As with many of our puzzles, we come up with a revealer first and then try to build a crossword theme around it. This idea came from a tattoo on the back of a guy's hand we saw. It said "To Do" and then had the numbers 1 through 4 listed below it. He would take a pen and write down the things he wanted to get done every day on his hand. Really. Although neither of us are going to get tattoos, we thought that we would honor such a clever idea in a crossword puzzle!
The themers we came up with were not very long so we decided to include five of them. This is tricky because we hate to use 3 letter fill and try to limit their use. There are more of them than we would prefer in this puzzle, but we felt it was worth it to get the five theme answers. The two cheater black squares in the corners were necessary to keep the open corners from having crummy stuff in them.
Hope you enjoy the puzzle.
I'd imagine this general theme of putting one word inside of another has been done more than a few times over the years. But when "Dancing in the Dark" jumped out at me, I went on to come up with a list of other songs that fit the ___ IN ___ pattern. As I continued, I ended up restricting myself to ___ IN THE ___, then titles with a four-letter final word (which could be evenly split) and finally ones whose first word ended with ING or IN'. Hopefully you appreciated this tightening of the theme.
Since the New York Times has such a wide range of solvers, I wanted to make sure there was a song for everyone in the puzzle. Something from your youth or an old favorite to help get your foothold in this puzzle. It's a bit of a tricky theme for a Wednesday, but I think it's fair considering the high word count and repetition in the gimmick.
Looking at the clues in the final edit, I was happy to see that many of my clues were unchanged or only slightly altered. I like to think this means I'm getting better at matching The New York Times Crossword Clue Voice. I was particularly pleased to see my math, mythology, and TV references survive the cut in clues for AUNT, STYX, and ISLAND, respectively. That said, Will and Joel came up with [OMG, like, the greatest pal] for BFF, which put a big smile on my face, and crossword mastermind Erik Agard helped me out with the clue for FOUND MONEY: [Change out of an old pair of pants?].
This was my first crossword accepted by the New York Times — so exciting! (TOP OFF was accepted second, but published first.) Will and Joel liked the "wacky theme" of my submission, and saw it as "a fun change of pace for solvers."
I hope this puzzle's new perspective on the Q provides for a satisfying a-ha moment!
This puzzle is almost running on the day that marks my 20th anniversary in the puzzle biz. How about that?
August 7th, 1996 my first crossword ran. You'd think that I'd remember this fact and would have mentioned it in my Globe puzzle that is running on August 7th. That would have been great. But my memory isn't what it used to be in my advanced age.
This puzzle started as an earnest attempt to integrate central 14s (which, based on feedback, seemed to go over well in my themeless debut) and some corner stacks. Having gained the wisdom granted by a two-year publication lag, I still like the plural JEDI MIND TRICKS over the singular and UNIVERSAL DONOR with its only slightly edited clue. (Will/Joel added the "always.")
However, I now think a few of the corners creak a tad too much, especially the SE and NE. FLASH MOB (which surprisingly has not yet debuted in the Times), (full name) ELIHU YALE, I LOST IT, the scrabbly LL COOL J, NEO-DADA, STREAKING, THE HULK, BUM A RIDE and the "Hey-I've-seen-that-thing-before-but-couldn't-tell-you-what-it's-called" BALDRIC still strike me as interesting long entries, but the remaining seem too "so what?"/neutral. Plus, having to rely on DYER (blech!), ETAT, OEIL, DAHS, and CRUE to hold the puzzle together isn't ideal in a themeless. Oh well! Live, learn, and improve.
Also, for those interested in my non-crossword persona, I successfully passed my second actuarial exam on June 17th and am currently searching for an entry-level actuary position or internship. If there is anybody out there willing to help a young'un jumpstart his career, I would be greatly appreciative and definitely buy you some cake... if I could somehow devise a way to deliver cake via email. Find a way, technology!
Or, if you're more interested in my crossword persona, feel free to email. Assuming my schedule is not too overloaded, I welcome anyone willing to put up...er, I mean...collaborate with me.
