A Gratuitous Puzzle

by Victoria Fernandez Grande & Ross Trudeau

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 💸💵💰

As promised, here’s are links to Tipsy Puzzlers, Ep. 1. Part 1 is the conversation with Amanda Rafkin, and Part 2 is the actual puzzle construction, featuring chat bar input from several puzzle luminaries.

Next time we do this we’re going to record it differently to frame just the speakers’ video, and perhaps we can sort out a way to include the chat. (We got invaluable input from a variety of puzzle luminaries who called in to drink/puzz with us.) Feel free to leave a comment: what was fun/useful about Tipsy Puzzlers? What could change?

Drop your email in the field to the right if you’re interested in getting a heads-up when Episode 2 drops (as well as the weekly Sunday Rossword puzzle, of course).

Speaking of, this week’s grid is a collaboration with Victoria Fernandez Grande! Spoilers and discussion of “A Gratuitous Puzzle” after the jump…

Your crossword habit, that is

Developing this puzzle was a flippin’ JOURNEY.

TWENTY PERCENT / TIP struck me as a wonderful revealer idea, because TIP, a 3-letter phrase, is exactly 20% of a standard grid-spanning 15-letter answer. “Great!” I thought to myself. “Now all I have to do is find a few answers that are 15-letters, contain T-I-P consecutively, and have no other T’s, I’s, or P’s in them!”

Hoo baby. Easier said than done. I smashed my head against that particular wall for a long time. I even tried to crowdsource on Twitter, which yielded only answers I’d already uncovered.

We were only off to the races when my favorite Spaniard and Harvard Business student Victoria Fernandez Grande (the Notorious V.F.G., before you ask) and RESEARCH S[TIP]END presented themselves.

Victoria, by the way, recently returned to Cambridge from her native Spain to continue her studies and (HOPEFULLY) do some more socially distant crossword constructing with me.

Among people named in this puzzle:

Happy Sunday, friends!


“We’re Blowing Up!”

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 💥💥💥

Last night Amanda and I got fairly tipsy and made a crossword puzzle. And we recorded the whole thing. And it was one of the lovelier Saturday evenings I’ve had these past few months.

We ran our “Tipsy Puzzlers” event via Zoom, and as such we relied on input from folks who called in to put the grid together. And honestly? It’s a darn good puzz.

The grid features invaluable input from crossworld regulars like Ken Stern, Dan Feyer, Paolo Pasco, Ria Dhull, Jessie Bullock, Allegra Kuney, Sophia Maymudes, and up-and-coming constructors such as Annie Gosfield, Parker Higgins, and Lucy Howard. We also had the pleasure of meeting and getting input from a whole slew of new faces. And my heart grew three sizes.

If you’re interested in seeing a recording of the event, leave a note in the comments section. More on this week’s puzzle “We’re Blowing Up”–which isn’t the grid we made last night–after the jump.

“Tipsy Puzzlers” Ep. 1

I’ve gone on record a number of times expressing how much I prefer puzzles with revealer answers, so bear with my as I try to explain why “We’re Blowing Up” doesn’t have one.

The puzzle relies on the varied denotations of the phrase “blow up”: BICYCLE PUMP [It’ll blow up at the Tour de France], SMART PHONE [It’ll blow up with social alerts on your birthday], PHOTO ENLARGER [It’ll blow up in a dark room], VIRAL VIDEO [It’ll blow up on Instagram], and GLITTER BOMB [It’ll blow up in a cloud of colors].

The reasons I decided to go with “blow up” in the clues (and the title) are a) I don’t *love* short revealer answers like BLOW UP, and b) placing that lynchpin phrase in the grid would result in sort of tortured syntax. It might look like:

BLOW UP [Inflate, as an air mattress]; BICYCLE PUMP [It’ll 60-Across at the Tour de France].

For me, forcing the cross-reference feels just a wee bit inelegant. So I decided to write “blow up” into the clues and rendered them in a parallel construction. That being said, I’d love to hear some opinions on the subject. Leave a comment!

Happy solving… and stay thirsty, my friends.


Among people named in today’s puzzle:

Bed Head


Jessie and I recently did a tighter-than-usual couple weeks of quarantine (and got a clean bill of COVID health) in advance of a tiny house trip to the Catskills with another couple. It was… devastatingly pleasant to share a space with other humans.

And in fact, the couple we travelled with were people we’d never spent any time with before quarantine! Keely and Parker are crossword Twitter (where else?) acquaintances who have become improbably close friends over the last few months, via texting and Zoom double dates.

Now, it wasn’t incredibly convenient to take the necessary precautions to make doubling our little pod for a few days viable, but boy HOWDY was it worth. Jessie and I both feel rejuvenated in some essential way that I don’t as yet have the words to describe appropriately. I’ll wait on the novelists to capture it on my behalf, though I think the photos below are worth a thousand words.

