“Get the Digits”

[.puz][PDF][Solution] Difficulty 3.75/5

When this puzzles goes live on Sunday, I’ll be Home Alone(TM) with Ruby. Jessie is off to visit her folks, so it’s just me and the murder cat and your blog comments to keep the cold at bay. (Say hi! I answer 100% of the comments. It’s like a bed ‘n breakfast here, without the bed or the breakfast.)

Thank you to Rebecca, Quiara, and Nora for test solving! Spoilers and thoughts on “Get the Digits” after the jump.

how do ya like them apples?

I’m really seeing the light on diagonal symmetry these days. I’ve sold a number of puzzles that employ it in recent months, and the format does allow for some interesting thematic conceits.

Puzzles that reference or incorporate the numbers in the grid have been done before. Perhaps you remember this NYT puzzle from earlier this year. Slick stuff. And you may have solved a puzzle on this site that did something very similar.

What set this concept apart for me was the opportunity to employ diagonal symmetry to ensure that each of the BOX NUMBERS that get incorporated into an answer does so both down and across. The trick here is twofold: building a grid that presents numbers in workable slots for connecting them to viable theme answers, and developing a theme set of paired words that start with the same number *and* share the same first letter that comes after the number: 1 WOMAN SHOW / 1 WAY TICKET; 10 PACES / 10 PERCENTERS; 50 FIRST DATES / 50 FIFTY. And as a result, with the number being in the top left of every relevant answer, the digit comes before–either above or justified left of–the rest of the answer, just as it would if it were conventionally part of the grid.

Looking forward to seeing how this one plays for y’all!

Happy solving,


“Money Is No Object”

[.puz][PDF][Solution] Difficulty: 2.5/5

I have a funny feeling that the act of choosing to be optimistic might end up being the radical act of faith that characterizes the holidays for our household this year. And many of you, dear solvers, have stocked the woodshed of my heart with fuel enough to see me through until spring. The well-wishes and kind words I received in response to the essay I posted last week were overwhelming, and I haven’t really got the words beyond thank you. Thank you to those of you who wrote me about managing your own chronic pain; thank you to those of you who wrote about pandemic fatigue (its own sort of chronic condition); thank you to the person who mailed me a stack of puzzles for convalescent solving.

Anyway: optimism. We’ve got a beautifully trimmed tree, a warm hearth around a charmingly kitschy fake fireplace, a growing stack of presents wrapped in ribbons that the cat doesn’t seem interested in trying to choke herself on. (A minor Christmas miracle.)We’re boosted, ready to splash the takeout cash, and grateful for puzzles and puzzle people. And here’s an early present: Will Shortz in conversation with my pops!

Thoughts and spoilers for “Money Is No Object” after the jump.

her presence is a present 😻

I was originally messing around with a MONEY IS NO OBJECT (15) revealer, using exclusively answers like CRYPTOCURRENCY and ELECTRONIC CHECK, but ultimately I liked the idea of building a puzzle around the phrase DIGITAL WALLET and including, well, just stuff you might have once held in a wallet.

Surely paper receipts are going the way of the dodo, and even back in the 90s I wasn’t often stuffing a check in my billfold, but I still appreciate the conceit here: RECEIPTS, ID, CHECK, COIN, all uploaded to your DIGITAL WALLET. Remember paper money? Me neither.

I would have preferred to find another 15-letter answer to pair with ELECTRONIC CHECK, since as it is the 13-letter revealer opposite EMAIL RECEIPTS makes for a less-than-pliable theme set. But we make do, don’t we? Keep calm and puzzle on.

Happy solving, friends.


The Necessity of Filling Certain Boxes

by Ross Trudeau

           The pain usually starts in my lower back and flashes down the sides of my legs, and when it gets really bad, Jessie asks me if I want her to get her chainsaw. I always smile; it’s a funny bit. It started years ago when she deadpanned the question and offered to perform an amateur living room amputation of my legs. Now, as then, I smile-grimace and nod, and she sighs and feigns weariness and rises from our bed to retrieve the hardware. 
           As she leaves the room, I think of the phrase “gallows humor.” I think of “palliative care,” and a Mary Oliver poem I haven’t read since college. What’s it called? “Death Comes?, I think. Maybe “Death Arrives”? 
Jessie returns with a glass of wine and sets it on my nightstand. “Do you want to solve the crossword?” 
           I’m staring into the middle ground, mouth slightly open, shaking my head slowly. The pain is still deep and sharp but now somewhat blurrier around the edges. Is it “When Death Arrives”? Jessie kisses me on the forehead and smiles. She learned to recognize this expression of slack intensity years ago, and slides back into bed beside me. 
           I sit up and reach for my laptop at the foot of the bed, and wince as the change in position draws my attention back to the pain. Jessie, lying next to me again, asks, “Got a crossword idea?”
           “Got a crossword idea,” I say, opening a blank document and typing out a line:



