Thursday, April 20, 2017

Tales of a Grammar Nazi in Go-Go Boots

[Image lifted from XWordInfo where I got the weekly "POW!"  Nice!]

Writing clues is my least favorite part of making crossword puzzles.  If I ever become a professor of cruciverbalism, I'm definitely delegating clue writing to my graduate students.  I might deign to make a suggestion here or there (How about "Work with intelligence?" for SPY STORY -- get it?), but I certainly wouldn't be doing the grunt work.

When I first started constructing puzzles, clue writing was tortuous, and the torture was completely self-imposed.  I would slave over each individual entry trying to think up the cleverest, most personally stylized clue possible.  It took me nearly as long to write the clues as it did to build the grid -- and it took me a long time to build the grid, as this was back in the day when I used graph paper and pencil, and the only "software" I had was an electronic pocket crossword puzzle helper.  (By the way, I feel no romance at all for those days; I much prefer it now, doing everything on Crossword Puzzle Compiler and utilizing massive word lists.)  It was not effort well spent.  What I found is that I was very good at writing clues that were almost certain to be changed during edit.  That is, if my puzzle even got accepted anywhere, which, at that point in my "career," it probably wouldn't.

Although I would like to blame all those stuffy editors for failing to the see the genius in my clue writing, the truth is, I was very likely going about it wrong.  Being clever is good -- most fun puzzles have clever clues -- but not for all 70-some entries.  As a solver, I've come to realize there is often a fine line between clever and annoyingly contrived, and trying to force the former is a great way to achieve the latter.  I think most solvers rely on and appreciate a certain consistency and repetition in cluing.  Editors understand this, which is why clues for a given entry are very frequently the same.  In fact, what I've noticed about the New York Times is that it often goes on a "mini-run" for a particular entry in which clues are the exact same or nearly the exact same for several consecutive puzzles.

For example, here are three screen shots from Cruciverb's database showing the clues for the entry SLAY.  This seems to happen too frequently to be a coincidence.

Eventually I caught on and I stopped putting so much effort into writing original clues.  What I do instead is, for the vast majority of entries, I look it up on Cruciverb, filtering by the publication to which I'm submitting, and then I pick a clue I like that's day appropriate and use it or something very close to it.  I figure, if it's going to be changed to a standard clue during edit anyway, then why not make things easier on everybody?  But then after that I pick out a handful of entries, usually the "marquee" entries, and try to come up with new, clever, and fun clues for them.

Thus far, this process has worked out pretty well.  Most my clues, even my original ones, survive edit (though often slightly reworded), and I don't spend hours and hours writing a bunch of clues that will never see the light of day.  I now feel significantly less like a character in the Beatles' song "Eleanor Rigby."  (Damon Gulczynski writing the clues for a crossword that no one will see.  How can that be?  All the lonely people, where *do* they all come from...)

In this puzzle, I came up with a few clues that I really like.  In fact, one of them is probably my favorite clue I've ever written:

"Type for who this clue will be annoying?" GRAMMAR NAZI

I'm quite proud of that one.  Another one I like:

"A batter receives four for a grand slam" TOTAL BASES

Hopefully fellow baseball nerds will appreciate the redirect from the answer that immediate comes to mind but doesn't fit, RUNS BATTED IN.

Then there is this one:

"Iconic part of Sinatra's attire?" GO-GO BOOTS

I was quite disappointed to see that this one did not survive edit, and that the name "Nancy" was added before Sinatra.  It totally ruins my intent, which was to make the solver first think it was referring to Frank Sinatra (why doesn't FEDORA fit?).  That's a clever misdirect, no?

I'm not sure why it was changed.  The only thing I can think of is that Will thought the solver wouldn't really get it.  Maybe Nancy Sinatra isn't well-known enough or closely enough associated with go-go boots without her first name?  Perhaps.  But she did have a no. 1 hit back in the day explicitly about her boots.  So... I dunno.

Anyway, this puzzle, like the one published a few weeks ago, took me three tries.  The first didn't turn out well at all.  It was one of the earliest themeless puzzles I had ever attempted, and I should have chucked it when I was done with it and called it a learning experience.  I actually can't find a copy of it to post, which I'm not particularly sad about.

Below is my second attempt.

