“Christmas Spirit”

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 💀❄️👻❄️👼

Mark your calendars! In their infinite wisdom, the organizers of Boswords have asked me back to create another puzzle. This time it’s for their Winter Wondersolve event next month (registration opens 1/1), and I won’t be working alone! Jessie is co-constructing this puzzle, which will be her first tournament grid. We hope to see you there!

In other news, check out the Universal puzzle on Wednesday 12/30 for a collaboration between myself and my x-wife Amanda Rafkin. This one happens to fall on my birthday!

Having said that, please don’t feel obliged to fuss over me. When your birthday falls between Christmas and New Year’s *and* you have a twin sister who is way cooler than you *and* three of your four nephews (also cooler than you) happen to have been born in December, well… I’m numb to a no-big-deal birthday. No, that’s not a single tear rolling down my cheek.

Thoughts and spoilers for “Christmas Spirit” after the j-j-j-jump!

*TECHnically* White Walkers aren’t “dead” 🤓

I suppose this whole idea hinges on whether or not you’ll allow that JACK SKELLINGTON was ever “alive” to begin with… I rewatched “The Nightmare Before Christmas” to satisfy myself, and at one point Jack sings (in “Jack’s Lament”), “And since I am dead, I can take off my head / To recite Shakespearean quotations …”. Bingo!

Other potential theme answers that I discarded were MELTING SNOWMAN (though, lol), WHITE WALKERS (not *technically* dead), DONNER PARTY (there was a cannibalistic Trudeau among them!).

The theme set you see here, comprising MARLEY’S GHOST, CLARENCE, and JACK SKELLINGTON, feels tight and consistent. They’re all well-known Christmas movie characters, all reanimated in various ways, and all confirmed to have died in their respective cinematic universes. Voilà! The DEAD OF WINTER. I did play with CLARENCE ODBODY as a 14-long counterpart to THE DEAD OF WINTER, but the resulting grid options were pretty, uh, avant-garde.

Happy solving, friends!


“Launch Party”


Remiss! I am remiss. Last week when I was telling you about Jessie‘s NYT debut *and* her subsequent solo debut in the Universal crossword, I failed to mention the third (!) print puzzle of her print debut week. It’s perhaps my favorite of the bunch, and it will be included in Common Cause‘s December newsletter. I recommend giving it a solve; it’s a delightful theme. Jessie rules.

You can also find a Sunday #rossword in today’s (12/20) L.A. Times: solve online here.

N.B.: that’s the last L.A. Times puzzle you’ll see from me. A couple of weeks ago they ran a Woody Allen tribute puzzle that I found pretty distasteful considering the allegations surrounding that man. While reasonable people can disagree about how writers, crossword makers, and commentators handle the credibly accused, I see no reason whatever to make such people the centerpiece of a newspaper game. (I asked the editor to preempt today’s puzzle, but he said that it was too late to replace it.)

That being said, I’m ambivalent about this decision. I have several thoughtful feminist colleagues who publicly disapproved of the Woody Allen puzzle and decided to keep their own grids in rotation there, which sounds totally reasonable as well. I’m eager to continue a good faith discussion over what’s good/right here, and would welcome your comments.

Thoughts and spoilers for “Launch Party” after the jump.

This is a celebration!

Today’s puzzle was inspired by a clip I saw of OSU star Samantha Show (what a name!) celebrating a home run with, well more of a “bat chop” than a BAT FLIP. Awesome.

The construction was pretty involved for two reasons. On the one hand, there aren’t *that* many words that hide T-A-B (and that don’t duplicate the word TABLE). And on the other, I wanted to pretty faithfully represent the ARC of a bat flipping through the air. I figured from the start it would necessitate the mirror symmetry layout you see. My only major regret is that there wasn’t a great way to lengthen the first/last themers in BATH and STAB.

My disappointment was mitigated by the lovely found poetry in the clue for RACKET ABUSE: [Violation that might come to a head in court?] — bam!

Happy solving, friends.


“Falling Temperatures”

by Jessie Bullock & Ross Trudeau

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 🥶🥶🥶🥶

This week’s puzzle is something of a cruciverbalist’s amuse-bouche. An hors d’oeuvre to prepare your intellectual palate for the main course, which will be served tonight at 6:00pm EST via the New York Times. I’m *extremely* proud to share that tomorrow’s Times puzzle is Jessie’s print puzzle debut!

Our NYT puzzle’s raison d’être is expressed in the clue at 53A: [Female scholars … or a hint to 19-, 28-, 34-, and 42-Across]. In the last several months since Jessie and I have been constructing puzzles together here at home, she’s held pretty firm in her desire to produce thematic content that touches on her career as an academic and her field of study: crime and political corruption in Latin America. (You can read more about her research on her site.)

Anyway, suffice it to say that I’m all the way over the moon to see our names in print together. After all, the two things I love most in the world are Jessie and crossword puzzles. And if you’re vibing with her gridwork, you won’t have to wait long for more… she also solo-wrote the Tuesday Universal crossword!

Okay, back to the puzzle at hand. Thoughts and spoilers for “Falling Temperatures” after the barftastically adorkable jump.

l’auteur avec son petit chat noir

Jessie and I began working on this puzzle as a potential concept for a winter-themed crossword competition we’d been asked to construct for. Ultimately the organizers preferred a different idea for their format, so we were free to mess with this one by our twosies.

It’s a pretty “indie crossword” move to clue the revealer as we have. MELTING POINT, or the point at which the I-C-E “melts” downward from the theme answers, drops “ice” into the clue itself: [Ice’s is 32 degrees, which you should bear in mind at the circled letters]. This sort of formulation works for me, insofar as the word “ice” never actually appears in the grid itself. I imagine mainstream newspaper editors might hesitate to render a revealer this way.

Some very Jessie moments at PREGGO [Baby bumpin’] and SAUTE [Sweat, as onions] and MANSCARA [Guyliner complement]. And I personally have to take credit/shame for starting you all off at 1A with PGA [Org. that puts swingers into foursomes?]. Couldn’t help myself…

Happy #weekofjessie everyone!


“Lack of Effort”

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 💪🏼💨

On some days, 38-Across.

But today will not be one of those days. Today Jessie and I will venture forth into the first snowfall of the year and return home with an impractically tall Christmas tree. Photographs to follow.

A couple of thoughts and spoilers for “Lack of Effort” after the jump.

Baby Yoda likes… Girl Scout cookies?

As a committed “Star Wars” geek, I eventually consume basically all content that franchise puts out. And I have to say that Baby Yoda (of “The Mandalorian”) is a delightful and compelling little character. He’s so hungry! And mischievous!

THERE IS NO TRY, the famous Yoda-ism from “Empire Strikes Back,” struck me as a pretty lovely revealer for a deletion puzzle. And I was pleased that I was able to find some cute-sounding whacky -TRY phrases, all of which deleted the -TRY from the very end of the phrase.

As for [What you might get out of a successful lab experiment?] (PET), when we were kids our parents let us board litters of lab puppies for the weekend. They probably should have foreseen that certain puppies were just going to be too cute to send back…

Happy solving, friends.