Stand Together

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 🌲🌳🌴🎄

There was plenty of demand last week for a recording of my last How to Make a Crossword Zoom seminar, so I have two options for you:

First, I’m going to run the seminar again, on Sunday, August 9th at 7:30pm EDT. Tickets are $10, and all proceeds will benefit a queer youth organization here in Boston called BAGLY.

If you can’t make that seminar, I can furnish you with a link and password to the video of the previous iteration. That one was also $10 (supporting Families for Justice as Healing), so in the spirit of giving, I’ll ask that you email me a receipt of at least a $5 donation to that organization. I’ll reply with the link/password to the video. Reach me at rosswordpuzzles (at)

On to this week’s puzz! Spoilers/discussion after the jump.

This puzzle had its origins with the phrase SAINT ELMO’S FIRE, which my mostly-useless superpower of hidden word detection identified as having a pair of trees lurking inside it.

The first iteration of the puzzle utilized the apt revealer DOUBLE TREE, but it was noted to me that C.C. Burnikel had already discovered this revealer-answer relationship a couple years ago with the phrase BALDERDASH. I decided it would be reasonable to execute a retread, but only if I could find an original revealer. Fortunately I’ve been meeting a whole slew of stereotypes and playing golf (of all things), that most socially-distant of summer sporting activities… and TWO WOOD popped right into my head.

I like the vertical orientation of the various trees represented here. There were other options on the table–things like [TEA]R-DRO[P EAR]RING, but I decided that it was kind of a cheat to use things like TEA TREE or PEAR TREE where the TEA/PEAR descriptor isn’t really ever used all by itself to describe an individual tree of that type. (So APPLE was out.) I was mildly surprised I couldn’t make PINE or PALM fit this pattern … feel free to drop more examples in the comments!

Fictional & real people named in this puzzle:

See you all at the Boswords online tournament in… yikes! About an hour…


“Location, Location, Location”

[.puz][PDF][Solution] ☀️🏛💆🏼‍♂️😴👩🏽‍⚕️


That’s Jessie pictured at right test solving today’s puzzle over meze at date night last night. I felt compelled to capture the moment because… uhn. Reader, I’m a lucky man/ constructor/partner. Quarantining is far from ideal, but making a Big Deal of date night has been a particularly effective coping mechanism here at Chateau Trudeau. Did I mention Jessie has started constructing and has sold multiple puzzles? 😍

I’ve also been hosting periodic How to Make a Crossword Zoom seminars, which is about as good a way to connect and socialize these days as I’m going to find. Today’s puzzle was a crowdsourced effort from the 100 or so attendees of one such event I put on a couple weeks ago in conjunction with Lamplighter Brewery. (They’re the awesome folks who put out the Wordplay beer you can see in that date night photo above.) We raised $700 for charity and made a darn good grid.

If you’re interested in seeing that hour-long intro to crossword construction, leave a comment. It was recorded and is accessible (though password protected) online. If there’s enough interest, I’ll see about making it public.

Oh, and don’t forget to sign up for the Sunday, 7/26 Boswords 2020 online crossword tournament! Spoilers for today’s puzzle after the jump…

Anyone who’s spent any time talking puzz with me knows I *vassstly* prefer a puzzle that justifies its theme with an apt revealer answer. The main decision in constructing this puzzle came down to whether to use GREAT LOCATION (13) as a central revealer, or to let the title (“Location, Location, Location”) do that work.

In the end, using COMFORT ZONE [Good location for a spa?] as a fifth theme answer won out. The result feels like a really tight theme set, with very few other options that would meet the pattern closely enough.

From a consistency standpoint, I like that the theme examples the Zoom attendees generated were all metaphorical “locations”: BRIGHT SPOT, SAFE SPACE, COMFORT ZONE, DREAMLAND (one word, slight outlier) and HAPPY PLACE.

Happy solving, solver. I hope you’re in a good place.


This puzzle references people–both fictional and real–by name. Among those people…

“This Is America” (Themeless)

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 🇺🇸 Difficulty: 4/5

For me, themeless puzzles are poetry; themed puzzles are prose.