I actually really like this grid, my reasons why are the same ones why it was rejected.  The upper half is a procession of proper nouns -- DISCO STU,  DODIE (Stevens), OTTO HAHN, SAM ELLIOTT, (Justin) THEROUX, DON QUIXOTE, RAQUEL WELCH.  So much good, fun stuff!  But, alas, as I've heard before, not everybody likes what I like, and one thing people seem to like are puzzles that don't feel like a pop culture trivia contest.  So it goes... And if I want to keep publishing puzzles (which I do), so I have to go too.  But that's okay.  I think this one turned out pretty well as it is.  We shall see if people agree.

Until next time...

Friday Morning Update: Judging by what I'm reading on the blogosphere, people do think it turned out pretty well.  More than a few solvers, however, are put off by seeing NAZI in the puzzle, even as part of the tongue-in-cheek phrase GRAMMAR NAZI.  This is completely understandable.  I probably would not use this entry if I made this puzzle today, given the political climate.  I still love the clue though.

Also, I see that in the newspaper version of the puzzle, the clue for EMU included a symbol.  Cool.  That's a good way to liven up a common answer.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

It's about the X's and O's (Not the Jimmys and Joes)

[Published Grid]

It took me a couple tries to get this one right.  The grid you see above, the final grid, was my third submission.  My first attempt, seen below, was very different.

[Version 1]

I actually don't even remember making this grid.  I knew that I made three of the them, but then I couldn't find this one on my computer right away, so I started doubting myself, thinking I must have only made two.  And now that I have found it and am looking it, it only vaguely rings a bell.  I often construct at night in a sleep-deprived state (I have two young boys, so it's that or nothing), and I must have constructed this mostly on auto-pilot.  And if that's the case, it turned out pretty well considering.  But not quite well enough.  It got rejected -- encouragingly rejected, but rejected nonetheless.  The grid is too segmented and contains too many three-letter words (22).  Also, Will apparently doesn't care for BARF in his puzzles -- noted.

I put it aside for a while, and when I came back to it, I had a very difficult time opening up the grid and finding good theme entries that fit.  One thing that made this grid tricky is that the X and the O are not in symmetric squares, so if you want to make the theme answers symmetrical, which I decided I did (to keep things tight and to "reward" those solvers who figured out the trick early on), then you have to put two pairs of theme answers right next to each other.  Like I said, I struggled.  I talked myself into the grid below, but I never really felt good about it.

[Version 2]

This grid has some highly problematic entries -- for example: MAN OS.  A "man hug" is most definitely a thing in my world (I've given and received quite a few), so it might be fine as a non-rebus entry, but with the HUG part replaced by an O, solvers might not have any clue what's going on.  The same goes for THE SQUARED O.  Outside of professional wrestling fans, people might not have ever heard this term, completely negating the opportunity for that elusive "eureka" moment.

So I had my suspicions that this one would also be rejected, and a few weeks after I submitted it, those suspicions were confirmed.  But I tried again and finally got something that works.  My breakthrough was using those Utah-shaped blocks of black squares in the upper-right and lower-left of the final grid.  It's something I'm loath to do, because it's not very visually appealing, but in this case it made all the difference in the world.  It allowed me to put in the much more crossworthy BEAR OS and replace X CENT with X SPEED, which I think is an upgrade, and I didn't have to sacrifice the answers I really like (THREE X A LADY, X MY GRITS, and O SUM GAME).

The final piece to the puzzle was finding a new 16-letter "circle" entry at 26-Down.  My word list didn't have any entries, but it did have some that were 15 letters (unsurprisingly, given most girds are 15 x 15), and one of them was BRING FULL CIRCLE.  So I could have gone BRINGS FULL CIRCLE, but that didn't sound quite right to my ear.  The phrase, as I know it, is "come full circle," but that's too short, and it would require a non-rebus O, so I had to make do with TURNED FULL CIRCLE, which probably isn't something I would ever say, but it's in the dictionary, and it sounds better to me than the "brings" version, so it's a decent compromise.

Overall I'm pretty happy with how this one came out.  Let's hit some bullets and call it a post.

