“Shaken, Not Stirred”

by Ella Dershowitz & Ross Trudeau


This week’s puzzle is a collaboration with Ella Dershowitz, whose name you’ll recognize from last Thursday’s New York Times crossword!

Ella and I started talking grid last May when she reached out via Twitter for some puzzle advice. In the months since then, she’s had puzzles published with AVCX, the Inkubator, the Times, and elsewhere. And she’s got her own puzzle blog! She’s an actor, so naturally her indie grids skew heavily in the musical theatre vector.

If you need to bury your head in the sand on Inauguration Day, skip over to the WSJ and solve a #rossword in that paper of record on Wednesday. And I’m very excited about next weekend’s Sunday NYT puzzle… stay tuned.

Ella’s thoughts on “Shaken, Not Stirred” after the jump.

Down the hatch!

Ella: This puzzle is what happened when I, a very very (very) novice constructor stumbled upon a link to Ross’s website, did an embarrassing quantity of his awesome puzzles in one sitting, saw that he was open to (nay, passionate about) mentoring newbies, and sent the second twitter DM of my life.  

Not only did we collaborate on this puzzle, but he showed me some basic principles of how to wrangle squares and themers (and feel like they were friends instead of sources of endless frustration) that gave me a ton more confidence and that I think about all the time (thanks, Ross!).  Through talking, we realized we had both been toying around with one of the same themes – this one – and had a few of the same answers in mind.  The answer that had initially excited both of us – Peter Dinklage (SUCH A GOOD ACTOR) – didn’t end up making it into the grid, but I love the answers that did.  17-Across, especially, is something that I have done and that was one of the cooler experiences of my life.

As an actor, I like putting something theatery into puzzles wherever possible and the show referenced in 20-Across is one of my favorites when I need a pick-me-up.  Making this puzzle with Ross across the email and zoomwaves was an awesome experience in and of itself, but I am also very excited to be sharing it here with all of you!  For others who are just starting out or wanting to learn to construct, take Ross up on his offer and reach out!  I promise you’ll be glad you did!  And, in the spirit of this puzzle, cheers to the New Year.  

Ross: Happy solving, friends!

“Follow the Money”

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 📜✉️ 📰🕵🏽‍♀️

This week’s grid is a Sunday-sized offering, which means that if you’re solving on a desktop browser, the clues aren’t going to present on the side of the puzzle like they normally do. (Note that the clue of the selected answer will always appear at the very top of the puzzle.) As such, you might want to consider downloading the .puz and solve offline using AcrossLite. Or you can be romantic and download and print the PDF.

The winter doldrums are upon us! Jessie and I just booked a tiny house weekend getaway in the woods for early February, but until then we plan to remain hermetically sealed in the apartment with Ruby. For a window into this world, do consider signing up for the Boswords Winter Wondersolve event on 1/31. Jessie and I are constructing one of the tournament puzzles, and there will be a video interview during which you can diagnose how deranged we three really have become since quarantine began nineteen years ago.

Thoughts on “Follow the Money” after the jump!

A BEQ sighting!

So, this one took a while. The main problem was in connecting the PAPER TRAIL in the center of the grid. In a normal 21×21 puzzle, this would have to happen by connecting a PAPER answer passing either vertically or horizontally through the center square *on both ends* to the PAPERs leading in opposite directions. That wasn’t happening.

The solution was to have the R at the end of PLAIN DEALER sit next to the T in THE REGISTER (also a slight cheat in that it uses the article), and have them fused, in a way, by the central revealer answer PAPER TRAIL passing directing through the adjacent R-T. To accommodate this, the grid needed to be 22×21 (no centered middle column).

But at the end of the day, I think it works pretty well. Our intrepid FINANCIAL REPORTER follows the paper trail to the WHITE COLLAR CRIMES, and all is right in the world! (Until no one goes to jail, and the criminal’s company pays a nominal fine and conducts business as usual.)

Happy solving, friends!


“Cover Up”


Last week I was texting with my buddy Parker about some coding wizardry he’d put together to scrape and open crosswords from the web in his own solving interface. He’s been tweeting about it, so if there are any code monkeys out there in solving land, definitely give him a follow.

Anyway, at some point during the conversation, he mentioned that the script he’d written was actually pretty slick, if you “[61-Across].” And lo! A puzzle idea is born.

The moral of the story is that if you want to make crossword puzzles, step number one is surrounding yourself with people who know how to turn a phrase… then just keep your ears open! Couple more thoughts on “Cover Up” after the jump.

