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Puzzles for September, 2013
with Constructor comments

Sun 9/1/2013 PERSONS OF NOTE
DENZEL1JOGGEDLOUF
ORIOLESSAMURAIBLANC
ONLEAVEPLANETSLATTE
DSLSICHORNECHIMEIN
TASTEDEPELIASASET
HISTORYRETORTS
MACANEYALEMHO
VARIANTJABTAMAEAR
HITITFATIMOFFSTADIA
ARCYOGABAZAARFLIRT
NTHSEEKSACEDTACO
DUBAIREEFEREVANBUR
ROOMERAWAREVELOCITY
USXDOWNQEDARETHAO
BOTSOYACLELAS
PHENOMSHOUSTON
GASLITFEEAREANTED
OCTAGONSWANNEGGKOA
DEATHAALARGEMOANING
ELMO5TSARISTARGONNE
LAPSLINDATGEORGE2

It all started at 1-Across. The genesis was a brief conversation I'd overheard about Washington. "Which one?" was the question, meaning to clarify whether city or state, but the way my mind works, I thought, which one? Denzel? George? That triggered the CTD (crossword theme detector) in my brain, and pretty soon I had the idea of a double rebus playing off the various paper currency denominations. The dollar sign at the center of the grid needed to stand alone, more or less forcing the 13-letter vertical answers at 31- and 33-Down, which ended up being a variation of a title I'd had in mind. It fit nicely and added, I think, a certain element to the puzzle. That central $ forced the rebuses toward the perimeter, ate into the 140-word allotment of a Sunday grid, and posed a few challenges for the fill. In the end, it all came together, with just a handful of short answers coming from the B-list, so to speak.

Three final thoughts:

  1. What do a dollar sign and a crossword grid have in common? Both have 180-degree rotational symmetry. They were made for each other, you ask me.
  2. All denominations of U.S. paper currency now in circulation ($1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50, $100) made it into the grid. Higher-value banknotes were officially withdrawn from circulation in 1969.
  3. The seven rebus answers total $188. The number 188 represents the ranking of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Who'll Stop the Rain" on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. The (money) quote from the great John Fogerty: "Certainly, I was talking about Washington when I wrote the song." Coincidence? I think not. The only question is this: "Washington? Which one?"
Mon 9/2/2013
APAINEBONBOSS
LAPSETAPERAKE
ISAACHAYESAKIN
STRIKEORTOLES
TATAFINALPHASE
HENCEETON
UGHMEETSEDAM
STATUREPULSATE
SOPHSWINESET
PESOANVIL
MAYONNAISEELLE
OLDLESTIMDEAD
NOAHSTEELYGAZE
ENYAERRSSEVEN
TESTCOSTTRESS

This is my second published puzzle in the NYT and represents a return to basics. My cutesy theme ideas had been falling flat, so I went back to a simple theme and tried to make it as clean as possible. I'm not sure how I picked "AYS" as the syllable, but I was spoiled for choice. There were some great names/phrases I could have used (WOODY/GABBY/HELEN HAYES, HOLLANDAISE, LYONNAISE, PURPLE HAZE, WILLIE MAYS, POPINJAYS).

For this type of rhyming theme, each entry should have a different spelling for the syllable in question, but I put a couple other constraints on myself.

  1. No plurals (aside from OAKLAND A'S which would be unusual in the singular) and HAPPY DAYS (which is a title). This ruled out some interesting words with different spelling (LEIS, CLICHES, DOSSIERS, CHEVROLETS, PARFAITS, BOUQUETS, MATINEES, as well as the afore-mentioned POPINJAYS).
  2. The same three-syllable cadence for each entry. If you say one after the other, you should get a nice, even rhythm. Unless you slather your sandwich with "MAN-AZE" of course! =P

In the end, it came down to the most interesting choices with the right letter counts and which allowed a clean fill. A friend of my wife's says she loves the Monday puzzles because they make her feel smart. Here's to all the smart Monday puzzlers out there!

Tue 9/3/2013
WHATSRACARTE
AONELASEAVAIL
XBOXRIVALMINTS
YONAMEBAEAGLE
FRENCHFORYES
TAHOESANY
AGOGREMITNBA
PERSONALPRONOUN
SENLEEKSASST
CDEASSETS
CRYOFDELIGHT
LEONIRENEEQED
USUALMINIATURE
EERIEACESWISE
STERSARTOPTS

At some point I ran across a Times crossword by Tyler Hinman where he used a set of five homophones (OR/OAR/OER/ORE/ORR) as clues for fresh, longer phrases. That got me wondering if I could find a different set of five homophones that would lend themselves to fresh (and symmetrical) theme answers. This puzzle is the result.

Of my crosswords that have appeared in the Times so far, this one had the longest gap between acceptance and publication (almost three years).

