“Comfort Food”

by Nina Sloan & Ross Trudeau

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 😋🍛😋🥙

What a relief to have spent some time working with Nina on this lighthearted grid. Looking back, in the last year I’ve unintentionally devoted a *bunch* of energy to creating puzzles that I hoped would have some sort of political efficacy.

One for Ed Markey’s campaign here in Massachusetts.

One about The Squad’s legislative agenda.

One about the historic women’s caucus of 2018.

One about protest.

One about democratic elections for Common Cause.

But the truth is that much of this work has been a salve for my own anxieties about the state of our wounded democracy, rather than any kind of meaningful political action. (Though the $68,000+ raised by the Grids for Good collection to which I contributed a puzzle is a notable exception.)

Starting on Monday, I’m taking a two week leave of absence from my day job (I work for an education non-profit here in Boston). My plans for how to spend this time are still molten–texting recently enfranchised folks in FL, daily phone banking–so feel free to leave a comment if you’ve got any bright ideas. The goal, broadly speaking, is moving the needle on voter turnout.

So while crossword puzzles aren’t necessarily the medium of political action, they serve a purpose in a healthy democracy: making folks smile! That’s where Nina Sloan comes in. She just started her freshman year at Dartmouth, and she’s already making waves in crossworld. I have it on good authority that you’ll see her byline in conspicuous places in the coming months…

This week’s puzzle, “Comfort Food,” isn’t political. It’s about finding a little diversion and cheer in 2020. Spoilers and Nina’s thoughts below.

Dropping a dope crossword in the mail.

It’s a vibe.

Here’s Nina:

Hi all! My name is Nina Sloan, and though I’m originally from New York City, I’m currently a freshman at Dartmouth College. I’ve been solving crosswords for some time now, but I only recently started constructing. I’m super excited for this puzzle to be out in the world!

I had been mulling over this theme idea for a while before reaching out to Ross––I had HAPPY MEALS in mind for a fun revealer, and wanted to create a tight theme set around it. Ross suggested building a 15×16 grid with HAPPY MEALS at the center, which allowed much more flexibility with the placement and selection of the other theme answers. The set went through several iterations before we got around to building the grid, and (tragically) answers such as SMILEY FRIES and ALMOND JOY were left on the chopping block. This was, of course, all for the greater good, but it’s always hard to kill your darlings. Though we hit some minor snags along the way, I was especially happy to work some interesting fill into the puzzle, with some of my favorites being BUSY BEE, PIANOLA, and LEGO SET.

A huge thank you to Ross––I am so grateful for all his guidance, and this puzzle certainly couldn’t have come to be without him. I’m so excited for you to try the puzzle, and I hope you have as much fun solving it as we did making it!

Happy solving, everyone.

-Ross & Nina

“Movie Lines for $200, Alex”

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 📺 👨🏼‍🦳

I love love love this puzz. It shouldn’t have worked, but it did. Jeopardy fans rejoice! We’ll discuss, but first a couple of heads-ups:

If you’ve been enjoying the online crossword tournaments that were on offer this summer, the Boswords team is running a weekly competitive solving event on Monday nights: the Fall Themeless League.

Meanwhile, there was another waggish #rossword puzzle in last Tuesday’s New York Times, co-constructed by Amanda. Have a solve, if you’ve not as yet solved.

Thoughts and spoilers for “Movie Lines for $200, Alex” after the jump.

I … mustache you a question

This puzzle brings me much joy. I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do with the lovely found symmetry of CONTESTANT MUST ANSWER (20) IN THE FORM OF A QUESTION (20), but I knew it had to be *something*.

I liked the idea of mimicking the Jeopardy! syntax of burying the question in the answer (and the answer in the clue), so I started with a concept wherein all the theme answers began with WHAT IS or WHO IS, but there were surprisingly few options. It also seemed essential that all the theme answers fall under the same *category*, as they do in Jeopardy.

Eventually I found WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT?, which also happened to be 20-long, which prompted the decision to tweak the grid dimensions and stack the revealer in the middle two rows. You can imagine my delight when I was able to find three (3!) more movie titles that were themselves questions *and* 20 letters across.

This is yet another one of those ideas that probably shouldn’t have been worth the time to “see” if it was viable. But, I’m a constructing addict and masochist, and here we are.

Happy solving, friends*.

-Ross

*We’re only act-shoo-al friends if you VOTE.

Royal Taster

by Jessie Bullock & Ross Trudeau

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 🤴🏼👸🏼😋

There are any number of good reasons to stay active. Heart health. Endorphins. Staying fit for the sport that brings you mental cookies.

