Wednesday, October 31, 2018

"Wide-Open Wednesday IX," by Paul Coulter

Constructor's Comments

This is me playing with the limits of a themeless puzzle again.  I wanted to do some grid art and use it as a clue.  LILI isn't quite symmetric, but it's close enough that the visual effect comes out in a pleasing way.  Once again, I'm grateful to David for his high editorial standards, forcing me to make the puzzle so much better than my original submission.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

"Urban Areas," by Michael Down

Constructor's Comments

This puzzle is my third-ever puzzle to be published, so I am very grateful to David for accepting it!  This one was a lot of fun to make.  Once I thought of the concept, I began to make a list of well-known cities with short-enough names to make the theme work and saw what phrases I could make around them.  It was important to me that the cities were dead in the middle of the themers, that they were well-known, and that the themers were themselves something interesting.  I am a Brit living in Canada, but the crossworld is an American-centric subculture . . . so at some point during the construction, it occurred to me that first of all, I needed to make the revealer CITY CENTER as opposed to CITY CENTRE and second, downtown is the preferred way of referring to the middle of a city in the States.  I was relieved to learn, after checking, that CITY CENTRE is still a phrase people know and that the theme could work!

The fill I'm fairly happy with—I hope there's nothing that made you groan.  The grid was a challenge to make smooth with that nine-letter themer in the center (/centre!) and the two twelves.  It made a lot of three-letter words inevitable.  Overall I'm happy with it, and I hope you enjoyed solving it!

Monday, October 29, 2018

"Outlying Areas," by John Guzzetta

Constructor's Comments

This word-that-follows type of puzzle is pretty common, but I was really hoping I could go big with six theme phrases plus the revealer.  Thanks to David for helping to smooth out clunky fill in the bottom right.  Also, here's hoping David goes with my nerdy clues for 14-Across and 53-Down!

Saturday, October 27, 2018

"Free for All XXXV," by George Jasper

Constructor's Comments

In a nod to my comic book years, I added PHANTOM ZONE to the grid after starting with ANTIPASTO and PALEO DIET and was fortunate to have HEISENBERG fall into place.  I noticed that I had the right number of blank squares in an 11-letter Down fill to incorporate WALTER WHITE, allowing this themeless puzzle to have a sort of mini-theme in two of the longer entries.

The SEPTEMBER entry began as SIX-MEMBER, to be clued as [Minimum-size jury], which David felt might be a bit of a stretch, so a change was made there.  The lower-right corner was also improved to rework an awkward construction by David's suggestion of JUVENILIA, a word I've never seen in a crossword puzzle and that conjures up a distant connection with PHANTOM ZONE, at least to me.

Friday, October 26, 2018

"Crossbreed," by Mark McClain

Constructor's Comments

If you're familiar with the word rebus, you may know that its dictionary definition is a puzzle device that uses pictures to represent words or letters.  But in the world of crosswords, the term is used to describe a puzzle with squares that contain more than one letter.  That's what we have today, and to add another layer of silliness to it, the squares that contain these letters are all black.  So, you can't write the letters in, which is just as well, because it's a pain in the neck to write a bunch of letters in those little squares, and if you're doing it on your screen, it may be even harder or impossible.  Anyway, the letters represented by the black squares are combined with the letters to the right and left to make sense of the clue.  In this puzzle the word that goes in those black squares is (not by accident) something that goes with black, which is all revealed near the bottom of the puzzle by the adjacent entries BLACK and LABS.  Bow-wow.

This is a departure from my usual puzzle-making technique, which is to stick to fairly basic themes and confine the trickery to an occasional pun or deceptive clue or two.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

"This Means War," by Paul Coulter

Constructor's Comments

This started as a Sunday grid I wrote in 2014.  I wanted to do a puzzle where opposing forces came at each other from opposite directions.  So it had DEMOCRATS (from the left) clashing against SNACILBUPER from the right, etc.  No one wanted it, and it sat in my dead puzzles folder until The Puzzle Society opened shop.  In the constructor community, we're certainly fortunate that David is so open to unusual ideas.  I reviewed a lot of these that had gone unused and liked this one.  HEAD TO HEAD is a theme I haven't seen before.  Most of the 21x ones were too long, but SNEHTA SPARTA was in there, so I decided to make it all historic enemies.  War may be an ugly topic, but each of these conflicts is historically important.  I'd be surprised if anyone with the intellectual curiosity to enjoy crossword puzzles is unfamiliar with them.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

"Wide-Open Wednesday VIII," by Andy Kravis

Constructor's Comments

I originally constructed this puzzle for a contest run by Andrew Ries, who makes excellent freestyle crosswords himself.  The seed entries were, as you may have guessed, the interlocking 15s running through the center of the puzzle—I think there's something really beautiful about the fact that they both have the
???? D??K CON?E?T letter pattern.

