# Puzzle 12: Split Decisions Two Ways. There ARE two ways about it… four, actually.

Last Friday’s Split Ends solution

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You may be familiar with the Split Decisions puzzles that have appeared in the New York Times and elsewhere. A fine example can be found on Evan Birnholz’ site here. I’ve done a similar thing here but with a little twist… the letters where the “split decisions” happen are to be read two different ways across and down. You’ll see in the instructions if you aren’t quite familiar with this type of puzzle.

It’s easy, with a little help from the Interwebs, to find pairs of words that follow this constraint of differing only by one pair. It’s even not that hard to find two pairs of words that differ by the same four letters in two different ways as in this puzzle, thanks to the magic of the Interwebs. I even figured out a neat formatting trick to draw the grid and the “split” squares conveniently. The painstaking part was to make sure that this grid had a unique solution. That’s why you’ll see some parts of this grid that branch out like cephalopod arms — some of those “arms” were necessary to make a unique solution.

I’ll be back with another crossword puzzle, of course, on Tuesday. The answer to Freestyle Puzzle 7  will appear there too. But I hope this will tide you over until then.

As always, I’d like to know, folks… comment is welcome! Come say hello! Let me know how you did! What did you like? What could I do better? Do you think that pro football players have fantasy office worker leagues? How can SpongeBob SquarePants own his own home on a fry cook’s salary? Woke up this morning with a wine glass in my hand… whose wine? What wine? Where did I dine?

# Puzzle 11: Freestyle 7. It’s the year of the cat.

Last week’s freestyle solution

Get the PDF here!

Get the PUZ here!

Word count: 72
Mean word length: 5.39

Back to that 8-stack structure that I find is in my wheelhouse, after last week’s 7×7 offering. I had two definite seeds in this one — 17-Across and 13-Down are the reason for this puzzle — and two mini-seeds at 39-Across and 54-Across. I started out with an 8×6 structure, but it sorta evolved into an 8×7. That doesn’t often happen to me — or in general, I’d guess — that a stack was actually LENGTHENED in order to make it work. It enabled me, however, to put the entry at 13-Down into a place that worked.

At 16-Across, I put a word in here that may be a tad bit more unusual than I’d normally like to use… but I think that’s OK every once in a while, no? Plus, I think it’s a word that people can actually use in everyday life once in a great while. It’s not like I’m using SNEE or ANOA here. (Sorry, no offense meant to enthusiasts of old daggers or Indonesian bovines.)

I feel like the cluing for this puzzle was both on the milder side (for a Saturday-strength difficulty) and on the trickier side, if that’s at all possible. 39-Across, 50-Across, 54-Across, 30-Down, 40-Down, and 44-Down are my favorite clues… the clue for 50-Across was one that I was waiting to get into a puzzle, even though I think it’s “cute” more than “clever”.

My favorite thing that I learned from this puzzle was that Sandra Bullock speaks 60-Down fluently. I’m not that big of a movie buff — not at all, actually — but it was interesting to learn about some celebrities’ fluencies that you’d never otherwise guess. Maybe some of you knew this already, but this I never would have known.

As always, I’d like to know, folks… comment is welcome! Come say hello! What did you like? What could I do better? Who gives a **** about an Oxford comma? Am I the only one here who thinks that Christoph Waltz is really an extraterrestrial? Why does anybody ask any questions anymore when we have Google?

# Puzzle 10: Split Ends. It’s not necessarily where you start *OR* where you finish.

Last Friday’s “bonus” freestyle solution

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Happy point in the Earth’s orbit arbitrarily selected due to its coinciding with a change in the Julian calendar date! I hope you celebrated this occasion with gusto and with people whose company you enjoy or at least tolerate.

To usher you into the new year, here is a puzzle that has to do with beginnings and ends… and lack thereof. I’ve given you a buncha sentences with two consecutive words missing; the second word is the first word with its first and last letters removed. What’s for you to do is to figure out the pairs of words that complete the sentences using the context of the sentence. I’ve phrased these sentences the best I could in order to produce unique solutions; however, if you come up with more than one answer for any of them (that makes sense in context), let me know!

I’ll be back with another crossword puzzle, of course, on Tuesday. The answer to Freestyle Puzzle 6 will appear there too. But I hope this will tide you over until then.

As always, I’d like to know, folks… comment is welcome! Come say hello! Let me know how you did! What did you like? What could I do better? Is it possible to catch the flu from a viral video? Do you think we should have the right to arm bears? Why are there so many songs about rainbows?

# Puzzle 9: Freestyle 6. The Magnificent Seven.

Last Tuesday’s freestyle solution

Get the PDF here!

Get the PUZ here!

