“Local Lingo”

by Soleil Saint-Cyr & Ross Trudeau

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 🌍 📬 Difficulty: 3/5

The last big online puzzle tournament of the summer kicks off next Saturday. Book your Lollapuzzoola tickets now! As a bonus, my collaborator on this week’s puzzle, Soleil Saint-Cyr, has also contributed a puzzle to a slate of warm-up midis with a meta solution. If you’ve got an afternoon to devote to puzzle solving and characteristic Lolla shenanigans, this is a can’t-miss event.

Meantime, this week’s Crucinova ($) puzzle is a grid concept that I cooked up last spring. The form you’ll find it in when it drops on Wednesday 8/19 is the result of the thoughtful stewardship of editor Lisa Bunker.

*Spoilers* and notes from Soleil on “Local Lingo” below!

dorque du Soleil

Soleil: Hey everyone! I’m excited to say that I’m back to constructing after a ~ more-than-brief hiatus.~ Ross came to me with this half-baked theme idea close to a year ago, right when I started learning to construct. I remember our (very very long) email thread going back and forth about all of the possibilities for theme entries, and the real breakthrough with this grid came when we discovered that ITALIAN STALLION fit the theme. We probably finished the grid and cluing back in winter of 2021, so this one has been sitting on the shelf for a while, and I’m really happy that we’re finally able to share it with the world! Happy solving!

Ross: When we started defining the terms of the theme, we started with [LANGUAGE + any WORD] English phrases, with the caveat that the WORD in that stated LANGUAGE had to itself be a valid English language word, such that we could obscure the gimmick in the clue, e.g. [Pain in Paris?] for FRENCH BREAD. It hadn’t occurred to me to examine names for this concealable property, so when Soleil pulled ITALIAN STALLION I was, well, pleased as, ahem, punch. Killer answer, killer spanner (15).

Happy solving, friends!

“Tough Way to Go”

by Jessie Bullock & Ross Trudeau

[.puz][PDF][Solution] ☠️🚢 🚞 🚌 ☠️ Difficulty: 2/5

Conventional wisdom is that you don’t acknowledge a no-hitter in progress, lest the bored and minorly vindictive karmic bureaucrats in the sky take note and yank the rug out from under your pitcher. Avert your eyes, the thinking goes. Think about something else. Just don’t *want* it too much, and you’re more likely to *get* it.

The reason I note all this is because it’s looking like the Delta variant *could* disrupt a highly anticipated vacation that Jessie and I have lined up in two weeks (we’re vaccinated, but). This eventuality would be particularly excruciating insofar as that this particular vacation–to a little resort in St. Lucia–was originally on the books for the very first week we all first went into lockdown in March of 2020. Suffice it to say that we’ve *built this one up* in our heads.

SO. We’ve decided to take a reverse jinx approach. This week’s puzzle, and indeed this entire blog post, is meant to look the possibility that our vacation gets cancelled again DIRECTLY IN THE EYE. Hello darkness our old friend! How are you? Actually, hold that thought, we super don’t care. F*** right off, sir! And good day to you!

I hope you bring this spirit to your solve as you crack “What a Way to Go!,” the thematic content of which is a direct foil for the last J+R collaboration on this site. Thoughts and spoilers after the jump.

honk honk

The conceit here is pretty straightforward, but this theme brings a big goofy grin to my face. We’re working with various metaphorical vehicles with a negative connotation: CLOWN CAR, SINKING SHIP, PAIN TRAIN, STRUGGLE BUS, SAME BOAT. And in fact, this theme started when a friend of mine mentioned a “bruise cruise” he’d been on–apparently some screamo metal floating mosh pit. Weren’t the before times wild?

Anyway, as noted about, this puzzle is the spiritual evil twin of the “Have a Nice Trip!” puzzle that Jessie and I posted back in June. That grid featured metaphorical vehicles with a *positive* connotation–GRAVY TRAIN, DREAM BOAT, TIGHT SHIP, THE WELCOME WAGON–as well as the revealer FANTASTIC VOYAGE.

Kudos to Jessie for such smooth and evocative content in this one. She’s getting conspicuously good at filling grids these days… keep your eye out for more from her relatively soon…

Happy solving, friends.


Achieving Balance

[.puz][PDF][Solution] ⚖️

This coming week I’m delighted to share a byline with Malaika Handa–curator of 7xwords–on the Tuesday 8/3 Universal puzzle, as well as with Enrique Henestroza Anguiano on the Saturday 8/7 Wall Street Journal puzzle, which happens to be Enrique’s 21×21 print debut! Drop him a high five on Twitter; he’s a real pleasure to make dorky newspaper puzzles with.

In recent weeks I’ve been managing some health issues that have made the day to day somewhat, uh, quavery? I hadn’t intended to post this puzzle until later in the fall, but sometimes I can’t help but to get a bit autobiographical with my thematic material. Perhaps I’ll be able to achieve a bit more balance in the coming weeks (and be somewhat less oblique in my life updates on this site). Meantime…

H/t to Nate, Rafa, Amy, and Jeff for test solving today’s puzzle. Thoughts and spoilers after the jump.

level-headed Anakin

My tastes have evolved pretty starkly when it comes to this kind of crossword theme. One of my early New York Times puzzles was a MANSPREADS concept that follows the same formula, albeit in reverse. That puzzle fails to abide what I now think of as a pretty integral feature of the genre, namely restricting yourself to only one example of each of the letters that “spread” or “center” etc. Notice all those extra M’s and A’s in MAMMALIANS that muddy the spreading M’s and A’s that the puzzle wants you to direct your attention to!

One thing I really like about this week’s grid is the use of the rebus function to further “center” the C-H-I’s beyond just having them adjacent to one another, as in ENFRANCHISEMENT. That presented its own challenges in the construction, specifically stacking the CHI rebus directly below ENFRANCHISEMENT … OOH CHILD came to the rescue as the only possible answer that could accommodate the intersecting revealer answer below it in CENTERED ONE’S CHI.

You’ll note a couple of places where I could’ve dropped a black square to up the word count–the U at DO LUNCH jumps out at me–but for whatever reason I felt like keeping this particular theme as wide-open as possible. Too many black squares might have choked off the grid and, well, ruined the flow. At the end of the day, this turned out to be an ultra-low 68 words.

Looking forward to hearing what you think in the comments. Drop me a note!

Happy solving, friends!


“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!