To study essential maternal gene requirements in the early C. elegans embryo, we have screened for temperature-sensitive, embryonic lethal mutations in an effort to bypass essential zygotic requirements for such genes during larval and adult germline development. With conditional alleles, multiple essential requirements can be examined by shifting at different times from the permissive temperature of 15°C to the restrictive temperature of 26°C. Here we describe 24 conditional mutations that affect 13 different loci and report the identity of the gene mutations responsible for the conditional lethality in 22 of the mutants. All but four are mis-sense mutations, with two mutations affecting splice sites, another creating an in-frame deletion, and one creating a premature stop codon. Almost all of the mis-sense mutations affect residues conserved in orthologs, and thus may be useful for engineering conditional mutations in other organisms. We find that 62% of the mutants display additional phenotypes when shifted to the restrictive temperature as L1 larvae, in addition to causing embryonic lethality after L4 upshifts. Remarkably, we also found that 13 out of the 24 mutations appear to be fast-acting, making them particularly useful for careful dissection of multiple essential requirements. Our findings highlight the value of C. elegans for identifying useful temperature-sensitive mutations in essential genes, and provide new insights into the requirements for some of the affected loci.