Now, I’m not a poet. Sometime last year I sold my 100th crossword for publication; 100/100 were themed grids. I take immense satisfaction in developing puzzles with an identifiable–and hopefully elegant and unexpected–raison d’être.

As a solver, I relish both styles. A well-constructed theme *snaps* into focus with a satisfying “Aha!” moment. An elegant themeless grid washes over me in a more ethereal way, with the various answer words–and the tone and tenor of the clues–doing a subtle worldbuild under the hood as I go.

And without any thematic constraints, the themeless grid in particular prompts me to wonder about the constructor behind the choices. What do they love? What are their political priorities? Where did they come from?

On a related note, I’ve decided to start including a sort of “Vibe Check” with puzzles that I publish on this site. I believe strongly in representation and equity, so logging *who* makes it into my puzzles feels like a good way to stay aware of my own artistic choices. I’d love feedback on this, but at least for this week I’m going to log gender breakdowns and % of non-Hispanic white people–both real and fictional–who I include in each puzzle’s answers and clues.


This is a 66-word themeless grid with 41 black squares. I originally started with a grid that had black squares at the A in DONALD GLOVER (and the second C in INCANDESCENT), but after some futzing, I decided to go with a lower word count. At that point, I seeded the puzzle with the intersecting DEAD DROP and DONALD GLOVER, and went from there.

I keep coming back to Glover’s “This Is America” music video, which hits harder and and harder as 2020 inches along.

Anyway, please leave a comment above about your themed/themeless preferences. I’m likely going to largely stay in my Themed Lane, but, well, this is America: give the people what they want.

Have a great Sunday, y’all.


“Don’t Look Down”

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 👹👹👹

It’s been a *week* in crossworld. Let’s get up to speed before we talk puzz:

1. Grids for Good launched! It’s a suite of 42 original puzzles–themed, themeless, and variety grids–from some of the biggest names in the biz: Berry. Agard. Burnikel. Weintraub. Conceived and edited by Evan Birnholz, the project’s goal is to support COVID-19 and BLM-adjacent causes. Donate $10 or more, send in your receipt, get a boatload of dope grids. (There’s a #rosswordpuzzle in there, too.)

2. The New York Times announced an opening on their editorial team… a dream job for many crossword constructors. Their editorial team is currently 100% male and 100% white, so I’m not personally applying for the gig. (I’m fully on board with taking a step back from applying to such gigs to do my part in more equitably distributing opportunity… here’s to hoping they get some diversity on their staff.)

3. SPEAKING OF WHICH… Amanda Rafkin and I published our third NYT collaboration puzzle this past Wednesday (subscription required). There will be … many others. Amanda and I are something of a co-dependent two-headed grid monster, so hopefully you continue to find our antics entertaining and our platonic puzzle love affair gladsome.

4. Summer crossword tournaments are moving online! Lollapuzzoola (typically hosted in NYC) and Boswords (just down the road from here in Cambridge) have both announced synchronous online iterations for 2020. See y’all in the chat bar?

Okay. This week’s puzz. Watch your step … here be dragons … spoilers after the jump.

The Fremont Troll, Seattle

Stacked theme answers. Oy. I must be TROLLing myself.

The puzzle hides various BRIDGE TROLLS through out the grid, with a SWEE[T ROLL] lurking beneath CAM[BRIDGE], MA, a S[TROLL]S waiting ominously below A[BRIDGE], and a third [TROLL]EY creeping along under [BRIDGE]T Moynahan.

I generally advise folks learning how to make crossword puzzles *not* to mess around with theme ideas that stack theme answer one on top of another. Being locked into consecutive letters makes the process of placing them in the grid–and finding black square arrangements that reasonably accommodate those stacks–a pretty time-consuming process. Lots of iterating.

In this case, I was taken with the idea because of how the possibility of hiding both the BRDIGEs and the TROLLs in longer answers. (Of course, CAMBRIDGE is etymologically similar to ABRIDGE (and maybe BRIDGET), but “duplicating” answers is one of those crossword no-no’s that I generally poo-poo and say yes, yes! to.

Happy 4th, happy solving, wear those masks.