grid now — nine months after submitting it — I do remember pondering whether ROMANESQUE was Monday-OK. Getting the Q in there was not a factor — actually, it was the only darn thing that would work.
Only thing left was to solve the puzzle, and for that, of course, it's up to you!
This puzzle has been waiting to be "born" for quite a while. In fact, this was actually the very first puzzle that I had approved for NYT publication, although not the first to be published. The crossword constructing requires real PATIENCE!
I remember with this puzzle, being my first, how exciting it was to not only get an encouraging response back from Will's assistant, but then as a follow-on e-mail to actually see that I was communicating directly with the WILL SHORTZ!
At the time I was doing this puzzle, I had a lot of trouble coming up with six 4-letter "BALL" words that would work in a 4-letter, free-standing cluster in the grid. I remember an earlier version I had submitted that included FOUL as one of the 6 "balls," but this was rejected because it wasn't, like all the others of course, a type of ball per se. Eventually, after many hours of "treasure-hunting" for fills (actually a pretty fun process for constructors!) with my skimpy database at the time, I was eventually able to get 6 "ball" words to work out!
With an earlier version, I had the main themer clued as: "Note from a vacationing friend," which I liked because the temptation for a solver might have been to jump-the-gun with: WISH YOU WERE HERE. For those who would have been using a pen that might have been considered a cruel trap!
I hope the final version was user-friendly and fun!
I wanted to make a Wednesday puzzle, so 74 words and this theme (duh!) made sure that would happen.
I tried to squeeze SLOW CLAP at 19-Across for the longest time, but oh well. Favorite clue: 14-Across ([Side parts?] for CAMEOS).
Although 27 squares isn't a lot of theme, triple-checked letters exponentially increase the construction difficulty level. This puzzle might play like an easy themeless once solvers get the theme, but I hope the quality fill keeps ‘em interested until the end.
it's been a while since my last puzzle in the times—so long, in fact, that i don't remember doing constructor notes for it. anyway, this puzzle is a bit of a curio, but i'm glad it's found a home. i actually thought at first it might be an early-week puzzle, but i showed the theme to a few friends and they quickly disabused me of that notion. with no "reveal" answer for the theme, it slots in nicely here in the middle of the week, i think.
in constructing this puzzle, i actually came up with two more theme answers of matching lengths that didn't make the cut. perhaps sports fans will know them: one was a former boston celtics coach of the '90s (not their heyday, I must say), and one is a very successful korean golfer. i've seen both names before in crossword puzzles, but i didn't think either was quite famous enough to be a theme answer.
i'm trying to get back into constructing more standard crosswords, so hopefully you'll be seeing my byline a little more often in the near future. and if you were a fan of the variety puzzles i made for the now-defunct will shortz's wordplay magazine, i may have good news for you quite soon.
(note from jeff: down with capital letters; such a waste of buttons and ink!)
My first Friday! Friday is my favorite day for NYT crosswords as a solver, so I'm happy finally to publish a Friday puzzle.
The seed entries were LAWYER UP and WAIT WHAT. I had to resort to a 72-word grid in order to keep everything smooth, but I'm happy with how that played out.
I guess the original clues I submitted were too hard for a Friday. Only 13 of my clues (18%) were used without any changes, while 19 others (26%) retained the same gist but were edited slightly. That meant Will and company wrote 40 entirely new clues (56% of the total!), a percentage far higher than I would want to see.
I'm a major proponent of the OXFORD COMMA, so I built a puzzle around it. I submitted two clues for that one: [It comes right before the last step of "stop, drop, and roll"] and [2008 Vampire Weekend song whose title is an oft-misunderstood piece of grammar]. Neither made the final cut, obviously. I also had a pseudo-paired set of clues for WEIRD AL ["Do I Creep You Out" rocker] and AXL ROSE ["You're Crazy" rocker], but maybe those songs would've been too obscure for the NYT.
In general, I like how this one turned out, but I wish I had spent a little more time revising it if only to get rid of RED DOT, which isn't my favorite answer. That northeast corner gave me fits when I tried to refill it, though. I submitted a revision of the puzzle with a redone right side of the puzzle and HATERADE where HAT CHECK is. Will said he liked the HAT CHECK version better, though to his credit he gave me the choice of which fill option I wanted. But being the procrastinator that I am, I never wrote clues for the alternate version. So while I didn't get HATERADE in the New York Times, I put it in a recent Devil Cross puzzle instead. That's where having my own site comes in handy.
Speaking of which: I've seen many heartfelt tributes for the late great Merl Reagle lately. My upcoming Devil Cross puzzle (Puzzle #61) is my way of adding to that conversation.
I was on a long flight last fall and ran out of reading material. I wished I had a crossword puzzle to do. Then I thought, "I think I'll make one — how hard can it be?" That was the beginning of the journey that ends with my puzzle appearing this Sunday in the Times.
This was actually my third puzzle; the first two got rejected. Joel and Will showed endless patience with me as I worked through four revisions to finally get this one right.
The first revision strengthened the theme clues. It also forced me to make my own grid, something I hadn't tried before. That ended up being funner than I expected as I like the aesthetics of the grid designs.
The second revision had me eliminate boring entries like ALDA and TEPEE and strive for words not commonly seen. Unfortunately, while adding more vibrant and interesting words, I allowed some weaklings to sneak in as well.
Revision four ruthlessly eradicated all those words Will identified as unacceptable or unlikable. Perseverance paid off and I finally got the coveted "yes" from Joel.
I love language and often think about turns of phrase. There is often humor, sometimes unintentional in the things we say, and that is what inspired the theme. My favorite entries are FAT FARM and BOBOS.
And a little about me: I work for the National Park Service as the superintendent of San Juan Island National Historical Park in Washington State. I grew up in a family that bought multiple copies of the Sunday New York Times so that everyone could work on the crossword puzzle independently.
This puzzle, which I called "Pool Cues" during construction, was one I began brainstorming several years ago. The expression DIVE IN HEAD FIRST was my point of departure. From there I attempted to develop a theme with four or five different expressions with action verbs (jump, leap, etc.), but that did not pan out to my liking. The "get in the pool" theme came to me relatively easily, once I had GO OFF THE DEEP END to match up with the 15-letter count of the first one. TAKE THE PLUNGE soon followed and worked out nicely as a 13-letter entry for the center.
My first filled grid was unsatisfactory, so the puzzle sat on the back burner for probably six months before I resurrected it for completion. Looking at it with new eyes, I realized that the theme was a strong candidate for a NYT Monday because of those three lively expressions.
The grid underwent several more iterations until both Will and I were satisfied with this version for publication. It has some solid but easy fill entries like SEVEN DWARFS, HANG IN THERE, MEDIEVAL, and a fun new entry, TWIST TOP. As it stands, the puzzle is quite solvable, as a Monday crossword should be, to allow new solvers to stick a toe in the water without much trepidation. (This leads me to my new formula for measuring the degree of difficulty for NYT puzzles: Monday = Stick a toe in, Tuesday = Wade in the water (children), Wednesday = Take the plunge, Thursday/Sunday = Dive in head first, and Friday/Saturday = Go off the deep end).
In the end, the puzzle also acts as a reminder that the Summer of 2015 still has some life left in it.