Waiter! Waiter!

This one’s been in my Drafts folder for quite some time! Now, after gathering dust over the last six months, I present to you my first real Thursday-style puzzle: Waiter! Waiter!

You can solve below, directly on Crosshare, or download the pdf, puz or ipuz.

Ten months since I submitted this to the Times. Ten months more construction experience. I’m still very happy with this puzzle’s fill, but more clearly recognise the theme issues that led to the oft-seen Times rejection: “playful and well-made puzzle that just didn’t emerge as one of our absolute favorites”.

Spoiler-filled commentary below the embed.

Spoilers be here!

I shared this puzzle, post-rejection, with one of my favourite constructors, Ross Trudeau of Rossword Puzzles. Ross gave me some great feedback that I want to share here as a kind of post-mortem.

Note: the below points are paraphrased and put into my own words. Hugely grateful for the feedback — thanks, Ross!

  • The revealer FLY IN MY SOUP is a partial phrase, which is conventionally seen as inelegant compared to the full phrase (in this case, the too-long (16) THERE’S A FLY IN SOUP).
  • The soups used in the theme entries are not entirely consistent, from two perspectives: (i) MINESTRONE is a one-word answer broken apart, while FRENCH ONION and CLAM CHOWDER are two-word answers broken at the natural space between words; and (ii) FRENCH ONION is almost exclusively referred to as “French onion soup“, but this is not the case for CLAM CHOWDER (and MINESTRONE, to a lesser degree).
  • The crossing entries don’t use the FLY rebus consistently (i.e. all the same or all different): NO-FLY and FLY SOLO are derived from the verb “to fly”, while MCFLY is just part of a name.
  • Finally, the location of the rebus entries are not symmetrically placed.

Taken individually, the above points are not necessarily grid-killers… but combined: absolutely!

Some other quick observations:

  • The dupe in FLY IN MY SOUP and the second word of each theme entries clue: {Ruined soup, …}. I’m fine with this for many reasons.
  • Purists may also say that my clue for IVER {Bon ___, band whose name derives from “good winter” in French} dupes FRENCH ONION. I feel strongly that this is totally fine, and not only because they’re in almost opposite parts of the grid.
  • OPERA DIVA would have been a NYT debut.
  • I’ve been fascinated by the Skeleton Coast in the NAMIB desert ever since I saw pictures of it as a child. Such an interesting place!
  • The story behind the Back to the Future / Space Man from Pluto clue is a short must-read for film fans.
  • I always like to get a couple of cross reference clues in, despite many people hating them. This time it was the abbreviation CEN for century and MOS for month, which was difficult, as I really wanted to clue the latter in relation to MOS Def.
  • Sharp-eyed solvers would notice RAMI crossing LYRIC, where both clues are about Bohemian Rhapsody.

I had a lot of fun coming up with and executing this theme idea. A great learning experience on my first Thursday-esque puzzle!

At sixes and sevens

Today, I’m lucky enough to be the provider of the daily 7×7 crossword over at Malaika Handa’s 7xwords project. Please go solve that puzzle (that link will work when my puzzle is live) and let me know what you think.

In December alone, there are some incredible constructors putting together a 7xwords: as you may imagine, I’m extremely nervous for my beginner puzzle to be book-ended by such experts.

While constructing my 7xwords puzzle, I rejected other versions for one reason or another. I’ve published two here already: Oh, Mitt! (on Crosshare) and Leave it alone (on Crosshare).

To celebrate my ‘debut’ over at 7xwords (and Sinterklaas here in the Netherlands, I suppose), I present to you another reject that I still really like: At sixes and sevens. You can enjoy it embedded below, directly on Crosshare or download the .puz file.

Have a gander

I’ve wanted to do a theme of this type for a while, but haven’t had the inspiration. However, when I found this revealer it was an obvious one: the “WILD GOOSE” part of the revealer is a perfect cryptic-esque clue for the hidden anagram in the other theme entries.

As usual, this puzzle was re-worked a few times before publication: various iterations of various quadrants, changed theme entries, etc. If it would be interesting (likely only for beginner constructors), I’d be happy to write some more about my process. Below the embed I give some stats and high-level thoughts, which would form the basis for an expanded commentary.

In the meantime, enjoy Have a gander embedded below, directly on Crosshare, or download the .puz or .pdf for offline solving.

Spoilers be here!

Theme: A WILD GOOSE CHASE as the revealer for three hidden anagram theme entries. Simple. I love this wordplay, but your mileage may vary. What I really like, though? Check out those three theme entries again: KISSES GOODNIGHT, GOES ON THE LAM, and WAVES GOODBYE. They all may at first suggest a theme related to leaving someone or something, right? I thought this was a nice bonus, as the solver may, in a way, be led on their own WILD GOOSE CHASE regarding potential themes.

Debuts: Five entries in this puzzle have never been published in an NYT puzzle: 22A, 19D (both of which don’t surprise me, but was certainly unexpected) and then the three theme entries (which does surprise me, as they’re great ‘in the language’ phrases).


  • There’s a potential duplicate in 18D’s clue and 61D’s answer. I purposefully left this in, for two reasons: (i) 61D partially uses a different definition of the word, and (ii) the two entries are on completely different parts of the grid.
  • There was one duplicate I removed: the original clue for 63A was “Top tier figure”. An obivous dupe with the nearby 41A. I vastly prefer this original clue, especially with the entry crossing 58D. Alas, it had to go.

Cross references:

  • While I generally like cross reference clues, I know that many people despise them. As such, I limited it in this puzzle to just 7D and 30D; a cross reference that really needed to be in place as the entries are quite boring on their own.
  • I had also considered clueing 60A with a cross reference to 42D (something along the lines of “Device on which you might hear many a 42-Down”).
  • Is 25A a cross-reference, or self-referential, or meta, or …?

