At Lollapuzzoola this year, Kevin Der came up to me and said let's make a themeless puzzle. And my response, of course, was "hellz yeah." And let me tell you a couple things, Kevin's "Quality Control" setting is capital D Demanding. I gave him the seed answer at 51-Across, and of course he comes back with said answer in a solid 4x8 chunk of whitespace. Ridiculous. That meant I had to do the same thing with his seed answer, the symmetrically placed 19-Across. Good times. The "QC" didn't end there as Kevin Flat Out Refused to use any extra black squares in the remaining corners. Ergo, the equally ridiculous slabs in the northeast and southwest. All-told 66 words, with only 6 threes. Outrageous.
When it came to writing clues, Kevin demanded that this be The Hardest Puzzle Of The Year, and well, he didn't disappoint. His half of the cluing made me laugh out loud when I read them, and that didn't include some of the fine "?" clues. I burst out laughing at how demandingly twisted the clues were. So, undaunted, I rolled up my sleeves and got down and dirty with the cluing too. Pour yourself another cup of something strong. You'll need it.
Thanks Kev, that was a workout. Glad to run it here, and at the very least, it gives me an excuse to run that old picture of the two of us up above. We were so young, once.
Share the puzzle. New one on Thursday.