Jessie and I? We exercise to accommodate all the rich food and drink that has come to be our regular reward for being good reclusive quarantiners. And reader, we are getting *pro* at date night.

It’s usually a Saturday. We scrub down, dress up, fire up the tea candles and the string lights, and treat ourselves to takeout from one of several excellent options here in Cambridge. There are charcuterie boards. There are elaborate summer cocktails. There are in-season vegetables and cheese and uhhnnnn… Jessie knows how to pick wine.

This week’s puzzle is an homage to eating like royalty when eating is, well, sort of all you’ve got. (What am I talking about? I have a life partner who *makes crossword puzzles* with me. I burn! I pine! I perish!)

More on “Royal Taster” after the eat-eat-squat jump.

Nom-nom-BURN

The idea for this puzzle coalesced when I noticed a potential theme pattern that didn’t actually make it into the final draft. The 11th Earl of Sandwich, shrewd businessman that he is, apparently is licensing his name and title to–you guessed it–a sandwich chain called EARL OF SANDWICH (14). Jessie and I dropped into one somewhere on I95 in New Jersey (in the beforetimes), and I had immediate questions about copyright that… well, were answered to my delight and satisfaction by their wiki page.

Immediately BURGER KING (10) popped into my head, and DAIRY QUEEN (10) came to us after that. We’re off and running! But the theme set felt very much like it needed a revealer, and greedy theme seekers that we are, we were hoping for a 4th example of the pattern.

When JACK IN THE BOX (12) presented itself, we rejoiced and then despaired, since JACK isn’t a title of nobility in the same way that QUEEN, KING, and EARL are. A JACK is simply a member of the same court–WAIT! The same COURT? The same… FOOD COURT?

And lo! A puzzle is born.

Happy eati–er, solving.

-Ross

“Wakanda Forever!”

by Soleil Saint-Cyr and Ross Trudeau

[.puz][PDF][Solution]

Everything I want to write here this week has to do with the subject of today’s puzzle, as well the remarkable young woman with whom I collaborated on the grid.

Read more about the construction of “Wakanda Forever!” from burgeoning grid whiz Soleil Saint-Cyr after the jump.

From Soleil:

Hi everyone! Just a quick introduction from me: I’m Soleil Saint-Cyr, and I’m a high school senior from New Jersey. I’ve been solving crosswords since eighth grade, but, thanks to Ross’ awesomeness, this is my first ever piece of fill!

Ross has been kind enough to mentor me as to how I can start making puzzles of my own, and he sent me this grid right after hearing the news of CHADWICK BOSEMAN’s tragic death. I, and all other movie-lovers, BLACK PANTHER fans, and members of the Black community were devastated by the news last Saturday, and I loved this unique way of paying tribute to his truly inspiring life. Oh, to be young, gifted, and black.

Sitting down to fill was definitely not the easiest, and I had no idea where to start, but with a couple of pointers and discovering that KAP fit perfectly, I was off to the races! I tried my hardest to feature Black people and culture in the fill and clues (at my mother’s suggestion), and I’m really proud of how my first piece of fill turned out.

Just a special shoutout to Ross for both publishing the puzz and for encouraging me to take a leap of faith and try my hand at making something myself. Happy solving!

From Ross:

I was fully supportive of Soleil’s desire to extend the spirit of the thematic elements of this puzzle to her fill and her clues. But I certainly didn’t expect the sheer amount of Black culture (JOHN COLTRANE! ESTELLE! Etc.!) she was able to infuse into what was always going to be a challenging grid to fill.

Of course, when you start including names in a puzzle or its clues, there are certain ways to make the solve accessible to a broad swath of your audience. Take the clue for PILOT: [Kind of license that Bessie Coleman was the first African American and Native American to earn].

Now, that clue *could* omit “kind of license,” leaving the solvers who aren’t familiar with Bessie Coleman (ahem, me) with no recourse but to get a few crossings. But just that phrase “kind of license” narrows it down substantially.

Ditto the clue for ARTIST: [Basquiat or Banksy], which could have been [Basquiat, e.g.] *or* [Banksy, e.g.]. By including both names, you’re increasing the likelihood that you solver could confidently plonk down ARTIST with no crossing help.

[Update: Erik Agard recently pointed up his frustration at the impulse to add an “extra hint” for an answer *because* it references a person of color. That’s certainly worth bearing in mind as constructors/editors make decisions about perceived degree of difficulty in grid building.]

And in either of these cases–boom–your solver may well have learned something.

R.I.P., king. </3

-Ross

Among people named in this puzzle: