“A Doonesbury Special”

[.puz] [PDF] [Solution]

We interrupt our regular weekly puzzle for an exciting feature: A Doonesbury Special!

Full disclosure: Garry Trudeau and I lived together for the first 18 years of my life. The puzzle features 18 Doonesbury character answers, so this one is for the real ‘toon-heads. Feel free to direct blowback to Garry’s Twitter feed (or mine).

And if you’re like me, you take your crosswords like you take your cartoon strips… in the paper. So check out the funny pages on Sunday, June 28th, for the hardcopy. Spoilers below…

Typically, crossword puzzles have a theme that comprises the 4 or 5 longest across answers. But since we wanted this puzzle to be a satisfying, crunchy solve for Doonesbury readers, we decided to forgo tradition and cram it full of as many intersecting D’bury character names as we could.

And if this exercise is generating a bit of déjà vu, it might be because dad and I co-authored a comics-themed New York Times crossword two years ago.

Back in August of 2016, I received my 10th straight rejection out of 10 puzzles submitted to Will Shortz, editor of the Times crossword. Within days, Will ran back-to-back puzzles referencing my father and his cartoon strip. Clearly I was being trolled by the only two men I knew whose names appear in the newspaper every damn day.

So I set about taking my revenge: a comics theme puzzles that would conspicuously NOT reference Doonesbury or Garry Trudeau. But… I couldn’t make the grid work. It was probably for the better, as Will would finally accept one of my puzzles within a couple of months, and I put the revenge grid aside. After my wounded pride had healed some, I emailed Garry a copy of the unfinished theme idea, wondering aloud if he couldn’t maybe possibly take a whack at it.

Within a week he emailed me back a perfect interlock, and three months after that Will accepted it. They were going to run it as part of their Celebrity Constructor series and as such–in a final appropriate twist of irony–they’d be printing Garry’s name first.

If you happen to be both a Doonesbury fan *and* a regular crossword solver, drop your name in the email field at the top of this page for a fresh Rossword Puzzle every Sunday. And be sure to solve my return to the Arts section in Wednesday’s Times puzzle, which I co-constructed with my dear friend and grid wizard Amanda Rafkin.


“Caught Napping”

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 😴😴😴

The first time I learned about Juneteenth was in grade school, but to be honest, I don’t think I gave the day more than passing consideration until 2016, when Donald Glover made it the focus of a scathingly satirical episode of Atlanta. You should watch.

In episodes where Lakeith Stanfield isn’t stealing the show, 17-Across in today’s puzzle often becomes a focal point of Atlanta for me. When I first learned her name, I knew I wanted to find a way to get her into a crossword puzzle theme.

The first Domino to fall…

*SPOILER ALERT* Okay, so what’s the deal with this puzzle. Puzzzle?

This sort of theme would normally be too straight-ahead for my tastes: theme answers that have 3 Z’s in them, with a ZZZ revealer. At least in this NYT puzzle from last year, all the XXX answers needed to have consecutive X’s…

But I got interested in the theme set when I realized that there really just aren’t very many valid crossword answers with three-and-only-three Z’s in them. Plenty of quad Z’s: BUZZFEED QUIZZES, RAZZLE DAZZLE, BUZZ BUZZARD, RAZZMATAZZ, PIZZAZZ…

And, to be honest, I was probably influenced by the potential of getting ZAZIE BEETZ in a puzzle. When I realized she could be paired with SWIZZ BEATZ, well, we were off to the racez.

“Sly Nod”

by Jillian Greenspan & Ross Trudeau

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 💥🥊

Boswords 2020 is moving online. Lollapuzzoola 2020 is cancelled, with an online version a possibility. ACPT was rescheduled for September, though I can’t imagine it goes forward as planned.

Crossword tournaments have always been a highlight of my social calendar. I relish the opportunity to connect face-to-face with the puzzheads I’ve come to know and cherish, so these digital gatherings will feel like thin emotional soup to me. (Though I’ll definitely “be” “there.”)

In the beforetimes, I’d regularly fall into xword conversation around the neighborhood with folks solving at the coffee shop or the pub. Jillian Greenspan was one such kindred spirit with whom I fell into conversation at the bar at Lamplighter. (Sidenote: I’m partnering with Lamplighter to run a How to Make a Crossword online workshop next Sunday, 6/21–log on!)

This week’s puzzle is a collaboration that Jillian and I worked on together over the course of a couple months last year. We started with a phrase she had written in an impressively long “crossword notes” document she had on her iPhone that first day at the pub… more after the jump!

Yo, Adrian!!!!!!!

The first decision Jillian and I had to make in building out this puzzle was whether to start with ROCKY START (10) or OFF TO A ROCKY START (16) as our revealer. Typically, a 10-letter revealer is ideal in the flexibility it offers the grid. But when we realized YO QUIERO TACO BELL (16) was a valid pairing for the longer revealer, we settled on a 16×15 grid.

Hey keep those masks on, friends. I. Cannot. Wait. To. Meet. You. All… when gathering in hotel lobbies and church basements to solve and squee and geek out is a thing again. One fine day.

Warmly, Ross

“Action Pose”

by Jessie Bullock and Ross Trudeau


Last summer, I went on a conspicuously good first date with a ballerina-turned-political scientist just returned from studying crime and political corruption in Rio. Swoon!

I tried to temper my excitement, but the following morning I got an email from Will Shortz saying that a 2-year old puzzle was at last going to print. 46-Across? J-E-S-S-I-E. Some signs are obvious enough that even dopes like me can’t miss them.

Jessie and I have been dating for almost a year now, and officially living together since quarantine began. And while I tried to assure her that she needn’t make crosswords a part of her already rich and busy life, it wasn’t long before we were solving together on a daily basis. Within six months she’d built and sold her first puzzle (forthcoming via Universal), and just two weeks ago she and I received a joint acceptance from the New York Times.

Today’s puzzle is our first collaborative effort we’re sharing publicly. Spoilers and Jessie’s thoughts after the barftastically cute jump.

“Marry her” -Will Shortz

The genesis of this puzzle’s theme is probably obvious, but we didn’t want Colin Kaepernick or protesting institutional racism to be this puzzle’s core message. Rather, we wanted it to be an example of the kind of puzzle we ourselves want to solve in the future: puzzles that include BLM and BLM-related words/clues not as implicit political statements, but because those words are an essential part of the American experience.

Also, Jessie gave me lots of mental cookies for the clue for OREO: [Cookie that’s shared between Baltimore Orioles?] 🥰

JESSIE: Hi everyone! It has been a lot of fun learning how to make puzzles and to begin making them with Ross. Quarantine has been especially conducive to long conversations about politics- and corruption-related wordplay, and we’ve had several laughs trying to deconstruct and clue common metaphors related to the political machine. Check 5-Across, 58-Across, and 51-Down for a nod to Jessie-specific entries that are on the lighter side. Hope you enjoy and happy Sunday!