The cookie-cutter format of most television news programs helped this theme come together fairly quickly. The BREAKING NEWS crawl on the bottom of most newscasts got me thinking about other over-used expressions we see and hear all the time, and I thought it would be fun to re-interpret some of those terms.
I have some personal favorites in the non-theme fill, especially NSFW, which just a few years ago caused a prior submission to be rejected because of its obscurity. And I'm happy to see my clue for SYKES made the cut. Overall, I suspect this will be a comparatively easy Sunday puzzle, but hopefully one that evokes some grins.
When I sent this idea to Don, there was no TITANIC. Don is always looking for ways to enhance a theme, and one is to cross theme answers in the center. He realized soon after GIANT was proposed for the center by me that TITANIC could cross it. Creating puzzle themes works well with our collaboration, because it encourages much exploration of ideas, which leads to creative thought. We draw inspiration from the process.
Joel redid our lower right corner, as it had a few unfriendly Monday entries.
Made this years ago when Brian Cimmet and Patrick Blindauer were nice enough to ask me to create something for Lollapuzzoola. Brainstormed ideas wanting to do something New York-centric (thus the NEW YORK NEW YORK running thru the middle and ELLIS Island and CHINATOWN running down) (And a little YOUBETCHA as a shout out to the Minnesotans out there!)
My original concept for this puzzle is quite different from what appears here. To be honest, I fought both Patrick and Will on this, but lost in the end. (Of course. they are probably right.) But I wanted to have double phrases (ZOOM ZOOM, HEAR YE HEAR YE, SING SING, etc.) separated by a black square but the FIRST word would be defined as is... and the second one would be "With such and such across (New concept)" So, for example, 71A: "To chant melodically" (SING) / 72A: "With 71A a prison in upstate NY" (SINGSING). This way, only the second half would have "With such and such ..." in the clue...so it would be two different ideas... a singular one and when doubled, a new concept.
But Patrick thought it would be better if they were defined as one concept in two different ways. In the end, I had to defer to his genius and instincts. (Will agreed and was willing to publish it in the NYT to generously cross promote the tournament this upcoming weekend, so I'm thrilled it's seeing the light of day, years later, in any form!)
Patrick and Will should share in the credit. (AUTHOR AUTHOR AUTHOR?) I urge everyone to go and have a blast at Lollapuzzoola, even though I can't make it this year. You can find me in San Francisco having a major bout of FOMO.
The word count (80) and the number of blocks (40) may be a touch greater than the normal requirements; however, one must take into consideration that the ratio of available squares (185) to the number of letters (130) that were required to put together this quintuple pangram — along with working in both the entries QUINTUPLE + FIVEFOLD into the grid — made the overall construction of this particular puzzle even that much more difficult! And, on top of all that, none of the letters with a Scrabble value of 2 or more points went beyond the fivefold mark. [High FIVE!!!!!👏]
For those who didn't care so much for "JIVER" in my puzzle, here's another alternative.
ACCEPTED: July 22nd, 2016
Joel here, writing for Will.
We're happy to say yes on your QUINTUPLE pangram. Wow! What an achievement. Of course, there are some compromises here ... but really not so many. Overall, a stunt that's too amazing not to run.
Tentatively, slated this for a Wednesday given all of the unusual and difficult vocabulary.
Thanks for sending this to us — and congrats!
Writing notes on this puzzle a month later, Jeff's got a very keen eye for picking out thorny patches. Interestingly, the ENERO / NOSES stack was an editorial change from EDEMA / NESTS. That corner was a real pain, as it can be difficult to navigate the trade-offs when there is no obvious best fill. Because I rated EDEMA and ENERO about equal—while favoring GMT / HAS over GRE / HOS—I opted for EDEMA (the medical term for fluid accumulation in body cavities); but that preference must have been incorrect.
"Inside pool?". No bueno?
Thank you for solving my first NYT themeless. Here's the thing: it was the most leisurely, relaxing puzzle I've ever made. Why? Because there's no THEME entries to get boxed in on! The hardest part o' this puzzle was cluing it. (Which, alas, to my shame, only 24 out o' 72 clues made the cut. And I really did try hard! Maybe too hard. Which brings me to my point.)
