Let’s check in on Todd McClary’s puzzle series with UNTHEMELY #87. Todd has a book of freestyle crosswords coming out this fall, which should be well worth buying. You can see the cover art (and solve this puzzle) here before reading on.
Have to admit, this puzzle kicked my ass. It took almost an hour for me to solve, which is surprising, because it’s mostly very clean. But there are a few entries that I’ve never heard of near some tough clues, and the result was a challenge.
By far the hardest thing here was MOVIEOKE (15A: It may prompt bar patrons to make a scene). I’ve never even heard of this film-dub version of karaoke, but apparently it’s been around since 2003. Maybe it’s an American thing? The NW corner also has the lovely RIVER STYX clued hard as 4D: Flower associated with death. That’s what I like about crosswords — I always learn something! Thank god for SMERSH (1D: Soviet agcy. in James Bond stories), which was a slam dunk start to the puzzle.
The opposite SE corner was manageable. Didn’t know ELITCH Gardens in Denver, but the rest was fine. I liked AUDIO TOUR (32D: Museum visitor’s download) and hope to have time to do one at the Smithsonian when I’m in DC for the Indie 500 tournament in June.
The NE is lovely, with SQUARE PEG (20A: Proverbial misfit) crossing NESQUIK (8D: Drink with a bunny mascot) — awesome use of the Q! — and WAR GAMES (14D: Military exercises).
I’m less thrilled with the SW, where I almost hit a wall at BOTA BAGS (33D: Wineskins), ANACREON (34D: Ancient Greek known for drinking songs) and BY GEORGE! (35D: “Zounds!”) crossing BROMANTIC (52A: Like some Judd Apatow comedies). That took forever to work out. Figuring out GO GRAY (60A: Show signs of age) finally cracked that corner — I couldn’t see it because I spell it “grey”.
On the whole, very nice work. There’s a little glue (UBID, A DUE, KERB, SLOE, ARTE, BBB, etc.) but nothing egregious and plenty of strong long entries to balance it out. Nothing hugely memorable, but an enjoyable, challenging puzzle.