Monday, December 31, 2018

Farewell . . . and New Beginnings

Yesterday's puzzle was the last in The Puzzle Society Crossword, and so this blog, like the year, is coming to an end.  I'll be posting an update here soon about what's next for me on the puzzle front, but in the meantime, thanks for solving the Puzzle Society crossword each day and stopping by the Crossword Crossing blog!  Here's to new beginnings and a happy 2019 to all!

Sunday, December 30, 2018

"Color Spectrum," by Zhouqin Burnikel

Constructor's Comments

When I first proposed this theme to David back in February, I had ONE LIFE TO LIVE for OLIVE, which fully contains OLIVE in the end.  He noticed immediately, of course.  And the title is his again.

Thank you, David, for patiently guiding me through all the Puzzle Society puzzles this year.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

"Cash Purchases," by Paul Coulter

Constructor's Comments

This started several years ago as a Sunday grid called "Heaven Cent."  It was puns on currency that no one wanted.  So it sat idle in my rejects file along with hundreds of others until David's call for submissions.  Then I reviewed them all, submitted some as is, and refreshed other theme ideas into something better.  I'm glad David liked this one and, as usual, that he was so helpful with improving it.  I hope solvers found it ". . . something completely different," as Monty Python liked to say.  SPLAT.  Oops, forgot about that giant foot.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

"Gross!" by Lynn Lempel

Constructor's Comments

I really can't think of much to say about this puzzle, it being a pretty common add-a-letter type.  However, I do hope the theme doesn't apply to your holiday season!  Here's to lots of good puzzling in 2019.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

"Triple Play," by Jim Leeds

Constructor's Comments

"Triple Play" is one of my favorite 15xs after 22 years of published puzzle construction.

Each of the five theme entries has two words.  The first word, a famous person's (name ending with a double letter), and the second word, beginning with that same letter, form recognizable but misspelled phrases.

For me, puzzle construction evolved from a skittish attempt into a passionate pursuit!

The joy of awakening to a publish date—the thought that that day, scores of folks, pen or pencil at the ready, will be poring over cogent clues, trying to solve what came from my brain, is . . . is . . . well, there's nothing quite like it.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

"Santa's Little Helpers," by Alex Eaton-Salners

Constructor's Comments

I don't often remember where I was when I came up with a particular puzzle idea.  In this case, I have clear recollection.  I was in the Mickey & Friends parking structure at Disneyland.  Realizing that ELF ON THE SHELF was amenable to a symmetric layout with both ELFs placeable on "shelves" was the key insight driving the puzzle's creation.  It was a bit challenging to find a block layout that worked without creating any pseudoshelves, but I'm pleased with how everything came together in the end.  Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 23, 2018

"Layering," by Paul Coulter

Constructor's Comments

I like the idea of themes that show a logical progression—BREAKFAST ___, LUNCH ___, TEA ___, DINNER ___, and that sort of thing.  Add onto them a spacial element top to bottom, like ___ ONIONS, ___ CHEESE, ___ SAUCE, ____ CRUST, and that's a pretty good set.  This one shows peeling off the clothes when you dress in layers.  I like that David ran it as the cold weather sets in, so that the COAT in COAT OF ARMS is appropriate.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

"Save Now!" by Doug Peterson

Constructor's Comments

Split-word puzzles usually feature the splits in the centers of the theme entries—for example, a "split END" inside SCREEN DOOR or a "split PEA" inside HOOP EARRING.  For this theme, I thought it made more sense to have the DOORs as "wide open" as possible.  I hope you enjoy the puzzle, and I also hope you're done with all your holiday shopping!  As for me, I'll be avoiding the mall until we're well into 2019.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

"See the Big Picture," by Ned White

Constructor's Comments

Major Spoiler Alert:  The main challenge here was working without circled letters—per the Puzzle Society's software.  My original puzzle circled six trees:  FIR, OAK, RUBBER, ELM, SPRUCE, and TEA.  So I thought that without the circles the puzzle was fairly hard to solve.  The next challenge was to find the "mini-meta" suggested by MYOPIC at 68-Across.  Simply enough, it's the first letter of each tree—FOREST—but "hard to see" for all trees.

I loved making this puzzle.  But it happened so many months ago that I'd forgotten what the trick was and had to be rescued by my wife, Carla:  "You've got FOREST buried in there," and, of course, my only response was a facepalm.  How could I have been so myopic?

