Who ISN'T captivated by stories of unusual animal friendships?
This list of theme entries took a while to get right (and still, only a few weeks ago, I realized STEPHENHAWKING's name also has this property). The original submission contained DRONESTAGRAM, an Instagram-type site for aerial photos, but for Will, it was less "three's company" than "three's a crowd."
Upon revision, which required nearly the whole puzzle to be razed, interesting entries like 55-across presented themselves—I dedicate that to all my friends who attended this fine institution. Many are musicians, composers, and puzzlers, incidentally. I learned about 107D (EGOT) from "30 Rock," produced by 20D (LORNE Michaels). 78D has a property that I hope will cause some solvers to consider 96A (You might pass one in a race) to be BACON. 119A came up in the revision; after I emailed Will about greenlighting its usage, he replied: "SNOT-NOSED is a little rude, so it's something I would try not to use. Still, if it makes for the best fill, go ahead."
On that note, I wish you all a peaceful and enjoyable long weekend.
For most constructors, I imagine, some theme concepts never get their moment in the sun. They sit in constructors' idea books, waiting for the perfect revealer or maybe another theme entry to complete the set. The latter was the case with this puzzle; I had several phrases ending with WINGS, BRATS, and DOGS to choose from, but still needed one more fun food theme entry to throw into and onto my barbie crossword.
And then it happened … watching Super Bowl LI in a bar, scanning the menu for some appetizers, when I saw SLIDERS. Knowing sliders was also a baseball term, I contacted fellow cruciverbalist and MLB post-game highlights announcer, Mike Black, who suggested two phrases: BACKDOOR or HANGING SLIDERS. They both googled well enough, but BACKDOOR made the cut due to symmetry.
I got the yes from Will and Joel late July and am most thankful that they decided to run it so quickly and on Labor Day — the unofficial last day of summer — and a perfect day to relax, fire up the grill, and spend time with family and friends.
Michelle Kenney: When I was a freshman in college, I told my advisor that I wanted to write crossword puzzles for money someday, only to have him show me the door and tell me to come back when I grew up. After I turned 54 last year, I woke up one morning with a now-or-never feeling that had me reaching for a dictionary and my old thesaurus.
I spent a week in my pajamas, surrounded by a growing heap of crumpled papers, as I struggled to design a puzzle that didn't rely on a two-toed sloth or a bitter vetch for that final, impossible bit of fill. I finally decided that I needed some help getting this project off the ground, and I was lucky enough to meet Jeff Chen, who helped me refine the INTERMISSION theme.
We knew that we wanted to "interrupt" the names of Broadway shows, but finding themers proved to be much more difficult than I anticipated. Almost every time I thought I had one — WICKERBACKED for Wicked, or FACETIME for Fame, for example — something wouldn't work; Jeff's wife insisted (correctly) that the correct word is wicker back, and an Internet search revealed that the title of Fame is really Fame: The Musical.
I didn't count the number of emails we sent to each other, but I wouldn't be surprised if there were over one hundred in the exchange. Writing this puzzle is one of the craziest and most maddening things I have ever done (including the time I took a taxi with a live crocodile) but ultimately, it was very gratifying when it was finally finished.
This theme lingered a while because it wasn't so easy for me to find words that turn into other words when you add a 'y' sound after the first letter... and then also to find phrases that worked after that change. I'm delighted that I did find four nice phrases, because I think this is one of my better puzzles. To me, this puzzle mainly stands out because of its pretty grid design. There are only eight short, outer lines and two central curves, making it look artistic in its simplicity. I'm also proud of the general quality of the puzzle, though I would've liked the longer fill to be more exciting.
The clues weren't changed too much, so I guess that's a good thing! I do appreciate the changes, though; solid work, Will and team! I'm happy to be the first to clue ROBYN as the Swedish singer, whose music I really enjoy. I'm also happy to be the first to clue IM PEI in a new way, as he has now reached the status of centenarian.
I think all of my theme answers and clues are quite cute, and I'm particularly happy that BEAUTY CALL made it through, as BOOTY CALL is a bit risqué and has yet to appear. Fun to push the boundaries a bit!
