Saturday, May 28, 2022, Karen Steinberg

 Saturday Themeless by Karen Steinberg

Karen and David
Hi Gary,

I'm the mom of crossword constructor and editor David Steinberg; I'm also a writer and psychologist, even though in high school math was my favorite subject and an occupational interest test told me I should become a computer programmer (!).  As a teenager I solved crosswords in magazines and logic puzzles in books but stopped when I got to college.  I didn't start up again until more than 35 years later, when David began constructing.

Though I use a Mac, I was familiar with Crossword Compiler from helping David with the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project, and in 2017 I decided to build a puzzle myself by placing theme entries into Crossword Compiler and having it suggest the grid design.  That puzzle ended up in the Orange County Register crossword, which David was editing; a second one I built using the same grid-design strategy was published as part of David's "Women's March" month of puzzles at Universal.  I realized, though, that if I really wanted to try constructing, I'd have to learn how to build my own grids, and I wanted to do that on the Mac, so David showed me how to work with CrossFire.

Back to the puzzle.  This one came about because I'd never been a real fan of themelesses—to me, they just weren't as interesting and seemed like anyone could construct one by sticking in a bunch of trendy phrases or words with Z's or X's.  I also thought they'd be really easy to construct, so after collecting a few interesting words, I decided to give it a try.

I don't remember what the original seed entry for the puzzle was, though it may have been BYE FELICIA, which is in my earliest screen captures of the grid (the way I keep track ot things!) but which, because of fill issues, didn't make it to the end.  Because I'm really a theme person, I immediately began envisioning the puzzle as depicting a sort of party-like environment on reality TV in which someone might do a quick VIBE CHECK, ask a potential partner  "ARE YOU GAME?", see if he or she had some CLAIM TO FAME, note all the TATTOOED body parts, eat some LAVA CAKE (accidentally BUTT DIALING a friend when seated), move on to a new person ("SEE YA LATER"), and hope for an eventual DREAM DATE.

Patti had a few really good changes she wanted me to try to make—in particular, improving the short fill in the corners and sides of the grid and getting rid of FAKIE.  I made the changes (including replacing FAKIE with CUTIE), and the puzzle was accepted.  I don't remember any particular area being tough to fill—I go into a sort of Zen-like state when I'm filling and will just sit there for hours, from first thing in the morning till last thing at night, looking at all the good options for each word and then seeing what effect each has on the rest of the fill.  I can easily sit there doing that for two days straight—I've always been the sort of person who works in an extremely focused way over a relatively short period of time rather than steadily plodding away at something off and on for months.

Karen, Paul and son David had the first
 "Family Puzzle" in the NYT on 5/22/22
Anyway, I came away from my "themeless experiment" with a newfound respect for the genre and its constructors.  Themelesses aren't any easier to construct—in fact, in some ways, they're harder, because you have to be more willing to let some really good entries that you'd planned to include fall by the wayside.  So, lesson learned! 😳 


1. "How we all doing?," e.g.: VIBE CHECK - A standard audience greeting for a comedian

10. Waiter at a stand: CAB - Uber will come to you

13. "Wanna?": ARE YOU GAME.

15. Thurman of "Hysterical Blindness": UMA - A 20-yr-old movie

16. Forte: CLAIM TO FAME.

18. Pin in the back: TEN It's easy to miss

19. Wii forerunner: NES - Nintendo Entertainment System

20. Attacking surfers, maybe: TROLLING - Delete and move on

22. Exasperated cry: AARGH 

25. Drew on?: TATTOOED - Fun clue

26. One of the "Black-ish" parents: DRE - On the right below. The role is played by Anthony Anderson who I best remember as a detective on Law And Order

27. Digital permission: E-CONSENT - Okay

29. Domingo, e.g.: DIA - DIA is "day" and Domingo is "Sunday" in Spanish 

30. Performs like Saweetie: RAPS - Google if you must. Her RAP lyrics and costumes are unprintable here.

31. Management level: TIER.

35. Curiosities: MARVELS - Yes, they could be

37. "Black Panther" setting: WAKANDA - WAKANDA is an imaginary East African country for this super hero movie. Some of the filming like this scene was done in a rock quarry in Stonebridge, Georgia. 

40. Queen of Arendelle: ELSA.

41. Louboutin item: SHOE - Hey, the shipping is free! C.C. told me that 
a) she was familiar with this brand
b) They are famous for the bottom of the shoe being red
c) she would never spend that much on a shoe.

