Hefty Barriers to Entry – The New York Times

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Tracy Gray: Many thanks to Jeff for collaborating with me on my very first themeless puzzle and for helping me reach my goal of hitting for the cycle!

My vision was to have a grid with 12 multiword phrases of 9- to 10-letter lengths, swaths of white space, and an uncluttered pattern of black squares. CRAZY BUSY came out of my mouth in a telephone conversation just before filling, so I used this fun 9-letter entry as my starting point.

Having no experience with filling a themeless, I took off like gangbusters in the NW and SW with no real constraints to stop me. “So far, so good,” I thought, as I enthusiastically ventured into the other sections. “Don’t underestimate the center,” Jeff cautioned by email, as I started to encounter constraints. He suggested we start filling the larger NE section first, then the smaller SE section, and finish by merging the different sections through the center with 15- and 33-Down as our crossword linchpins. We collaborated back and forth in earnest, section after section, email after email, looking for the best phrases and fill and avoiding the gluey bits.

Jeff wrote the majority of the clues, especially the ones with wordplay, whereas I pretty much stuck to the words that had straight-out-of-Wikipedia cluing. Will and the editing team did a fabulous job, but I was happy to see that one of my favorite clues that Jeff wrote made the cut: NAPA [Where many stop and smell the roses].


Jeff Chen: Ever since Michael Bennett’s introduction in which he declared his true allegiance, I’ve wanted to get WAKANDA into the crossword.

It was a pleasure helping Tracy achieve her goal of “hitting for the cycle.” She’s hard-working, responsive, and a great listener.

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