  • Hopefully the solver noticed that I didn't use any X's or O's outside of the theme entries.  This was a serious pain in the ass.  It turns out filling in a crossword grid without the letter O is quite challenging.  And I don't know how many times I thought I got something to work and then realized "Oh no! It's an O!"  You just look right past them, even when you are explicitly trying to catch them.  Once I even did this with an X, which just felt wrong.  It's like, c'mon, avoiding X shouldn't be what trips me up!
  • Interesting tidbit about the letter X: There has never been a player in any of the big four American professional sports leagues whose last name starts with X.  There was a baseball player named Joe Xavier who made it as far as Triple-A (with my childhood local minor league team, the Tacoma Tigers) but he never made the show.
  • Not so interesting tidbit about the letter O: There have been many players in each of the big four leagues whose last name starts with O.  My personal favorite is former Cubs great Orval Overall.  But the one most crossword puzzle solvers know is surely Mel Ott (see the final across entry of my first grid).
  • One review is in as I write this.  Jeff Chen at XWordInfo liked my puzzle and even gave it his weekly "POW!"  Sweet!
  • Wait... another one just came in.  Andy at Crossword Fiend like it as well.  Two for two.  I probably will have to wait until the morning to find out what Rex Parker has to say about it, but, I mean, c'mon that's a lay in, right?  That guy never has a bad word to say about the New York Times crossword puzzle. [Update: Rex said the he "enjoyed this one," which is basically a rave review from him, so I'll happily take it.]
I might check back in later.  But if I don't, until next time...

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Salad Days of a Man's Man

This puzzle is meant to have two layers of theme.  One layer obviously is that the theme entries are actors whose names are types of salad.  But also I wanted to chose actors who would actually evoke nostalgia for solvers' SALAD DAYS.  I wanted to chose big name movie stars who spanned a large portion of film history.

Unfortunately, crossword puzzles require entries be within a certain range of word length and have an appropriate symmetry, and there are only so many last names that are also salads and only so many people who have ascended to the height of movie star, so I had to do make do with what was available.  I like LEE J. COBB (great actor too -- 12 Angry Men is a classic) and SID CAESAR.  I'm fine with ORSON BEAN.  But I would have liked an upgrade over TOM GREEN.  He's the least movie-starry of the four, and, personally, I never thought he was particularly funny.  My SALAD DAYS included very little Tom Green.  In retrospect, I could have easily gone with EVA GREEN, but I didn't realize this until the puzzle had already been accepted.

Eva Green also would have been better because it would have gotten a woman into the puzzle.  As it is, we got four dudes.  If you keep up with the crossword blogosphere, you are certainly aware there is a push among many puzzle enthusiasts to make crossword puzzles more inclusive.  I think this is a good thing.  Constructing and competitive solving are dominated by men. In the former, there are a few prolific females (particularly C.C. Burnikel who I swear has a puzzle published somewhere every day) and then that's about it.  The big question: Why is this the case?

It's something I've thought about quite a bit.  In a way, it's something I've been thinking about most my life, as I discovered at a relatively early age that most my major interests -- sports analytics, math, Scrabble, crossword puzzles, etc. -- are predominantly male pursuits.  After many hours thinking and rethinking about this, reading opinion pieces, scientific studies, and the occasional controversial "academic exploration of hypotheses," here's what I came up with as the reason: I have no fucking idea.  I haven't come across a single theory yet that I've found particularly convincing.

The root cause I think is clearly sexism.  Back in the day, women were discouraged from doing these activities, and so we're seeing the residual effects of that today.  This makes sense, but the missing piece -- the thing I really don't understand -- is why aren't we seeing this male-female gap to the same extent in other fields.  Back in the day, women were discouraged from doing pretty much anything other than raising a family, right?  So why is it that today woman are much better represented in fields like law and medicine (though still not close to 50-50) than they are in fields like math and crossword puzzles?

Like I said, I have no answers.  I do think however that if somehow we could get more women involved in underrepresented fields that it would self-perpetuate.  I remember hearing about a study, the author of which I can't remember on a podcast I can't remember (get sourcing, huh?), demonstrating that representation really matters a lot when people are in their formative years.  If a child sees somebody with whom they can identify doing something then they are much more likely to pursue that thing than they would be otherwise.  This is why diversity matters.  Even if you don't believe it's inherently good, without it you effectively block people, particularly young people, from pursuing things they might otherwise want to pursue (and might be very good at), and that's not the way things are supposed to work in the land of the free and the home of brave.