If you can make a themed puzzle — especially a Monday-Tuesday level one — you can do this standing on your head.
(I'm looking at YOU, ACME!!!) :-)
Besides the normal outlets, I make Monday-level puzzles twice a month for a mobile app called Deverai. Every week I make a Monday-level puzzle for a subscription group o' solvers who aren't experts at all. These are difficult to make, compared to this one.
I wrote this puzzle's first draft — back in April, 2015 — because of some strange kerfuffle about Why Women Don't Make More NYT Themeless Puzzles. This seemed odd to me, having enjoyed the work of, for example, my friends Sherry Blackard (34 NYT themeless puzzles to date), Liz Gorski (27 themeless puzzles to date)…and a host of others.
So I set to work. I realized I needed some anchor, so, given the fact that, due to my stupid turned-up nose, I was dubbed "pig-face" as a kid — I chose PETUNIA PIG for 1A. (Her gorgeous vowels did not hurt her chances.) I paired her with POST-IT NOTE since I was staring at one. (Did you know that it was discovered by accident by a 3M guy? That clue didn't make the cut, but there you are.)
My first draft — admittedly filled accompanied by a glass o' Chardonnay — was returned with the comments: (paraphrasing here) "Cut out the @$#@#%%# glue!" So I did, which forced me to substitute NAVEL ORANGE at 11 D with AGENT ORANGE…not a really pleasant entry, is it? Still the rewrite didn't take all that long.
I regret 55A. As an advertising copywriter, let me assure you that I've never used that abbr. in an ad. Other than that, it was great fun, and many thanks to Will and Joel — and especially you guys for solving it. And hey! Welcome Jake David Denny Chen, born 7/28/2016! :-)
My first entry in the grid? You guessed it — LATOYA. Once I had a grid that looked fillable, I tried to sniff out any trouble spots. The L???Y? was the only problematic area, so that went in first.
Is BASTA good fill? Probably not, but I thought Hillary Clinton's mention of it back in March gave it some modern currency. And other than the proper noun pile up in the SW corner, pretty happy how this one turned out.
Oh, and "Moral Thinking" is a much better title than my submitted title, "End Uhl Be Uhl." Haha, I really shouldn't be allowed to name things.
This puzzle's got an embarrassing backstory. Originally, I managed to drop EGGHEADS in as the first themer, apparently not noticing that the revealer is HEADS WILL ROLL and it's probably not wise to dupe theme words. And by "originally," I mean "to the point where I was content to send it to Will," because I didn't realize it until Joel sent a far-too-polite note about a "pretty bad dupe." Luckily, they were cool with me reworking the grid around EGG HUNTS, et voila. Figures the new grid would contain a TOO dupe, then — though, I've never actually been bothered by small dupes like that in the fill.
Anyway, when making easy puzzles (especially those which might end up on a Monday), I tend to hold myself to pretty high standards with respect to subpar / unfamiliar fill. I often see tweets on Mondays from solvers who just finished their first NYT crossword ever, and the last thing I want is to stymie such a would-be new solver with an even potentially-frustrating crossing, or other similar downer of a moment. Setting the solver up for success and all that. I think it's a huge responsibility for early-week puzzles, which can have particular influence on someone's relationship to crosswords, to provide an experience which leaves them wanting more.
I'd say this puzzle is solid in that regard — the least familiar / legit things are probably ET TU, LTRS, ETHNO-, EXT, but they're all inferable / crossed fine at worst. Though, wow, did I write this during a phase when I valued getting an X into the grid at literally any cost? EXT is so avoidable, would not do again.
I hope you enjoyed the puzzle!
After coming up with the idea for this one, I found acceptable examples surprisingly hard to find. There were plenty of phrases with two R's and two D's, but I was being picky here: the first word had to have exactly two R's and no D's; and the second word had to have exactly two D's with no R's.
This was one of the rare puzzles I had to redo. The deal-breaker was the theme entry BROTHER ODD, the title of a Dean Koontz book and a recurring character in his novels. I hadn't been real happy with that, but clued it with reference to a "strange" name, hoping to give a major hint to the "odd" part. But Will thought it was too obscure…and it was back to the drawing board. I can't find the original puzzle, but the change to this version was the inclusion of NARROWLY DEFINED in the middle, which I wasn't exactly thrilled with either.
I will have to get busy because I'm pretty sure this is my last puzzle in the NYT hopper. I need a big influx of both ideas and time!
I'm really pleased to make my NYT debut in the Wednesday slot — it's my personal favorite place in the weekday lineup. I like to think of the Wednesday puzzles as "stop and think" difficult. Seldom tough enough to stump the average solver, but usually interesting and clever.
This puzzle's theme (revealed at 38-Down) is in a category that I call "clue-play", in which the chicanery is found in the clues instead of the answers. We've seen several in this vein recently including one with symbols and one with "half-letters" in the clues. I suspected that most solvers would sniff this theme out after they got one or two of the theme entries (or maybe immediately, if they peeked at the reveal entry, which I personally try not to do). I constructed another puzzle similar to this one in which the blacked-out parts of the clues weren't the same word, but rather members of a category. That one's a little trickier.
In terms of the incidental fill, there were some revisions (actually quite a few, I must admit), but one surviving entry that Will really wanted to deep-six was ARNE. Perhaps I'm the only person that does crosswords and also has a CD of Thomas Arne's music on the shelf next to my computer. Despite the objections, Arne could not be expunged from the grid, so there he is for all the classical music haters to gripe about. I don't really see the problem! Arne is obviously more popular than Beethoven, as evidenced by his 17 appearances in crosswords so far this year (compared to only one for Beethoven)! ;)
I'd had TEMPE/RAMEN/TALLY kicking around my brain for a while but hadn't come across any other similarly patterned wordplay. Jeff and I both live in Seattle and every so often meet up for coffee and to talk crossword shop. I mentioned it to him one day and he suggested we use the power of programming to generate some other potential examples. We each took a crack at finding 15-letter words that could be split into 5/5/5 or 4/5/6 or 4/4/7 etc. After sifting through a bunch of junk, we settled on these three.
Here are a few alternates that didn't quite make the cut:
The first version we submitted included the revealer THE SPLITS clued as [Show of flexibility ... and what 16−, 25−, and 40−Across each do]. It was deemed to be not such a great addition to the main theme so we decided to rework the puzzle. With only three theme entries, we tried to construct a wide-open grid with as much fresh fill as possible. Hope you all enjoy the result!
And, as many others have said, it's a great pleasure to work with Jeff!
It's weird for me to see puzzles from my more "beginner" stages of constructing. It feels kinda like being forced to read my middle-school journal — looking back there are always some choices I regret making, but at the same time, it's a nice snapshot of who I was back then.
Let's get the regrets out of the way first. My main gripe with this one is that I could have added more sparkle. I do like the entries in the SE stack (the impetus for the puzzle), and the fill overall is solid, but I'd try for some flashier entries nowadays — those stake of sevens in the NW and SE scream "unused potential."
Which isn't to say I wanna burn the thing to the ground — there's still a nice touch of stuff personal to me. It's full of the obligatory references to things I like: 32A and 61A came from the onset of my "Seinfeld" preoccupation (MANdelbaum! MANdelbaum! MANdelbaum!), and there are clue shoutouts for Beyoncé at 23D and (somewhat obliquely) Taylor Swift at 34A. Plus the clue for 8D is my favorite among the clues I've written; did your mind jump to E'ER?
Overall I like today's puzzle (and I'm happy to see it in the Times), but if I made it today, I'd probably see if I could get something more lively. Constructor's qualms aside, I hope you enjoy the puzzle!
The initial criteria I set for this themeless:
Modification (or compromise if you must) made early on: inclusion of two "cheater squares" that allowed the entry X AND Y AXES (I liked that one a lot), but it cost me criterion #2 (minor) and dual symmetry (minor).
Will rejected my first completed submission for including one of my favorite celebrities at 62-Across — you can see who it was by solving here. (Jeff: You can see the solution by pressing F9. And Will has mentioned in the past that he wouldn't run his own name in a grid, as that feels too self-serving.) Good news, the second version was accepted (and in retrospect probably fulfilled criterion #4 better).