The key to constructing this puzzle was finding workable downs for the left-hand side of the grid. Having the acrosses in alphabetical order requires that those words (ABC, CHILL, and MOSSY) monotonically increase in alphabetosity (uh, that's a thing...trust me).
With those three words chosen, I used manual trial and error to select workable alphabetically correct starts for each of the acrosses (i.e., fixing in place one to three of the starting letters for each word) while also coming up with a grid structure that supported some good fill. Similar to the left-hand side of the grid, deploying contiguous vertical blocks (i.e., the ones next to 8-Down and 60-Down) means that the neighboring letters must be in alphabetical order (i.e., the AB of ABLUSH and all of STY).
The Utah block at the top of the grid enables relative freedom for the NE corner in light of the constraint of having ABC at 1-Down. Without those two cheater squares, the neighboring down word would need to start with ABC, ACC, BBC, or BCC (if no cheater square is used) or BC or CC (with a single cheater square). Instead, I just needed a word that starts with AB (a much easier constraint to fill around). This freedom was especially important because the black square under 7-Down (REC) was fixed in place by its symmetry to the one above 60-Down (STY).
Interestingly, my first iteration of an alphabetical order puzzle had 78 words including three across answers in each row at the top and bottom of the grid, which made construction very difficult. The resulting grid strain also made the fill pretty blah. Going down to 76 words (and more importantly reducing the number of words in the top and bottom rows) made things both easier and better (a rare combination!).
It takes a pretty specific sort of person to create an NYT crossword puzzle centered around BUZZFEED QUIZZES, but here I am. Consider this my love letter to the fallen BuzzFeed Crossword, which I miss dearly both as a solver and a constructor. I'm still sitting on some profanity-laden, otherwise-inappropriate crosswords from that period, if anyone's looking.
I generally shy away from the gratuitous use of JQXZ-type letters because usually it results in lower quality fill. And though I know no one will believe me, I really didn't prioritize any of those letters here (beyond the initial selection of BUZZFEED QUIZZES, which I definitely liked in part for its Scrabbliness). They just gave me the best combination of smooth and fun.
For those who think two sitcom references is a lot for one puzzle (ROSA from "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" and ARTIE from "Glee"), imagine if Will had kept the other two I put in (ROSS from "Friends" and ALIA Shawkat from "Arrested Development"). I love all those shows, so I'm happy at least a few survived the edit. And I'm especially happy to see ROSA Diaz still here — badass character in my favorite current sitcom (for many reasons, including Amy and Captain Holt's obsession with crosswords).
Michael provided the bottom to get us going, I did the top, and we batted around the east and west until we both liked it. We finished the grid just before a Sept 2016 hike in North Cascades National Park. So we worked on clues while charging up and down mountains. Even though few of the clues survived, it's definitely our favorite collaboration published so far.
ERIK: Earlier this year, Paolo mentioned he'd had an idea for a LA LA LAND puzzle; he had WALLA WALLA and LAKE PLACID but was having trouble finding more theme answers. Feeling like a genius, I quickly rattled off what I thought were some solid additions: DALAI LAMA? LAPIS LAZULI? BLACK FLAG? SOLAR FLARE? He responded "ooh those are good" ... and then very gently and casually hipped me to the fact that his themers were both LANDs and not just LA LAs. Woah.
This illustrates two things I know to be true about Paolo: one, that his puzzling brain has access to levels of holistic awareness that few others are capable of reaching (you can now see this on display every week at his website, Grids These Days); and two, that his emotional intelligence is comparably enviable. If I were starting some sort of Crossword Thing and needed someone to put in charge of editing or wrangling or what have you, Paolo would certainly make my short list.
Big thanks to Will et al. for getting this thing into Monday shape. It's hard to write clues that are evocative and concise and accessible all at once, so I appreciate the help. The 35-Across clue is maybe a tad more derogatory than the one we submitted (a Larry Bird reference), but maybe that's our bad for putting it in the grid? That aside, I'm very satisfied with the way this one turned out, and I hope you enjoyed it.
