“Medicine Droppers”

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 👩🏻‍⚕️👨🏼‍⚕️ Difficulty: 3.75/5

N.B.: this 21×21 puzzle’s clues may populate *above and below* the grid, rather than to the side as with my 15×15’s.

Welcome back, friends! I’m posting this week’s puzzle on Saturday afternoon rather than Sunday morning because Sunday is going to be a busy day: Parker and I are going to live stream some crossword construction at 2pm eastern over on Cursewords Live. All are welcome! Drop by, say whatup, and help us a build a crossword from scratch via the chat.

We’ll also talk a bit about the Sunday New York Times grid, which I co-wrote with my cherished collaborator Lindsey Hobbes. The puzzle is titled “Gravity’s Rainbow,” and while we didn’t write it with Pride in mind, we’re both honored to see it run this month. Not for nothing, but have y’all checked our Queer Crosswords lately?

If you’re here for the first time, I post a new puzzle every weekend on Sunday morning. Drop your email address in the field on the right side of this page to get the weekly #rosswordpuzzle sent directly to your inbox!

As usual, I’ve got a few *SPOILER ALERT* thoughts about this week’s puzzle, “Medicine Droppers,” after the jump:

Oh! Oh! I know this one!

I learned a *lot* about the various “doctors” of pop culture writing this crossword. For instance, a lot of people tend to confuse the real life Dr. Spock with Mr. Spock on “Star Trek.” Even the show’s creators! I further learned that while The Doctor on “Doctor Who” is only rarely (and ironically) referred to as “Doctor Who,” the character appeared in the show credits for 20+ years as exactly that: “Doctor Who”! Go figure. Oh, and Dr. Evil apparently *is* a medical doctor, albeit one who went to “Evil Medical School.” (So, like, Harvard?) 😉

When I was building out the theme set, I found the options to be pretty constrained:

a) The answers had to be in-the-language phrases with a well-known pop culture “doctor” hidden in them; b) the doctors’ names needed to span multiple words; c) the answers needed to be arranged in the grid such that the black box (i.e. the BORDER that the DOCTORS ignore) could be placed such that the remaining letters of the phrase *after* the box formed a full, clueable word. As I’ve said in the past on the this site, I really try to avoid theme answers in this sort of conceit that require a [-] clue for the latter part of the answers because the latter part ends of being a non-valid entry.

Another constraint I gave myself was to get at least one woman doctor in the theme set. It was pretty striking/depressing how few well-known female doctors–fictional or otherwise–there were to choose from. Most of the ones I found (think Dr. QUINN) weren’t the kinds of names you were going to find hidden in longer base phrases. If anyone knows Sandra Oh, feel free to pass along my gratitude that Dr. YANG ended up rounding out the set in BAB[Y ANG]ELS.

Also, pretty tickled I was able to squeeze TED LASSO, GOT GOT, and STAY WOKE up there in the NW corner. All examples of fill that I’ve been going out of my way to try to use recently.

Happy solving, friends!


“Dying to Solve”

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 💀😵☠️

The best part about having one’s own crossword blog is the freedom to explore thematic material that just wouldn’t have a prayer of getting published in a mainstream venue. Of course, standards are constantly evolving. I almost spat up my coffee when I saw BAD ASS in the Times puzzle for the first time, for example.

Today’s puzzle is an example of one that I didn’t even consider sending out for publication, just because of how directly it looks at certain material that’s verboten in the mainstream. Personally, I tend to agree with the convention of generally avoiding “unpleasant” topics in, say, the Wall Street Journal puzzle, but that’s only because it’s *been* that way for so long. It would legitimately be jarring and perhaps off-putting to see profanity (for example) in the paper, just because we’re all so used to *not* seeing it in that context.

That being said, this ain’t the Journal. And solvers on this site know damn well my attitudes toward replicating certain crossword conventionalities on this site. Still, I’d love to hear your impressions on this one. So leave a comment.

Oh, and there’s a Big Rossword out in the wild today. The Sunday Universal puzzle is by the inimitable Amanda Rafkin and myself, and it’s one that I quite enjoy. Give it a solve!