Wed 9/4/2013
JOBAFLACINTEL
AAACUOMONEHRU
RTJOHNSONTWAIN
SHAKEENFLEMING
ESPEURO
SIAMAWARDOHMS
KTCOURICANNUAL
USAMANIACSRIO
AORTASDDRAMONE
SKEWAUSSIONES
OBISSAP
KCAFFLECKWEAVE
NADALREONASSIS
UTICAIDLESALP
TENETDEATHPEN

The origins of this puzzle's theme came from seeing the clue "Woman's name that sounds like two letters of the alphabet" for ELSIE. This got me thinking about all the possible names that could be clued this way. Left on the cutting room floor: LC THE COW, LN DEGENERES, LE GOULDING, and OB WAN KENOBI.

As for grid construction, with six theme answers I knew I had to alternate their placement on either side of the grid. This allows for the least overlap between theme answers (e.g. 36- and 46-Across only overlap at the last letter), which in turn gives me less constraints as I try to find clean and entertaining fill. I started with searching for a central 7-letter word that would overlap nicely between 36- and 46-Across and leave me with entertaining down answers at 22- and 24-Down. I was happy with LUDACRIS, given that many people my age will appreciate seeing a popular rapper in the NYT puzzle. After that, it was a matter of trying to fill each of the other eight corners cleanly. I try to take advantage of longer answers (like 10- and 45-Down) to put in new, fresh fill, as it's awfully hard to do that with four or five letter answers.

POW Thu 9/5/2013
MAOISMPORTEDD
ONSTARDREINOR
INCITEFENGDYE
LEANEDAHNOLD
RAESCATTERED
CINNIGHTOWL
OSOSATITALOUD
RADIANIDIDSO
POSERFAWNEDER
STRATEGOORR
SPUTTEREDPAR
CANAANDICERS
ANDTTOPUNEVIE
LSUUTESSELENA
EYEMORTTRANKS

An early version of this puzzle only had the revealer PORT, with four "P or T" squares. I wasn't thrilled with how it came out, but I liked the idea, so I set it aside in my (massive) "Puzzles To Rework" folder. Over the next few weeks I made note of any "letter x or letter y" words that came into head. Once I got enough decent ones I made this puzzle.

I was surprised by how constraining the theme was in constructing. The four symmetric revealers made the fill tougher than I expected. Many times I put in a snazzy long answer, only to delete it shortly thereafter. The original version I submitted had OSCARBUZZ instead of OSCARNODS, but the double zees caused a chain reaction that lead to PROTONIC being 39-Down. Mr. Shortz didn't like it, which I understand. Protonic is an inferable word, but... it's no electronic, that's for sure.

Overall I'm satisfied with the non-theme fill. (Thanks to Frank Longo whom Will enlisted to fix a potential Natick.) My biggest regret with this puzzle is that I thought of better theme answers shortly after it was accepted: JANE[D/R]OE is great, as is [C/P]RANKCALL. Oh well. Is there such a thing as a puzzle sequel?

Fri 9/6/2013
POVERTYROWGARR
URANIUMOREEPEE
CARROTCAKELPGA
ENYAUARDIALUP
GASPENTEL
ESTERSTEADICAM
WARSAWPACTNITE
ONEBOLSTERDIA
KTELRETIREMENT
SAGEGREENBERGS
CUTSINFAN
BLASTSONODISK
CAROOTHERWOMAN
URDUMSMAGAZINE
PASTEASTORANGE

Brad:

Doug and I usually achieve something close to a 50/50 split on the fill in our themeless puzzles. The kind of balance we're looking for is helped along by grid patterns that are fairly modest in their demands — whatever progress I make somewhere should leave Doug lots of flexibility. What I like about grids that Doug picks (like this one) is that they are manageable but they usually present some extra degree of difficulty, like a pair of 10s feeding into the center or reaching into the corners, when we could have bailed out with cheater squares instead. Doug plunked down a nifty new 1A here and worked to 32A. We took turns on the other corners until we were done. We've got movie trivia, history, gastronomy, and baseball here — all elements we both like. I humbly submit a fresh clue for 16A. Doug has concocted some crafty ones for a couple of the 9-letter entries.

Doug:

1A is an example of my favorite type of themeless seed entry. It may not be familiar to most solvers, but the entry is quite figure-out-able. And most importantly, it's an interesting phrase to learn. You can use it to impress your easily impressed friends at your next cocktail party. I try not to use unfamiliar names as seeds, because they're quickly forgotten once the puzzle is solved. And let me add that I always learn something new (a cool word, some fun trivia, etc.) when constructing a puzzle with Brad.

