"You mean make a themeless?" I said. "Why not?!"
The themeless really is the opportunity for the constructor to show off his/her stuff. Think of it as an opportunity for the constructor to go all Joe Satriani or Yngwie Malmsteen. But unlike the (ahem) "guitar gods'" work, people might actually enjoythe puzzle, as opposed to the obnoxious musical wankery. (Should I have gone all jazz again and talk about great improvisers? Nah, I already covered that on Monday.)
Themeless grids are typically on the wide open scale of things. Long entries stacked on each other crossing other long stacks allow for us to put more of the fun stuff like JUICE BOX, RECESSIONISTA, and HUFFINGTON POST and less of the trite old repeaters.
Where might one begin when making a themeless? Depends on the constructor. Sometimes I begin with the bottom right entry and put something a bit, well, unwieldy like ICE QUEEN, say. Most words end with those letters save for the I and the Q, so it leads to less-likely words intersecting each other. Typically we try and avoid el stinko entries at the bottom like REASSESSES, which, although those are friendly letters to constructors, they're boring as fuck entries to the solvers. That's where ROSS SEA, EYE EXAMS and TASTE TESTS comes in -- standard phrases that have appeared along the bottoms and edges of grids forever. (Raise your hand any constructors who have never used those entries before. Frank Longo, put your hand down.)
Other times I like to put a real eye-popper at the 1-Across. I figure that's where everybody's starting off, why not make that one a winner? Examples: PUB QUIZ, IS IT SOUP YET, and MARK CUBAN.
For a brief period, I was putting phrases people didn't realize they say all the time, like WHAT THE and DON'T ASK.
Of course there's the unwritten contest between all constructors to be the first to debut new words. Last year I fit TRUTHINESS at 1-Across and Stephen Colbert even picked up on it!
Should I mention the extreme cases of constructor bravado? Why not. At one point the stacking of three 15 letter entries directly on top of each other was the de factobit of showing off before computer-assisted construction became commonplace. Martin Ashwood-Smith, a cab driver out of Victoria, British Columbia, was the king of these babies, and he made these using graph paper and a pencil while waiting for a fare. He did 'em all. Three across the middle? Check. Three at the top and three at the bottom? Check. Three at the top, middle and bottom? Check. Three at the top, middle, bottom, with another 15 going down through those nine? Check. A trailblazing body of work.
Then of course there's the how-low-can-you-go variety. As of this posting, the record is a measly 52 entries, held by the aforementioned Frank Longo. That feat, folks, is bananas. Let me tell you, I have crept slowly down the word count ladder (typical daily puzzle has 78 entries, themeless max out at 72) and for each two words you get rid of, the science behind the construction just gets harder. I'm stuck at 60 entries, and I will go on the record now: 58 words and lower is the separating line of men and boys.
How-low-can-you-go isn't just for entries, mind you. Kevin Der made a tour de force themeless last year using just 18 black squares (most puzzles have about 38). I highly doubt the 52 entry and 18 black square achievements will be topped.
Anyway, this themeless puzzle has none of that record-breaking stuff. Just what I hope was a lot of fun stuff that I'd like to see in crosswords. Enjoy.