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A lot can change in five years. I recently unearthed this little gem, the very first 15×15 crossword I ever built in January 2009:

Evan First Crossword

Just look at that piece of horribleness. It’s got such timeless entries like SACA! A BANE! IPH! EMO DO! EARPS! SHI! ARAU! ALALA! APHIS! UPL! KCI! CONISTRA! SIR SLAM! TACO RICE! ASIAN CHIMES! DEATH SPIRAL TRAPS! Even NLER is in the grid, but that looks good by comparison. And can you believe I went to the trouble to clue the puzzle? I did. DEATH SPIRAL TRAPS was [Financial vortexes which are hard to escape?]. EMO DO was [Punk rock coif?]. I combined SIR SLAM with A LOT in the northwest corner as a reference to SIR SLAM-A-LOT, an obscure, old Detroit Pistons mascot.

At least I had the good sense not to submit that puzzle anywhere. It’s like a greatest hits collection, if every hit on it was “The Macarena” looped for 24 hours straight. But the point is, every crossword constructor goes through that beginning phase when you don’t know what you’re doing — when you don’t have the software, don’t know which references to consult, and don’t know what makes a good puzzle. Well, it’s possible the three Crossword Jesuses as defined by Brendan Emmett Quigley came out of the womb building fresh and fun grids, but I certainly didn’t. Hell, as you can see, I built that first grid using the Insert Table option in Microsoft Word.

I’ve gotten much better at this whole puzzle thing in the last five years. My grids have certainly gotten sassier, if not classier.

Enjoy today’s puzzle — there should be a new one on March 1. Be sure and check out next Saturday’s New York Times puzzle. That one will be from yours truly.

(Oh, and if you’d like to receive an e-mail reminder about Devil Cross puzzles, join the Google Group here.)

Update, 2/15/14 @ 11:45 pm: An astute commenter (simpsonsfan) pointed out that I had a typo in the clue for 57-Down. I’ve since corrected it. Sorry about that.