Sat 9/7/2013
BURJKHALIFAPIC
ONAUTOPILOTGMA
WISDOMTEETHTMS
EXPOSITSOLDHAT
LEOAMERICA
CIALISSTATERUN
ASIANSUITETLC
NORMSENDSYEAH
TMCMAINESEETO
HELSINKICORNER
ATEINTOEON
CRANIACRONYISM
KINMAJORLEAGUE
ICEANDSOITGOES
TSRLASTRESORTS

It might be of interest that I started constructing this puzzle almost immediately after actually visiting the 1-Across. I suspect it might be the one and only puzzleworthy entry with a JKH consonant string, which of course made its use irresistible.

Sun 9/8/2013 BUMPER CARS
SPAYTALCMCATSSEPIA
ILIAOHIORICOHEARLS
PARKAVENUECOUGARQUEST
TWIXMARSHPALAUSAO
SEAMENISITELMERS
CAVALIERCAPRIDIPLOMAT
HUEGMAYSERSWAMI
ALHIRTAMOURENYA
BOBCATRABBITACCORD
ROLEXARATALEABS
INTREPIDRAMCHALLENGER
MASSOMASOOBURNT
STORMTROOPERSONATA
AQUIHENCESHANKS
MUNROBITOUZIATF
CELEBRITYGOLFDEFENDER
ONSIDENEMOFLIMSY
AKACOINSTERSEAXIS
MIDGETOUTBACKEXPLORER
PREENCRAMPERASNERF
SIDLEYETISDEMISDAK

Pete: Sue Keefer is my sister and a longtime NY Times solver. This is her first published puzzle. The first version of it included BLAZER LEGEND ESCORT [Companion for Clyde Drexler?] and GREMLIN WRANGLER FIESTA [Where to find spirit chasers on a Friday night?]. Will asked us to change both of these.

PARK AVENUE COUGAR QUEST was the seed entry and the one that made us decide to do the puzzle. We hope you like it!

POW Mon 9/9/2013
ACTSBLACKWORD
SLOTULTRAALAI
KERRSALARYHIKE
AREAMAPLEVET
PRESSPASSRAISE
GUNSHYMEIR
APTTRAITEARNS
GOODCATCH
SHEENSEOULART
TELLBAMBOO
ELATERABBITRUN
ALPSIEGEREAL
MUSICSCORETHAW
EVERPARERNADA
DADASPATEAMEN

Will ran a similar puzzle of mine earlier this year with a baseball theme, so I took a stab at a sister puzzle with a football angle, and he went for it. I also guessed he would run it in the first week of the NFL season. Glad to see it's a Monday.

Favorite clue: "Ones who've got something to lose?"

Tue 9/10/2013
KUMQUATTYPHOON
ATEINTOHORMONE
LETDOWNEDASNER
ERASTEAMEDAGO
SILKRELAY
SAINTSOATS
HYUNDAIKOWTOW
AAAKETCHUPODE
GUNGHOHORATIO
ELKOBOTTLE
BARAKCHOW
EBBBOREDOMIMO
MARCONICHATTER
ALADDINCOLUMNS
GINSENGCHINESE

I sifted through all the English words with Chinese roots and came up with the current set. I avoided words with obvious Chinese ties like Mahjong or Feng shui. I also shunned words with controversial origins like Tofu or Ramen.

I found it tricky to work with theme entries of short length. I'm so used to the conventional grids with 4 or 5 long theme entries.

Wed 9/11/2013
JAFARUNITELS
AMORESCORELAP
WARMBLOODEDIKE
SSTIANDOZEN
MATERNITYWARD
PEYTONPASS
ATEAMPOOLGPS
CARDBOARDCUTOUT
ESSARTSPIETY
LETTADESTE
EXTENSIONCORD
AROMANENUFO
SAYCOLDHEARTED
EYETREVIXACTO
LSDSEEDETHER

I made this one while I was writing "Scratch & Solve Word Ladders", and I remember consulting with Acme on the theme and discussing the option of UMBILICAL CORD versus EXTENSION CORD for some time. There were two J's in this grid when originally submitted, but one of them was changed since it created a too-tricky vortex of literature and music. I was happy to see that many of my clues made the cut, and if I had it to do over I would probably change IPODS to IPADS... though in my defense: they didn't exist at the time!

Thu 9/12/2013
TAJLIRRAWARD
ABUBREADDACHA
ROMJACKSPARROW
SUPSQUELLZING
ITSABIRDABODES
TUXESANON
SHIEDBUBBLEJET
KATGIRLSUAE
ITSAPLANEELITE
LEASALICE
VACUUMJEFFKENT
ETONUDALLEBAY
ITSSUPERMANAWL
LIMESSEEMERAE
SCOREDREWSYR

This puzzle was really, really easy to construct. All I had to do was go to xwordthemegenerator.com, select a preset grid, click autofill, et voila! Quality puzzle achieved! Or not.

I originally submitted this puzzle as an early-week offering, but Will asked if I could re-clue it as a Thursday puzzle. Since it's a 76-worder, the puzzle could be easy or hard, depending on the clues. I suspect JEFF KENT is the main reason it's a Thursday, not a Tuesday. Maybe it's the lack of Thursdays in the queue, too.

