Saturday, June 30, 2018

"Free for All XVIII," by Mark Diehl

Constructor's Comments

I remember treating a WWII-era veteran in the early 1980s, and when the appointment was over, he asked me, "Do you want to see a picture of my pride and joy?"  When I nodded yes, he pulled out his wallet, flipped through the plastic sleeves, and paused at a photo, which he held up with a triumphant grin.  It was a photo of two bottles standing side by side of LIQUID SOAP labeled Pride and Joy!  We both roared with laughter!

One thing I enjoy about weaving together freestyle puzzles is the memories a phrase will sometimes trigger in my head.  LIQUID SOAP was a corker for me.

Editor's Comments

Grids with triple-stacks of 9s, 10s, or 11s in all four corners are always tough to fill, since the connecting center region is extra-constrained.  You'd never guess that by looking at this puzzle, though—the center is clean as a whistle, and Mark even wove in an 8- and a 9-letter entry extending from each corner.  I would've expected to see just one of the two, given how hard such an arrangement is to fill.  Truly a feat of construction!  Grid design aside, my top five favorite entries are LIQUID SOAP, HILO HAWAII, PFIZER INC, SPEED CHESS, and DC UNIVERSE.  ENGINE BELL and ANKLE BITER are close runners-up.

Friday, June 29, 2018

"Rising Action," by Stu Ockman

Constructor's Comments

Since I began constructing, I've enjoyed playing tricks with the grid:  having phrases start on the right and end on the left, words floating outside the grid, nonlinear theme entries, islands, phrases that can only be read in a mirror—well, you get the idea.  Looking back, the 14th grid I constructed (months before my first puzzle was published anywhere) had the phrase LOOKING UP rising from the SE corner.  Today’s grid is a redux of that early puzzle with four phrases rising from the bottom of the grid but, instead of looking up, these are going up.  I hope you were able to (1) rise above this little trick and (2) enjoy the challenge of solving something a little different today!

Editor's Comments

This theme feels perfect for a Friday.  I'd say the rising gimmick is tricky but not frustratingly so, and all four theme entries are fresh and lively—my favorites are HOT AIR BALLOONS and LIFE EXPECTANCY.  Stu also did a great job with the grid, making sure to include plenty of 6s, 7s, and 8s rather than just the usual assortment of 3s, 4s, and 5s.  I also find it interesting how the fill has both A DEUX and ADIEUX—certainly different enough French words to include in the same puzzle, but curious that they share so many letters.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

"Capitalization," by Mike McHugh

Constructor's Comments

I recall that my initial idea for this theme was to use U.S. state capitals that were homophones for other words.  I remember having one idea along these lines—can't even remember which capital that was now.  But what I do remember was that with only 50 of them, there weren't enough to make a complete theme.  That's when I thought,  "Hey, there's a lot more world capitals than state capitals," and voilĂ —a theme was born!  My initial list of theme entries included BERN RUBBER and SEOUL MUSIC, both of which I thought were great, but David correctly pointed out that with five themers, things would probably work better if I abandoned 10-letter entries and went with all 9s in addition to the 13 in the center.  What helped even more was how it worked out that two of them could be Down entries crossing with that center 13.

Also, thanks to David for coming up with an appropriate title for the puzzle.  Coming up with good puzzle titles is a skill I'm still trying to master.

Editor's Comments

Puns.  Some solvers love them, others hate them with a passion. . . .  I personally love pun puzzles, but at the same time, I've set the bar very high for them.  After all, puns can end up feeling more stretchy than funny if a constructor takes too many liberties.  This puzzle impressed me in so many ways!  All the puns are spot-on, the capitals are always at the beginnings of their theme entries, and Mike even got three of them to interlock (!).  Of the theme entries, my favorite is PRAGUE GNOSTIC, since it's both the longest and the one that surprised me most.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

"Temporary Structures," by Debbie Ellerin

Constructor's Comments

I had this on my idea list for a while but couldn't quite get the set of theme answers to work.  I pitched this to David using SNOW FORTS symmetrical with ICE PALACE.  David liked the concept but was bothered by the inconsistency of having only one plural theme entry.  Luckily, the nine-letter POP-UP SHOP popped into my head, and the puzzle came together quickly after that.  Hope you all enjoyed solving it.