So it seems to me the only solution I have for getting more women involved in something like crossword puzzle constructing is to get more women involved in crossword constructing.  And that's not actually a solution at all.  It's a tautology.

(And by the way, if there are any aspiring female constructors reading this right now, and you need some guidance, I'm available!  Actually, I'm available even if you're male or anywhere else on the gender spectrum.  I'll just be excited somebody is asking me for advice about something.)


Getting back to my puzzle, I'm completely satisfied with it.  I'm putting this up before I read any commentary about it, so I hope others feel the same way.  The theme ended up being relatively simple, but I'm fine with a simple theme.  If you have one though, I think it's imperative to make the non-theme entries sparkle and keep the grid clean.  I feel like I did a good job with both of these.  MAN'S MAN, MIC DROP, AW GEEZ, COIN-OPS, PAYPAL, TANK TOPS and I GUESS are all pretty solid entries, and the worse entry, in my opinion, is ESAS, which isn't even that bad.  I'm guessing some will balk at RVER and AAHS, but I stand by both of those.  RVer is a perfectly cromulent term for a person who travels by RV, and "oohs and aahs" are what people say at fireworks shows.

Another thing I anticipate some solvers not liking is all the proper names in the puzzle (NAMES, ironically, not being one of them).  In addition to the theme entries, you've got ANI DiFranco, NGAIO Marsh, JADA Pinkett Smith, Nellie BLY, Judd APATOW, and Susan DEY.  I concede that's a lot, but... that's kinda my thing.  I've found I like a much heavier dose of proper nouns and pop culture trivia in my puzzles than most people, and since I'm me, I often design my puzzles the way I like them.  I mean, crossword puzzles are supposed to have personality, right?

Alright, that's all I got for now.  I might pop back on after I read the reviews.  It depends on what they say.  And it depends on how much time I have.  It's supposed to be a snow day tomorrow (I'm writing this Monday night in D.C.), and when you have two children under the age of five, a snow day is not a day off.  It is very much a day on.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Don't Hate the Elver, Hate the Eeler

[Published version]

One of the hardest things for me as a crossword puzzle constructor is avoiding the "great answer trap."  That is, when you have a "great" answer in your puzzle (or a "great" section), and you are unwilling to let it go, no matter how difficult it makes completing the rest of the puzzle, no many how many undesirable compromises it requires.  I've gotten a lot better about this as I've gained more experience (I now try to embrace the YAHOO philosophy -- You Always Have Other Options* -- and I try to remind myself that my great entries are never as great as I think), but it's still something with which I constantly have to grapple.

In a bold attempt to combat the great answer trap, I came up with the idea of making two puzzles in parallel with very similar grid shapes.  My thinking behind this was that if I came up with a great answer that didn't fit in puzzle A, I could use it in puzzle B, which would not have the exact same constraints as puzzle A, and therefore would be more amenable to my great answer.  In this way, I would be able to keep my great answers and get rid of them (and move on) at the same time.  Win-win.  But of course it didn't work at all.  It's probably pretty obvious why.  Once you get a few entries into each puzzle they diverge to the point that you can't just move an entry from one puzzle to the other.

What ended up happening is that I just made two themeless puzzles with the same basic shape but very different fill.  You can see the grids below.

[Two rejected crossword puzzles]

I submitted both puzzles... and both were rejected.  It was the lower left corner with each of them.  In the first one, Will didn't like IT'S DEJA VU, because it's not really a standalone phrase.  (The saying is "it's deja vu all over again.")  In the second one, he just felt like the Southwest was way too drab -- which it is.  I fell into a different trap there, the "surely, everyone likes what I like" trap.  I went to University of Maryland for grad school, so I overrated how good of an entry TERRAPINS is.

Of the two I actually think the first one is more promising, but I got the impression that Will and Co. liked the second one better, so I reworked the lower left corner (which turned into a rework of the entire lower half) and submitted a new version.  As you probably already pieced together, it was accepted.

I'm curious to see people's responses to it.  Joel Fagliano, in the acceptance email, said, "Filled with lively vocabulary, and practically no compromises. One of your better constructions to date. Big yes on this, for a Saturday," which I was pleasantly surprised by.  I actually wouldn't put this one among my best puzzles.  I like it, of course.  I think it's good.  But if I was putting together a portfolio of my ten best puzzles or so, I'm not sure this one would make the cut.  But, hey, if other people really like it that's totally cool by me.  It's certainly better than the alternative.  We shall see.