More thoughts on “Dying to Solve” after the jump.

This felt like an idea worth pursuing just because of a) how tight the theme set was, and b) how the themers appear to chronologically “zoom in” to WHEN DEATH COMES.

Each theme answer is a phrase for which the first word can be reinterpreted as a euphemism for death, and the second is a timeline indicator word: EXPIRATION DATE, DEPARTURE TIME, and PASSING MOMENT. And their lengths just happen to allow for successive clues to get more and more specific about the timeline: [Last day?] to [Last hour?] to [Last second?].

And in fact, I was hoping to replicate the pattern a fourth time, but couldn’t find a phrase that would do the job. So the revealer–WHEN DEATH COMES–actually came last. (I’m rarely ever satisfied with only 3 thematic entries.) And, boy howdy, it’s an apt one.

Anyway, now that you’ve solved, you’re privy to this “darkest timeline” theme. What do you think? Are you shocked and appalled? Wryly amused? Cold and unmoved? Talk to me in the comments!

Happy (heh) solving, dear solver.


“Blackout Drunk”

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 🥃🍸🥴🍹🍺

Heads up: this is a decently hard puzzle, both in conceit and cluing. But before we talk grid…

I’ve only ever once been anywhere near what you’d call “blackout” drunk. It was the night after I was very nearly killed by a fjord in Glacier Bay, Alaska. If you’ll abide a few more words than I tend to write above the fold, here’s the story.

It’s the spring of 2014, and my dad and I have flown to Juneau, Alaska, and boarded a week-long cruise to Glacier Bay, home to coastline that evokes that of Norway or Greenland in topography and coloring. The boat is essentially a floating 4-star hotel. You can sip a cocktail in the top deck jacuzzi and watch brown bears prowl craggy terrain that is inhospitable or deadly, depending on the time of year.

On the next to last day of the trip we board a red tandem kayak to get a close-up look at Dawes glacier, a 25-story ice wall spanning one of the mile-wide fjords of Glacier Bay. Dad sits ahead of me. Captain Bennett has warned us to keep back a quarter mile from the cliff face that bridged the steep mountainsides on either side of the inlet. It is about two miles across.

Lower-48’ers come in particular to witness the fjords drop big chunks of their mass into the bay below, a spectacular and noisy phenomenon called calving. While the name calls to mind images of savannah mammals depositing their glistening cargo unceremoniously into the switchgrass, glaciers themselves look decidedly inert. About as likely to interact with you as the Mona Lisa or a Tuscan fresco. 

But the glaciers here are alive and calving is frequent. Not only does ice break away and fall off the cliff, but pieces can shoot up unexpectedly at great speeds from the underside of the glacier, gaining velocity as they buoy themselves towards the surface. Some can breach like determined humpbacks. And the sound of thousand-year ice breaking apart is a truly hideous report, like the crack of a crucial beam supporting the tree house you’re reading in. When we began to hear it there in the shadow of the glacier, and to see snow and debris start to shake loose from shelves and fissures in the glacier, I feel sick.

Two hundred yards to our right, a Volkswagen Beetle-sized chunk dislodges. Directly in front of us, an even large piece breaks away. To our left, a third calf, pirouetting downward and violently connecting with an existing iceberg. 

And then, everything in between shudders. Before we register what is happening, a New York City apartment building-sized section of the glacier drops into the bay directly in front of us. At this point, I too forget my fear. It’s too surreal, too awesome to be exactly scary at that point. But it is only a matter of seconds before we understand the danger. Not of being crushed by falling ice—we were still too far off. But rather by the water that is rapidly being displaced by the sheer tonnage of the collapsed section of the terminus. 

We both begin to paddle as the swell in front of the glacier grows and grows. For an absurd moment, our boat does not move. We are paddling in opposite directions. I am trying to about-face and scram; dad is attempting to square the nose of our bow to the wave. Bugs and Daffy, passing the shotgun barrel back and forth. 

