Lately, I've tried to employ this jam-packing approach to my other work. I feel that if I cram my work with tons of thematic material, although it might be easier for the solver, but hopefully more enjoyable. I think more is definitely better than less in these instances.
So here's the hitch. Let's just say for shits and grins I manage to come up with a theme with like say 8 entries. Well, in order for them to work in a small 15x grid while still applying all the rules of puzzlemaking, there's a pretty good chance I might have to stack the entries on top of each other. The late great A. J. Santoro used to do this all the time and he generally made it look effortless. More often then not, when stacking themes, the two-letter combinations that go the other way are unfriendly beast. HV, FW or ZS and the like. Even worse, they might not be so bad for one pair (the gloriously flexible ER, say), whereas the symmetrically opposed version is the oh-fuck-me PK.
Let's just say you manage to get most of the two-letter combinations to work and the fill for these corners seem doable. Inevitably, when I'm making the rest of the gird, I will agree to a pattern that originally appears to have a harmless entry D I _ _ U _ _ H, only to find while I'm making it, they're ain't nothing in any of my databases that fit that pattern. My mind goes something like this:
“Oh, fuck, oh, fuck, oh, fuck. I just spent the last fifteen minutes getting the stacked theme entries to work, and there's relatively little B.S. in the grid. Damn it! Nothing on onelook.com either except for some obscure town in Australia. Oh, fuck, oh, fuck. Frank Longo isn't even answering his IM so I can't ask him to look in his database to end all databases. Fuuuuuuuck!”
That's when the Harry Houdini act begins. I might have already gone over my hatred for Scrabble as being too constrained with the only having 7 letters to work with and the no proper nouns rules. Well, after a few more F-bombs, maybe even cracking my knuckles, or even cracking open a beer, I go to work coming up with the miracle D I _ _ U _ _ H. What's the least contrived phrase that kinda sorta sounds legitimate, but hopefully doesn't tip the scales into complete fabrication? Phrases like BLUE SHIRT or WOOD PURCHASE ain't gonna cut it. Almost all of these how-do-I-get-myself-out-of-this-mess entries are going to be a multi-word phrases, so I might being by arbitrarily splitting it up to see what words could begin a phrase. The two blanks between the I and the U seem the most promising, and after a while I came up with DID LUNCH (feel free to offer other improvments in the comments).
Superstar constructors like Byron Walden and Joe DiPietro pull this trick off all the time. Typically their work is so open or so filled with good stuff, they'll inevitably be forced to have to stretch the rules just enough to use completely plausible entires that are very colloquial, yet aren't in any dictionaries, and just barely in everyday speech. I think some solvers are on the fence about them; the case against is they're a little too contrived. Generally, I love those entries the best because, at the very least, they're completely original. And freshness is always going to win out over seeing the same old tired repeaters.
Okay, so this one has no theme, and I didn't have to resort to hoped-for miracle entries. Hope y'all enjoy it.