Homage to Merl Reagle [puz] [pdf] [solution]
Like many constructors today, I didn't know making crosswords was something people could actually do until I saw Merl in "Wordplay." My first attempt at filling a grid involved mimicking his use of graph paper, and I quickly learned how difficult it was to create a puzzle by hand. The fact that Merl could do this for huge Sunday puzzles with theme entries right on top of each other, and even wide open themelesses, continues to blow my mind.
That first year of making puzzles, I emailed Merl a number of times asking inane beginner-level questions, but I was alway surprised by his detailed replies. When I put out a low word count puzzle in the NYT early on, Merl sent me a long and thoughtful note analyzing it. It was clear how much he loved this medium. Since then, I caught Merl at every A.C.P.T. and we'd chat about wide open grids or a particular entry on his tournament puzzle that tripped me up. His themes were invariably hilarious, and his stand-up routine was always a highlight of the weekend.
[Spoilers] For this tribute puzzle, the idea was to showcase Merl's incredible range, and his humor in particular. I looked back at years' worth of his puzzles and seemingly every one a particular theme entry would have me howling with laughter. There were so many brilliant themes I wanted to include. And of course, his genius puzzle for the Simpsons episode deserved highlighting. I hope everyone has a chance to go back and continue to be entertained and inspired by Merl's work for a long time.