PAOLO: As a longtime Glutton For Pun solver, I am overjoyed to be collaborating with Erik Agard himself. After solving his excellent 2017 Oscars-themed puzzle, I went to Twitter to flood him with praise via direct message. Somewhere in the ensuing conversation, I brought up my idea for a LA LA LAND-themed puzzle (with only the entries WALLA WALLA and LAKE PLACID at hand). Thankfully, Erik was open to collaborating, even though making a puzzle inspired by "La La Land" may have gone against every fiber of his being. It says something about his graciousness, and I'm grateful for that. He found MALAY PENINSULA and TORTILLA FLAT to round out the theme, and so it went.
Another note: I almost feel like there's a "Moonlight"/"La La Land" situation between the GFP and NYT puzzles. As with the two movies, I feel like both of the puzzles have their own merits. This puzzle is like "La La Land"; it's meant to appeal to general audiences, and it'll be consumed by more people than its counterpart. Fun, breezy — mass appeal. Erik's solo puzzle, on the other hand, is like "Moonlight"; more independent, and consumed by fewer people, but absolutely mold-breaking.
I will say this about both "Moonlight" and Erik's Oscar puzzle: if you haven't experienced either, you need to remedy that post haste. This is to say: Erik Agard is an absolute cruciverbal artist, and I am honored and humbled to have been able to work with him. Hope you enjoyed!
My first try at this puzzle got sent back for poor fill. Will really liked the northwest area, so I only had to redo 75%! I don't remember how I came up with the idea to do "words starting with two letter Roman numerals ending in I" as a theme, but I do remember watching "Dallas" episodes a lot back in the 80's and I remember thinking VIEWINGS was the best entry in this puzzle. My submitted clue was [Bobby, Pam, Ellie, Jock, Sue Ellen and JR?]
The idea that MISTRESSES could be 1001 causes of anxiety also struck me as pretty funny. That was two years ago, and now I would be more impressed with LIFELINES, since compound words and two-word phrases make better theme entries in general. MISTRESSES has some pretty common letters but I can't see where it has ever appeared in any major puzzle venue before. Happenstance or breakfast table test effect?
Hello all! Dan Mauer here. This is my debut crossword puzzle for the New York Times (or any other publication, for that matter).
A little background: Around 2013, my lovely wife (with whom I'd been solving the NYT puzzle for years) had the idea of us each making a small puzzle for the other to solve for fun, and through that I realized I really enjoyed crossword construction. When I learned that any random person could submit a crossword puzzle to The New York Times, I set a goal for myself to construct a "real" puzzle good enough to make the cut. Didn't take long to figure out how difficult that was! But, four years and many submitted-and-rejected attempts later, I am thrilled, honored and freaking out that puzzlers around the world are going to be solving a crossword I created.
As for the actual puzzle: it was LE PETIT DEJEUNER that sparked the idea for the theme — someone had used the term on Twitter and I briefly attempted to crack a joke about how it was THE LITTLE THINGS that really mattered. The joke wasn't funny enough to post, but at some point I realized both of those phrases were 15 letters long, and the puzzle grew from there. EINE KLEINE / NACHTMUSIK came to mind instantly, and UNA POCA DE GRACIA followed shortly thereafter. The fill was another story...
When I sent in the completed puzzle, Will Shortz responded that he liked the theme "a lot", but that the fill needed work. A lot of work, as it turned out. Lots of crosswordese, too many partial phrases, and so on; It took about three months, several revisions, and finally some much-appreciated help from Jeff Chen of XWord Info, who helped me to develop a better eye for fill and suggested some changes to the grid layout and a few of the long vertical crosses for this puzzle (including ORANGINA and EBENEZER which I really like) that made working around all the theme entries less impossible.
Before reading his notes here, I didn't realize how much time he'd dedicated to this effort. Super generous, and in addition to making this a better puzzle our correspondence undoubtedly has made me a better constructor.
Finally I got a yes, and I couldn't be more excited. I hope you enjoyed solving it.
The inspiration for this puzzle came from looking in the mirror. I have a gap wide enough to stick a screwdriver through.
