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Puzzles for August, 2019
with constructor comments

Thu 8/1/2019
SHOEBOLTSMASH
PORTFOLIOWILCO
ABSCONDEDAGLOW
MOOGASAFGHANI
SUMDYETHEE
JUNKPILEDRY
OKAYANITAMVP
HEISMANTROPHIES
NSFINDIAACTS
ALISQUAREST
SPEDMSTSIP
PURVIEWHADCEN
APRILOXYGENIZE
SPOCKRIDESHARE
MYLESDIESLOAD
POW Fri 8/2/2019
AMBUSHPISTIL
TOUPEESASTHMA
AIRDRIEDPAYEES
AISLEWAYMAT
ESTATELAWGUNS
INTELNUTWAS
ODESTAXEVASION
TUGWAGEREDCPU
APOSTROPHEAMID
SISMIAINANE
TRAPMEZZANINE
IOUBUZZARDS
BURGERARBITERS
ITUNESDOROTHY
ASSURERANCOR
Sat 8/3/2019
COWTOWNSALADA
OPERAHATCRIMEA
MILEHIGHOCTAVO
BULKUPEMTSZIN
AMOSSITATROLL
TSKCANESCONDI
POWERSTATION
SAMESEXMARRIAGE
SMOKEDCIGARS
MEDOCENEMYECO
ISEETSARSSNOW
NILVASTTOUSLE
NOIRONOPOSSUMS
OWNINGRAPSHEET
WAGONSISAIDSO

I made this puzzle spring of last year, and you can see blazoned across the middle where my mind was amidst the whirlwind of planning a wedding. My husband and I recently celebrated our 1-year anniversary, and I couldn't be happier to spend my life with my intelligent, loving Gaeilgeoir.

As of the publish date of this puzzle, U.S. federal law does not include protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The Equality Act was introduced in Congress earlier this year to effect these protections — the bill passed the House and is currently awaiting consideration in the Senate. I'd encourage you to read the text of this act and contact your U.S. senators about it if this is something that resonates with you.

And if you're interested in crossword puzzles featuring LGBTQ+ rights, I'd recommend you check out Queer Qrosswords. Donations support a range of LGBTQ+ charities to help make sure the rights of marginalized groups are not terminated.

Sun 8/4/2019CONSTANT CONSONANTS
HANGSCLEANSTEEPEST
CAGIERHOUSEORDNANCE
BRONTOSAURUSBUDDYCOP
GLUTSTRIOAREAONE
BETHLOISACRIDSPREE
MISQUOTESMOSQUITOES
UGLYAPTUPTOP
ARIOSILEAVEPREAMP
FRONTIERFURNITURESAL
IMAFANELDESTFORSALE
LOREAPUADOCUBA
MISREADFROLLOALINES
ERASCARFACESACRIFICE
DETACHASKTOHABITS
POESYIANAIME
OVERSELLSVERSAILLES
TWIXTTITHEASPSEXPO
REDPLODFREETAPIR
ASISEEITBRAINTEASERS
STOUTESTMOUNTSTEREO
HOTLANTAWINGSCASTS

This one was fun to brainstorm theme entries for. My original submission had IMPRISONED AMPERSAND and PIANISSIMO OPEN SESAME, which the editors found too contrived, so I switched those ones out. Other ones in the running at various points included SISYPHEAN SOUSAPHONE and TREE STUMP TOURIST MAP.

Mon 8/5/2019
CASTLATHCLASP
ASHEACHYHUMOR
STANTEEMEMPTY
HUDDLEGNOME
ITOARGOWINDUP
NEWTSROSESONE
BAEODISTWIG
SCOURUSERUNTS
POXPATHSYAW
AREONSETLEAFS
SPRAINPAPAREA
GNASHABIDES
CARATHEWNODDS
PRIMEORESTOME
AMBEREDDYAGED

After watching the Westminster Dog Show in February 2018, my crossword theme ideas started going to the dogs. I had a puzzle published in another venue with the title "Top Dogs" — down phrases that started with a dog breed — and then I came upon the phrase "Downward Dog" which I thought would be fun as the revealer for another puzzle, with down phrases ending with a dog breed.

My first grid included "GOOGLE DOODLE" which was rejected based on "Doodle" not being well enough known as a breed itself (as opposed to, say, "Goldendoodle" or "Labradoodle"), so I reworked the grid, and the puzzle was accepted in October 2018.

With the dog days of summer upon us, I think today's publication timing is just perfect. Hope you enjoy!

