I’ve been eagerly awaiting the launch of this new themeless series for the past month or so. Mr. Collins is a man on a mission—trying to make low word-count themelesses that are smooth and contemporary and highbrow and lowbrow all at once … it’s a tall order. Let’s see what’s up.
First off, I just like the way the grid looks. I see a bee or some other flying insect. What do you see? Because of the way the grid’s broken up, it doesn’t look too daunting, despite being a 60-worder. There are a lot of shorter answers where you can get a toe-hold, so I wasn’t too worried. What was weird was that the shorter answers gave me lots of trouble, and I needed up getting my toe-holds with some longer answers, a few of which were flat-out gimmes. Short stuff hard, longer stuff easy—that was my (unexpected) first impression. Behold my weird-looking grid, very early in the solve. (Note that I actually got going just by putting the -ER at the end of 23A: Like the fox, vis-a-vis the hound (never underestimate the value of desperation moves). That “R” was the only thing I needed to guess FRENCH SILK at 22D: American pie variety with a creamy filling and a somewhat misleading name.)
I got the long answer FOODBABIES immediately thereafter, off just the initial “F” (22A: Bumps after big meals). This is a weird way for me to open a themeless—spanning the grid with very little help from the short stuff. I was actually stunned when both SARONG (30D: Cover-up at the beach) and GO AGAINST (47A: Counter) worked immediately. Got worried that this thing might be too easy, but time and again, the shorter stuff actually slowed me right down.
I finally got my footing in the NW and proceeded more or less methodically and conventionally from there. And there was a lot to love here. Not much junky short stuff, and what there was was often redeemed by new or interesting clues. Really liked the APA clue, for instance (48D: Medical org. known on campuses for its style). Nice ambiguous use of “style” there (APA publishes a *writing* style guide, btw). Singular DORITO gets an apt, if unappetizing, clue (27D: Taco shell option at Taco Bell). TE AMO gets a “?” clue that should be a double-“?” clue, its slyness is so deep (6D: Bit of romance language?). “Romance” = “I love you,” but “Romance” also = the “romance language” the answer is in, i.e. Spanish. Cool.
The puzzle is also drenched in solid longer answers. The whole large NE section is really marvelous in every way. I love how CARBOLOADS is taunting ATKINS there on the other side of the grid. I also love that DEBUTS is in this puzzle series debut. I wonder if the logic behind easy longer answers (GHETTO took zero thought at all, for instance) (40D: ___ blaster (boom box)), is that it will make the puzzles accessible for those who often don’t make it to the themelesses on Fri and Sat in the NYT. I don’t know. This definitely felt … if not easy, then definitely doable. This is a good thing, even if I felt like I was getting too much for free in the long answer department. I think the film stuff gets a little Inside Baseball (film studies Mr. Collins’ thing, so it’s not surprising). The IGER / ONER intersection ended up being a fail for me. Actually, I remembered that definition of ONER from a youtube video of ONERs I saw last year sometime, but [Pixar poacher] for IGER was beyond me. I figured there was some character in a Pixar film who was a poacher, and his name was … IGOR. So I had SELONIUM, which is absurd, but the clue was sciencey enough that I just chalked SELONIUM up to my sci-ignorance. I *though* my error was down in the HUROK (!?) / EKED (??) / CAKE (?) area. I really, really guessed there, having no idea about that def. of CAKE (44D: Booty), and not knowing HUROK from TUROK, and being accustomed to seeing the “out” in EKE-type clues inside of parentheses, not free-roaming as it was here (51A: Barely got out). But no. I was good there. Died at IGOR. To my credit, I figured out that’s where the error was. But I still consider that a Miss. Oh well, I get another stab at HIGH:low in another couple weeks. Can’t wait.