Editor's Comments

I never would have thought to make a theme out of temporary structures—such a fun and unique idea, and Debbie found five outstanding examples!  As a bonus, POP-UP SHOP, JENGA TOWER, and BOUNCY HOUSE appear to be making their crossword debuts.  In the nonthematic fill, Debbie challenged herself with those wide-open upper right and lower left corners . . . and pulled everything off beautifully, even working in lively bonuses like TRIP WIRE and DEADEYE!  I can also count the number of clues I changed on my fingers.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

"Opening Acts," by Alex Eaton-Salners

Constructor's Comments

After coming up with the puzzle's theme, I brainstormed a list of bands with one-word names.  Next, I looked for multiword phrases that started with those names.  Some of them (like OASIS) didn't pan out, while others (like KANSAS) were kind of boring (since KANSAS CITY and KANSAS STATE aren't particularly scintillating).

After compiling the list of phrases, I grouped them by length.  I wanted at least one themer of 9 letters to go with HEADBANDS.  Beyond that, I was looking for pairs between 8 and 11 letters long, as those lengths allow for flexible grid design.

Editor's Comments

Alex chose such a lively set of theme entries that start with bands—my favorites are QUEEN MOTHER and KISS GOODBYE!  Disguising the musical meaning of bands in the reveal, HEADBANDS, is an elegant touch to round out the theme.  I was also very impressed with Alex's gridwork here.  I don't expect to see lively long downs in grids with six theme entries, but he stuck in not one but two (!) pairs.  And finally, here's a picture of a BUSH BABY, because it's just too cute not to include in this post:

Monday, June 25, 2018

Comments Working Again

In the past few days, a couple of readers have emailed me that comments they'd left weren't appearing.  I'd wondered about the drop-off in comments myself, since I hadn't received any notifications for more than a month.  Turns out this has been a widespread problem on Blogger since May 25.  It hasn't officially been fixed yet, but I found a workaround and have just implemented it.

All comments from May 25 through today have now been published, and I'll be responding to them shortly.  I'll start receiving comment notifications again, so there shouldn't be another month-long delay between the time you comment and when your comment actually appears!  Sorry for this problem—please keep reading and commenting!

"It's All Relative," by Patrick Blindauer

Editor's Comments

My favorite part about this theme is that it looks exceptionally simple until you hit the surprise reveal at the end.  Kudos to Patrick for building the suspense so well!  I also admire how he worked his performing arts voice into so many of the clues without jacking up their difficulty.  Even ordinary words like LIFE and THESE have nice, easy, music-related clues.  And finally, I appreciate how Patrick found contemporary cluing angles for such classic crossword entries as CHE and COCO.  Little touches like these are what make his work stand out so much.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

"Sunday Freestyle XVII," by Claire Muscat

Editor's Comments

Today's themeless is held together by a standout pair of 15s.  FRESHMAN FIFTEEN in particular is the kind of fun, lively entry I love seeing in themelesses!  Grid-spanners often put major constraints on how much liveliness you can work into the rest of the fill.  Claire was smart to section off her four corners—that way, she didn't have to deal with letters locked in by the 15s and letters locked in by the other corners.  She was thus able to squeeze in gems like ARS POETICA, TANNIC ACID, and BELIEBER.  Claire's LAST LETTER clue was also much friendlier than the one you see.  You're welcome ;).

Saturday, June 23, 2018

"Free for All XVII," by David Phillips

Constructor's Comments

Even though this grid is at the 72 (max) word count for a themeless, the left/right mirror symmetry made it feel like I was filling a much lower and more difficult word count.  The smiley-face effect is nice but really comes at a price with all that open hard-to-fill-cleanly white space.  I think the result is still pretty good, considering the restrictions:  The interlocking 15s still strike me as a mildly interesting (WHAT A COINKYDINK was my starting entry, so that one was predestined for attention) and, IMO, there aren't too many short offenders like MTNS or REL.

Also, in case you were wondering, the whole coordination behind releasing this puzzle during Pride Month (don't pretend like you didn't see SAME-SEX MARRIAGE at 3-Down) . . . yeah, that was all David . . . your fearless editor, not me . . . I'm not that self-congratulatory.  In that vein, I will gladly accept any praise about this puzzle's timeliness, though you should in all honesty repackage and resend it to wherever David has his praise mail delivered.  But, seriously, I appreciate David's care in making this puzzle relevant to the now.  Great touch.

I hope this oddball crossword induced a few smiles.  We could always benefit from a few more of those.

Editor's Comments

Whenever I find myself thinking that most themeless grids look the same, a constructor surprises me like Dave did here!  The smiley-face pattern allowed him to work in four awesome 15s, my favorite being the lively and modern COMMITMENT-PHOBE.  Dave also did a great job of maximizing the 7-letter slots, working in goodies like STARMAN, TEXTER'S thumb, VOLCANO, and CREEP IN.  And finally, if you're wondering who was behind the brilliant [Murder one?] for CROW or [Game won by not playing?] for SCAM, look no further than Mr. Phillips.