Tue 8/6/2019
CCTVCASCAJOSH
OHOHUSUALALLA
MEWSBABYPOWDER
PENVISHOSTED
ARCTICOCEANIVE
QUAIDNHLADMEN
SPREESEARREDS
ROYALNAVY
LADEDRSJERKED
EVADEAECROLLE
GOTCOBALTSTEEL
INSITUAWEEVE
BLUEONBLUEANAT
LENSCAUSEJETE
EASTEDGEDAXED

The idea for this puzzle came after I saw mention of Britain's Royal Navy, and found it interesting that both ROYAL and NAVY were shades of blue. Just for fun, I started thinking about other shades in my head to see if I could find other pairs with the same property. As soon as BABY POWDER came together in my head as the best anchor entry, I knew I needed to try to finish the theme set for a puzzle.

Hundreds of blue shades exist here and there. I wanted to make sure the ones I chose came up pretty consistently on color palettes, so as not to reach into obscurity. ARCTIC and OCEAN appear on short lists of common shades for online palettes, so I felt comfortable with that choice, and ditto for COBALT and STEEL. I had a few options to tie together these four pairs with a fifth entry, like SHADES OF BLUE, but with the symmetry necessitating a ten-letter entry. BLUE ON BLUE worked and felt like a good fit.

The clue for 55 Down is my favorite, having a soft spot for word origins - I'm glad Will left it in.

Hope you enjoyed the puzzle!

Wed 8/7/2019
NBCARABCHITIN
IRAHERABAHAMA
EARTHDAYSLEEPY
CIAOPLOOAK
ENTREEUNDERWAY
INNSEASYONE
SPICYCOATANNA
PANASHTRAYDAS
ODONPESTUBOLT
SURFBUMORZO
EAGLERAYOUTLAY
AGEARTHONK
PANAMAPIGLATIN
CHIMEDAGUAUSO
PACERSTATSSEW

Pro tip: if you're working on a crossword at your local coffee shop, mumbling like a madman AIRWAY OFF DAY ILL SAY ILL PAY ILL STAY AU LAIT, BAH THERE HAS TO BE SOMETHING LONGER! will draw stares.

A shame that my wife, Jill ANY DAY, didn't write this one.

Thu 8/8/2019
PEPEPACEOPART
AVONSCATPOLER
WILDPITCHTWICE
DESITIPEBAY
FEBCOMICSTRIPS
ONEMORESAUL
NCAAASKBIO
DENTALHYGIENIST
STLLEDELLA
BEGSTOPSPOT
LOGICPUZZLERVS
ACROANAASIA
THINKHIGHKICKS
CONDIAREALEIA
HADINTEEMLSAT
Fri 8/9/2019
SCONCEHOWRUDE
CAVORTBAREARMS
ANEMIAEVERYBIT
NONESERASEANA
DOMPAYERSNOT
IDIDDEATHSTARE
ULTRAHDIOWA
METIMETARMAC
FAROEMBROIL
TWITTERATIYORE
ROTSBRACENBA
ORSHEIGLMORON
LEAKEDTOABHORS
LOGICIANRAMONE
SNORKELPREFER

I submitted this puzzle in early 2018, and I hazily recall it was one of my early efforts to try working with open corners. On the other hand, I very clearly recall what a relief I felt to get an acceptance. From March 2017 to February 2018, not counting collabs with Mike Hawkins, I had an unbroken streak of 29 NYT rejections! I only say this to offer words of encouragement to constructors in a drought. Keep trying!

Oh, and I couldn't figure out why the editorial team had changed the original 16-Across / 6-Down ANEMIC / ETC to ANEMIA / ETA. Then I noticed 40-Down ET AL and realized the Latin ET dupe. Just shows how closely they are paying attention. Good catch!

POW Sat 8/10/2019
STEADICAMMAIA
POWERMOVETURNT
LIESAHEADATEIT
ALLOWEDIMITATE
YELPERECOCAN
REDSUPSOLD
OPPSTIPSAUDIS
WHATDOYOUEXPECT
NORUSHRAPESSO
ENABLETWOS
RESLASITSLIT
SLIPUPSUNREADY
HITONHALTERTOP
INIGOERNESTINE
PECSDEARSANTA

ANNA: I'm so excited for this puzzle to exist — this is my first NYT print puzzle, and working with Erik is a great experience. I've had puzzles previously in the LA Times, American Values Club, minis for the NYT app, the Indie 500 and Crosswords LA tournaments, and I'm also now the puzzle creator for Kinfolk magazine. I've been solving puzzles (or trying to) since I was something like ten years old, so this is a kind of huge deal for me.