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

"Men at Work," by Greg Johnson

Constructor's Comments

There were many choices for theme clues and answers—however, some of the job choices were a little off, and those duos missed the cut.  I really wanted to use [Chase and Hector], but it just didn't work out.

Monday, December 17, 2018

"Holey Cow," by Gary Larson

Constructor's Comments

This is my first acceptance with the Puzzle Society Crossword, and I couldn't be more excited.  Two things I would like to mention:  1) I am not the Far Side cartoonist, and 2) no animals were harmed during the construction of this puzzle.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

"Digital Communications," by Jim Peredo

Constructor's Comments

When I SNAP my fingers, my dog Penny comes running, probably because I've dropped some food on the floor or I'm going to take her for a walk.  That idea was the impetus for this puzzle.  But I was only going to build it if I could find enough in-the-language verbal equivalents of snapping one's fingers.  I think I've done that, and the grid feels pretty lively to me.  As a bonus, I was also able to pull off those stacked long Downs in two of the corners with only a little bit of gunk (ARTE, e.g.).  The finishing touch was the title, which felt like a gift from the crossword gods.  Thank you, crossword gods!

Friday, December 14, 2018

"Crunch Time," by Brian Thomas

Constructor's Comments

'Tis the season to drink some HOT COCOA and snuggle up watching ELF, my favorite Christmas movie.  Throw in a day with a SKI (or maybe two!), and this puzzle is arriving at the perfect time of year—albeit unintentionally, because the wintry fill was a happy bonus to the theme.  Speaking of the theme, I'm a big fan of some potato chips (unfortunately for my health) and poker (unfortunately for my wallet)—so combining the two seemed like a fun combo.  Hope all enjoy and have a wonderful holiday season!

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

"Extreme Weather," by Andy Kravis

Constructor's Comments

I constructed this puzzle almost a year ago.  I hadn't really looked at it since then until I went back and solved it a few days ago, during which time I fell for—without exaggeration—12 of my purposely misdirecting clues.  Hope you find them more memorable than I did.

Monday, December 10, 2018

"Mixology," by Larry Nargi

Constructor's Comments

I like puzzles and I like cocktails, so here we are.  Although it's a fairly straightforward theme, I thought it would be fun.  Thanks, David, for being on board with that and for making some good editing suggestions to improve the fill.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

"Almighty Dollar," by Pancho Harrison

Constructor's Comments

This grid was essentially David's idea.  The two previous grids I'd come up with did not have the 11-letter entries at 3- and 25-Down, and we were both having problems finding acceptable fill for a Monday-level puzzle.  My original construction also had 23 three-letter words instead of David's 16, and only 11 five-letter entries as opposed to David's 24.  His was a much better balance of four- and five-letter words, at 24 and 24.

So when he sent me his idea for the new construction, with the O-shape of black squares in the middle and the two long Down entries, it resolved most of the inherent fill difficulties.  The title was also David's—best I could come up with was "Pinching Pennies," which doesn't actually make much sense!  I've found that titles can be a bit problematic when one of the theme entries is a revealer.

My strong suit has never been 15x15s, so David's help was invaluable in this one, my debut puzzle for The Puzzle Society!

Friday, December 7, 2018

"Listen!" by Ari Halpern

Constructor's Comments

Thrilled to have my second crossword appear on the Puzzle Society page!

About the puzzle:  I have always loved crossword substitution/omission themes that have a revealer based on reparsing a word or phrase . . . themes like visa (V is A), floss (F loss), or story (S to RY).  When pondering theme ideas for a new puzzle, I always find myself going back to this basic wordplay.  In my growing list of ideas, I knew that the word not could be reparsed as no T.  However, I never seriously considered continuing with this notion because surely the idea of omitting a T in a phrase had been done before.  One day, during a discussion with a friend, the phrase seen but not heard was used in describing someone else.  In the back of my mind, I reparsed it as seen but no T heard.  A lightbulb went off, and I realized I could construct a puzzle where Ts were "seen" but not actually "heard."  In googling the origin of the phrase, I discovered that the actual phrase was seen and not heard.  That, however, did not change the meaning for my purposes, so I continued with the construction of this fun puzzle.  Hopefully, in solving, you had that aha moment that the central revealer should provide!

Thursday, December 6, 2018

"Time's Up," by Debbie Ellerin

Constructor's Comments

Tough act to follow yesterday's puzzle by Sheryl Bartol, my talented sister.

