Hello again. I've been out of the NYT themeless game for a solid half-decade, but it hasn't been for any lack of trying. I've still been constructing and cluing and submitting as much as ever, but the competition for a weekend spot in the Times has just gotten insanely tough. Considering what fantastic work the Agards and Weintraubs and Waldens and McCartys and Collinses and Pascos of the world are cranking out on a regular basis, it's an honor just to sneak in there with one Saturday puzzle of my own every few years.
I'm really happy with this one. I especially liked DEAD AS A DOORNAIL — it may seem to some like a fairly blah 15-letter entry, but it holds sentimental value for me. My grandfather, the original Evans Clinchy, had an annual tradition of reading "A Christmas Carol" to the family every Christmas Eve. He passed away in 2009, but I still have fond memories of all my relatives gathered around the living room fireplace and my granddad reading that opening sentence: "Old Marley was as dead as a doornail..."
I was playing around a couple of years ago with my favorite 15s, trying to find pairs of them that stacked nicely, and I came across DEAD AS A DOORNAIL and OLD ACQUAINTANCE. Once I had that dynamic duo, the rest of the grid practically constructed itself. I was lucky to have a few fun bonuses like ROCKS OUT and DREAM ON fall into place along the way.
That this grid also includes not one, not two, not three, but four references to delicious, delicious meat is a happy coincidence.
So this is my second crossword published in the Times, and if you compare this puzzle with my previous one, you'll notice a host of similarities. Both are themeless, both feature stacks of 11-letter entries across the top and bottom three rows, and both are built around the seed entry of a famous NBA player. Last time, back in 2014, it was KEVIN DURANT; this time, I give you Kareem ABDUL-JABBAR. I swear, I have other ambitions in life beyond cramming as many basketball players as possible into Times puzzles. Eventually I'll have no names left to play with besides FESTUS EZELI or someone equally obscure. I should quit now while I'm ahead.
Anyway. This puzzle was a joy to construct — I remember it began with the realization that the fun CARTOONLIKE fit perfectly beneath ABDUL-JABBAR, and it all flowed from there. I liked getting to sneak in PERIWIGS (which I've always thought is a cool word, no?) and ONE-TWO PUNCH.
Including the name LOUIS C.K. in a puzzle was always something of a bucket-list goal, as the comedian has always been a favorite of mine. Funny, though — I thought I was so original for including Louie at the time I wrote this puzzle, as he'd never been featured before. Then his name showed up three times shortly thereafter — once each in November 2014, January 2015 and March 2015. Great minds think alike, or something? At least I had the neat twist of crossing the comic's name with TITLE ROLE, since he has one on his FX show. It's the little victories.
As for the clues, I'm happy with a few that I wrote (especially the "pyramid scheme" wordplay for CHEERLEADER), but I'm equally grateful for Will sprucing up some of my duller clues with some flavorful ideas of his own. "One who can see right through you?" for RADIOLOGIST is great. Wish I'd thought of that. Also the BAHRAIN clue in the print edition includes a picture of Bahrain's flag, which is crazy. I didn't even know that was a thing.
I'm particularly proud of this themeless puzzle as it features the seed entry of one of my favorite pro athletes, KEVIN DURANT of the Oklahoma City Thunder. I'd love to say I knew exactly how big Durant's star would become when I originally conceived this puzzle, but that's not the case. I got lucky. When I first constructed this themeless back in late 2012, Durant was just a 24-year-old kid with a dream (and, OK, three NBA scoring titles). I had no idea he'd become a league MVP, nor did I anticipate that 15-Across, BREAKING BAD, was gearing up for an amazing final season that would place it among the best TV shows of all time. Again, fortuitously timed for this puzzle. Thank you, Vince Gilligan.
I was pleased with my construction of this grid, featuring the stacked 11s in the corners and the 15-letter GREASE THE WHEELS through the middle. The fill actually came together with relative ease — I finished off the bottom half first in a rather contained fashion, allowing for a great deal of freedom in the top half. I was basically able to include two seed entries, which made me giddy to no end.
As for my cluing, it can still use some work, to be sure. I give Will all the credit for sprucing mine up (and thereby elevating the difficulty to Saturday level). And hey, at least he kept my "Manhattan architect?" clue for BARTENDER.