Alright. let's do a few bullets and call it a post.

  • If DOSCH were a thing, I would have made BAD JOKE into DAD JOKE.  It's only a matter of time before this neologism finds its way into a crossword puzzle grid.
  • My clue for BON JOVI referenced "Lay Your Hands on Me" (changed during editing to "Blaze of Glory"), which is my favorite Bon Jovi song by far.  I'm not a huge fan by any means, but I do have a soft spot for "Lay Your Hands on Me," because it's the first song on the album New Jersey, which my friend got on cassette in fifth grade, and we would listen to the first track, rewind it to the beginning, and repeat ad nauseam.  That's a funny thing to think about now -- rewinding.  I remember buying cassettes based almost entirely on what the first song was on each side, because those were the only ones you could easily find.  Rewinding and fast-forwarding to the exact start of a song is something kids today will never have to deal with.  Actually, come to think of it, it's something I almost never had to deal with.  By the time I really got into music, CD players were already pretty mainstream.  I still remember my first CD: Flesh and Blood by Poison.  Don't worry, I redeemed myself with my second CD: Shake Your Money Maker by The Black Crowes.
  • The RED ROBIN with which I'm most familiar is the hamburger joint.  I loved this place as a kid.  As an adult, eh... not so much.
  • The HOT SPUR with which I'm most familiar is Tottenham Hotspur F.C. of the English Premier League.  I don't follow soccer, but what I've found is that I've consumed so much sports throughout my life that now I somehow just absorb it through osmosis.  Even when I'm not actively paying attention I still know basically what's going on -- like I haven't been watching the Australian Open and I don't really follow tennis, but I know both top seeds have already been eliminated.  (Update: I saw Serena beat Venus in an all-Williams.  Hell yeah!  I love the Williams sisters.  Serena might be my very favorite athlete ever.)
  • I used to know a song about JOHN HENRY as a kid.  The only part I remember now is the lyric "John Henry was a man who could beat a machine."  I wonder if I can find it online.  Ah, yes, easy.  It's a pretty well-known song.  Although it doesn't actually have the lyric I remember.  This isn't surprising at all.  Things are almost never verbatim how you remember them.  One of the interesting things about keeping a blog is going back and rereading it years later.  It's like auto-correct for your memories.

  • To all the ELVER haters out there: Elvers are real things in real life.  If you don't believe me, click here or here or here.  Eelers on the other hand are total bullshit.
A few additional thoughts, added after reading some of the reviews of my puzzle.
  • Jeff Chen at XWordInfo seemed to mostly like the puzzle, but he found it frustrating because he had a rough time in some sections (and not, apparently, in a satisfying, "a-ha moment" type of way).
  • Deb Amlen at Word Play also liked it (but her column is never very critical of the puzzle) but also found it hard. Difficulty, of course, is highly subjective, as evidenced by the fact that...
  • Amy Reynaldo at Crossword Fiend  definitely liked it, but found it too easy...
  • And Rex Parker didn't enjoy it very much because he found it way too easy.
  • Rex also implied that kir is Crosswordese, which, in my opinion, it most definitely is not.  It's a word I've seen many times outside of crossword puzzles (like on drink menus at French restaurants).  In fact, here's an article written last year about how kirs are becoming trendy.  Whether or not this is true or not, I do think it strongly indicates kirs are real things even to non-crossword solvers.
  • He also posted a tweet of a scuba instructor and equipment technician who had never heard of AIR PIPE.  Fair enough, it doesn't appear to be super common, but you can find it "in the wild," so it's not totally made up.  Here's a quote from the website of Gensis Diving Institute of Florida (bold is mine): 
Minimum Age 10 years, Jr. Open Water Certificate, or equivalent, open water equipment with compass, 50 lb lift bag, 10 ft rope and 2 marker buoys. It is suggested to have a pony bottle of 30 cu ft with an air pipe attached to a low-pressure inflator hose of the regulator. 
*I got this acronym from the notes of another constructor, but I can't remember whom.  If anybody knows who coined this, please post it in the comments, so that I can give credit where credit is due.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A Wednesday Puzzle on Thursday

I was really hoping this one would run on Wednesday.  One of my goals in crossword puzzle constructing is to hit for the New York Times "cycle," and Hump Day is proving elusive.  It's the only one I need.  I thought this one could be it, but... alas.

