Finally, I'm back! Another themeless today, this one constructed around two entries that I wanted to use specifically because of their clues, not just because of the words themselves. I hope you enjoy!
It was such an uphill battle (as it always is) to get this grid out of Unfillable Hell, but I finally managed to pull it off... with an extra black square at the first letter of 13D. I let that version sit for a few days before deciding I wasn't gonna be happy until I had a grid with double stacks, and got to work trying to fill the grid layout you see in the final puzzle. Evidently, I succeeded, and I'm very proud of the result, definitely worth the extra effort. (More info underneath the puzzle!)
Thanks so much to both of you for your feedback and support! 💕
Finally, if there's anything I can do to get more people to check out 50A, maybe this will help. The show is so dang underrated, man. (SPOILERS, obviously).
I've been keeping a spreadsheet of ideas for funny/clever clues and their corresponding answers for a little while now, and I realized that, except for maybe the shorter words, I'd never get the chance to use most of them unless I made them my seed entries. So that's where it all started: with the idea that I should just select two from the list and go to town.
[Relief sculpture?] for MANNEKEN PIS was a recent favorite addition, and [Two-factor authentication?] for PRIMALITY TEST was one of the 13's that didn't make the cut in my previous themeless. In addition, I had a pretty lengthy discussion on Crosscord back in March about that word/clue combo and made the promise that it would appear in a grid soon. With those two entries in mind, it was time to fire up Crossfire.
With one of the two words being a central entry (centry?), there are only two ways they can interlock (in a 15x15):
Of course, there's no rule saying they have to interlock, but it felt like a reasonable place to start. Without any constraints, the options become unmanageable too fast for my brain to handle. I actually tried the first arrangement first, which led to some promising results early on:
But this ended up being unfillable, and it's the kind of arrangement where any movement of black squares causes a chain reaction of plugging gaps and filling holes or clearing room and making space. I decided it was time to shift gears and try a new arrangement.
Now is probably a good time to mention that throughout the entire construction phase of this grid, I had MANNEKEN PIS as the central vertical entry. I've been working on this grid for over a month, and I only transposed the grid about a week ago so I could start the clues. So while, as the solver, you're accustomed to seeing the grid in its final version, the transposed version you're about to see feels like home to me!
I found early success with this arrangement too, and each time I re-shuffled the black squares to see if I could jostle loose any major breakthroughs, it always seemed like new possibilities came up. One version had an absolutely killer MONIKER / MIDDLING / ...MOMENT region that unfortunately didn't work out in the end, and one version had some early ventures into double-stacking.
As I mentioned earlier, I couldn't get those double stacks to work at first, so I ended up making the first fully-filled grid using the 68-word layout on the left:
Looking at it now, there's so much I don't like about it. DMVS? GOES AT? DUE FOR? Yuck. But the main thing that kept bothering me was that black square under OUCH (and LEVEE). I knew I would always feel like I was leaving something better on the table if I didn't push myself to try those double stacks again. Whatever it took, I knew I wouldn't be proud of this grid until I filled a 66-worder without that black square.
And somehow I managed to make it work. All it took was adding an extra cheater square to turn the L shape (above LEVEE in the previous image) into a T shape, and finding another entirely new arrangement of squares in the middle. Oh! And several more hours of work! But my god, the final grid is light years better than V1. I definitely made the right call.