Sunday, September 30, 2018

"Sunday Freestyle XXXI," by John Guzzetta

Constructor's Comments

31-Across was my seed, and I was tickled when I found a stairstep stack that was a lovely mixed-up combination of jovial, nerdy, and sophisticated.  Hope you enjoy!

Friday, September 28, 2018

"Look Around," by Victor Barocas

Constructor's Comments

This puzzle was one of those where you have the idea for it and you think, "Yeah, that would be nifty," but you're not sure that it's possible.  I also promised myself years ago that I would never make an "around the outside" theme, and now here I am.  I'll never make another one.  They look so doable, but they are so hard, even in this one that had a lot of flexibility in the outside words.  On the other hand, I really liked the BELL-BOTTOM row, and I liked the different meanings of BEAR in CARE (BEAR) and CAN'T (BEAR), and of COUNTER in CARD (COUNTER) and BEAN (COUNTER).  ALL RIGHT was, in my opinion, the weakest, but omelets and breaking eggs, I suppose.  The fill was rough in spots because of all the demands, but I'm glad I got a good classical reference in there with EURIPIDEAN, and I was very proud of the clue for ALPHABETIC.  I hope that people enjoy the puzzle.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

"Beneath the Surface," by John Lieb

Constructor's Comments

Over the last several months, I was continually seeing headlines promising a "deep dive" into some topic.  (Search "deep dive" in Google News to see what random topics journalists and bloggers are diving into.)  After seeing a phrase like that for the umpteenth time, the crossword part of my brain lit up and tried to make a puzzle out of it.  Luckily, I was able to get a symmetric set of themers (full disclosure:  I did not know "Challenger Deep" before looking for theme entries, but I appreciated learning about it) and I was able to get the mirror symmetry needed for this puzzle to work out.  My thanks to David for his careful and creative editing, and I hope solvers enjoyed jumping into this puzzle.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

"Wide-Open Wednesday IV," by Jim Quinlan

Constructor's Comments

I've taken several stabs at designing a themeless with FEEDING THE TROLL as one of the seed answers.  I'm pretty sure the first themeless grid I designed crossed that entry with HOW 'BOUT THIS HEAT (where FOAMS AT THE MOUTH is in this grid).  While I was super-proud of my work, it got kicked back to me with the note, "The phrase 'how 'bout this heat' yields less than 10,000 Google hits."  Whoops.  I really thought that was a thing people said. . . .

I'm very happy to have my debut in PSC with this puzzle, and I'm particularly grateful for David's patience as I reworked a corner that wasn't up to snuff.  (The original entry for 1-Across was TIPSTAFF.)

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

"Triple-Double," by David Alfred Bywaters

Constructor's Comments

The original version had these clues:

BALLAD:  Commercial for a formal dance?
PUFFED:  Smoking curriculum, briefly?
BASSET:  Alien with a low voice?
WHOOPS:  Exulting epistolary appendage, abbr.?

So the editor in his mercy has spared you some at least of the suffering I meant to inflict.

Monday, September 24, 2018

"Signature Dishes," by Paul Coulter

Constructor's Comments

I'm a big fan of cooking shows, so the base phrases are all household names to me.  Hope they were familiar to solvers.  Some of the others that didn't make the cut were JAMES BEER, JAMIE OLIVE, and JULIA CHILI.  I'm glad I managed to work in SAUSAGE ROLL and COOKOUT, but I wish I could have had a food-related phrase for the other long down.  As regulars on the L.A. Times Crossword Corner blog have noted, I tend to have a lot of food items in many of my LATs.  Maybe it's because I'm usually hungry while constructing.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

"Sunday Freestyle XXX," by Evan Mahnken

Constructor's Comments

Hello again, solvers!  Glad to be back in the Puzzle Society.  This puzzle began with the seed entries of BAD BREATH and HALITOSIS, which I noticed had the same number of letters.  Efforts to stack them on top of one another proved fruitless, so I put them in opposite corners and set to work filling in the rest of the themeless.  I'm pretty proud of the fill in this puzzle (IN A PICKLE, TIMES SQUARE BALL, SHRIVEL UP), although I wish there was something I could've done about ULT.  Happy solving!

