I have a really hard time coming up with themes, which is why I don't construct too often. Much of the time, I try to think of an entry I'd like to see in the puzzle, and then try to build a theme around it. This was the case with TEXTBOOK EXAMPLE, which has the sexy 15-letter length and the X's. Incidentally, although I am in grad school right now, I'm happy to say that it has been a long time since I actually had to buy a textbook. I have spent a small fortune on the library copier, however.
To be completely honest, themes like the one in this puzzle (where all the first or last words in various phrases are synonyms for a word in the revealer) have never really thrilled me too much. They just don't seem to have the level of wordplay I expect. I don't think I've ever had another one of these published.
So why did I write this one? There are a couple of reasons. First of all, about a year ago I saw a notice (I can't remember where) stating that Will Shortz was relatively low on Monday puzzles. I don't have very many Monday puzzles under my belt, and I really appreciate the skills of Lynn Lempel, Andrea Carla Michaels, and others who can make fun, interesting puzzles while working with the limited palette of Monday-friendly vocabulary. So this was my attempt at a Monday puzzle. I only missed by two days.
Second, about the same time I saw Will's message, I solved a Fireball contest puzzle by Peter Gordon with the title "Head Start." My immediate reaction upon seeing the title was to think that Peter's theme was similar to the theme of my puzzle. That idea didn't last long. If you know the Fireball at all, my kind of theme would be way too straight forward for Peter. Nonetheless, I thought it would make a good Monday theme, so I rounded up a few phrases with "head" starts, and went to work.
I do, however, like the sonic semblance of the symmetrically-placed ISAAC STERN and KAZAKHSTAN.
About the picture above: Will and Liane (Hansen) were on an NPR barnstorming tour — if you donated enough money to your local station, you could come and have a glass of wine with the Weekend Edition host and the Puzzlemaster. Even though this was from before my puzzle constructing days, I did slip Will a puzzle idea I had for the NPR Sunday Puzzle. I'm happy to report that he actually used it! That was the start of my puzzling career.
I guess you can take that last comment two ways.
When I saw FLIP ONE'S LID in the terrific February 8, 2014, freestyle puzzle from my friends Doug Peterson and Brad Wilber, the idea for this puzzle's theme came right away. I was pretty surprised to see from my online research that the theme hadn't been done before. Yes, there have been puzzles where the letters to theme answers are reversed in the grid — heck, there have been puzzles where whole lines and chunks of the grid are to be entered backwards. But none that I found played off of FLIP ONE'S LID and the obvious connection to hats. So I felt the idea was original enough to pursue.
In my first draft, I had "hat" in all of the theme clues, thinking that might be a helpful tip. But all those "hat"s made for awfully boring clues, so that's when I got the idea to be a little more deceptive with the theme clues. I'm glad I tumbled to this, as it's now my favorite aspect of the puzzle.
Looks like my clue writing is getting a little better — this time 42 of my 78 clues (54%) survived unscathed, and another 12 clues (15%) got minor plastic surgery. That means 24 clues (31%) are the original work of Will and his team. I still aspire for better, but I'm pleased with the overall percentage. I'm hopeful that some of the rejected clues were due to space constraints, but I should have been conscious of that myself when writing them. With 78 clues, one can't afford to be loquacious as in constructor notes.
Embarrassing confession: it wasn't until I had printed the puzzle for submission to Will that I realized I had FEZ (not backwards) in the upper-right corner. I even had a clue along the lines of [Shriner hat]! That kind of inconsistency is a rookie mistake, so I'm glad I caught it. The lesson, as always: Zs are sexy sirens, but they'll mess with you more often than not.
As groundwork for this puzzle, I created various Morse code palindromes — first noting that letters E, T, I, R, S, O, P, M, K, X, and H are symmetric in Morse code while letter pairs A/N, D/U, G/W, B/V, L/F and Q/Y are mirror images. But only nonsense emerged: NUN AWAITING NADA; WAIF GO HOWLING; TEAR IN HAIRNET; RING OF SLOW AIR; NET LOSS OF TEA; SEQUIN SAID YES. Really goofy stuff.