Erik and I have created puzzles before, which is always wonderful. For this one, Erik provided some 15-letter entries to start a puzzle with. I picked the big central across one, put in 6-Down, and the whole northwest chunk just kinda miraculously fell into place. I'm not the best at making these wide-open themelesses, but I love solving them, so pulling this off felt real good. The smaller northeast/southwest portions were weirdly much harder to get into place. Our original cluing probably skewed a bit more Millennial/Gen Z, but it's nice to see that a lot of our clues stayed in place, or at least carried the same essence.

Sun 8/11/2019BIRD PLAY
POSTCHARSTSAAKA
EULERTAIWANHILARYSK
SCENEORGANAAMESIOWA
THEPLOTTHICKENSEATAT
PIANOTHEYSALON
OPENTOSPEDESSO
FARSIVERDISCOFFBIO
TACNEALEPOPULARKIDS
EVANGELIZEROBSIEGEL
NORALEGMAOTAIANDSO
PSSTGERMSPORN
VESPASHORTEOHMETDS
EXCITEELIOFFONALARK
SPREADEAGLERUNITKOI
TOYNEWTOSPOSEEMEND
NESTCAGEDAISES
PLEBSHEALSALSA
PROBEHEADLESSCHICKEN
COCOAMIXGATEAUVANDY
SWANDIVEATTENDELENA
SLYRECREEDSLEAD

Here are three other theme pairings that weren't used in the puzzle:

  • TOOK IT EASY — BOX KITE didn't get off the ground.
  • ROBITUSSIN — ROUND ROBIN didn't advance past the group stage.
  • RETURNKEY — SLICED TURKEY didn't make the cut.

Likewise, crossword symmetry limited what I could pair with each "bird play." Here are a few examples more dynamic than EVANGELIZE that contain a SPREAD EAGLE. Unfortunately, their lengths didn't lend themselves to symmetric theme placement.

  • LED A DOG'S LIFE
  • THE MEANING OF LIFE
  • REGULAR GASOLINE

That said, I like how evenly the E-A-G-L-E letters are SPREAD out in EVANGELIZE and how the first and last letters are both included. It's very visually satisfying. So maybe that one's fine as is.

On a personal note, this puzzle is memorable because it completed my cycle of daily puzzle acceptances at the NYT (getting a standard crossword accepted on every day of the week). Unsurprisingly, this one came out before my earlier Friday and Saturday acceptances, since the queue times on those days are much longer than for Sundays. Hopefully, everything will get published on its slated day, and I'll be able to claim a real cycle!

Mon 8/12/2019
FLATLOCASAGAS
LUSHOVIDALIBI
OBIEAWARDPITON
PENPALCOSEMMA
OBIWANKENOBI
ACTUATEILS
TURNESTEETLC
OBEDIENCESCHOOL
MAXCRYINORSO
BOOEMITTED
OBGYNDOCTORS
SLAGECOPATENT
CAPONOHBEQUIET
ARENAMEADFRAY
RESETENDSFELL

The idea of this puzzle came from a common bit of crosswordese — the Japanese sash called the OBI. Once in a while I try to take an aspect of crossword construction that is frowned upon and direct it toward something that might be interesting or amusing. Although using theme phrases that begin with the letters in OBI might have been sufficient, I realized that finding phrases that begin with the sound of OBI might be much more fun.

I'm glad that I managed to discover five of them, and I'm particularly happy with the entry that begins with OB-GYN, since the accepted pronunciation requires saying the name of each letter individually. Thus, this puzzle starts from what is seen as a negative in the crossword world — crosswordese — and, I think, turns it into something positive. I hope solvers agree.

Tue 8/13/2019
ROSSTONTOMET
OSLOSPOONLODE
CHILDPROOFERIE
KATIEANTIANTS
DASHRAVI
SILENTPREVENTS
ACERALOEINGOT
BEACROSSEDDNA
LASSOGETSMEAT
EXTERIORTRAWLS
OXENGAIN
WIFIKEELSALSA
IRASSTRIKEGOLD
FILMINANEENID
ESLNASTYDEMS

This idea sat around for years until I finally tackled it the weekend I had to miss the ACPT this past spring. I figured I might as well work on a puzzle.

At first, I tried to put STAR-CROSSED across the middle and got absolutely nowhere. Finally, the lightbulb went off, and I realized I could cross it, appropriately enough. But then finding "star" words that crossed proved harder than I would have thought. There had to be four longish entries and four short ones, and I wanted to make sure there were different kinds of stars without totally repeating any. Like, I wouldn't use both FILM and MOVIE, or MORNING and EVENING. And I couldn't use anything too technical that no one ever heard of. I do remember having to abandon some more interesting choices (for example, FREE-FOR-ALL, instead of LEAST OF ALL, would not work), as well as being stuck with the likes of SOLIDER.

Sometimes we just have to give in.

