“Continental Divide”

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 🇲🇱 🇹🇩 🇹🇬 Difficulty: 2.5/5

Today’s the day! The 2021 Boswords Summer Tournament kicks off at 1:00p eastern … there are still a couple hours as of this writing for you to register. The tournament is completely online via their Twitch stream, and Parker and I invite you to join us for some post-tournament commentary and construction as soon as they sign off at 6:00p eastern this evening. Drop by our Twitch channel and say hello!

I wrote today’s puzzle a few months ago, and actually hadn’t intended to post it at all. But when Kevin Christian‘s 7/12/21 puzzle dropped in the New York Times, I figured I’d drop this little bad boy in here as an echo/homage. A couple of thoughts and spoilers for “Continental Divide” after the jump.

C.A.R. facts

Today’s puzzle is a pretty straightforward hidden word theme. I don’t generally mess with these unless the puzzle includes a revealer answer that demonstrates the puzzle’s raison d’être in a tight and interesting way. The part I found interesting was the potential for using one of those super-dee-duper apt revealer answers like CENTRAL / AFRICAN REPUBLIC. On the one hand, it describes where the hidden word is in the theme answers, *and* it describes the content of the hidden word. Moreover, it constitutes the rare case where a revealer answer not only describes the syntax of the theme, but also shares a category with the theme. Fun!

An essential feature of “center” or “middle” or “central” hidden word themes, at least for my idiosyncratic solving brain, is that the hidden word actually sits in the exact middle or center of the theme answers. And in fact, I could really only find a couple other workable entries, like VA[GABON]DS. I’d be super interested if any of you all can find more. Drop ’em in the chat!

Happy solving, friends!


“Wait for the Drop!”

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 🎧💥🕺🏽 Difficulty: 3.5/5

I’ve been iterating on this week’s puzzle for damn near two years, and while I’m happy with how it turned out, I’m glad to be washing my hands of it. Let me know in the comments if I waited too long. Does anyone listen to 59-Across anymore? Couple puzzle links:

Twice in recent years I’ve been honored to write puzzles for my local crossword tournament, Boswords, run by Andrew Kingsley and John Lieb. The tournament is next weekend (7/25) and they’re 100% online this year: register now! I’ll be solving this year, so come say hi in the chat.

The Wednesday Universal puzzle is a collaboration between myself and Katrina Lee. It’s Katrina’s print debut! I’ll drop a link here and via my Twitter account when this goes live.

A couple of thoughts and spoilers for “Wait for the Drop!” after the jump.


One way to make your life a ton easier when you’re making themers-that-change-rows puzzles (or themers-that-bust-through-a-black-square puzzles) is to get comfortable with applying a [ – ] clue to the answer slot that the answer occupies after the shift. This lets you wash your hands of the task of finding theme answers that not only meet the thematic criteria–in this case, having a D-U-B string–but also create new, independently valid answers on the back end.

For whatever reason, I found myself stubbornly clinging to finding D-U-B string words that would let me avoid the -‘s. And ultimately, I had to go to a) horizontal mirror symmetry, and b) theme answers that “merged” with other across answers. E.g., FIRST LADY OF DUBAI bumps down into the end of the MUMBAI answer.

The resulting stacked themers created headaches for grid layout, and I needed to add TRX to my word list to make the thing go at all, but in the end I think I’m pretty excited about the result. Would love to hear what you think in the comments.

Happy solving, friends!


Essential Workers

by Yacob Yonas & Ross Trudeau

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 💆🏻‍♂️ 💇🏾🧑🏼‍⚕️ Difficulty 3/5

Welcome back, solver! Join me in savoring Yacob’s overdue return to this site with “Essential Workers.”

I’m feeling a rush of creativity this week, and all credit goes to Jessie. She’s going on the job market this fall (pour one out for your PhD homies), and every day she bounces out of the office to tell me about a new job posting that’s popped up overnight. As a result, we are obliged to actively daydream for a moment or two about what it would be like to move to L.A., or the Bay Area, or Providence, or New York City, which practice turns out to be downright invigorating. TBD what the windfall is…

A couple of links/FYI’s for #rosswords in the wild this week:

Today’s Atlantic puzzle is a collaboration with Paolo Pasco, whose initials are “PP”; the Wednesday 7/14 New York Times puzzle I co-wrote with Amanda Rafkin, who needs board game advice; and the Thursday Wall Street Journal puzzle is a joint effort with Evelyn Rubin, whose gridwork continues to impress.

Some thoughts on “Essential Workers” after the jump!

Ah! Kinks!

Yacob: I love looking back to see how puzzles came to be, especially collaborations. A while back, when Ross and I were stewing on ideas for our next puzzle, Ross asked me in an email “how many professionals can you think of who might help someone WORK OUT THE KINKS (15)?  :D” That was the origin of this puzzle! The theme entries we found made the layout on this puzzle pretty tough, which is why we ended up with mirror symmetry. I’m pretty happy with how this grid ended up. As always I love working with Ross; it’s always a blast!

