Published in Newsday: process deep dive

I have today’s puzzle in Newsday. Titled Face the music, it’s my debut puzzle in a print publication, so I’m obviously pretty happy about that.

The entire process has been a very positive learning experience. The Newsday puzzle editor, Stanley Newman, has been a fantastic (and patient) guide throughout. Working with Stan at Newsday is highly recommended.

In this post I want to provide a deep dive on the process, for a number of reasons: (i) as a useful resource for those looking to publish their own puzzle for the first time; (ii) as an interesting read for those curious about the process; and (iii) simply as a reference point for myself.

This post is a 10-15 minute read, I estimate.

I’ll look at the following: (i) theme development and query; (ii) theme placement and gridding; (iii) adding the fill; (iv) clueing; and (v) publication.

Before you go any further, I recommend solving the puzzle. You can find it on the Newsday crossword page, for 7 December.

Theme development and query

After using a ‘musical idiom’ in normal day-to-day life, I realised that there were more in-the-language musical idioms, and therefore there was the potential for a nice theme set.

My first step: thinking of as many idioms as possible, writing them in various tenses, classifying them in some form, and identifying how long each phrase was (the goal, of course, was to identify a theme set of four or five entries with the same classification and tense):

List of 'musical idioms' in a spreadsheet, showing their word length, type (being music, instrument or genre), and tense.

I stopped at this point, as I already identified a likely theme set (in bold), meeting the criteria of having the same category and tense: (i) HIT THE RIGHT NOTE (15); (ii) CHANGED YOUR TUNE (15); (iii) WENT FOR A SONG (12); and (iv) STRUCK A CHORD (12).

As a first-time print constructor, I was interested in getting fast feedback before continuing with a theme set. I checked Matthew Stock’s Crossword Publication Specs sheet to find venues open for submissions that also accept theme queries. I sent it in.

The first venue rejected the theme, stating: “this theme feels a bit scattered, since TUNE and SONG feel similar and NOTE and CHORD feel similar so we’re not sure all together they form a cohesive set”. There were also (in retrospect, extremely valid) concerns about my proposed clueing angles for the theme set.

I still felt the theme set was suitable for publication, and that the feeling of incohesiveness likely came from my clues. I adjusted those and sent it to a second venue: Newsday.

Less than 24 hours later, Stan responded accepting the theme set as a Wednesday puzzle! One typical crossword alteration, though: adjust CHANGED YOUR TUNE to CHANGED ONES TUNE.

As a Wednesday puzzle and first-time submitter, Stan asked me to take small steps and first come up with a 78-word grid, with the theme set placed.

Theme placement and gridding

A 15-15-12-12 theme set is pretty flexible and standard, so I started with a typical grid of themers in rows 3, 6, 10 and 13.

Crossword grid, empty except for the theme entries placed, with three down entries highlighted.

I came up with this initial grid, identifying the most constrained crossings as 8D, 10D and 46D (highlighted). However, with Crossfire telling me that this grid was fillable, I submitted.


While fillable, there was really only one high-quality entry possible for 10D: BIG ASK. A fun piece of fill. However, one option is not sufficient, Stan said. Serious problems very likely lay ahead with such a constrained start.

This was the most valuable piece of feedback I received. A grid shouldn’t just be fillable: it must be optimised: minimising constrained points and giving you as many options as possible (with a particular focus on entries crossing two or more themers).

My second attempt was much better. The three most constrained entries (49D, 18D and 19D, in that order) still had plenty of high-quality options. Accepted.

Crossword grid, empty except for the theme entries placed, with three down entries highlighted.

Adding the fill

Stan’s next step was for me to partially fill the grid. No clues yet. The initial goal was to see that my conception of “Newsday easy” entries was relatively close to his and met the style guide requirements. We started with the four corners.

Partially filled crossword grid.

I was very happy with this initial proposal. I felt all entries were easy enough, while also allowing some fun clueing angles (especially for GHOSTED, NO TASTE, SPANK, and CUSS AT). I shared this with Stan, with the following additional comments regarding the SW corner:

  • 52A: I believe CUSS AT is more well known, but the alternative CUTS IN can also easily be substituted here.
  • 52D: I would love to include BOCCE (it’s a fun sport!), but I’m not sure if it’s easy enough for a Wednesday Newsday. If so, that corner can all be a bit livelier.
  • One great alternative was NASCAR and NACHO at 52A/D respectively, but this led to being forced to use ONES at 69A. Arguably that duplicates part of CHANGED ONES TUNE, so I opted against it.