Friday, September 21, 2018

"Flippers," by Steven L. Zisser

Constructor's Comments

I kind of backed into this theme.  I have been relying primarily on pop culture themes but am finding out that they tend to be a bit dated.  The new direction that I took in this puzzle relies more on wordplay, and David provided great insight into how to improve the fill.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

"Going Over to the Dark Side," by Andrew Zhou

Constructor's Comments

This puzzle speaks to the odd use of the term word ladder, doesn't it, for yes, one can, of course, climb down a ladder, but it's usually got the connotation of something one climbs up.  Anyhow, I am usually not a huge fan of this type of puzzle, but I was encouraged to pursue this one in part because of the unexpected direction it would take (through TOOTHSOME, no less!).  The theme imparts a certain feeling to the grid:  the top half of the puzzle seems brightly lit; the bottom half seems engulfed in a dark shadow.  One of John McPhee's many dear pieces of advice on writing comes to mind.  Calling thesauruses "useful" but "dangerous," he writes:  "At best, [they] are mere rest stops in the search for the mot juste."  Moral: caveat utilitor.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

"Wide-Open Wednesday III," by Brian E. Paquin

Constructor's Comments

Many times when I have finally finished polishing up a puzzle, I have become neutral to it.  The familiarity thing kicks in.  But I think I will always like this one, if only because Sylvester the Cat is running through the middle.  :-)

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

"And I'm the Queen of England!" by Stu Ockman

Constructor's Comments

When a friend mentioned that Elizabeth had more nicknames than any other name in the English language, I was off and running.  With so many nicknames, it's hard to know where to draw the line.

David asked me to ditch LILY and BITSY in favor of LILI and BUFFY (ours not to reason why).  And ELSA and ELLA disappeared from the NW and SE corners and LIZA changed to LISA in favor of cleaner fill.  If you'd like to see even more options, here's a good source.

This is one of my recent puzzles.  In fact, I've only constructed two more since:  a picture frame grid and a Greek themeless.  Looks like I need to start constructing more (and working less).  I was particularly happy to be able to include the diagonal run of seven nicknames from BEBE in the NE to BESS in the SW.

Hope you enjoyed this one.  And, if your given name is ELIZABETH, you may want to consider some new options.

Monday, September 17, 2018

"Home Remedy," by Tim Schenck

Constructor's Comments

This is the longest palindrome I know of that holds together grammatically.  And David astutely observed that only MOM and DAD could suggest such a remedy!

Sunday, September 16, 2018

"Sunday Freestyle XXIX," by Mark Diehl

Constructor's Comments

This feels like such a free-flowing and evenhanded fill that it doesn't seem possible that it is just 68 words and a pangram to boot.  By my count, of the 23 entries that are 7 or more letters, 16 of them are multiple-word phrases.  I consider that a big plus when constructing freestyle puzzles.  Also, HENRY LUCE, PEAK USE, and GO FUND ME (which I'm counting as multiword) are all entries I have never seen before in a crossword.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

"Free for All XXIX," by Andrew Kingsley

Constructor's Comments

The seed entry for this puzzle was ADULTING.  After my friends had prepared dinner or their taxes, they'd say "#adulting," which was both sad and crossword-inspiring.  I was happy to get TAQUERIA in there as well, as my partner and I are big fans of tacos around Boston (try Tenoch Mexican if you live in the area!).

Friday, September 14, 2018

"One Step Forward, Two Steps Back," by Will Nediger

Constructor's Comments

As I often do, I set this puzzle aside once I finished the grid and then came back to write the clues a few days later.  A mistake in this case—I wrote clues for CODER and COMPLETES before I remembered that those were actually theme entries, so they were really CODE RED and COMPLETE SET.  Luckily, I realized my mistake before sending the puzzle off.

I'll also take this opportunity to do some shameless self-promotion:  I recently released a suite of themeless puzzles designed to showcase 16-letter entries that don't get much play in normal crosswords.  Check out my website for more details/to purchase it.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

"Star-Studded," by Rich Proulx

Constructor's Comments

I have come across some really enjoyable puzzles where the heart of the cleverness lay hidden in the clues rather than in the grid.  I enjoyed trying my hand at this technique—so much so that I felt compelled to include it in six theme entries.  This led to difficulties setting the grid, particularly because the two 15-letter spans prevented placing a pair of the entries vertically.  I kept trying to space out the seeds to create breathing room.  As it turned out, keeping the two 15s close together in the center, and the remaining seeds atop one another, made for the most workable grid.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

"Wide-Open Wednesday II," by John Guzzetta

Constructor's Comments

When I first started constructing themeless puzzles in 2016, I dared not stray far from the same basic grid pattern of triple-stacks in each corner (see, for example, The New York Times 1/27/17, 5/19/18, and this Friday, 9/14/18).  Which meant that my notebook was full of 11-letter seed answers.  In 2017, I got my legs under me enough to venture into more challenging and interlocking designs.  But I still had a whole bunch of 11-letter seeds to try out.  Thus, RAREFIED AIR and SERIAL DATER were the seeds for this puzzle.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

"Back Porch," by George Jasper

Constructor's Comments

I was just going over the many possible combinations of letter exchanges when the CH to P struck me as one I hadn't seen before and that was loaded with possibilities.  Since these types of puzzles are fairly common, I figured if I could come up with at least five theme entries, the puzzle would have a better chance to pass muster with David.

