“Out for Blood”

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 🦇🦇🦇

Today’s puzzle is a Halloween diptych of sorts. You can find the other half in the Thursday (10/29) Wall Street Journal crossword. Best viewed side-by-side.

My mother’s birthday is on Halloween! I think about her a lot at this time of year. Fall is kind of a fraught period for both of us, ever since 2001. That was the year that she took a months-long hiatus from work to seek treatment for bipolar disorder. When she finally was able to get back to the job–she was a TV news anchor at the time–she scheduled her first day back as (no lie) September 10th, 2001.

Honestly, it was probably the best thing for her. She didn’t have any time to feel anxious or overwhelmed on behalf of herself. While us kids sat stupefied in front of the TV for days, she reported the unspeakable news with typical humanity and grace. She would win an Emmy for her coverage that week.

And it was just a few weeks later—a couple of days after Halloween, after the smell had lifted and President Bush reopened Yankee Stadium with a ceremonial first pitch—that an MRI revealed an olive-sized tumor in my spine. I was eventually diagnosed with Schwanommatosis. When we got home from the surgeon’s office I sobbed with my head in mom’s lap. I sobbed because of the news, but also because I knew my mom was the only person in the world more scared than I was. What would this do to her? But she responded as she had at 9/11. Another crisis, and again she rose to a challenge she had no choice but to face. When they rolled me for the first time to the OR, it was my mom walking calmly next to the gurney. I was introduced to the blue-clad female anesthesiologist and, already drugged, blurted out, “Mom! Smurf!” 

“No, sweetie,” she said. “That’s Smurfette.”

Spoilers and discussion on “Out for Blood” after the jump.

Frickin’ bats

The grid art in “Out for Blood” is potentially surplus to requirements, but since the thematic material allowed for some black square flexibility, I decided to echo a motif you’ll see on Thursday in the WSJ.

RAISES THE STAKES, LIGHTS UP THE ROOM, and HAS A CROSS TO BEAR all felt like super fun and silly phrases to reimagine vis-à-vis a VAMPIRE SLAYER. Though to be honest, I’m frustrated I couldn’t really make garlic work. PRESSED GARLIC? Eh. Sort of follows the verb + anti-vampire tech pattern, but the PRESSED in PRESSED GARLIC is a different verb construction. Alas.

Please post all your Halloween pics for me to enjoy. Especially if your costume is one of those delightful pun costumes. Be still my beating heart!

Happy solving, friends.


“You Can’t Make This Sh*t Up”

by Amanda Rafkin & Ross Trudeau

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 😈😈😇

When I’ve been asked to play 64-Across in the past, one of my selections is always some variation on: “I listened to ‘Sex Bomb’ by Tom Jones on repeat every day for ten days in Belarus while a Ukrainian women’s champion wrestler beat the crap out of me.”

It happened.

When I was 17, a Russian expatriate who coached my high school wrestling team used an old Soviet contact to get me invited to a training camp for prep school wrestlers. We would be working out with, among others, the Belarusian national team at their Olympic complex outside of Minsk. 

On the first day of training, inside a cavernous gym converted from a military airplane hangar, I locked up with a champion from Kiev. Her thighs were easily twice the diameter of mine. She manhandled me for several minutes before settling on her haunches and muttering something in Russian, not yet having broken a sweat. During the interval we became aware of the patter of slippered feet behind us, feet just barely visible underneath a curtain of heavy green military tarp. “Dansúre,” the woman said, dropping her temple to the mat to get a better look.

It was the Belarusian Olympic ballroom dancing team beginning their morning practice on the far side of the massive enclosure where the wrestlers trained. (In fact, over the course of the next ten days we never observed the dancers above the ankle, and so they assumed a mythical beauty our minds.) Within a few minutes, their accompaniment began blaring over the gym’s single audio system: “Sex Bomb” by Tom Jones. I laughed and looked at my sparring partner. She spoke no English and continued to maul me with vestigial Soviet precision for the next half hour, during which time Sex Bomb played on a loop with no discernable pause in between. Spy on me baby use satellite, infrared to see me move through the night. She took me down and pinned me using techniques that I’d never seen let alone learned counters to. You can turn me upside down inside out. None of the other severe and workmanlike athletes seemed to be taking any notice. Sex bomb sex bomb, you’re my sex bomb.

