Thursday, August 30, 2018

"Search and Rescue Mission," by Greg Johnson

Constructor's Comments

This is for those who still solve on paper.  Just word search as usual.  You can also get a smartphone screen grab and circle the words using the photo editor.

Was hoping to get 15 NEMOs in the grid, because it has been 15 years since the movie's release—a little too ambitious, though.  And using a larger puzzle would make a lot of entries too similar.  So, a compromise.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

"Two Plus Two," by Alex Eaton-Salners

Constructor's Comments

Some of the other theme entries that got left on the cutting room floor:  GOTHAM CITY, AS GOD IS MY WITNESS, and GOLDSMITH.  There were also many possibilities with GOOD as the GO (IN GOOD SPIRITS, GOOD SAMARITAN, GOOD PUBLICITY, etc.).  Unfortunately, there was only room for one due to duplication concerns.  I was really lucky to get GOT A BITE and GO WITH IT to symmetrically interlock with ALGORITHM and GOOGLE HIT.  The latter pairing is also aesthetically pleasing, since complex algorithms underlie Google's search function.

Monday, August 27, 2018

"Change of Venue," by John Guzzetta

Constructor's Comments

I think this "playing surfaces-to-verbs" theme was one of the first I ever came up with, back in 2011 or 2012.  I found it sliding around in the bottom of a filing cabinet and decided it deserved a second look.  David wisely DQed a fifth themer that used pitch, since it's more of a Britishism for a soccer field.  These were the four that remained.

Looking again at the fill, I may have gotten a little too cutesy with the two-word phrases WHAT IF, KIND OF, LESS SO, and SING OF, but it's hard to say.  Maybe two out of four would have been better?

Sunday, August 26, 2018

"Sunday Freestyle XXVI," by Christopher Adams

Constructor's Comments

A previous puzzle of mine (see bottom grid below) that appeared very early on in The Puzzle Society Crossword had a corner that David and I both liked but that testers found difficult.  So that corner got scrapped for that puzzle, but I figured I'd salvage it by building around it and making sure there were fair crossings.  That's now the upper left of this puzzle, and I was pleased to work in a smattering of other answers (GENE RODDENBERRY, MELODRAMA, MANCALA, CAPRESE, RHIANNON, GRIMES, etc.) that I really like and that reflect my VIBE.

Previous puzzle:

Friday, August 24, 2018

"International Cuisine," by Bruce Haight

Constructor's Comments

David was instrumental in tuning up this gastronomic conundrum, and he was nice enough to publish it exactly on my 65th birthday—thanks, David!

Thursday, August 23, 2018

"Make a Stink," by Jeffrey Wechsler

Constructor's Comments

To some individuals, the theme of this puzzle might seem a bit off-putting—or, to be even more blunt, rather malodorous.  As a constructor who enjoys devising themes involving the addition of letters to existing words, the letters PU offered a way to use a two-letter insert leading to an unusual, and hopefully humorous, twist within the revealer.  Of course, there is a decidedly mixed editorial tolerance for such themes, and I knew this one was going to trigger the apocryphal "breakfast test" for crosswords—the limitation of what falls within the boundaries of acceptable taste (or, in this case, smell).  Indeed, as I feared, this puzzle was deemed too offensive for another not-to-be-named crossword outlet.  Therefore, it is with great pleasure and respect that I praise David Steinberg for his open-mindedness for accepting this puzzle without holding his nose.  David saw the theme for what I think it is:  not at all offensive but, rather, funny—in effect, an exercise in crossword sensory slapstick.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

"Jam-Ups," by Jim Bordoni and Zhouqin Burnikel

Constructors' Comments

We're very excited about this puzzle.  It's Jim's debut.  He's an avid crossword solver, and he helps coach the cross-country team at Mountain View High School in California.  We finally met two years ago when he visited Minneapolis to see his son run in the Roy Griak Invitational.  This puzzle was the result of many ideas we brainstormed together.  Thanks for making this possible, David, and thanks for the new title also.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

"Pistons," by Ross Trudeau

Constructor's Comments

Sometimes I think of an idea for a puzzle that necessarily implies an ambitious grid and let it pass blissfully from my mind.  But SIX CYLINDER(S) kept bubbling back to the surface, and I figured a seven-theme puzzle could work if a couple of the theme answers were short (SPOOL, CIGAR).  No one likes excessive grid wrangling, which can grind you down until you start thinking, "You know what?  NENES isn't such a bad word."

Fortunately, David held the line on NENES (and a few other unsavory bits).  He even suggested replacing LINAGE in the NW corner with OWNAGE, a lovely alternative that wasn't in my word list.  David FTW!  And not the first or last time. . . .

