Power-Ups – The New York Times

87D: This is a debut entry; a dealer could handle a variety of items but in this case they are forgeries, or ART SCAMS.

At what point, while working on this grid, did you realized that todays theme just involved one logical step? I assumed that we were looking at a layer cake with several interrelated components until I had completed one full example, and that didnt come until fairly deep into the solve.

There are eight theme pairs, all running across, at 25/30, 29/33, 47/50, 48/53, 85/90, 86/92, 107/113 and 112/116. Each of these pairs is arranged the same way, and thats critical to the theme one is a row above the other, touching diagonally. Theres also a revealer at the center, 70A, which was actually a punchline for me; I solved this entry pretty early but it made no sense until Id gotten a theme pair and the connection between the two entries.

My first pair to completely fill in was at 47/50. By the time I had both of those entries, Id solved several parts of other theme pairs and was thoroughly confused WELCOME, WOLVES, CUTS, BONE and ROOTED were all done, but I hadnt connected anything yet. I figured there was some Grimm-based (or just grim) fairy tale game I hadnt even heard of, sigh. Basically, I had CHOIR at 47A, the clue with no clue, and a few letters at 50A: With 47-Across, not change anyones mind, say. PREACH (to the) CHOIR was the perfect solution.

With that, the other pairs started to fall. They all have that same little link in common, to the, and theyre all very common expressions. And notice the juxtaposition of the clues to one another? Its as though the unclued entry is superscript, on the upper right corner of the clued entry. This is where the revealer comes in EXPONENTS. This is also where the title of the puzzle comes in each of those phrases is arranged as A to the power of B. I find this such a neat little trick, and very cleverly presented.

If the idioms arent clear as a bell to you, you have one that expresses commiseration, one that began as an impatient cinematic reference, an economic term thats broadly used these days, a theatrical reference, a symptom of being horrified, a horrifying thing to happen to someone, and something apt, but unwelcome.

Anderson Wang: I first got into puzzles in high school through online puzzle hunts, and the M.I.T. Mystery Hunt in particular, and branched out from there into logic and word/crossword puzzles. Jon and I first met at M.I.T., where we lived on the same hall, and weve done a lot of puzzling together since. (Im proudest of the work weve done writing for the Galactic Puzzle Hunt.)

Some constructors notes: after coming up with the theme, we originally planned for a 15x15, but eventually decided that 21x21 felt better since there was a good variety of A to the B phrases. However, while we do have some experience with making crosswords, wed never attempted a Sunday-sized grid before, and we quickly realized how brutal the 140-word limit was: we spent probably about 30 hours filling the first draft, with many nights of screen sharing and iterating on the fill. We received an encouraging response from the editing team, but they wanted us to swap out one of our theme entries, and that change ended up propagating throughout the whole grid the second draft probably took about another 20 hours to fill, but I am happy with how it turned out in the end.

As a final note, in the process of making this puzzle I really came to appreciate having a friend to construct with. Having a collaborator really helps with splitting up the workload and motivating each other to continue making progress, but even more important, it let us bounce potential fill options off each other and see things from different perspectives. I certainly wouldnt have been able to make this on my own.

Jon Schneider: I grew up in Toronto, Canada. I was first exposed to crosswords in high school, through one of the teachers there who wrote cryptic crosswords for the local newspaper. (I was quite bad at them back then, but still found them a lot of fun!) Later, in college, I started solving the New York Times crossword. Like Anderson mentioned, this is also where we met. Weve been writing puzzles together ever since mostly puzzle hunt puzzles, but some crossword puzzles here and there.

Anderson did a great job of covering the construction process, so I wont say much. Ill reiterate that this was the first time we tried to construct a 21x21, and we were definitely a bit surprised by how much harder it was to fill cleanly than other crosswords weve constructed in the past (the unusual geometric arrangement of the theme entries probably didnt help). One of our biggest gaffes was after we had almost filled the puzzle for the second time, when we realized we had included both ELM STREET and TAKE [to the] STREETS. Luckily, we were able to swap out TAKE [to the] STREETS for PLAY [to the] GALLERY without too much more work, but it had us worried for a bit!

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Power-Ups - The New York Times

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