42. Cacophony: DIN.

43. Dessert that can be microwaved in a mug: LAVA CAKE 

47. __ factor: ICK.

48. Something that can't miss: A SURE BET Fugue For Tinhorns

50. Natl. Merit Scholarship hurdles: PSATS and 59. Coll. test: GRE - We get tested a lot here with GRE, SAT, PSAT, ACT, LSAT and MCAT

52. Go out briefly: TAKE A NAP - Oh, "out" as in asleep! 

53. LG rival: RCA - RCA TV's are now made by the Curtis International in Canada

54. Poke bowl option: AHI - Poke means to cut or slice in Hawaiian. Here is some AHI tuna on top of a poke bowl

55. Making a booty call?: BUTT DIALING - Fun clue

60. Sofa bed site: DEN.

61. "Peace": SEE YA LATER - The first Today host in the 50's, David Garroway, said singed off at the end of the show by saying "Peace" with this gesture.

62. Spots: ADS.

63. Romantic ideal: DREAM DATE - Before he was famous, Steve Martin was picked as a DREAM DATE on Dating Game


1. Short sucker?: VAC - Oh, VAC is short for vacuum! 

2. Not over Zoom, say: Abbr.: IRL - In Real Life. 

3. Arthur who appeared on "All in the Family": BEA - Before she was famous, BEA was a marine during WWII

4. Considering: EYING.

5. Attractive words?: COME HERE - Depending on inflection these words can be attractive or demanding

6. Humble abodes: HUTS - Alan Turing worked on deciphering Enigma in HUT 8 at Bletchley Park during WWII

7. Nwodim of "SNL": EGO 

8. Loose garments: CAFTANS - Morrocan 
9. Disappearing discount stores: K-MARTS

10. Pie type?: CUTIE.

11. Modify: AMEND 

12. [Just like that!]: BANG - I do the puzzle, blog it and BANG, I'm done!

14. Fake feelings: EMOTE - A range...

17. University with a law school at Greensboro: ELON - North Carolina's favorite University cwd fill

21. Host of, casually: LOTTA - Emcee seemed right for a while

22. Online request: ADD ME - I've asked several constructors to ADD ME as a FaceBook friend and they all have

23. Basic font: ARIAL - ARIAL

24. Parents: REARS - Verb

25. Tanks, e.g.: TOPS - Most golf courses do not allow tank TOPS to be worn

28. Berkeley, to sports fans: CAL - The ending of the 1982 Cal Berkley/Stanford game was perhaps the most unusual finish in the history of college football.

32. Birthplace of novelist Rohinton Mistry: INDIA - A Canadian man born in India

33. Order: EDICT.

34. Orders: RANKS - Theme parks in RANK Order

36. "Antiques Roadshow" determination: VALUE.

37. Unfriendly way to answer the phone: WHAT - I was doing the puzzle on the swing next to my DW. I said out loud said, "Unfriendly way to answer the phone" and she said, "WHAT?" I repeated the clue and she said, "What" again. I laughed out loud when I realized we had a "Who's on first?" routine going. 

38. "No problemo!": A-OK.

39. "Just relax": KEEP CALM.

41. Regal rod: SCEPTER - QEII with hers and her orb 69 years ago 

44. Part of UAE: ARAB.

45. "__ of the Louvre": Emma Lazarus poem: VENUS Here ya go

46. Let up: ABATED.

48. Followed a doctor's order?: AAHED 

49. Frontier trader's goods: SKINS Museum Of The Fur Trade in Chadron, NE

51. Leaves for lunch: SALAD - Oh, these leaves

52. "Did it!": TADA.

53. Anti-piracy org.: RIAA.
56. Go dark?: DYE.

57. "Make __ double": IT A - Some days after 8 hours with 7th graders...

58. Barclays Center player: NET - Home of the Brooklyn NETS

BONUS: Karen added this for great insight!!

As for clues that were changed, I've highlighted them in your list below and added the original clue in brackets:

1. "How we all doing?," e.g.: VIBE CHECK [Room read, say]

10. Waiter at a stand: CAB. [Waving might or might not make it stop]

13. "Wanna?": ARE YOU GAME.

