Friday, November 30, 2018

"Cheating in Class," by Evan Mahnken

Constructor's Comments

The theme idea for this puzzle came from a typo my education professor made, changing gifted students to grifted students.  By the end of the three-hour-long class, I had come up with the rest of the theme clues and mocked up a grid skeleton.  This is my first themed puzzle to be included in The Puzzle Society, but I hope it won't be the last.  Happy solving!

Thursday, November 29, 2018

"What's for Dessert?" by James P. Sharp

Constructor's Comments

I'm happy I was able to integrate my favorite dessert into my favorite hobby (crossword puzzles)!

David helped me clean up some clunkiness and remove some crosswordese in the upper left.  At one point, I had ENTO at 4-Down.  David suggested I make some changes that would turn "ENTO into ONTO."  Reading those three words out loud gave me a good laugh—yes, this is the kind of thing we word nerds get a kick out of—and I happily got to work making those final changes.

I hope you all got some enjoyment from the puzzle!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

"Recycled Letters," by Jake Halperin

Constructor's Comments

To me, this is a refreshing take on familiar anagram themes; I hope solvers see it the same way.  It's a pretty tight set of theme entries in that of all the words made from the letters EILT, I used all the ones that contain each letter at least once, with the exception of illite.

David encouraged me to redo my original grid, which was truly not great, and he made some masterful tweaks to this one.  I'm pretty happy with how it turned out, considering the amount of theme material, and I'm glad I managed to keep EXTRA LIVES and DRIVERLESS in there.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

"A+," by Katja Brinck and Andrea Carla Michaels

Constructors' Comments

Katja Brinck:  I am originally from New Hampshire but now live and work in San Francisco.  I am a longtime solver, a medium crossword competitor, and have been thinking about constructing crosswords for a long time but never really knew how to get started (beyond trying to making things in an Excel spreadsheet).

In January 2018, I joined the Crossword Puzzle Collaboration Directory, a Facebook group that was created with the intention of supporting more women and other underrepresented groups in the world of crossword construction.

Through this group, I connected with a few amazing constructors and mentors, including Andrea Carla Michaels, who also lives in San Francisco.  Shortly after connecting online, we met in person, talking about all things crosswords, and just hit it off.  After several meetings and brainstorming sessions back and forth over email on a few different ideas, I had an epiphany in the middle of the night on one entry that was 15 letters—and that started this puzzle off!

A few versions later, thanks to some great ideas and a revealer from Andrea and some very helpful feedback from David Steinberg, I'm very excited that this will be my debut puzzle.

Andrea Carla Michaels:  Katja and I became connected thru a Facebook site  (Crossword Puzzle Collaboration Directory) that was encouraging women to become constructors and established constructors to become mentors.  By delightful coincidence, Katja and I both live in San Francisco.

This puzzle was shaped from  one of many solid ideas Katja had that simply needed a nice reveal and a step-by-step collaboration of theme entries, layout, fill, and cluing.

With extra constructive feedback from David Steinberg that made it stronger, Katja has what is just the first of many solid crosswords to come.

I'm particularly pleased to have a witty San Francisco–centric theme entry at its core.  And I hope solvers will also give it an "A+" for overall enjoyment!

Monday, November 26, 2018

"Female Leads," by Brian Gubin

Constructor's Comments

First of all, I would like to give thanks to David for taking a look at my puzzle and deeming it worthy of publication.  I started construction for fun and am still shocked when a puzzle of mine is published.  As for this puzzle in particular, I don't exactly remember a specific moment of inspiration, but I vacillated between using LADIES FIRST or LEADING LADIES.  I went with the former and think it turned out well.  The SW of the grid probably took the longest time to fill.  I liked BASE TAN in the NW so I built around that.  I didn't want to tax the grid too much with themers but was also considering answers revolving around Lady Godiva, Lady Luck, and Lady Marmalade.  I hope everyone enjoys the puzzle.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

"What's Buried?" by Evan Kalish

Constructor's Comments

When you construct crosswords, you might begin to develop some interesting mental "background processes."  They might involve subconsciously parsing conversations and TV shows for crossword-friendly phrases, tallying the number of letters in said phrases, and jotting them down on paper or in your phone's Notes app.  Some of these phrases just scream "Crossword theme!"  Such was the case with RUBS THE WRONG WAY, which probably came to mind as I was petting my cat.  The letter string -SBUR- is just common enough that there were a few theme entry options available, yet uncommon enough so as not to be trivial.  The opportunity to give BOB'S BURGERS its cruciverbal debut sealed the deal!