And CONGRATULATIONS on the new addition, Jake David Denny Chen! (Jeff: two-week old Jake is a superb sleeper, thankfully. Also a prodigious pooper, not so thankfully — for me at least. He seems to greatly enjoy it.)
KATHY: As a longtime reporter, I've had many bylines over the years — but this is one of the most exciting! It's only my second published puzzle; the first was a solo effort printed in Games Magazine a couple of years ago. That one was smaller and simpler: 15x15 and only wordplay, no visuals. So I knew I needed help with my idea for "Wonder-ful!" and my first thought was Jeff Chen. His grids are always so creative!
We had communicated a bit through Twitter over the years when I was blogging at crosswordkathy.com (currently on hiatus), but I didn't meet him in person until I went to the ACPT for the first time last April. A couple of weeks later, I emailed him with this theme proposal and he was intrigued. We debated which parks to include and how they could be visualized, including an ambitious shape for GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS and an entry where the RIO GRANDE slithered through a crooked BIG BEND. Unfortunately, not all of our ideas could fit, but I'm pretty happy with the ones that did.
And I'm really grateful to Jeff for his willingness to work with a rookie! I learned a lot.
JEFF: I admit it. I'm on Twitter (@JeffChenWrites — follow me!) but I still don't totally get it. I occasionally tweet about my current writing project or stray nose hairs or other subjects of equal importance, and followers will reply, or poke me, or Pokemon Go me or something. It's oddly complicated and altogether baffling, really. But I appreciate the chance to meet cool people through it once in a while, like Kathy.
Crossword Kathy https://crosswordkathy.net/ is on hiatus right now, but for a while, Kathy would post insightful commentary from an experienced solver's perspective. Best of all, I liked when she called me "the best thing since sliced platinum-plated superfood bread" and that I was "undoubtedly the sole human being who could best Dos Equis's The Most Interesting Man Alive."
(There may have been some paraphrasing.)
So it was a delight when Kathy introduced herself at the ACPT, and asked if I could help her with creating a crossword. I'm always happy to help out a friendly newbie, and to my surprise, her very first idea — for a NATIONAL PARK SERVICE puzzle — I thought was a gem. (People usually flame out and give up after we go back and forth over 10+ ideas.)
It took some fleshing out and research to make sure there would be enough theme material. From a long list we shortlisted about 6-8 really well-known parks we could represent pictorially. Kathy's suggestion for HALF DOME over YOSEMITE was what clinched the set. We're both West Coasters at heart, so if you haven't heard of HALF DOME, consider it your obligation to go see it. And not just in an Ansel Adams painting. You don't have to bivouac halfway up the sheer face, but seeing it from both the ground and from top is something else.
After that, it was a simple matter of 90+ versions, and the grid was done! Easy peasy. In the Twitter sort of sense.
So excited to be making my New York Times debut!
I got into constructing last year as a fourth year medical student eager to procrastinate from working on residency applications by any means necessary.
I think the idea for this puzzle was born from a sweet tooth and an empty stomach. I was initially trying to work "Sour Patch Kids" into an overly ambitious themeless with which I quickly grew frustrated and abandoned. Instead I brainstormed ways to fit it into a themed puzzle and hit on the idea of starting the themers with different "Taste makers". My only regret is that there aren't more phrases starting with umami — and by more I mean literally any.
I also agonized over the "Roeg"/"Gerard"/"Andrei" situation for the longest time and sadly couldn't find a way around it. Nothing like intersecting semi-obscure proper names to start your Monday morning. Speaking of proper names, as a die-hard Patriots fan I'm a little disappointed in the clue revision for 60-across, but I suppose I should be grateful Will didn't twist the knife further and include a reference to Eli's Super Bowl MVP awards.
Thanks for solving and I hope you enjoyed!
I hope solvers share my pleasure in seeing CALVINBALL in a New York Times puzzle. It's such an evocative idea of pure creative play, and I liked balancing it with the more contemplative POOHSTICKS — very different visions of childhood (and philosophies of life), each lovely in their own ways.
