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!

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