“Face the wave, Rossy!” I finally get the picture.  

By the time the wave is on top of us, the glacier has totally disappeared from view. Later, the captain will suggest we were looking up at a 30-foot swell. We’re going in, I think. I know our fate, and am already tensing my muscles to brace against the heart-stopping cold of the water. “Shit, oh shit,” I repeat. (Tonight at dinner I will bemoan this piss-poor choice of potential last words to my dad. Crai, a travel writer on board and also among the kayakers that day, will point out that this was probably, in the course of human events, not an altogether uncommon swan song.) When the first wave is upon us, its size gives the impression that we are moving forward, being sucked uphill along with the various ice chunks in the water around us. Ready? Here we go! Dad lifts his paddle and I follow suit. Heart pounding in my ears, I watch our kayak pass over the wave. On the downslope of the second waveI give out a short bachelorette party woo!, and I pretend to laugh to conceal the hysterical sobs that are coming.

That night–without meaning to–I get blackout drunk on Johnny Walker at the ship’s bar, with no memory of crying openly into my scotch, nor of returning to my cabin.

A couple more sober thoughts on “Blackout Drunk” after the jump.

the fjord in question

You’ll see a version of this type of puzzle every so often. It’s been done! And the revealer–or, in this case, the title–generally is a phrase like BLACK MAGIC or MAN IN BLACK, etc etc.

My understanding is that this offering played difficult for the test solvers. Perhaps that’s because the “blackout” synonyms for “drunk” are all different words: LOADED, BLASTED, BLIND, and WASTED. Which is to say, you’ve got exactly two shots at seeing each individual word. An easier version would have just blacked out the word “drunk” four times.

Another thing that seems to be important to my solving brain when I come to puzzles of this theme type is that the blacked out word to be applicable both down and across. That’s not a necessity; here’s a fun recent puzzle from Adam Aaronson that works great with the hidden word affecting only a down or across answer it abuts.

As it stands, my weird little brain wants to have it both ways. Thus, you’ve got SPRING [LOADED] ROD going across at 17-Across, and [LOADED] QUESTION at 22-Down. Ditto SAND[BLASTED] GLASS / BLASTED OFF, THREE [BLIND] MICE / FLY BLIND, and I’VE [WASTED] MY LIFE / TIME WELL [WASTED].

I’d love to hear how this played for the rest of you. Drop a comment!

Happy solving, friends.


“Have a Nice Trip!”

by Jessie Bullock & Ross Trudeau


Words won’t precisely do it justice, so I’m attaching a photo below of the setting from which we’re uploading today’s puzzle. It’s a timely offering–you’ll see what I mean–and it’s that timeliness that convinced us to briefly plug back in to share it with you here. Jessie is waiting for me to join her on the beach about thirty yards seaward, so I won’t linger long to editorialize beyond noting that a kind and simple “bon voyage”-style DM from constructor Brooke Husic set the wheels turning that bring this puzzle to you today.

One or two quick thoughts on “Having a Nice Trip!” after the regrettably basic jump.


It would have been easy to render a theme like this without a revealer. The pattern of metaphorical vehicles with a positive connotation stands up without any ancillary hinting, but anyone who’s been in even the most passing crossword dialogue with me knows that my soul fractures slightly but perceptibly whenever I forgo signaling a raison d’être in the grid itself. And was adding the “THE” to allow for an interlock between THE WELCOME WAGON, DREAM BOAT, and TIGHT SHIP somewhat gratuitous? Perhaps. But I love shit like that. So.

Sometimes the inspiration for posting a puzzle is as simple as a friend saying “have an amazing trip!” That brief note sent my mind directly to FANTASTIC VOYAGE, et voila.

Working with Jessie on this puzzle was particularly fun and satisfying, for reasons that are probably fairly obvious. Our trip to Quintana Roo, Mexico is our first proper vacation since before quarantine, and the time we’ve been able to spend connecting with each other and letting down our respective guards a bit has been, in a word, FANTASTIC(O).

Happy solving, cherished solvers.

-Ross & Jessie