I'm excited about this concept. The theme explains, about as well as you can in a crossword, the ambiguity at the heart of GENDERFLUIDity. The theme letters don't move from M to F or from F to M, in the manner of a binary, but float in an unresolved place in between. That's a simple but reasonable way of representing queer sexuality--as a forever-exploration of identity and desire. My deepest appreciation to Will Shortz and to Joel Fagliano for being open to a concept that pushes a boundary, not to mention for helping workshop the difficult execution. I hope solvers find it fun and inspiring.
This puzzle's origin story is a little twisted, and it's probably mostly invisible in the published version. But here's the story anyway ...
In April 2015, I heard a talk by Daniel Levin Becker at Carleton College, where I teach. His talk was about the Oulipo (OUvroir de LIttérature POtentielle, usually translated as something like "workshop for potential literature"), a group of mostly French writers who work under massively restrictive self-imposed structural constraints in their writing. Some of the most famous examples include Georges Perec's E-less novel "La Disparition" ("A Void") and his novel "Life A User's Manual" (based around a chapter-by-chapter knight's tour of an apartment building, among many other constraints).
A few tenuous mental connections later, I ended up with the constraint that I imposed on myself for this puzzle: a 15-letter central entry that was its own answer. (My original submission used this central entry as part of a logical paradox of a "this puzzle contains one error" form, but the paradox piece ended up disappearing from the published version — I think in part because the clues were just too long.) There aren't that many 9-letter numbers in roughly the right numerical range, so I was practically forced into THIRTYTWOACROSS and a grid like the one you see now — including those "cheater" squares in the corners to make the numbering work. And, as an ultimate player myself, I worked pretty hard to make FRISBEE work as 1-Across.
Incidentally, I read "Life A User's Manual" right after submitting this puzzle. It's exactly the kind of book I think I should love — and I pretty much *hated* it. I'll leave out the rant about the many reasons, but here's hoping that the puzzle it inspired doesn't trigger the same reaction in you!
I came across the word ZUGZWANG somewhere and decided to put it in a puzzle. It's an interesting letter combination, and it's also an interesting concept. According to Wikipedia, ZUGZWANG is German for "compulsion to move," and it means "a situation found in chess and other games wherein one player is put at a disadvantage because they must make a move when they would prefer to pass and not move." Compulsion is an important aspect of a ZUGZWANG, but I couldn't come up with a way to succinctly convey this in the clue, so while "Chess situation in which any move is a bad move" is an accurate clue, it doesn't quite capture the true essence of a ZUGZWANG.
As for the rest of the puzzle, I'm quite happy with how it all came out. I hope everybody enjoys solving it as much as I enjoyed making it.
[SPOILER ALERT FOR THE AUGUST 14 DIAGRAMLESS]
Ever since I read "Figgs and Phantoms" in elementary school, ampersands have been some of my favorite characters, so I'm glad to finally work a few into a puzzle. Excited as I am to show some ampersand love, I have to say that Sam Ezersky's insanely cool diagramless from a few weeks ago far outshines my ampersand-related efforts.
(Jeff: if you like diagramless puzzles, check out our thumbnails of all the diagramless grids listed together.)
My first Monday puzzle! The inspiration came from a little retail therapy at the mall with one goal in mind: FIND THE PERFECT JEANS. In the store, surrounded by the overwhelming choices of jean styles, fits, rises, etc., my crossword brain kicked into high gear and I quickly had some theme entries in mind, even before leaving the fitting room.
My first grid (not submitted) had a revealer of sorts with the Neil Diamond song "FOREVER IN BLUE JEANS" (18) broken up into two 9's and three styles of jeans as theme entries. My second grid, which I submitted, was rejected because (SLIM)SHADY was too similar to (SKINNY)DIP and (LOOSE)LIPS was overly generic, in terms of jean styles. However, the rejection came with the encouraging words "different and fun theme" and a note from Joel saying that he had come up with (BAGGY)EYES - which I loved. The next day, I came up with (RIPPED)ABS, (BOOT)DRIVE, and (CUTOFF)SAW, the latter of which Will felt was the best, plus it worked with my simple JEANS revealer, crossing at the "A."
So, that's the real skinny on this Labor Day puzzle — hope you enjoy the holiday and the puzzle!