Friday, June 22, 2018

"Double Duty," by Tim Schenck

Constructor's Comments

Puzzlers, of course, are always looking for a new twist or turn to liven things up.  David and I thought this corner construction was, if not novel, fun and a bit unusual.  After some lively back-and-forth we arrived at these corner combos, and David wrapped up the fill with DAD BOD!

Editor's Comments

Tim did a great job with this twisty theme!  A few elegant touches I noticed are that every possible "corner" gets used, there's a 15-letter reveal running through the center row despite the high theme density, and SAD SACK dovetails beautifully with the reveal.  Tim was smart to go with a high–word count grid, since opening things up in a puzzle where two-plus words constrain most corners would likely have lead to many compromises in the short fill.  In fact, I think Tim might've found the optimal grid, since I'd be hard-pressed to find entries I don't like.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

"Spirit Animals," by Matthew Sewell

Constructor's Comments

I'm pleased to make my Puzzle Society debut with this creature feature, though I can't take credit for the sharp title, which reflects David's deft editorial touch.  Early versions of this idea had HOWLIN' WOLF prowling around in the pack, and LADY BIRD JOHNSON hovered in the wings too.  I hope solvers enjoy the final menagerie—and, if you like to solve to music, might I suggest the Beastie Boys?

Editor's Comments

Matt's original query had the blues singer HOWLIN' WOLF in place of BUFFALO BILL CODY.  Using HOWLIN' WOLF in the center would have required a 16x15 grid, though, since only an odd-length entry can fit symmetrically in the middle row of a 15x15.  Fortunately, Matt came up with the grid spanner BUFFALO BILL CODY, which has the added bonus of being a more familiar name (at least in my opinion).

Matt is also an exceptional clue writer!  Three of my favorites from this puzzle are [Reach the Candy Castle in "Candy Land"] for WIN, [Only gem made by an animal] for PEARL, and [Greek letter that literally means "Great O"] for OMICRON.  None of these clues are brain busters—they're just really unique, interesting takes on their respective entries that I never would have thought of.  These clues also feel just right difficulty-wise for a medium puzzle.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

"Drive Safely," by Nate Cardin

Constructor's Comments

This puzzle was inspired by my students, many of whom are at driving permit/license age.  They told me that holding your hands at ten/two on the wheel while driving is actually no longer recommended (!) because of injuries to hands and fingers that occur when newer airbags go off.  (Instead, the newly recommended way is to hold the steering wheel slightly lower than nine/three.)  Even so, I figured that the concept of ten/two still held water, and I thought a puzzle like this might even increase awareness of the new driving recommendations.

When coming up with phrases made of a ten-letter word and a two-letter word, I was pleased at how few there were that were also cleanly in-the-language—I tend to prefer theme sets that don't have many other options that could have been used in the grid instead.  If I can get away with it, I also like to hide Easter eggs in my grids, so the fact that I could construct a diagonally symmetrical grid with TEN and TWO in their correct clock locations was too good to pass up.  It's not the normal place for a revealer (and, some might argue, too early in the grid for the revealer), but I figured this theme certainly merited the exception.  Thanks for solving—and keep those hands and fingers safe!

Editor's Comments

This is one of the first puzzles I've seen where the theme is based on word lengths rather than words themselves—such a neat twist!  My favorite part has to be the TEN/TWO Easter egg, though.  When Nate initially pitched the puzzle to me, I spent a good five minutes wondering why the "reveal entries" weren't placed at the bottom of the puzzle, especially since letter patterns like TC??? are so tough to fill around.  I had a great aha moment when I realized what was going on, and I hope you did, too.

Nate also recently put together a Queer Qrosswords pack, which I highly recommend looking into if you haven't already.  The puzzles, constructors, and editor are all excellent—I can't think of a better way to celebrate Pride Month!

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

"Hugs," by Zhouqin Burnikel

Constructor's Comments

I tried a few grids after David OK'd the theme set.  This one gave me the best fill.  Stacking theme answers has bailed me out quite a few times, especially when the overlapping letter count is fewer than six letters.  Thanks for the new title, David!

Editor's Comments

Four long theme entries plus a 15-letter reveal is already very impressive.  Squeezing in four juicy long down entries on top of all of that?  Um, yes please!  So how did Zhouqin do that?  Her tremendous construction skills aside, she brings up an astute point about stacking theme entries in her blurb.  Having three (rather than the usual two) rows in between the central grid-spanner and the nearest theme entry allows the middle section to be much more flexible.  The theme entries also overlap in just two sections, so from a fill perspective, all other parts of the grid fall into place like you're working with just three theme entries.  Very clever on Zhouqin's part!

