This puzzle was one of those rare instances, at least for me, where I wasn't asked to come up with a better theme fill or rebuild the puzzle in an effort to get rid of a lot of junk. That's typically not the case. As to any interesting anecdotes, I'd only say that I debated about going with "I'LL BE DAMMED" (clued as Sinner's "Shocking!") in place of "I'LL BE DARNED" (clued as Seamstress's "Shocking!") before deciding dammed, at least in this context, was probably too darn edgy.
A contronym is defined as a word or phrase which has two nearly opposite meanings. There are actually quite a few of these in our language, which certainly makes it challenging for learners. I wanted to get a lot of theme entries in this puzzle since they are fairly short, so I wasn't too surprised that my first attempt with these eight themers got sent back for weak fill. I redid the puzzle after switching to the new xwordinfo word list in Feb. 2016 and the second version was accepted. There are still more gluey bits than I would like, but Will and Joel felt that was offset by some interesting fresh entries — my favorite is "WE COOL?".
I once heard (or possibly read) an interview with Will Shortz, in which he was asked about common grammatical errors, and he said the word "led" was misspelled as "lead" relatively frequently, even by well-educated people. This got me thinking about other "words even smart people mess up," and I think we can add "pharaoh" to the list.
At the Indie 500 crossword puzzle tournament a few years ago (2015, America Pharoah's big year, as it was), PHARAOH was an entry in a puzzle, but it wasn't clear from the crossings whether it should be A-O or O-A, and I surprised to find out that even a few of the top solvers had it the wrong way. So, I wonder how this played for most people. Did they try AMERICA PHARAOH first? Is the misspelling common knowledge? Or were they blissfully unaware that anything was strange at all?
I have a confession: constructing a 72-word themeless grid scares me. When I personally begin solving a themeless puzzle that goes up to the max word count, there's a tiny, overly entitled person in my head that mutters under his breath, "This puzzle better be fresh, lively, and contain zero crosswordese or I'ma gonna throw my hat in-a disgust." (For the purposes of this blurb, I wanted Mario to serve as my privileged persona, because Mario's funny when he's haughty.)
If, as a constructor, I went by Mario's judgment, I'd say this puzzle doesn't quite hit the mark due to a lack of super-fresh entries (perhaps with HAWKMAN and APP STORE serving as exceptions) and the existence of crosswordese/undesirable entries (including, but not limited to, URE, ESTE, CRU, and SRA).
If I were to take a more holistic approach and tell Mario to find his princess in another castle, I'd say the puzzle does just fine. The puzzle doesn't seem to contain a preponderance of entries in any single subject; plus, many of the clues/entries seem to hit my ideal combination of trivia, wordplay, and fun--with some thought-provoking material thrown in for good measure (see 36D; I'm glad Will/Joel/the editing team kept this clue).
Overall, I kind of like this little guy (the puzzle, not snobbish Mario) but would listen to the other little guy a bit more if I were to tackle another 72-word themeless for the Times.
Here's how I know when I have a good early week theme idea … I come up with a theme idea, and I think to myself "Oh my gosh, that's so obvious, that's so simple and straightforward, surely someone has done this before!" Then I check, and it turns out it's either never been done before, or it was done a very long time ago. That's a good Monday theme.
I considered MOVIE DIRECTOR instead of FILM DIRECTOR as the theme tie, but I preferred FILM DIRECTOR because that includes both movies and television, whereas MOVIE DIRECTOR left out television. Also, there wasn't a length 13 theme answer ending in LIGHTS that I liked as much as the length 12 BRIGHT LIGHTS that I used.
The construction on this puzzle was not difficult. Since it's a Monday puzzle, I just did what every Monday constructor does. I tried very hard to keep the fill as simple as possible.