I didn't want to include any two-word phrases wherein the -SBUR- did not span both words (like SALISBURY STEAK or SAINT PETERSBURG), which I considered a bit arbitrary for this context; this left me with no 15-letter counterpart to the revealer.  After testing some options I decided that the -SBUR- answers needed room to breathe—featuring just three entries led to a more satisfying puzzle in terms of fill.  I'm glad David was willing to let me change up the normal layout!

Saturday, November 24, 2018

"The Royal Court," by Chris King

Constructor's Comments

This was a fun one to put together, and the key was 36-Across is a nice 15-letter entry.  I'm also partial to 46-Across, as that two-word phrase is a part of the wonderful exchange seen here:

This was a nice, clean puzzle, and I hope you, the solver, enjoyed it and maybe learned something new.  I want to thank David for publishing my very first major outlet puzzle.

Also, if you want to see more of my brand of things, I have a blog at Chris Words with a whole backlog.  I've heard some like it.

Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 23, 2018

"Back Talk," by Annemarie Brethauer

Constructor's Comments

Snarkiness has been around for a long time, but there are always new ways to express your disbelief, boredom, smugness—to talk back.  However, this puzzle was meant to be a fun solve, not a nasty one.

My favorite fill words in "Back Talk" are SNOG and MOOED.  Also, I'm happy with the arrangement of the black squares in the grid, something I suspect most solvers don't concern themselves with (though my editors tell me otherwise).

As a fan of film noir, I was glad to be able to work in the clue [1955's "Kiss Me ___"] for DEADLY, though it got changed.  Now if I can only create a puzzle using THE GREAT WHATSIT, that film's MacGuffin.

I hope you enjoyed the solve.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

"Bird's-Eye View," by Max Carpenter

Constructor's Comments

This puzzle's theme is a simple one, but I like it and am happy David saw fit to publish it.  In fact, the story of this puzzle's short life adrift in the abyss that is puzzle publishing is a testament to David's great qualities as a person, friend, and all-around cruciverbonaut.  As a good friend who loves nothing more than living and breathing puzzles, David ends up seeing and hearing about a good portion of my crosswording output before it passes by any newspaper editors.  He always stuns me with his deep memory for puzzles and themes when, months after talking about a puzzle with him, he will email me out of the blue with, "Hey, Max.  What ever happened to that puzzle?  Are you still looking for an outlet?"  In the case of this puzzle, David not only remembered it from months before but had, in the interim, considered that the theme would "pop" much better if we spun the puzzle so the theme entries read vertically down (whereas before, I had them reading horizontally).  Needless to say, he was right, though the moral of the story here is that David is a uniquely compassionate and generous editor in the already rather polite and respectful market of crosswords.

I hope everyone has fun with the puzzle.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

"Prankster's Refrain," by David Steinberg

Constructor's Comments

I'm trying something new for today's post:  Our first-ever video constructor notes . . . not!  I thought about having a link to Rick Astley's YouTube video as the title for this puzzle but ultimately felt the puzzle was troll-y enough as is ;).  I'm also very grateful for KAUAI, whose unusual letter pattern saved the day at 34-Down.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

"Central African Republic," by Paul Coulter

Constructor's Comments

The title was David's terrific idea.  This had OMAN in it originally and three of the African countries, so I don't know why I didn't think of making the tight set myself.  Also, the TOGO one was originally BUY SOME FOOD TO GO [Get a take-out meal (from West Africa?)].  It was my seed entry, but it obviously isn't central, so this one had to change.  And for some strange reason I can't remember, my title was "Feeling Hungary?" when the theme words were hidden, not puns.  Thank goodness for such a gifted editor.  David has the near magical ability to turn scattershot themes into good puzzles.

