Tuesday, July 31, 2018

"Bear's Delight," by Mark McClain

Constructor's Comments

It occurred to me recently that there are people in college today who may not be able to relate to a Wall Street slump (see 30-Down).  We're on the verge of experiencing the longest bull market in history—nearly ten years!  So in today's puzzle we give the "bears" the microphone, and they explain that it really is possible for markets to go DOWN.  But they make it a little tricky, because it's only the first words of four long answers that are a kind of market . . . and they're paired with words that make phrases that have nothing to do with markets (nor do those kinds of markets have anything to do with Wall Street, but it's all in good fun).

Editor's Comments

Mark always makes such smooth puzzles!  The reveal DOWN MARKET nicely describes what's going on, and all the theme entries feel fresh as well.  Mark could have added one extra pair (or even two) of black squares in the upper right and lower left, but I like how he pushed himself to keep the word count low while at the same time keeping the short fill smooth.  Midlength entries like FOUR TOPS, SMOKEY, BHUTAN, RACEGOER, and ALL RISE make the solve much more interesting than if there were a bunch of three- and four-letter words in those corners.

Monday, July 30, 2018

"Easy BZ," by Brian Thomas

Constructor's Comments

I suppose most every constructor ends up making a vowel progression puzzle, so here's mine.  I really lucked out with the symmetry and snazziness of the entries—BEZELLESS is merely functional, but it needs to be there.  David also suggested trying BEZELLESS PHONES and BUZZFEED QUIZZES, but that was too much for the grid to handle—it's already at 80 words, 2 above the max.

Editor's Comments

Such an ambitious vowel progression theme!  Brian both used the rare letter Z and included a BYZ example, making a total of six long theme entries rather than the usual five (with just A, E, I, O, and U).  He was smart to stack two pairs of theme entries in the top and bottom—that way, only two pairs of entries (OTTER and LOLL/OW OW and C SPOT) were constrained by both the middle and the top/bottom areas.  Finally, Brian's original submission had 78 words, but I encouraged him to go up to 80 so he could make the fill more Monday-friendly.  In my opinion, when push comes to shove, smooth fill is more important than sticking to the word count limit.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

"Sunday Freestyle XXII," by Victor Fleming

Constructor's Comments

I like to take a new and juicy phrase, juxtapose it with something not so new, preferably with some relationship, and create a themeless puzzle around a minitheme.

FAST FASHION cropped up, I think, in a Merriam-Webster list of new dictionary words in 2017.  I balanced it off against TAKES IT SLOW and made a puzzle I thought was pretty solid.

But the area of the puzzle containing TAKES IT SLOW suffered a bit.  Plus, I realized that a too-obvious minitheme was a liability.  So, with encouragement from David, I dropped the latter entry.

I believe a themeless without 15s should have close to 15 ILSAs (in-the-language stand-alones, which include compound words, phrases, and hyphenated words).  By my count, this fill has 13, and they are of good quality.

I love clue writing and was happy to see that many of mine made it through David's excellent editing.

Editor's Comments

It's always an honor to work with a constructor who's been in the business for as long as Vic has.  He's mentored many other constructors over the years, and as anyone who's met him in person would say, he's one of the kindest people in the community.

What caught my eye about this puzzle was the lower left.  A single corner with the zippy HIP HOP STAR, FAST FASHION, WAIT A SEC, and SHORTIES combined with smooth short fill is top-notch gridding!  As Vic mentions, I asked him to rework the upper right corner of his original submission.  In the course of revising, he told me he added more than 100 entries that start with TAKE to his word list in order to find the best fill he could.  This shows just how dedicated Vic is to the crossword construction craft.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

"Free for All XXII," by Erik Agard

Constructor's Comments

Started with the top left stack and built out from there.  Didn't mean to end up with quite so much sports.

Also, the ROT-13 code name for this puzzle was "JUNGFTBBQ themeless," which sounds delicious.

Editor's Comments

Two triple stacks of 9s paired with two triple stacks of 10s would've been impressive in its own right.  Erik took this grid to the next level, though, by having a pair of 11s and a pair of 12s weave through all those stacks.  Wow!  The grid may be heavy on sports, but even this non-sports fan enjoyed seeing NBA MOCK DRAFT and RIDE THE BENCH in the puzzle.  Erik is also the king of question mark clues—misdirection doesn't get much better than [Yellow pages, perhaps?] for JOURNALISM, [Have a permanent seat near Coach?] for RIDE THE BENCH, and [Rules of life?] for GENETIC CODE.