So I abandoned the thematic-entry approach and looked toward grid art using black squares to spell out a simple Morse code palindrome: WAITING, FOOTSTOOL or TOP SPOT. I devised numerous odd-sized grids that mostly wouldn't fill before stumbling upon the present grid which would.
Somewhere in the whole process I decided it wouldn't be fair to expect solvers to even know Morse code to get 20-Down, so I double-clued it. As such, the puzzle has only the slightest hint of a theme: one might describe it as more of a themeless with a post-solve conversation piece. (This seems to be one of my signature constructing styles). So, hopefully a few solvers are enticed to ponder the subject of Morse code palindromes for an extra bit of amusement.
Finally, a few words about fill. Given the fixed nature of the grid, it was important to me to introduce as much novel content among the 11- and 15-letter entries; I also wanted the 3- and 4-letter entries to be common stuff. Plus, I wanted all easy content in the vicinity of 20-Down. So, I hope these mini-objectives helped me achieve my goal of an interesting yet smooth solve overall.
CHICK-FIL-A was all over the news at the time I made this puzzle back in early 2013, and it felt culturally relevant enough to deserve a place in the Times crossword. I also hear it's delicious.
There's nothing like the freedom of the first corner in a themeless, where black squares can be deployed in all the optimal spots for your seed entries, creating a kind of custom-made skeleton filled with all the juicy words you can manage. As a (bad) chess player, it reminds me of the beginning of a chess game, when the possibilities are endless and it's on you to create something beautiful, memorable in the space in front of you. I started this grid in the top-left, and although I don't think that corner is perfect by any means (lookin' at you, YEH), I'm proud of it, in large part because the initial crafting phase promotes a deep sense of ownership. It makes it personal.
Something I'm learning as time goes on: 70-word grids are awesome. They seem to strike a balance between having enough spots for long entries, and being fill-able enough that mortals can work with them without needing to make too many compromises along the way. PINKY SWEAR and ROAD RUNNER probably would've been chopped in half in a 72-worder, and that would be sad.
As always, a huge thanks to Will (and Joel?) for his (their?) help with the clues. The PINKY SWEAR clue in particular is a stunner. I also love the clue for PUTS ASIDE. I originally submitted just [Shelves] — the genius [Tables or shelves] is exponentially cooler.
I hope you enjoy the solve!
I am very excited to have my first collaborative puzzle with Jeff Chen published in the NYT today! Jeff and I teamed up in early April 2014 to brainstorm new possibilities on a compass-themed puzzle of mine that had previously been rejected by Will.
From my original puzzle, Jeff liked the idea of a center compass rose as well as additional compasses placed elsewhere in the grid. We both agreed that embedding/including the words North, East, South, and West in phrases was probably not different enough for a Sunday puzzle and then Jeff came up with the NS/WE rebus which I loved. He got the ball rolling with his first grid which included a center compass rose made up of black squares and the four cardinal points of N, E, S, and W. We were both hoping, however, that Will would approve a picture (artwork) of a compass rose to be preprinted in the center to replace the black boxes if the puzzle was accepted. Over about a week's time, we kept tweaking the grid until we found an aesthetically pleasing grid that could also be filled successfully.
The fill process went surprisingly quick after Jeff suggested that the grid could basically be sectioned into four parts by picking good 10's crossing the rebus' first and then filling in the words going through the unchecked N, E, S, W letters. If you are an avid reader of Jeff's blog, you will know that he strives for the absolute best fill possible, right down to the last 3-letter words. In the sections I filled, any of my less-than-stellar "glue" words such as FACTA, ISERE, and LOEIL were respectfully changed to stronger and much better fill. Jeff also came up with, in my opinion, the perfect title for the puzzle although "COMING UP ROSES" was a close second. But, the piece de resistance is the beautiful compass rose that was created by Jeff to place in the center of the NYT print version with Will's approval.