Monday, June 18, 2018

"High Steaks," by John Guzzetta

Constructor's Comments

This theme started when I heard someone say, "WELL DONE, SIR!"  Once it mentally matched with RAW MATERIAL, the difficult pair was taken care of, and RARE and MEDIUM were easy to come by.  I think this might be the first theme I've ever completed on a slip of paper, without having to scour the Internet for at least one entry.

I prefer my steaks more toward the left side of the puzzle.  Like, walked through a warm room. . . .

I tried keeping the puzzle at 72 words but had to add a block when things got a little too junky.  I've learned the hard way to think of puzzles from a solver's perspective rather than a constructor's and shoot for mostly clean first and foremost.  I hope solvers will find this one entertaining!  And, as always, thanks to David for an amazing job editing!

Editor's Comments

Every once in a while, making a puzzle's theme entries vertical can add another level of complexity.  The "high steaks" wordplay thus brings this theme from good to delicious in my mind!  John went big by bringing the word count down to 72—in my experience, most Mondays are closer to the maximum word count (78)—but the fill is nonetheless very well done.  Entries like RHEE and SERE might be tough for NEWBIES, but they're offset by plenty of juicy midlength entries like LOW GEAR, RUDOLPH, CHIMES IN, BYE WEEK, and DIET COKE.  Here's hoping your feelings about this puzzle are as tender mine and John's are!

Sunday, June 17, 2018

"Sunday Freestyle XVI," by Mark Diehl

Constructor's Comments

Somehow I dipped down into the 68-word range with this one—had been making an effort to stay at the 70-entry mark with the puzzles I submit to David for the The Puzzle Society venue in hopes of keeping the fill on the moderate toughness plane, but I must have shifted or dropped a pair of black squares along the constructing way.  The result still feels smooth and solvable, however.  Enjoy!

Editor's Comments

As Mark alluded to, finding a smooth fill for a 68-word grid is much harder than for a 72-word grid.  Judging by how polished this grid is, though, you'd never guess!  I don't see a single major obscurity, and Mark even threw in some zip with entries like CIABATTA, GOD FORBID, WINGED IT, DR PEPPER, IDEAL MATCH, SKI CAP, and CHERRY STEM.  I also enjoyed seeing YEAR TO DATE in the grid, since it almost always appears abbreviated as YTD in crossword grids.  To all the crossword-solving dads out there, Happy Father's Day!

Saturday, June 16, 2018

"Free for All XVI," by Erik Agard

Editor's Comments

Erik always finds the perfect balance between liveliness and smoothness in his themelesses!  My favorite entries here are NO RESPONSE, SENTENCE DIAGRAM, DJ Khaled's catchphrase ANOTHER ONE, ESCARGOT, CISNEROS, GEM STATE, and MEETCUTE.  There are also hardly any three-letter entries (just two, in fact).  Reducing the number of three-letter entries helps the fill feel much less crosswordy, since three-letter entries in particular tend to get used over and over again.

Did you notice the FREE/MEEK Easter egg at 1-/5-Across?  I originally asked to Erik flip the Acrosses and Downs so the Easter egg wouldn't be quite so prominent, on the off chance it would generate controversy.  In the time between when the puzzle was accepted and today, though, Meek Mill was freed!  Thus, any potential controversy seemed like a moot point.  As an editor, I like to preserve constructors' voices as much as possible, so I made sure to flip the puzzle back to the way Erik had intended it to run.

Speaking of Erik, I just found out he'll be constructing a weekly 15x15 for the Arizona Daily Star, and I couldn't be more excited for him!  The Star ran a wonderful article/interview with him that I highly recommend.

Friday, June 15, 2018

"Dos and Don'ts," by Will Nediger

Constructor's Comments

A weird thing about this theme is that, in every case, the pun involves a G sound being changed to a different consonant.  I wish I could have turned that into a clever extra layer to the theme or something like that, but it remains just a random coincidence.  Props to David for coming up with a clever title for this one, though—I originally called it "Locks Out," but this title is a lot subtler.