Friday, July 27, 2018

"In Other Words," by Tom McCoy

Constructor's Comments

A few years ago, I did a summer job supervised by a computational linguist named Lori Levin.  At one point she mentioned the word unionized as a fun example of ambiguity, and since then I've been keeping track of other words that could be parsed in multiple different ways.  For this puzzle I stuck only with words for which the number of syllables changes, since I enjoy how dramatic such changes can be.  Thanks for the inspiration, Lori!

Editor's Comments

I've been a huge Tom McCoy fan ever since he started publishing in The New York Times, so I'm honored to run one of his crosswords in The Puzzle Society!  His themes always have a quirky, linguistics-y twist, and this one is no exception.  Of the four theme entries, I especially got a chuckle out of UNIONIZED LABOR and BOTTOM DRAWER.  I'd also like to highlight Tom's clues, which are consistently fresh and clever.  Three of my favorites are [Mindlessly repeated. Mindlessly repeated.] for PARROTED, [Shore things?] for SEASIDES, and [Possible entry point in heist films] for VENT.  I'll close with a clue I found fascinating but ultimately changed because our test solvers were confused:  [Turns BINGES into BEGINS, say] for SORTS.  Do you see how this clue works?  I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Thursday, July 26, 2018

"A Star Is Born," by Alex Eaton-Salners

Constructor's Comments

This puzzle has a unique vibe.  Themes like this usually involve something preceding/following single words in multiword theme entries.  Here, however, the targeted lexical units are prefixes:  [TELE]SCOPE, [HOLO]DECK, [PRO]LOGUE, [DIA]TRIBE, and [MONO]RAIL.  Despite being single words, I think they're pretty interesting and evocative (especially HOLODECK and MONORAIL).  Fortunately, I was also able to include some multiword phrases elsewhere in the fill, which makes the grid a bit more balanced.

Editor's Comments

I agree with Alex that the prefixes make for an interesting twist on the "words that can precede X" theme.  I also like how the reveal, PENTAGRAM, justifies that there are five theme entries.  Speaking of which, this puzzle's smooth and lively fill blew me away, since working around six theme-related entries is exceptionally hard to do!  THE EAGLES, OVERRATED, ADD TO CART, and DERRING-DO are all great, and I'm not seeing any clunkers in the short fill.  My favorite part about this puzzle, though, is Alex's super-clever "A Star Is Born" title!  Titling a puzzle that already has a reveal can be tricky, but he nailed it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

"Internal Affairs," by Tracy Gray

Constructor's Comments

My initial concept for this puzzle was PARTY CENTRAL, where I would find theme entries that contained synonyms of party smack-dab in the middle of and spanning two words in a phrase.  With those constraints, my list of decent entries was minimal:  SELF-ESTEEM and LEGAL AGE, and the contrived OPERA VENUE.

Thankfully, David recommended I change the concept/revealer to SURPRISE PARTY, and I was able to come up with some fun phrases with the party synonym still spanning two words but without the constraint of being directly in the middle.  The icing on the cake of my "surprise party" was finding the title INTERNAL AFFAIRS, which I thought was perfect.

Editor's Comments

Par-tay!  Tracy Gray is up with a fresh, fun Wednesday offering.  From the lively theme entries (my favorite being VENTNOR AVENUE, since I used to play a lot of Monopoly) to the literally perfect title to fun bonus fill like ENOUGH SAID, SCHLUB, and CRAB POTS, Tracy spread good vibes throughout the puzzle.  No appearance today from crosswordese musicians Brian ENO and Yoko ONO, but a music lineup featuring ELLA Fitzgerald, Flavor FLAV, Queen ELSA (who sang "Let It Go"), and Madonna's "La ISLA Bonita" should inspire solvers of many ages to bust a move.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

"Hear! Hear!" by Ed Sessa

Constructor's Comments

This puzzle's structure is similar to one I used for the last Valentine's Day Wall Street Journal puzzle.  In this case the choices for theme entries were quite a bit broader but limited by the fact that the sounds had to be able to be clued without referencing the sounds themselves.  For me, the fun part of the completed puzzle is going around the border reciting the cacophony of words.