           My diagnosis came in November of 2001, when my classmates and I were still walking around our Manhattan prep school in a persistent post-9/11 miasma. It was nearly Thanksgiving, after the smell had lifted and President Bush had reopened Yankee Stadium with a ceremonial first pitch, when an MRI revealed a benign olive-sized tumor in my spine. I was initially diagnosed with Schwannomatosis, a genetic disorder involving an inactivated tumor suppressing gene. But when I started developing dozens and then hundreds more angiolipomas scattered all around my body just beneath the skin—a symptom not commonly associated with Schwannomatosis—my diagnosis became hazy. A specialist at NYU Medical Center told me that he’d never met anyone like me. 


Frosty Reception

by Jessie Bullock & Ross Trudeau ❄❆❅ Difficulty 2.5/5


Two days ago we saw our first snowfall of the year here in Cambridge, which while short-lived served as a nice little validation of our decision to schedule “Frosty Reception” to run this week. I’m also excited to share this puzzle as something of an amuse-bouche for the Wednesday New York Times crossword, which is a puzzle that Jessie and I wrote in depths of our quarantine isolation. Perhaps the circumstances will shine through somewhat.

Thanks to Miranda and Meredith (a.k.a. BeerandCrosswords) for test solving today’s puzzle. Scroll down for thoughts and spoilers!

look who we found!

This one took a while to come together. I was initially stuck on building FROSTY rather than OLAF, and we felt *close* using “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” as a title, with O HOLY NIGHT, STANDING OS, ROS ASQUITH, TOS AND FROS, FROST / NIXON, and STAY FROSTY, alternating the snowman being built between the left and right edges of the grid. But TOS AND FROS felt too contrived, and ultimately Jessie and I both *much* prefer a puzzle with a revealer.

Fortunately, DO YOU WANT / TO BUILD A SNOWMAN breaks down into a 9/15 centered pair in a grid with L/R mirror symmetry. And crucially, orienting the theme answers vertically allows the circles that contain the O, OF, OAF, OLAF to sit stop one another, much like the segments of an actual snowman. How nice!

Happy solving, friends!


“Six Flags Europe”

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 🇫🇴 Difficulty: 3/5

Last night my parents hosted an engagement party for Jessie and me at their home in New York, and it’s probably going to take a week for the endorphins to ebb. As my dad pointed out, when two people get engagement, two families get engaged, and indeed the weekend represented a first meeting for most of our kin. My aunt–bless her heart–took the occasion to travel away from home for the very first time since the pandemic started! And, relevant to crossworld, one of the guests was my cherished friend Amanda Rafkin!

Seeing Amanda for the first time since 2019 brought me to the brink of tears. For a while I was really hung up on everything that the pandemic has taken (and continues to take) from us, but no longer! Going forward (come what may), I am resolved to embrace and make the most of what time we do have to build and strengthen our communities, what opportunities we do have for travel, what moments we can steal for joy and diversion.

Speaking of, thoughts and spoilers for “Six Flags Europe” after the jump! Thanks to Matt, Kevin, and Brady for test solving.

I started work on this concept almost two years ago, and kept putting it aside because I could never get the symmetry to work. I was intent on several things:

1. Rendering the NORDIC CROSSES symmetrically. It’s sort of miraculous that this is possible, given how few nordic countries there are. In fact, ICELAND, SWEDEN, NORWAY, FINLAND and DENMARK are literally all of the *countries*, with ALAND, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands accepted as nordic *autonomous regions*.

(The fact that ICELAND can double interlock–via a flag-shaped grid with up/down mirror symmetry–with NORDIC CROSSES and with ALAND was a delightful find!)

2. Rendering an actual nordic cross in black squares.

3. Using only nordic countries that actually have a NORDIC CROSS on their flag! This is almost all of them… but not Greenland! (Though if you expanded the dimensions of the grid, you could even find a way to cross “Greenland” and “Faroe Islands” through their respective N’s!)

What I like most about the end result is that the grid is *exactly* as tall (13) and wide (17) as it needs to be to accommodate the interlock and the center black square nordic cross, with no extraneous columns or rows. This kind of stuff gives me intense mental cookies.

Happy solving, friends!