“Rise and Shine”

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 🛌☕️🌤

This is another easy puzzle, and it’s a bit saccharine. But S.N.L. got me weepy with some unexpected earnestness (Brad Pitt) for the first time since 2016 (Kate McKinnon), so I think I need this.

The news from New York–where my parents live–continues to weigh on me. And social isolation has made it increasingly difficult to maintain the routine I employ to manage pain. (I have a bunch of benign tumors, including one in my spinal cord, due to a rare genetic disorder.)

So while I remain cocooned in many layers of privilege AND I have the world’s dopest girlfriend to buoy my spirits, the last few days have been spiritually gloomy. Today’s puzzle is something of a note to self, and I hope the message resonates with you.

Daybreak over the Charles

*SPOILER ALERT* I shipped a version of this for viewers of CBS Sunday Morning. Google their logo for a hint as to why. The 15-letter revealer sits prominently in middle column: HERE COMES THE SUN [1976 Beatles hit with the lyric, “It’s all right, it’s all right,” and a hint to the shaded letters].

It was important to me to have the S-U-N rising in an even path across the grid, which limited grid layout and theme answers more than I’d normally like. But the visual felt like a key part of the raison d’être, so I ran with it.

I’m not usually a huge fan of solving with a soundtrack, but if you’ve solved and enjoyed, I recommend throwing that track on and vibing for a while. I’m about to do just that with a momentarily docile murder cat in my lap. Life’s little blessings.



“Get ‘Em While They’re Hot”

[.puz][PDF][solution] 🥖🧁🥯 👩🏼‍🍳

Exactly one year ago today, a couple good friends opened a needlessly delicious establishment called Vinal just blocks from where Jessie and I live in Cambridge, MA. Like, just gratuitously tasty. And like many places, they closed their doors when quarantine started. But now… they are risen. And giving a damn good account of themselves in the new to-go paradigm.

I tried to lend a hand by making them a custom crossword to offer alongside their indefensibly scrumptious wares, and I’m offering a version of that grid to you today, along with a recommendation for y’all aspiring constructors out there: make puzzles for local businesses! Print them out and carry them over and tell them, “Here, maybe your customers will dig this as a little promotion to go along with your falafel/kung pow/tikka masala/etc.”

The folks at Vinal apparently sold out their goods in minutes, which I assume goes down to how much their customers love hot cross…words. But this idea is endlessly repeatable.

Chew with your mouth covered

*SPOILER ALERT* This puzzle is a straightforward “category” puzzle. But the execution was a bear. Getting a dozen different baked good into the grid–symmetrically, because I’m a masochist–took some doing.

If you’re going to run with this idea, I recommend keeping it simple. Vinal’s customers aren’t *necessarily* crossword fans, so conventional crossword wordplay or thematic nuance might be somewhat less fun to grok for a hungry human who came primarily for the English muffins.

Stay safe, y’all! And keep spreading those $’s around if you can!


Rafkin Themeless

[.puz][PDF][Solution] edited by Ross Trudeau

For the remainder of 2020, I’m not going to submit any solo puzzles to the New York Times. Any grids they receive from me will be collaborative efforts with folks from groups that have been historically underrepresented in that puzzle.

Getting published in the most popular puzzle in the world is a zero sum game. And as someone who’s benefited from a variety of systemic and structural legs up, it feels like it’s past time to pay it forward.

To this point in 2020, I’ve co-submitted puzzles to various publications with 14 different women and people of color. Nine of them are previously unpublished constructors whom I’ve done my best to mentor. But those puzzles are, in a real sense, competing with puzzles that I construct and submit alone. At the end of 2020, I’ll revisit and potentially extend this commitment.

I’m also going to start using this site–once a month–to elevate the work of folks who come from those underrepresented groups. Some of these puzzles will be collaborative efforts from people I’ve mentored, and others will be their solo work that I’ll collaboratively edit with them.

The first such puzzle is a themeless grid by Amanda Rafkin. She reached out to me via Instagram a year ago for some constructing mentorship. In the last 11 months–her first full year making grids(!!!)–she’s sold puzzles to the NYT, WSJ, LA Times, Universal, AVCX, Inkubator, etc. Mark my words: In 10 years crossworld will be putting her name near the top of any “best themeless constructor” or “best clue writer” lists.

My xwife <3

*SPOILER ALERT* Here’s Amanda:

“I built this grid around 25-Across because I couldn’t recall ever having seen it in a crossword puzzle before, and it struck me as something important to have represented. I hope this puzzle provides a welcome distraction to whomever may need it in these bizarre and unprecedented times. Happy solving and happy Sunday (if days even still exist)!”



“Take It from the Top”

[.puz][PDF][solution] ✂ ✁ ✃

There’s an open letter to the Executive Director of Puzzles at the New York Times going around. It was authored by three assistants and test solvers formerly employed by Will Shortz, and it calls for adding diversity to the Times editorial and test-solving teams, as well as for constructor access to proofs before a puzzle goes to print.

I signed it, along with dozens of other NYT contributors and hundreds of solvers (and counting). The three asks are good and reasonable. With more diverse voices in the editorial team, puzzles would end up appealing to folks with whom the Times puzzle doesn’t often resonate. And voila! Bigger tent. Tent big enough for 6′ of personal space!

In the meantime, a big (related) issue is the relative lack of women/people of color *submitting* puzzles to the Times. Some of this can surely be traced to the lack of editorial diversity: why would you submit puzzles *to* an outlet that doesn’t often make puzzles *for* you?

My contribution (such as it is) these last couple of years has been to actively seek out women/POC’s who are interested in learning to make puzzles. If that’s you, reach out! Or visit the Collaboration Directory on Facebook where you can connect with other mentors and learners.

This week’s puzzle, “Take It from the Top,” is a 21×21 grid–the first Sunday-sized crossword I’ve posted here. It was inspired by my partner’s [highly successful!] attempt to cut my hair. We paid Ysabllea–who normally trims me at Salon Bellissima around the corner–to give Jessie a tutorial via Zoom.

Snip snip!

*SPOILER ALERT* “Take It from the Top” started with the phrase IT’S NOT ROCKET SCIENCE -> SNOT ROCKET SCIENCE. All the themers are arranged vertically so the “IT” is taken, well, literally from the top.

Obviously we’re in the domain of the indie puzzle. Because as funny as I find SNOT ROCKET SCIENCE [The physics of blowing one’s nose during a jog?], it’s too icky for mainstream crosswords. (SON LIKE DONKEY KONG [What a classic arcade gamer might hope for in a baby boy?] is my second favorite entry.)

Happy Sunday, Trenton Quarantinos!