Editor's Comments

Ed's theme today is both ambitious and masterfully executed!  As if surrounding the border with sounds weren't hard enough, he kicked the theme up a notch by ensuring that all the sounds had non-sound cluing angles.  Ed even found room for the reveal SURROUND SOUND—wow!  Border themes like this are notoriously brutal from a fill standpoint, since every small section has at least one constraint.  Ed was smart to push the word count up to 80 in order to keep the crossings maximally smooth.  The maximum word count for themed puzzles is normally 78, but I honestly don't mind when constructors go up to 80 every once in a while, especially for a highly constrained theme like this one.

Monday, July 23, 2018

"3-Pointers," by Matthew Sewell

Constructor's Comments

This idea emerged from a cluing trick that often trips me up as a solver:  when part of the clue seems to refer to something else but in fact means, literally, itself.  After years (okay, decades) of solving, I'm usually on my guard for clues like [Nice man] for HOMME—that's a clue where the misdirection lies in a solver heading out in the wrong interpretive direction for Nice.  But I always seem to fall for clues in which the right direction amounts to "Don't move!"—like, say, [Sport shoe for hoopsters, for example] for ANAGRAM.  Applying that literalness to "..." had the bonus of playing with the crossword convention of using an ellipsis to indicate that the clue is a continuation of another clue, and I liked the chance to offer a sort of subtle progression in theme answers, in which the first ellipsis signifies truly absent words, the second signifies absent words that carry artistic meaning (like in a Pinter play), and the third signifies words that will be visible soon (hopefully).  I just wish I'd also thought of the clever title that David gave it!  My thanks to David for all of his editorial improvements, and I hope solvers enjoy this tribute to the presence of absence.

Editor's Comments

Matt's puzzle is on the quirky side for a Monday, which is just the way I like it!  I feel an easy puzzle doesn't need to have a tried-and-true theme type.  In fact, I've come to believe that slightly more complicated Monday themes cater to the widest audience.  When I started solving, I didn't pay much attention to the complexity of the theme—as long as I understood what was going on and wasn't bogged down by challenging fill and clues, I was satisfied.  Now that I'm a more experienced solver, early-week puzzles don't pose much of a challenge, so my enjoyment largely depends on how fresh and clever the theme feels.  I'd be interested to hear more perspectives on this, though—what are your thoughts?

Sunday, July 22, 2018

"Sunday Freestyle XXI," by John Guzzetta

Constructor's Comments

On a recent trip to the northeast, my family took the COG RAILWAY up to the observatory on Mount Washington.  At that very moment, I thought that word would make a lovely starter for a themeless puzzle.  I was happy when so many other good entries cooperated.

Editor's Comments

I like how all three long entries in this puzzle's top and bottom stacks sparkle—I mean, how can you get more sparkly than FOOL'S GOLD?  All kidding aside, John went above and beyond here:  As if the triple stacks weren't lively enough, all four entries in the double stacks are also fresh, and there's even plenty of fun midlength fill like TED TALKS, MOJITO, COLLOQUY, JICAMA, DYSTOPIA, and POP TARTS.  And finally, I'd like to give a shout-out to John's [Like giving a vacuum as a Valentine's Day gift] clue for UNROMANTIC.  That one had me laughing out loud!

Saturday, July 21, 2018

"Free for All XXI," by Mark Diehl

Constructor's Comments

CRAZY QUILT was appropriately the starting point for the colorful blend of Scrabbly words and phrases in this 70-word concoction.  Looking back, it seems like it flows well and doesn't have anything too tough other than PEMMICAN, which I remember less than fondly from extended hiking/camping trips on the John Muir Trail through the Sierras as a Boy Scout.  Meat powder and berries bound together with lard in a bar—amazing what you will eat when hungry enough!

Editor's Comments

Mark Diehl is back with another signature Scrabbly themeless!  My top five favorite entries are CRAZY QUILT, TAX EVASION, EL DIABLO, AY CARAMBA, and ALIEN RACE.  I also really like how Mark made the midlength entries sparkle—as a constructor, it's easy to get so wrapped up in optimizing the longer slots that the midlength ones fall by the wayside.  With shorter goodies like I'M COOL, PALE ALE, MR TOAD, PLOTZ, RAW BAR, and GARBLE, the zip flows throughout the grid rather than being confined to the corners.  Mark's clues are also always at a happy medium.