Lastly, I would like to thank Jeff for helping to take this concept from rejection to "Crossword- Yes!" status. As many other constructors have said, Jeff is amiable, knowledgeable, patient, creative, thoughtful, and prompt in corresponding. I would highly recommend him to anyone considering a collaborator.
Hope you all enjoy our puzzle!
For some reason, the theme for this puzzle didn't jump out at me when I was actually getting the cards and gag gifts that accompanied hitting the big five-oh: it wasn't until a few months later that the light bulb came on. My first version of the puzzle had FOOT LONG HOT DOGS as a central entry, but try as I might, I couldn't come up with a decent grid/fill with five theme answers included, so I had to settle for four. I was pleased, however, to hit on an alignment that allowed me to include what Matt Ginsberg has described as an Easter Egg (or maybe more appropriately for this puzzle, five Easter Eggs?): a hidden theme-related bonus that not all solvers would notice. If you are reading this, you probably are the type of solver that found the Easter Egg yourself, but if you didn't see it the first time through, take another look and see if you can spot it.
I was also glad that the end-product was smooth enough for a Monday — a first for me in the NYT.
I think one would have had to be a teenager or adult during the '60s to really appreciate how much a game-changer "The Twist" was to American song/dance culture. The puzzle happened only because Chubby Checker had a serendipitous letter-match in "nineteen sixty." I wish I had been able to lift a circled phrase from the original song but had to settle for words from Checker's song a year later. Just a straightforward puzzle with a little twist.
We've all heard the phrase "Been there, done that." Typically, it means we've already experienced something and are bored by it or have no desire to experience it again. Care to relive your puberty years? Been there. Done that.
But did you know the phrase has Caesarian origins? That's right, in a letter to the Roman Senate around 46 BC, the ever-witty Julius remarks about his victory over Pharnaces II of Pontus, "Veni, vidi, vici, accepi toga," which, roughly translated, means, "I came, I saw, I conquered, I received the toga." (For some reason, history seems to have forgotten about that last bit — guess it doesn't flow as well.) So, in the spirit of Caesar's victory, I set about creating this puzzle. What I like best about it is that I was able to find four phrases that were very conversational in nature. I think that helped to link the theme entries together. In my head, I even imagined them as parts of an exchange between two friends meeting up once again (with one of them being an overzealous hand-shaker).
What I like least about it is the segmented sections in the NW and SE. If I were making this puzzle today, I would try to alleviate that. However, it did allow me to get an interesting corner in the NW with APEMEN, BONAMI, and LUDWIG stacked nicely.
Unfortunately for me, most of my clues were changed. I take that to mean that I need to do better. My favorite of mine that got through was for 18-A [Half an exorbitant fee?]. But I was sad that [Beethoven's first] didn't make it through for 17-A, and correspondingly, [Descartes' first] for 36-D. Oh well.
If this theme makes you think "Been There, Done That" — as in, you've already done a puzzle with this theme — you might be right. Liz Gorski used the exact same theme for her Feb 25th, 2014, Crossword Nation puzzle. But mine was accepted in January of 2013, so you can see that they were each created independently. For me, it shows I'm on the right track if I'm thinking along the same lines as one of the greats!
Until next time, here's hoping your solving experience is not the same old same old!
As the blurb on this crossword says, it was used during the most recent "Lollapuzzoola" tournament in NYC, which I cohost with Brian Cimmet. It was our dreaded Puzzle 4, meant to be the trickiest puzzle of the day (like Puzzle 5 at the ACPT), though looking at the standings just now, I see that Andrew Feist solved it perfectly in 6:45. Nicely done, Andrew! Some got stumped until they were allowed to use their Google tickets (our sanctioned method of "cheating"), and some solved it but put two letters in each of the key squares, which we had decided to count as incorrect (sorry!). Also, two solvers had an odd advantage: they chose to compete in our Downs Only Division for the day, so they didn't have the Across clues to throw them off. As such, Joon Pahk solved the puzzle correctly with only the Down clues in 4:41. Wowza. If anyone had noticed this and done some lateral thinking, it might've been a big help in deciphering the puzzle's diabolical secrets. Special thanks to Will for his support of the tourney these past 7 years and for sharing my puzzle with a much wider audience.