My hope is that the punch line lands with solvers. The progression I was going for is a person with a stiff upper lip stoically spouting obnoxious cliché after obnoxious cliché while his world crumbles around him, before he's finally had enough, drops the act and blows his stack in an ill-conceived bout of self-destruction (a real specialty of mine).
In terms of the grid and fill there's not too much to say. For aesthetic and flow considerations, I made sure not to break up the 9s at 3- and 37-Down, and held the line at 76 words.
The SW corner was the trickiest spot to fill: At the last minute I replaced RHEE / TOE with RHEA / TO A (although there's a really good chance Will would have made that change himself). RHEE is never an asset, let alone early in the week; Jeff in fact commented on his aversion to it a few months ago. Plus, with KOREA in the grid, the clue might have to be cross-referenced, which can be annoying, particularly when the theme itself includes cross-references. Things get muddled. Eliminating all that baggage was worth a short partial.
The final cliché was a choice between THATS LIFE or CEST LA VIE, and since nobody but the redoubtable Joel Fagliano can successfully fill a Q?C?? pattern, THATS LIFE it had to be.
The good news is, I've dealt with my anger issues. Doctor gave me a relaxation cassette. When my blood pressure gets too high, the man on the tape tells me what to say.
I'm excited to be making my Times debut today. I hope you enjoyed solving what I know was a bit of a quirky puzzle.
A little about myself: I'm a music teacher and grad student in the dissertation phase of a doctorate in music education — which means learning how to construct crosswords was essentially an elaborate method of procrastination. It's very common to see teachers working together on the Times puzzle over lunch in the faculty room and eventually I wanted to see if I could put together a puzzle of my own.
My only other published puzzle was for BuzzFeed, where I learned a lot from the patient and helpful editing of Caleb Madison. This puzzle, in fact, was originally written for BuzzFeed, but was sadly orphaned when they shut down their crossword to contributors earlier this year. Happily, Will and Joel found it amusing enough to give it a second life and, consequently, my Times debut!
Unsurprisingly, a number of my clues were changed, although not as many as I expected, to my satisfaction. Will and Joel also changed a single letter in my submitted grid, changing AGE/EGO to ACE/ECO, I imagine to avoid the near-dupe with the neighboring HBOGO. I'm happy they left my clue for 67-A (STUNT) though, even if I'm the only one that thinks it's funny! Thanks for solving!
Here's a brain-teaser: How did Will Shortz and Joel Fagliano increase this puzzle's total word count (i.e., the number of across and down answers) from 74 to 82 without changing any letters or the pattern of black and white squares?
There are several ways to format this puzzle. Will and Joel debated how to present it and chose a different approach than the one I submitted.
This grid's edited version is numbered as though all the black squares are regular blocks. The version I submitted treated the five black squares used in the theme answers as white rebus squares that were colored black to complete the theme words. (Rebus squares have pictures or multiple letters in them.)
Instead of treating COAL and FEET as two words (17 and 18-Across), I combined them into one long 17-Across answer reading COAL BLACK FEET (as in a "Wheel of Fortune" Before & After style answer). I used wacky clues for the combined answers. (Result of firewalking? = COALBLACKFEET). I'd also considered using two straightforward clues separated by a slash for the combined theme answers.
I treated the five black theme squares as rebuses hiding in plain sight. Another option would've been keeping them white and letting solvers color them black (or squeeze in the word "BLACK" in tiny letters).
Since my version treated COALBLACKFEET as one answer, the number 18 wasn't in the square with the F in FEET but was essentially hidden in the black rebus square between COAL and FEET. My clue for BLACKSHIRT was numbered 18-Down instead of 21-Down.
Since I regarded the black theme squares as letter squares and not black blocks, I avoided putting them in locations where white squares would've been invalid (e.g. between 1 and 5-Across). That constraint made constructing the puzzle more challenging.
This was a fun puzzle to create. I started with ZITCOM, STINKEYE, BIGWHOOP, and JUMPSSHIP and I worked from there. The bottom right corner was a little tricky to fill in, but I was able to get it relatively smooth, so I was pleased with the outcome.
Will and company changed a few of my original clues, but they kept my favorite — the clue for 36-Down (BIG WHOOP). Enjoy!