Originally I had TAXI at 7-Down, but Will changed it to SIRI, which is much better. I enjoyed putting FLOTSAM next to JETSAM. I don't know for sure, but I'm going to guess that's never been done before, so that was fun. KEVIN at 26-Down is vanity fill, but I also think it yielded the simplest fill in that area. My two kids were really into Pokemon Go at the time I constructed this puzzle, so I'm sure that had something to do with how POKEMON ended up at 43-Down.
Thanks for solving!
I got started writing crossword puzzles through of a friend who publishes a small newspaper in northern Michigan. I was visiting a few years ago and was irritated by the poor quality of the crossword puzzle he was running. I was sure I could do better, and he agreed to publish any puzzles I sent him. I started sending him Michigan-themed puzzles (with my wife Eliza always helping on the clues), and he kept his word. After that, I got a big head and tried my luck with The Times. After two years and eleven rejections, I'm very pleased to finally be in.
This puzzle is the second iteration on the #/# theme. The first version was a little more ambitious. It included a fifth theme entry (CINCO DE MAYO) and some of the theme answers crossed, which I always like. The second version has less theme but is a much better puzzle overall. Many thanks to Will and Joel for the feedback that led me down the simpler path.
Let me know if that works!
It is rare nowadays to see a crossword puzzle in the NY Times with only three themes, and not very long ones at that. In fact, only 33 squares in this puzzle are devoted to thematic material. Still, I like this puzzle for its simplicity — three poker hands reversed. (ANTES and CARDS in the upper and lower corners are Poker related, but not really thematic.)
In the original version I submitted, the two long down entries were also poker terms, namely CHECK RAISES and SMOOTH CALLS, both of which were clued as "devious bets." Will didn't like them because he had never heard of SMOOTH CALLS (he's obviously not watching enough poker tournaments) and strictly speaking they weren't thematic since they lacked the twists of the three Across entries. So, at his request, I repealed and replaced them with LAMEBRAINED and GO TO THE DOGS (not meant to be a comment on either this constructor or the puzzle).
I also like the two crosses in the grid — hinting at a double-cross theme. I'm not crazy about the grid-spanning 7-Down DO THE BEST YOU CAN because it is not thematic and is the longest word in the puzzle, but I needed it to keep the word count down to the maximum of 78.
This was one of the times when I wish the daily puzzles had titles. This one I called "Bad Beat." (In poker, a bad beat is a term for a hand in which a player with what appear to be strong cards nevertheless loses.)
JEB: The initial inspiration for this puzzle was triggered by my wanting to know the origin of the expression "By hook or by crook." When googled it was interesting to find that it is very old and is said to come from one or two different potential derivations; one relating to firewood restrictions and the other to navigational hazards! I liked that BY HOOK OR BY CROOK could be nicely matched for puzzle symmetry (word length, meaning, and potential graphic relevance) by ONE WAY OR ANOTHER. From there the "hook" and "crook" design graphic, with the FISH and LAMB props, began to take shape.
This puzzle, even though rejected on its first review by Will and Joel., did receive generally positive attention for theme and design. The negative commentary had to do with too much weak fill and a block layout that was overly closed through the center section between the "hook" and "crook". I struggled mightily with the resubmittal and found that in opening the center by shortening the "hook" and "crook" by one square that the fill was still troublesome and the graphic was starting to be compromised. The second submittal was shot down also, even though Will left the door open a crack for another try.
That's when I decided to "call in the cavalry" in the form of my cross-town friend Jeff Chen! :-) I was excited that Jeff wanted to invest time in saving this puzzle as a collaboration, and I know if it weren't for his expertise and input, this puzzle would never have gotten "NYT Ink." Jeff came up with two improved suggested modifications to the "hook" and "crook" layout which helped to loosen up the fill potential. Plus, his more robust word database contributed to the overall fill quality. Following the resubmittal or our new iteration, Will gave it the "thumbs up"!