Next year's 'Zoola is already scheduled for 8/8/15, so save the date and join us for a day of cruciverbial silliness in a church basement on the Upper West Side (or in our At-Home Division through the magic of the internet). Most of the puzzles aren't nearly this cruel, I swear!
I constructed this puzzle in March of 2013 and it was accepted in June. Fifteen months later it was published. My first NYT puzzle took 20 months from acceptance to publication.
I've been told that my puzzle has 13 unique entries. Whenever I see or think of an expression I like that might not have appeared in a published puzzle I add it to my word list, scored such that it floats to the top in Crossword Compiler when I'm constructing.
For a delightful stretch of years, Patrick and I were never without some puzzle idea brewing that we could work on together, and this one served to get us back in the flow. I had a bunch of entries and knew it would be something Patrick would enjoy joining forces on. As usual, we had plenty of fun trying to find a good theme set. Adding the commonality of names, and having the changes all happen the same way, made it come together in a way that felt worthy of making it for public consumption (as opposed to our own entertainment). It's fun to make crosswords, and it's really fun to make them with Patrick!
We had a long list of rejected near misses and, as anyone who's ever tried to think up spoonerisms can tell you, it was not the easiest task to keep them straight and pick through them. In defense of one early one I had — FRIED COWELL [Gave a scorching review of talent judge Simon?], which was not a true spoonerism because it conveniently separates the changing sound (a proper one for CRIED FOUL would/should be FIED CROWEL) — I told Patrick "I know of no governing body of spoonerisms that would disallow it." As a character played by John Cleese on "Cheers" said: "Ah. The cry of the truly desperate!" With desperation on this one now passed, I'm looking forward to the next one with Patrick.
It's a blast making puzzles with Tony, too! We work really well together, and we each bring our unique personalities to the table, as well. I sure do miss kicking around ideas with him over various lunch tables since I moved to STL, but I'm not missing things like the smells (or the prices) of the City So Nice They Named It Twice, that's for sure. As for this puzzle, the first email I see about it was back on 10/28/13, and we sure did go back and forth a bunch before settling on the theme answers. The grid came together pretty quickly, and I took far too long to write my clues (something called Lollapuzzoola seems to have gotten in the way). Sorry to see some of my favorite clues on the cutting room floor, but I guess that means we just get to use them the next time those words come up. I'm ready to make another whenever you are, Tony!
I wrote this JELLY puzzle a while back... can't take a peek at it or I'll have to recuse myself from our yearly tournament that Andrew Laurence has organized to raise money for SMA.
All I remember is that I thought JELLY was an exceedingly fun word to say. I was thinking about words that followed. There aren't many (BEAN, ROLL, BELLY) but they are all fun and energetic, and that's what my goal is for all my puzzles! I can't say the word JELLY without smiling (and then wondering if I have something between my teeth!).
It's cool to be asked what I was thinking (in a nice way...not in the "What were you THINKING??!!!?" way...)
By the way, this month's Alaska Airlines magazine, Horizons, is featuring a lengthy article about a few of us West Coast constructors. Check it out below. Nancy Shack was nice enough to format it in a readable form.
The website www.onelook.com was invaluable in pulling this one off. I kept moving three ONs around until I came up with the three themers. Will kept most of my clues. The original submission for 26-Down was "What a student takes notes on."
My app, "Gary Cee's Crosswords," is almost done. I ran into a bit of snag in uploading all 61 puzzles — one freebie and three puzzle-packs of 20 each — but I should be in the App Store soon!
