Happy Crossword Puzzle Day!

Hurray Hurray it’s Crossword Day!
Calloo Callay it’s Crossword Day!
With Christmas not so far away,
please do not, to our dismay,
neglect to celebrate or say…
Happy Crossword Puzzle Day!

Yes, my friends and fellow PuzzleNationers, it’s the 104th anniversary of Arthur Wynne publishing the world’s first crossword puzzle, and we simply couldn’t let the day pass by without some sort of puzzly to-do.

So I thought I’d focus on crossword cluing, because there’s so much a constructor can do with clues. As you well know, it goes far beyond just offering a synonym or a fill-in-the-blank to get the solver moving.

No, a crafty constructor can work wonders. I once saw a crossword where every single clue started with the same letter! That’s dedication.

Recently, a constructor snuck a limerick into the first five across clues of a British-style crossword.

So, in honor of the day, here’s a sampling of the best clues I encountered over the last year. These clues are gathered from all over — including The Crosswords Club, The Los Angeles Times, Piece of Cake Crosswords, The Indie 500, Barany and Friends, and many other outlets.

As you might expect, I’m a big fan of misdirection clues, and there were some choice ones this year. For instance, Patti Varol offered “They may be called on account of rain” for CABS.

Peter Gordon clued IAMB with the brilliant “Foot in ‘the door'” while Emory Ediger challenged solvers with “Things you saw while dreaming?” for LOGS.

George Barany had several great clues this year, including “Hawaiian beach ball?” for LUAU — always nice to get a new clue for a classic crossword word! — and “His wife became a pillar of their community” for LOT.

Sarah Kampman gave us “Fresh answers, perhaps” for SASS, while Michael Shteyman played with expectations with “50/50, e.g.” as the clue for ONE.

“Hit close to home” was Mike Shenk’s terrific clue for BUNT. He also offered “Give up possession of, in a way” for PUNT and “One might be responsible for a reduced sentence” for EDITOR.

Patrick Blindauer’s Piece of Cake Crosswords, a series designed to avoid crosswordese and welcome new solvers, allowed him to indulge in some lengthy, delightful clues:

  • Best Picture winner that becomes another Best Picture winner if you add an F to the beginning of it: ARGO
  • “Brown Eyed Girl” syllable followed by lots of la’s: SHA
  • Like some battles, or how my grandpa supposedly walked to school (both ways): UPHILL
  • Surprised cry that would be aha’s cousin if things had cousins the way crosswords seem to think they do: OHO

And no list would be complete without Brendan Emmett Quigley, who paired “Ticker tape?” with ECG.

To close out today’s entry, let’s enjoy a few clues from our friends at Penny Press that didn’t get published, but still highly entertained me.

Crossword guru Eileen Saunders gave us “Camel droppings?” for ASH, which is hilarious, and constructor Keith Yarbrough offered “Get by, barely” for STREAK.

What’s more amazing is that this is just a smattering of the excellent cluing available all across the world of crosswords. Every day, wordsmiths and constructors are bending words and wordplay to their whim. It’s fantastic stuff.

Did you have any favorite clues from crosswords this year? Let us know in the comments section below!

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How to Make a Crossword: Choosing a Theme

“Themes are the hardest part of the construction process. Filling the grid and writing the clues takes perseverance, but coming up with a theme requires that elusive spark of inspiration.” — constructor Doug Peterson

This sentiment was echoed by other constructors I spoke with. Crossword guru Eileen Saunders said, “The hardest part of constructing a puzzle (for me) is coming with the theme. After that, everything else seems to fall into place.”

Los Angeles Times Crossword Editor Rich Norris and assistant Patti Varol: “Originality is an important element of a good theme, but sometimes originality means lively themers in a chestnut gimmick or a clever spin on familiar wordplay.

“Originality, themewise, is not always ground-breaking, or innovative, or even original. A good theme always has sparkle, with lively, idiomatic phrases that will resonate with a majority of solvers.”

New York Times Crossword constructor Ian Livengood discusses how to choose theme entries: “Once you think of a potentially good theme, it’s vital to see if something similar has been done before. What’s the point of having databases, right? If the theme looks interesting and relatively new, you must make sure the theme is consistent.

“For example, if you are doing two-word phrases that start with the letter P and you’ve got PLEDGE PIN, PARK PLACE, PLUM PUDDING, PINK PANTHER and … PARAKEET, that’s a problem. The single word breaks the pattern and confuses solvers. So consistancy and freshness is very important.”

Rich and Patti also mentioned consistency and balance as critical elements of a good theme. “One odd entry can ruin an otherwise great idea: a themer that ends with the theme’s key word when all the others begin with it, a stray plural in a set of singular phrases, a noun phrase in a group of verbs, a song title in a set of movie titles, a rhyming pun in the mix with spelling-change puns.”

I think I’ll give Doug the final word on coming up with a theme for your puzzle. “If you think a theme entry is humdrum or doesn’t quite fit with the others, it’s time to put your brainstorming cap back on. Remember, your first job is to entertain the solver, so make that theme sparkle.”

How to Make a Crossword: Title and Cleanup Advice

You might consider the title an afterthought, but titles are important because they have to give you a hint regarding the puzzle’s theme or wordplay, but without giving away that theme or game entirely.

Crossword guru Eileen Saunders mentioned that title ideas can come from anywhere, citing the time that “a golf-themed puzzle’s title came from seeing a billboard that said ‘Sunday Driver’.”

Whether you’re making the puzzle as a gift or planning to submit it for publication, always make time to look it over.

Constructor Robin Stears’s closing ritual: “The last thing I do before I submit the puzzle is to double-check it one more time, ensuring that I haven’t used one of the words in the grid as a clue for another word, e.g., [Era] for EPOCH, and vice versa. I also read every clue to make sure it makes sense to me -— if the answer is a foreign word/phrase, I make sure the clue reflects that (e.g., [Detector of les odeurs] for NEZ).

“There’s nothing more frustrating than spending hours constructing a puzzle only to have it rejected because of a silly mistake, like misspelling Arnold Schwarzenegger’s name (true story).”