Initially, I laid this out as a Sunday 21x, wanting to have all the gaps exactly in the middle of the puzzle. Even when I tried some rebus ideas (like Delaware Water GAP and SinGAPore), and threw in the names of famous people with gaps, there just wasn't enough there for a Sunday, and I boiled it down to a 15x.
Initially, I had SPREADS TOO THIN where SEED PEARLS / ILES is now but chose to break symmetry and bump it up a row in order match the tenses of the verbs.
My original submission of this puzzle was rejected for having too many proper nouns. I cut them roughly in half and tried again. This time: success.
I'm glad my clue for FRENEMY survived edit. Growing up, we had a massive Archie Comics collection in my house. I'm not sure why exactly — the jokes are super trite and the stories are completely vapid. I guess before smartphones, you had to ignore your family somehow.
FINN AND NATAN: We're having a lot of fun at the JASA class by making types of puzzles as yet untried by the group, and someone in the class was hungry for a themeless with chunky, stacking corners. We were tickled by the SHE LOVES ME / HE'S A KEEPER combination, and spent a lot of time tinkering with the lower left, which is our favorite section. Our last puzzle in May debuted ARREST HIM; we're pleased to bring the entry back to the Times a second time.
It's tough to write a themeless in the first place, let alone as a group, since you want to make sure you've really exhausted every possibility to ensure the cleanest possible grid. The class was very patient as we all tested and retested new fill in the corners. If we recall correctly, the bottom right had a few other types of RACEs and LINEs at some point in time.
At this point, the JASA folks who make these puzzles are pros at all the aspects of construction, but the group clearly has a knack for clever cluing. [Sea as in Cannes] for MER and [Celebration after a run?] for CAST PARTY are among our favorites the class came up with. Will, Joel, and team did a lovely job neatening our clues, which tend to be overlong (Natan's fault) and overflowing, happily, with puns and alliteration (the class's!). A lesson in the original clue for PANIC BAR: [Don't push it!]
Hope you enjoy!
I'm really excited to get my first Sunday puzzle in the NYT! I started this puzzle late in 2015, with the concept of each word being a roller coaster track that goes from left to right through a loop. I landed on the word "LOOPER" and thought that could be "LOOP-ER" with a consistent looping at "ER". I initially had several different words in the grid (TIME REVERSAL, INTERAMERICAN CUP, MODERN GERMAN, THEATERGOERS, INTERSPERSED...), but had a really tough time filling it. I worked on the puzzle on-and-off for more than a year before submitting it early in 2017.
I really wanted to have MOTHER THERESA in the center position, where CONCERT SERIES ended up, but I couldn't get it to work (there aren't many words with "..HT.." that fit well with the rest). In the end, I liked the 9 theme words I was able to include without too much rough fill.
I was really pleased that Will and Joel allowed some science terms that aren't overly common in crosswords, like PRIONS and NANOTUBE. And I owe them a thanks for the small change they made to my homophone clue for 117D to make it chemistry-themed!
This puzzle was inspired by a Calvin & Hobbes strip that mentions the YELLOW-BELLIED sapsucker (in the context of a crossword puzzle, no less!) My private title for the puzzle is PARTICOLORED, which I considered using as a revealer; but I ended up leaving it without a revealer since PARTICOLORED doesn't quiiite work and is a bit obscure.
C.C.: Don came up with the idea. We settled down on our current approach after explored a few other options. This puzzle was accepted in July 2016. Our theme reveal clue did not specify G/H/W.
DON: It was quite a while ago, so the exchanges with Zhouqin are foggy. But we had a few e-mails to go by. This puzzle started out as something else. We considered making a puzzle where all the silent letters are missing. That seemed overwhelming for a number of different reasons, but in the process, one of us noticed a phrase where the silent letters were the same in each word of a phrase. That seemed interesting, so we went with it.
Silent letters are tricky, because people can interpret them differently as to what is really silent. We felt lucky enough to come up with three answers that worked. We had other possibilities, but answer length and uncertainty limited our choices.
The pangram (a puzzle containing every letter of the alphabet) is nothing new, and indeed, when constructors put a Q or Z where it doesn't really belong — "doing it for the ‘Gram," in the parlance of our times — they may find themselves accused of lewd acts against a certain board game!