GHOSTFACE KILLAH has appeared in the Times puzzle before, but until today, the full WU TANG CLAN had not — as a native New Yorker, I'm glad to be able to rectify that and show Staten Island some love. I grew up in Manhattan in the 90s, and hip hop was a vital part of that experience, so I gave the Wu pride of place at 1-Across. From there, I just tried to keep the fill lively and clean without sacrificing flow.
Because the NW and SE corners have only one entry/exit each, I made the openings three blocks wide, so that those sections wouldn't feel cut off from the rest of the puzzle. Once I had the NW stack in place, I put in the two 12-letter answers — normally a difficult length to work with because of the forced placement of six black squares, but the blocks below 22-Across and above 48-Across made sense to me.
It was a challenge to then "reverse engineer" the NW and fill the SE to my liking. I had to pay the price of LIA (the Irish word for "stone") and the partial ONE TO, while the third-person GOES EASY ON might not hit the ear quite right. But I was pleased to be able to include the great TRINI LOPEZ to provide a musical contrast with the opposite corner. Alongside NELL Carter, IRV Gotti, and ALANIS Morissette, a wide variety of styles are represented, reflecting my own eclectic taste.
I finished the construction in the SW and NE corners, and looking back (I made the puzzle last summer), I feel the 90s coming through there, too — THE X-FILES was huge, (although I wasn't really into it, I just like the wacky H-E-X-F letter string), as were dinosaurs, so solvers also get a giant IGUANODON.
Thanks to Will and Joel for their editing — I especially appreciated how they livened up the short fill with their clues for 29- and 36-Across, and 11- and 27-Down.
This was the first decent puzzle I created. When mining for ideas on how to make a better puzzle, I came across Cruciverb's list of theme types. It's pretty rare to see many of these themes in the NYT these days, as Will likes it when constructionists bring innovation to the medium. So, I was delighted he gave the nod to this puzzle which has a couple of those old tropes (repeated clues for themers and a revealer which includes the day of the week).
This puzzle was initially submitted about a year ago and was revised a couple of times. One very helpful bit of feedback from Joel was making long, non-theme entries more interesting through the use of two-word phrases. I previously had been so proud of my multisyllabic mouthfuls; this puzzle — and ones I have made subsequently — are much improved by their absence.
As a committed foodie, I have a deep fondness for food-themed puzzles. My household is pescatarian. (Although my son calls himself a hotdogatarian, and eats them at restaurants any chance he gets.) The central-themed entries are regulars in our family's food rotation. But, as a mycophile married to a mycophobe, I only feed my craving for the first themer in the same place my hotdogatarian feeds his.
I started with two 12s in Row 4 and Row 13, but the grid was quite crowded. So I changed direction.
Initially 6-Down and 27-Down were broken up with a pair of 8's alongside STANDING O and BITTER END.
ANDREW: John and I both teach at The Roxbury Latin School in West Roxbury, MA. I joined the faculty last year, so it was only a matter of time before we put our heads together to create some crosswords. This one began as a themeless which included the entry SPIN CLASS. John came up with the idea of people who spin things for a living, and we were off from there (although neither of us is a big fan of this exercise regimen). As a duo, we found we work nicely together, especially since we can pop into each other's office during free periods and talk shop. Look out for more Kings-Lieb puzzles soon!
JOHN: This puzzle was Puzzle #2 at Boswords, a crossword tournament that Andrew and I co-directed at our school on Sunday August 6. We are grateful to Will for allowing us to use this puzzle at the tournament, which had 149 competitors. It was a blast to both write this puzzle and to organize this tournament with Andrew! More information on the tournament can be found at boswords.org and we look forward to running it again next summer. The rest of the tournament puzzles, plus a few bonus ones, are available for purchase (for an Abe) at the site.