Editor's Comments

Three hairstyle puns revealed by BAD HAIR DAY would have made for a solid theme.  Will took things to a whole other level though, by having the phrases that contain the hairstyle puns also relate to BAD HAIR DAY.  That's some seriously elegant constructing!  My favorite theme entry is CURLS GONE WILD, which I can vividly imagine happening to my own hair, though SMOKING BUN is a close second.  In the nonthematic fill, Will didn't miss a beat.  In addition to having top-notch long entries, Will jazzed up the short and midlength fill with bonuses like RG III, B-BALL, and POWWOW.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

"Round of Drinks," by Alan Olschwang

Editor's Comments

I always appreciate a theme with a visual element.  I would have been happy with just PORTFOLIO, BEERSHEBA, LET'S BEGIN, and ST AMBROSE as the "round of drinks," though Alan went above and beyond by also incorporating ALEUTIAN and NAMESAKE.  Those two are especially impressive since they both disguise their drinks well and interlock with other theme entries!  Any time you have interlocking theme entries, the fill tends to get strained in the areas around them.  Alan kept things extra-smooth, though, so you'd never guess that the fill was such a challenge.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

"Where To?" by Jamey Smith

Constructor's Comments

As someone still in his relatively early days of constructing, I'm excited to make my Puzzle Society debut and to be here among such august company.

This puzzle grew, so to speak, from SQUASH COURT, which struck me as just a funny mash-up and got me thinking of other everyday terms with alternate-meaning possibilities.  That led to some on-again, off-again brainstorming to fill out the theme.  After losing more than one promising option to the ether when I didn't jot it down immediately and rejecting several others as subpar, I eventually had what I considered the solid set you see here.

Many thanks to David for green-lighting this one.  Here's hoping it's not my last to make the Society pages!

Editor's Comments

Another newish constructor today!  This is Jamey's second published crossword—his first appeared in The Wall Street Journal—and I have a feeling there will be many more to come.  I got a chuckle out of all the locations he found, especially SQUASH COURT and HYPERSPACE.  I also have an interesting tidbit about MIX IT UP.  In the past, it's always been clued along the lines of [Have a brawl] or [Engage in a quarrel].  I've actually never heard this expression outside of crosswords, though, and neither had our test solvers.  So I decided to mix it up with the clue [Break from a routine].  Which sense of mix it up is more familiar to you?

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

"What a Card!" by Alison Ohringer

Constructor's Comments

This card theme idea started brewing when I realized that a few types of cards had fun anagrams.  But unlike words whose anagrams have the same meaning (I think there's a word for that . . . ), like astronomer/moon starer, there was no theme to the cards' anagrams.  David had the idea to use the cards as a straightforward, early-week theme, and I'm happy with the result.  Also, props to people who create greeting cards, because coming up with those theme clues was pretty tricky.

I'm new to constructing, and I'm grateful for things David has done intentionally to limit the barriers to entry for newcomers.  He responds to theme inquiries and revisions quickly, provides constructive feedback, and—probably most exciting—pushes up publication dates for first-timers, allowing us to get our foot in the door.  Since major publication venues only have, on average, one female constructor per week, these kinds of things go a long way.

Editor's Comments

It was a pleasure working with Alison.  When I suggested that she change her original anagram idea to this "What a Card!" gimmick, she was on it.  She not only came up with four strong theme entries but also brainstormed an awesome set of gags to go with them.  It's rare that a crossword clue makes me laugh out loud!  In the fill, Alison made sure to sprinkle in plenty of liveliness.  My favorite entries are WIDE APPEAL, COWGIRLS, and TRANS WOMEN (which is especially fortuitous, given that the puzzle is running during Pride Month).  All in all, Alison's crossword talent has already placed her far above NOOB status, and I look forward to watching her continue to develop as a constructor.

Monday, June 11, 2018

"Plenty of Broom," by Brian Thomas

Constructor's Comments

First of all, if you ever get the chance to try out curling, give it a shot!  It's a blast, most everyone is friendly and excited to help new folks out, and you get to drink beer afterwards.  What's not to love?  Sadly for me, I moved away from a city with a dedicated curling facility, but I have lots of good memories out on the ice.  Including technically becoming a professional curler, we got second place in a bonspiel and won something like $40.  I'm happy to retire on top.  Anyways, last winter I was watching some pre-Olympic curling qualifiers and ended up with a puzzle idea out of it!  I was able to stack each set of themers on top of each other because the letters happened to work out nicely—it's not really necessary with so little theme in the middle, but it freed things up a smidge.  Hope you enjoy!

P.S.  Erin Rhode wrote a really nifty puzzle along the same lines for The American Values Club crossword (AVCX)—you can access it here (Feb 7, 2018) or read about it here!

