“Repeat Offender (Free Britney!)”

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Some heads-ups about grids in the wild: On Tuesday, the New York Times crossword is a #rosswordpuzzle. I hope you enjoy it! And this past week, I co-authored puzzles with both Nina Sloan and Jessie. Give them a solve!

Also, last call for the Boswords Spring Themeless League, which kicks off tomorrow night. Parker and I are going to do our Monday Cursewords stream directly thereafter, right around 10pm eastern. We hope to see you there! Presumably to do some mass commiserating in the chat…

I started working on today’s puzzle after watching “Framing Britney Spears,” a NYT documentary about her court-sanctioned conservatorship. As a child of the 90’s, it’s … a lot to take in. I recommend it. Thoughts and spoilers for “Repeat Offender (Free Britney!)” after the jump!

The singer as a young woman

One OOP … *two* OOPs?!

It sort of surprised me that OOPS I DID IT AGAIN (15) hadn’t even been used as a double-hidden-word revealer in the mainstream, but the truth is there just aren’t that many OOP … OOP answers out there, and the whole puzzle kind of hinged on finding POOPER SCOOPER, which fails the standard breakfast test. But this is the *internet*, so anything goes. Oops!

I would have preferred to find all 2x OOPs that *didn’t* have an S after the OOP (as in SHOOP SHOOP SONG), but again, limited options. So here we are, humming Cher together. If you wanna know, if he loves you so…

And it just worked out that the letters across the theme answers were conducive to a lower word count grid (74), which allowed for a PILE-UP of fun (or at least fun to clue) longish down fill: METERMAID, ED SHEERAN, DIPLOMAT, AP BIOLOGY, STAR PUPIL, ROUGH IDEA.

Happy solving, friends!

-Ross

“Do, Re, Mi … uh, Sol”

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Short roundup this week that touches on Rosswords, Cursewords, and Boswords. Which is a sentence that really gets my themedar firing.

Parker and I have decided to schedule our live solving/construction over at Cursewords Live for Monday and Thursday evenings, with ad hoc bonus streams when we feel like it, including tonight, 2/21, at 8:00pm eastern. Stop by for some lively chat bar hijinks!

Speaking of Monday evenings, there’s still time to sign up for the Boswords Spring Themeless League. It’s a weekly puzzle competition built around a Twitch stream that runs Mondays from 9pm to 10 eastern. (We plan to start our own streams right after the Boswords stream concludes at 10; forgive us if we’ve still got residual adrenaline there at the outset.)

Construction notes and spoilers for “Do, Re, Mi … uh, Sol” after the jump!

Masks up, bay-beeeee

One of the joys of running an independent puzzle site is the latitude one gets to, you know, make jokey wordplay grids that rely on ANTIFA as a thematic conceit.

And actually, there were many fewer -FA words than I thought I’d find. And some of the viable ones that existed didn’t lend themselves to any syntactically valid base phrases (think FAVA BEANS -> V.A. BEANS … which, nope).

As an aside, I *love* when fill stacks, read left-to-right or top-to-bottom, form intelligible sentences. Note ACHES FOR CHINESE LIP BALM in the southwest corner. Also currently feeling outsized self-satisfaction for a new ET TU clue ([Response to a staged coup?]). Way up top! Anyone? Waiting…

Happy solving, friends!

-Ross

“I’ll See You in Hell!”

by Lucy Howard & Ross Trudeau

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 🔥🔥🔥

She’s BACK! Lucy has previously collaborated with me on puzzles on this site and the New York Times, but now she’s returned with a trickier offering. I’m giving this puzzle a 4/5 on difficulty, and the grid architecture alone should alert you to the fact that *something* is afoot.

Also! Last night Parker and I continued our CursewordsLive solving stream over on Twitch, and we added a live crossword constructing element. Many thanks to the viewers who contributed and helped us a build a whole dang puzz in about 30 minutes! The video is recorded and viewable on the channel, and it might be useful/demystifying for folks who want to see how the sausage gets made.

A couple thoughts on “I’ll See You in Hell!” after the jump.

CursewordsLive construction crew 💪🏼

This puzzle is a riff on a concept I messed with last year, but with more challenging execution. I wasn’t convinced it’d even work, but Lucy stepped in with the final interlock piece, and we were off to the races.

GO DOWN IN FLAMES is lovely revealer answer, hinting at the center wall busting DISCO INFERNO, WHO THE BLAZES, and CAMPFIRE SONG, but it’s an unwieldy 14 letters long. There wasn’t a way to hide it anywhere such that it wouldn’t interact with the theme answers–you know I’m usually not into burying the revealer as a title–so the interlock was 100% necessary. The *triple* interlock, in fact.

Normally I’m not super into marginally-connected thematic content, but in this case pairing CATHOLIC SCHOOL with GO DOWN IN FLAMES was just too much fun. And note, again, the triple interlock that results in the northern half of the grid. These constraints were actually a bear to manage, and I was super impressed in particular with Lucy’s work in the south, where only ESTD and AT A strike me as compromise answers.