Word count: 72
Mean word length: 5.44

The infamous 7×7 stack formation. I tell you, it is harder than it looks to construct one of these. You’ve got to pack the grid full of really good entries, which are harder to find in seven letters, and you’ve got to stack three sevens and intersect them with three other seven-stacks. When you compare 7×7’s to 8×6’s (as in my previous post), it wouldn’t seem like a big difference, but, for some reason, it is.

You know how, when a famous celebrity is about to kick the bucket, and all the major news networks prepare a tribute ahead of time so they can run it the day after the passing? There’s something sorta, but not exactly, like that in this puzzle… not as morbid. Let me just say that there’s a name in the lower left that I anticipated… something… happening to them; since that thing happened to them, it’s not a coincidence that I timed this particular puzzle to be running today. This is why that particular entry is one of those “mini-seeds” that I talked about in my previous post.

My favorite thing that I learned from this puzzle is that Stephen Colbert made up a fictional novel that didn’t really exist, as you’ll see in 11-Down, and that someone made that particular nonexistent fictional novel into an actual comic book.

As always, I’d like to know, folks… comment is welcome! Come say hello! What did you like? What could I do better? Do androids dream of electric sheep? Do you believe in Twizzlers as an effective medium for communicating with life on other planets? Has Rickrolling had a net positive effect on the world economy, in your opinion?

# Puzzle 8: Freestyle 5. Don’t feel guilty regifting this one.

Last week’s Add Water and Stir solution

Get the PDF here!

Get the PUZ here!

Word count: 72
Mean word length: 5.39

I hope all who celebrated had a merry Christmas… I sure did.

I start with a basic grid formation for every crossword I construct… which I definitely don’t expect to finish with. (I usually don’t.) For eight-stacks, like this one, the standard formation I start with is stacks of three eights across in the upper left and lower right intersecting with stacks of three sixes down. Then I form the two long diagonals of black squares. You’ll see the vestiges of this grid in the grid that I actually ended up with.

The reason for this crossword’s existence is 60-Across. Not because it’s a brand-new entry — the word for this phenomenon has been around for a few years now — but because of (a) the letters in it, and (b) the very concept of it. I didn’t want it at 1-Across; in fact, I even tried to put it at 65-Across at one point. Fill got too forced for me when I tried that, so I figured the optimal place for it was where you see it.

There are other entries in a puzzle that aren’t quite seed entries, but are, I guess you could call them, mini-seeds. You don’t have them in mind when you’re starting to construct the puzzle, but you discover that they fit as you’re building it and you decide to build around them. 35-Across, 38-Across, 35-Down, and 1-Across were those such entries here.

You’ll notice the reference to “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” in this puzzle… I think it says a lot about me that this is my favorite movie, far and above any other.

My favorite thing that I learned from this puzzle, far and away, is in the clue for 7-Down. CB slanguage can be pretty awesome.

As always, I’d like to know, folks… comment is welcome! Come say hello! What did you like? What could I do better? Was it a rat I saw? Why are you at all surprised that my nose is shaped like the Eiffel Tower? How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?

# Puzzle 7: Freestyle 4. It’s a Festivus miracle!

Last week’s freestyle solution

Get the PDF here!

Get the PUZ here!

Word count: 70
Mean word length: 5.57

For all who celebrate, I hope everybody has had a fantastic Hanukkah… and for all who celebrate, best wishes for a superb Christmas! (I’m nothing if not helpful… I’ve included an idea for a present straight through the middle of this grid!)

Happy Birthday Mom!

I want to get this out of the way first: I know there’s a word in one of my clues that’s also an entry elsewhere in the puzzle… but I liked the clue so much that I had to use it!

This was another case of not seeing a dupe that was in front of my face the whole time… it’s the whole reason there’s a pair of cheaters. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) To add another layer of intrigue to that situation, that dupe is the same dupe between the answer and the clue I mentioned above. Luckily, it was such an easy fix that I hardly broke a sweat over it. It’s not an optimal situation when there are only one or two ways into a section — in other words, when a single black square could close off a section of the grid entirely — but I’m not going to avoid that situation on purpose if it makes for a better puzzle. In this case, it made it much easier to fix that dupe.

You’ll notice that I cross-referred 22-Across and 23-Across to each other. A rule of thumb that I follow is that just because you CAN cross-refer one answer to another doesn’t mean you SHOULD. I only cross-refer when the connection is just so obvious that it can’t be left alone, or — in this case — when the answers are right next to each other in the clue list and the connection is more than just tenuous.

One more thing you must know about this puzzle is why I referred to Raffi in the clue for 45-Down. Once I got to that section, that answer was NOT being removed, no matter what, once I discovered that the answer fit. The reason is that I grew up with Raffi, as I hope many of you have done too. I have many fond memories of his songs. I can still sing along with so many of them!