Editor's Comments

I always like when a constructor comes up with a theme I never would have thought of.  I've heard of curling, but that's pretty much all I could've told you before editing Brian's puzzle!  I also like how the theme is "complete."  What usually happens with this kind of theme is that there are one or two category members that just don't combine nicely into phrases or that combine into phrases but not ones that can be arranged symmetrically.  Thus, including all four possible curling positions is an elegant touch.  Theme aside, Brian included plenty of long bonus entries to jazz up the Monday solving experience.  My favorites are OUTSIDERS, PROJECTILE, and TIME-LAPSE.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

"Sunday Freestyle XV," by John Guzzetta

Constructor's Comments

NEVER BETTER was the seed here, and I was happy I was able to use another off my list, THE DARK WEB, when I came around to the top.

Editor's Comments

John Guzzetta is back!  I usually try to space out puzzles from the same constructor by at least two weeks, though John has sent me so many great themelesses in particular that I've ended up clustering them together.  It's all his fault for being so good at what he does.  In this puzzle, I especially like THE DARK WEB, BROKE THE ICE, FILET MIGNON, NEVER BETTER, RIPE OLD AGE, VELVEETA, ECO-SAVVY, PAPER TRAIL, and APPLE STORE.  The short fill is also smooth all around.  John's next two puzzles are a Monday and a Tuesday, so if you find his themelesses challenging, you'll see that he also has a soft side!

Saturday, June 9, 2018

"Free for All XV," by Claire Muscat

Constructor's Comments

I started this themeless during a time I had been watching a lot of RICK AND MORTY.  A lot.  So of course I had to get that entry, especially after I saw it had never been in a published puzzle before.  My twin sister was also reading David Foster Wallace's INFINITE JEST, so I thought it might be fun to stick that in there as well.  After that, everything just fell nicely into place.  Although this is a themeless puzzle, there are a lot of entries—DJ SET [in the original—see below], FIST BUMP, THE CLASH, and (in some cases) D STUDENT—that tie the puzzle together as an ode to the interests of a stereotypical liberal arts college bro (i.e., everyone I went to college with).  So to all you liberal arts college guys out there reading DFW, listening to "I Fought the Law" on vinyl, and dressing up as Pickle Rick for Halloween, this one's for you.

Editor's Comments

My favorite part about this puzzle is the center.  Making four or five of the six long entries lively would have been plenty, but Claire took care to make all six sparkle.  My favorites are RICK AND MORTY, MANDARIN DUCK, and WI-FI HOTSPOTS.  Claire also packed lots of bonuses into the corners—I especially like FIST BUMP, MATCHA, TSA AGENT, JORTS, LOCAVORE, D STUDENT, FAT JOE, I'M SORE, ACID TEST, and THE CLASH.  Wow!  The only corner I tweaked was the upper right.  I was sad to lose Claire's lively DJ SET but wanted to make sure the crossings on MATCHA were as easy as possible.

Friday, June 8, 2018

"Half Off," by Mark McClain

Constructor's Comments

English is so colorful, brimming with idiomatic terms that often "puzzle" people who are trying to learn it as a second language.  Of course, other languages have their own idiomatic terms—for example, in Spanish "encontrar tu media naranja" means literally "to find your half of an orange."  But what it really means is to find your true love or, as we might say in English, your better "half."

So, today we explore English phrases that include the word "half."  We crossword-making folk are not allowed to use the same word over and over in a puzzle grid, but we can in the clues!  But, to make it a little tougher, let's leave the key word out altogether.  So, all the HALF phrases in the clues are missing the word HALF.  Thankfully, we have a title that helps you figure all that out.

And finally, you perfectionists out there might have picked up on the fact that only four of the five phrases are idiomatic.  A FIFTY-CENT PIECE is literally half of a dollar—but then I'm sure many solvers are scratching their heads wondering what a fifty-cent is!  Ask your grandma.

Editor's Comments

Mark put a clever twist on the classic definition theme.  I also appreciate the extra care he took to make sure the theme entries were in-the-language.  Interestingly, when I was growing up, I always called half-dollars FIFTY-CENT PIECEs.  Maybe that's just me, though—I'd be interested to hear more perspectives in the comments.  In any case, working around five theme entries—especially when two are 14 letters long—is always a challenge.  Mark kept the fill extra-smooth, though, in part by sectioning off the different corners.  In theme-dense puzzles like this one, that can be a smart strategy, since working in long downs often forces many compromises.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

"Effervescence," by David Alfred Bywaters

Constructor's Comments

This puzzle was much improved after David noticed that AVICII might be substituted for SAID HI, my original entry for 27-Down.  True, sparkling fill like ONE I, A RACE, AHS, and EFT had to be sacrificed, but the gain in topicality made up for the loss.