Once I had the idea for this puzzle, I had a harder time than I thought I would to come up with expressions of the form FOUR ___, where the second word has exactly four letters and is in-the-language. What made it even tougher is I had the additional constraint that two of the four letters had to be embedded in the long answer (which, in each case, is really a definition of FOUR ___). One other possibility I considered was (FOUR) IRON hooked onto the "IR" in FAIRWAY CLUB, but I realized IRON (without the FOUR) would be a perfectly good answer (definition) of "fairway club" on its own.
I like the multiple meaning of GANG OF FOUR in the context of the puzzle.
I'm happy I stuck with the consistency that in all three instances, the gang of four circled letters is always read clockwise from the upper left. As I was building the grid, I toyed with the idea of having them start in various locations, with some going clockwise and some counterclockwise. Yikes!
Sorry, not a lot of bonus fill. QUIZ SHOW is kind of fun, I suppose.
This is surreal. I only vaguely remember making this one. When I saw the grid, I almost didn't recognize it. I think I made this one back in December, but like I said my memory is extremely hazy. Is this what Alzheimer's is going to feel like?
Hey, if David Bowie can have no memory of recording one entire album ("Station To Station"), I think I'm allowed to have one puzzle I don't recall making.
This puzzle was spawned entirely by the grid.
While wandering around XWord Info I noticed there was a section titled "Most Wide Open Grids" and hey I like wide openness, so challenge accepted! I ripped off Sherry O. Blackard's awesome wide open grid from 04/14/07, knocked off the two cheater squares, and tada — all that was needed was a clean fill to set a new NYT record.
Seventeen descending 15-letter entries trials later I stumbled onto a promising fill for the NW quadrant — then only 57 almost acceptable fills of the other quadrants before I had a complete fill I could live with. Submitted it to Will and it was accepted!
Then came the wait for publication followed by another unexpected twist — Will contacted me and asked if he could use it as the final on stage puzzle for the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in 2016. What could I say but YES (check off bucket list item) and make plans to attend and watch the finals in person. Howard Barkin's dramatic win was the cherry on the top of the whole experience.
As soon as I returned home, I started the whole process again — today's puzzle is a completely different fill of the same grid.
Friends always ask me how long it takes to make a puzzle. There's no good answer to that question. Some ideas come together quite quickly, others involve lots of mulling, refining, and word-searching. This puzzle was of the latter sort, with months passing between first poring through lists of words beginning with "RE" and finally having a puzzle worthy of submission. I needed to find fun phrases involving "RE" words in which "RE" did not have the "do it again" meaning. (So REQUEST was in, and REPLAY was out.) However long it takes me, it is all part of the fun and the challenge! Doesn't everyone spend summer vacation evenings with a glass of wine in one hand and pages of words in the other?
I certainly learn a lot through the process of refining these puzzles. Not only do I get to scrutinize language, but I get to explore a tremendous spectrum of knowledge. As I attempt to assess whether a fill word is "good" or not, I often get caught up in a process akin to those childhood hours spent browsing through the paper-and-ink pages of our encyclopedia, where looking up one topic led to exploring a dozen others. I learn when I solve puzzles, and I learn even more when I create them! Not just about the content: as Will and Joel point out the shortcomings of one puzzle draft or another, I learn more and more about crossword structure and precision.
This puzzle required several drafts after Will first expressed his enthusiasm for the theme. As usual, revision forced me to leave some favorites behind, so I lost the memo re: cruise ship advertiser's subject line: MAINS TO BE SEEN! I truly appreciate Will and Joel's help and patience as I sought to create a revision that would pass muster. I hope you enjoyed it!
The phrase "KIND RED SPIRIT" had been sitting in my brainstorming notebook for a while when I also thought of "GO OGLE IMAGES". To round out the theme, I wrote a python script that would find all English words consisting of two other English words smushed together, which gave me THINKING and LEGEND from which I found the other themers. (The script also outputted a bunch of compound words such as LIGHTHOUSE and FIREBRAND, but even after filtering those out there were still plenty of non-compounds such as THINKING and LEGEND to choose from).