My favorite thing that I learned from this puzzle is that quote in the clue for 65-Across. What an absolute gem.

As always, I’d like to know, folks… comment is welcome! Come say hello! What did you like? What could I do better? What kind of sick person coats a man’s razor blade with vinegar? Whaddaya say we go back to my place with our iPads so we can take advantage of my smooth WiFi connection to play a rousing game of Words With Friends? Do you know the Muffin Man?

As always, share this link! Pass it around! Since we’re in the season for giving, I’ll have a new crossword puzzle on Friday!

# Puzzle 6: Add Water and Stir. Because restoring order is the highest priority.

Last week’s Going Numberless solutions

Get the PDF here!

Nothing much to say here: this one is a pure test of anagrammatical prowess. It’s a simple enough instruction in a recipe: add water and stir. But here, you’ll have to add the letters WATER to each of the given words and anagram them into a new common English word. Ironically enough, this puzzle’s idea had its germ in a themed crossword that never materialized in a publication.

I’ll be back with another crossword puzzle, of course, on Tuesday. The answer to Freestyle Puzzle 3 will appear there too. But I hope this will tide you over until then.

As always, I’d like to know, folks… comment is welcome! Come say hello! Let me know how you did! What did you like? What could I do better? Would you, could you in a box? Would you, could you with a fox? Can you rephrase that in the form of a question? What’ll the geniuses at Acme Corporation think of next?!

# Puzzle 5: Freestyle 3. It’s nice to have options.

Last week’s freestyle solution

Get the “harder clues” PDF here!

Get the “harder clues” PUZ here!

Get the “easier clues” PDF here!

Get the “easier clues” PUZ here!

Word count: 71
Mean word length: 5.86

Before I get to talking about the puzzle, a big hearty thanks goes out to George Barany for the link to Club 72. Go check out the work of George Barany and Friends (I am a proud contributor to that site too!), as well as everyone in the sidebar!

This one I expanded to 16×15 for, I hope you’ll see, quite obvious reasons. Those two 16s were just asking to be put in a freestyle… I don’t think you need to ask what the seeds for this one were!

So… here at Club 72, I aim to please! As promised in my “about my puzzles” page, this is the first of many times where I’ll provide an “easier” set of clues to go with the normal “harder” difficulty set. As usual, the “harder” set aims for a New York Times Saturday or harder level, but I aimed for a hard-Tuesday or easy-Wednesday strength with the “easier” set. My suggestion for everyone: if you’re a pen-to-paper solver, even if you don’t think you’re at Saturday solving level yet, print out the “harder” clues on one side of the paper and the “easier” clues on the other side. Start with the “harder” side, see how far you can get with it, and refer to the “easier” side when you need a boost. Or, if you prefer, download both the “harder” and “easier” Across Lite files, have them both open at the same time, and only refer to the “easier” set when you’re stuck. And, when you’re done, compare the “easier” clues with their corresponding “harder” clues. I promise, I toned down the “easier” clues quite a bit, but there’s still a bit of a challenge.

Since I wanted to still keep this under 72 despite the extra column, this was at the outer limits of my manual construction skill. I swear I needed the corner cheater squares, because I swear the upper left, for some odd reason, had only one way to fill from 39-Across, 20-Across, and the ends of 5- and 6-Down without partial phrases. I spent a LOT of time trying to make things work in that corner. That was the limiting factor: I had no trouble filling the lower right, no matter the square configuration (as long as I had one square dividing the answers at 28- and 45-Down). The upper left… that was a big problem for some reason. You wouldn’t think that, with 20-Across, the last letter of 5-Down, the last letter of 6-Down, and the first three letters of 39-Across in place, it would be that difficult. But it got to the point that I even had THREE squares lining the first column at one point (the one in the middle that you see, plus one on top of it and one on the bottom of it) before I decided to relent and put one in the corner. (That was my last option before ripping that whole half out.) I’m glad I did, because I was getting nowhere until I put that black block in the corner. I probably should have started in the upper left and lower right corners and worked from there, but things kinda rolled along from the Northeast and I ended up constraining the corners instead. Well, it worked out in the end anyway.

My favorite thing that I learned from this puzzle is that both of those quotes, in the easier and harder levels, came from that particular source in 39-Across.

A couple of things about the cluing: I was SO HAPPY to find another angle to clue 21-Down (in the harder clues), because I really wasn’t so thrilled initially to put that answer in the puzzle. After I discovered the clue, I’m glad I did. 31-Down’s clue caused Christine to have an aha moment, and it’s probably my favorite of the harder clues. I hope it creates an aha moment with you. Also, I found the juxtaposition of the clues for 16-Across and 17-Across interesting and fortunate, because it says something very interesting about the English vernacular. I liked that so much that I kept both clues in both the easier and harder versions.