Since I wanted to put the three revealing phrases at the bottom of the puzzle (or stagger the theme answers as they currently appear), the Kent answer had to be 8 letters. That made KENT STATE unusable, and also forced the revealing words to the end of the phrase. I also assumed there weren't any famous people with the surname Kal-El. So that's why Jeff Kent is in the grid.

I am, however, a little torn on Jeff Kent as an answer. On one hand he's a relatively famous baseball player with a M.V.P. award. On the other hand, I could probably name hundreds of athletes more famous than Jeff Kent that aren't grid-worthy because they haven't won any awards. But since Kent won an M.V.P., he instantly becomes grid-worthy? I guess so, but that doesn't seem completely right. Kent is essentially the Jim Broadbent of the sports world. Broadbent, of course, won the 2001 Oscar for best supporting actor.

Fri 9/13/2013
CLASPINGANGLE
LASERBEAMBORAX
INANIMATECRAVE
NORADLETTYOU
GLUTEIEASTERN
TILERUMORHASIT
ONECONARTISTS
LANDLINES
FOURLETTEROFT
COINPURSESBRIE
HULKINGSCLERA
ALPGOBSRAGES
ITALYNOTREDAME
SINAIEYEOPENER
EPSONSTETSONS

Unsurprisingly, I started this grid in the center. I've come to like making themelesses with wide-open centers, because if you can complete the center you'll probably make it across the finish line. Making a wide-open corner is chancier, because you still have to fill in the equally-wide-open opposite corner—and for corner #2 you can't move the black squares (I have a lot of unmatched corners in my files).

My original plan was to have a central stack of lengths 10/11/9/11/10 with RUMOR HAS IT at the top, but that proved a bit too ambitious, so I added the cheaters on the sides to make the stack easier to fill. When choosing between adding dodgy entries and adding cheaters, always go for the cheaters.

Having decided that the U from RUMOR HAS IT would be a starting letter, I filled in UNDER as the start of that entry, knowing that would give me plenty of options for the remainder. Then it was just a long slow slog to find four more interesting Across entries that would create workable crossings. I ended up needing another pair of cheaters because of the –ORITE entry (METEORITE was the only familiar option), but again, it's a small price to pay for clean fill.

Sat 9/14/2013
PIZZAJOINTWIFE
ANTIMATTERALAS
WHITENOISELLCS
NILSEESTOKATO
SETSNLGOT
HTSTIEONEON
INHERITNEWWAVE
BIODATAGREASES
ATTACKSSISTERS
RETREATSETE
OKSEPSRAW
LOTSSTEPONSAY
YURIRENONEVADA
IZODISCREWEDUP
NOTESTEELTRAPS

Everyone's a comedian.

Crossword construction covers five major areas: early-week, mid-week, out-of-the-box Thursdays, themeless, and Sunday-size. Many constructors can get proficient at a few areas, some can become an expert at one, but very few can become top-notch in all five. It's my goal to achieve all-around greatness, and I realize I have work to do in the themeless arena.

Starting with the good stuff, I liked how much of this puzzle turned out. PIZZA JOINT brings back memories of the time when I wasn't quite as lactose intolerant (my poor wife), and I find that saying I SCREWED UP comes in handy in disarming people during difficult situations. The wide-open middle sections took me a long time to work through, and I was happy that they came off with just an ETE and HTS as blemishes.

Areas for improvement: I dislike the same entries Will calls out. IN HIS is particularly egregious, being both a five-letter partial as well as an odd one. It feels worse than something like AN ACE ("An ace up one's sleeve" or "An ace in the hole") but I couldn't figure out a way around it. IN HOT was a better possibility, but I couldn't avoid duping HOT (in HOT TO TROT). Hours upon hours of trying hundreds of possibilities and I finally had to wave the white flag. I'd love to hear from other constructors to see if there was something different I could have done.

And my cluing is still a work in progress. I've come a long way from when Will used to change 75% of my clues, but I want to be mentioned in the same breath as Mike Shenk (editor of the WSJ puzzle), who Will gives as an example of someone whose cluing he barely has to touch. I continue to work at building my clue-writing ability by studying great puzzles like yesterday's masterful PB. And a lot of practice.

All in all, I'm making progress but realize I have work to do. Butt in chair, Jeff, butt in chair.