Monday, November 19, 2018

"Golden Words," by Gary D. Schlapfer and Zhouqin Burnikel

Constructors' Comments

Gary D. Schlapfer:  I'm a retired math and science teacher based in Fremont, Nebraska.  I met C.C. a few years ago in Minneapolis, and we have been good friends since.  I now blog the Saturday puzzles for the L.A. Times Crossword Corner.  We had fun going back and forth with the theme entry selections.  We also considered HAUSFRAUEN but feared it might be a bit shaky, so we sent David the current set first.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

"Thoroughly Themeless VII," by Erik Agard

Constructor's Comments

Thanks to David for, for a time, making a space for themelesses, my favorite type of crossword to create but the hardest to sell.  His editing is as kind as it is wise (exceptionally), and the collaboration is always a joy.

Also, consider this your formal invitation to go on a listening/watching binge of 2-Down, if you haven't lately.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

"Thoroughly Themeless VI," by Brian Thomas

Constructor's Comments

I love this puzzle and had so much fun constructing it!  I chanced upon the center stack and knew I had to flesh out the rest of the grid.  The biggest sticking point came with finagling the black squares in the middle, but once those were in place, the other corners fell together pretty well (at least I think so).  This one is a personal favorite of mine, and I hope solvers enjoy it.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

"Thoroughly Themeless IV," by Andrew J. Ries

Constructor's Comments

29-Across was the seed entry for the center stack, and I built that middle section probably over a year ago.  The grid was flexible enough that I looked to make the top and bottom as open as possible, so after a bunch of trial and error I was happy to get the pair of 15s and 10s to work in those areas.  I like the conflicting nature of VOLSTEAD ACT brushing up against IRISH ALE—Andrew Volstead is largely forgotten today outside his hometown of Granite Falls, Minnesota, but Prohibition has always been a fascinating chapter in American history to me, so I'm thrilled to debut the Prohibition enforcement act that bore Volstead's name in a crossword.

If challenging themelesses are up your alley, I've just released STRETCH, a "crossword EP" featuring eight oversized themelesses in rectangular grids.  For more info and to purchase, click here.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

"Thoroughly Themeless III," by Evan Kalish

Constructor's Comments

I've never found stacks of 15-letter entries satisfying to work with, so I thought I'd tweak the form to get some underappreciated 14-letter entries in on the cruciverbal fun.  The first phrase in the grid was YOU ARE NOT ALONE, which is both a) a statement many people need to hear, and b) a subtle reference to Doctor Who (series 3).  I was pleased with the entry directly underneath that as well.  Of course seats are limited.  Everything is, ultimately, limited!  Ah, marketing.

That stack in the middle allowed several long entries to shoot vertically through it, 4- and 10-Down being my favorites among them.  I tried to throw in some fun with those tight SW/NE corners; hope you weren't seeing double in the bottom left!

Fun fact:  16-A has never appeared as a New York Times crossword answer in any form!  We’ll resolve that little oversight sooner rather than later . . . right?

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

"Thoroughly Themeless II," by Mark Diehl

Constructor's Comments

I'm honored to be part of the All Themeless All Week Long Extravaganza here at The Puzzle Society.  It's not often you get to see a seven-day stretch of wide-open freestyle puzzles in a quality venue like this one—thanks for having me, David!

I peppered in enough rare letters to achieve a pangram in this 68-entry offering while still maintaining a fairly medium difficulty level, I think.  Maybe that's why it's running on a Tuesday.  FIJI WATER and RUM RATION make symmetric-paired appearances in the grid, which felt fitting to me, and [Old Navy share] was one of my favorite off-the-top-of-my-head clues.  Looking forward to the rest of the week as a themeless-solving fan!

Monday, November 12, 2018

"Thoroughly Themeless I," by Will Nediger

Constructor's Comments

This themeless started out as a themed puzzle, sort of—I constructed the top-left corner for a themed puzzle I was working on and really liked it, but I couldn't use it because YOU DO YOU duplicated the 8-Down entry, which started with the word YOU.  So I just changed 8-Down to YOUTH and repurposed it as a themeless.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

"Sunday Freestyle XXXVII," by Sam Ezersky and Neville Fogarty

Constructors' Comments

Sam Ezersky:  Neville has a knack for whipping up a mean themeless, and I'd wanted to make a puzzle with him for quite some time.  The one you see now was born over a brunch we met up for in Charlottesville, while I was still attending UVA.  I can't remember my exact thought progression, but it was probably something like me begging Neville for a collaboration, Neville generously accepting, and us actually getting serious later on when we realized through our other nerdy, mathy conversations that ABSTRACT ALGEBRA was 15 letters.