But I thought the restriction of having each letter appear adjacent to the one before/after it in the alphabet would make for a fun construction challenge that wouldn't require too many compromises in the fill.
I started off by placing the Q — I knew both PQ and QR had very few options, and figured it would be most efficient to use a single Q to cross the two answers near a corner. WX and JK were the other most challenging pairings, so I found a way to include them in longer answers with otherwise friendly letters, and then to cross those answers near a corner as well. I would have loved to include the RIJKSMUSEUM in Amsterdam, but couldn't manage it, and also that's probably a late-week answer.
It was Will and Joel's idea to include the note and bracketed numbers indicating alphabetic position, and I thank them for their editorial efforts. They also made one change to the grid, at NATHANIEL/INIS. My original submission had NATHANAEL/INAS, figuring that IN AS was a slightly more palatable partial. I had also considered ETAL/IT IS/JAE in that section. I watch a lot of basketball, so Jae Crowder is well-known to me, but is he crossworthy? I wonder which option solvers prefer.
The LYS/SSRS crossing is a bit ugly as well, but other than that, I don't think the grid shows too much sign of strain. I hope solvers feel the same, and that they appreciate the rationale behind this construction.
I made this puzzle shortly after this year's ACPT, when all of the things I had done to explain "geometry" themes to Dr.Fill were fresh in my mind. Thinking about all the things that other constructors had done with words twisting this way and that, this seemed like a natural idea (and one that would test Dr.Fill's abilities in this area).
The puzzle worked, but Dr.Fill couldn't solve it! (As I only just now learned; I always take a break from Dr.Fill after the ACPT because I'm burned out). It doesn't understand the theme at all, even though it should, and winds up making six mistakes in its usual fast solve. I'll have to figure that out before the 2018 tournament!
As usual, Will in general made things better. My original didn't mark the theme entries but I think Will was right to change that. The only thing I was really sad about was seeing the clue for 52-Across change from [Parisian woman?]. I really liked that clue, figuring everyone would think of a *different* misdirection and happily (and with great confidence) put FEMME in the grid.
I hope everyone enjoyed the puzzle!
Going to keep this short, because I honestly don't remember much about this puzzle. I see from my files that it dates back to May 2015, a month before my high school graduation. That whole time period is a blur for me: My last AP tests, throwing my cap in the air, saying goodbye to old friends, feeling anxious about starting college, etc. Apparently I was making themelesses as well—not a huge surprise :).
Looking at the puzzle now, I'm pleased with how it turned out. I must've been trying to mix things up by doing triple stacks of 14s, and I like my choices of long entries (especially the wacky-looking MI CASA ES SU CASA at 1-Across). I also appreciate how relatively smooth and trivia-free the rest of the grid is. Might've gone for a little more zing were I building this puzzle today, but at the same time, the relative lack of crosswordese allows for a lot of nice cluing opportunities.
Speaking of which, big ups to Will, Joel, and Sam for improving so many of the clues! Didn't remember the originals, but looking back on them now, I feel their replacements are definitely better.
Hope you enjoy—maybe it's time for me to start solving my old puzzles!
My previous 5 puzzles have been Fridays, so I'm very excited for today's puzzle, my Saturday debut. Another debut I'm happy to mention: today RON WEASLEY makes his first appearance in a New York Times puzzle. HARRY POTTER showed up twice in 2000, and HERMIONE GRANGER arrived in 2011. Poor Ron. How many horcruxes do you have to destroy to get some timely recognition?
I can't really take much credit for this one. Will and Joel thought this was a fun and simple Monday theme but my initial fill was horrid and all those crossing words were too much for my wordlist at that time, even at the 78 word maximum. So ... handy dandy Frank Longo got called in to clean things up and he pretty much redid the whole puzzle from the ground up. The only entry that is a little dicey for Monday is THORA, but Thora Birch has made quite a name for herself as an actress.
Frank is actually quite busy and well-respected in the crossworld, but he manages to fly low under the radar most of the time. Despite the fact that Monday is the only day Frank has not been published in the NYT he turned down multiple requests to be listed as co-constructor here. Cycle, shmycle ...