Sun 9/15/2013 THAT GIRL
HOGAILSTHEMRAHCFO
ALLUPSETROBEPROSHOP
SEIZEHERSALADIMTHERE
RADIXREILLYSAUCER
ONESETAGEESHARIKIA
ONOSOCKHERPLAYERHGT
MANSLOSTALUMNABENE
LADYBTUSCBER
SCALYATLSHUTHERBUG
STOPGOCHUMPLSAGONY
EAURUBHERCHICKENAIM
ARNIEIOSSOLEABORTS
LETHERBOMBOERTARDY
HONEIREDJAGS
STEPGRATIABIEBOPAL
TORLICKHERBOTTLEHBO
APPIMACSTETSENTIRE
BLAINECHACHADALES
BIRDINGJUMPHERCABLES
ENTENTEIKEAREALSIZE
DESGSTGENLEARLPER
Mon 9/16/2013
PANASAPDAPPER
UPIGALSELAINE
MAMMAMIACANNOT
AROARLEOATRA
STYXMUMMYSTOMB
IBIDISLE
AHAAROOILOST
MILLIONMOMMARCH
IMPELBAALSHY
TEMPHAYS
MAMMYYOKUMLAMA
ATIENTHAARON
CESSNAMMMMGOOD
HITECHEXAMMER
UNSERSRICOADE

As originally conceived and submitted this puzzle had all the clues begin with the letter "M". I suspect that either some of the clues were a bit too much of a "stretch" or that doing such created a disconnect between the difficulty level of the puzzle entries and that of the cluing as a whole (e.g. a Monday puzzle with Wednesday clues). I think Will kept about 16-17 of these clues. In filling the grid I always had to keep in mind the cluing restrictions I had set up for myself. It was a fun challenge, but I remember an old comment that a challenge for a constructor doesn't necessarily equal a fun puzzle for the solver, which is what may have done this idea in.

In any case, I do believe that each entry can have a reasonable "M" clue associated with it…mmmm…some solvers might even enjoy the challenge of finding a few for some entries themselves.

Tue 9/17/2013
LABELESCAPEPSA
INANEERASERAWN
DANCESWITHWOLVES
GORENOISELAW
WILDATHEARTVOTE
SWEETALPEFEVER
JOSAVEMOLARS
DATEMOVIES
UMLAUTREXWAR
GOERSPLIEEJECT
ALOTTHEGRADUATE
NINEIRONPINK
DEADPOETSSOCIETY
ARRSOBEITTOSEE
NEDOPENLYSRTAS

I remember the genesis for this puzzle came to me on a rainy night a couple of years ago as I was driving back to Ann Arbor from Detroit. For some reason, the Muse seems to speak to me while I'm driving my car or walking my dog. I was thinking about "Dances with Wolves", and noticed that the letters DATE were hiding inside. As I quickly tapped out the length with my fingers on the steering wheel, I was a bit dismayed to find that it was "plus-sized" at 16 letters. Before I had pulled into my driveway, I'd found "Dead Poets Society" — also 16 letters — and I was off and running.

I'm sure there are many "date" movies I could've chosen from, but these all seem to be fairly classic (although I must admit I've never seen "WIld at Heart" — is it a classic?).

Here's a little personal fact about Elmore LEONARD (40-Down). He and my father-in-law went to the University of Detroit Jesuit High School, with Elmore being a couple of years older. About a dozen years ago, at the U of D High School auction, Elmore put up, to the highest bidder, the right to have the bidder's name as a character in Leonard's upcoming novel. My father-in-law was the high bidder, so now he and my mother-in-law's names are immortalized in "Tishomingo Blues". My father-in-law is a gangster and my mother-in-law is a high-end hooker. Nice.

Wed 9/18/2013
OCTOPISCTVKID
TOUTERHAREIDO
THRONEOPENTEN
AONINERTGUTAG
WRITTEXTMEGA
ATNOTAKEAHINT
MATTERNLAO
ONCEBITTWICESHY
NEOOMNITEC
TEMPLETONABCD
PRIXNOTIRELY
OBEYSASWANNOS
PATHEMPCASINO
URLEMMALISTEN
SKYSOONERRORS

Personally, I love rebus puzzles, although I realize that not everyone feels the same. I also feel that a key part of the enjoyment is to be taken off guard, so in that respect the NYT does a great job of printing them sparingly. This likely also suits as much as possible the people who loathe them, so winners all around! Except maybe for constructors; it follows that it's a rather rare event to get one published. So that combined with the fact that many of the best punctuation symbols, icons and all whatnot have already been used in rebus puzzles leaves a constructor with their work cut out for them.

The most fun thing about this theme for me is that I thought of it on a camping trip. While inside a bona fide tent. With my family either scratching mosquito bites or snoring around me, I saw the tent icon on the campground map and somehow the penny dropped (seemed more realistic than the outhouse, firewood or electrical plug-in icons, at least). The next pleasant surprise was to see some fresh fill fit the theme; it was especially rewarding to get a phrase that wouldn't normally fit in a daily puzzle to squeeze on in there once it included the rebus. All the longest theme answers interlock one way or another as well, which was fun and rather miraculous to say the least. In fact there weren't too many extra fill possibilities to play with, so that interlock helped a lot to de-clutter the grid.