I remember liking this puzzle a lot when I first sent it off to the Times and am pleased it held up in my eyes upon its publication. A grid that looked great while constructing can sometimes lose its luster when viewed again after several months in the queue.
My construction process is closely related to what I look for when solving a fun crossword — namely a fairly wide open grid, interesting compound phrases that cover a variety of topics, unusual scrabbly letter combinations, and a minimum of the shorter dreck. Combined with the improvements of the clues during the editing process, and I think this one hits the mark and looks pretty spiffy [smart, as it were]. Hope you all enjoy!
NW: A while back I told my wife Carla I wanted to do a Sunday about one of my favorite things. She said, "Napping?" and I said, "Close enough." So began a puzzle that I wanted to design as a hybrid — part picture puzzle with positionally relevant theme answers, part wordplay answers about various layers of bedding that were partly stagger-stacked. When I first submitted it, MONSTER was under the bed along with DUST BUNNIES, sevens Z's in the bed and SOUND ASLEEP over it — along with other entries like DRIFT OFF, 'NIGHT ALL, NYTOL, and (White) NOISE. Will liked the concept but there were problems with the fill, and unfortunately the bed image had four black squares touching its four corners and wasn't quite "bed-like" enough. That's when I sent out a call for help.
GB: Along with several other friends, I had test solved earlier iterations of Ned's original highly ambitious concept for this puzzle, and was delighted to see my alma mater STUYVESANT going down to the right of the bed. Imagine my surprise when Ned came back to me, asking for help revising the puzzle; you would be surprised too if you were in the middle of a NAP like I was. Long story made exceedingly short, we dialed back on the ambition, changed several of the theme entries and their locations, and started from scratch on the grid — all told, we probably went through two dozen significant variations before coming up with something that the two of us, along with Will and his team, were all satisfied with. Lights out, and back to Ned.
NW: When I first saw Will's clues for the five "bedding" entries, I was sorry to see the loss of the wordplay clues (example: COVER STORY: "How did I get this quilt? Therein lies a tale..."?), but soon realized straight cluing was a much stronger approach, with more "ahas" for solvers, since the theme entries don't shout out — they need to be discovered. Very cool. Thanks to the whole gang — with a special nod to David Steinberg — for their contributions. This was my first collaboration, a great experience, and a team effort all around.
VIC: While in Tampa for Merl's memorial service last August, Andrea and I talked about possibly collaborating on a puzzle at some point in the future. We'd both collaborated with many others, so it seemed a logical fit.
Weeks later, I ran an idea or two by her. I was impressed by her keen insight. And her quick resolve not to delve into a theme that wasn't clearly "fun." I tend to default to "complex" and then try to make it fun.
And then … I was reflecting on my first Times puzzle—a 2005 collab with Nelson Hardy that seemed both complex and fun: theme answers were punnily clued phrases in which the present and past tense of the same verb ran consecutively. E.g., SIT SATURDAY, HAVE HADDOCK. An idea came to me: 2-word phrases consisting of back-to-back homophones.
How happy I was when Andrea wrote, "This is fun!" We exchanged a few emails, developing the theme, filling the grid, writing the clues. Will liked it, but wanted some fill upgraded. This led to several revisions. When Will finally wrote, "This turned out nicely," he was holding revision no. 15!
ACME: Judge Vic and I bonded during Merl's memorial last year in Tampa. We discussed turning one of the illustrious judge's ideas into a Monday. PARESPEARS appeared in databases, but we figured the four others were fresh.
As this appears so close to the anniversary of our dear friend's untimely passing, I hope it will do him proud.
This theme was inspired by seeing SHAQ ATTAQ in the Wikipedia article for Shaquille O'Neal, in search of something new to say about him in a crossword clue.
Slightly surprised that the phrase has apparently not been previously used as a crossword answer, I proceeded to round up QUINQUAGENARIAN and QUEBECNORDIQUES (with online assistance) as the best long answers to round out the theme--neither of which had appeared as a Times crossword answer before.
The central 9 pretty much requiring four sets of 7's in the corners, I thought it most prudent to deal with the six Q Downs by using the maximum allowable answer count of 78. Careful placement of the 15s and the black squares resulted in three of the Q Downs being three-letter words starting with Q.