At any rate, Thank You Frank!!
LYNN: This collaboration was something of a blind date set up by Will, and it was all done via email. We both decided from Day One that the theme would be comedians, but it took a while to get from there to this puzzle. At first we thought of using names like (Lucille) BALL, (Bob) HOPE, and (Chris) ROCK that could be used in everyday phrases—and we batted around some possibilities. We also considered a few ideas that included revealers.
But then, among ideas for those themes, Joy included PRYOR COMMITMENT … and I knew immediately that she'd come up with something different and perfect. She'd found our theme angle for sure, and her example was even 15 letters for a terrific central grid-spanner. After emailing back and forth, we decided on this set. Three of the five themers (PRINZE, PRYOR, and IDLE) were Joy's ideas, and all but one of the theme clues were hers (all but BARR). Unfortunately, BARR HOPPING didn't fit. A few names that didn't work were Chaplin/chaplain, Marx/marks, and Bee/be.
I did the grid, which Joy approved. And I wrote clues that she then went through and edited, preferring to make them more challenging. Will changed very few of them. If you guessed that Joy wrote the great clue for GO APE, you'd be right. Also the ones for RESCUE DOG and HELIX, just to name two that I especially liked.
Working on this with Joy was great fun. Her emails were guaranteed to include some funny choices I never would have thought of. I loved the way the puzzle turned out. I hope all of you solvers do, too.
I was pondering ways to revisit my NYT puzzle from Friday 1/27/2012 and add a new twist, AND I decided there were other tricks I could play with the central grid entry engulfed by black squares. It must have been a flashback to my childhood — reading a riddle book and asking my mother to explain the answer to "What are kids' two favorite letters of the alphabet?" — which brought 35-A under consideration. Suddenly it occurred to me that there was one particular enclosure (44-D) which made absolute sense for 35-A and the theme magically fell out of the sky. From there, the main challenge would be to get the grid art just right.
Grid art puzzles are always very tricky to make. A 15x15 grid is already pretty low-res to begin with. Add to that a requirement of word interconnectivity, and suddenly the grid art is pushed away from the walls ... into a 9x9 central space. I made at least six grid depictions that looked an awful lot like dogs and horses until I settled upon the current, rather neckless design. So, I'll probably get battered in the solver reviews for not getting it perfect.
One last perspective on the grid art: those black square stacks on the sides and bottom depict the ends of bats of six individuals waiting for their turn with the PINATA. Wasn't that enough of a visual hint?
One Sunday afternoon, I went to a bar to watch football with some pals. Naturally, the conservation turned to poetry and trans rights. When I heard somebody mention PABLO NERUDA and say the term GENDER BINARY, I thought they would make interesting fill in a puzzle, so, noticing you could lay the former and top of the latter in a way that staggered the vowels and consonants nicely, I set out to build a grid with these two seed answers. This is the result.
Mary Lou Guizzo: My seed entry for this themeless was the RIJKSMUSEUM, a place I hope to see in person someday. It was inspired by my visit to a special exhibit at the Dayton Art Institute, Rembrandt and the Golden Age of Dutch Art: Treasures from the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
My first themeless grid with this seed entry was submitted in July of 2016. I received a rejection in August noting that Will really liked some of the grid fill including this seed entry, but there was too much crosswordese.
I asked Jeff for his assistance in reworking the grid. He pointed out I had too many three-letter entries. He noted it was best not to go above 12 for a themeless grid. After numerous back and forths using a grid of Jeff's design, we submitted a revised grid a few weeks later. We received an email in November accepting the revised grid.
Jeff worked the NYT debut words MAMA BIRD, BEER BRAT and GO BLONDE into the grid and my contribution in addition to RIJKSMUSEUM was OBAMA ERA. I was surprised to see the clue we had for TOMY, "Big name in toys headquartered in Japan," was replaced by the partial TO MY. I did like the edited change of clues for EARS and DJS to "Reception figures" as well as the clue change for HARRY from a name to "Badger."
I hope you've enjoyed your Saturday solving experience.