Until I saw the obituaries, I had no idea who AVICII was—current trivia is not my strong suit.  In fact, I try to avoid it in the free puzzles I post weekly on my own website, David Alfred Bywaters's Crossword Cavalcade and Weekly Victorian Novel Recommender, which panders shamelessly to the unhip.  Obviously you, gentle reader of this blog, aren't unhip yourself, but if you know anybody who is (and is able to use a computer), pass on the link.

It is superfluous to add (but I'll do so anyway) how delighted I am with this new crossword venue (as a solver) and (as a constructor) how honored to be included.

Editor's Comments

Now that I've been in the crossword business for seven years, I sometimes find myself feeling like I've "seen it all," especially when it comes to add- and remove-letters themes.  Yet every time I think that, a constructor comes up with a new, ingenious twist, which is what I feel David Alfred Bywaters has done here!  He's not just adding COO with a reveal of the form ADDED ___, EXTRA ___, ___ IN, or something like that—rather, he's literally depicting the carbonation process by adding the chemical formula for carbon dioxide.  My hat's off to him!

I also hope you enjoyed seeing AVICII in the grid.  I was all set to accept a previous version of the puzzle without AVICII when I noticed that using his name would not only be timely but also smooth out the center section.  Fortunately, David was on board with the idea, and after he was done with the revisions, I made a point of bumping up this puzzle in my queue as a way to honor Avicii's legacy.  To close the post, here's a video of one of my favorite Avicii songs:

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

"The Name Game," by Marcia Brott and Tom Pepper

Editor's Comments

I'm impressed that Marcia and Tom were able to find four theme entries that both end with names and are cluable when the names are separated off.  My favorite is LET ME BE FRANK, since LET ME BE takes on a new meaning.  Elsewhere in the fill, I like RAN A TAB; HARLEM, with its Harlem Shake clue; and HAN SOLO.  Did you know WARIO?  As a huge Mario games fan, I love seeing him in the grid!  WALUIGI still has yet to make his crossword debut, but hopefully that's just a matter of time.  Here's a picture of Waluigi and Wario:

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

"Music Center," by Todd Gross

Constructor's Comments

Another music themed puzzle (see here for my last Puzzle Society crossword)!  I first sent this puzzle to David on December 31st.  My original version had CHICAGO as the first theme entry, but David wanted all the artists to be solo performers, so we used ICE CUBE instead.  This was surprisingly difficult to work with, and David and I went back and forth a few times with a few different versions of this grid before we had something we both liked.

I say "we both liked" because even though David is the editor and has the final say, sometimes I disagreed with his choice of entries (like THE T), but he'd also disagree with mine (like, uh, THE L).  This was a very collaborative effort, taking more than two months to get a final version.

Though I am interested in songwriting (see link above), I promise that most of my crosswords don't have music themes.  But if you really like those kind of themes, I highly recommend the Muller Monthly Music Meta puzzles—they're free to play, and you might even win a prize.  See for more information.

And if you're interested in my songwriting, here's a link to a song I wrote called "Everyone's Connected."  It has an uplifting message and a guitar intro before I start singing.

By the way, did anyone notice that the puzzle's title, "Music Center," also has a C as its middle letter (i.e., a MIDDLE C)?

Editor's Comments

This is the 100th Puzzle Society crossword I've edited, and coincidentally, the theme is all about the letter C!  Okay, okay, I'll admit that I did a little schedule shuffling to make this happen, but it's nonetheless a nice coincidence that Todd sent me the theme at just the right time.  Coming up with a replacement for CHICAGO was tricky—fortunately, ICE CUBE came to the rescue, though we also considered STACEY Q (whose song "Two of Hearts" was a hit in the '80s) and KID CUDI (who's perhaps best-known for his 2008 hit "Day 'n' Nite").  And, finally, I hadn't realized that "Music Center" also has a middle C.  That's a very elegant touch on Todd's part!

Monday, June 4, 2018

"Squad Goals," by Laura Braunstein

Constructor's Comments

This was one of the first puzzles I constructed, some time ago; I had read Patrick Berry's Crossword Constructor's Handbook, and as practice I was challenging myself to come up with themes for all of the theme types he describes.  So this one came from a list of NBA team names, of course; I had seen SPURS INNOVATION in a headline, which inspired the rest.  And I'm very pleased that it's running during the NBA finals!