Friday, July 20, 2018

"Compression Chamber," by Mark McClain

Constructor's Comments

This puzzle is based on what might be called a "shared letters" theme.  The four long entries are familiar three-word phrases in which the last letter of the first two words is the same as the first letter of the following word, and these letters are "shared" in the grid.  This may create some consternation on the part of solvers who might think there is an error in the grid . . . until they figure out the gimmick, which hopefully doesn't take too long.  Once you've finished the grid, you may notice that if you read the phrases, they seem perfectly normal.  Or not.

Editor's Comments

They say sharing is caring, though Mark found an ingenious way to turn sharing into a fiendish Friday theme!  Finding four in-the-language three-word phrases with double letters at each word break can't have been easy to do.  And just overall, I love the quirkiness and originality of the theme.  In the fill, you'll notice that there are no long nonthematic downs.  I think that was a good choice on Mark's part, since having long nonthematic downs mixed in with the long down theme entries might have been confusing.  Focusing more on midlength slots also allowed Mark to keep the fill extra-smooth.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

"Prism," by George Jasper

Constructor's Comments

I had some trouble incorporating the PRISM reveal into the bottom section of the grid without having a ripple effect disrupt the last theme entry, one that I was finding difficult to replace.

David suggested using PRISM as the puzzle's title in order to keep the current theme entries intact, saving me substantial rework.

Editor's Comments

This puzzle's title is the key to understanding its theme:  The word prism can be reparsed as "PR is M."  Tricky!  In addition to finding four amusing theme entries, George mixed in six (!) long downs to spice things up.  I especially like TIM DUNCAN, DOT MATRIX, and LOOSE ENDS.

UNCLE ALBERT was a new one for this millennial, but after doing some research, I came to the conclusion that many solvers would know it.  After all, the song Uncle Albert is from hit #1 in the '70s, and his name is in both the lyrics and the title.  These are just some of the factors that go into my "Is this entry familiar enough?" decisions.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

"K Rations," by Stu Ockman

Constructor's Comments

My inspiration for this grid was a sign on the wall at a Jewish deli—an award-winning deli at that:

Quoting Philadelphia Magazine, "Sure, they've got the best Jewish deli sandwiches and free pickle bowl around.  And don't miss the humongous crinkle-cut steak fries.  But what cinches the deal are the free-with-an-eat-in-lunch fresh chocolate chip cookies. . . . "  I'm getting hungry just thinking about it.  But I digress.

I originally had K WORDS as the revealer.  David suggested using KOSHER instead, a big improvement.  DELI MENU was thrown into the mix—also by David.  Then, I put them in KOSHER DELI MENU order and finished filling the grid.

I had a lot of fun working with David on this one.  Hope you had just as much fun solving it.  And don't forget to stop by a deli near you to try each of these (you may have to make more than one trip).  Mmm.

Editor's Comments

I'm a huge fan of Jewish food, so this puzzle's theme hit close to home for me!  When I first saw Stu's original submission (which, as he mentions, had K WORDS in the lower left), KOSHER jumped to my mind.  A common abbreviation for Kosher on food labels is K, so KOSHER seemed like just the right revealer.  Fortunately, Stu was on board with changing K WORDS to KOSHER.  He even did some extra polishing on those wide-open upper right and lower left corners to keep things easy for newer solvers.  All in all, it was a pleasure working with Stu on this one, and I hope you enjoy sinking your teeth into it!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

"Midfield," by Roger Miller

Constructor's Comments

I'll admit it:  I might be a STEM-loving geek.  I took calculus for my electives on the way to an agronomy degree at Purdue.  I was reading a newspaper article on the importance of the STEM curriculum when I thought of this puzzle.  Then, there was ENGR.  I sure was glad to find ELLEN GRISWOLD.  STEM CELLS, as the reveal, dawned on me after I started to find the theme answers.  Finally, thank you, David!  I love what you are doing with these puzzles.

Editor's Comments

I've seen many themes involving hidden words but never one with abbreviations.  Words are normally superior to abbreviations, but in this case, I think Roger was smart to go with abbreviations, since STEM itself is short for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.  And besides, good luck finding a theme entry that hides and changes the meaning of ENGINEERING!

