“THEMELESS 3” by Michael Sharp
Did we let Michael comment on his own puzzle? Solve it first and find out below
Constructor: Michael Sharp
Ben: Hey, I know this constructor! We’re getting the themeless early this week so that BZF can run a Halloween puzzle on Friday.
Lena: Fine by me! I’ll take that sweet sweet themeless action any day of the week.
Ben: This is excellent, as all the themelesses have been. Obviously the highlight is the unusual 14/13/12 staircase stacks — can’t remember having seen this pattern before. Makes for an unusual collection of cheater squares in the corners, but I kind of like it.
Lena: Michael sent me this grid to look at (spoiling what would have been a super fun solve for me smh) on… August 15th and I’ve been excited to see it published ever since. I can’t remember where, but I said “nice grid” and Michael asked if that was a crossword wolf-whistle. Sure why not– nice grid!
Ben: I’ve taught his book, so SHERMAN ALEXIE (13A: Author whose “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” topped the American Library Association’s “Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2014” list) was a slam dunk. (The book is excellent, by the way.)
Lena: I loved seeing real live book references! Both of the featured authors’ works are current, “hip,” important must-reads– can you handle it, tl:dr generation? “Between the World and Me” should take you 2 hours max.
Ben: Since I had a 13-letter gimme, most of the puzzle played pretty easy for me, up until the point where I had to try and remember how to spell TA-NEHISI COATES’ name. Fortunately, I know who the ALABAMA SHAKES are (57A: Southern rock band fronted by Brittany Howard), so I was able to work it out through crosses eventually. Cute cross-referenced clue too, with RISE TO THE TOP showing up as 58A: Reach No. 1, as 57-Across’s “Sound & Color” (the album, not the song).
Ben: Don’t understand the clue at all on PHAT (50D: Foxy fab). That, GREBE (46D: Pied-billed ___ (American water bird also known as “hell-diver,” “devil diver,” or “water witch”) and misspelling TA-NEHISI made the SW corner kind of a bear, though I got it in the end.
Lena: As a kid who wrote letters to Roger Tory Peterson and pretend-published a magazine entitled “Wild Brid,” GREBE was a nerd-gimme. And there’s a little WREN hiding out! I’m also not sure about [Foxy fab] but once I got the answer I thought maybe the clue was referring to Foxy Brown. Maybe?
Ben: A little fill that’s less than ideal: MAV, ELIS, PFCS, A STEP, SNO, IRR, GOV, GRP… nothing too bad. Most of it is in and around those stacks, which must have been a bear to make work. I will forgive ERE, which is clued in reference to my second-favourite Shakespeare play with 3D: “Blood hath been shed ___ now, i’ th’ olden time”: Shakespeare. Is it sad that I immediately knew the act and scene it’s from?
Lena: My main criticism regarding fill is the longer TOOLERS. Forever I am side-eyeing that -ERS fill. Like, [Butterfingerses] for DROPPERS or something… but here is where the rambling, awkward justification clue comes to the rescue (20D: Five-___ (baseball slang for position players who excel at hitting for average, hitting for power, baserunning, throwing ability, and fielding) (I swear this is a real thing)). By the end of all of that I’m chuckling and thinking “I believe you, I believe you!”
Ben: Yeah, I’d actually heard of five-TOOLERS (the term came up in Moneyball), so I glazed right on over that one.
Lena: Like yesterday, the tone is more sedate than many of the other puzzles so far. I think this is a stately themeless with clues to match– a good balance of tricky, witty, and factual.
Ben: Favourite clue: 37D: Like some red fish? for SWEDISH.
Lena: My favorite: 28A: Conclusion of a presidential address (GOV). Hee! Least favorite: 13D: Girl-oriented manga, familiarly (SHOJO). As someone who has never heard the formal term for this genre of manga, adding “familiarly” feels unfair to me. It’s not nice to the solver to slang up an already-obscure term (but maybe I should know about this and I’m just out of the loop, who knows!).
Ben: Oh, and before I forget — BuzzFeed seems to be staking out ground as a socially conscious puzzle, with the clues for WHITE PRIVILEGE (14A: Advantage often unacknowledged or denied) and CIS (39A: Gender identity that isn’t trans). More of this please!
Lena: Thanks to all the horrible everything these days, (28D: When you have one on you, you’re strapped) for GAT brought to mind depressing thoughts/images, but that’s reality. So, yes, lots and lots of pertinent social topics here– sobering, necessary topics– balanced nicely with feel-good, brain-hugging puzzliness that helps me take some of the heavier stuff off my mind for a while.