Fortunately, with a little help from David's fine-tuning of the upper left corner, the puzzle fell into place.  I had one small concern that SNAPCHAT/SNAP PAT might not be familiar to some solvers, but evidently it's common enough.

After about an hour trying to come up with a puzzle title, "Back Porch" just popped into my head and seemed to work nicely.

Monday, September 10, 2018

"Show One's Stripes," by Jenna LaFleur

Constructor's Comments

Hello!  My name's Jenna, I'm currently studying linguistics at UCLA, and I'm very, very excited to be making my major-outlet crossword debut!  This puzzle has existed in one form or another for over a year, slowly progressing towards the grid you see now as I changed theme entries and reworked portions of the grid for cleaner fill.  Major thanks to Erik Agard, Amy Reynaldo, and Patti Varol for providing invaluable feedback on the puzzle in its early stages, and to David Steinberg for accepting it for publication here.  As for any comments on the theme, well, they say to write what you know.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

"Sunday Freestyle XXVIII," by Brad Wilber and Matthew Sewell

Constructors' Comments

Matt Sewell:  It's a great pleasure to collaborate with Brad—we both like the back-and-forth of experimenting with lots of variants in hopes of finding the best possible choice.  Brad always brings a rigorous eye and a deep well of fun entries—I mean, get a load of this grid's lovely middle, which is all Brad (as for me, I brought, uh, SAD KEANU to the party).  I think this was a spin-off from another puzzle we made together, but after many revisions it took on a life of its own.  I hope solvers enjoy the final product.

Brad Wilber:  I think Matt's right, and we had tried to wedge SAD KEANU into the final corner of another themeless, but it didn't work.  We started with it here, and the stack we built, including PAY TOILET, seemed snappy to me.  I remember TEN LONELY GUYS among my mother's 45s.  Its highest chart position must have been very close to my personal cutoff for inclusion in my word list, because research revealed it wasn't quite the megahit I assumed it was based on the number of childhood hearings.  If you can't sing it, I think the clue is well-crafted and gettable!  Yeah, Matt's been producing eminently publishable puzzles from his earliest attempts several years back.  It's probably natural that he would direct some my way at The Chronicle of Higher Education and that we would hit it off as cowriters.  We have many parallels in our work life, our interests, and our puzzle aesthetic.  In between all of our tinkering with grids and preparing submissions, we often laugh together about the foibles of college humanities departments.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

"Free for All XXVIII," by Brian Thomas

Constructor's Comments

What I'm most excited about with this puzzle isn't actually the southeast stack, where I began the construction, but how nicely the northwest came together, despite being the last section to fill.  A BIT FISHY is a super-fun entry and probably my favorite in the puzzle—as far as I can see, it hasn't appeared anywhere else yet.  Hope all can find something to enjoy in this themeless!

Friday, September 7, 2018

"Dial-ect," by Jake Halperin

Constructor's Comments

What's refreshing about this theme, to me, is that it's not an instance of a common well-known theme type.  Note also that in each equivalent pair, the same letter never appears in the same position in both words (e.g., if one word has an A as the first letter, the first letter in the other word is either a B or a C), which I think is an elegant restriction.

I wrote a couple of lines of Python code to generate a list of candidates for theme entries, which I then went over manually.  Other pairs of answers with the paired clues I would have used included PAID OFF [Panned out]/SCHEMED [Planned out] and PISTOL [Word with "drawn"]/SHRUNK [Withdrawn].  I couldn't think of anything for ABASHED and CAB RIDE.

The unusual lengths and layout of theme answers made it a challenging grid to fill, with little opportunity for sparkly bonus fill.  But USAIN BOLT is nice to have, as is the little Disney mini-theme.

I hope solvers had a positive experience with this.  Let me know in the comments!

Thursday, September 6, 2018

"Going off the Grid," by Stu Ockman

Constructor's Comments

I had originally planned on saving this one for a self-published crossword book, but when David asked me to send him some puzzles, I thought, "Why not?"  As you may have guessed, I constructed this puzzle a while ago, way back in March 2014, and I really like it.