Our real starting point for the gridwork was that gorgeous SW stack:  Neville had BLOG????/LIFEHACK/ENTRY FEE written down in a notebook, which he showed me that same day, and I was able to cobble together a black square pattern around it that preserved our central seed.  That NW corner is all Neville's as well—CLOUD CITY might not resonate with every last solver, but it's one of my favorites in the puzzle nonetheless.

Meanwhile, my main contribution was one that Neville had no control over:  procrastinating for months and months instead of SITTING DOWN TO WRITE HALF THE CLUES UGH C'MON SAM SRSLY GET IT TOGETHER.  Since our brunch, I've 1) graduated from college, 2) become the New York Times's assistant puzzles editor, and 3) dabbled in other puzzles along the way.  That's all to say . . . I'm so thrilled this is finally seeing publication, with a great home under David's top-notch editorship to boot.

Huge thanks to Neville for the joy of stitching this one together. Hope you enjoy the puzzle!

Neville Fogarty:  Most of what Sam said is accurate, but there's a point of contention here.  Sam's the themeless expert between the two of us.  Dude's had over a dozen killer themeless puzzles in The New York Times, and I remember an excellent Puzzle Society themeless of his from just a couple of months ago.  I was definitely the one doing the begging!  He is far and away the real MVP here, and it was a pleasure to get to collaborate with him.  My favorite clues in this puzzle are Ezersky originals, and they were certainly worth the wait.

Big thanks to David for running this puzzle, and I hope every solver enjoys an AHA moment or two while solving.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

"Free for All XXXVII," by Annemarie Brethauer

Constructor's Comments

For lots of constructors, the most compelling part of crossword construction is creating clever themes or lively clues (both good things).  But I get most excited by collecting words and phrases and creating themed dictionaries to put them in.

For this crossword, my debut with The Puzzle Society, I looked in my "themeless" dictionary—"A for effort" through "zoot suit"—hunting for words and phrases I hadn't been able to work into a themed puzzle.

I found COCKAMAMIE, which made me think of my father, the electrical engineer, who used this word to describe anything not up to his standards.  Originally I had THINGAMAJIG in the puzzle, but David Steinberg had me rework the puzzle to clear out some obscurities, and I just couldn't keep . . . whatchamacallit?  Oh, yeah, THINGAMAJIG.

However, I was able to keep SEE NO EVIL crossed with GONE GIRL.  (I recently read the book—couldn't put it down.)  Since there aren't too many television characters whose names are instantly recognizable, I was happy to work in OLIVIA POPE.

The entry I like the least:  NAIL BED.  I hope you enjoyed the solve.

Friday, November 9, 2018

"Ad Breaks," by Paul Coulter

Constructor's Comments

My original title was "Ad Lib."  As in AD has been "liberated from the rest of the word."  I imagined Ad Lib as a social movement for commercials.  Picture a bunch of ads marching on Madison Avenue with protest signs.  David's title "Ad Breaks" is good, too.  You can do lots of things during an ad break, including crossword puzzles.  And it's an apt description of the theme.  My favorite of the bunch is IPAD DRESSES, which was my seed entry.  I didn't come up with this myself, but I can't remember where I saw it.  Has anyone else seen this somewhere?

Thursday, November 8, 2018

"Quartet," by David Steinberg

Constructor's Comments

English is such a weird language!  I noticed one day that the letters -our are sort of like -ough—when placed at the ends of words, they can take on a variety of sounds.  I noticed FOUR OF A KIND when searching my word list for -OUR entries, and I was off and running from there.  I considered using TOUR DE FORCE for 17-Across, but having three four-letter -OUR words (TOUR, SOUR, and FOUR itself) paired with one seven-letter -OUR word (GLAMOUR) seemed inelegant.