Dealing with the those Down Qs first, I found the grid not overly difficult to complete. Give yourself extra points if you noticed the two echoes of the theme beyond the longest Acrosses: CUE CARDS at 38 Across and "Quid pro __" (QUO) at 68 Down.
Knowing that Will wanted this clued in a fairly easy manner didn't dissuade me from my usual attempt to have as many "brand-new clues" as possible in my puzzles for him. Some required some extra digging, such as the F.C.C. hearings on CSPAN (10 Across). 67 Down came from personal experience: Last year, I took a tour of the Liverpool boyhood home of John Lennon, which included the guide's prominent mention of Yoko ONO as the benefactor.
This is my second attempt at a puzzle with perimeter answers. My first one required a lot of dodgy fill, and was difficult enough to construct that I vowed never to try THAT again. But then I had the idea for today's puzzle.
Happily, when I sat down to construct this one, the fill came together pretty well. While it's hinted at in the revealer, it's not explicitly stated that each of the films referenced in the puzzle was nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award. Given that, as well as the need for symmetry and to have four corners where the first and/or last letters of the answers were the same, I didn't have a lot of wiggle room to try different configurations/answers. The three themers in the main body of the puzzle layered on additional constraints. Despite all that, the fill in the final product isn't bad, IMO, with only a few entries I wish I could have eliminated (KTS, ITA and IMET, you know who you are . . . )
One other tricky aspect of this puzzle was cluing. I wanted the clues to be independent of the films and their subjects: but since many of the theme movies were biopics, I couldn't pull it off. For example, how do you clue "Patton" in a way that doesn't relate to General Patton? How do you clue Amadeus without referencing Mozart? It doesn't work, unfortunately.
In any case, I hope solvers enjoy the puzzle enough to give it two thumbs up!
I made the grid earlier this year, and like many of my completed puzzles, it sat unclued for months. When I finally got around to cluing the puzzle, I loved riffing on the conventional "Part 1, Part 2, etc." that appear in crossword clues from time to time. I also wanted the first clue's anagram to be completely natural. TRIO for TORI is a great fit since it's directly related to music.
I don't like making puzzles too difficult to solve — after all, I want the solver to finish. So, it'll be interesting to see how solvers do with this one. Depending on your fondness for anagrams, I expect a lot of DNFs.
Not gonna lie, all I can say is I ain't Patrick Berry, and I'm almost embarrassed to follow him on a themeless weekend. But whatevs. Oh, and #ProTip if you ever wanna use FARMERSONLY: wheat, not corn. Trust me.
As it happens, the seed answer that inspired this theme hit the cutting room floor. I remember feeling pretty giddy about finding THE S-WORD IN THE STONE, which made me think of someone with a sick sense of humor leaving a profane epitaph. In my first submission, that evolved into S-WORD SWALLOWER, a person clued as catching themselves before cussing. But alas, Will Shortz wasn't keen on this hyphenation. Admittedly, you often see it undashed as S WORD, so not exactly strong theme material.
Regardless, I'm proud of finding the solid set of 7 sneakily-hyphenated words that made the cut. My favorite of the bunch is probably B-LISTER PACK, since it evokes a kind of lesser-cool Brat Pack.
Trickiest part was wrangling the dashed Down answers that cross the themers at the hyphens. I tried to stay away from less lively possibilities (I'm looking at you, I-BAR and NON-U), while keeping the surrounding fill as smooth as possible.
Hope you enjoyed it!
For the original grid I sent in, I used a Left/Right grid with four broken pieces. Will & Joel found the theme entry split-up off-putting.
Felt sheepish about OENO and a few other entries in the revised grid. Just could not get a cleaner grid due to the themer lengths.
Croquembouche, a traditional French wedding "cake," is an impressive assemblage of small cream-filled pastry balls that form a tiered, tapering tower which is then adorned with spun sugar and caramel. Baumkuchen is a delicate cake batter poured over a continuously spinning cylinder, with each filament-like layer allowed to brown and set before the next layer is poured. I'm bringing this up primarily because Croquembouche and Baumkuchen are delicious words to think about and say out loud. Secondarily, I'm getting ready to belabor an analogy. Here goes…
I'm still mastering simple but good recipes. I will confidently deviate from a recipe and try something new, but as the recipes get trickier my results have varied. I work diligently to learn and improve, I experiment when and where I can, and I study the masters every day. It is my dream to some day have the skill to make the finest Baumkuchen my friends have ever tasted.
