After taking some time off from construction to tend to some family matters, this was my first venture back in to the fray. This puzzle was absolutely an outgrowth of the middle 15 theme LORDGIVEMEASIGN — I had heard this many times but it finally dawned on me that it was a 15. Then I started to think of how it could be part of a theme. I eventually came upon the progression of the words SEINE, SCENE, SIGN, SEWN, SOON.
I had decided a while ago that if I ever did one of these that I didn't just want it to be a simple replacement of vowels. The less similar the words was better in my book.
KEVIN: This is the first puzzle that Brad and I collaborated on chronologically, even though our Seuss-themed puzzle was published last month. I first got the idea for this theme in early 2013 but I didn't do anything with it right away because I didn't have an ODIN theme answer that I liked. I considered GOOD IN MATH, but I thought it was kind of weak. I looked at other GOOD IN ???? possibilities, but never found anything that really grabbed me. I let the idea sit until one day I ran across MOOD INDIGO.
The hardest part of the grid was the SW. I wanted to use BORA at 38-Across but Brad talked me out of it and ultimately we went with the grid that you see here.
BRAD: When Kevin and I decided to work together on something, he sent me a handful of theme ideas, and I zeroed in on this one pretty quickly, as being fully formed and ready to go without any tweaking to the theme entries. We only have a small handful of Norse gods who are household names (one maybe shading into crosswordese), and Kevin had settled on some common but lively relevant phrases.
The original grid design had an excess of 3-letter words at the center, but we were able to add a pair of white squares back in and even jazz up some of the original fill in the swath from the NW to the SE. We did a bit of haggling over the NE and SE, but it was constructive and amiable, and the final result represents a nice melding of our styles.
This puzzle turned out somewhat smooth, IMO, given the constraints of making a 72-word themeless into a triple pangram.
Clues I was glad to see stay:
Clues I was sad to see go:
Nice additions to the mix:
Not-so-nice subtractions from the mix:
In the clues that I developed for the latter three, I felt neither one of them needed a question mark, as they would have taken away from the trickery, since the question mark may instantly indicate to solvers that there IS obvious trickery going on.
Anyway ... till next time, Word Nerds!
This puzzle started out with BOBBY RIGGS. I trust that a lot of solvers will look at the clue and wonder how it could be someone they've heard of. My other favorite trivia tidbit in the puzzle is in the KOALAS clue. It could be the basis of a fanciful whodunit.
The first draft of this puzzle contained the theme answer RPG, clued as "Shoulder-launched weapon, for short." Will found that answer "unappealing," so I swapped it out for CRAPGAMES, yielding an aptly vice-filled if somewhat old-fashioned northeast corner. Other theme-answer candidates included UPGRADE, GOSSIPGIRL, and PHILIPGLASS, to whom this puzzle could be considered a stealth tribute.
I started constructing this puzzle on a cross-country flight to visit friends in California. If not for miscommunication between Ben and Suzanne over who was picking me up, I would have been denied the hours in an airport-adjacent Starbucks to complete it.
I'm happy with the mix of shows included and hopefully there's something here for everyone. My comfort food show is "Friends": it was the only item in "Recently Watched" from the time Netflix started streaming it in January to just a few weeks ago when I finished all ten seasons.
I can't say whether Will Shortz's cameo appearances in two of these shows played any part in this puzzle's acceptance, but if you liked this one you'll love my upcoming "Famous Ping Pong Enthusiasts" crossword.
Thanks to my husband for using the idiom "spill the beans" in a story he was relating to me and for planting a fun theme idea into my constructor's brain. There was a bumper crop of phrases that ended with a type of bean but not all of them could make the cut including MCHALES NAVY, YO SOY, and ROYAL JELLY. I submitted the puzzle in March 2014 and, after a few minor tweaks to the fill, the puzzle was accepted in August 2014.
My original puzzle made it obvious that there was a trick going on as I purposely left out the clue numbers and clues on the downward "spilled" (bean) portion of the theme entries. The other way I had considered was to number the down boxes and clue them as "---". However, I was very pleased to see that Will and Joel's editing gave the theme entries some clever misdirection by numbering and cluing both the across and down words and cluing the bean types — not as beans, but with completely different definitions.