I got lucky with this grid pattern.  Usually higher word-count grids have smooth short fill but little to no interesting long fill.  In contrast, lower word-count grids typically have lots of interesting long fill but at least a few eyebrow-raising short entries.  After about an hour of designing and test-filling possible grids, I stumbled across a 78-worder with more longish nonthematic slots than usual.  This pattern gave me lots of flexibility with the short fill while still allowing me to seed in several more interesting longer entries—not quite the best of both worlds, but closer than usual to what I'd ideally want.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

"Smash Hits," by Jim Peredo

Constructor's Comments

This puzzle began life five years ago as a completely different puzzle.  In that one, the revealer was SOUNDS FISHY, and the theme entries were all songs whose last word could precede FISH (HEART OF GOLD, TEARS OF A CLOWN, HONKY CAT, and I AM A ROCK).  Editors I tried to sell it to felt the revealer was a little off, so I shelved it but took the idea and eventually found another theme set it would work with that had a suitably strong revealer.

In my original version of this grid, I had RING OF FIRE, but David wasn't keen on the term firefight, so it got replaced with CHERRY PIE.  (We both would much rather have had AMERICAN PIE, but it was too long.)  Also, I'm embarrassed to say I submitted it with the unthematic ROCKY TOP where ROCKETTE is now.  Not only is ROCKY TOP another song in a puzzle already filled with thematic songs, it's also the de facto FIGHT SONG for the University of Tennessee.  I'm glad David's keen eye spotted that one.

This is my debut for the Puzzle Society, and I'm happy to be here.

Monday, November 5, 2018

"Shakespearean Shenanigans," by Jeffrey Wechsler

Constructor's Comments

One of my favorite crossword theme gimmicks is the addition of a word of three or more letters into an existing phrase to create a new (and hopefully humorous) phrase.  It's nice when a phrase presents itself unexpectedly as such a source, and THERE'S THE RUB popped into my consciousness as potential theme material.  For me, inserting three or more letters into a phrase is more interesting and challenging than adding just one or two letters—and when it works, it's quite satisfying.  I hope solvers also receive satisfaction from this puzzle.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

"Free for All XXXVI," by Christopher Adams

Constructor's Comments

It shouldn't be any surprise that the seed entry for this one was SAME SEX MARRIAGE, but the rest of the grid took awhile to come together before I found the stack in the NW.  I originally only had ELENA in the grid, partially because I was more focused on finding a good stack to start.  But when I started focusing on the rest of the grid, I didn't have to think twice to go with the full name, and I'm very glad that it fit perfectly.  The rest of the grid came together nicely, and I'm somewhat proud of the BRANDYWINE/HARD CIDER overlap, even though (or, perhaps, especially because) they're not related at all.

The original grid did have an extra pair of black squares (at the I in SETI and W in WAND), which led to an overabundance of short fill outside the two main stacks, as well as perhaps a few too many Scrabbly letters.  But David's suggestion to knock out those squares resulted in better fill overall and some good long downs to boot.  He also suggested CREME EGG for 4-Down, a vast improvement over my original CREMATES; it's things like this that make me glad to work with David and very appreciative of the work he does.

Otherwise, as always, I hope you enjoyed this puzzle; if you want to get in touch, or just solve more puzzles, here's my site.

Friday, November 2, 2018

"To Err Is Human," by Mark McClain

Constructor's Comments

Happy Birthday to Me!  I am living proof that "To Err Is Human" . . . witness today's puzzle.  Some people believe crosswords should steer clear of the negative side of life, but how can that be possible when we English speakers have so very many words for PROBLEM?  A few of these are highlighted in this puzzle's four theme entries, though they are clued as if there is no PROBLEM at all.  But of course there is a PROBLEM (see 40-Across).  Hats off once again to David, who found a glitch in one of my theme entries (GLITCH being another PROBLEM word and a rhymer for HITCH).  David also suggested the inclusion of typos in the clues to add a little humor (with apologies to the spellcheck police, who were likely appalled by this gimmick and consider both David and I to be morons).  So in closing let me just say that if you finished this puzzle, then you definitely have a PROBLEM!

Thursday, November 1, 2018

"Disconnect," by Ross Trudeau

Constructor's Comments

The idea for this puzzle came not from finding the revealer but rather from legitimately seeing the phrase "It takes two to tango" on a storefront with the go obscured.  Thanks, xword gods!

Also, I'm part of the community of folks who manage chronic pain, so I was happy to pay homage to my OUCHIES (it's a word I use daily) in the fill of this particular puzz.