The original submission clued the revealer with reference to the store, but I like the edited version better because of the "mind the gap" wordplay. The parenthetical word counts also weren't in my original submission, but I think adding them makes this puzzle much more appropriate for a Monday.
I've always enjoyed a type of puzzles called charade puzzles, which break words down into smaller parts and provide clues to the smaller parts, so such puzzles may well have inspired this theme. Here's one of my favorites, from Richard Lederer:
My first represents company,
My second shuns company,
My third assembles company,
My whole perplexes company.
(The answer is a 3-syllable word, where "my first," "my second," and "my third" refer to the word's first, second, and third syllables).
NEIL: I must say, I was beyond flattered to be asked by Will to participate in a NYT puzzle creation. I'm a big fan of games and puzzles (And Will, as well) and I work through the crosswords every week (I'm really just a Monday and Tuesday guy — Wednesday through Sunday is for people a lot smarterer). With all of this acquired knowledge, I thought that crossword creation would be challenging, yes, but attainable.
How very wrong I was.
The process of designing a crossword puzzle is a futile exercise in utter frustration. Staring at a blank grid was daunting. Finding a list of random yet interesting words was its own challenge. But just when I thought I was nearing completion — just when I figured I was starting to figure it out — I realized how wrong I was. Changing one word meant two others needed to change, requiring further changes. My house of cards collapsed remarkably fast, as did my spirit.
In short(z), creating this puzzle was very difficult. And this is a relatively easy one..! My respect for puzzle masters and creators has increased, ten thousand-fold. I'm forever thankful to David Steinberg for mentoring me through it all. And by mentoring I mean pretty much creating this magical grid on his own and fixing my frequent mistakes, all the while supporting me as if I was smarter and more helpful than I actually was.
I'd do it again in a heartbeat.
DAVID: Still can't believe I had an opportunity to make a crossword with Neil Patrick Harris (somebody pinch me!). Will asked me last summer about doing a puzzle for this series, but I didn't happen to know any celebrities who solve the NYT crossword. I was a bit bummed at the time but figured I'd just plow ahead with other crossword projects. Earlier this year, though, the stars aligned (pun intended): Will had just gotten in touch with Neil Patrick Harris, and Neil liked the idea of co-constructing a puzzle. He just needed a NYT regular to work with him, and I happened to be in the right place at the right time!
Neil and I knew from the get-go that we wanted to do a magic-themed puzzle, because Neil is seriously as amazing at magic as he is at acting and emceeing! Neil sent me a list of his favorite magic tricks (minus explanations, of course, because what kind of magician reveals his secrets? ;) ), and I sent back a bunch of ideas for how to turn these tricks into crossword themes. Of the various ideas, Neil picked this one as his favorite. After a few back-and-forths with Will, we settled on the current set of theme entries and set to work on the grid.
Getting all the disappearing letters to work required some serious wizardry, and I don't think I could've done it without Neil's enthusiasm and encouragement! At one point, I was convinced the idea was impossible and was ready to scrap the puzzle altogether, but Neil's excitement inspired me to keep trying on the grid. We finally did end up with something we liked, though, and I have to say I'm pretty proud of the resulting puzzle!
I even threw in NPH at 1-Across as an homage to Neil, clued as "Drs. Horrible and Howser," but Will wasn't fond of that, so NPH did a disappearing act of his own in the upper left corner for the final version. Once the grid was done, Neil took a stab at the clues, and then I filled in the gaps. We hope you enjoy!
This is a weird case where my original seed entry* was deemed a puzzle killer, but Will was interested in the rest of the grid, so I salvaged the puzzle. Unfortunately, this led to the grid having less sparkle than I aim for in my puzzles today — the parts of the grid which can typically shine most are the least constrained parts, and tearing out my only seed then rebuilding that section effectively led to the grid having zero unconstrained regions.