15. Thurman of "Hysterical Blindness": UMA
16. Forte: CLAIM TO FAME -  [Reason for noteworthiness]

18. Pin in the back: TEN - [Percenter preceder]

19. Wii forerunner: NES - [Classic console inits.]

20. Attacking surfers, maybe: TROLLING [Deliberately provocative online activity]

22. Exasperated cry: AARGH [Anguished cry]

25. Drew on?: TATTOOED. [Like the bodies of many "Bachelor" contestants]

26. One of the "Black-ish" parents: DRE. [Dr. whose last "name" is one more letter than his first]

27. Digital permission: ECONSENT.

29. Domingo, e.g.: DIA.

30. Performs like Saweetie: RAPS. [26-Across's songs]

31. Management level: TIER. [College selectivity descriptor]

35. Curiosities: MARVELS. [2022 superhero film based on comics (with "The")]

37. "Black Panther" setting: WAKANDA. [Black Panther's fictional home]

40. Queen of Arendelle: ELSA. [Kenyan lioness]

41. Louboutin item: SHOE. [One might be worn with its rearranged letters]

42. Cacophony: DIN. [Brouhaha]

43. Dessert that can be microwaved in a mug: LAVACAKE. [Dessert that's molten in the middle]

47. __ factor: ICK. [":o=!!!"]

48. Something that can't miss: ASUREBET. [It might be too good to be true]

50. Natl. Merit Scholarship hurdles: PSATS.

52. Go out briefly: TAKEANAP. [Conk out in the afternoon]

53. LG rival: RCA. [Classic brand with a dog and phonograph logo]

54. Poke bowl option: AHI. [In Hawaii, tuna that refers to two species]

55. Making a booty call?: BUTTDIALING.

60. Sofa bed site: DEN. [Sofabed site]

61. "Peace": SEEYALATER. ["I'm out!']

62. Spots: ADS. [Many pop-ups]

63. Romantic ideal: DREAMDATE. [Perfect romantic encounter]

1. Short sucker?: VAC.

2. Not over Zoom, say: Abbr.: IRL. [How a texter might want to meet a Tinder match]

3. Arthur who appeared on "All in the Family": BEA. ["All in the Family" guest star Arthur]

4. Considering: EYING.

5. Attractive words?: COMEHERE. [Possible meaning of a wave]

6. Humble abodes: HUTS.

7. Nwodim of "SNL": EGO. [A humble person has a small one]

8. Loose garments: CAFTANS. [Middle Eastern robes]

9. Disappearing discount stores: KMARTS. [Big box stores that have declined from 2,486 to less than 20]

10. Pie type?: CUTIE.

11. Modify: AMEND. [Change by formal procedure]

12. [Just like that!]: BANG. [Big one?]

14. Fake feelings: EMOTE. [Many soap stars do it]

17. University with a law school at Greensboro: ELON. [Floki "Frunkpuppy" owner Musk]

21. Host of, casually: LOTTA. ["Whole ___ Love" (1969 Led Zeppelin hit)]

22. Online request: ADDME. [LinkedIn request]

23. Basic font: ARIAL. [Disney princess's favorite font]

24. Parents: REARS.

25. Tanks, e.g.: TOPS. [Tanks and tubes]

28. Berkeley, to sports fans: CAL. [Stanford nemesis, for short]

32. Birthplace of novelist Rohinton Mistry: INDIA. [Largest democracy in the world]

33. Order: EDICT. [Directive]

34. Orders: RANKS.

36. "Antiques Roadshow" determination: VALUE. [A comic book's might increase with age]

37. Unfriendly way to answer the phone: WHAT. [Information-gatherer's question]

38. "No problemo!": AOK.

39. "Just relax": KEEPCALM. [Emergency advice]

41. Regal rod: SCEPTER. [Queen's rod]

44. Part of UAE: ARAB. [Spring preceder]

45. "__ of the Louvre": Emma Lazarus poem: VENUS. [Out-of-this-world first name in tennis]

46. Let up: ABATED. [Decreased in intensity]

48. Followed a doctor's order?: AAHED. [Reacted to fireworks, maybe]

49. Frontier trader's goods: SKINS. [Cheesy potato parts]

51. Leaves for lunch: SALAD. [Caesar, for one]

52. "Did it!": TADA.

53. Anti-piracy org.: RIAA. [Music piracy org. whose initials anagrams to an opera highlight]

56. Go dark?: DYE. [Turn purple, perhaps]

57. "Make __ double": ITA. [Make ___ rule]

58. Barclays Center player: NET. [Ball blocker]

59. Coll. test: GRE. [Test that's some work another way]