I hope you enjoy the puzzle!
Grrr! I got scooped on THIS IS SPINAL TAP by Julian Lim! He used it on February 27th of this year on this very fine Friday puzzle. I submitted my puzzle long before Julian's was published, of course, but so it goes in the cruciverbalist business.
In looking over the grid, I see that the triple-vertical-stack of proper nouns WALPOLE, GARDINER, and COLLINS might cause issues for some. By the way, I would tell you that I didn't put COLLINS in the grid for megalomaniacal reasons, but you wouldn't believe me anyway.
I have a question to throw out there in the court of public opinion. My clue for WATERMELON SEEDS was "Farmers might cover them in patches." I thought it was brilliant (but then again, I also thought New Coke was brilliant). The editor didn't share my enthusiasm for the clue. What say you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury?
Joel said, "We're interested in your CROWN puzzle if you can revise the fill a bit. In particular, we'd really prefer if the weirdly spelled TFAL could be removed. Aim for Monday-level vocabulary, as that's probably what this would be."
I removed T-FAL, then decided to add a cheater to remove NE-YO (65-Across) as well. I was concerned that his name was not Monday-friendly either.
I love Will's USGA clue. I had a boring "121-year-old course server: Abbr." there. Will changed a ton of my clues. I just don't seem to get better as my clues.
And I'm a HAN (28-Across), like over 92% of the Chinese. I'm guessing Jeff Chen is a Han too. Maybe Kevin Der as well.
I started this puzzle in college to pass the time working the night shift at the security desk. That was years ago and I've written a lot of puzzles since then, but I'm glad this one will be the first in the NYT. I think it's a pretty straightforward theme and I'd like to thank Will and Frank Longo for their advice on the fill. I hope everyone enjoys the puzzle!
JOEL: I take the train from New York City out to Will's house in Pleasantville each day, so I'm very familiar with the "Watch the Gap" warning on every platform. This theme sprung from the realization that the "The Gap" doubled as a store. For a while, though, I couldn't get a full symmetrical set, so this sat around in my half-baked ideas notebook. When I pitched it to Finn, he came back with some great feedback about my existing examples and some new ones we might try. SUBWAY FARE was one of his, and I particularly like how both words change meaning in that one. Really elegant. Anyway, Finn was a great collaborator — hopefully this is the first of many from us!
FINN: It was a ton of fun to collaborate with Joel on this puzzle. Once we placed the theme answers and decided on a grid design that looked like it would work, it was surprisingly easy to split the grid in two. We only had to pre-determine two squares (the B at the end of CASHCAB and the E at the start of ENGRAVE) in order to be able to fill each half without the other one being there, since every other connecting entry between the two sides was a themer. I filled the left half and Joel took the right, and then I clued the acrosses and he clued the downs. Editing each other's work was a great exercise in understanding the other's style. To constructors looking to change things up: I highly recommend collaborating with a friend!
I can't think of too much to say about this one. The concept grew out of a vague idea of using my initials and the word TEPEE to make a sort of self-referential theme, as others have done.
David Steinberg got there first, however, so I tried to come up with a new way to exploit words that could be spelled phonetically with letters.
One word I regret not being able to include is XQQQ (EXCUSE). XQQQ YOU and WELL XQQQ ME would have been fun entries. The first wouldn't work in this layout though, because it would've had to go at 36A, and it takes a stouter heart than I've got to try to fill an open, double-themed area around three adjacent Qs.
My original grid actually had WELL XQQQ ME at the top. As you can imagine, the patch around those Qs was a little compromised, but it wouldn't have been anything to make solvers gnash their teeth over. Maybe just some light grinding. But after realizing I could, and probably should, set up the themers symmetrically so that there'd be a discernible pattern to the replaced words, I backed down and went for EXCISE instead.