I don't remember exactly how this puzzle came to be, but it was inspired by the #MeToo movement.  The addition of ME to common phrases seemed like it could work as a theme.  My favorite entry that didn't make it into the puzzle:  DESPICABLE MEME.

Thank you, David, for publishing this.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

"Victory Parade," by Sheryl Bartol

Constructor's Comments

I started on my path to coming up with this theme when I heard an NFL quarterback talking about "running the table."  As a sports fan, I love an exciting finish, and this theme covers many of them.  The one I couldn't fit in was BUZZER BEATER.  Maybe I'll work it into another puzzle!  Please be sure to check back for tomorrow's puzzle constructed by my mentor and sister, Debbie Ellerin.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

"Online Followers," by Rob Gonsalves and Jennifer Lim

Constructors' Comments

We are very excited to have our first crossword puzzle published!  And we are thankful for David's help in all phases of construction.

The original theme for this puzzle was adding on to names of social networks to create humorous answers, like LINKEDINSECTS.  David liked the idea in general but recommended that we narrow it down to have answers that would be types of people, such as LINKEDINVENTOR.  He also suggested we make our theme answers more divergent from the original meaning to bring out the funny.  So FACEBOOKWORM became FACEBOOKIE.

Our original title for the puzzle was "Extended Network."  When David recommended NETWORKING as the revealer, we switched it to "Online Followers" to avoid using a form of an answer word in the title.

We would like to send a special shout-out to Nancy Solomon.  She gave us a lot of advice on puzzle construction as we were getting started.

Monday, December 3, 2018

"Print Issues," by Johanna Fenimore and Jeff Chen

Constructors' Comments

Johanna Fenimore:  We started out with the seed idea being "A Wrinkle in Time."  I was hoping Jeff could work his grid magic and create a visual wrinkle.  Not practical!  So we put our heads together and went in a new direction.  Similar concept with a smoothed-out approach.

Jeff Chen:  It's always a pleasure working with Johanna!

Sunday, December 2, 2018

"Interwoven," by Val Melius

Constructor's Comments

This theme idea actually came about whilst I was working on another theme idea, and then the thought came to me, "How about adding basketmaking materials within phrases?"  Thus I began my quest in search of various basket types and materials.

It was really fascinating, the different types and techniques used to create baskets—also, how various cultures applied these techniques to other necessities, such as fish pots, table mats, etc.  The intricacies of the design, too, take someone really special to create these everyday masterpieces.

Natural basketmaking materials resonated with me, so I focused on those and incorporated them into everyday phrases.  My initial theme set had a couple of issues, so David and I worked on them till we found something we both liked.  For instance, BASKET CASE was the initial title of this puzzle; David suggested using it as the reveal.  I spent the next couple of days getting the grid design and fill right—think I created, like, three or more grid designs till I came up with this one.

Was an interesting couple of days—this was a really fun project.  Hope you had fun solving it—I've got a couple others in store. :)

Saturday, December 1, 2018

"Finding Your Purpose," by Blake Slonecker

Constructor's Comments

My daughters eat a lot of cereal and play a lot of board games.  So this theme came together while I drank coffee and watched them go about their lives.  Histories of all sorts litter my bookshelves.  So there was another theme entry from the detritus of daily life.  The songbook reference, though, was a late addition and new to me—one of the quirky entries that you pick up in putting together a grid (and David's gift).  My favorite clue is at 1-Across (my wife's), and my favorite answer is at 1-Down (mine)—good places for each.  This is my first published puzzle, so I'm grateful to David for being open to a rookie.

Friday, November 30, 2018

"Cheating in Class," by Evan Mahnken

Constructor's Comments

The theme idea for this puzzle came from a typo my education professor made, changing gifted students to grifted students.  By the end of the three-hour-long class, I had come up with the rest of the theme clues and mocked up a grid skeleton.  This is my first themed puzzle to be included in The Puzzle Society, but I hope it won't be the last.  Happy solving!

Thursday, November 29, 2018

"What's for Dessert?" by James P. Sharp

Constructor's Comments

I'm happy I was able to integrate my favorite dessert into my favorite hobby (crossword puzzles)!

David helped me clean up some clunkiness and remove some crosswordese in the upper left.  At one point, I had ENTO at 4-Down.  David suggested I make some changes that would turn "ENTO into ONTO."  Reading those three words out loud gave me a good laugh—yes, this is the kind of thing we word nerds get a kick out of—and I happily got to work making those final changes.

