Puzzle #13 – Exchange Glances

size: 15x15
style: themed

Whoa! I'm back. With a puzzle I made about ~4 months ago, test solved by the wonderful and talented Quiara Vasquez, and rejected by the New York Times! Life got in the way for a while, but I'm hoping to achieve more of a balance soon and regularly pump out smaller puzzles.

Admittedly I completely understand why this puzzle was rejected and there are no hard feelings—the theme here doesn't *require* any esoteric knowledge, but will be pretty easy to fill in if you're into this one particular "hobby". I just thought it was a cute idea with a pretty narrow set of workable themers, so have fun!

Also bonus points if you can name the movie in the still below. As usual it's a movie that I was reminded of while constructing, and I couldn't not use the still that actually had a crossword in it! Bonus BONUS points if you can figure out what crossword it is!

Puzzle #12 – Let 'Em Know

size: 9x9 (midi)
style: themed
difficulty: 1/5

This midi has everything! High themer density! Fun facts! A revealer! Two-letter entries! Fill-in-the-blanks! Overly verbose clues! Censoring (but not of the naughty words)! Symmetry that kinda looks like diagonal symmetry if you don't think about it too hard!

Also a big thanks to my very first collaborator, whose work can be seen on the cluing of entries 1-D and 2-D! Great stuff!

In all seriousness: This puzzle came together very quickly for me, and I think it wholly represents my philosophy when it comes to crossword puzzles. Maybe some of the fill here isn't perfect, but my biggest goal as a constructor is simply for my solvers to have a good time while solving. For me, that never really translated to facing an ostensibly insurmountable challenge (more power to you if that's what you're after!), but rather just reading clues that make me smile or think about things in new ways, and providing a smooth solve with a theme that should feel like a ribbon wrapped elegantly around a present, which all comes together in the form of a grand bow on top.

So with that, this is probably my easiest (not easiest, as my first few solvers have informed me) puzzle yet, but also the one I'm proudest of. I hope it translates just as well to the solving side.

Puzzle #11 – On a Very Special Crossword... (Mental Health Month puzzle)

size: 15x15
style: themed
difficulty: 3/5

May is Mental Health Month! It's not only a time to recognize the 1 in 5 Americans who suffer from mental illness, but also a time to acknowledge the mental health that 100% of people share and often take for granted. Take some time to address mental illness in your community, your loved ones, and yourself, or start taking steps to think about your own mental hygiene, if you aren't already. 

If you have the means, you can also help out by donating to Mental Health AmericaThe Trevor Project, or any other charity that supports people and communities particularly at risk. The above are simply two of my favorite, but please decide for yourself!

And if you're going out of your way to do crosswords like this in your spare time, I'm going to assume that you're already well on your way to having a good mental hygiene routine! I tried to inject a lot of good vibes into this puzzle, both in the form of touchy-feely sappiness as well as dopey not-taking-itself-too-seriously humor (both of which are extremely effective tools when fighting my own demons, personally). I hope you enjoy!

Puzzle #10 – Turn Down For Watt

size: 9x14 (non-rectangular midi)
style: themed
difficulty: 2/5

As you may have been able to guess by the fact that I advertise my blog as having a "variety schedule", crossword construction is really only a side hobby for me at the moment. By day, I'm a professional lighting engineer and designer, and for months I've had this idea kicking around in my head as an homage to that. 

I want to make it more of a habit to make these non-rectangular puzzles, since the shape of the puzzle itself can act as a themer in and of itself, saving room in the grid and making it easier to make "complete" themed puzzles in midi size. Also, these puzzles just look cool as heck and open up fill possibilities in myriad ways.

And before the pedants come out of the woodwork, yes I'm aware that the shape of this puzzle is not quite your prototypical bulb shape, though it is a spitting image of your standard high-intensity discharge bulb! But I'll stop there before I bore you to death or give too much away about the gimmick here. Enjoy the puzzle!

Puzzle #9 – Not-So-Lazy Susan

size: 14x15
style: themed
difficulty: 2/5

Here's a theme that's been in the workshop for quite a long time, and directly inspired by the scene shown in the film screen below. I don't really like to give "hints" to my puzzle in the flavor image, but this is a fairly indirect hint (like the puzzle's title) and I wasn't going to avoid a chance to gush about maybe my favorite movie of all time (Midsommar, if you're not already familiar with the genre of folk Scandinavian psychological horror). Would highly recommend if you're a fan of psychological horror (obv), amazing original soundtracks, and simultaneously captivating and deeply unsettling imagery.

Anyway, the theme! I'll write more about it in the spoiler text below, but basically this started as a good idea, devolved into something I'm sure would have been completely impossible, only to be salvaged by half-decent fill and a little tweaking of the grid structure itself. Enjoy!