I think this is a tremendously difficult puzzle, not only because it contains a lot of trivia, proper nouns, and difficult vocabulary but also because the clues I submitted are quite tricky.  Whether David has done anything to mitigate my jolly sadism I can't say, but in either case, I hope the puzzle is an enjoyable challenge!

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

"A Self-Critical Puzzle," by Ross Trudeau

Constructor's Comments

This puzzle was a lot of fun to make.  I imagine it will be more fun to solve for folks who have been crosswording for a while and can nod and laugh along with a puzzle that pokes fun at puzzles.  I also felt okay dropping in a bunch of cheater squares around the periphery of the grid, because I wanted to produce a pretty smooth solving experience . . . including a bunch of CROSSWORDESE or PARTIAL answers would have been a bit too meta. . . .

Sunday, October 21, 2018

"Sunday Freestyle XXXIV," by Erik Agard and Neville Fogarty

Constructors' Comments

We worked very hard to make this puzzle and are proud to have it published in The Puzzle Society Crossword.  (In particular, Neville is excited to be making his PSC debut.)  We are grateful to David for finding room in the schedule for this crossword and his keen eye in editing it.  We hope you enjoy solving it.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

"Free for All XXXIV," by Mark Diehl

Constructor's Comments

Smooth and breezy solve for me today—how about you?

Sure, you might say that I have an advantage since I constructed the puzzle, but that was months and many puzzles ago, so it actually felt pretty fresh to me.  And I actually stumbled a bit with GORGONZOLA and SUZY Q.  I also had YES INDEED initially, then YOU BETCHA, before correcting it finally to YOU BET I DO!  It's fun when I can challenge myself, too!

Friday, October 19, 2018

"Extended Play," by Jeffrey Wechsler

Constructor's Comments

It's fun to play around with the conventions of crossword construction, and this puzzle's gimmick derives from a frequently seen convention:  the addition of a preposition within a clue to define it accurately.  One example is the clue [Ascend, with "off"] for the answer TAKE.  It occurred to me that an interesting twist on this procedure would be to take the "with" literally, creating answers that needed the letters in the preposition to complete the answer.

As I was finishing the puzzle, I got the odd feeling that someone might have done something similar before.  Searching my imperfect memory, I recalled a puzzle (perhaps by the late, great Henry Hook) that I believe used a very common clue addition—with "the."  Every answer needed the added letters THE to make sense, although I think the answers in that puzzle simply suggested that THE was missing; it did not create complete words in the puzzle with "the"—for example, THEIR would simply become IR in the answer.  I am pleased that I was able to find several reasonable, stand-alone phrases that allowed the addition of a short preposition to create a humorous new phrase, with each answer using a different preposition.

[Ed.:  The earlier puzzle Jeffrey refers to was indeed by Henry Hook and appeared in The New York Times on April 7, 2011; it can be seen here on XWord Info.]

Thursday, October 18, 2018

"Literary Aspirations," by Leonard Williams

Constructor's Comments

The theme for this puzzle began with a dream, I suppose.  Waking one morning, one thought immediately crossed my mind . . . [17-Across].  I have no idea where that came from, but it had the markings of a promising theme.  At first I wanted to pursue a theme related to celebrities or notables generally.  My approach soon morphed into a focus on writers alone, for any number of authors could be adapted in recognizable ways and I could use an appropriate revealer.  As theme entries for the puzzle began to crystallize, shorter ones proved very useful for highlighting diverse genres and writers.  The trick was to find abbreviations that were accessible to solvers, so while working with David to perfect the fill in a couple of corners, I eventually changed ELF (referencing environmental politics) into something else.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

"Wide-Open Wednesday VII," by Paul Coulter

Constructor's Comments

This is my first published themeless.  I'm grateful to David for the opportunity.  Creating lively fill isn't one of my strong points, and he was very generous with his time to help make this grid so much better than the original.  Its inspiration is the B-2 bomber shapes.  When I notice these in grids, I tend to ding those puzzles half a point for using cheater squares.  So I thought, hmm, is there a way to make these shapes a positive aspect?  Fortunately, STEALTH and BOMBERS are the same length, enabling this mini-theme.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

"Forced Entry," by David Alfred Bywaters

Constructor's Comments

Like the other two puzzles I've published here, this one has had the benefit of David Steinberg's meticulous attention.  The base phrase for BABOON COMPANION (which I replaced with STANDING ABALONE) struck him as archaic; the one for COW PILATES (which he replaced with MUD PILATES) struck him as "a little gross."

I have a theory, which he has not denied, that "David Steinberg" is in fact not an individual person but a committee:  one edits these daily puzzles, a second makes remarkable puzzles for The New York Times, a third attends Stanford, a fourth poses for the pictures, and a fifth handled the blogging but quit or was laid off—a pity, for he or she was always perceptive and entertaining, whereas now we're at the mercy of constructors and their theories.