Also, I just think this puzzle is more Wednesday appropriate.  I think it's clever enough, but it's not tricky.  It's straightforward.  It's not a rebus, and there are no twists or jumps or anything.  I've heard Will doesn't want Thursdays to necessarily be trick puzzles -- the only criterion is that they be harder than Wednesdays and easier than Fridays.  And that makes a lot of sense to me.  After all if the solver knows there is always going to be a trick then the trick isn't as tricky as it would be if there was the possibility of no trick.

(On a somewhat related note, I've never understood why some log-in passwords require you to use upper case characters, special characters, etc.  Doesn't this requirement limit the space of possible passwords, thus making it less secure?  Isn't it better to give users the option of these characters to allow for the largest space of passwords possible?  Perhaps I'm thinking of this too much like a mathematician.  Maybe it's more psychological: Unless people are forced to use special characters, they won't.  I honestly don't know.)

But I might not be representative of the general crossword puzzle solving audience.  My fear is that solvers will be expecting something trickier, and this puzzle will feel like a bit of a let down as a result.  I'm writing this before any reviews have been posted, so we shall see.


The first theme entry for this puzzle didn't ultimately make it into the puzzle.  I wanted MAGNUM PI ("Champagne bottle that holds 3.14159... liters?"), but I couldn't find other good symmetric entries with the initials at the end, so I had to change course.

But even after going in a different direction, it took two attempts to get an acceptance.  The first grid I submitted is given below.

I was asked to rework it because of 48-Across -- GI BILL ("Invoice for a karate uniform?").  Neither Joel nor Will had ever heard of a gi.  I didn't mind changing the puzzle, but I was quite surprised, as I thought gis were common knowledge.  Well, maybe not everybody was a fan of MMA back when fighters could wear gis into the ring.

Alright, a few quick bullets and let's call it post.

  • In the first version of my puzzle, noticed that the entry is ID CARD (no plural), so that it is symmetric with GI BILL.  My clue for this was "Item 'played' to explain instinctive, impulsive behavior?", which I think is pretty good (but it doesn't really work in the plural).  I just like the idea of "playing the id card," whenever you do stupid.
  • In one of my early puzzles, I used the clue "'Downton Abbey' maid" for EDNA, and a few solvers complained because there is a much more prominent maid on the show named Anna.  So of course, I used the same clue this time.  I'm glad that it didn't get changed.
  • I'm also glad that my RADIOHEAD clue -- "Band that used a pay-what-you-want model to sell their 2007 album" -- didn't get changed.  I love that they did this, and I love the album -- In Rainbows.  I bought it for however many dollars ten pounds was worth in 2007.
  • A clue I was sad to see is "Annual mystery-writing award" for EDGAR.  That certainly is not my clue.  To me there is only one EDGAR, and he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.
[Better than David Ortiz]

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Crossword Coincidence (Crossincidence?)

Below is a grid I submit to Lollapuzzoola just a few months.  It was (kindly) rejected, and I completely forgot about it... until I did today's New York Times puzzle, which is also pictured below.


If you ever think somebody "stole" an idea, keep this example in mind before passing judgement.  Coincidences happen.

[My grid]

[Jim Peredo's NYT grid, courtesy of XWordInfo]

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Scam Artist

Honestly, seeing this crossword puzzle run brings me little joy at the moment.  I’m still depressed about Tuesday’s election.  I mean, I’m fine, I can carry on normally at work and with my family, but taking joy in frivolities like crossword puzzles – I’m just not there yet.  I feel like I got dumped by America.  Seriously, the last time I felt this gutted was in 2004 when my girlfriend at the time left me for another dude.  It was a complicated, long-distance type of thing, and everybody was much better off for it, but at the time I was beyond devastated.

There is a passage somewhere in the book East of Eden – I swear it’s in there, but every time I look for it I can’t find it – in which a catatonically heartbroken Adam Trask is visited by his acquaintance Samuel Hamilton.  And Samuel tells him, basically, to just live his life, to do all the things he usually does, to act as if everything is normal, and then one day he will realize that it is.  It's simple advice, but I've found it to be helpful in tough times.