Wed 8/14/2019
ABITREDOCLOVE
ROLEARABHOVER
BAKEDZITIONAIR
THECATSKILLS
AMAHLSHE
TIDEBIOAHORSE
TRASANTAMONICA
RAPINITSLEVAR
ACTINGAPEDALL
CLOCKTOWERSLEI
TERESAANAGENE
ARERUDER
JOBAPPLICANT
ADIEUWOODSTOCK
BIGOTATOZELHI
SCANTYALEREIN

Even though there were 32 acts at Woodstock, many of them were bands, so it took me a while to get four well-known performers I could use for this theme. I would have loved to have Jimi HENDRIX in there (he was the closing act at the concert), but the crossword gods were telling me it wouldn't work.

Thu 8/15/2019
TATBANGSGNOME
OOHAPOLORICES
TRUEORFALSETEST
ETSYUNTAGADA
MALEBONDINGNAT
SYSOPTAME
RENDSGLUES
NOSIDEEFFECTS
BOUTSDROOL
ETTEWEEPS
EARLUCILLEBALL
FBIUSURYOREO
REVERSEENGINEER
INANEINNERNPR
BELTSNEEDSTYE

The original submission for this puzzle had BOO[KINSER]T for Judith Resnik in the place of LUCI[LLEB]ALL. In the back of my mind, I knew Ms. Resnik was less well-known than the others here, and that I might be asked to replace her. And such was the case. Edith Clarke, Emily Roebling, Lillian Gilbreth, even Hedy Lamarr don't have names that can be found reversed in phrases (not that I could find, anyway). Perhaps more importantly, even if they did, they may not be classic enough to be theme-worthy, especially in the "second degree" (i.e., not directly stated as a full-on theme entry). Such are the conditions of history and fame we may ponder.

In the end, Mr. Bell it must be. (But at least I put him in Ms. Ball's name.)

Fri 8/16/2019
GRABACABLADMAG
TALLTALEABUELA
ONTIPTOEREDDIT
STANLEEMALEEGO
DASPACSANS
SANDYPAIRS
NCAAPARLORGAME
INSTAGRAMFILTER
PETERROGETUMNO
TALONJESUS
AMMOTENDOS
DOORDIEWAYTOGO
MANBUNCANNIBAL
INKINGONSECOND
TASTESBEERKEGS
Sat 8/17/2019
WATERBIRTHSHAM
AREYOUSURECOMB
SCREENAGERANYA
TOMBTASKSREPS
ALECTORSO
EASTERACOLYTES
LITHEBEARDWHO
IRISPERRYCALF
ALLELLISROGET
SILICATECELERY
NIMOYNOGO
MERLORCASROBS
OHIOFOODSTAPLE
MUSSFOLIEADEUX
ABETSMARTMONEY

Seeing this puzzle publish as a Saturday surprised me, not only because it was accepted as a Friday but also because some of the clues are pitched much more easily than my originals, particularly 1-Across which I had as "Splashy entrance?"

The change to ORCAS Island in 47-Across' clue brings back memories of our after hours visit to the island's only doctor to stitch up a large gash on my daughter's knee, acquired within minutes of arriving to our campsite after a lengthy ferry ride.

Aside from a rough start in the first couple of downs I'm pleased with how clean and varied the grid came out. I finished filling it in the middle and by luck of the Cruciverb gods I squeezed a bonus fashion icon into a pair of stacked answers.

POW Sun 8/18/2019REVOLUTIONARY
REGIFTSICHECKQURAN
ICESHEETTHESUNUSEBY
POTLATCHGOESFORASPIN
ELSEOTERIDEFCONSTY
NITUNSHORNKOTB
HOPSOOLALAKIRSCH
UBERSATMTENAMCAMEO
RABATELBATILLOVALS
NILLASLAPSTABSABLE
SLRRIOTPOLARINDUS
OCTOPIABOKAZOOS
BLASTMARIOABETIRE
VOLTAROMASONYSONIA
EXITSBRATENDSOMENS
GENOAGENESENSRISKY
ARGYLEADAGIOARTS
SETHCADBURYOPS
SAWSTAKEDRAIMISWAT
TURNTURNTURNTASMANIA
UTICASENATEEMERGENT
BOTOXHEALERINSERTS

As is the case with a surprising number of my puzzle ideas, this one came to me during finals week. I had a 15-page term paper due two days later, which made the opportunity to "procrastistruct" a 21x21 more appealing than ever before!