Monday, October 15, 2018

"Homespun Fun," by Mark McClain

Constructor's Comments

This type of theme is known as a "chain" or "shared center."  The first and second words of each theme entry form a familiar phrase, and the second and third words also form a familiar phrase (which has nothing to do with the first phrase).  So the two outer words "share" the center word.  This type of theme is somewhat out of fashion with editors (as David mentioned to me in his acceptance message).  This one escaped rejection because it has two elements that are not always seen in such themes:  1) The theme entries are related (the first two-word phrase is a household item), and 2) the entries are humorously clued as if the whole three-word set is a thing, thus turning it into a pun, which could be considered the "subtheme" of the puzzle.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

"Sunday Freestyle XXXIII," by Mark Diehl

Constructor's Comments

Since I am fortunate to have two consecutive Sundays in a row, it seems a perfect time to touch on two contrasting freestyle approaches.  This week's effort is on the opposite end of the freestyle spectrum from last week.  Today's puzzle has 70 entries (max allowable is usually 72), while last week's count was a terse 62.  Working in the 70 range allows for more flexibility in selecting fill.  Using all the letters of the alphabet (a pangram) is much easier to attain in a 70-entry creation because you can pack in Scrabbly stuff like FEDEX FIELD, BBQ JOINTS, LOVITZ, and AQUAZUMBA.  The 62er was a J, Q, and Z short of being a pangram, and the predominance of common letters feels higher.  I enjoy using new (yet familiar) entries when freestyling and, according to Matt Ginsberg's clue database, today's puzzle debuts 7 new entries, while last week's puzzle had only 4.  I leave it up to you to decide if you have a solving preference.

Friday, October 12, 2018

"See 33-Across!" by Morton J. Mendelson

Constructor's Comments

When I came up with the idea for this puzzle, I wasn't sure it would be possible either for me to construct it or for anyone to solve it.  The construction was a bit of a challenge, but not as much as I anticipated or might appear at first glance.  For one thing, the grid is relatively simple, with no Across word more than seven letters long; also, the only letter constraints are in the reveal at 33-Across; finally, a web-based anagram solver made it easy to test possible entries.  I still had to use cheater squares to avoid problematic fill, and David added an unusual title to make sure solvers—especially those who start at 1-Across and work their way through the clues—didn't overlook the reveal.  The final puzzle, although difficult, is indeed solvable, and I hope you enjoy the challenge.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

"Air Ball," by Victor Barocas

Constructor's Comments

I'm not a Harry Potter fan, but I live with three of the them, so, you know, this sort of thing happens.  As an aside, some years ago my children assigned each of us to a different Hogwarts house, and I was assigned to Hufflepuff.  They insisted that was because I am friendly and loyal, not because I am dumb.  Yeah, right.  Fooled I am not.

Back to the puzzle, I was pleased to find a good set of themers, and the whole thing came together very nicely and with a surprisingly open grid for a themed puzzle.  Sure, no one really wants to see Clifford ODETS standing on a corner, and even though I am an engineer I never write ENGR, but I still felt very good about the grid, especially the good-sized white blocks in the NW and SE.  In terms of the fill, I liked the longer entries, with my favorite probably being SCRABBLE (and I was lucky to find a fun clue in "Where an F is worth more than an A"!); I haven't played Scrabble in ages.

More generally, you'll notice that although there is a lot of theme density, most of the themers have fairly easy-to-use letters.  CHOKED ON and ISABELLA took care of the triple-crossed downs, and TOBAGO unsnarled the NW and used very friendly letters (TOAO) outside of the crosses, and then it was all good.  The whole thing just came out smoothly and easily—sometimes it's better to be lucky than good, I suppose.  As always, I  hope that solvers enjoy the puzzle.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

"Wide-Open Wednesday VI," by John Guzzetta

Constructor's Comments

SRIRACHA was the first seed here, a spicy sauce that was once a specialty item but is now added even to potato chips and fast food.  The second seed was 34-Down.  I love glued-together words like PROMPOSAL.  This one may not be familiar to everyone yet, but hey, I have teens in the house.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

"Once or Twice," by Ned White

Constructor's Comments

I've seen themes similar to this before but not with this particular structure.  I was shooting for plenty of theme material (6 themers and the central revealer) and, oddly enough, the rest of the fill worked out pretty easily (except I'm not all that wild about MAWKISHNESS, one ugly word if ever there was one).  But the key to this theme was assuring that each "double" answer had no meaningful relationship to its "single" version.  My favorite is DOUBLE DIPPERS, which I think I learned from a Seinfeld episode.  That's it—have fun (I hope).