I hope you enjoyed the puzzle. It's always nice when you're not nauseated and altogether strung out in the days before publication. As this one left me just slightly queasy, and only so on Tuesday night, it feels like progress. I await the torches and pitchforks!
GARETH: I can't remember how Brad and I started putting together some themeless grids. I know we made a ton of stacks, and from those made several different themeless puzzles, of which this one has made the cut.
I don't remember that many specifics about this puzzle. I remember CABOTCOVE was something I included in a stack in a different grid, that Brad built his own stack around. I think most stacks were fairly collaborative in the end, but it's probably about 70% Brad that you're looking at in the final product.
Why? That's what I really came to say: It was an amazing and educating experience working with one of the masters of themeless construction! What really blew me away was the perfectionism — never leaving a bit of grid as "good enough". Brad is a tireless polisher! And a wonderful clue writer! It was a great privilege to be able to work with you, Brad! If this sounds fawning then so be it!
BRAD: When you're constructing a puzzle with a partner, "perfectionist" can come across as "control freak," so I'm exceedingly glad if Gareth had fun. Rather than be content partnering Doug Peterson, Byron Walden, and Kevin Christian and coping with a three-hour time difference, I went big: the time difference between Gareth and me is SIX hours.
I recall 1A and 15A being Gareth's starter stack (yes, possibly recycled from something we abandoned), and I was able to slip 17A in there. We actually added a white square to our original design to get the two 10-letter entries, and my favorite part of the finished product was Gareth's eventual crossing of 33D and 50A. His cluing aesthetic is mischievous but well-refined — it's on display in entries like 1D and 30D, not verbatim from the manuscript, but close.
Themeless construction DOES mean polishing to me; sometimes just one entry can sink you, and I don't like to put myself in the position of hoping something will skate through. Gareth brought lots of savvy and open-mindedness to the discussions we had on that score. I think you probably will be hearing from us again!
Jason Mueller: Hi, solvers, I'm proud to make my New York Times debut! About myself: I'm a University of Missouri alum (BS Physics and Mathematics; MA Economics) and former captain of the Mizzou quiz bowl team. I started constructing about three years ago and have previously had a Sunday puzzle in the LA Times.
I got the idea to make a puzzle with people who wear hats with the hats appearing on top of the people around the time of this year's Oscar ceremony. I knew it was a good idea but a difficult one to pull off (what with the hats stacked directly on the main theme entries), so I asked Jeff to help and he came through, helping with choosing the theme entries, doing much of the heavy work with the fill, and polishing my draft of the clues.
We originally tried to fit a pillbox on Jackie Kennedy in the middle of the grid, but when that wouldn't fill cleanly, went for a kepi on Charles de Gaulle. Our original submission had LNG in the fill, so we came up with a revised version (but had to go to 142 words to make the fill clean). I noticed that Will and Joel changed MAA and SAT to MAO and SOT, which is a fine change.
I can't think of much to say about this interlocking SS puzzle, so I'll relate a Short Story. When I started constructing puzzles in early 2012 I was quite inspired by Will Shortz and the crossword community and I went a bit overboard. Every spare minute of my day was spent working on puzzles and I cut back from sleeping eight hours a night to only six. I was submitting two puzzles a week, most of them horrible, and often I forgot to eat !
My wife Liz noticed I had lost a few pounds and thought I had cancer. She made me get an MRI in July 2012 which indeed showed a tiny cancer on my kidney. It was a bad cell type that would have killed me in a few years, but way too small to cause weight loss — the doctors said eating and sleeping less must have been the reason I lost the weight.
The tumor was removed easily and there is no sign of it three years later, so I don't think it's too much of a stretch to credit Will Shortz and the entire crossword community (and my wife of course!) with helping to save my life. Thank you!
WIZARDOFAAHS is one of Victor's favorite theme types — the dorky pun (see Victor's May 14, 2014 NYT puzzle to get the idea). It was nice that the three AAHs are different (amazement at the fireworks, comfort from the massage, and just a convenient vocalization to open one's throat for the doc).