My first challenge was coming up with a symmetric, lively theme set. I made a point of avoiding theme entries with extraneous ball strings, such as CLASSICAL BALLET for the LBAL slot. The theme set I almost used had WELL-BALANCED DIET paired with FALLBACK POSITION. Both of these entries seemed a little dry and perhaps more in-the-language as just balanced diet and fallback, respectively. After coming up with the four main theme entries, I threw in GOES FOR A SPIN and TURN TURN TURN to ensure that there would be enough theme material.

For 21x21s, I'm the kind of constructor who prefers 142- or 144-word grids with silky-smooth fill to 140-word grids with more pizzazz but also more trade-offs. In this grid, I attempted to balance the two philosophies by keeping the individual sections relatively closed off. As per usual with my grids nowadays, I made a point of avoiding trivia and spreading the cultural references I did use across generations.

I wrote a good chunk of the clues on the plane ride home from this year's ACPT. A couple of my favorites are [Producer of brown eggs] for CADBURY and [Garden item that sounds like the plural of another garden item] for HOSE. I also included two shoutouts to my new home, Kansas City: [Burnt barbecue bits] for ENDS and [Royals' org.] for MLB.

Hope you enjoy!

Mon 8/19/2019
PLATOSLURPTAS
DIALOGPISAORNE
RECTORIBETSATE
ATETEETERTOTTER
BADPRGELEDIT
EUROTROTOUT
BORNEOSTARRRPI
OMENTAHINITION
ANIDOVESETHANE
RITAORABRRR
ERNOBIOEULER
TORATORATORAEVE
ADAMTOGAATWOOD
CITIEVELREINKS
ONESRELYARTIE

My suggested title for when it's collected in a book: S±1.

POW Tue 8/20/2019
PTAAWEOHSTOP
ARTCELSNAPOLI
TEESHIRTTIRADE
HAULROUGHRIDER
STPADDYREST
CUERIDZITS
BUNKERHILLDYE
FROSTESLACORN
FDRGREENSALAD
SUMSLESAIR
NEATMTADAMS
CUPOFCOCOAISEE
AVICIIGOLFBALL
REGALEINITDOM
EASTERSECANA

This puzzle is a par 4. I wanted it to have a narrative progression when all was said and done, so I hope you enjoyed the order of the entries!

Looking back, some of the fill is a little less clean than I might hope to include if I wrote the puzzle today, but such can be the nature of a six-theme entry beast. I hope some of the mid-to-longer answers appealed to you. Now, I am not a person who knows a lot about pop music at all, so the inclusion of two modern musical performers (CARDI B and AVICII) surprised even me at the time…

This puzzle was written in May 2018. When I discovered that AVICII worked in the lower-left, I felt that I had to include him; the performer had taken his own life the month before at the age of 28. Here's a link to "Wake Me Up," the song referenced in the clue; and "Heaven," a beautiful tribute video created by some of his long-time collaborators. I've always been a fan of classical music foremost, but I enjoy Avicii's work. If you had difficulty with his name (hopefully all the crossings were fair; apologies for UVEA or SNOCAT if they weren't), I hope it was worth the introduction.

Wed 8/21/2019
CHALKEOSORCAS
RANINSCHPAULA
ERATOTHESECRET
DELETEDSCENE
FTCATFBAG
TERMSHEETINUSE
EVEOOXFRESNO
REFERENCELETTER
ENURESODELAG
SIENAENTERHERE
AFLRAMCOO
MERCEDESBENZ
SEVENTEENINNIE
AWARDERATORTE
GENESDOSABYSS

With this puzzle, I intended to have a bit of fun with that convention that says you can stick an E in front of something and suddenly you've coined a hip, modern term. We see them a little too often in crosswords: E-CIG, E-ZINE, E-TAIL, et al. The first theme entry that came to mind is still my favorite of the litter: REFERENCE LETTER for [E-mail?].

I'm sad that the editorial staff had to work harder than usual in tweaking the clues. I can only take credit for the theme clues and eight others. That means 61 clues (81% of the total) had to be altered. I aspire for a much higher batting average. Hopefully next time my clues will be good E-NUF. (My favorite clue on the cutting room floor: [Fife player?] for KNOTTS.)

Thu 8/22/2019
SNAILSGASPGEM
FIRMUPLITERATI
PLASMAOMEGAMAN
DEBBCUPELIELI
ICEESAPES
FLAIRANTGEARS
LINGERIOSSNOW
IVSDIVEBARTUE
REEKPECLOUISA
TRANSNEEUNTER
IPADDENCH
OMIGODAULDESC
MUSHROOMLOOSER
ISITTRUEINDIGO
TESSETSSEESAW

I've always found turning puzzles like this fun to solve (shout out to Tracy Gray who had a great Spill the Beans puzzle a couple years ago that sticks out in my mind), so I wanted to try my hand at constructing one. My goal was to find words/phrases that would work as stand-alone entries despite the "dive." It's more aesthetically pleasing when you can look at a puzzle after solving it, and everything is a real word and not just a mishmash of letters.