As always, I’d like to know, folks… comment is welcome! Come say hello! What did you like? What could I do better? Does your chewing gum lose its flavor on the bedpost overnight? What difference does it make whether I take out the trash now or later? What gift can you get for the proctologist in your life who has everything?

# Puzzle 4: Going Numberless. Because, in crosswords, location is everything.

(When I get a chance like this to plug my favorite band, I’ve got to do it, no?)

Last week’s A Capital Idea solution

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Call me crazy, but I think this just might work. Now, a regular crossword does require a bit of logic to complete, but I’ve upped the ante on the logic with this. As you’ll see, I’ve given you two (small, 9×9) grids, I’ve given you the clues… but I haven’t given you any numbers. You’ve got to figure out not only what the answers are, but also where the answers go. The point of these puzzles is to use some logic to hammer away at the interlock until all the answers fall into place. I intend for this to be a tough but fair challenge. Let me know… was this unfair? Or was it too easy? Did things fall into place? How did you do?

I downgraded the difficulty of the clues (I pretty much had to) and I didn’t include any obscure words or other crosswordese that you wouldn’t find outside of crossword puzzles. As you’ll see, I gave you two different puzzles with two different levels of difficulty, in which the clues are listed in alphabetical order two different ways: one by their answers, and the other by the clues itself.

I’ll be back with another crossword puzzle, of course, on Tuesday (this time with clue numbers!). The answer to Freestyle Puzzle 2 will appear there too. But I hope this will tide you over until then.

As always, I’d like to know, folks… comment is welcome! Come say hello! Let me know how you did! What did you like? What could I do better? Can I refill your beverage? Who do I call if our house has a broken grazzlewhacker? What do I do if I adopt a dog, but find out that it only communicates in Russian?

# Puzzle 3: Freestyle 2. So what’s the buzz?

Last week’s freestyle solution

Get the PDF here!

Get the PUZ here!

Word count: 72
Mean word length: 5.44

Before I get to anything else, I would like to thank greatly Chris King, Evan Birnholz, Sam Ezersky, and Todd McClary for their generous pluggings and links on their respective websites. Go visit them and all the other fine crossword sites you see on the left!

Thanks for the feedback I received over multiple forms of communication about last week’s puzzles. I appreciate all of it!

The first thing I can say about this puzzle is that, no, BuzzFeed didn’t actually publish something called “12 Amazing Things Ferrets Do For The Ecuadorian Economy”. Somebody, please write that parody article on Clickhole. *beginning slight potential spoiler alert* This was obviously one of the seed entries, although, ahem, a certain other popular indie constructor known by three names (though I won’t mention the name) beat me to it by ONE DAY. *end slight potential spoiler alert* The only other seed was its symmetrical opposite at 63-Across. I was shocked to find that the entry at 35-Down hadn’t been used, according to the Matt Ginsberg clue database.

This puzzle’s construction went along very smoothly in three of the corners and the middle but then GOOD GOD THE NORTHEAST. I don’t know why it was so hard to build that corner, but it didn’t seem like any of the eight-letter stacks I tried were meshing quite right with any good six-letter stacks, and THEN… I discovered that I had a duplicate INTERSECTING WITH ITS OTHER DUPE (7-Down and 15-Across had dupes for the longest time, and for some ungodly reason I didn’t notice the dupes staring me smack in the face)! So I had basically spent all that time on a corner that bled into the middle, and now I had a bad entry in that middle that caused me to rip out a whole already-built corner (the southwest) to fix. Luckily, I added a cheater square, which actually made the southwest better than it was before and enabled me to build the dreaded northeast more easily.

My favorite thing that I learned from this puzzle is a tie: I don’t remember at all that Dominos tried to make a pizza with… well, that… and that the character at 56-Across was a Bon Jovi fan. Maybe you knew both of those things, but they were oddly fascinating to me.

Also, there might be one answer in this puzzle that I have a feeling my aforementioned indie crossword colleague Sam Ezersky might just get right away… amirite?

One more thing… the clue for 38-Across, like the rest of this puzzle, had been set in stone for days, until I had another one of those roll-over-in-the-middle-of-the-night epiphanies the night before this post that forced me to write it down and, in the morning, change the doc, PUZ, and PDF that I had already gotten set and uploaded. I was so excited about that clue that it was totally worth the effort for me to change that one clue and re-upload both files just to have that new clue. I won’t tell you what the original one was (I liked that one too, just not as much) because I just may use it again sometime.

As always, I’d like to know, folks… comment is welcome! Come say hello! What did you like? What could I do better? Did I forget to turn off the light in the basement? What’s a good pet name for a parakeet who doesn’t shut up? How could you call that pass interference when he barely touched the guy?!