“Right Up Your Alley”


This week’s puzzle is another affirmation of distance community building. I made it with the help of 100 attendees at the second of two How to Make a Crossword sessions. We got it all done (minus the clues) in about 15 minutes. But before I talk about the puzz, a related human interest aside:

Jessie and I had a surprisingly engaging virtual dinner date last night. Not that we didn’t fully expect our two guests–relative strangers when dinner began–to be scintillating conversationalists. But because we’re not overly optimistic about the possibilities for genuine community and relationship building in a post-eye contact world.

We stand corrected. Dinner lasted almost four hours, and we feel like we’ve made a genuine human connection that delivered many of the same mental cookies on offer in an IRL double date.

Low quality image, high quality company


The revealer for today’s puzzle is MIND IN THE GUTTER (15) [What one prone to dirty thoughts has, and what you might need to solve this puzzle].

It’s a classic parse-some-genre-specific-words differently puzz. A tried-and-true formula that will never not work for me as long as the revealer is fun and the wackily-clued themers not *too* wacky. ROLLING PIN [Result of finishing half a split?] is my favorite clue-answer pair.

Stay safe, everyone. Much love.


“All Together Now”


The truth is that the worst is yet to come. But we’re going to see the best in ourselves. The crossword community is leading the way, and has given me hope and resolve in a hundred little ways this week:

-On Monday I was contacted by a group of puzzle constructors and editors who were putting together a charity puzzle pack to benefit COVID-19 relief. Details forthcoming.

-This weekend, in social isolation, I saw, communed with, and connected with many of my dearest friends via the Crossword Tournament From Your Couch. It was an asynchronous tournament of 1,800 solvers, hosted entirely online, on a system designed in *less than a week* by Kevin G. Der and Finn Vigeland. For free. Just because.

-And on the 15th and the 21st (last night), I hosted How to Build a Crossword Workshops that maxed out my puny Zoom account at 100 participants. Attendees were as enthusiastic as they were caring, with multiple people voluntarily leaving the seminar to make room for folks waiting to get in.

This week’s puzzle, “All Together Now,” was built entirely (except for the clues) during that first Zoom seminar, with theme answers crowdsourced from the attendees. Its subject matter is apt. I hope it brings you a moment or two of diversion, and a reminder that we’re in this together.

So much love, everyone. Stay safe.


“Drug Bust”

with Amanda Rafkin

[.puz][PDF][solution] 💨 💨 💨

Ladies and gents, meet my x-wife.

Back in April of last year, Amanda was one of the first people to reach out when I started advertising a desire to mentor folks in puzzle construction. She messaged me on Instagram, and within a matter of weeks–no joke–I was on the other side of the country churning out puzzles with her in her living room in Hollywood, CA.

Much of our puzzling time together is spent with me trying to talk Amanda down from puzzle ideas that highly conventional moi finds too saucy or outlandish. But to her credit, she sees her ideas through, and has put her weird and wonderful stamp on such outlets as the Wall Street Journal, the Universal puzzle, the Inkubator and the New York Times. As of this writing, she and I have sold 5 puzzles to the Times together, so GET COMFY.

Puzzband, x-wife

Today’s puzzle is a new take on an old standby. Here’s Amanda:

“This puzzle started out as one of the many puzzle-related ridiculous joke texts that I send to Ross on the regular. It had occurred to me that the phrase SPLIT THE POT could be taken literally, and I sent him a message with that revealer and examples of what the theme set could be, laughing aloud to no one throughout. Ross is the one who noticed that using the gerund form of SPLITTING THE POT would make the revealer a spanner along with the rest of the theme set I had proposed. Leave it to him to punch up my ridiculousness into something great. The rest, as they say, is history. We hope you enjoy the puzzle and get as much of a chuckle out of it as we did.”

What she said.


“I’m With Them”

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 🏛 🧗🏽‍♀️💥

If you solve any one of my puzzles in 2020, let this be it.

I’m sharing it today for Women’s History Month, but I made it last spring as a tribute to the historic women’s caucus of our last Congressional election cycle. And then I mailed it to Speaker Pelosi… who wrote me back (see inset). Thrill of a lifetime.

I’m posting this as a “bonus puzzle” because the theme material is niche (though not trivial). *SPOILER ALERT* subsequent paragraphs detail why I’m so proud of this grid from both philosophical and technical perspective…

The seed idea for this puzzle was having newly-elected congresswoman intersecting and “breaking” a GLASS CEILING in the middle of the puzzle. But the idea presented two challenges.

1) A key convention of crossword puzzles is that they can’t have any “unchecked” squares: boxes that are only hinted at by one clue. So, if I had women cutting through the GLASS CEILING, whichever letter in their name ended up in the GLASS CEILING row would be unchecked.

The solution I found was that the letters intersecting GLASS CEILING could be cross-referenced by an apt revealer answer: PAY GAP. Which meant that I needed congresswomen with a P, A, and Y somewhere in their names to create the “gap.”

2) Theme answers in crosswords must sit symmetrically in the grid, which meant that I needed congresswomen with names of equal length with a P and Y in the identical position in their names, as well as a third congresswoman with an A as the 8th letter in her name. Needless to say, this was a statistically improbable grid idea.

In the end, this puzzle became a weighty project for me. Because the idea *did* end up working, simply because there were literally dozens of GLASS CEILING breakers to choose from among the congresswomen elected in 2018. Including AYANNA PRESSLEY, my own congresswoman here in Cambridge, who lent the grid the needed “P.”

Moreover, celebrating these women would have felt hollow and insincere if the puzzle didn’t acknowledge that despite their historic achievement, the path to justice remains fraught. The PAY GAP answer served as a necessary linchpin, as well as a reminder that barriers–to voting, to representation, to equal pay–remain.

But I remain optimistic that the women celebrated in this puzzle (and their colleagues) are up to the challenge.