Spoilers and “Bed Head” discussion after the jump…

Our pod cast

This one felt appropriate to post this week. To share a one-room bespoke cabin with folks you just met means relaxing into the curtain being drawn on, well, whatever your recently-arisen face looks like. I WOKE UP LIKE THIS is a social media photo caption that, in my experience, is largely apocryphal. I’m reminded of the hilarious Bridesmaids scene where Kristen Wiig slips from bed and painstakingly applies a full face of makeup before waking her hunky bedmate.

As a revealer, I WOKE UP LIKE THIS serves as a hint for SLEEPY TOWN, YAWNING GAP, and TIRED HUMOR. Honestly, I *love* this type of theme. “Huh! A whole theme set of sleepy-adjectives that have secondary meanings!” If your brain makes note of such patterns in daily life and you’re not a crossword constructor… well, you’re just not a crossword constructor *yet*.

I was also pleased that the northwest and northeast segments of the grid had fun and clean fill options without dropping a black square somewhere along 1-Down and 13-Down. Wiiiide open spaaaaces!

Happy solving, everyone.


Among real/fictional people in this puzz:

Arrested Development

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 👼👼👼👼

A few quick hits before we talk puzz:

-There may be a few tickets left to tonight’s How to Make a Crossword Zoom seminar. Be there and fill squares, friends.

-Don’t miss this Tuesday’s New York Times crossword, my 31st for that newspaper. It’s another collaboration between myself and my forever collaborator Amanda Rafkin.

-Similarly don’t miss next Saturday’s Lollapuzzoola online crossword tournament. In all sincerity, you should “go” even if you’re not a fast/expert solver. Jessie and I will be solving in the “pairs” division, though in all likelihood we’ll be mostly heckling our crossword friends in the chat bar.

Spoilers and discussion for this week’s puzzle below the jump…

Oh, baby…

I’ve been vacillating for years (YEARS!) about whether to build a puzzle around the evocative and hilarious phrase ADULT CHILDREN ever since I first heard it back during the 2016 election cycle. On the one hand, lololol. Great phrase. On the other hand … Donald Trump Jr.

It occurs to me that the thematic cultural touchstones–SPICE GIRL, BABYFACE, BOY GEORGE, and CISCO KID–are going to be more familiar to Gen Y/X/Boomer solvers. I’d love to hear a comment or two about how a puzzle like this with 100% thematic trivia solves for you. Does it go down smooth? Irritating to be asked to grok various humans you may not know/care about? Keeping one’s finger on the pulse of the solving audience (hopefully the real, non-imagined set) is a forever project for crossword constructors… so g’head and self-report, s’il vous plaît.

Happy solving, friends.


Humans mentioned in this puzzle:

Scale Down

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 🌱🐍 🌱

I was chatting crossword constructor and Harvard student Ria Dhull this week, when she dropped a thoughtful compliment about my Tuesday NYT puzzle.

Me: Any praise from a gen z solver is music to my ears!

Ria: Gen z solvers are pretty easy to please tbh! toss in an EGIRL and we’re happy.

Me: Furiously scribbling down notes here. Ria EGIRL wasn’t even in my word list 😞

Ria: What no!!!!! it’s ranked ridiculously high in mine. It literally shows up every time I click on a five letter word.

I don’t know if you’ve been noticing this, but the kids really do seem to be taking over. Did you catch Paolo Pasco and Adam Aaronson‘s NYT sparkler yesterday? I think they’re younger than me *combined*.

I’m trying to stay optimistic about my ability to make puzzles that appeal to the full gamut of solvers, but keeping the kids happy and feeling “seen” is only a viable project as long as they continue to deign to chat with me on crossword Twitter.

Couple of quick hits: there are still tickets available for next Sunday’s How to Make a Crossword seminar. I’m hoping to see many of you there! And mark your calendars for Lollapuzzoola Online. This is one of my favorite IRL crossword tournaments, and I have no doubt they’re going to put on a good show via Twitch/Zoom/Tiktok… assuming that last one isn’t, like, strictly verboten by then…

Thoughts on this week’s puzzle after the jump!

I don’t remember when I found the delightful spanner SNAKE IN THE GRASS. It’s an evocative phrase, it’s fun to say, and bam: 15 letters. For a while it sat in the “ideas” folder, until I settled on using it as a hidden word revealer. It seemed double appropriate (given the meaning of the phrase) to orient the themers vertically, rendering the snakes at the bottom of the answers, down there IN THE GRASS.

DIS[CO BRA] was a late find, actually, and I rearranged the whole grid to accommodate it there in the center. The theme set makes me pretty happy, with ROCKY BAL[BOA], ATTIC L[ADDER], and BEYOND ONE’S GR[ASP] as the 15-letter spanner to mirror the revealer.

The construction wasn’t totally straightforward, and with all those themers clogging up the bottom third of the grid, I had to go to some corner black squares (which I don’t love) to keep the fill smooth. And stacking theme answers side-by-side, while occasionally a necessity, presents its own challenges (which I relish).

Among the real & fictional people in this puzzle:

Happy dog days, friends. See you on the Zoom?