Anyway, hopefully this puzzle goes over well and maybe it will even encourage the odd solver to get out and enjoy the great outdoors once they're done!

Thu 9/19/2013
LACOSTEGPSARM
APOGEESLOALEA
COLDMASTERYLTR
ELLEANTIOUT
ULANCHOSEDOWNY
PORSCHEDORMER
SISPEACHGEDS
CARTFAIRY
BEERHOYLEEMT
ACROSSEATCROW
CLOCKPICKYARNE
KITIRMASATE
EPICANDYCOATED
NSCATOAIRBILL
DEAPSTMIRACLE

In San Francisco, I'm overshadowed by cruciverbalists who are known by their first names. But when I see Manny, Byron, Andrea, Tyler and their ilk, I like to remind them of this puzzle I made in 2008. Because the Times chose to produce this as a set of granite coasters, I believe my puzzle will be the only one to survive a global nuclear holocaust, and thus may be a Rosetta Stone explaining crosswords to future archaeologists. Today's puzzle has a similar theme, with four transformations and a reveal that involves parsing a two-word phrase as four words. I think it might be nice for the NYT to reproduce it as a microdot on the back of a cockroach, since that, too, would survive a firestorm.

Fri 9/20/2013
ASKOVERPTBOATS
RAISEDANEYEBROW
ALLKIDDINGASIDE
ROMANINNERSIE
AMERMAJORSTET
TERTITANKNIFE
BAKESDEADON
IBISESPEEPER
AMAZEDMALLS
RILEDBUSTSSHE
ATITPESTSVTEN
PANSEIKOKARAT
ATEENAGERINLOVE
HOSTILETAKEOVER
ORESTESLEERERS

Mangesh:

Frankly, I have grown up solving Doug's puzzles. So it was a privilege when he accepted to collaborate. This is my first themeless. The best learning, when working on a themeless, is the stretch it gives to your imagination. Not just in filling the longest entries of 15, but others like DEAD ON (which Will appreciated in his "Yes" mail). I wanted to improve on BALINESE to something more exciting.

Doug and I divided (or rather halved) the cluing. He went for Across and I for Down. I prefer cluing over constructing. Again, imagination and creativity get a wide canvas. The thrill is multiplied when you can come up with a cute clue and it tickles Will enough to retain it in the published version.

Doug:

This is a grid pattern that I've found is good for themeless collaborations. One constructor fills the top (or bottom) and hands it off to the other constructor to complete. Sometimes it works, and sometimes you have to go back to square one (pun intended). If I remember correctly, I filled the top half and then sent it intercontinentally to Mangesh. It was a pleasure to finally meet him at the ACPT last year!

Sat 9/21/2013
LIARSBLASTIT
UNDOCKCOMEONS
SASSONSSANTANA
TWOSTEPSFETTER
FORETELLSSLURS
URBSPIAMATERS
LDSBATTALION
LETTERMEN
CONCERTOSSEA
TOUGHROADMAGI
CONGASOLOHOMER
LOCALSFEVERISH
ALENCONCARESTO
MEDIATERESEES
PRESTOSSONDE

So how did I do it? Well, I started with some graph paper, several mechanical pencils, a LOT of erasers, and a caffeine IV...

...just kidding. I used pen.

No, honestly, I didn't set out to make a sub-60 grid. I went for an eye-catching grid pattern, and it happened to come out at 58 words. This grid started life as a 66-worder with the stair-step block pattern extended out diagonally one more. It was on a whim that I took out those four blocks to see if I could fill it.

I started with a power-fill to see if it'd work, not expecting much. I knew there'd be compromises (47/49A, 4D in the final product). Not only did it find a fill, but it came in only a couple minutes, and the center actually came out like this the first time I filled. So I had my framework (26-29-30-31-35A/14-17-20-23-27D) MUCH quicker than I expected. I don't know if this was the easiest sub-60 pattern to fill, but I've certainly not found any "easier" ones.

From there, the northeast most frustrated me. At first, I didn't like 8D because it seemed awkward. I was this close to scrapping the whole framework and restarting. But I searched Google and found it to be legit. With that, I found my fill and came upon 6D, which was, as of then, unused in the NYT (to my surprise). As a college football fan, I'm happy to see it go!

POW Sun 9/22/2013 LETTERBOXES
CASTMATSTHEMSHA
OPORTOTHEOHALOSTAC
DUNCANHANDLEWITHCARE
ORNERYOILAOKOLDBAT
REEDSPRESSSECRETARY
SECPREGATPOMTEL
STACIESRIDALIS
THEFBIANNEAETHER
WAVEESCGAMELAUDE
CIVSOLDOUTMOBSSLIP
READTHISGRIDINBRAILLE
INTOOCTOORBISONEEL
MEANTKENSKIAGADS
ERRORSASHYACIDIC
RATEDAERQUESTS
CRTSAXRAIGSNHEM
TOUCHTONEPHONEOPERA
SCRIBEABELITSWEDES
CONTACTPOISONSANTONE
ACEGAHANABETGUTTER
NORROSYTOROSPYS

I can't say anything. It's a contest. So I'm keeping my mouth shut.

