MONDAY PUZZLE – It’s always satisfying to watch someone learn to do puzzles and hone their skills to the point where a crossword they’ve created gets posted.

But there is a significant learning curve. To paraphrase Boromir from “The Lord of the Rings”, the builders don’t just go into Crossword Mordor and see your signature. There is an art to making a puzzle that successfully completes and uses exciting and legitimate inputs. It needs a tight theme if it is a themed puzzle. The clues should be concise, punchy, and appropriate for the day of the week the crossword is supposed to be performed. Oh, and knowing your market is important. If you’ve been arguing with publishers about content they deem unacceptable to their point of sale, you’ve told them something about yourself: Not only are you unfamiliar with their product, but it can be difficult to work with you. It will not end in your favor.

Many budding builders stop to try to complete the puzzle, surprised at how difficult it is to get a good all-round filling. They are also often surprised at how much more difficult it is to complete a puzzle than to solve one. And they are right. They are two completely different skill sets.

There are also some budding builders who believe they can do a puzzle without any help. This may be true for some, but I think the majority of people who submit puzzles would really benefit from learning the ropes from a seasoned builder. There is no reasonable downside to this, and it gives you an advantage: you learn quickly and from someone who knows what makes a good puzzle, instead of guessing and being rejected.

Getting mentored isn’t a guarantee that you’ll get published, but it certainly shortens that learning curve considerably. Visit the Facebook Crossword Puzzle Collaboration Directory (targeted specifically for traditionally underrepresented group builders), the Cruciverb group, or the Crosscord Discord server (contact Ricky Cruz for an invite).

OK, enough conferences. Let’s enjoy Erika Ettin’s first puzzle.

10A. Those “lines at the checkout, for short? Are not what you expect. These are the black lines on your receipt or on the product label that constitute the Universal Product Code, or UPC. The shortened and plural version (you noticed the plural “lines”, right?) Is UPCS.

10D. For solvers who don’t live in New York City, the Bronx – one of the five boroughs that make up the city – is north of Manhattan, and street numbers increase as you move north, which s ‘calls go UPTOWN.

Ms. Ettin offers us four seemingly disparate thematic entries and one revealing one, which certainly helps to clear things up. Don’t get frustrated if you don’t see the commonalities at the start. As Ms. Ettin advises, just RIDE WITH it.

This is good advice. If you put the word ROLL at the end of the last word in each topic entry, you end up with a new sentence. For example, at 17A, the answer to the “Detective for hire” clue is PRIVATE EYE. If you add ROLL at the end of EYE, you get an EYE ROLL, which my fellow parents certainly appreciate.

Likewise – and this one was my favorite, because I love both song and sushi – the # 1 Eagles hit from 1977 to 36A is HOTEL CALIFORNIA. Add ROLL to that and you get a CALIFORNIA ROLL.

Take this CALIFORNIA ROLL with rosé champagne on ice and enjoy the rest of Ms. Ettin’s puzzle.

I’m more than excited to make my New York Times Crossword debut – and on my 40th birthday, nothing less!

To introduce myself, my name is Erika Ettin and I have been a longtime fan of anything to do with word games: crossword puzzles, puns, daddy jokes, whatever you want. For the past few years, I’ve been participating in word game contests across the country (yes, they do exist!), And at the start of the pandemic, I decided to try my hand – or, more accurately, my brain – at build crossword. With the incredible mentorship of fellow Cornelian Robyn Weintraub, I was able to put together this fun Monday puzzle. I cannot thank her enough for her advice.

My favorite clues are the pair at 43 across and 46 down. I probably had too much joy writing them. And, while I didn’t say so in the theme reveal, 23-across does both FORWARD ROLL and PAYROLL for a little extra bonus.

When I’m not fiddling with words for fun, for the past 10 years (after a seven-year career in finance) I’ve run a consulting business helping people with online dating. And on rare occasions, my two passions – words and love (and spreadsheets, if I’m being honest) – combine.

If you have any questions or comments for me, you can find me on @ALittleNudge on Instagram. Thanks for making my word dreams come true!

The New York Times Crossword has an open submission system, and you can submit your puzzles online.

For tips on how to get started, read our “How to Create a Crossword Puzzle” series.

Almost done solving but need a bit more help? We have what you need.

Warning: There will be spoilers ahead, but subscribers can take a look at the fix.

Trying to get back to the puzzle page? Here.

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