It is pretty clean, though, I think — a bit more flash / personality and I'd really like it. I DON'T MIND, though! I wouldn't have submitted the revision if I didn't think it had enough GOOD STUFF, and I hope solvers agree.
I love writing hard clues, so my recent focus on themeless puzzles has been lots of fun in that regard. My favorites here are for ODOR EATER, PUFFERFISH (also my fav entry in the puzzle), TAROT CARDS, and ULTRASONIC. I also love all the clue echoes Will and co. added — stuff like giving three entries the clue [Test] and the disparate John Hancock references adds a nice sense of cohesion for me as a solver.
Til next time!
*This entry was "MOM, DAD — I'M GAY" which was (fairly) rejected for being arbitrary. I got too attached to the clue [Parental advisory about sexual content?] to realize that, I think (and it's possible that clue is too "risque" anyway). Being more objective and recognizing that other people's experiences / preferences differ from my own has been an ongoing goal for me in construction — and my focus on improving in that arena has greatly improved the puzzles I've made in the year-plus since I made this one (I hope???).
This may be the first time I've so blatantly included an inside reference in one of my puzzles, but there lies CAHOOTS smack-dab at 1-Across, which is also not coincidentally the name of the ultimate team I played with for several years, including when I wrote this puzzle. It would be problematic to shoehorn in an ugly entry for a such a small percentage of solvers, but thankfully the colorful phrase it's commonly used with feels like a worthy way to kick off a puzzle.
The rest of the grid still seems pretty solid, even looking at it again today with fresh eyes. There's a couple of quality stacks and not much dreck in sight. As usual, the editing team did a great job sprucing up a few of my weaker clues, with the fun wordplay at 2-Down maybe being my favorite improvement.
Hope everyone enjoys!
Very pleased to have my 3rd puzzle published in the NY Times! My daughter Anna is an avid equestrian, so I thought in her honor I would create a horse themed puzzle. I was a little concerned that the Dickens quote "the law is a ass" would be a little too obscure, even though as an English major I had heard of it and always wondered why Dickens used "a" instead of "an". It's almost pretentious in a weird way. Anyway, I'm glad Will found it acceptable as well.
My original version of this puzzle contained more horse references (Equus, Mr. Ed, Hee Haw, Donkey Kong) but the result was too much dicey fill, so Will and Joel convinced me to drop the extra references for the sake of smoother fill. Good advice, especially for a Monday oriented puzzle.
I liked some of Will and Joel's clue changes, especially "wide keyboard key" for ENTER and "figure made by a figure skater" for EIGHT.
Hopefully all my friends and neigh-bors will find it to be an enjoyable solve!
The inspiration for this puzzle came from the phrase TOO CLEVER BY HALF, which I discovered to my delight contained 15 letters and would make a good basis for a fun, early part of the week puzzle. Then the search was on for three well-known numerical phrases that I could add 50% to and "Voila!" — a puzzle is born.
I like having a gimmick in a Tuesday puzzle with no hint in the clues as to what it may be or even that there is one! The fill contains a few nods to the modern era, namely IMHO and LOLCAT, EFILE and EBOOK and, new to the NY Times, RIOT POLICE.
I am very pleased to have had two crosswords in the Times in the same month!
A big thanks to Kevin James for this one. If he hadn't come up with BLART as the last name of the mall cop in his 2009 comedy, who knows if BLUNT to SHARP is even possible. The other piece of luck is that this particular ladder isn't too long for a 15x15 and that the middle rung is BLADE. This allowed me to logically add RAZOR and KNIFE to the grid.
I don't remember what sparked this, but I'm pretty pleased with how it turned out, especially around the corners. One change to the grid: in my submission, the PERCENT / NECK crossing was PERCEPT / PECK. I think the team also upped the overall difficulty a bit (probably so they could clue LIE that way).
My to-do list includes reading FUN HOME and making MAMIE's fudge. Looking over the puzzle again, I see my parents' names at 42-Across and 8-Down. See you two in a few days!