However, Stan’s feedback came thick and fast. “ASANA is not easy enough for a Wednesday Newsday. SPANK and CUSS AT aren’t typically acceptable for Newsday puzzles. NO TASTE is easy enough, but not easy to define in a straight-forward way. ONCE/ONES in the SE is a near duplicate to be avoided.”

Recognisable feedback. Newsday’s Monday to Wednesday crosswords are some of the easiest around, heavy on straightforward clueing and very light on anything potentially offensive or too risqué. I reworked the problem points and came back with this grid, which was accepted as-is:

Partially filled crossword grid.

Stan requested the full grid to now be filled.

Completely filled standard US crossword grid.

I was happy with this. A good mix of straight-forward entries, allowing a mix of clueing types and the odd pun. There were a few spots I could get my ‘voice’ to come through (which can be hard in really easy puzzles). Stan had two nits:

  • 7D, OBIT. “No one ever dies in a Newsday crossword”. An approach I can get behind.
  • 51D, ACNE. No comment with this, but I assume it doesn’t pass Stan’s “breakfast test”.

Given how close the grid was, Stan himself made the relevant adjustments:

  • 7D became A BIT, forcing acceptable changes to 8D (from RUGS to PUGS) and 6A (from CORN to CAP’N). This was already one of my alternative fills for this area (I keep a folder full of screenshots of alternative fills for each section).
  • 51D became ACME. This triggered a number of changes in the south section, with Stan’s proposal for 57D being ADAH {Esau’s first wife}.

I wasn’t happy with ADAH. While I felt it was a bit obscure, I anyway prefer to avoid religious knowledge in my puzzles, if possible. I riffed off Stan’s suggestions in that area and came back with ADAM {Comedian Sandler} for 57D, along with some other minor changes.

As a newbie, it was stressful “challenging” the suggestions of a long-time professional editor such as Stan: I simply didn’t feel like I had the cachet to do so.

Stan replied within a day: “I prefer your section. Editors need editors too.” It was time to move on to clueing. What a great, empowering response to a newbie.


I love clueing. But it takes for-ever.

Clueing easy crosswords like a Newsday Wednesday should feasibly be relatively straight-forward. However, if you want to squeeze in some fun clues and get your voice in your puzzle (which everyone should), it can almost be harder than normal.

Stan started off by requesting about a third of the clues. This was to ensure I had a “reasonably accurate mental picture of how the clues need to be”.

It looks like I did, with my clues accepted without comment. I put together the rest of the clues, which he again accepted without comment.

Here’s the final grid I submitted (with clues: puz, pdf):


I submitted the final grid in early August, with a response that it would be published some time in December. In early September the exact date was known.

In the meantime, a couple of administrative tasks:

  • Sign a standard legal agreement, asserting that the crossword is my original work and that I assign all rights to Stan.
  • Provide a profile photo and short biography for partners who publish this material alongside the crossword.

Then I waited. When the day finally came, I solved the puzzle and noted the clueing differences.

This is an occasional hot topic in the crossworld. Many constructors argue that any and all significant clue changes should be checked with the constructor beforehand, because it’s their name posted alongside the puzzle.

I certainly understand and agree with that. However, with my first published puzzle being an early-week Newsday crossword, I trust that Stan knows his audience better than me (a non-American, especially).

Nevertheless, here’s an overview of the adjusted clues. I’ve put those that I’m a little sad to see changed in bold, with my comment:

EntryMy cluePublished clueComment
ATARI70s Pong producerVideo game pioneerI always prefer specificity, and Pong’s a classic.
CAP’NRank of Quaker’s CrunchShip’s skipper, for short
CARES“Who ___?”Gives a darn
ABUTBorderShare a border with
NOAHTrevor of “The Daily Show”Trevor of “The Daily Show”
HIT THE RIGHT NOTEDid the most suitable thing for the situationDo what’s especially appropriate
GETSGraspsSees the point of
WISEDSmartened (up)Smartened (up)
SAGELearned oneGuru
DINERSRoad trip restaurantsRoadside restaurants
WENT FOR A SONGSold very cheaplyWas sold very cheaply
AVASTSalty “Stop!”Nautical “Halt!”I like alliteration when I can fit it in.
DUOPairPair of people
RIMCup’s edgeCup’s edge
SEE HERE“Now, listen…”“Now, listen…”
EVEDecember 24 or 31, for exampleDecember 24 or 31
PLEABegDefendant’s statement
ADOKerfuffleNeedless fuss
STRUCK A CHORDEvoked an emotional reactionAffected someone emotionally
CUTS INInterrupts, at a barn danceInterrupts, on a dance floor
ECHOTypical yodel reverberationTunnel’s sound effect
ASHENGhostly paleVery pale
AHEMAttention-getting coughAttention-getting sound
SLIPSlideMinor mistake
CHANGED ONES TUNEDid a 180 onStarted acting differentlyJust a personal preference.
TENTCampground shelterCampground shelter
CAMOG.I. garb, oftenHunter’s garb, for short
HERONLong-necked waderLong-necked marsh bird
OMENProphetic signProphetic sign
EDENSNirvanasBlissful places
ACHEPine (for)Muscle soreness
TAILShadow, as a spyBack of a comet
ARTSThe A of STEAM, in education__ and craftsJust a personal preference.
RETESTSExamines againMakeup exams
ISHSuffix meaning “Sorta”Suffix meaning “sort of”
CAREERVocationLine of work
A BITSlightlySlightly
PUGSDogs with flat facesDogs with flat faces
NTHUltimate math degreeUtmost degree
INNINGSBaseball and cricket divisionsBaseball game segmentsI’m British — of course I want to get cricket in there!
LOOSELiberal, as an interpretationNot at all tight
LATER“See ya!”In a little whileMore colloquial.
SHEDSGets rid ofStorage buildings
EGGOFrozen waffle brandToaster waffle brand
TWINIdentical siblingExact doubleI have identical twin daughters, so duh!
AFTSArea inside ships’ sternsMatinee times: Abbr.I don’t like AFTS as an abbreviation.
DOORPeephole placePlace for a keyhole
WARP‘Star Trek’ speed scaleTwist out of shapeI’m a proud Trekkie.
EVILDemeanour of many a fictional 19-DownWickedI thought this was an amusing cross-reference to TWIN.
NAMESExpecting parents’ decisionPhone directory listingJust a personal preference.
AD HOCImpromptu, as a committeeCommittee descriptor
SUETake to courtTake legal action
HEROSuper- or anti- suffixGuy getting a medalI much prefer the gender-neutral (don’t argue with me) angle.
OVERNot underHigher than
WEEDRoot (out)Unwanted garden growth
EARNPull inDeserve to receive
EDUEnd of an academic addressEnd of a university URL
ASSENTSAgrees toGives approval
GHOSTEDStopped all contact withWrote uncredited for anotherMuch more modern usage.
TINGLittle bell’s soundLittle bell’s sound
KEEN ONEnthusiastic aboutEnthusiastic about
ACMELooney Tunes corporationHighest pointWho doesn’t like a Looney Tunes reference?
CACTISpiny succulentsSpiny desert plants
USHERDirect, as at a theatreTheater workerI prefer the slight misdirect.
THANKExpress gratitude forExpress gratitude to
ADAMComedian SandlerThe first personI prefer the non-religious angle. Everyone knows Adam Sandler, right?
HOMEWhere a point might be drivenWhere you liveJust a personal preference.
LURETackle-box tempterAngler’s gadget
IN ONDrop ___ (visit unannounced)Close __ (approach)
PENSComposesSigning ceremony souvenirsJust a personal preference.
ECOGreen prefixEarth-friendly prefix
SHESpaceship pronounWhat to call a spaceshipSlight preference for including the word ‘pronoun’, happy they kept ‘spaceship’.

And that’s my puzzle. I hope you enjoyed my write-up and I hope to share more published crosswords with you in the future.

If you’re an aspiring crossword constructor looking for a publisher, I definitely recommend this route. I know the NYT is the big fish, but I definitely implore you to take a wider view and consider other venues as a priority (don’t forget the indies, too!). Stan was a dream to work with and I hope to work more with him in the future.

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