We've found that we get along well and work well together. This seemed like a good opportunity to work together, which as expected, we both enjoyed a lot. We hope that people had as much fun solving the puzzle as we had making it.
This is my 23rd NYT puzzle dating back to May of 1992. Eugene Maleska preferred quips and so did I. Will Shortz liked them better in his early years — now not so much. Today he prefers word play. I have tried to adapt.
I call this puzzle "Fantasy Football." I had a lot of fun with the theme. Here are some ideas I didn't use:
When I submitted this puzzle last year I was doubtful of its acceptance. I had tried a similar concept a couple of years ago regarding baseball:
For my trouble I received a polite rejection. Shortz is so nice about that. How can you possibly be upset?
Shortz accepted this puzzle but was not pleased with the construction in the lower left corner because it included: The ____ closed (BAR IS). He improved on that, changed a few clues as he is wont to do and the final result is what you see. The release date was timed for the opening of the 2015 NFL football season; a nice touch. Hope you liked it.
The original version of this one had BALTO TO TOTO TOME at 17-Across. That would've led to the tighter clue "One volume of the Encyclopedia of Movie Dogs?". Unfortunately, Will thought Balto was too obscure in his own right (as the hero of the original Iditarod), let alone as the star of the 1995 animated film "Balto".
That film was getting heavy rotation in the Collins VCR back in the day, as in the late ‘90s our four preteen girls were deep into a) dogs, and b) animated movies. About that time our family was passing through Cleveland on our way home from a family reunion. We stopped at the Natural History Museum. Imagine our surprise when we turned a corner and stumbled upon the real Balto, stuffed and standing in a plexiglass box. Our youngest daughter flipped out. Why a famous sled dog from Alaska ended up in Cleveland is a mystery to me. There's also a Balto statue in Central Park in New York. Another mystery to me.
If you were really to make one volume of an encyclopedia of Movie Pets and Sidekicks from Tonto to Toto, I think you'd have a hard time filling an index card let alone a tome. Therein lies the humor, I guess.
This puzzle was finally accepted last February. After a second and third revision (both involving TONTO for BALTO), it was decided to revert back to the second version. The third version had fewer three-letter entries, but overall the fill wasn't as good.
I put this puzzle together during the height of the triple-stack center craze of the early 2010's, when some of my favorite constructors were producing gorgeous examples of this type of grid. Basically, I wanted a challenge and a slick way to accomodate a double-Q, 12-letter seed entry.
Other than some less-than-perfect short stuff I'd like back (sigh), one entry I fell out of love with in this grid is INTERNET ECONOMY. I'd been trying to push more "business stuff" in the grid for a while, feeling that it was a major section of the newspaper that's too often ignored in puzzles. I didn't properly account for the fact that it's often the most boring section, too. This phrase feels a little shaky and doesn't sparkle enough for the amount of real estate it occupies. A bit of a miscalculation in my opinion.
That being said, it's not a terrible entry, and I think there's some fun stuff in here. I particularly like the musical vibe throughout — I was a classical pianist in a prior life. Hope you all enjoy. Happy Friday!
This puzzle came about because I was thinking of a way to incorporate 12-letter answers into a puzzle, and I thought the quad-slantstack would be an interesting and challenging way to do it. The top two answers in the slantstack were the seed entries. I had been wanting to put both in a puzzle for a while, and when I realized they stacked well, I decided to try my hand at making everything else work.
The hardest part of this construction was making the quad stack work with the long downs in the northeast and southwest. The fact that a great 16-letter answer bisected the stack was simply fortuitous. As usual, many of the great clues are courtesy of your puzzle editor, but I'll keep you guessing as to whose clues belong to whom.
Like most Sundays I've made, this puzzle started as two ideas that merged together. I really liked the idea of having the same squares serve as quotation marks and ditto marks, but I thought it needed something else to tie it together. The "something else" came along when my professor Ryan Bennett mentioned the adjacent pairs of double letters in "bookkeeper" as an aside in an intro linguistics class.