Luckily, though this isn't the most original theme for a Thursday, Will Shortz accepted it with the caveat that he'd shelve it for a bit until the theme type would feel a little less over-familiar to solvers. Glad that time is now, on my three-year debut-versary!

Also nice to see a change in the cluing made possible by the continued success of our outstanding USWNT with my original clue for 21-down being "2015 Women's World Cup winners".

Fri 8/23/2019
BARBEDGARSWAB
AREAAAABATTERY
BETTERYOUTHANME
ANIMALSSTOIC
SAPORFEYNECK
BASSOSAP
VICTORIAFALLS
WILHELMSCREAM
THREEPOINTERS
BITNOVEL
SMUGCOGMITES
OLSONTHENILE
DISAPPEARINGACT
IVORYTOWERUNIT
NYSEONSETSADE

Super excited to have my first themeless in the New York Times! I'm sure WILHELM SCREAM will get some mixed reviews. Even if you haven't heard the term, you've probably heard the scream. It's been in Star Wars, Indiana Jones and a lot more movies.

And the voice belongs to Sheb Wooley of "Purple People Eater" fame!

Even if the entry strikes you as too esoteric, I hope you learned something interesting! Happy solving!

Sat 8/24/2019
PROTIPSLIGHTBIT
SENHORLITEBRITE
AVEENOOFFCOURSE
LEGOGOWEAKMYOB
MARCHAMOCOPAPA
LARACROFTNEG
MAIMPOIWINS
CROPCIRCLE
BWAYNRABOTS
YOMOPSOMANIA
ROOMHAITIFOXTV
IKEAACTODCOTRO
GIBRALTARAMDIAL
HEISTFILMSELECT
TECHSAVVYTHESES

In my most recent puzzle's constructor notes, I outlined that I start with a feature entry or two and arrange the black squares as I go, so that I can have the greatest amount of flexibility possible.

This here is what happens when that style of puzzle making runs off the rails.

I'm a sucker for eye-popping letter patterns, and love a good constructing challenge, so I began by placing TECH-SAVVY in the bottom of the grid and immediately stacking HEIST FILM on top of it. The terminal bigrams formed for the crossing Downs (HT, EE, IC, etc) all presented interesting possibilities, with LV adding the greatest constraint (CTRL-V? SUPER BOWL LV?).

Thus, I swore I was going to do absolutely anything in my power to get this to work. And I especially wouldn't budge once I saw GIBRALTAR could stack atop the other two to lock in the crazy CAPITAL V and WOOKIEE. So although I had yet to truly fix a single black square anywhere in the grid — this stack might have worked in the lower right after all — I developed some serious constructing tunnel vision, convincing myself that I could let my mind run wild with all sorts of options for the surrounding slots in order to preserve the sparkly stuff I wanted.

Fortunately for me, as you see now, I was able to pull it off. But it required:

  • An overlarge grid (16x15) that, despite still remaining under the maximum answer count (72), felt unnecessary for a weekend offering.
  • The equally bonkers AC TO DC, because ACTOR ___ or ACT ON ___ or ACT OF ___ just wouldn't work with ...
  • ... OPSOMANIA. COME. ON. I really do think this is a nifty word, and teeters on fair game for a Saturday, but won't blame anyone who feels otherwise. Guess I'm going to have to start using it in everyday conversation?

My self-criticism aside, I really do love how this thing turned out in the end, even if I know the puzzle won't be well-received by everybody. It is a very on-brand themeless from me after all, with its tacky letter blends, creative fill (perhaps overly so) and some diabolical clues. In fact, the pairing of CROP CIRCLE with [Unbelievable discovery in one's field] might just be my all-time favorite.

Shoutout to Byron Walden for the inspiration, with his absolute tour-de-force Saturday from 2008! Something something about imitation and flattery ...

Sun 8/25/2019"HOW'S TRICKS?"
AMIRMESASSWAMAFAR
RODEOOAKIEOHHIDRNO
ANYCOLDTIMEDEADCHEAT
BALANCESESSAYSHEESH
LAHRDEALSTARR
HURLANTIWELSHREADS
ATATIDALSWEARATDOE
WINCEMAKERSALUTTINE
KLEINNEMEAPAGECRANK
SEEPAGEMATHASARULE
HBOBAPTISMSID
SMELTERSIGNNEMESIS
SPARECRIBCHAROSAUDI
WIGSHODADCROWHOUSES
ARIMADEIRALAYONHAS
TEMPEESTERUDONOILY
OAREDASAPUSSR
IAMBICHOMEREDHARRIS
CRESTAREANOWYOUSEEME
AINTSULKASHENERNIE
NATSHEMSLEASTYOND

There's not a whole lot of history here; I think I was watching "Now You See Me" on TV when the idea for the theme came to me. Will changed sort of the usual number of clues; the only one I was really sorry to see go was [Fantine / King commonality] for DREAM. Love the song, love the speech.