Entries of concern: entries that I like, but gave me doubts. They remain in the puzzle only because during test solving people either had no problem with them or liked them also:

  • YAA crossing BASRA: Yaa Gyasi is not totally obscure, but certainly not a give-away for the difficulty level I was going for (Tuesday-ish). I really wanted to keep her in the puzzle, so the question was: is BASRA sufficiently well-known? From test solvers, it appears so (which is also a bonus, given that it’s add an extra non-Western item into the puzzle).
  • MEEMAW crossing SHAWM, REEVE and EMILIO: I’m a white Western male in my late 30s, so Christopher REEVE and EMILIO Esteves are total give-aways and (to me!) pleasant memory-triggering entries. But are they accessible enough for others — especially with the puzzles main ‘downer’: SHAWM nearby? I had never heard of MEEMAW, which crosses all three of these, so that significantly complicated matters. Luckily, my test solver only had a small hiccup here that was gettable without too much worry.
  • CINC crossing COMOROS: As a recent West Wing binger, Comander in Chief (CINC) was a given. Again, was it good enough for others when crossed with COMOROS? Test solvers said yes, luckily, as I really wanted to keep COMOROS in the puzzle, which was one of the very few workable options for crossing two theme entries.
  • ATF crossing ATARI: If I ever see ATARI during construction, I assure you it’s going in my puzzle. Crossing ATF, though? That was a demerit, for sure, but worth it considering the very lacklusture alternatives.
  • AFTS, DRATCH and TSARDOM: All of these I was unsure about. AFTS seemed like an obscure abbreviation, but nobody had any problems with it. I’ve heard of Rachel DRATCH… but have sufficient other people? TSARDOM in itself I have no problem with, but I really wanted to keep this ridiculous clue in the puzzle. As you can see, they all remain: evidence that my test solvers had no problems with these individual entries. I just made sure to clue the crossings as fairly as possible.

Rhetorical questions

Guess what⸮ Here’s a new puzzle for you, just before the month ends. How about that⸮

So, what are you waiting for⸮ Solve this and let me know what you think — feedback greatly appreciated!

Need I say more⸮

(The ‘⸮’ symbol is the rhetorical question mark or percontation point, developed in the 1580s by Henry Denham. Falling out of use in the 17th century, the symbol was designed “so that instead of the main opening pointing back into the sentence, it opened away from it”. I can’t see myself ever using it again.)

Enjoy Rhetorical questions embedded below, directly on Crosshare, or download the .puz or .pdf.

Test solve thanks go to Norah, whose puzzles you should also check out.

A Tale of Two Pauls (mini)

Flashback! This was the first mini crossword that I ever constructed and was also the first crossword in any form that I made public. I’m still pretty happy with it and think it’s a fun solve.

I’m a big fan of the Crosshare Daily Mini, which along with each day’s 7xwords puzzle are the only minis that I solve consistently. Pleasantly, this was the featured daily on 12 April.

Enjoy A Tale of Two Pauls!

Suspicious, Suspicious (mini)

A quick 5×5 mini I threw together earlier in the week after notcing the harmony between the mini-theme entries 1-Across and 3-Down.

I love the history of 3-Down and will very likely do some sort of full-sized puzzle on their hits and misses over the years. Full of great trivia!

I decided against using something related to that mini-theme as the title for this puzzle, opting istead for Suspicious, Suspicious to further the red herring in two other entries.

Justice League-ish

Up until March this year, I hadn’t watched any of the DC films, so I rectified that and watched them all one quiet week.

In homage, this mini (5×5).

I only discovered after putting this puzzle ‘live’ that 8A is almostly exclusively British English. I don’t think it presents any major problems, but if I’d known beforehand I likely would have tried a different construction. Regardless… enjoy Justice League-ish.

Flip it and reverse it, or: Crosswordese

This full-sized 15x puzzle is a clue/answer switch theme on some common “crosswordese”.

Likely too ‘inside baseball’ for publication, I had some fun coming up with the theme entries and putting the grid together.

This is certainly not the first puzzle to use this theme. Another nice example is crosswordESE by Lyle Broughton, published by Ria on gecxwords.

Fun fact: this is the first 15×15 puzzle I’ve published online! I first constructed it in the heady pre-Coronavirus days of late-2019 and completed it in March 2020! It has languished in my drafts folder ever since. You can solve on pdf if you like.

Crossword difficulty matrix

Looking to expand your crossword-solving horizons into new areas or just curious how the various mainstream puzzle venues stack-up against each other in terms of difficulty?

I made the above crossword difficulty matrix / heatmap to help.

Created primarily from personal experience and with a dash of inspiration from various other sources (e.g. Steve Weyer’s CommuniCrossings and Matt Gritzmacher’s Daily Crossword Links), this naturally presents a skewed and subjective view of the crossword landscape.

A few important notes:

  • This covers only the largest mainstream venues (i.e. those known to most non-crossword-solving Millennials).
  • I’m focussing exclusively on regular puzzles (so no cryptics here, such as The New Yorker’s Sunday offering).
  • I’m also focussing on “full-sized” grids (generally 15x or 21x, hence the absence of Vox’s Monday to Friday 9x midis).
  • It’s wrong! I’m sure you’ll disagree with some of these rankings. Hell, I do, too! It’s an impossible challenge, but a good first step. Give me a break.

I’d like to do something similar for the many fantastic indie venues. That’s a challenge for another day.

Have a suggestion? Leave a comment (or say something over on the relevant Reddit thread)! Thanks. 👍🏻

Also worth a read: PuzzleNation also put together a nice article about this overview (also), with useful feedback from some crossword luminaries!