Static Signal - Themeless #6
The last time I made a themeless puzzle that I was really proud of (A Challenging Segue - Themeless #3), it came to be by taking two entries I really wanted to use, crossing them, and building from there. So I decided to try that strategy again!
Usually I don't have too much trouble staying in the 66- to 68-word range for themeless grids, but this one really put up a fight. It just seemed like even with 72 words, I could never quite get everything that I wanted in there, but I guess that's what happens when you make a Corner Stacks puzzle with seed entries that aren't even part of the stacks.
The story of this puzzle can very easily be distilled into chapters, as told by the versions of full grid fills I made throughout the process. We'll start with Version 1:
Weirdly, if I had to choose a second-best version of the grid, it would be this version. I love the arrangement of black squares, I love the wide-open NW & SE corners, and I love LOSS MEME, DENOUEMENT, and ONE HAS TO GO (the Twitter meme format). But ultimately I decided to do the responsible thing and keep optimizing for the best possible fill options.
I think I decided to see Version 2 through to the end purely because of the PRESS ANY KEY / WORD SALAD / RIP A NEW ONE combo, where were all 3 entries that I have scored very highly, and I was floored to see that they could all coexist happily and fill (relatively) cleanly. The downsides are definitely not worth it though, IN ABEYANCE alone nearly rules out this fill as a real possibility.
Version 3 was an attempt at shrinking the NW & SE a bit (lengthening the stacks in the NE & SW by one), and prioritizing the fill for the long slots in the SW & SE first, instead of the NW & SE. I love the bottom of the grid just fine, but the constraints really caught up to me by the time I got to the top, as evidenced by the double stack of THIRD CLASS (which I would've clued as the type of lever) & MAKE EYES AT, and especially the flavorless AROUND HERE.
Version 4 is somehow the worst one yet, looking at it in retrospect. Not sure what was so inspiring to cause me to fill the whole grid instead of change approaches. It's possible this was my attempt of raising the floor (having every entry be pretty decent, at the expense of some true marquee entries), instead of raising the ceiling (trying to jam-pack as many seed-level entries into the puzzle, trade-offs be damned).
WHAT DIED is god-tier fill though, nobody take that pls
Version 5 is the first appearance of AISLING BEA / STALE GREEN, which I became immediately attached to as soon as I found it. In this first version, however, I just found that entries like TELEMUNDO and KINKSHAMING, despite being great entries, didn't resonate personally with me, and I didn't feel strongly about putting them in a puzzle with my name on it.