The theme of this Sunday-sized puzzle might be a bit niche for some solvers. Give it a try, and decide for yourself. Spoilers below!
I was a nerdy, pre-adolescent boy when DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS first caught fire. I never had a chance. The hook set deep. I spent countless hours creating entire cities and their populaces. Hatching epic plots that took years to play out. Some of my favorite memories of my teenage years were marathon sessions my friends. Munching junk food. Pushing lead figures around a map. Then, licking our fingers. We didn’t know any better.
I was inspired to create this puzzle after reading an NYT article about the resurgence of the popularity of the game. I wanted to create a story that would be fun and accessible for people who knew little about the game. Coming up with the center gimmick was what sold me on the idea. (Did you notice how those two squares were just a bit darker than the others?) Unfortunately for me, most newspapers don’t have software that can handle writing letters onto blockers. Fortunately for you, Amuse Labs (which generously hosts puzzles of indie constructors for free) can. I hope you were able to fall into the center of the puzzle, and find your way back out again.
Good luck with this one! Spoilers below.
Puzzles with low word count and 90- and 180- rotational symmetry are rare in the NYT. I wanted to give it a try. There are some fun entries, especially crossing the center, but my standards for fill have gotten higher since then. (IRENEE crossing CANARSIE is U-G-L-Y!)
This is the final version of my first themeless. Enjoy! (Spoilers follow.)
I like how those two spanners, MACHINE LEARNING and PACHELBELSCANON anchor the puzzle, but evoke such different periods. MACHINE LEARNING is increasing at an exponential rate, driving us into a new era. The timeless PACHELBELS CANON, with its simple, beautiful melody, anchors us to the past. I was excited to fit GERWIG in a puzzle because Greta is the sister of one of my oldest and dearest friends. It’s pretty rare for me to have met someone whose name is puzzle worthy!
The initial version of this puzzle that I sent to the NYT had four spanners, the other two being SOCIALINVESTING and ANTONIO BANDERAS. There were also rougher patches of fill. David Steinberg was working at the NYT that summer, and his note about SOCIAL INVESTING was pretty funny, “SOCIAL INVESTING wasn’t as familiar to us, but now that we know about it, we are going to start doing that!” I tried to hang on to many of the entries that they liked (including the two spanners found in this puzzle) when I revised the puzzle to make the fill as squeaky clean as possible.
This is the only puzzle I’ve co-created with my wife, Rachel Antell. There’s no embed for this one. It’s best solved old school – on paper. Spoilers below.
Why is this such a hard puzzle to solve? First you need to crack the theme. Then you need to figure out the theme answers (which are unclued). In addition, the fill is chiefly comprised of quad stacks of 5-7 letter words which can be hard to break into.
It was also really difficult to create.
In order to hide that it is a 17×17, rather than 15×15, it meant the entire exterior needed to have no three letter words. [Few themed NYT puzzles (https://www.xwordinfo.com/Threeless ) have had no three letter words.] It would have been easier to avoid threes altogether, however, I still needed to find a way to squeeze in a center three and a center seven for the reveal. Further constraining the puzzle were the very limited number of potential theme answers (compound pairs where the total letters, and each word in the pair, needed the identical to have the same number of letters). Rachel came to the rescue there. Working with theme answers around the edge of the puzzle was much tougher than working with theme answers a few rows in—there’s much less flexibility. Finding corners that worked was tough because of the intersection of the fill that had to work with one theme entry vertically and another horizontally. Because of these unique challenges, it was one of the hardest puzzles for me to construct.
I actually have three of the theme answers at my house (no septic system). I piled 17 solar panels onto the roof so we would create as much electricity as we used. When repairing the foundation, the workers hit a spring that flooded the subarea. I built a French drain and captured the water in a cistern. I use that to water my veggie garden and backyard.
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I’m not the most prolific, but have been fortunate to have all my themed 15×15 puzzles accepted for publication by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Universal Crossword, LA Times, Atlantic, Fireball, or the Simon & Shuster Mega series (see the complete list). On this site, you will find puzzles of unusual size, with strange features, or without themes. Comments and feedback are most welcome!
Check out these indie sites:
QVXWORDZ (Quiara Vasquez)
Rosswords (Ross Trudeau)
Grids These Days (Paolo Pasco)
Dan Does Not Blog (Dan Feyer)
Weekly Crossword Contest (Matt Gaffney)
club 72 (Tim Croce)
Grid Therapy (Trent Evans)
Lexicon Devil (Richard Allen)
Crosswords With A Kick (John O’Leary)
Devil Cross (Evan Birnholz)
L.A. Times Crossword Corner (C.C. Burnikel)
XWord Muggles Forum (metas)