3-character Twitter handle means you’re RAD

LOOK UNDER THE HOOD is a 16-letter revealer, requiring a) a 16×15 grid, and b) a 16-letter sister answer. You *could* stick it in the center row, but that would mean flanking it with 2 themers above and 2 below, and there weren’t enough distinct kinds of HOODs to accommodate that. So!

With four theme answers in an extra-wide grid, I knew I’d have some extra real estate to get some long down bonus fill. The long slots for WARREN MOON, PET CARRIERS, ORIGINAL SIN, and CONTESTING actually had quite a few options in the grid architecture you see here. I chose these four in large part because [Adam’s apple condition?] and [Voyage of the beagle conveyances?] came to mind as I was hammering out the center of the grid. Yee-haw!

Happy solving, friends!


“Christmas Spirit”

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 💀❄️👻❄️👼

Mark your calendars! In their infinite wisdom, the organizers of Boswords have asked me back to create another puzzle. This time it’s for their Winter Wondersolve event next month (registration opens 1/1), and I won’t be working alone! Jessie is co-constructing this puzzle, which will be her first tournament grid. We hope to see you there!

In other news, check out the Universal puzzle on Wednesday 12/30 for a collaboration between myself and my x-wife Amanda Rafkin. This one happens to fall on my birthday!

Having said that, please don’t feel obliged to fuss over me. When your birthday falls between Christmas and New Year’s *and* you have a twin sister who is way cooler than you *and* three of your four nephews (also cooler than you) happen to have been born in December, well… I’m numb to a no-big-deal birthday. No, that’s not a single tear rolling down my cheek.

Thoughts and spoilers for “Christmas Spirit” after the j-j-j-jump!

*TECHnically* White Walkers aren’t “dead” 🤓

I suppose this whole idea hinges on whether or not you’ll allow that JACK SKELLINGTON was ever “alive” to begin with… I rewatched “The Nightmare Before Christmas” to satisfy myself, and at one point Jack sings (in “Jack’s Lament”), “And since I am dead, I can take off my head / To recite Shakespearean quotations …”. Bingo!

Other potential theme answers that I discarded were MELTING SNOWMAN (though, lol), WHITE WALKERS (not *technically* dead), DONNER PARTY (there was a cannibalistic Trudeau among them!).

The theme set you see here, comprising MARLEY’S GHOST, CLARENCE, and JACK SKELLINGTON, feels tight and consistent. They’re all well-known Christmas movie characters, all reanimated in various ways, and all confirmed to have died in their respective cinematic universes. Voilà! The DEAD OF WINTER. I did play with CLARENCE ODBODY as a 14-long counterpart to THE DEAD OF WINTER, but the resulting grid options were pretty, uh, avant-garde.

Happy solving, friends!


“Launch Party”


Remiss! I am remiss. Last week when I was telling you about Jessie‘s NYT debut *and* her subsequent solo debut in the Universal crossword, I failed to mention the third (!) print puzzle of her print debut week. It’s perhaps my favorite of the bunch, and it will be included in Common Cause‘s December newsletter. I recommend giving it a solve; it’s a delightful theme. Jessie rules.

You can also find a Sunday #rossword in today’s (12/20) L.A. Times: solve online here.

N.B.: that’s the last L.A. Times puzzle you’ll see from me. A couple of weeks ago they ran a Woody Allen tribute puzzle that I found pretty distasteful considering the allegations surrounding that man. While reasonable people can disagree about how writers, crossword makers, and commentators handle the credibly accused, I see no reason whatever to make such people the centerpiece of a newspaper game. (I asked the editor to preempt today’s puzzle, but he said that it was too late to replace it.)

That being said, I’m ambivalent about this decision. I have several thoughtful feminist colleagues who publicly disapproved of the Woody Allen puzzle and decided to keep their own grids in rotation there, which sounds totally reasonable as well. I’m eager to continue a good faith discussion over what’s good/right here, and would welcome your comments.

Thoughts and spoilers for “Launch Party” after the jump.

This is a celebration!

Today’s puzzle was inspired by a clip I saw of OSU star Samantha Show (what a name!) celebrating a home run with, well more of a “bat chop” than a BAT FLIP. Awesome.

The construction was pretty involved for two reasons. On the one hand, there aren’t *that* many words that hide T-A-B (and that don’t duplicate the word TABLE). And on the other, I wanted to pretty faithfully represent the ARC of a bat flipping through the air. I figured from the start it would necessitate the mirror symmetry layout you see. My only major regret is that there wasn’t a great way to lengthen the first/last themers in BATH and STAB.

My disappointment was mitigated by the lovely found poetry in the clue for RACKET ABUSE: [Violation that might come to a head in court?] — bam!

Happy solving, friends.