The puzzle has morphed considerably with David's help (so you've been spared dealing with ENURES, TSO, T SLOT, AREO, ODIC, SALA, BAPT, MERL, and IT TOO—did I mention I constructed this in 2014 before I knew the importance of clean fill?), but the six theme entries remain intact.  Note that two pairs of the theme entries cross symmetrically.  That doesn’t happen very often (a bit of serendipity) and allows for better fill.  Also, we were able to move the revealer to a more prominent place in the grid.

I'm guessing you enjoyed this one once you grokked the theme.  Why not let us know with a comment below?

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

"Wide-Open Wednesday I," by Sam Ezersky

Constructor's Comments

Exactly one year ago today, I worked my first full day under Will Shortz as The Times's new assistant puzzles editor . . . so of course it's only fitting that I have my first non-Times puzzle published in years!

Seriously, though, this is a real treat for me, and I hope the *cross*over is fun for you solvers.  David and I have been tight ever since meeting at the 2013 ACPT, when we both were still in high school.  We're off now trying to do big things in our respective puzzle markets, and there's nothing but love and respect all around.  Oh, and learning from one another as we continue to discuss our constructing/editing endeavors.

Looking forward to carrying on this spirit for the years to come!  Thanks again, David, for the opportunity.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

"Color Mixing," by Jakob Weisblat

Constructor's Comments

I'm excited to have my first puzzle published!  David's been great to work with and helped a bunch on the gridwork.

This puzzle idea came to me when my friend was talking about the RBG movie in June; I misread RBG in her post as RGB, which I see a lot because I do lighting design, and when I realized my mistake I thought, "I wonder what other things you can make with these letters."  Fortuitously, there are enough possibilities to make a crossword out of them.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

"Sunday Freestyle XXVII," by Evan Mahnken

Constructor's Comments

Hello, solvers!  I'm Evan Mahnken, a student at Brandeis University, and I'm excited to be making my Puzzle Society debut!

My seed entry for this themeless was MRS ROBINSON.  I thought of the clue [Character whose lover was shot through the leg?] and just had to build a puzzle around it.  (As of the time of my writing this, I don't know if that clue survived, but I really hope it did.)  If you've never seen The Graduate, I highly recommend it.

This was also my first foray into the themeless grid type with stairstep patterns on either side of the middle three rows.  I'm quite happy with the quality of the fill, just not with the amount of black squares it took to get that quality of fill.

Big thanks to David for his help in perfecting the fill around the edges and for telling me I ought to send some puzzles his way at this year's ACPT.  Happy solving!

Saturday, September 1, 2018

"Free for All XXVII," by Evan Kalish

Constructor's Comments

You might imagine the impetus ("seed entry") for this puzzle:  MSNBC HOST, a wonderful car accident of consonants.  I liked being able to go all in on the blue state theatrics with CHAI LATTE and CARBON TAX—crossing McCAFE, of course.  These entries effectively fixed the layout of the grid, as well as entries out through TOE TAG and TEXAS TEA.  Working east I couldn't help but complete the string SOT- with SO, THAT'S IT?—a phrase that's almost impossible not to speak in your mind with dramatic flair . . . and possibly arm gesticulations.  I love seeing phrases like that in crosswords (another great example:  I KNOW, RIGHT?).

While the top half of the puzzle coalesced rather quickly, the bottom half took much more work.  For my second set of seed entries, I chose to focus on the dynamic duo of APPLE LOGO over REALLY, NOW?—two more entries that, to my knowledge, are making their crossword debuts here.  I personally love them both—two phrases that are imbued with an outsize dose of meaning/symbolism.  I attempted dozens of fill options before David helped me settle on what you see here.

It is my hope that my constructor notes are entertaining for solvers and insightful for budding constructors.  I would say that, particularly with this puzzle, my fill preferences tend to skew a bit toward the avant-garde.  In practice, what this meant was that while I thought MSNBC HOST and APPLE LOGO were refreshing and vibrant, the initial venue to which I submitted it had doubts as to whether they were a bit too arbitrary/contrived (aka "green paint").  Allowing in APPLE LOGO could open the floodgates to a whole slew of other (and possible more arbitrary) answers:  Toyota logo, Target logo, BMW logo . . . all technically valid things, but where would you draw the line?  Totally understandable.  Re: the former, I feel somewhat vindicated by the obituary titles in numerous publications surrounding the death of Ed Schultz recently, though I see how an entry like this could be a matter of taste.  MSNBC HOST is not something you normally say in everyday conversation—it's more of a specialized descriptor.

Anyway, hope y'all enjoyed my first published themeless puzzle!