I'm grateful to Will and Joel for their improvements to this grid, and I'm also indebted to two other editors who've helped immeasurably in my development as a constructor: Stan Newman and Brad Wilber. Brad's mentorship in particular has been a great boon to me — even though he had no direct involvement with this puzzle, it's fair to say it wouldn't exist without him — and I'm very happy to be able to acknowledge that publicly.
This puzzle, like sushi, claims a very brief shelf life: it was accepted four weeks prior to publication, and was submitted probably only a week or two before then. "Visualizing" this proverb in a puzzle had been in the back of my head for much longer, though—I originally thought I might pair it with some counterbalancing expression related to "heaven."
You know how scuttlebutt has it how diagonal themers are exponentially more difficult to execute? All true. I think cruciverbalogy would tell me that otherwise ideal vowel-consonant patterns, once on a diagonal, are shifted over, forcing a potential concatenation of weird letter strings. This happens at the crossing of MEDDLES/EENIE, which was by far the hardest region to build.
Two important things about the theme execution: since the aphorism "The road to hell is paved with good intentions" is only obliquely referenced, it was important to make sure all the key words--namely ROAD and PAVED--be included (see my last bullet point for all sorts of variants). It was also important that PAVED ROAD be a real thing (i.e. something you'd like to find in bonus fill or a themeless). This way there was no ambiguity about the intended expression.
I was worried when I began this puzzle that the SUPERFOOD fad was just that: a fad. Fortunately, we can't seem to get enough of putting kale where it was never meant to be. I'm talking to you, kale cookies and kale chips. I recommend listening to comedian Jim Gaffigan's take on kale if you haven't.
Recently, I submitted a puzzle to Will that was themed with SUPERFOOD. It contained entries like BIG MAC, DR PEPPER, and BLOODY MARY clued as if they were superheroes. Alas, DR PEPPER, who cripples cities with his sneeze ray, will not be gracing your morning paper anytime soon. But maybe Marvel will bite…
Anyway, I'm happy my clues for MECCA, CLEOPATRA, and CLOSE VOTE stayed. I'm a big fan of adding trivia to crosswords since they are terrific platforms not just for testing knowledge, but also providing new knowledge. Let's just hope this election isn't as close as Hayes's in 1876!
My First NYT puzzle was in 1972. Puzzle constructors back in the 70's needed access to dictionaries, song books, atlases, encyclopedias, etc. Today, a few keystrokes to the Internet and Google eliminate library visits and getting off your butt to look up information. Back then, no PC access to crossword compilers or word lists. Back then, a ream of graph paper, a fistful of hard-lead pencils and rubber erasures by the truckload were a puzzle constructor's tools. I still have tear-, blood- and sweat-stained manuscript grids from those days. Lead-pencil smudges and erasure holes nearly obliterate the penciled-in grid words.
When Will Shortz introduced the themeless, low-word-count Friday and Saturday puzzles, I began assembling a word list of my own. Words I picked up in my newspaper, magazine and book reading. Words I figured would be fresh grid entries for themeless construction. Fresh vocabulary in evidence, I believe, in my puzzle today.
Cool, my first Sunday New York Times Crossword! Did you notice the nine-letter bonus answer? If you haven't gotten it, I'll give you time to look for it before you read on.
For the longest time I shied away from 21x constructing, on the basis that I heard it was haaaard (Note: in retrospect, it totally was. I almost tore my hair out trying to navigate the 140-word limit). But then I saw the postscript in a New York Times acceptance email encouraging me to try a Sunday. Not wanting to back down from a suggestion, I, with a sense of cockeyed optimism, set up a blank 21x21 grid.
The theme came after a lot of brainstorming; for it to be Sunday-worthy, it had to be something good. The "beginning → end" idea seemed novel enough, and there was enough looseness with the theme to allow for a bonus answer. Once that was in place, all I had to do was think of a satisfying end phrase (REAR ENDED was apt, and also had superfriendly letters to work with), write some hasty code that would give me words that would work with those letters, pick theme entries, fill the grid, and done.