Monday, August 20, 2018

"Parenting 101," by J. Edward Gau

Constructor's Comments

Hello, fellow puzzlers!  I was watching the movie Tangled with the grandkids and, while listening to the song "Mother Knows Best," it reminded me of my mother, and of mothers in general, and of the great life advice that is often proffered—and often in abundance (lol).  It then occurred to me that this might be a fun theme.  I dedicate this puzzle to my wonderful mother—and to loving mothers everywhere.  I hope you enjoy it!

Sunday, August 19, 2018

"Sunday Freestyle XXV," by David Phillips

Constructor's Comments

Looking back at this puzzle, I can think of two particularly noteworthy mentionables, both of which revolve around the entry JANE SIX-PACK, the starting entry for this puzzle.

First, the puzzle's history. . . .  I originally submitted this puzzle to Mr. Shortz at The New York Times, who responded with a polite "no, thanks," saying that JANE was a "puzzle killer."  He added that it wasn't common enough for such a marquee entry and mentioned that the term, in quotes, only got 10,000 Google hits.  That's perfectly good reasoning . . . JANE certainly isn’t used that frequently in our modern parlance, but I still think the entry is saved because of its similarity to the more common JOE SIX-PACK.  Solvers would likely have trouble solving the clue for JANE outright, but I reasoned that they could piece it together via her association with JOE.

All of this practically begs the question:  Why would you even include JANE in a puzzle if it's not that in-the-language?  My main reason for starting with JANE was to promote inclusiveness, something that has historically been absent in most crosswords.  (However, that trend has been changing as of late.)  Okay, Dave, so you want to be gender inclusive . . . but why JANE SIX-PACK?  What kind of inclusivity image are you promoting here?  Well, voice that I've created for narrative convenience, I'll tell you:  I want to promote a balanced sense of inclusivity.  I feel it's important to represent all aspects of any culture/subculture/realm—good, bad, neutral, highbrow, lowbrow, etc.  For every Oscars ceremony, there is an MTV Movie & TV Awards.  For every Mona Lisa, there is a Fountain (by Duchamp).  For every Oprah or Constance Wu or Meryl Streep, there should be a Jane (statistically, more than one).  IMO, this contrast of ideas, not some rose-tinted or otherwise lopsided representation, epitomizes inclusivity.

Anyhoo, I think I'm done with my treatise on equality within crosswords.  I hope the puzzle was enjoyable!  As always, David was great during the editing process.  He was a tremendous help in polishing the NW and NE corners; truly, the final version of the NE would not have existed in its current, awesome glory without him.  Always a joy to collaborate with David.

If you solved the puzzle and read through this entire blurb, email David and he'll give you a rebate voucher for time spent solving/reading.  (But, seriously, don't email David asking for your time back; you're never getting that back.  Mwahahaha . . . ?)

Saturday, August 18, 2018

"Free for All XXV," by Ned White

Constructor's Comments

I originally made this puzzle (for another publication) with a fairly strong subtheme spinning off the idea and intimations of 1-Across, and it became so negative and grumpy-inducing that it left an unpleasant vibe.  So the subtheme, over several drafts, largely dissipated, thanks much to David's encouragement and guidance.  I feel happier with this version, though some of the answers aren't as marquee-ish as I'd like.  That's usually the goal of themeless constructors—to pack the puzzle with knock-'em-dead, sparkling long answers and still have clean fill for the glue.  Regardless, I hope you have fun with it.

Friday, August 17, 2018

"Repositioning," by Andy Kravis

Constructor's Comments

This is the kind of puzzle I wish I could turn out every day.  Five solid puns, supported by clean fill from a variety of knowledge areas, with relatively lively clues.  I hope solvers will enjoy it as much as I enjoyed making it.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

"Take It Down a Notch," by Mark McClain

Constructor's Comments

The inspiration for this theme was the book Three Men in a Boat.  It's a humorous novel/travelogue (published in 1889) about a two-week rowboat trip on the River Thames from Kingston upon Thames (near London) to Oxford and back.  This was of great interest to me because a few years ago my partner, Diana, and I undertook a 125-mile, two-week backpacking trip on the Thames Path from the source of the river to Windsor (where the queen lives, just outside London).  We covered quite a bit of the same territory and even saw a few of the same type of boat (three-person rowboat) that was used in Jerome's book (one person does the steering, the other two do the rowing).  I heartily recommend this book to anyone who's interested in English culture or boating, but I strongly discourage eating off the floor anywhere that a four-second rule is in force.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

"Flavor of the Week," by John Guzzetta

Constructor's Comments

This puzzle started out with a couple of weird versions that were impossible to work with (STRAWBERRY BLOND/E, CHOCOLATE LAB, and VANILLA ICE, if you must know), but David came to the rescue by suggesting the ice cream sandwich angle.  David is always helpful and engaging to work with!  Now, back to my late-night bowl of calories. . . .