I hope you all got some enjoyment from the puzzle!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

"Recycled Letters," by Jake Halperin

Constructor's Comments

To me, this is a refreshing take on familiar anagram themes; I hope solvers see it the same way.  It's a pretty tight set of theme entries in that of all the words made from the letters EILT, I used all the ones that contain each letter at least once, with the exception of illite.

David encouraged me to redo my original grid, which was truly not great, and he made some masterful tweaks to this one.  I'm pretty happy with how it turned out, considering the amount of theme material, and I'm glad I managed to keep EXTRA LIVES and DRIVERLESS in there.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

"A+," by Katja Brinck and Andrea Carla Michaels

Constructors' Comments

Katja Brinck:  I am originally from New Hampshire but now live and work in San Francisco.  I am a longtime solver, a medium crossword competitor, and have been thinking about constructing crosswords for a long time but never really knew how to get started (beyond trying to making things in an Excel spreadsheet).

In January 2018, I joined the Crossword Puzzle Collaboration Directory, a Facebook group that was created with the intention of supporting more women and other underrepresented groups in the world of crossword construction.

Through this group, I connected with a few amazing constructors and mentors, including Andrea Carla Michaels, who also lives in San Francisco.  Shortly after connecting online, we met in person, talking about all things crosswords, and just hit it off.  After several meetings and brainstorming sessions back and forth over email on a few different ideas, I had an epiphany in the middle of the night on one entry that was 15 letters—and that started this puzzle off!

A few versions later, thanks to some great ideas and a revealer from Andrea and some very helpful feedback from David Steinberg, I'm very excited that this will be my debut puzzle.

Andrea Carla Michaels:  Katja and I became connected thru a Facebook site  (Crossword Puzzle Collaboration Directory) that was encouraging women to become constructors and established constructors to become mentors.  By delightful coincidence, Katja and I both live in San Francisco.

This puzzle was shaped from  one of many solid ideas Katja had that simply needed a nice reveal and a step-by-step collaboration of theme entries, layout, fill, and cluing.

With extra constructive feedback from David Steinberg that made it stronger, Katja has what is just the first of many solid crosswords to come.

I'm particularly pleased to have a witty San Francisco–centric theme entry at its core.  And I hope solvers will also give it an "A+" for overall enjoyment!

Monday, November 26, 2018

"Female Leads," by Brian Gubin

Constructor's Comments

First of all, I would like to give thanks to David for taking a look at my puzzle and deeming it worthy of publication.  I started construction for fun and am still shocked when a puzzle of mine is published.  As for this puzzle in particular, I don't exactly remember a specific moment of inspiration, but I vacillated between using LADIES FIRST or LEADING LADIES.  I went with the former and think it turned out well.  The SW of the grid probably took the longest time to fill.  I liked BASE TAN in the NW so I built around that.  I didn't want to tax the grid too much with themers but was also considering answers revolving around Lady Godiva, Lady Luck, and Lady Marmalade.  I hope everyone enjoys the puzzle.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

"What's Buried?" by Evan Kalish

Constructor's Comments

When you construct crosswords, you might begin to develop some interesting mental "background processes."  They might involve subconsciously parsing conversations and TV shows for crossword-friendly phrases, tallying the number of letters in said phrases, and jotting them down on paper or in your phone's Notes app.  Some of these phrases just scream "Crossword theme!"  Such was the case with RUBS THE WRONG WAY, which probably came to mind as I was petting my cat.  The letter string -SBUR- is just common enough that there were a few theme entry options available, yet uncommon enough so as not to be trivial.  The opportunity to give BOB'S BURGERS its cruciverbal debut sealed the deal!

I didn't want to include any two-word phrases wherein the -SBUR- did not span both words (like SALISBURY STEAK or SAINT PETERSBURG), which I considered a bit arbitrary for this context; this left me with no 15-letter counterpart to the revealer.  After testing some options I decided that the -SBUR- answers needed room to breathe—featuring just three entries led to a more satisfying puzzle in terms of fill.  I'm glad David was willing to let me change up the normal layout!

Saturday, November 24, 2018

"The Royal Court," by Chris King

Constructor's Comments

This was a fun one to put together, and the key was 36-Across is a nice 15-letter entry.  I'm also partial to 46-Across, as that two-word phrase is a part of the wonderful exchange seen here:

This was a nice, clean puzzle, and I hope you, the solver, enjoyed it and maybe learned something new.  I want to thank David for publishing my very first major outlet puzzle.

Also, if you want to see more of my brand of things, I have a blog at Chris Words with a whole backlog.  I've heard some like it.

Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 23, 2018

"Back Talk," by Annemarie Brethauer

Constructor's Comments

Snarkiness has been around for a long time, but there are always new ways to express your disbelief, boredom, smugness—to talk back.  However, this puzzle was meant to be a fun solve, not a nasty one.

My favorite fill words in "Back Talk" are SNOG and MOOED.  Also, I'm happy with the arrangement of the black squares in the grid, something I suspect most solvers don't concern themselves with (though my editors tell me otherwise).

As a fan of film noir, I was glad to be able to work in the clue [1955's "Kiss Me ___"] for DEADLY, though it got changed.  Now if I can only create a puzzle using THE GREAT WHATSIT, that film's MacGuffin.

I hope you enjoyed the solve.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

"Bird's-Eye View," by Max Carpenter

Constructor's Comments

This puzzle's theme is a simple one, but I like it and am happy David saw fit to publish it.  In fact, the story of this puzzle's short life adrift in the abyss that is puzzle publishing is a testament to David's great qualities as a person, friend, and all-around cruciverbonaut.  As a good friend who loves nothing more than living and breathing puzzles, David ends up seeing and hearing about a good portion of my crosswording output before it passes by any newspaper editors.  He always stuns me with his deep memory for puzzles and themes when, months after talking about a puzzle with him, he will email me out of the blue with, "Hey, Max.  What ever happened to that puzzle?  Are you still looking for an outlet?"  In the case of this puzzle, David not only remembered it from months before but had, in the interim, considered that the theme would "pop" much better if we spun the puzzle so the theme entries read vertically down (whereas before, I had them reading horizontally).  Needless to say, he was right, though the moral of the story here is that David is a uniquely compassionate and generous editor in the already rather polite and respectful market of crosswords.

I hope everyone has fun with the puzzle.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

"Prankster's Refrain," by David Steinberg

Constructor's Comments

I'm trying something new for today's post:  Our first-ever video constructor notes . . . not!  I thought about having a link to Rick Astley's YouTube video as the title for this puzzle but ultimately felt the puzzle was troll-y enough as is ;).  I'm also very grateful for KAUAI, whose unusual letter pattern saved the day at 34-Down.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

"Central African Republic," by Paul Coulter

Constructor's Comments

The title was David's terrific idea.  This had OMAN in it originally and three of the African countries, so I don't know why I didn't think of making the tight set myself.  Also, the TOGO one was originally BUY SOME FOOD TO GO [Get a take-out meal (from West Africa?)].  It was my seed entry, but it obviously isn't central, so this one had to change.  And for some strange reason I can't remember, my title was "Feeling Hungary?" when the theme words were hidden, not puns.  Thank goodness for such a gifted editor.  David has the near magical ability to turn scattershot themes into good puzzles.

Monday, November 19, 2018

"Golden Words," by Gary D. Schlapfer and Zhouqin Burnikel

Constructors' Comments

Gary D. Schlapfer:  I'm a retired math and science teacher based in Fremont, Nebraska.  I met C.C. a few years ago in Minneapolis, and we have been good friends since.  I now blog the Saturday puzzles for the L.A. Times Crossword Corner.  We had fun going back and forth with the theme entry selections.  We also considered HAUSFRAUEN but feared it might be a bit shaky, so we sent David the current set first.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

"Thoroughly Themeless VII," by Erik Agard

Constructor's Comments

Thanks to David for, for a time, making a space for themelesses, my favorite type of crossword to create but the hardest to sell.  His editing is as kind as it is wise (exceptionally), and the collaboration is always a joy.

Also, consider this your formal invitation to go on a listening/watching binge of 2-Down, if you haven't lately.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

"Thoroughly Themeless VI," by Brian Thomas

Constructor's Comments

I love this puzzle and had so much fun constructing it!  I chanced upon the center stack and knew I had to flesh out the rest of the grid.  The biggest sticking point came with finagling the black squares in the middle, but once those were in place, the other corners fell together pretty well (at least I think so).  This one is a personal favorite of mine, and I hope solvers enjoy it.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

"Thoroughly Themeless IV," by Andrew J. Ries

Constructor's Comments

29-Across was the seed entry for the center stack, and I built that middle section probably over a year ago.  The grid was flexible enough that I looked to make the top and bottom as open as possible, so after a bunch of trial and error I was happy to get the pair of 15s and 10s to work in those areas.  I like the conflicting nature of VOLSTEAD ACT brushing up against IRISH ALE—Andrew Volstead is largely forgotten today outside his hometown of Granite Falls, Minnesota, but Prohibition has always been a fascinating chapter in American history to me, so I'm thrilled to debut the Prohibition enforcement act that bore Volstead's name in a crossword.