I'd like to share the first email exchanges I had with Don regarding this theme:
C.C.: "Don, can we put BEE? words on top of various flowers and have POLLINATION as title?
Don: "You are too funny. Are we talking weekday or Sunday puzzle? Better yet, find flowers that can be masked, like ASTER in EASTER, etc. This may require circles. I suppose we should look at a list of flowers first to see if that is possible. There is IRIS in IRISH, ROSE in PROSE. Maybe that is all we need. I don't think we can do a big puzzle with this theme. Having three flowers embedded with BEE words above and POLLINATION in the grid is enough. Want to give this a try? ..."
This is how Don rolls, always improving on a simple idea I have and making things happen.
I will add that there seems to be a synergy to collaborating on an idea. Most likely, neither of us would have come up with this idea, but by throwing it around, we see things that we otherwise would not see.
As Will explained in his note, this theme came from a story he told me one day while we were editing a puzzle. My constructor brain, always whirring in the background, quickly went to work on how this could become a theme.
As for the fill, I have mixed feelings about including answers like KIMYE and YOLO. On the one hand, they're fresh four and five-letter entries, which are pretty difficult to find. Also, they reflect a bit of my personality — they skew young and I'm a young constructor. On the other hand, they might not stand the test of time (slang from the early 2000's that may have seemed hip to include then, like DA BOMB, seem sort of silly in a puzzle now). And they sort of hint at a fascination my generation has with including ephemeral pop culture in puzzles that I don't particularly ascribe to. Working for Will, I've seen a couple puzzles recently with themes built around Candy Crush, the popular app. My feeling is, this might be a fun reference for some current solvers, but someone doing this in a book years from now will most likely have forgotten about/never heard of this game, and it won't be a satisfying solve. Overall, I think it's about finding a balance between entertaining today's solvers with modern references but still crafting a puzzle that will be enjoyable 10 years from now.
I'm excited to have my first freestyle puzzle published, especially since over the last year, I've found them to be my favorite type of puzzle to construct. That realization, however, has been a double-edged sword, as the more I make freestyles — and the more I solve whistle-clean puzzles constructed by so many of my peers, publishing in the Times or independently — the higher I raise my own personal bar. Now, at least in a themeless, if a corner needs a TRA or an ARA to work, I need to rebuild that corner. This puzzle aimed to maximize the flashy stuff, so of course I love FRESH START, SOCIAL LIFE, WINE COOLER, LENA DUNHAM, and, in particular, HUMBLEBRAG, for which I know Will needed some convincing. But if I were making this again, I probably wouldn't stack TELE over ELEA, and you'd not be likely to encounter ENOL or SWF.
Regardless, it's great to have a published freestyle to my name, and I'm grateful to Will for publishing a puzzle of mine now for the second time on the day of a tournament — September 19 is the Westchester Crossword Puzzle Tournament, which, six years ago, was the first crossword tournament I ever went to. (Back then, I won the junior division title… although by default, as there were no other contestants under 25. I'm happy to say there's a lot more competition now!)
if you found this puzzle challenging, then you should really thank mr. shortz, because the one i sent him was a lot harder. my favorite clues of will's are [Muscles for some fraternity guys?], [Sportsperson who may take a bow?], and [Macs and such].
First off, I have to confess that I know next to nothing about things with motors, not cars in general nor NASCAR specifically. In fact, I am so lame that once, when a guy at the next gas pump asked me if my car was a V-8, I just stared at him blankly for a moment, slowly realizing I had no idea whatsoever. So it should come as no great surprise that the inspiring pun here, WON'T GET FUELED AGAIN, ended up laying fallow for a couple of years after I thought of it. (Note to aspiring puzzle writers: go write this stuff down! For one thing, you will eventually forget even very good gags. Even more importantly, with the occasional memory jog from your ideas notebook, your subconscious mind at work on a puzzle can be a wonderful ally.)
Anyway, I realized — finally, at last! — there are few things more American than cars and rock and roll. And if you can put them both together, well, sorry, but you've got a hit on your hands. The rest was a long slog to find songs famous enough to fill out the idea (Da Do Run Run anyone? My Sweet Ford?) I do want to add that my personal favorite here is LIVIN' LA VEHICLE LOCA, which shouldn't work — it's not even the right number of syllables! — yet somehow does.
One surprising note to add for my fellow baby boomers: I was shocked to discover that "Break on Through," the Doors's first single and iconic to my mind, in fact bombed when it came out. It couldn't even crack the top 100 on the charts. Finally, my biggest disappointment here is the omission of the lovely ballad "Drive" by the Cars. That is simply the perfect title and group for my theme, but sadly there is absolutely no way it could go in this puzzle.
The synonym of "X" theme has thousands of possibilities, so the execution better be close to perfect. I tried to:
Trickiest area to fill was the P??F? section. You've got PROFS, PUFFS, PUFFY, POUFS ... and that's about it. But pretty happy how this one turned out.
Though I've done crossword puzzles sporadically all my life, about four years ago I started doing them a bit more seriously than I had in the past. It didn't take me long to realize that I would never be very good unless I improved my knowledge of rap singers, American Idol winners and European rivers, to mention just a few of my areas of ignorance. Since I was unwilling to study these and diverse other topics, I resigned myself to remaining a mediocre (though slowly improving) solver.
But then, somehow, I discovered the world of crossword construction. This would be a new challenge. So I bought Patrick Berry's book on construction and got started. It wasn't long, feeling a bit discouraged, that I wrote to Patrick noting that he claimed anyone could learn to construct puzzles yet fewer than one hundred NY Times debuts occurred each year while 1000's of his book were selling. Despite my misgivings and rejections, I persisted and soon got some LA Times publications. Today is my NY Times debut. I thank Patrick Berry for his book, Nancy Salomon for her invaluable mentoring, Rick Norris for my first crossword publication, and Will Shortz for putting me in the NY Times.
Today's puzzle is actually the second of mine accepted by Will. The present version seems to have been edited sometime after its acceptance as much of the fill in the NE corner and adjacent areas looks new to me. One word I wish I had been allowed to use is "pgdns" (seldom used keys), which can be found in the singular on your keyboard.
This was one of the first puzzles I ever constructed, almost three years ago. I'm surprisingly happy with it, though there are some places where my greenness as a constructor shows.
Firstly, the theme. It's a simple replace-a-letter theme, which I didn't know at the time was a theme type that has been used quite a lot. Specifically, my idea for this puzzle was to take movie titles and replace a letter with X, to humorous effect. I'm actually very pleased with the four theme entries in this puzzle (MARX ATTACKS, A BEAUTIFUL MINX, THE LOVELY BOXES [with Will's idea of a crossword-themed clue], and EAT X-RAY LOVE), since it was very difficult for me to even come up with four symmetrical entries of this type that weren't complete gibberish (for example, FOX A FEW DOLLARS MORE) or uninteresting (SIN CITY could become SIX CITY, but who cares?).
It's a bit inelegant, however, that there's no pattern for which letters get replaced with Xs. I tried to solve that problem by sneaking the revealer X-RATED into the southeast corner of the grid, but the fill turned irreparably sour very fast. In another venue, I might have titled this puzzle "X-Rated Remakes" or "Censored Movies" to make the theme more coherent. Overall, I think the result is funny enough to justify the lack of revealer, and I'm glad Will agreed.
Secondly, the fill. By and large, I think it's pretty clean, but there are some entries that would make me scowl as a solver (I'm looking at you, STAEL, NIM, and RECT). I'm letting myself off the hook for these transgressions since I don't see any obvious ways to improve the fill, and the crossings are all fair.
Finally, I'm pleased at how many of the clues in the final puzzle are mine. I'm especially proud of the clues for DALI [Collaborator with Disney on the film "Destino"] and BETTE DAVIS [Actress with the iconic line "What a dump!"]. There are couple of my clues I wish Will had kept — specifically, I liked my clues for UNFEMININE [Like burping loudly or sitting with one's legs splayed, stereotypically], OLDEST [Like Kevin, among the Jonas Brothers] and the clues for the adjacent TOFU and HAM, which were, respectively, [Vegetarian's source of protein] and [Carnivore's source of protein].
I don't remember when and how I found out that there were ten three-letter body parts, but once it came to my attention, I knew that it could be a theme for a New York Times crossword.
Before starting to construct the puzzle, however, I noticed a Patrick Blindauer Wednesday from 2006 in which he hid all ten of them as diagonals, with a central revealer. Had that puzzle been more recent, I might have given up on the project, but then I realized that a different way to implement the concept would be to place the body parts symmetrically and circle them. I thus targeted this idea for a Monday, and received plenty of valuable input from George Barany and his team.
With only 30 squares absolutely locked in, I was able to keep the word count to 74 and include quite a few entries I liked, like SPOCK, ON KP, PEACE OUT, EZEKIEL, JA RULE, MOZART, MASHUP, ESPOSITO, BEIJING, and SPALKO. Only one letter in the fill ended up being changed, and that was the crossing of 5A and 8D, originally a P. Cluing to Monday difficulty proved harder for me, as I went through several iterations of them, but Will, by deciding to move this to Thursday by removing the circles, cut this Gordian Knot.
In terms of theme answers, I was very happy to have GUMP at 1-Across, as Forrest is my favorite fictional character, and Will's new clue for SACAJAWEA is just awesome. Among the many other new clues are those for 19A, 21A, 27A, 53A, 56A, 65A, 7D, 12D, 21D, 30D, 38D, and 56D. On the other hand, I am glad that Will kept my clues for 22A, 40A, 47A, 18D, 39D, and 42D. I lost my original clue for SEIZER, which played on it and "Caesar" sounding the same, but overall I hope that this "Three-Body Problem" is both stimulating and enjoyable to solvers.
Thank you, Will, for believing in me and mentoring my development as a constructor.
We would love to tell you that JOAN RIVERS was the seed entry for this crossword. However, if you look at our initial (and never submitted) version of this puzzle, the long down entry in the tenth column was originally THE_SHIVERS ("What a haunted house may give you"). Here is how this puzzle evolved:
In June 2014, the two of us started collaborating on some original strategies to create novel quad stacks with fewer obscurities and fresher entries than are common for this genre — a story that will have to be told in another place at another time. The present grid, the sixth that we decided had enough promise to pursue seriously, started to emerge toward the end of July. An immediate concern was that the customary request from a trucker to interrupt an ongoing CB radio conversation is most commonly reported as BREAKER, BREAKER ONE NINER. After some discussion, we decided to try what we thought was a neat rule-breaking trick, putting the first word (BREAKER) at 1-Across, and having the 15-letter BREAKER ONE NINER cross-referenced.
However, once we started cluing this grid, we realized that "Words from a good buddy" worked equally well whether or not the answer grid had one or two BREAKERS. Therefore, we decided to redo the northwest corner and remove a black square that had previously been needed to accommodate BREAKER, and as long as we were at this, continue to try to improve other portions of the puzzle. Thus, we also removed a second symmetrically placed black square in the southeast corner and tried to remedy the inadvertent inclusion of two phrases both starting with STAGE.