Well, not exactly. I got an email saying to replace a theme entry (I had VILE SPIRIT, which was too close in meaning to EVIL SPIRIT) and work out a dodgy entry in the middle section. Thankfully, I was able to salvage it without doing too much grid surgery, because that center would not be easy to rebuild. Once I sent in the revision, I got that acceptance email in July 2016.
One last thought: In the notes for my last puzzle I mentioned how my puzzles usually contain references to things I like. A cool thing about this is that you can chart, with a couple months' delay, when I become interested in things. My "Hamilton" obsession manifests itself in the 30/32A twofer, and there are assorted Broadway things in 55A and 78A, true to my latest musical kick.
Hope you enjoyed the puzzle!
I constructed this puzzle over spring break. I've recently been trying to come up with themes involving grid art, since I always find it really elegant when I'm solving. The only problem with this approach is that Bruce Haight (aka Mr. Grid Art) has already come up so many of the great grid art designs! A dog? Nope, Bruce did that last February. A school of fish? Nope, he did that one in August 2014. Lightning bolts? Nope, those were part of his and Peter Collins's kite puzzle from March 2014. Anyway, I was so frustrated that I couldn't come up with a new grid art idea that I decided to make an "anti-grid art" puzzle! What could be more anti-grid art than a good old square grid?
Once I started thinking about square things, my mind jumped to Wyoming, which has always looked so boxy to me on the map! If I could somehow build a puzzle about Wyoming, having a standard 15x15 grid could be a cool bonus. Fast forward several hours. By some ginormous stroke of luck, I noticed that four of the most famous landmarks in Wyoming all have the same letter count! So I whipped up a fill and sat down to write the clues. Once the excitement wore off, though, I realized that my theme was kind of boring—who cares about four landmarks in Wyoming anyway?
That's when inspiration struck again. Since all the landmarks were the same length, why not arrange them in their geographically correct positions? A quick look at Google Maps showed me that I was even luckier than I'd thought: The four landmarks I'd picked were all in different parts of the state! So I scrapped my original grid and built the version you see today. I hope you enjoy!
This puzzle is a milestone for me, in that it is my first themed puzzle in The New York Times. It was constructed in August of 2015 and accepted for publication in December.
It has an unusual history. The puzzle was last in a package of four that was mailed off as soon as I completed it. The next day I gave in to my lingering doubts about the answer I chose for 38D and sent off a revision (the version we have before us), along with an explanatory note. I'm sure this kind of thing is not a hit with editors, so now I have a "cooling-off period" for sober re-assessment before I let go of a grid, so that this won't happen again.
The idea for this theme came about during an online brainstorming session. The pattern "element symbol-something" is easy to search for, but doesn't yield many useful results. I was lucky to find symmetric pairs of themers, and also lucky that my first choice for revealer was the right length. I recall regretting that I had to leave TIN SNIPS on the table, but there was no mate for it, and the grid already was getting pretty full of theme squares.
The clue for IRON FENCE (26A - What hath the gardener wrought?) gave me a chuckle. It's there thanks to Will and Joel. It seems that less of my clues are being re-written than in previous published efforts. That's an encouraging sign which I attribute to more practice in solving quality puzzles.
This puzzle germinated with a failed theme entry, THE BIG DIGIT ("What was often extended by angry motorists during Boston's Artery/Tunnel Project?"), which I knew to be phonetically inconsistent, but tried submitting anyway. No go! But Will liked the theme and other entries, so I kept at it, aiming more for "chuckle value" in the theme answers than complexity.
I see that this puzzle has an appallingly low "freshness factor," (I think a record low for me) so it should play fairly easily. Will redid the NE and bits and pieces on the West side (MERCH at 5-Across — a debut — is also his). My original had SSNS at 19-Across, and I know better than that now: don't pluralize abbreviations if you can at all avoid it! I'm also becoming much more averse to partials and abbreviations in general.
One note about what I've seen evolve with themed puzzles in the last few years: the grid should feature at least 2, if not 4, lengthy non-theme Down entries (10 or 11 letters) crossing through two or three themers to keep the word count down and spice up the fill. That's a good standard, if sometimes challenging, and I believe it really boosts the quality of the solving experience.