Puzzle #30: The Four Corners

by Wyna Liu, Aimee Lucido, Amanda Rafkin, & Robyn Weintraub


Note: Each of this puzzle’s constructors built one quadrant of the grid. When the puzzle is complete, each constructor’s initials will occupy the circled boxes that bracket the corner she authored.

Eeeeeeeee! Look at those NAMES.

A few weeks ago I did the crossword equivalent of writing fan fiction. I came up with a puzzle concept wherein the grid revealed to you the authorship of the four quadrants via a simple meta element. And then I went about dreaming up combinations of my most-admired constructors whose names would interlock appropriately to make the concept work.

At the time, this was all just an exercise in fanboy exuberance. But I Tweeted about the idea, tagged the legends whose names I grouped, and lo and behold… a fanboy’s dream came true. It really is a fantasy draft of names: a Constructor of the Year nominee; a New Yorker grid all-star; a Clue of the Year nominee; the author of *today’s* giant NYT insert puzzle.

If you enjoyed the grid, or any of the puzzles that appear on this site, I strongly encourage you to show your appreciation by making a donation to COVID-19 relief. It’s a special puzzle worthy of a special gesture.

Read commentary from the four authors below.

Wyna, Aimee, Amanda & Robyn

Normally I edit guest puzzles on this site for difficult/content. I didn’t end up changing any of these women’s work at all, because part of the fun of solving this puzzle is hearing four distinct voices come through clearly… and trying to anticipate what style belongs to whom! Here are their notes (spoiler alert!):

Amanda: I seeded my section with CHOPIN, because when I’m trying to personalize a 6 letter slot, that’s about as good as it gets. I then added ENSLER, because I love her work, particularly “The Vagina Monologues.” BILLIE is also a force to be reckoned with and I suspect we’re far from seeing the end of her talents. And DECALS I “stuck” in there because I’ve been sitting on that clue for a while 🙂 Happy solving!

Robyn: This was a fun project and I was thrilled to work with Wyna, Aimee and Amanda (and thanks to Ross for realizing that out circular initials would inspire a great collaborating).

There’s a lot of cute Robynesque stuff shoved in my little NE corner. I’ve got not one but two food entries–COOKIE and TOMATO. I often have a lot of food and cooking terms, since I enjoy food and cooking. And I’m always happy to include a good Sesame Street reference, so COOKIE did double duty for me there.

The clue for SHE is a throwback to one of my favorite clues of all time: “Mollusk exoskeleton vendor, in a tongue twister.” It was a new (and delightfully nerdy) way to clue an overused entry. I wasn’t going to reprise that original clue here, but i think this SHE clue is a nice callback. BOOBOO–I’m a mommy. I also like things that can be fixed with a kiss. I wish that were the solution for more problems in life. DOGEAR–I like clues that have a repeating element… I didn’t know that I did, but an editor pointed in out to me and I realized that I do it often. So “Bookmark… when you don’t have a bookmark” is very me.

And in many of my puzzles I’ll have one bit of crosswordese that I absolutely hate and I’ll debate for a while whether or not to nix it. My usual compromise with myself is to leave it in but remove it from my word list so that it never shows its ugly face again. I’m looking at you, EEO. Consider yourself banished.

Wyna: I received the grid after Amanda and Robyn had filled out their quadrants—the bar was set high. I seeded my section with CHAKRA and KVETCH (perhaps channeling my grumpiness for being out of touch with my yoga practice?). I really liked the G-rated vibe of HECK NO, though its terminal O made me momentarily concerned about leaving Aimee with the awkward ??LDO.It’s so cool to look at the finished grid and see how our entries play off each other’s. HEAVEN/SATAN and THROB/DILDO are particularly delightful pairs. I gotta say overall my favorite thing in the grid is DILDO (thanks, Aimee!). Thank you to Ross and my fellow constructors for making this thing happen! Would do it again in a heartbeat.

Aimee: Filling a grid is an optimization problem. I want to maximize the words that I love in a grid while minimizing the words that I dislike, It’s almost as if every possible word that might go in a grid is given a value in my head -1 to 1, where a 1 is a debut marquee entry that is exciting and fun and draws attention to something I think is important, and a -1 is something that is offensively bad. Most words that are lower than -.5 I simply cut from my dictionary, but most of the struggle with filling a grid is figuring out what words are bad vs. just unknown, ungettable, uninteresting. Sometimes there’s a word you particularly find interesting, but that no one else has heard of before, and it’s uninferrable (e.g. YLEM. Google it! It’s cool! But I would only be able to put it in grids at certain publications, and in a very carefully constructed corner.) Sometimes there’s a word that I loathe and would never put in a grid, but most people think it’s totally fine (e.g. any Roman numeral. I don’t know why but they really rub me the wrong way!). Sometimes there’s a word that I have never heard of before, but for the vast majority of people, it’s common knowledge (e.g. most sports names).

So, for me, I tend to prioritize stuff that makes me laugh or that can be given a pop culture clue. That is what I would rate as closest to 1. In my corner, that’s SELFIE, SATAN, DILDO, BEATS, SENSEI, and even maybe DIALED, just because it makes me think of smart phones, and that’s kind of fun. On the other end of the spectrum, there are words that I would normally try to avoid, like ADE and RESEED. Those are both words that I would rate negatively. But in both of these cases, the words aren’t too crummy. Maybe a -.1 or -.2. ADE is common crossword-use and it mostly gets ignored when someone is solving the puzzle, and even though RESEED (and, arguably many words with the prefix RE) isn’t 100% a thing, it’s totally gettable, and I can see someone saying it when referring to their garden or field.

In my experience, the tricky bit tends to come with the words that you feel like people *should* know, but maybe don’t. DESREE is one of those for me. I think she’s awesome but she definitely not prominent in the public consciousness the way she once was. But I feel like she’s someone people should know, and so I put her in puzzles a lot. So, to me, she might be a .5, but to other people she might be a -.5. That’s what gives me a distinct voice in my puzzles. It’s my rating system that I’m optimizing for, and I get to showcase the people in words that I think are worthy.

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