In the meantime, I'm grateful to have a third puzzle appearing in the New York Times. For those who don't know me, I also make indie-flavored puzzles for BUST magazine, a bimonthly feminist publication, and I'm enjoying cooking up snack-sized puzzles for the Daily Celebrity Crossword.
My friend and colleague David Clisbee used the phrase SCRAMBLE THE JETS in a meeting, and that was that. I wanted each theme entry to feature J-E-T-S in a different order — that plus all those Js made construction interesting. I'm grateful to Will and Joel for their improvements to this grid; I hope solvers enjoy encountering ROCKET J. SQUIRREL, and don't begrudge JULES ET JIM its French title.
The seed entry for this puzzle theme was DREI MARTINIS. I simply noticed the homophonic relationship of the word DRY to the German DREI, and took it from there. I'm glad that I could find enough foreign language numbers that really are extremely close (and occasionally, just about perfect) homophones to English words. For example, the French HUIT provides the initial H sound that most dictionaries indicate should be voiced for words starting with WH. (In my Webster's, the primary pronunciation of "wheat" starts with a HW sound, and the secondary pronunciation starts with just the W sound.)
I'm anticipating some commentary on the inclusion of the foreign language numbers DIECI (at 6-Down) and EIN (at 36-Across) in the grid. There seems to exist a certain notion of grid purity, suggesting that words relating to the theme (or even letter combinations) should be purged entirely from the fill. Otherwise, a degree of "inelegance" intrudes. I can understand that to some extent, but I don't see it as compelling in all cases. In fact, I mentioned to Will that I could probably get rid of DIECI if necessary. But this was apparently not a problem, and I'm happy to be on the same side with Will on this. As for "EIN Heldenleben", the translation is "A Hero's Life", so one can argue that this EIN is not a number, but an indefinite article.
And finally, I was delighted that my clue for 1-Across was accepted! I hope solvers find the puzzle enjoyable.
I tend to think of crosswords as somehow arguing for an archive of collective experience. As a result, I don't tend to (that's not to say never) seed my puzzles with proper names--I find those can end up resonating with some and falling flat with others. Rather, I go for what I consider to be unusually evocative phrases, or phrases that reflect this particular cultural moment; for me, 1A, 20A, 33A, 58A, 61A, 15D, and 35D fit at least one of those conditions.
Looking back, this is probably my favorite themeless puzzle out of the ones I've constructed. I'm quite satisfied with the mix of high and low, old and new, erudite and vulgar, sports and...not sports, and a good lot of Scrabbly letters sprinkled throughout.
The pairings of 1A/14A, 11D/12D, and even 61A/63A seem give each corner its own character. Happy to see the original clues for 1A and 63A, as well as for the perhaps unexpected echo of 19A/35D. GOPRO hasn't been seen in a Times crossword since 2013, and it's reemerged commercially. As a result, it's really been, as far as crossword entries go, been (re)freshened up.
I was pleased to work MALALA YOUSAFZAI's name into this puzzle. She is such an inspiring young person giving hope to many through her human rights advocacy and example. As she has noted "One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world."
If you had trouble spelling YOUSAFZAI, you're in good company. I wrote the Nobel Peace Prize committee to alert them. Their response was "Thank you for spotting the spelling typo. It has been changed on two pages but not in the press releases from the Norwegian Nobel Committee (NNC). NNC does not want us to change in their official material."
I noticed my initial puzzle submission had a dupe in it after I mailed it off and worked to eliminate it. In a grid with so few black blocks it wasn't a simple fix, but the resulting puzzle was much improved and more to Will and Joel's liking. My thanks to them for accepting and editing this puzzle. I'm thrilled to have my first Saturday NYT puzzle published.
Thanks to David Steinberg whose October 10, 2014 blog post on The Preshortzian Puzzle Project piqued my interest. I decided to try my hand at filling such a grid.
I hope you've enjoyed your solving experience.
Today's revealer was originally going to be GET STUFFED ... good thing I checked out Urban Dictionary and Wiktionary first. Research is your friend.