Finally, I like how Roger went with STEM CELLS rather than just STEM as the revealer.  How does the CELLS part play in?  After thinking about that for a minute, I realized the cells are the grid squares surrounding SCI, TECH, ENGR, and MATH.  Very nice!

Monday, July 16, 2018

"Shoptalk," by Ari Halpern

Constructor's Comments

I am so excited to have my first puzzle appear on the Puzzle Society page!  The idea for this crossword hit me one night when I was watching some awards show.  The host kept talking about the honorees.  It was one of those instances where he used a word so much that it began to lose meaning.  Suddenly it sounded like he was saying HONORESE, like a language that the award winners spoke amongst themselves.  In designing the puzzle, HONORESE was meant to be a theme answer, as this was the seed of the puzzle and my favorite entry.  Unfortunately, due to word length and symmetry restrictions, I just couldn’t get it in there.  Happily, the other entries were just as cute and more workable.

Editor's Comments

Being the first editor to publish a new constructor is always an honor—welcome, Ari!  Today's theme may be simple, but I got a chuckle out of these imaginary specialized languages.  The idea also feels novel, which hits on one of my favorite things about having an open market:  the diversity of theme ideas I receive.  Not all the ideas I receive ultimately pan out, but I love being able to run a daily crossword where you never know what's going to come next.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

"Sunday Freestyle XX," by Bruce Haight and David Steinberg

Constructors' Comments

Bruce Haight:  David and I played around with various lightning bolt grids and finally landed on this one.  How he came up with four theme-related entries in a 68-word grid I don't know!

David Steinberg:  See below.

Editor's Comments

Bruce and I constructed this puzzle early last year.  He came up with the lightning bolt grid art, and I found three theme entries to go with it.  Coincidentally, HAILED A TAXI was the only option I had for 16-Down, and we both thought it was a neat theme-related bonus (although not a theme entry per se, since it's structurally different from the other three).

Bruce also did the majority of the nonthematic fill.  Having four long entries locked into place along with the constraint of a 68-word grid—which we chose so we wouldn't have too many 3s around the edges—really limited our fill options.  Bruce nonetheless managed to add zing through entries like HIT JOB, FB POSTS, and TRADE GAP.

This certainly isn't a traditional Sunday Freestyle, but we hope you enjoy the variety!

Saturday, July 14, 2018

"Free for All XX," by Zhouqin Burnikel

Editor's Comments

Although all of Zhouqin's Puzzle Society Crosswords so far have been themed, she's also one of the best themeless constructors in the business!  In this grid, my top five favorite entries are ALMOND ROCA, VIP PARKING, OLGA KORBUT (as opposed to just OLGA with the clue [Gymnast Korbut], which is what you usually see), HATE MAIL, and I'M IN HEAVEN.  I like how Zhouqin filled each corner with two strong 10-letter entries and a lively 7—such attention to midlength slots can make an already-good themeless great.  The short fill also feels smooth all around.

Friday, July 13, 2018

"Few and Far Between," by John Guzzetta and Michael Hawkins

Constructors' Comments

Michael Hawkins:  John and I often text themes to each other, and in this case, it turned out we were working on similar ideas.  Once we combined our lists, we had a good set of theme entries.  Over the next few days, we shot grids back and forth until we were satisfied with the rest of the fill.

John ceded write-up responsibility to me because he's off hiking where reliable internet access isn't to be found.  This is our fifth published collaboration and we're certain to have many more, presuming he returns to civilization.

Editor's Comments

I always appreciate a good rebus-style theme.  No, I'm not talking about crosswords where multiple letters appear in single squares (although I'm also a big fan of those)—I'm referring to the classic picture puzzles:

Image courtesy of Pinterest

In this case, John and Michael chose one form of rebus to build their theme around.  The consistency is elegant, and I'm amazed they were able to find so many great "___ between the ___" phrases!

The requirement that theme entries be arranged symmetrically has tormented every constructor at some point.  In an ideal world, John and Michael would have had all singular theme phrases (as in hit between the eyes rather than HITS BETWEEN THE EYES).  Since symmetry makes using just singulars impossible, though, they did exactly the right thing:  mixing singulars and plurals in a relatively even ratio (two singulars and three plurals).  If all but one of the theme entries were singular, the one plural would stick out as inelegant, and vice versa.  Just one of many excellent calls John and Michael made here.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

"College Expenses," by Erik Agard

Constructor's Comments

I really didn't think this theme was going to work, so I stopped looking at it for a while and then the last theme answer just popped into my head during dinner one night, completely unbidden.  (Then I tried eating more food and not looking at the grid and the clues, but nothing happened, so I had to actually work on those.)