You can see Dr.Fill solving this puzzle here. The purple squares at the beginning are what you see as DF analyzes the clues; then it blasts along, getting most everything right except for a couple squares in MAGI MOMENT that it fixes up soon enough. 100% correct!

Now onto the theme analysis. It doesn't know about these mixed themes, and there are more acrosses than downs, so it decides that the theme is "add a C." I can live with that. Or so I think: it reworks the puzzle, and decides to replace MODERN DANE, which has no C and is therefore clearly not adding a C to anything, with MODERN CANE, which is adding a C to MODERN ANE, whatever that is. TICAL is, sadly, an old word for the Thai baht. You can see on the right that it thought TIDAL was far better (scoring 5.40 instead of 10.01; lower scores are better), but that C thing really nailed it.

Sigh. I hate computers.

POW Mon 8/26/2019
CASTSBIBSLAUDE
ONEUPALOEESSEX
BAABAABLACKSHEEP
RIMRUETABMMA
ASSERTNICEST
BOOBOOBEAR
IKNOWLILONICKI
OREOSENDONBONA
TICKTAKETOSMOG
ASKSURLIEOXO
BYEBYEBIRDIE
DROOLERICINSTA
RANGEYOLKTATUM
ATEINEDGEENACT
TESSADEERDESKS

Periodic reminder: the Crossword Puzzle Collaboration Directory is a resource for puzzlemakers from underrepresented groups. If you're interested in writing crosswords (or other puzzles) and would like some tips on getting started, someone to critique your work, or someone to collaborate with, give it a look.

Tue 8/27/2019
DORAGTHEOCEVA
AROMAORTHOVIS
MELISSASAIMLESS
POEBUDOPENTO
FIRSTSATBAR
TOWELRIBSEST
STELLASALLSET
POLLUTILEUTNE
LAURENSUNREAL
TASNAMEFORTY
OFFERSEPALS
PLANESORGAHI
DARLENESLEARNED
OMGLAPELMENLO
GEOSPACYEXAMS

Anagrams! I've loved anagrams since I was a kid, and it shows. The first puzzle I got accepted by The New York Times was a cryptic crossword, and the first daily puzzle I got accepted also had an anagram theme. It's always a thrill for me to get some of my anagram wordplay published in The New York Times.

Finding the theme set wasn't so easy. I needed common female names that have adjective anagrams that can be used to describe a person. (I had even more trouble with male names.)

At first I had MELISSA (AIMLESS), DARLENE (LEARNED), GRETA (GREAT), and LEONA (ALONE). Will and his team thought the latter two were too short, but I couldn't find anything better, other than LAUREN (UNREAL). They then suggested STELLA (ALL SET), so I was... ALL SET! Even though ALL SET isn't one word, it's a common phrase so I was happy with it.

Hope you enjoy, and look out for more anagrams in my daily puzzles, cryptics, and puns and anagrams puzzles!

Wed 8/28/2019
SACSCPATHENET
PLANARCRAVINE
ALJOLSONAZALEA
YOUGOTSERVED
SYNWRYHEREIAM
YEASELDOTE
ACOUSTICSWAN
FAULTINOURSTARS
RITLUSITANIA
ORESNITSAX
SODACANSOTFEB
LOVEACTUALLY
SATORIHATEMAIL
STOOGEOROPITA
TENNISYESSLEW

This is my first crossword in the New York Times, and I'm excited to check this achievement off of the personal bucket list! I've been doing Times crosswords for most of my life, but only got into constructing last year. While I was completing a Ph.D. in Film and Media Studies, crosswords proved to be an especially refreshing break from reading hundreds of pages of theory. There's something so satisfying about landing on a promising theme, figuring out a grid formation that works, and cracking a stubborn corner of fill. Plus, I finally found a niche where people might appreciate my insatiable appetite for punning.

As I soon discovered, many skills go into constructing a crossword, and all of them have a learning curve. Finding out about tools like Crossfire and XWord Info made a substantial difference. I also read through years of constructor's notes and Jeff Chen's commentary and learned a lot from them. Even still, I submitted twelve unsuccessful crosswords before suddenly, one day en route to the gym, the words Love Actually popped into my head. Then You Got Served. Then The Fault in Our Stars and The Net and tennis. All five theme answers just appeared like a cartoon light bulb. I held my breath as I counted the letters in the entries and hoped they would work. Once those stars aligned, the rest of the puzzle quickly fell into place. I guess it goes to show you that high school tennis lessons and a doctorate in film can have some unintended benefits.