So, this obviously started with the basic idea of fitting the rhyme "Round and round she goes, where she stops, nobody knows" in a grid. There are a few ways you can split it up to make it into a more "classic" quip puzzle, but the very first thing that came to my mind was exactly what you see. Originally, it was only going to feature synonyms for MERRY GO ROUND, which is apparently called a ROUNDABOUT in some parts of the world. With CAROUSEL, this meant I had an ugly 8/10/12 themer set, which necessitated even-width mirror symmetry—thankfully I already had a width of 14 to fit in the rhyme. However, as many constructors likely know, mirror symmetry and even widths don't get along too well. And with a revealer that touches every single corner of the puzzle, finding decent fill was impossible. And that was what led me to just focusing on "things that you'd watch spin" as themers—which I think turned out really well! I was also aaaaalmost going to make 34-D "ROUSE" which would allow me to sneakily get in a hidden CAROUSEL entry ... but the fill just didn't work. The themer density was already way too high.

My biggest worry is that the "disconnectedness" of the revealer proves too hard to get over. The problem with trying to perfectly split it up word by word (besides asymmetry) is that the corners become problematic if a letter doesn't happen to be repeated (i.e. a word ends with the same letter the next begins with) in that exact spot, unless you block off the corners like I did the NW/SE corners here (which was primarily to give the rhyme a more solid starting/ending point). Trying to do that would be completely unworkable.

But yeah, I'm glad how this turned out even if some of the fill is super goofy. If I rework the themers, I could probably come up with a more workable grid, but for now, this is what I've got and I hope you liked it! 

Puzzle #8 – Freestyle Alpha

size: 15x15
style: themeless
difficulty: decently challenging, but not like one of those impossibly hard indie themelesses

Crossword confessional: I'm not typically a big fan of themeless puzzles. They just don't tend to, y'know, get me going the same way that a solid themed puzzle does. Don't get me wrong—I have a huge appreciation for the craftsmanship that goes into a great themeless, and there are plenty that I have genuinely enjoyed, but most of the time I find it hard to get on the creator's wavelength or overcome the obscenely high difficulty that some set for their solvers.

So in a lot of ways, making this puzzle forced me to go outside of my comfort zone. At the same time, I made myself comfortable by not trying to fit this puzzle into a hole, and just writing it as I'd like to see a themeless written. I utilized a very wide array of original and classic cluing angles, and in general I had a lot of fun with the cluing, probably too much fun... and I think you'll see why. This is a very "me" themeless (and I'm not gonna apologize).

If it's not clear from my last three puzzles (between the April Fools grid, the ridiculous SpongeBob grid, and the decidedly 6x9 grid), I'm not shy to messing with my solvers and doing things that wouldn't fly in mainstream venues. This puzzle has at least a couple genuine stumbling blocks that might frustrate you, make you laugh, hopefully not make you cry, but will force you to pause and think about things... differently. Although difficult, I hope all of the different angles I utilized are fair and the fill still comes across as clean. I know it's not perfect.

And a huge thank you to Mikey and Quiara for being the guinea pigs for this experiment!

Puzzle #7 – Let's Not and Say We Did

size: 12x7 (midi)
style: ehehehe
difficulty: ???/5

Hey! Two puzzles in a week! I'm on a roll. Gonna spare you the long-winded spiel and just give you the goods. Came up with the idea this morning and ran with it. Good luck have fun!

There were really only so many themers I could come up with in a midi-size puzzle, so I'm really happy with where the themer density ended up. The only one I'm disappointed I didn't get to include was [6-A] with the answer ILL (meant to be interpreted [Sick, say] if it's not clear). The entry ILL could have fit, but there was no good way of also making 6-A an actual entry, and I figured I wanted to keep all of the misdirects pointed at actual entries.

Also, for your listening pleasure: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EQJDrohLoOw

Puzzle #6 – SpongeWord SquareGrid

size: 11x11 (midi)
style: themed / et tu etui?
difficulty: ???/5

This puzzle speaks for itself. It takes major inspiration from et tu etui's Zootopia™ puzzle—after I solved that masterpiece, I just started to think about how I'd going about creating a puzzle like that, and as soon as I realized how much simpler it would be than I thought, I got to work on the first logical thing that came to my mind: The first three seasons of SpongeBob.

I have been on record as saying that seasons 1-3, when the show was directed by Stephen Hillenburg, is perhaps the longest and most consistent run of top-quality comedy writing on any show, ever. Sure, there are better individual shows and episodes of other comedies, but go back and look through all of the episodes in these three seasons. There's not a single dud. They all slap. It's unbelievable. 

So this will likely be the first of many tribute puzzles—for the past month I have been hard at work creating more, uh, "serious" puzzles which will (hopefully!) start to appear elsewhere sometime this year. This blog is where I'll keep the rejects of those attempts as well as these kinds of "silly" puzzles... But personally, I don't see this as very silly? Legitimately, this puzzle is a love letter to one of my favorite shows of all time. I hope it makes you laugh and brings back some good memories, like it did for me while constructing it. Enjoy!

By the way, feel free to reach out if you'd like to collaborate on one of these kinds of puzzles (it can be anything! I think I want to do a movie next...) or if you have questions about how it was done. I had a blast making it and would love to see more of this style. And I know this one isn't perfect—my method was pretty messy and could be executed much better with a little more practice under my belt. But I think this turned out pretty well for a test run.