Monday, August 13, 2018

"Knife Skills," by Lynn Lempel

Constructor's Comments

This is a pretty common type of theme:  words that fall into the same category either starting or ending a phrase.  The trick is to use the word in a different sense.  I'd been thinking of the various terms for cutting foods, so my original title had been "Kitchen Cutups."

I'll admit that "hash" is probably iffy here.  It can be a verb but probably isn't used that way very often in the cutting-up sense.  HASHTAG was just too good a central entry to pass up.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

"Free for All XXIV," by Brad Wilber

Constructor's Comments

I won't speak for everyone who constructs lots of themeless puzzles, but it seems natural to me to relish fresh challenges within that niche.  David and The Puzzle Society Crossword are trying to dispel some of the unattainable aura of open-grid puzzles—to help midweek solvers give them a new look imbued with hope!  It's important for the art form to have venues that do this, so I was eager to try to achieve gently spicy fill and cluing that mostly offers clarity instead of disguise.

I've had good luck with this grid pattern many times.  My favorite was a Los Angeles Times puzzle that clustered SHE-CRAB SOUP, MEDIA DARLINGS, and DISCARD PILE.  But only a few times have I managed to keep the two vertical 12s that merge with the central stack, as we have here.  The northwest and southeast always take a lot of trial and error in this pattern.  That's the flip side of the initial elation of getting your flashy stuff to work in the middle and in the slightly easier northeast and southwest.

Friday, August 10, 2018

"The I's Have It," by Todd Gross

Constructor's Comments

The idea for this crossword came from two insights:  (1) stacking multiple I's vertically gives you a tall I, and (2) I can be interpreted multiple ways—a Roman numeral, the personal pronoun, and, uh, a vertical line.  I was lucky to find VERTICAL/STRIPING, which is a nice way to tie the theme entries together.  I was also fortunate to think of "Self-centered ego?" to clue 24-Down.

It was nice that I could get all this in a 70-entry grid with some nice nontheme entries.  I'm particularly fond of the ESSO/LESS SO/ESPRESSO combination, which was a total coincidence.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

"Covert Ops," by Jules Markey

Constructor's Comments

This puzzle is another in a series of trying to hide words in phrases and repurpose another phrase to describe what's happening.  The repurposed revealer is usually the seed entry.  A well-worn puzzle conceit, but I hope solvers found this one interesting.  David tweaked it a bit to polish it up.  I had a hard time coming up with a satisfactory clue for the revealer, so I'm looking forward to his take.  An earlier version of the puzzle had the entry MADE A BOO-BOO in it; I'll let you figure out what the embedded word is.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

"Silent G'night," by Stu Ockman

Constructor's Comments

I'm excited about this one, my first pun-themed grid in syndication.  Somehow WELCOME GNUS popped into my head, and I was off.  The initial grid included both GNASH RAMBLER and MR. GNEISS GUY, but you get to solve the new and improved version today.

My only other accepted pun-themed puzzle appeared in my local paper, The Swarthmorean, 18 months ago.  While that puzzle is out of print (if you blinked, you missed it), you can still find the companion article, "Crossing Words with Stu Ockman," online.  If you've ever thought of constructing crosswords, you may find it an interesting read.

Please enjoy the solve.  And be sure to groan appropriately at each pun.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

"Dog Trick," by Mel Rosen (1941–2018)

Editor's Comments

I'm truly honored to have had the opportunity to work with Mel on one of his final constructions.  I've never seen a reveal that splits into quite so many parts—I think it's a nice variation on the usual hidden-word theme.  I already miss Mel!  For those of you who haven't seen it yet, I wrote more about our interactions in an obituary on the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project site.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Upcoming Blog Changes

Starting with today's post, I'll be taking a break from writing the Editor's Comments part of this blog.  Things have become even busier than usual lately—in addition to all my other crossword commitments, this month I'm working full-time at Andrews McMeel Universal in Kansas City.  And in September I'll be back at Stanford for what promises to be a jam-packed senior year.

So for now, the blog will continue in a slightly different format.  You'll still see the Constructor's Comments (when I have them), grids, and any reader comments that come in, but the Editor's Comments will no longer appear regularly.

Depending on my schedule, they may resume at some point, and I may still write occasional posts or updates.  But my hope is that even without daily editorial comments, this blog will continue to be a useful resource and forum for Puzzle Society Crossword constructors and solvers.

Thanks for reading, and happy solving!

"Double Digits," by Jim Holland

Sunday, August 5, 2018

"Sunday Freestyle XXIII," by Mark Diehl

Constructor's Comments

I had a fondness for Charles Bronson tough-guy movies during the 60s and 70s.  Not so much the Death Wish franchise, which grew more tedious with each subsequent iteration, but certainly The Great Escape, The Dirty Dozen, The Magnificent Seven, and The Mechanic.  MR MAJESTYK is a lesser-known film of his, portraying a former U.S. Army Ranger, now watermelon farmer pitted against the mob—and such a fun name for the bottom row of a crossword.  When it cropped up as a possible fill during construction, I couldn't resist.

