“The Old Normal”

by Aaron Paulsen & Ross Trudeau

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 🌬 💦 🌿 Difficulty: 3/5

One of the happiest results of having gotten into live crossword streaming on Twitch has doubtlessly been the occasion and opportunity to become friends with this puzzle’s co-author. Known on the internet at ScootsBaboo, Aaron recently served as right honorable arbiter of a Clue-Off competition between Parker and me, and he quickly stole the whole show with his wit and with his bits. (When he’s not puzzling on the www, Aaron is plying his trade as a talented improv actor, so this was all to be expected.) I know I have a nasty habit on inserting lengthy burbles of praise for my collaborators on this site, but Aaron really is a dreamboat.

Oh! And for Boston-area solvers: Parker and I are running a How to Make a Crossword workshop at Lamplighter Brewery on Monday, October 4th at 6:00p. Visit this page to buy your ticket, which also gets you a beer or cold brew!

Spoilers and thoughts on “The Old Normal” after the jump.

deep breath now

Aaron: Hi cuties! It’s me, Aaron/Scoots. If this is our first time meeting, hello! I’m from Vermont, and I live in Chicago where I do comedy! You?

I started giving constructing a shot during quarantine, and as a relatively new constructor I feel so lucky to have been able to collaborate with Ross! Every little xword thing he says is illuminating, would recommend. 

Hope you enjoy the puzzle! If you liked it, or wanna talk about Survivor, Drag Race, or Great British Bake-off, tweet me @ScootsBaboo. It’s my first blog puzzle so please be nice to me, and PLEASE be mean to Ross. Solve away!

Ross: Just a quick N.B. on THE FRESH AIR CURE: there are a whole bunch of Trudeaus in Canada and upstate New York, where my family is from. North America’s first Tuberculosis sanitarium was founded by my great-great grandfather, E.L. Trudeau, who treated mostly blue collar sufferers, but famously counted Robert Louis Stevenson among his patients. After he (RLS) was cured, he sent Dr. Trudeau his collected works, with an inscription inside the front cover of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that read, “All winter with Trudeau by my side, I never saw the nose of Hyde.”

Happy solving, friends!

“Movin’ On Up”

[.puz][PDF][Solution] ➡️↗️⬆️ Difficulty 4/5

I started work on this puzzle about two years ago at the height of my obsession with being a 60-Across. Posting it now is somewhat bittersweet, since I have actually been a 60-Across in practice since before the pandemic. A couple of quick hits before we dig into “Movin’ On Up”:

Parker and I are running a live, in-person How to Make a Crossword workshop here in Cambridge on October 4th at the Lamplighter Brewery, roughly coinciding with the release of their latest batch of Wordplay beer. The can is adorned with a crossword by yours truly! If you’re a Boston local, sign up here!

Speaking of October 4th, don’t forget to sign up for the Boswords Fall Themeless League! They’re kicking off on Monday evening, 10/4 as well — you’ll have time to get home from Lamplighter!

A couple of thoughts and feelings (SPOILER ALERT) about “Movin’ on Up” after the jump!

rest solving on the ol’ crash pad

This puzzle was *hell* to put together. I was dead set on keeping each of the theme answers in symmetrical horizontal rows, but the nature of the hard left turn made placement super inconvenient. It would have been easier to wrangle if I’d had more thematic material to choose from, but I was also set on each theme answer not just being an answer slot that CLIMBS THE WALLS, but also itself be a person/character/thing that itself climbs walls. Finding subsequent down answers that moved through the O-K-C and Y-V-I strings was limiting. Ultimately I needed to go to 16 wide, with CLIMBS THE WALLS rather than CLIMB THE WALLS in order to intersect the T of ENTRY VISA with the T of CLIMBS THE WALLS. *YEESH*

Anyway, the intersections and variably-oriented theme answers required more glue than I tend to like–ADV, ONE-O, CHOC, in particular–but ultimately I felt like it was smooth enough to share with you here.

Happy solving, friends!


“Stay Strong, Y’all”

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 🧗🏼‍♀️ 🖼 🍸 Difficulty: 3/5

There’s no way around the fact that it’s a subdued week here on Rosswords. Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of 9/11, which date tends to have unpredictable effects on the emotional landscape of New Yorkers like me. I happened to be a high school senior in class on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. More on that in a moment.