OK, so let me tell you about me. There are a lot of crossword fans out there who haven't seen my name in the Times much, so they may not know I've been writing puzzles for a long time. I started by writing puzzles for Games and Dragon and other magazines in the 1980s, then started to develop the concept of multi-puzzle hunts in the 1990s, alongside a lot of brilliant people.

I started a puzzle construction series in Games called Puzzlecraft, which this year produced a book that a lot of constructors seem to like. And as many of you know, my latest big puzzle project is the puzzle novel The Maze of Games, to which Jeff and Will Shortz and many other crossword luminaries have contributed.

I run a company called Lone Shark Games, which makes games and events for lots of big companies, including Microsoft, Disney, Sony, and others. Our latest game is called the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, which seems to have gotten a very positive reaction from gamers.

It's been a fun year. And one of the highlights is "Letterboxes," which I hope folks like. When I can talk about it, I will.

Mon 9/23/2013
BRADDUBSOLID
AIDEDASAOBESE
SADIEMENSROOMS
SLICEANDDICE
ETCETCIKEMOP
TOTSTHETHREERS
SIAMELWAY
ITSTIMETOROLL
ACHOORUES
GOOGOOEYESIMAM
ENSDINTAMALE
COSTUMEBALLS
VICEVERSACRAWS
EVADEANNSEWER
TYLERPAXTITS
Tue 9/24/2013
SHAHSTADTZUS
OUTERTOGOHESA
THEREAGIOERST
DREWBARRYMORE
SCISPIELBERG
CONCEALELS
OMNISIFELLMSG
REEDSTEALMOTH
ERRSHYERPABLO
SOIDAIRIES
PHONEHOMELOT
FLYINGBICYCLE
ROLELENTEUBIE
AWOLERGOSPACE
TENDSTEREYER

I had a lot of theme entries I wanted to use for this puzzle, so intersecting and stacking them seemed like a good way to fit as many of them into the puzzle as possible. I lucked out in getting the intersecting letters to match up, and in getting the pairs of letters in the stacked entries to all yield possible perps.

The WP combo was tough, but I figured out that I could put either WPA or WPM there. I'm not that crazy about "TOGAE" at 6-Down because in real life most people would say "TOGAS," but I needed a word with an AE there so that's what I used there. I desperately wanted to fit another 5-letter theme entry at 37-Across to go with the ones I had at 23-Down and 35-Down, but I just couldn't come up with anything that would fit, so I ended up with no theme material in the center of the puzzle.

I spent a lot of time on this puzzle. I'm not sure how much. Probably over 40 hours. I built several versions of the grid that I rejected, and kept going back and moving black squares and changing fill, until I finally came up with something that I felt had clean enough fill to submit. Most experienced constructors will tell you that trying to cram too much theme material into a puzzle is a mistake, and I agree with that, but every once in a while it can work out.

Wed 9/25/2013
EBBTIDESASSAIL
TROOPERSIMELDA
HOTWATERRECOOK
ANTDEBASARULE
NCOSRUPTURE
SOMMESTEPTBSP
LOADSUPSUKE
ANAGRAMPLUGSIN
DENNTSBYEAS
SODAEDITSLEET
TABOOEDERNO
LITTERSJAIVAT
IMHEREHARDTIME
NARNIAINTERCOM
EXUDEDDOSSIERS

Vic: "Do you remember this puzzle?" I asked Bonnie.

Bonnie: Not so much.

Vic: So Jeff sent us a copy. I solved it in under an hour. Bonnie and I concluded that some time back one of us said to the other, "We need to collaborate on another Times crossword." That's a statement each of us has made many times over the years. Since my name is listed first, we think it was I who then said, "I'm thinking of a theme with 2-unit ILSAs*, in which the first and last unit can be the first unit in 2-unit ILSAs with a common second unit." Or words to that effect.

*(An ILSA is an "in-the-language stand-alone." I hope no one coined this acronym before I did, about five years ago. Here's to its being admitted to the dictionary someday! But I digress.)

LINE being the second unit in many a two-unit ILSA, we made a list of those, then worked with the first units to find our theme answers. We wanted at least six, and we wanted two pairs to be crossing in the northwest and southeast corners. The puzzle was submitted in October 2010 and accepted in December that year. Perhaps not wanting to risk comments like "That's so 2010!," Will rewrote most of our clues, though a couple of dozen survived unscathed. As always, he made the puzzle better.

Bonnie: I approve this message.