Editor's Comments

I really admire how specific this theme is.  As constructors know, the more constraints you add to your theme, the smaller your pool of options becomes.  If Erik had done just college puns, for example, he would have had a much easier time finding theme entries.  The theme would've been a lot less elegant, though, so I like how Erik went big with his theme idea.  The grid is also smooth and lively all around, in part because Erik was careful not to use too many three-letter entries (which often feel tired and overused).  He could have easily added an extra pair or two of black squares in the upper left and lower right to make the fill easier.  By leaving them out, though, he was able to incorporate great bonuses like BIG DEAL, BEST BET, ONE-STAR, and DEAD AIR while at the same time reducing the number of threes.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

"Canceled Performance," by Ross Trudeau

Editor's Comments

I receive so many submissions whose themes involve adding or deleting letters that I've had to set the bar for them extra-high.  Ross's puzzle today really exemplifies what I'm looking for in this theme genre—all the "base phrases" (like lactose intolerant and partisan tactic) are fun and in-the-language, the reveal nicely describes what's going on, and the transformations are all funny.  That last criterion is subjective, though a big part of humor for me is whether the theme entries can be clued in a way that makes sense.  For example, LOSE INTOLERANCE works well from that perspective, though LOSE FREE wouldn't work for me, since I can't imagine a clue for it that wouldn't be a major stretch.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

"J.Crew," by Alex Eaton-Salners

Constructor's Comments

The originally submitted version of this puzzle included two more theme entries:  LONG JOHNS and DIRTY JOBS, which were placed at 27/28-Across and 43/44-Across, respectively.  Unfortunately, there aren't many famous people named JOB, so those entries had to go.  Even without those two, however, there are still five themers, which I think is plenty for a CREW.

Editor's Comments

Using five theme entries is plenty impressive.  Getting three of them to interlock makes the puzzle a wow in my book—Alex is truly a grid wizard!  In the fill, he included plenty of midlength fill to spice things up.  My favorite bonus entries are COCCYX, INDY CAR, MALTESE, BEJEWEL, and SPACEX.  That's a lot of fun stuff, especially for a puzzle that's already so theme dense.  The short fill is also smooth and Tuesday-easy all around.  And finally, if you're wondering who came up with the brilliant title "J.Crew," that was all Alex.

Monday, July 9, 2018

"Furnish the Answers," by Paul Coulter

Constructor's Comments

Like my last Puzzle Society grid, this theme started in a very different direction.  Originally it featured slogans for furniture stores:  SOFA SO GOOD [Slogan for a furniture store specializing in high-quality settees], CHAIR LEADER [. . . specializing in seats], CHEST IN TIME [. . . specializing in layaway trunks], DIVAN RIGHT [. . . specializing in backless couches].  I think it's chuckle-worthy, especially the first, but no one wanted it.  So the theme morphed into verbs that could be furniture as nouns.  Of the final set, I think it's interesting that in Great Britain, "table a motion" means the opposite of how we use it in the United States.  The sense there is to "present the idea for discussion" rather than to stop discussion on it.

Editor's Comments

Paul found four fresh furniture phrases to build a puzzle around.  I like how each phrase is of the form "singular piece of furniture + a + last word"—this touch makes the theme feel consistent and smooth.  In the fill, Paul and I went back and forth a few times to make make sure the vocabulary was easy enough for a Monday.  Notice how Paul used a pair of "cheater squares" before BUSH/after SPED to make the fill easier.  That was a smart choice, since the upper and lower center areas are not only wide open (approximately 5x4) but also have several entries that cross multiple theme phrases.  There are many more possibilities for a down entry that crosses one theme phrase (like ???A) than for one that crosses two (like ???R?M).  By using cheater squares, Paul made sure he wouldn't be forced to use clunky entries in those areas.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

"Sunday Freestyle XIX," by Mark Diehl

Constructor's Comments

Since retiring, Lee Ann and I have been flying more often to visit friends and attend events like the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament—to the point that I'm beginning to get acclimated to the fact that hurtling through the air in a heavy metal plane is very safe and not worth wasting much worry over.  Even our latest visit to Las Vegas during the midday heat that created a wildly bumpy approach didn't leave me a complete quivering mess.  Now, if the OXYGEN MASK had dropped from overhead during the jostling, that probably would have been a different matter!

