Yasssss, it’s a grid kid freestyle! Don’t even think about spoiling this beautiful puzzle for yourself. Solve plz.
Sam is one of my favourite freestyle constructors (freestyle, people, not themeless. I’ve been with Matt on this for some time now: let’s make this happen). Look at this shit. LOOK AT IT!
At least in my database, Sam has debuted such dazzling entries as HIP EXAM, CARROT OIL, and TAOS REVOLT. Like Erik Agard, he’s also known to name-drop puzzlers, having used the entries DAN FEYER, EVAN BIRNHOLZ, and ANNA STIGA (a pseudonym of Stan Newman).
In this here puz, Sam treats to VAPE HIT, GYM ATTIRE, TATTOO GUN, SEX CRED, and ICE BLUE. Oh, and NEVILLE (8A: The Indie 500 co-organizer alongside Erik, Andy, Evan, and Peter), which didn’t have to be clued as an xword name-drop but actually yes, yes it did have to be. Fantastic stuff. There are many other great long entries, but those were my favourite. That the longest entries weren’t among my favourites is actually pretty typical for me. But “DON’T DO DRUGS, KIDS” (53A: Modern-day sarcastic advice from a guy who’s just gotten himself in deep shit) is pretty legit. I had never heard of JIMMY BUTLER (18D: NBA’s Most Improved Player of 2015) because I don’t sports, but thankfully those are both names that I recognize as names. Also, the NBA gives out Most Improved Player awards?! I associate “most improved player” with like token awards that they give out to shitty players on children’s rec teams.
(36A: System with “grep” and “chmod” commands) UNIX – I use these commands daily, so this was a no-brainer. Would have also accepted “It’s a ___ system. I know this!”
(32D: Grp. hoping for shared space?) SETI – This clue is out-of-this-world. See what I did there?
(39D: Toaster’s introduction) HERE’S TO… Is this a partial? I say it’s a defensibly distinct lexical unit. Plus, it can be clued without a fill-in-the-blank, so it’s got that going for it. Discuss.
(34A: Is unable to get out, perhaps?) ERRS – is this also a sporps thing
(1A: ___ Islands (major wine-exporting region) MADEIRA – I knew this from a recent LearnedLeague question…which I bombed. But! I always make a point of reading at least a little about all answers I get wrong, so that I remember for next time. Speaking of LL, I know that Sam is both a college student and a kickass LLer (or “llama”), so I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s applied for the upcoming COLLEGE JEOPARDY (17A: Game show competition whose most recent preliminary test was released in October, casually).
(21A: Porn star ___ Akira) ASA – How do you feel about porn actor names in the grid? And I don’t mean people that are at least somewhat known for things other than porn, such as Ron Jeremy or Sasha Grey, or even people who are really only known for being famous porn actors such as Jenna Jameson. Clued in such a matter-of-fact way as this, I find that it doesn’t impart any sort of bro-y or objectification-y vibe to the puzzle, but a preponderance of stuff like this could perhaps give rise to a general male gaze-iness. With a short entry like this, too, it’s hard to know whether Sam put this in here on purpose or if it just yielded the best fill, and whether he took that cluing approach as an anything-but-[Simile center] option. There are other options, but they’re not objectively better (LARP / PSA would be my fill). K that’s enough stretch-y words for things that I don’t know how to discuss in a suitably academic way.
(8D: Number of days in December?) NOEL – I love it when you interpret a ? clue using a tricky angle that the solver didn’t intend (but which is wrong). Do we have a name for this? Cause we should. Like, in this one I was all like “ohhhh, number, like numb-er, like something that makes you numb. I’m on to you Sam, you sneaky rapscallion.” So, I totes thought that this was SNOW. Or COLD. Or something that isn’t NOEL. Anyway, Sam’s clue is nonetheless brilliant. Also, I can’t use the word rapscallion without imagining a green onion wearing bling.
So, I thought that this grid was gorgeous and that there was some great cluing throughout. I’ve been awaiting another GK freestyle for a while now, and this one delivered. Thanks Sam!