POW Thu 9/26/2013
BALLDOZENHALF
EPEEIRATEIDEA
SIAMESECATGMAC
TENONSHIPSHAPE
INTOLATENT
WONEDYSYER
EGGRIOTSSEGER
SLOBCLOCKDODI
TENORKOALATAN
LUVDRUMOMG
SCOTIAMILS
DEATHSTARGALOP
AGRIIAMACAMERA
YULETRACYPEER
SEASSIDEDSPOT

Tom:

In the original version, six of the eight black bars coming in from the edge of the puzzle were four deep, and the other two were three deep. Just looking at the puzzle would make you start choking. It was like nine little 4x4 puzzles. I tried to rewrite it to give it some air, but just couldn't get it to work. Those pesky edge-themers are so uncooperative! So I did what any reasonable constructor would do: I called a friend. Victor fixed the grid and offered some new theme answers that opened up better fill possibilities. The end result was a much, much better grid.

You can thank Victor for NINE WEST — I had no clue. In our final iterations, adding a black square to change TWO-FACED to TWO-FACE (and EIGHT HOURS to EIGHT DAYS) got us over the hump with only AMAD and APIE to really grumble about. At one point we had DIRTY POOL crossing SMARTASS in the SW, and I was sad to give that up, but I love DEATH STAR.

Victor:

This was a great project — Tom did most of the work, and I got half the credit! For those interested in the process, I think that 66-A is a marvelous illustration of how things evolve. Before the black-square change, it had NUDIST CAMP, and then in the revised version (final grid structure), it was SANTA CLARA, COMIC OPERA, and END OF AN ERA before settling on I AM A CAMERA. I hope that people enjoyed the puzzle — life is a cabaret!

Fri 9/27/2013
GERMINATELUCIA
OVERTAKESANODE
DOMESTICPARTNER
IKIDARSSKIDOO
VETALAGASLOGS
ASSISIARPFRO
CHANGEONEAL
MCGEEONEPOEMS
ALOESLETTER
METSAWARMPIT
MATDOWNAGAAMY
AREOLAESTAGAR
MINDINGTHESTORE
INIGOAREACODES
AGNESTERMINATE

Well, this is a surprise. The puzzle I submitted was a 74-worder. Because of the theme, I thought it would be used on a Thursday — or even on a Friday, if conventions could be broken. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that some major reengineering took place. Two black squares were shifted, which resulted in a 72-worder. That necessitated the NE and SW corners being completely reworked. I feel like someone else should get co-constructor credit. As a result, I don't have the same sense of ownership, I suppose, but I still think it turned out quite well. I am glad, that NATALIA made the cut, as that's my second oldest daughter's name.

Sat 9/28/2013
PAWPRINTMEANTO
REELEDININFERS
ORNAMENTALTREES
POTTIESLEIDEI
OBSESSBISCAYNE
SAONEPIETIN
ATUSMIGNONETTE
LITBIGBANGHUA
SCHOOLMATECERT
DALENEBERNE
TIMESINKGERMAN
IWOTOTBARTOLI
LISTENSTOREASON
TSHIRTRUNTIEST
SHEESHITISNTSO
Sun 9/29/2013 OVERHEARD IN NEW ENGLAND
ENCASESCACHEDEDMOND
SEETHRUAPIECEPAYFOR
TARTANSSPOCKSWILLFLY
STORMPATEHOCHLACES
APPELLATEACARE
CODCOUNTERSDALISNBC
ORATORSPRIVETSTAY
ISRSEAMSUNEASWELL
LITTLEPOTONGOODTERMS
ENEROTOOEASYDERE
DIRECTEDASAPOLITICS
MAREELITISMPETRI
GOBBLEDMESSAGEDENIER
OVULESANIBOCCESTE
TIGESPRINTLEANSIN
ADZMEESEHOTSURGEONS
ANODEMANEATERS
CAPERLAHRSALTESTOP
HOPPERSBAZAAREREMITE
UNEASEEDIBLERITALIN
MERLOTLAPSEDSOONEST
Mon 9/30/2013
PACTIMAMMEMOS
ACHYSADEENACT
STOPSHORTADDTO
PEATERSTMAV
CESSNAPOPSCENE
ATHEARTITUNES
KNOTADORED
YAPCOPSHOWTAU
SAMSONHOGS
COHIBAOCTOPUS
DROPSHOTREISER
RETTACHEAST
AGORACOVERTOPS
CONANUSEDURAL
KNEEDREGSPYRO

I made this puzzle after watching a couple episodes of "The Americans." Really solid show, BTW. In the last episode, Peter Gabriel's "Games Without Frontiers" is prominently featured on the soundtrack. That phrase is practically begging for some Thursday theme treatment.

I guess you could say this puzzle contains [puts on sunglasses] tOP Secret information. YYYYYEEEAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!! An inside job, perhaps.

Anyhoo, I had two goals for this puzzle: 1) avoid stray O-P-S letter strings and 2) split OP/S across two words in all theme answers. So ... mission accomplished?

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