You can’t make this shit up. More on “You Can’t Make This Sh*t Up” from Amanda and me after the jump.

strange but true

Amanda: Ross and I have made so many puzzles together that sometimes its hard to remember the process of making any particular one. But there are two things I know for sure: 1) The process was too much fun, and 2) I half-jokingly proposed an outrageous clue somewhere along the line. I hope you enjoy this offering from the never ending conveyor belt of Ross & Amanda collaborations ☺️

Ross: This concept’s strength lies in how self-contained it is. TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE (16) is totally accurate description of what’s going on here, thematically. However, it’s a pretty simple formulation. I don’t really go in for concepts like this unless you can do something pretty elegant with the grid architecture. In this case, it really did hinge on whether or not we could find two 16-long TRUTHS and one 16-long LIE. In that way, it parallels the concept/execution of a grid Amanda and I had recently in the New York Times.

Happy solving, friends.


“Her Story”

by Lucy Howard & Ross Trudeau


Lucy and I have never met in person, but I already count her among my good friends, owing to the amount of time we’ve spent making grids together in recent weeks. It’s hard to call this week’s puzzle a tribute per se, though it feels timely given all the reflecting I’ve been doing on how much I lean on the women in my life for support these days.

Chief among these are Jessie and Ruby, my partner and murder cat, without whom quarantine would be an even more acute challenge.

But puzzle collaborators like Lucy have been a daily presence in my life, and though I don’t leave the house much, they’ve helped me build what feels like a pretty robust social life. I honestly don’t know what life’s emotional contours would be like today without them. Let’s not dwell, shall we?

A few thoughts from Lucy and me on “Her Story” after the jump.

An absolute QUEEN

Lucy: Hip hip HER-ray! Three cheers for this here puzzle: one for Ross for coming up with this rad theme idea, another for the beautiful, fortuitous interlock we uncovered, and one more for me for *finally* managing to fill her in…. Loved getting WOMAN, METOO, BRA, and TITS in here 🙂 Also, MENA, MISSM, ETHEL, RHEA, etc. I’m a yoga teacher so ASANA and GURU made me smile, and Ross and I are both rock climbers so BELAY was double the fun.One more final cheer for Ross for sharing our puzzle with the rest of the crosswording world, and for being such a gem of a human. Happy solving!

Ross: I’ll never not look for interlocking theme answers. Also, it should be noted that the SayHerName movement didn’t begin with BREONNA TAYLOR.

Have a lovely Sunday, everyone.

“It’s… IT’S ALIVE!”

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 🎃🧟‍♀️👻

On this website Halloween starts on October 1st. You’re going to get at least two Halloween-themed grids (starting today), and another spooky one at the end of the month in the Wall Street Journal. oooOOOOoooOOoooooo

Things are downright batty this week, so I’m leaning right on in to the macabre, to the spooky, to *any*thing that will get more folks in a freaking mask.

A couple of heads-ups before we talk about this week’s puzz. First, the Wednesday New York Times puzzle this week is a #rossword that I’m confident will get a giggle or at least a mirthful snort out of you.

And second, don’t forget to sign up for the Fall Themeless League being run by the Boswords boys on Monday nights in October and November starting tomorrow. Deadline to register is today!

Spoilers and discussion for “It’s… IT’S ALIVE” after the JUMP SCARE!!!!1111

Can sh*t get any Wilder?

I was so tickled by this idea that I texted the finished grid to like half a dozen people like a puppy with an 8-foot branch in its mouth.

The idea started with the phrase I’VE / CREATED A MONSTER (3, 15), which I intended to stack and center at the bottom of a 15×15 grid, and “build” whatever interesting monster I could find with homophonic syllables. And actually, el chupacabra was I think the first monster that came to mind.

I initially started messing with ELLE, CHU/CHOO/CHEW, PAC, A, BRA as the syllabication, but it felt inelegant that PAC as in like SUPER PAC is pronounced with a short-a sound, while that syllable is usually pronounced with a long-a in “chupacabra.” After some research, I settled on PAK SE-RI (or SE-RI PAK, as westerners might know her) as a closer homophone.

It was just dumb luck that I was able to find ELLE MACPHERSON (14) to match CREATE A MONSTER (14), and we were off to the races. I was pleasantly surprised to be able to get those very long down answers in JUST TO BE SURE and MEAN BUSINESS passing through three themers apiece. And, yes, I dropped in a dupe with clues that call attention to the dupe… couldn’t help myself. BOO!

Happy solving. Masks up. Stay safe.