At first I considered having the theme entries be types of titles that require quotation marks rather than underlining — e.g., the set of themers could include a poem, a song, a speech, a book chapter, an episode of a TV show, and a short story. I ended up picking the quotation approach instead because quotations seemed more fun than titles.
I've been experimenting lately with getting the word count down on Sundays. I still can't decide if I prefer low-word-count grids with more fill that is interesting but also more fill that is questionable, or if I prefer very clean but not as interesting 140-worders. I'll probably settle somewhere between the two extremes.
DAN: I am thrilled to be debuting in The New York Times today, and I am grateful to Joel and Will who encouraged me, and to Jeff, who helped take the original concept to a higher level.
I always liked words that contained each vowel once (including Y), and I thought it would be fun to use such a list in a theme — words like PRECARIOUSLY and COEQUALITY. After a bit of research, I found such words range from the technical and thus unusable (ACTINOMYCETOUS) to the more common but not especially exciting (TENACIOUSLY). And there are quite a few adverbs (FACETIOUSLY — all six … in alphabetical order!).
As a new constructor, I tried not to overextend myself, and I chose three 15s that fit the theme and were not obviously connected: COUNTERCYCLICAL, UNCOPYRIGHTABLE, and (in various versions) INSTANTANEOUSLY (hey, that uses the A twice!), VOYEURISTICALLY (ditto the I), and finally, GRANDILOQUENTLY.
The fill, however, was weak, and the circled theme letters were scattered haphazardly around the grid (like the results of five fowl competing in chicken poop bingo). Will/Joel were interested, but after I made several attempts, they suggested I should work with a more experienced constructor. Enter Jeff.
Jeff said he liked the concept but proposed that we "think bigger," and suggested we use — instead of the "trivial" all-vowel-inclusive words I had proposed — more colorful phrases that followed the theme rule but punched up the puzzle. He also arranged the circled theme letters in a way that showed some uniformity and intent.
I'm a retired business executive who was lucky enough to retire very young. I still serve on several Boards of Directors, but I spend the bulk of my time reading, traveling with my wife, enjoying my grandchildren and constructing crosswords. Since I took it up five years ago, I've had two puzzles published in the NYT and eleven published in the LAT. This is my third puzzle to be published in the NYT.
I think that the "travels" of this puzzle are a bit unusual. I first submitted it to Will on September 21, 2012 — over three years ago. Will had a pretty speedy turnaround and accepted it on December 2, 2012. Then we waited … and waited … and waited. I checked in with Will several times over the years to be sure that Mr. Puzzle was still alive and kicking. Each time, he reported that Mr. Puzzle was in very good spirits, but that he (Will) had a backlog of early-week puzzles of a similar genre and that he needed time to space them out. If it had occurred to him, Will would likely have said "Patience." And he would have added "Remember the theme: AGES. This puzzle is aging quite nicely."
Eureka! Today's the day!
As these are my first comments for XWord Info, I'd like to take the opportunity to thank Will for his guidance for this and previous endeavors. Construction newbies, do not be discouraged — Will is really very helpful!
As brief background, I originally hail from England, where you're more likely to come across words like AGNAIL (?) or WINDLESTRAE (??) than OREO in a crossword. I personally find US-style crosswords more fun though, with its smattering of general knowledge thrown in. Also, speaking as an ex-engineer with a poor command of Chaucer-English or botany, I tend to do better solving the US ones.
On to the puzzle, which was submitted in September 2013, with final acceptance in April 2014. Straightforward break-a-something theme, where you don't actually physically break any of the items. The original submission had the revealer BREAKAWAYS, but Will suggested and preferred BREAKABLES that you see in the final product. With six themers, there's some compromising (OK, ugly) 3-letter fill to enable some fresh vocabulary. Most questionable entry : MATIC (sorry about that, but it's my engineering background). Personal favorite : GAZILLION (useful in engineering also!). Cozy pairing : LEGWARMERS + SWEATPANTS (neither of which I've worn).
All the good clues are Will's — he's so much better at this than I am, especially at pitching to the right level of difficulty for the given weekday.