Now, the next goal on my bucket list to get a Puzzle of the Week accolade from Jeff one of these days!

Thu 8/29/2019
RAJACASTSPISH
ARABALLAHOBOE
GIVEORTAKEDEJA
MAITREVEEPFOR
ONEBFFINOROUT
PARMRIOSPERRY
UBENDSOPEN
FRIENDORFOE
POMPSERIFS
ARGUEDRENEATS
DOORDIESGTDEA
ARFSSNSTARZAN
GAWPBOOMORBUST
ETASACTINIKEA
SARIRHONESITS

TRICK OR TREAT made last year's Halloween even more of a treat when it occurred to me that an ending Y could form two distinct, unrelated words.

Given that I sat down on the sidewalk for two hours while I tried to think of other examples, it took a tricky treaty with my kids to get them home at a reasonable hour that night.

Fri 8/30/2019
OFFICEWIFECBER
MELLOYELLOLIVE
EVILGENIUSAGES
GENSTATSMART
ARCEDFLESHPDA
SHAVERSCAMPER
TRUESAMULET
SUEREACTLEN
JUSTSOMOHEL
EIGHTPMCELEBS
STRAEAEASTEEP
TEARYCECESNO
EDDAARROWHEADS
RUEDDOILOOKFAT
SPASSNEAKPEEKS

It's been a great summer. I recently got back from playing trumpet on a concert tour of Europe with a big band made up of a group of old friends from Texas Christian University. Playing with the Curt Wilson Alumni Band and exploring Spain and Portugal with my wife Beth was magical. Thanks, Curt! And now I get to share another puzzle with you in the New York Times on the day after my birthday? Life is good.

Queue times for themeless puzzles are long, so looking at this now is like opening a time capsule from February 2018 when I submitted it. As usual, Will, Joel, and Sam made it better. They deprived you of masterful gems like ARMERS and RENEGERS that appeared in my initial version. Happily, they liked my edits, and now this puzzle has made its way into your hands. They were on the crossword field playing defense for you, dear solver, and I'm glad of that. I've learned a few things since then.

One of the ways I've learned is through the surreal experience of reading comments about my puzzles from hundreds of people across multiple forums online. Those of us who make puzzles do read those comments and reviews. Observing how solvers react to puzzles is a wonderful opportunity to grow as a constructor. Kind comments warm my heart, and critical ones help me improve. My favorite professor when I was a psychology grad student once listened carefully to my thorough analysis of a case and declared to the entire class, "I'm listening to what Trent is saying and thinking to myself, ‘Trent has no idea what the *^%! he's talking about.'" My patients reap the benefit of that man's brutality to this day.

Happy Friday Crossworld! I hope you enjoy the solve, and I look forward to your thoughts. Have a fantastic weekend.

P.S. If you're interested in making your own puzzle, stop on by the Crossword Puzzle Collaboration Directory on Facebook. While the focus of the group is to increase the participation of women, people of color, and other groups underrepresented in the puzzle world, there's something for everyone interested in trying their hand at puzzle constructing. There are lots of us there who would be happy to help you.

Sat 8/31/2019
POSHBOSCLISP
OCHOIOWATONTO
STAMPOFAPPROVAL
TAKEITBITEMARK
OVEREATTAXSKA
PERECEPAOILS
MISSILEENVY
RENELACOSTE
BUDGEANINCH
EENYMOTAETNA
NETMAOYOPLAIT
TRIFECTAKEENER
INEEDSOMEADVICE
RUSTSROPYEKES
ETTASKISLAST

Howdy! Excited to make my themeless debut and especially for a few debut entries — HOME REMEDY, BITE MARK, TANIKA, and MISSILE ENVY (which was the seed) in particular! I was really into the Cold War a few years back, learned of MISSILE ENVY from playing a board game with my brother, and had to seed a puzzle with it.

A few other thoughts:

  • The bottom right was the toughest part to fill — grateful that TANIKA Ray was able to make it all come together.
  • Sample size of one, but duct tape worked well for me as a wart-removal HOME REMEDY.
  • I've never even heard of spanakopita until now (that one wasn't my clue), but it looks delicious and is now on the menu for next week.

And, while I'm happy with how the puzzle turned out, if I were making it today I'd try to break up the 15s and juice up a couple more of those middle length entries in the top right and bottom left corners.

Anyways, hope you enjoy!