NYT n/a ... LAT 1:47 ... CS 2:00 ... ND 1:23 ... BT 2:36 ... TO 2:33
Following is the way-too-long story of constructing my first New York Times crossword, published today...
SPOILERS below if you haven't solved it.
SPOILERS, I say.
JUGGLING PINS was the first theme idea I ever had, back in '08 when I was first getting into crosswords. I used to juggle regularly with my drummer friend Brad during summer theater stints in the early 2000s. But we never juggled at home in New York, and I haven't kept up with the hobby.
It occurred to me that JUGGLING PINS was a perfect (and original) theme-revealer, so I tried to come up with three other phrases ending in anagrams of PINS, like GO FOR A SPIN, CHEESE NIPS, and I don't know what else, but I never ended up with a usable set.
Fast forward a year, when Brad sent me a text saying "dude. do you have free time this week. wanna go to the park and juggle?" We didn't, but that reminded me of my aborted theme, and triggered the idea that the PINS could be scattered throughout the grid instead. When I laid out the revealer entry near the bottom, I saw that I could cross CLOWN through the central "L" and arrange the PINs to create a cool visual "aha".
From there I spent most of the summer constructing the grid. My first attempt was 76 words, and when I ran the design by Patrick Blindauer, he wisely advised me that it would be too ambitious, what with all the diagonal constraints. I think I ended up using the tweaked 78-word design that he sent back, so thanks Patrick!
The two key elements for me were to have a PIN in each of the eight possible configurations, and to array them as if the CLOWN were juggling them. The problem with that was that I couldn't use the bottom few rows of the grid, so I thought the "dropped" PIN in the SW corner would be a cute touch.
Once ENTERTAINED (or ENTERTAINER) fit nicely as a long Down, I tried to come up with a symmetrical entry that could also be tied to the theme, but that was too much for a novice to handle. I didn't (and still don't) have a word list other than Matt Ginsberg's database, so I filled the grid very slowly. No doubt a veteran constructor could come up with better fill -- and I considered asking one for help -- but I figured it would be good enough to pass muster for a Tuesday. Not too much crosswordese, I hope, and the only iffy-for-a-Tuesday entries might be DONEN and CERA (and at least there's one for each generation there).
Then I waited six or eight months to actually send it to Will, because I was re-thinking corners, tweaking clues, and doubting whether the puzzle would be good enough at all. I'm interested to see how many clues were changed, since I generally went with inoffensive rather than innovative (I'll update this post when I see the final version [[UPDATE BELOW]]). Will accepted the puzzle exactly a year and a day ago, and I got the email in the middle of a twelve-hour tech rehearsal in Michigan.
And there you have it: my first submission, my first publication, and possibly the only puzzle you'll ever see from me in a newspaper. I haven't had any other good ideas since then, and constructing isn't that much fun for me anyway. I'll stick with the solving for now.
More details after seeing the published version...
Well, 44 of my clues survived verbatim, and another 16 were edited but retained my general idea. Much better than I was expecting! I had CLOWN clued [Circus performer (seen here 54-Across)], to make it extra-clear that the clown is juggling those pins. Interested to see how many people get that...
Otherwise, I'm pleased that the shout-outs to favorite shows The Amazing Race and Arrested Development (topical!) survived. ALEC was originally [Brother of Stephen, Daniel, and William], because I have a brother named Stephen. I liked [Words unsuitable for The New York Times] for OATHS. And my most creative clue didn't survive: [The IT girl, maybe?] for NERD. I suspect that NYT style would render that as "I.T.", which would kill the joke even if Will liked it.
Oh! And I solved it in 1:25, which included some typing snafus...