If challenging themelesses are up your alley, I've just released STRETCH, a "crossword EP" featuring eight oversized themelesses in rectangular grids.  For more info and to purchase, click here.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

"Thoroughly Themeless III," by Evan Kalish

Constructor's Comments

I've never found stacks of 15-letter entries satisfying to work with, so I thought I'd tweak the form to get some underappreciated 14-letter entries in on the cruciverbal fun.  The first phrase in the grid was YOU ARE NOT ALONE, which is both a) a statement many people need to hear, and b) a subtle reference to Doctor Who (series 3).  I was pleased with the entry directly underneath that as well.  Of course seats are limited.  Everything is, ultimately, limited!  Ah, marketing.

That stack in the middle allowed several long entries to shoot vertically through it, 4- and 10-Down being my favorites among them.  I tried to throw in some fun with those tight SW/NE corners; hope you weren't seeing double in the bottom left!

Fun fact:  16-A has never appeared as a New York Times crossword answer in any form!  We’ll resolve that little oversight sooner rather than later . . . right?

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

"Thoroughly Themeless II," by Mark Diehl

Constructor's Comments

I'm honored to be part of the All Themeless All Week Long Extravaganza here at The Puzzle Society.  It's not often you get to see a seven-day stretch of wide-open freestyle puzzles in a quality venue like this one—thanks for having me, David!

I peppered in enough rare letters to achieve a pangram in this 68-entry offering while still maintaining a fairly medium difficulty level, I think.  Maybe that's why it's running on a Tuesday.  FIJI WATER and RUM RATION make symmetric-paired appearances in the grid, which felt fitting to me, and [Old Navy share] was one of my favorite off-the-top-of-my-head clues.  Looking forward to the rest of the week as a themeless-solving fan!

Monday, November 12, 2018

"Thoroughly Themeless I," by Will Nediger

Constructor's Comments

This themeless started out as a themed puzzle, sort of—I constructed the top-left corner for a themed puzzle I was working on and really liked it, but I couldn't use it because YOU DO YOU duplicated the 8-Down entry, which started with the word YOU.  So I just changed 8-Down to YOUTH and repurposed it as a themeless.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

"Sunday Freestyle XXXVII," by Sam Ezersky and Neville Fogarty

Constructors' Comments

Sam Ezersky:  Neville has a knack for whipping up a mean themeless, and I'd wanted to make a puzzle with him for quite some time.  The one you see now was born over a brunch we met up for in Charlottesville, while I was still attending UVA.  I can't remember my exact thought progression, but it was probably something like me begging Neville for a collaboration, Neville generously accepting, and us actually getting serious later on when we realized through our other nerdy, mathy conversations that ABSTRACT ALGEBRA was 15 letters.

Our real starting point for the gridwork was that gorgeous SW stack:  Neville had BLOG????/LIFEHACK/ENTRY FEE written down in a notebook, which he showed me that same day, and I was able to cobble together a black square pattern around it that preserved our central seed.  That NW corner is all Neville's as well—CLOUD CITY might not resonate with every last solver, but it's one of my favorites in the puzzle nonetheless.

Meanwhile, my main contribution was one that Neville had no control over:  procrastinating for months and months instead of SITTING DOWN TO WRITE HALF THE CLUES UGH C'MON SAM SRSLY GET IT TOGETHER.  Since our brunch, I've 1) graduated from college, 2) become the New York Times's assistant puzzles editor, and 3) dabbled in other puzzles along the way.  That's all to say . . . I'm so thrilled this is finally seeing publication, with a great home under David's top-notch editorship to boot.

Huge thanks to Neville for the joy of stitching this one together. Hope you enjoy the puzzle!

Neville Fogarty:  Most of what Sam said is accurate, but there's a point of contention here.  Sam's the themeless expert between the two of us.  Dude's had over a dozen killer themeless puzzles in The New York Times, and I remember an excellent Puzzle Society themeless of his from just a couple of months ago.  I was definitely the one doing the begging!  He is far and away the real MVP here, and it was a pleasure to get to collaborate with him.  My favorite clues in this puzzle are Ezersky originals, and they were certainly worth the wait.

Big thanks to David for running this puzzle, and I hope every solver enjoys an AHA moment or two while solving.