Happy solving, friends!

-Ross

“Couldn’t Hurt to Try…”

by Taya Faber & Ross Trudeau

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I just have one quick link to drop before we get to Taya’s notes on this week’s puzzle, which we began working on in January of *2020*. It’s artisanal, so you know it’s good. It’s also good because Taya is a conspicuously good egg.

This evening my buddy Parker and I are launching a crossword stream on Twitch. We’re calling it Cursewords Live (after the solving software Parker wrote), and you can tune in tonight at 5:00 pm (eastern) for some live crossword solving and crossword-centric chat.

So! Spoilers and discussion for “Couldn’t Hurt to Try…” after the jump.

Ross & Parker & … copyright infringement?

Taya: Ross, thank you so much for having me on your blog! If crossword constructing was Top Gun, you’re obviously Maverick — and I’m honored to be Goose for this puzzle! Also like Top Gun, your mentorship involved a lot of beach volleyball with Kenny Loggins playing in the background, which I was both surprised and delighted by. You are a mensch, and I’m so happy to know you.  

As a long-time enthusiast, this was my first attempt at constructing. I love everything about crossword puzzles, from the way pen ink bleeds on newsprint, to the bits of trivia I learn every day, to the little pang of frisson I feel when a correct answer fills the squares. Constructing puzzles had always been a curiosity, but I wasn’t sure where to start. When Ross graciously put the word out offering guidance late last year, it felt like the perfect opportunity. 

For as much as I had wondered about what must go into the creation of a crossword, there were a lot of aspects that I had never considered, like the overall balance of clue ‘types’ in a puzzle, and the surprising attachments you can get to certain answers during the process. Mostly though, I learned as with any other new skill, crossword construction takes a lot of time and patience to get the hang of, especially given the constraints of the medium. Observing how Ross had a certain ‘muscle memory’ to his editing and a honed intuition for word choices, put into perspective how much of a craft this is. The fact that my ‘beginner’s excitement’ was matched by his excitement to share his knowledge was a genuine bright spot in an otherwise tough 2020. 

To think that a completely new NYT crossword iteration with a unique theme is published daily (and has been for yeeeeeears) feels especially mind-boggling to me now, and I’m excited to keep practicing. I love to see the growing diversity of published constructors and to have found a community of fellow crossword nerds. I hope you enjoy our puzzle — and again, my most sincere thanks, Ross!

Ross: So, it bears noting that the revealer and the first themer that Taya and I came up with — WORTH AND SHOT and FLU VACCINE — predated the COVID-19 pandemic. It seems appropriate that we were only recently ready to post this puzzle now that vaccination is starting to become an option for some folks. Go! As soon as you can! Worth it!

I quite like this theme set, especially because PENALTY STROKE and DRINK TICKET get so very near to the meaning of “worth,” and KODAK MOMENT fit so neatly with the theme set. Almost as neatly as Taya’s curiosity fit with my enthusiasm for yammering about xwords!

Happy solving, friends.

“Teenage Dream”

[.puz][PDF][Solution] ✨🪐🌙

Jessie and I have come to start saying “56-Across!” to one another, at once ruefully and earnestly. Because while our quaranroutines are becoming, uh, well-established, we also find that the framing is everything.

Here’s a page out of our recent dinner date playbook: order international cuisine from a local restaurant (tip generously if you can!), get swanked-out (cologne! fancy underpants!), serve on the Good China (we don’t own china), and after you’ve finished the appetizers, throw on an Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown episode filmed in the country of your meal’s origin. Seeing some of the foods/flavors you’re enjoying discussed on-screen *does* transport you, if only momentarily. We recommend.

Anyway, if you’re reading this before 10am on Sunday, there’s still a wee bit of time to sign up for this afternoon’s Boswords Winter Wondersolve, to which Jessie and I contributed a puzzle.

Thoughts and spoilers for “Teenage Dream” after the jump.

Ah, mirror symmetry with three vertical themers and a 15-letter spanner revealer across the bottom… my old friend, how *are* you?

THE NIGHT IS YOUNG (15) is where this idea took root. And in fact, the first couple of potential theme answers that came to mind were MOONCHILD and TEENAGE DREAM. Ultimately it felt more consistent to go entirely with answers that contained a word for a young person + a (generally) night-visible celestial body (CHILD STAR, BABYMOONS, etc.). The result is a tighter theme set, but did necessitate pluralizing BABYMOONS.

Also notice that one of the themers in MINOR PLANET is an *actual* celestial body. Ideally all of the answers would have used a non-literal example, but in this case using *one* also felt legit. (Two out of three would have struck me as imbalanced and inelegant.)

Hope you’re finding ways to pursue some semblance of night life out there, all y’all good, good quarantining soldiers.

Happy solving, friends.

-Ross