Monday, October 8, 2018

"Natural Progression," by Stu Ockman

Constructor's Comments

When you become an established constructor, friends and acquaintances begin asking if you'll work on a crossword puzzle with them.  In my case, one of those friends is Sid Kolpas, an award-winning and well-published math professor.  Sid and I have since co-constructed two crosswords appearing in Math Horizons and its sister publication Convergence"Mathematicians from A to Z" and "Mathematical Potpourri."

This got me thinking about whether I could construct a general-interest crossword with a mathematical theme.  And that led directly to today's puzzle.

There were a couple of stumbling blocks along the way.  I had to find a better way to hide three and five than IN THREE and FIVE-O.  Then, with David's help, we had to make everything fit into a 15x15 grid.  That meant replacing LIONESS, PIONEER, ARTWORK, and SLEIGHT OF HAND along the way.

If you enjoyed today's puzzle (and I hope you did), why not follow the links to the others above?

Sunday, October 7, 2018

"Sunday Freestyle XXXII," by Mark Diehl

Constructor's Comments

Went all the way down to 62 words for this one.  As you may have guessed, I started with the seed entry, UP ARROW KEY, at 1-Across.  Pepper in a few other nice phrases like NATHAN HALE, FIRE DRILLS, OVEN GLOVE, HOT TAMALE, DIRTY LIARS, GREEN ALGA, SOAP BOXES, CARTER ERA, ALPINE SKI—and hopefully it was an enjoyable solve.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

"Free for All XXXII," by Paolo Pasco

Constructor's Comments

Started with READ THE ROOM and the surrounding stack and filled outwards.  This grid is chunkier than I'm used to, but I really like how this one came out.  The flexibility of options for ?????CREDIT and SCHOOL????? really helped fill those NW and SE sections.  I think I made this a few weeks after prom—could you tell from 17-Across and 23-Down?

And!  Props to David for his editorship as usual, since there was a major dupe in the original grid that totally slipped my attention.  MVP, I tell you.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

"Before and After," by Greg Johnson

Constructor's Comments

It was a challenge getting the BEFOREs in the top half and the AFTERs in the bottom half to match the title.  Having BEFORE and AFTER across the middle was David's idea.  It took awhile to get the fill with a fifth themer added.  Plenty of before and after phrases—I tried to choose ones that weren't so common they were predictable.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

"Wide-Open Wednesday V," by Mary Lou Guizzo and Jeff Chen

Constructors' Comments

Mary Lou Guizzo:  I asked Jeff for his help to redo a themeless that I'd been too ambitious with, trying to incorporate four 15-letter entries that intersected.  We kept three of the originals:  DROP OFF THE RADAR, GEOCENTRIC ORBIT, and PUBLICITY STUNTS.  Jeff came up with a skeleton grid running STRAIGHT SHOOTER down the middle and refined it to the final version.

Many moons ago I took an astronomy class and enjoy learning terms such as geocentric or earth orbit.  But even if you're not into science terms this one should be inferable from the root words.  Dubailand was a new term for me that Jeff introduced and I enjoyed learning about.  It's another word that even if you're not familiar with is inferable.

At any rate, I hope you enjoyed your solve.

Jeff Chen:  I'm not usually a fan of themelesses seeded with crossing 15s, since they force so many constraints, but it was a fun challenge to try to work in other long entries like FBI REPORT and DUBAILAND.  I had a layover in Dubai a few years ago—it's one of those places that you can't quite believe is real.  Imagine what DUBAILAND might be!

Always a pleasure to work with Mary Lou!

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

"Growth Spurts," by Gerry Wildenberg

Constructor's Comments

I don't have any recollection of how I got the idea for this puzzle; I do recall that it came after a year of no ideas, so I was very pleased to have something usable.  Once I had the idea, I used some UNIX tools, such as awk and grep, to search a large word list for candidates.  The grid was not easy to fill, but I wasn't going to let my first decent idea in a year slip away unused, so I persisted.  After receiving the submission, David suggested some changes to the grid.  I clued the revised grid, and voilĂ —I had a publication.

I saw in a blog that some puzzle composer described working with David as "awesome."  On the one hand, the author used what I consider a badly overused clichĂ© to describe working with David.  On the other hand,  I want to take this opportunity to echo that sentiment, in spades.

Monday, October 1, 2018

"Tolkien's Forest," by George Jasper

Constructor's Comments

This puzzle started out as something more than simply adding ENT to the ends of the theme entries.  I had originally hoped to tie ENT into the theme entry GIANT in the middle row as referenced in The Lord of the Rings and clued as "Like the Tolkienian forest added to the ends of 3-, 5-, 15- and 28-Down" but had some trouble incorporating acceptable surrounding fill words.

David was able to hint at the ENT theme entries by adding a very nice puzzle title that describes the sense of the puzzle without giving too much away.