To this end...

I started this puzzle with THAT'S A BIG IF.  That was my one seed answer.  Then I threw down WELL, SHUT MY MOUTH, which reminds me of Dana Carvey's Church Lady from SNL, which is strange considering I never watched SNL regularly, and that's not even the Church Lady's catchphrase.

 From those two entries, I developed version 1 of this grid.

[Version 1]

It's got some good stuff in it -- JUST YOU WAIT, DE STIJL, PLAYER PIANO.  (Hey, it also has TRASK!  I didn't even notice that when I wrote the previous paragraph.  What a coincidence!)  But I didn't think it was NYT-submission-worthy.  You can probably see why.  RBH, A BLUR, RIS -- these could not stand.  Also, I wasn't sure enough solvers would appreciate BEER SNOB. (Coming of drinking age in the greater Seattle region, where there are dozens and dozens of microbreweries, this phrase is well-ingrained in my vernacular.)  So I redid the grid.

[Version 2]

The problem with this, however, is that I didn't actually improve the puzzle.  Now I had MISADDS, AS A TEAM, and SET AT in the upper-left corner, JODI in the upper-right corner, ENDE in the lower-right, and tons of other bad entries that I failed to clean up all over the puzzle.  There are the tortured plurals ARNOS and ETHS (one of each is bad enough), and then RUTA, which I literally don't even know what it is.  Also, THE ELVIS (a peanut butter and banana sandwich), an entry I really liked at first, now looked much iffier than BEER SNOB.  This wouldn't do either.

So, I apparently made another version.  

[Version 3]

I say "apparently" because I honestly don't remember making this version.  It was just there in my folder among all the previous versions.  So I don't know why I didn't make it the final version.  Maybe I just thought I could beat it?  I don't know.  

[Great song off of The White Stripes album "De Stijl"]

I did finally scratch DE STIJL and rework the grid.  I was very hesitant to do this because I really liked the entry DE STIJL.  But as another constructor (I can't remember who) once wrote, YAHOO -- You Always Have Other Options.  Don't get too attached to an answer that doesn't fit.  You end up making four versions of your puzzles if you do.

[Final version]

Okay, a few bullets before I go.
  • As I mentioned at XWordInfo, I don't love the clue "Hook remover, perhaps" for NOSE JOB because it evokes the term "hooked-nose."  Is it just me or is this a pejorative term?  Maybe it's just me because no dictionary I've seen has it marked as such.  It's certainly not something I would ever say to describe somebody.
  • Speaking of XWordInfo, Jeff Chen had mostly good things to say about this puzzle, but he balked at EVILEST.  I didn't even think twice about this entry.  I guess "most evil" sounds more natural, but if somebody said "evilest" I don't think I would notice anything out of the ordinary.
  • I hate when OSH is clued through OshKosh B'Gosh, because it's only part of a word.  I prefer the Kyrgyzstan city, even if it is kind of obscure.
  • It really is JUST DESERTS.  Desert is an archaic term for something deserved.  It's not "just desserts" although that kinda makes sense as well.  "You forgot to buy sugar?!  Well, then, you're gonna get some pretty bland cookies.  Enjoy your just desserts!"
  • I always try to clue BOZ through ex-Seahawks linebacker Brian "The Boz" Bosworth, and it always gets changed.  Bosworth was somewhat of a big deal back in the mid-'80s.  He's best known for getting run over by Bo Jackson on a play in the end zone, in which he never actually got run over.  (It's actually a pretty ordinary football play.)  This is going to be the titular tale in a new book I'm (slowly) working on:  Actually... The Truth about Bo and "The Boz" and Ninety-Nine Other Misremembered Sports Tales.  It's a working title.  Ninety-nine might get changed to something much smaller.
  • Speaking of books I've written, you can buy my first (and only) one here.  It's got a perfect five-star rating so far!
And two more things that have little to do with crossword puzzles.
  • Thank you to all the veterans for your service.
  • RIP, Leonard Cohen.  About ten years ago I grabbed his album Songs of Love and Hate off my friend's CD rack and copied it on a whim.  I put it on for the first time on a lonely, rainy night while I was studying for qualifying exams.  I think I listened to it five times in a row.  "Avalanche" was the first song I heard and still my favorite.