Ross: Happy solving, friends!

“A Day at the Races”

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 🐴🐎🎠🏇🏽 Difficulty: 2/5

Hail, dork, and well met! And Happy Fourth of July! Before we talk about today’s grid, here are a couple of links to more perfectly dorkify your summer:

-Parker live streamed some coding the other day! He added a couple of features to Cursewords, which I’m *very* excited to take out for a spin. Join us Monday evening at 9pm for some live xword fun on Twitch!

-The excellent Lollapuzzoola puzzle tournament is on the books! Mark your calendars for August 21st. I’ll be out of the country myself, but I can personally vouch for the quality of this event, which will be entirely online this year. And! The 2020 Indie 500 tournament puzzles have been released as a charity pack. I’m told that Wyna’s contribution is particularly delightful. Drop a few bucks in the hat and get some dope crosswords.

-The Juggernaut (South Asian-oriented) and Crucinova (tricky/avant-garde puzzles) are now both accepting crossword puzzle submissions.

A few thoughts on today’s puzzle, “A Day at the Races,” after the jump…

remember these?!

I was inspired to mess around with this theme two summers ago, at a carnival which featured the game pictured above. As I recall, each individual horse would advanced commensurate to the score of various contestants playing skee-ball in front of the mechanism. It was undoubtedly the 2D nature of the “race” that planted the seed in my head.

The crucial element of this concept is borne out by the fact that the four theme answers all *intersect* THE FINISH LINE, with only one of the four having exceeded it (left to right). In my weird puzzle solving brain, each of these horses has the theoretical *opportunity* to be the winner, never mind that they’re not actually, you know, moving.

As a result, I was pretty constrained in finding answers–all metaphorical or second-order references to horses–that symmetrically intersected THE FINISH LINE. Two of the four answers weren’t in any of my word lists and I had to go hunting for them.

And even after that, the placement of these theme answers was sort of comically restrictive. This is a *66* word 15×15 themed puzzle, with 69 theme boxes! And, as you can see, there isn’t a single place on the grid where you could add a black square to up the word count even if you wanted to! And moreover, the reciprocal answer to THE FINISH LINE was always also going to pass through all four theme answers, and in fact nothing in my word list fit the bill. I also had to add UNLABORIOUSLY to make the grid work, which particular answer also forced a few tricky areas.

The resulting grid required a couple more inelegant answers than I typically allow myself–looking at you ENTS, SADO, SGT. But ultimately, I’m pretty proud of the execution…

…with apologies to those of you whose PONY didn’t pan out.

Happy 4th, and happy solving, friends!


“Game-time Decision”

by Parker Higgins & Ross Trudeau ⚽️🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿🇺🇦

[PDF] *recommended* [.puz][Solution]

BONUS PUZZLE! Very important note about the solving experience here: *we* know the answer to 37-A, but we can’t tell you! So if you’re solving in the applet or with the .puz file, the check or reveal won’t work correctly on those squares, and you won’t get the “happy puzzle” completion indicator even when you’re done. If you can, we recommend solving this one on paper with the PDF. In either case, the solution link above will hopefully make the *real* solution clear.

We’re going to have a special guest solver tackling this one tonight on the Cursewords Live stream at 8:00p eastern. Drop by and say hello in the chat!

Special thanks to Matt, Bruce, and Tara for giving this one a test solve. We appreciate you!

*SPOILERS* on this puzzle’s solution and how we constructed it after the jump below…

Biff, the original sporting oracle

Some of you will have figured what was going on in this puzzle before you started solving. It’s an example of the “Quantum” or “Schrödinger” puzzle genre, of which this 1996 puzzle in the New York Times is undoubtedly the most famous example.

Essentially, if you’ve got two answer words of equal length–like ENGLAND and UKRAINE, the two countries that will play one another in the game in question on Saturday–you can build a grid around an answer slot which can reasonably contain more than one answer.

You achieve this by constructing the grid such that the down answers that pass through each relevant box could be two different words that can be clued the same way. In this puzzle, the “quantum” clues/answers are:

EPSILONS / UPSILONS [Certain Greek letters]

PORN / PORK [It’s not kosher for some conservatives]

MIG / MIR [Soviet craft launched in the 80s]

PLY / PAY [Provide with cheddar, say]

ADS / IDS [Sources of some embarrassing desires that might pop up suddenly]

NSFW [“Don’t open at the office” subject line letters] *same for both*

VITAMIN D / VITAMIN E [Compound that may mitigate cognitive decline]

It wasn’t part of the original plan that two theme-adjacent 15-letter spanner answers were going to be part of the grid. But, in a moment of serendipity, we were able to point up the gimmick with BOLD PREDICTIONS [Confident public guesses about uncertain future events] and SCHRÖDINGER’S CAT [Noted thought experiment feline that may be simultaneously dead and alive].

So! As you can see, Parker and I aren’t soothsayers or overzealous partisans. Just inveterate word nerds and soccer fans.

Happy solving, friends!

-Ross & Parker