Editor's Comments

In last Saturday's post about Mark's EXAM TABLES themeless, I discussed how impressive the grid pattern was.  What I didn't mention was that Mark came up with not one but two awesome fills for it!  In today's puzzle, my top five favorite entries are PAN AM GAMES, OXYGEN MASK, TUNA STEAKS, PARTY LINE, and the colloquial ANYONE ELSE.  I also like how the fill draws on a wide range of knowledge, including sports, music, science, art, and literature.  Having so many different kinds of references helps ensure there's something for everyone.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

"Free for All XIX," by Andrew J. Ries

Constructor's Comments

The center stack originally had BACHELOR TAX at 37-Across, which David didn't think was commonly known enough.  Revising the grid proved to be a more challenging task than I originally thought, and the grid went from a 70-worder with one 15-letter answer to a 72-worder with four 15s.  I like that I was able to get TROUBLESHOOTING and SENSORY OVERLOAD to cut through the central stack, along with BARCADE.  This new grid layout necessitated the use of a lot of 3s, however—too many for my taste, but I thought the long stuff in the grid was worth the payoff, and I tried to keep the amount of abbreviations and propers in the short answers to a minimum.  I hope solvers enjoy.

Editor's Comments

Andrew J. Ries, aka the master of stagger stacks, is back with another of his signature offerings!  MISERY INDEX, JAMES CORDEN, and LET 'EM HAVE IT are all fun, lively entries with a sprinkling of unusual letters for extra zip.  But perhaps the most amazing thing about this puzzle is how Andrew squeezed in four additional top-notch 15s:  AFTERNOON PAPERS, MANDARIN ORANGES, TROUBLESHOOTING, and SENSORY OVERLOAD.  Andrew even made the midlength fill sparkle with bonuses like CHA-CHA, LOWBALL, JETLINER, BARCADE, and I DIG IT.  Sure, there may be a few more 3s than usual, but the puzzle as a whole impressed me so much that I looked past that.

Friday, July 6, 2018

"Break a Legume," by Greg Poulos

Constructor's Comments

One fun/weird thing about this puzzle is that 1-Across also happens to be a theme entry.  That's not usually the case, due to the relatively demanding conventions of crossword construction.  I hope it makes for a slightly off-kilter solving experience—appropriate for this slightly off-kilter theme.

Fun fact:  In a previous version of the puzzle, PINE TREE was the entry at 68-Across.  After a bit of revision, it somehow migrated to 43-Across.  The hardy conifer survives again!

Finally, many thanks to David for helping to improve this puzzle substantially from its original incarnation.

Editor's Comments

This puzzle's theme has so many levels.  First, Greg found four theme entries that end with kinds of beans, taking care to change the meaning of the "bean words" where possible.  Then, he had each bean word turn 90 degrees.  Finally—my favorite part—he made sure that the down entries formed by the beans (RING, INTO, ACK, and FEE) were legitimate.  Greg also knocked the fill and clues out of the park!  His parallel [One in a Latin trio, perhaps?] and [One in a Latin trio] clues for MARIACHI and AMAT felt especially elegant.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

"Street Smart," by Greg Johnson

Constructor's Comments

This puzzle was a long time in the making . . . it was tough to find famous streets that people would recognize and get them to be in symmetry . . . and using Street only, not Drive.

I had always planned to add an extra layer with the clues—the LOMBARD/San Francisco connection sealed the deal.

Editor's Comments

I love how Greg elevated this theme in the clues!  Coming up with a way to tie each famous street's city into its clue can't have been easy.  Greg and I exchanged numerous emails about KENTUCKY BOURBON—I was worried it wouldn't be possible to tie that clue into New Orleans, but Greg rose to the challenge and came up with such a clever way to make the connection work.  Greg also wrote a great set of clues.  Two of my favorites are [THIS CLUE HAS NINETEEN] for CAPS and [Goddess whose tears became the morning dew] for EOS.  The latter is a lot more interesting than the usual [Dawn goddess] clue.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

"Exchanging Words," by Wren Schultz

Constructor's Comments

I was first introduced to this concept (two words that have meaning when combined in either order) as Kimball Pairs by my friend Rod Kimball (fellow puzzle nerd and operator of Enigami Puzzles & Games).  It's been fun, over the years, trying to come up with new Kimball Pairs and hearing of ones discovered by others.  Pairing them together to build cognitively cohesive phrases suitable for themers was suggested by David, and hence this puzzle was born.