Speaking of stuffing, that SNAX / EX-STAR crossing is decidedly not a product of unscrupulous high-value Scrabble packing. By sheer coincidence, I've used EX-STAR (not great) twice in the last few weeks, in both cases thinking its inclusion led to the best fill otherwise.
Imputing a motive for the scheduling of this puzzle is baseless projection, but I'd like to believe it's a message to one of two the participants (hint: the David Duke-endorsed one) in the travesty of debate I'm terrified will unfold tonight at Hofstra University. Jeff might hammer me for AGITA's inclusion, but if you've been walking with the same ever-present, ever-growing gnawing in the pit of your stomach that I've been for past several months, horrified that we're on the verge of doing something irrevocably, irredeemably and unforgivably stupid—and you weren't sure know what to call it—AGITA is the word you're looking for.
Of course, saying you're scared out of your f*cking mind works equally well. Better, even. Tougher to work in as fill, though.
I had the idea for this puzzle when my daughter was recovering from a cold, just as I was coming down with it. She was going one way on the word ladder while I was going the other. Puzzles come from the oddest places.
I thought the theme material needed to be a bit denser, so I added the additional food phrases to pull it together. I really wanted to keep USMAIL next to POSTAL, but paid for it with some blah fill, TSO and HMS.
I was glad to see my clues for DODGE and TOW survived editing. I hope everyone enjoys solving.
Although this is my second puzzle appearing in the NYT, it was my first accepted. I had previously submitted twelve puzzles. Some elicited an encouraging remark — e.g., "clever idea" or "appreciated the creativity" — but they were all rejected, typically because the theme or vocabulary didn't excite or interest Will quite enough.
One day, exploring XWord Info, I came across uniclue puzzles. Although I didn't have a new twist on the genre, I decided to try to construct one like Larry Shearer's of Nov. 1, 2007. I looked for pairs of words with the same initial letter and the same clue, quickly finding several, such as BOOB / BOZO (Doofus), MONEY / MOOLAH (Scratch), and ZEST / ZEAL (Zip). I realized the last pair could be tweaked to ZEST / ZILCH (Zip) — i.e., unrelated words with the same clue. Aha, I had a new twist!
I designed a grid based on ZEST / ZILCH in the NW corner. Using cheater squares to the left of 25 and above 58, I was able to include nine uniclue pairs, which seemed like a respectable number and which was more tractable than an earlier grid that had eleven pairs, eight of which overlapped with other pairs. I then looked for pairs to fill the grid, a harder task than I anticipated, given how easily I fell upon ZEST / ZILCH, and I had to keep changing pairs when I encountered difficulties with the fill. But I sentimentally held onto ZEST / ZILCH.
When I completed the puzzle, I was optimistic it would, if not excite, at least interest Will quite enough. Indeed, my lucky 13th submission (July 13, 2015) got the nod, but I did encounter a bit of bad luck with it. I didn't see the email (Oct. 15, 2015) telling me the puzzle might be acceptable until I inquired about it (Dec. 3, 2015). At that point, the puzzle still needed work, including two new pairs, but Will and Joel Fagliano patiently helped me iron out the wrinkles in what I consider my debut puzzle.
I'm pleased with how all aspects of this puzzle came together. My original concept was to simply divide the "B" into DD, but single-letter splits have been done before in the NYT crossword, and I wondered if there might be two letters that could be split together. I was fortunate to find that a divided "BY" would work nicely, including as part of a spot-on revealer, which in turn could be neatly clued as ÷.
The 12 theme entries (the four "BY" words and the eight that cross them at the divided "B" or "Y") use 75 squares, which could have led to a very tight grid — but with some effort I managed to keep it relatively open, with only 33 blocks.
At first I wanted the "BY" words to be more challenging, but Will and Joel asked me to change the toughest one in my submission: PRESBYOPIC. They felt a fairly obscure theme answer would throw many solvers, as there was already a difficult gimmick. I can see their point (even without my presbyopic reading glasses!) and I agree that the final puzzle is better without it.
I came up with the ATARI clue with Will in mind, as he's known to be an avid player of table tennis. I had to double-check to be sure that my memory was correct: Pong's graphics were so primitive that the ball actually was square.