Editor's Comments

I'm impressed that Laura was able to find three "verbified basketball team" phrases that are both in-the-language and 15 letters long.  Even more impressive, this is one of her first constructions ever!  If that doesn't show a lot of talent, I don't know what does.  Laura also brings an energy to her grids that I don't often see—short entries like OH SNAP, CK ONE, BLEEP, SPANX, TWERKS, and TOLD YA add a refreshing dash of zing.  TO THE MOON and DEAR SANTA are also top-notch bonus long entries.  And, finally, Laura took great care to ensure that the fill and clues were Monday-level, which made the editing a breeze.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

"Sunday Freestyle XIV," by Brian E. Paquin

Constructor's Comments

My background:  I spent my career as a systems developer, and my original interest in crosswords was in figuring out how to persuade a computer to fill in grids.  I then created puzzles for the shrinking world of Canadian community newspapers for about a dozen years and then took a break.  Recently I decided it was time to take a serious run at the American market.

As a puzzle creator (and solver), I have always preferred themeless puzzles.  The wide-open grids can provide more elbow room for longer entries, and those entries are not restricted by a theme.  Although everyone needs a little glue sometimes in order to hold together a grid, I also find that with a themeless puzzle, I am often able to avoid grid entries from my "tiresome 200" list.  You know the ones:  ADIT, AREA, ARENA, EKE, ELS, ONO, and so on.  That is probably more important to me than it should be.

Thanks to David for helping to get rid of the glue that I did have left in the grid.  A set of expert eyes on the job can really improve things.

Editor's Comments

Brian's byline may be new in the United States, but he's already producing some of the smoothest themelesses in the country.  I never would have thought to put entries like AREA and ARENA on a list of stale fill since they're also common words, but I respect Brian's decision to do so.  In the case of AREA, for example, I'd argue that nearly every possible clever clue has been used multiple times—in fact, a quick check of the Ginsberg clue database shows that some constructors have gotten so bored of conventional AREA clues that they've resorted to ["Diamonds ___ Girl's Best Friend"]!  I'll still always allow entries like AREA and ARENA, though I've recently been trying to crack down on less well-known crosswordese like ADIT.  I'm a strong believer that crosswords should be a reflection of daily life and culture, so having a word that I've never seen outside of crossword grids show up so frequently feels weird.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

"Free for All XIV," by John Guzzetta

Constructor's Comments

I've been playing with this pattern for a while.  It gives me a fighting chance to get the word count into the sixties.  Once I find a snazzy central stack, I start with the grid as wide open as possible, 62 words, then start reluctantly adding blocks as I work on the fill.  (One day, I want to complete a good 62-word puzzle, but 66 is the lowest I've managed so far.)  Once the center stack is in place, I can work on the four sections somewhat independently, usually adding several hundred words to my word list in the process.  It's super frustrating to rejoice in all the long answers but then notice two or three (or ten) pesky short entries that create hiccups in the solving experience, forcing you to start over or accept compromises.

I actually bought a slackline and strung it up between two trees just outside my office, about three feet off the ground.  After a week's worth of barefoot lunch breaks, I could sort of do it.  Pretty amazing to watch people slackline over canyons.

Editor's Comments

John Guzzetta is back with another gorgeous themeless!  I would've been satisfied with the CHRISTMAS LIST/CHANGE MACHINE/SEASON TICKETS stack plus a few bonuses around the edges, but John went above and beyond—he crossed the stack with CHAI LATTE, BOXED SETS, SMACK TALK, SLACKLINING, EVIL GRINS, and FIRE HOSE while still leaving room in the isolated sections for bonuses like KEY LIME PIE and BOOKMOBILE.  What blows my mind is that the short fill is also silky-smooth.  Wow, just wow!

Friday, June 1, 2018

"Coming Full Circle," by Jeremy Newton

Editor's Comments

As a constructor, I've looked up to Jeremy for as long as I can remember, so working with him on today's puzzle was an honor!  I find the "Coming Full Circle" title for a C-to-O change puzzle ingenious, and coming up with such a funny set of theme entries can't have been easy.  My favorite is DUDE WHERE'S MY OAR, though ORATE AND BARREL is a close second.  Also, did you notice that there isn't a single extraneous O or C in either the theme entries or the nonthematic fill?  That's one of Jeremy's signature elegant touches.

The best part is that despite the constraints of not using O's and C's, Jeremy put together one of the liveliest grids I've seen for a theme-dense puzzle—I especially like BADASS, MY TWO DADS, RED WINES, MALL RATS, BIG TIP, and MOTHER HEN!  I also enjoyed seeing EW EW and US MAP, since it's not every day that short fill feels fresh.