Hope your ho ho ho was hunky dory. A little early this week, since I've got this band swap thing going on tonight, and I imagine I'll be slaving away over a hot bass for most of the night. If you're in the Greater Regina Area Tuesday night, come check it out at the Exchange. All proceeds go to Charmichael Outreach, which is a great group based just down the street from me.
Puzzle-wise, we're bucking the trend once again here at Cross Nerd central: no "Best of 2011", "Worst of 2011", "Year in Review", or "2011 Obituaries" theme, just a themeless double header. I've got nothing against the aforementioned workhorse themes, but I'm not much for tradition at the best of times, and besides, those themes tend to come off as pseudo-themeless puzzles packed with modern names, buzz-words, and trends. Since I like to pack my themeless puzzles with modern names, buzz-words, and trends, well, you get the idea. I had planned to release just the 11x13 mini-themeless #1, but, as some of you may know, Dec. 21 was an important birthday, and I felt I should commemorate it (obviously belatedly, but with the holiday goings-on and a desire to keep my posts somewhat regular, I opted to hold off until today). The 11x11 mini-themeless #2 was actually the first of the mini series, which I made a month or so ago. Remarkably, 11-Across, which originally held 13-Across, which originally held POWERRANGER, admitted the celebratory entry nicely, and the surrounding fill actually improved. This was an audacious manoeuvre and I was lucky to pull it off, but I felt that the occasion would be fittingly commemorated by pointing out the celebrant's staying power, and running its age parallel to some very contemporary answer words seemed to me the best way to do so.
As for the construction, you may be wondering about the unusual sizes. Let me begin be telling all y'all n00bs out there that themeless puzzles are expected to be somewhat more "open" than themed puzzles, and packed with juicy entries; since there's no one overarching "aha" moment, as many entries as possible should be satisfying solves in themselves. Now, I rock this shit old-school (actually middle-school is probably more accurate), and construct with pencil and paper, using www.onelook.com, Matt Ginsberg's clue database, and my own wordlist search utility to match letter patterns for long entries and difficult corners (although I did get a copy of Crossword Compiler for Christmas, and I'm excited to give it a try). Now the point I'm trying to make is that constructing a good, satisfying themeless is difficult, especially doing it the middle-school way, and I just don't have the time to turn out a 15x15 themeless in a week. Plus, I really like the 11x13 grid design in mt #1. It's admittedly unimpressive from a construction standpoint, as I copped out of the 9-letter triple stacks in the corners and the spanning seed entries (the ones crossing in the center) completely partition the grid into four, which lowers constraints considerably. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I will take an unremarkable grid layout over fugly fill any day of the week. I was able to cram into these two puzzles a ton of original long-entries without making any serious compromises. Expect more entries in the mini-themeless series.
tl;dr - small puzzles = snappier fill. Would construct again.
Share and enjoy the puzzles, have a safe and happy New Year's Eve, and I'll see you on the first Tuesday of 2012.
Puzzle: Mini Themeless #1 & #2
Metaphorical Difficulty: Entering your password on one of those laptop keyboards that have the weird '/' keys in front of Enter and Left-Shift (seriously, have you ever tried one of those?)
Download the PDF and PUZ files here, or solve or download the Across Lite puzzle and/or software from the Java app below.