In the midst of the aforementioned rework, we noticed that JOAN RIVERS could fit in nicely — this was weeks before she checked into a Manhattan clinic for a minor medical procedure, and wound up having her final life battle headlining the tabloid and mainstream media in print and on on the air. Thus, our inclusion of the late comedienne in our puzzle is a complete coincidence. Nevertheless, the day after she died, which was a little over two weeks after we submitted the puzzle, we heard back from Will Shortz, who mentioned that due to 15-Down he might run the puzzle soon. The terrific and unusual eight-line clue for 15-Down, along with many other fine, fair clues, were written by Will. In all, well over half of the clues in the puzzle are Will's, invariably for the better. We do hope that solvers, regardless of any earlier notions about quad stacks, enjoy working through this puzzle.
I sent Will the initial version of Four By Four in early June. I heard back in late July, saying he liked the puzzle but wanted me to change two entries that repeated words: BADA BING BADA BOOM and KISS KISS BANG BANG. Those were the two entries I liked most ... which is why I put them in the upper left and lower right. Sigh. But that misplaced enthusiasm meant they were easy to exchange for two replacements Will suggested. First time I recall him doing that.
I mailed the updated grid in early August, and got this e-mail about a month later:
This is Joel Fagliano, writing on behalf of Will.
Thanks for sending us the revision to your "Four x Four" 21x. The theme looks good now, and you've done a great job with the fill. We've made a few changes to the grid to remove GHAT and GARS.
So, this is a yes. This should run relatively soon, as our Sunday files are pretty low.
GHAT was at 42 Down and GARS at 97 Across.
I was happy I could include a fair number of nice entries, starting with MAHARAJA and ending with WILDCARD. Also happy I could use NOGOODNIK.
Thanks for the "relatively soon" publication, Will and Joel! This was a lot faster than I expected.
I work on and sometimes appear in the television show "Comedy Bang! Bang!" on IFC. I have the stop-start nature of TV production to thank for my New York Times debut — this puzzle was created in between seasons two and three of the show. In the past few years, it has been a total joy to have gotten to work on so many labors of love and see them at completion.
The idea for this puzzle came from watching a player spotlight package during ESPN's coverage of the World Series of Poker. "I Knew You When" was in my head probably only because it's the title of a "Friday Night Lights" episode.
I began making this puzzle on January 12, 2013, two days after Kevan Choset's "Wheel of Fortune"-themed puzzle appeared in the Times. I'm a big fan of "The Price Is Right", and like other classic game shows, I thought its cross-generational appeal would make for a good pop culture theme. I discovered that THE PRICE IS RIGHT, BOB BARKER, and DREW CAREY could make a nice 9/15/9 scaffold, and I started designing potential grids.
In my earliest draft, "Showcase Showdown" filled two symmetric 8-letter entries; however, I soon embraced the idea of making the "wheel" shape that you see in the puzzle, which somewhat resembles the 20-sided wheel they use for this game on the show. (If you draw straight lines to connect the letter sequence, you'll see what I mean.) The best visual approximation I could come up with required breaking the 16-letter phrase into 3-letter pieces connected by single letters. It was very fortuitous that the triplets at 15A, 33D, 57A, and 27D didn't require iffy fill.
I completed the first draft in 15 days — at the time a record pace for me — and sent it to Will. He liked the theme and asked me to revise some less desirable fill. The second draft was accepted in July 2013. Will made a few cosmetic improvements, particularly the lower-right corner, where I had NCAA and EERY(???) at neighboring Downs. Today, I'd certainly spend some extra time to smooth over little rough patches like that.
I'm especially happy with the longer Down answers I found I could fit in — LOVE BITES, BREWED UP, GAS RING, BEER CAN, IDLEWILD, and PG RATINGS were all part of my original draft. Getting the double stacks in the top-left and bottom-right corners was especially satisfying because of the triple-checked letters in SHOWCASE SHOWDOWN.
I was happy to see that my clues for 39A, 56A, 10D, 26D, and several other entries made it through intact or with minor adjustments. I continue to learn from Will's clue editing, and this puzzle was a lesson in precise, vivid cluing. A perfect example is at 48D, where my original clue was [Nonplussed response]. Thanks for reading, and thanks to Will for making it possible for me to share all this with you!