Notes on solving: I inserted a lot of images into the upload below to help people out and jog memories, and because it's fun! As a result, I highly recommend solving using the PuzzleMe link or at the very least, the embed below. I am providing the .puz and PDF files as a courtesy, but please know that you will be at a disadvantage due to the missing content. But don't let that stop you!

4sqr – Snack Pack #2 – Now even printer-friendlier!


In case you haven't been clued in yet, I like squares. I just think they're neat (but not as neat as hexagons). I've always been a big geometry enthusiast, so things like large-scale symmetry and patterns scratch a certain itch in my brain. Recently I've been binging Numberphile videos on YouTube, and this video in particular really got me thinking. I'll let James explain it far better than I can, but imagine if a standard four-square court or chessboard could only be made of squares of different sizes—but still with integer-length sides.

The image above is the smallest possible (yes, it's been proven!) example of these so-called "squared squares", and is the logo of the Trinity Mathematical Society, the student group responsible for discovering several of these squares, by hand, and popularizing the idea. Image source and more reading here.

Anyway, I'm here with more not-so-elegant squares of squares. Enjoy this week's Snack Pack!

pdf / png / solution

4sqr – Snack Pack #1


The first week of my weird little experiment is done, and as promised, here are the puzzles in printable format (also in PNG, in case opening in Paint and drawing in the answers there is more your thing). Links are below, and I'd love to know what you think and what suggestions you might have! Thank you to everyone who has submitted clues so far—it's taking quite a while to sift through all of the quality.

In case you don't know what's going on, here's what you need to know:

  • I am providing a new home for all two-letter crossword entries (of which there are 676). If you know one of these entries personally, or if you would like to be matched with one, please visit this link to find out how you can help today. Looking for all manner of unique, intriguing, and inclusive cluing angles.

  • I am using these entries to produce daily "bite size" 2x2 puzzles (and a "fun size" Sunday puzzle). Quite literally, these are meant to be bite-sized—solved in a matter of seconds if you're able to figure out the clues.

  • I am releasing these puzzles daily (and in all sorts of fun colors) on my Twitter account, but if you don't have Twitter or would rather just receive this weekly Snack Pack, then just come back here every Sunday.

  • If you are a puzzle constructor and would like to come up with your own bespoke puzzle featuring two-letter entries, I am open to guest slots or a quick collaboration!

That's it! If it's not clear, I don't intend for these puzzles to be much of a challenge. I'm realizing in my crossword constructing journey that I really just want to make puzzles that I would enjoy doing myself, and while I do appreciate a proper intricate challenge, most of the time I'd rather snack on something bite size but still satisfyingly sweet. 

pdf / png / solution

Puzzle #5 – An International Mystery

size: 6x9 (midi)
style: themed
difficulty: 2/5

So, I've been stuck in a bit of a cluing rut recently. I'm currently sitting on three different fully-filled 15x15 puzzles that I just can't bring myself to fully clue—so I've been spending most of my crossword energy recently working on a new set of projects: The Two-letter Cluing Project and 4sqr, which is going to be a collection of daily 2x2 puzzles, with a slightly larger Sunday puzzle, all designed to showcase the plethora of two-letter crossword entries which have been unfairly suppressed and maligned by the likes of one William F. Shortz and Big Crossword. CWAC™—giving two-letter words a home since February 2021. First snack pack will be released right here, this Sunday! Stay tuned. And follow me on Twitter if you'd like to receive the daily puzzles on the day they release.

Oh right! I also made a puzzle for today. See below. I expect many of you will discover the theme fairly quickly—I didn't make it very subtle. Regardless, I had fun making this one. And hopefully I'll climb out of my rut and get back to publishing more full-size marties shortly. Enjoy.

puz / pdf / solution

Puzzle #4 – The Crass And The Curious

size: 18x5 (midi)
style: themeless
difficulty: 3/5

I know you're tired of January 2021 current events puzzles. So am I. But, it was an insane month for news, and I would have felt like I missed the bus if I saved this seed entry for any longer. And for some reason I decided that it would be a pangram! Trust meit didn't happen accidentally and made the process way harder than it had to be, but I hope the fill is good enough to make for a smooth solve. Let me know what you think!

Also, huge shoutout to Chris Piuma for providing the clues to 5-down (originally too boring) and 22-across (originally too insensitive). 10/10 test solver, would recommend.

puz / pdf / solution

Puzzle #3 – Therapeutic Hazards

size: 9x9 (midi)
style: kinda-themed
difficulty: 3/5

I'm alive! Took about a month off from publishing anything as part of an oh-so-cliché, but oh-so-needed, social media cleanse following the stress of the holidays and whatnot. I've still been constructing, moreso on large grids in the hopes of getting something published sometime this year, but I'm ready to start carving out the time for these blog posts again. I'll be doing them weekly now—I promise.

Enjoy this little midi. Not really a whole lot to say, except that I accidentally created a tongue-twister with 11-A's clue. Just try saying it ten times fast.

puz / pdf / solution

Adaptation (2002)