Editor's Comments

I've seen many forms of wordplay over the years, but Wren's "Kimball Pairs" felt fresh and fascinating!  CAVEMAN MAN CAVE in particular made me laugh.  Working around four 14-letter entries is every constructor's nightmare, since the forced black square at the start or end of each theme entry really constrains your options—you couldn't place a theme entry in row 3, for example, without having a not-so-pretty "finger" of black squares in rows 1, 2, and 3 (in order to avoid 2-letter words).  Not surprisingly, there aren't any long downs today, but Wren did a great job of keeping things smooth and squeezing zing into shorter slots with entries like HOT N COLD, WAGYU, and PC HELP.  He also wrote my favorite clue in the puzzle:  [___ Hammer].  Note how either ARMAND or ARM AND is a valid answer.  Happy Fourth!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

"Personal Development," by John Guzzetta

Constructor's Comments

A long time ago (like, pre–crossword constructing days) I noticed how BUT, BUTT, BUTTE, BUTTER made an interesting string of words.  That string randomly popped into my head recently, and I started trying to come up with grids around this grow-a-word or shrink-a-word idea.  The additional constraints of crossword symmetry, and having the words be etymologically unrelated, and having some rationale tie them all together, limit what works.  I recently saw another great example, when Paolo Pasco used the revealer EROSION to reduce STONE through TONE, TON, ON, finally to O (The New York Times, January 22, 2018).

The string ME, MET, META, METAL requires the first answer to double as the revealer, but I still thought it was pretty cool.  I'm sure there are other grow-a-word or shrink-a-word possibilities, and I would love for others to beat me to them!

Editor's Comments

As John mentions, having the revealer (IT'S GROWING ON ME, in this case) as the first theme entry is nontraditional:  Constructors usually place revealers at the end in order to maximize suspense/not give away what's going on too quickly.  As an editor, I don't mind breaking this "rule" once in a while.  After all, IT'S GROWING ON ME is perfect as both the first theme entry and the reveal, and I still find the theme just as clever.  The only difference is that the puzzle feels more like a Tuesday than a Wednesday since the theme is a little easier to figure out.  I also love all of John's theme entries, especially the fresh and modern THAT'S SO META.  Funny that RARE EARTH METAL could've worked as a theme entry in John's "High Steaks" puzzle from last month, too.

Monday, July 2, 2018

"Starting Lineup," by Zhouqin Burnikel

Constructor's Comments

I originally used "Leading Ladies" as a puzzle title.  David thought the theme might be tough to suss out if there weren't a reveal entry.  Thanks again for the new title, David!

Editor's Comments

A LEADING LADY puzzle from one of the leading ladies of crosswords leading off a new week!  Zhouqin is up with another masterful early-week offering.  All the theme entries are lively and in-the-language—my favorites are the colloquial SO WE'VE HEARD and DOES IT MATTER, both of which make their crossword debuts today.  The nonthematic fill is silky smooth all around, and Zhouqin even found room for the zippy LIVE-TWEETS and TAKE THE RAP.  And finally, most of the clues are hers.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

"Sunday Freestyle XVIII," by Erik Agard

Constructor's Comments

This grid shape was inspired by a similar one that Doug Peterson made for one of our forthcoming co-constructions.  Hi, Doug!

Also, I can't look at a certain answer in this puzzle without seeing the name of a fruit instead—so weird how that works.

Editor's Comments

I love the Z pattern here—wow oh wow that must've been difficult to construct!  Erik made it look so easy, though, even throwing in fun entries like A SEAT AT THE TABLE, SINGAPORE DOLLAR, PERSONAL TRAINER, TRY IT ON, and BLUEBERRY.  Er, BLUBBERY.  See what he meant in his constructor note?  Another thing that blows me away is the short fill.  Most triple stacks require numerous compromises to hold them together, but once again, Erik made this look effortless.  With SIF as the only out-of-the-ordinary entry, my hat's off to him!