It’s also the case that Texas’s SB8 recently went into effect, which bill I find unjust and insidious in its potential to erode constitutional rights well beyond the extent to which it does so on its face. Here in crossworld, there’s a fundraiser on to support the rights of Texas women who are immediately affected by the law. I donated this week’s Rossword as an incentive grid for that effort, organized by Wordplay columnist Rachel Fabi, so if you enjoy the puzzle I encourage you to make a donation.

These days its pretty common for me to make-a-crossword-about-it when I’m frustrated at the state of affairs, but 20 years ago, in the aftermath of 9/11, I didn’t have this particular outlet. (Hell, I don’t think I solved a whole crossword until 2010.) Back then, I was more likely to write my feelings. I’ll leave you with what I wrote a couple of summers after the fact, with thoughts and spoilers for “Stay Strong, Y’all” after the jump.


After the second plane hit, they cancelled classes but kept us in school. Kids milling around. Someone would run by every few minutes. Adults had no answers, so they put CNN on in the auditorium. They got the big screen down just in time for us to watch the first tower collapse. There were people in that room with family who worked in the Twin Towers; I’ve never asked anyone how many. One person I talked to remembers tower one falling impossibly slowly, a heavy stone traveling down their throat to their stomach. But I recall it like a gunshot wound. Some gasped, some screamed. Some grabbed the arm next to them and said, No. 

The next day (and the next, and the next) we watched mom on the television, because what else could we do. The first day we had waited in line to give blood. It turned out later that very few people down there actually needed a transfusion. You either made it out or you didn’t. Standing there on a corner, one of my friends thought there was video but no sound in the chapel. Another said we watched the second tower fall, not the first. Nobody remembers 9/11. The only thing we could agree on was that there was no way we’d get to give blood before the station closed for the night. But we didn’t go anywhere. We just waited on Amsterdam, standing in a line that went around the block, and down the street, and out of sight. 

This is a pretty classic Rossword Puzzle formulation. I’m generally drawn to words that have various distinct meanings, and when they get buried in evocative colloquialisms–like the “hang” in HANG IN THERE, GUYS–they tend to light up my theme radar.

I toyed with the idea of the hanging you’d do in, say, a SPACE STATION or INDOOR PARACHUTING. It felt distinct enough from the hanging [from your fingernails] you do in a ROCK CLIMBING GYM. But ultimately, the three examples felt like enough theme material, especially with a 15-letter revealer.

And, this week, that’s all I have to say about that.

Happy solving, friends.


“Captured on Film”

by Lucy Howard & Ross Trudeau

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 🐛🐜🦋 Difficulty: 2.5/5

Today’s puzzle is a collaboration with Lucy Howard, a cherished friend whom I’ve never met in person. Towards the beginning of the pandemic we connected online via puzzles, and in the intervening months we’ve communed over rock climbing, we did an in-home Zoom wine tasting double date, we published a Sunday puzzle in the New York Times. And just recently sent me an ultrasound image of the new baby she is currently 3D printing!

I have to say, the first major crossword puzzle tournament to reopen its doors to in-person attendance is going to be the setting for an impressive density of joyous and tearful reunions and meetings. Perhaps the lobby of the Stamford Marriott in March on the opening evening of the ACPT? A forward-thinking hotel manager will stock every corner and crevice with Kleenex and disposal cameras, one of which I hope captures Lucy and I sobbing violently into one another’s necks while our sig-o’s enjoy a more dignified greeting.

Anyway! Registration is now open for the Boswords Fall Themeless League. I’ll be participating, and hopefully keeping pace with my Cursewords compatriot Parker, who is apparently in the middle of moving up a speed-solving plateau after finishing 35th (!!!) at Lollapuzzoola last month. “See” you “there”?

Thoughts and spoilers on “Captured on Film” after the jump!

Sometimes it’s all about the revealer answer. After all, nothing about the titles of the thematic movies in today’s grid is super-dee-duper *interesting*: BUMBLEBEE, BLACK WIDOW, DRAGONFLY. And you either know the trivia or you don’t. But what appealed to Lucy and me about this concept was the doubly unexpected nature of the revealer answer, A FEATURE NOT A BUG (15).

First of all, it’s just an interesting phrase (that happens to be a 15-letter spanner). And second of all, the way we set about using it asks the solver to interpret both “feature” and “bug” in new ways, as “movie” and “insect” respectively. Sometimes, in my experience, that sort of 2x wordplay can carry the day on an otherwise pretty straight-ahead thematic concept.

Special kudos to Lucy for [God complex?] as a delightful clue for ABBEY. And keep your eyes peeled! There are Trudeau-Howard collaborations in the pipeline at multiple crossword outlets of note!

Happy solving, friends!