Editor's Comments

Although I wasn't familiar with MR MAJESTYK, the flashiness of the entry jumped out at me!  Definitely not the kind of thing you expect to see in the bottom row of your crossword puzzle.  I'm also a big fan of GRAPE JUICE, AVOCADO DIP, QUASIMODO, LOTUS TREE, and GAZETTEER (as opposed to the crossword standby ATLAS).  Seeing ANDERSONS in the grid reminded me of Pea Soup Andersen's.  My parents and I used to drive back and forth on the I-5 between Southern California and Northern California a lot, and we'd often stop in Santa Nella, where one branch of Andersen's is located.  Although we ultimately decided the restaurant was a bit of a tourist trap, I always get a laugh when I think of Andersen's.  I love how crossword entries can conjure up random memories!

Saturday, August 4, 2018

"Free for All XXIII," by Josh Knapp

Editor's Comments

Josh always finds a great balance between zippiness and smoothness in his themelesses, and today's is no exception!  My top five favorite entries are LAUGH TRACK, TELENOVELA, ARE YOU DONE, AVANT-GARDE, and LOVE LETTER, but I also like the Scrabbliness of ANGLO-SAXON and JAMES COMEY.  I'm always impressed by smooth short fill, though the ultra-clean, wide-open middle left and middle right sections especially stand out.

Friday, August 3, 2018

"Hovercrafts," by Ned White

Editor's Comments

I like how Ned took a common expression—a RISING TIDE lifts all boats—and turned it into a twisty Friday theme.  In fact, expressions lend themselves so well to crossword themes that I've been known to click down to random long entries in my word list just to see if they inspire any puzzle ideas!  Anyway, all of Ned's theme entries are nice, though my favorite is the SCOW crossing a word break in MRS. O'LEARY'S COW.  It's not every day you find a such a nice disguise for a hidden word at the end of a theme entry.  And finally, Ned designed a great grid to house his theme entries.  There are lots of midlength slots, and he really took advantage of them with entries like HANG TIME, YEAH YEAH, SASHIMI, and IN A SWOON.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

"Netflix Queue," by Patrick Jordan

Constructor's Comments

This theme is a good example of how a crossword maker's mind is always looking for common elements to form possible themes.  One day, upon hearing the phrase streaming movies, it occurred to me that stream appears at the ends of several compound words, the first parts of which can be found in movie titles.  A bit of Googling provided some well-known titles, and a new puzzle was born.

I always try to include every letter of the alphabet in my grids, if it's possible to do so without resorting to obscurities.  This grid just misses the mark (no Q), but I'm happy with some of the fun nonthematic entries.  Have you ever seen JAY LENO and THE FONZ together anywhere else?

Editor's Comments

Such a specific theme today—there aren't many words that combine with stream, let alone ones in the titles of famous movies!  I also wholeheartedly endorse Patrick's philosophy about using every letter of the grid.  Rare letters (Q, Z, X, J, and even K) in particular are nice, since the entries that use them tend not to show up as much.  Using every letter of the alphabet forces the constructor to use at least one of each rare letter, which can in turn make the fill feel fresher from a solving perspective.  That said, if rare letters are jammed into places where they don't fit well, the fill can feel frustratingly obscure.  Overall, I think Patrick struck the perfect balance between unusual letters and smoothness.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

"Cutting Back," by Yoni Glatt

Constructor's Comments

I was having a Shabbat meal with my family and several guests.  For dessert we were serving a chocolate meltaway cake (kind of like a babka on steroids with an extra dose of heaven mixed in).  One by one our guests declined that delicious cake for one dietary reason or another.  I heard several versions of "I'm on a diet"—with various words like "paleo" and "detox" being inserted before "diet."  So that's where the idea came from.  David and I went through several possible diet options before deciding on this "balanced" selection.  Special thanks to David not only for running the puzzle but also for keeping in the clue with my favorite Pink Floyd album.  Oh, and shout-out and respect to my man Elan, who was not on a diet and pounded down half that cake.

Editor's Comments

Yoni took on a real challenge here:  In addition to the constraints imposed by stacking I'M on top of each diet, the central 9-letter reveal, I'M ON A DIET, divides up the grid in such a way that forces stacks of 6- and 7-letter entries in all four corners.  Normally Yoni could have added black squares to split some of the 7s into pairs of 3s, but the theme arrangements prevented him from doing that here.  Nonetheless, he executed the grid beautifully, keeping the surrounding short fill smooth and even jazzing up the midlength slots!