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Letting Go

In a recent post and the responses to it, I detected a perverse pride in the inability to give up on a favorite entry. Well, whatever turns you on, but one of the biggest stumbling blocks that I see rookie constructors run up against is precisely this inflexibility.

There's something to be said for the satisfaction of having a clean and sparkling fill for your entire puzzle as opposed to having a drop-dead-gorgeous entry or two surrounded by some unacceptable crud.

Getting really good fills is all about making trade-offs. Often when you give up on a favorite fill entry, you're rewarded by finding another that you like just as well if not better. But even when this doesn't turn out to be true, if you want to sell puzzles on a regular basis, you have to learn when to let go. Imo, constructors would be so much better off if they were inflexible about allowing crud into their grids, rather than being inflexible about sacrificing one or two fill entries.

You also have to pick your spots. BIKINI WAX crossed by SKINNY DIP (example from original post) is worth pulling out all the stops for, imo. I'd only let go of that if I couldn't find a way to get an acceptable fill around it. But often, I see constructors struggling to hang on to some obscure or not-so-exciting entry that editors probably aren't going to like. Sometimes the reasons for this are some personal association with the entry. More often, the entry contains one or two high-scrabble-count letters even though it's pretty boring. Yet another reason for trying to hang on to a less than thrilling entry is that the constructor has come up with a clue that he or she is in love with.

One final thought. If you have a pair of entries that you really feel strongly about keeping, your best chance of succeeding is often to start your fill over with only the pair of entries you're in love with along with your theme entries if you have any. Another rookie problem I see all the time is the unwillingness to rip out more than one sector to preserve some entry or to eliminate some crud. If you find that no matter how many times you refill a sector the results are unsatisfactory, don't be afraid to back out some of the surrounding fill. There are more times than I care to think about when I've had to back out nearly a complete fill in order to eliminate one or two entries that I considered unsatisfactory.

- Nancy Salomon

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