MGWCC #069 -- Friday, September 25th, 2009 -- "Not Themeless"

Good afternoon, crossword fans -- welcome to Week 69 of my contest. If you're new to the contest and would like to enter, please see the site FAQ on the left sidebar for instructions.


Pretty much everyone dug last week's fun theme, even those many who didn't wind up solving the meta. Only 93 solvers found CHANGE BENGALS (or BENGALS CHANGE), which was last week's contest answer (solution at top left).

These solvers noticed that four sets of famous twins concealed themselves in the puzzle's four theme entries:

KON-TIKI RONDEAUX -- Tiki and Ronde Barber (football stars)
PLEIADES FLUKES -- Leia Organa and Luke Skywalker (of "Star Wars")
SCABBY HANNIBAL -- Ann Landers and Abigail "Dear Abby" van Buren (advice columnists)
JACOBIN THESAURI -- Jacob and Esau (Biblical figures)

The other famous set hiding in the grid were the original Siamese twins, Chang and Eng Bunker, concealed in 12-down and 66-across -- and, ironically, the only pair of twins separated in the grid.

T.B. writes:

Now here's a strange coincidence. My wife and I live in Durham, NC with our kids, and have thought (dreamed, really) about buying a country house somewhere within a few hours' driving distance. A couple of weeks ago she sent me this listing:


Someone oughta turn this into a twin-themed bed and breakfast.

This week's winner, whose name was chosen at random from the 93 correct entries received, is Laura Dove of Longmeadow, Mass. Laura has selected as her prize an autographed copy of Sip & Solve Hard Crosswords.


Brendan Quigley has been having a lot of fun with themeless puzzles lately (my favorite recent one is here), so I've decided to jump on the bandwagon this week.

It's been a few years since I last constructed a themeless 15x15. It used to be my preferred form, but around 2000 I abandoned ship as database-aided constructors and their shockingly open grids convinced me that competing against the silicon monsters on their home turf was increasingly futile. But I did experience a pleasant nostalgia jumping back into the game this week, and, if you'll kindly turn a blind eye to a few three-letter clunkers in the SE corner (hey, I'm rusty), you'll likely enjoy it as well.

Speaking of themelesses: take a gander at this stunning 21x21 themeless Trip Payne just posted on his site (scroll down to puzzle #44, dated Sept. 22, 2009):


When I first saw this grid a couple of days ago, a conundrum presented itself: I had always been under the (correct, as it turns out) impression that Trip doesn't use a database when writing his puzzles, yet I also couldn't believe that a human could fill such a striking grid with high-quality entries unassisted by a computer.[UPDATE: see Trip's clarification in comments on what it means to construct a puzzle "unassisted by a computer" -- I use that phrase to mean "without using autofill," not without manual access to a word list.]

Amazingly, though, that's just what Trip did. I asked him how long this grid took -- my guess was 25 hours -- but he said it was difficult to estimate, since he chipped away at it off and on over a period of several months. So perhaps my guess was conservative. At any rate, a beautiful piece of work -- take that, silicon monsters!


With last week's meta yielding only double-digit correct entries and Hell Month lurking eerily around the corner, I've decided to take a kinder, gentler and altogether different tack with this week's contest.

Despite its title, today's puzzle is indeed themeless. One problem, though: I've always disliked the phrase "themeless crossword," since it's negative, stressing what's not there (a theme) over what is there (generally livelier vocabulary than themed puzzles).

This week's contest will be to come up with a better term for "themeless crossword." The best entry will win a book from the site sidebar plus a MGWCC pen, pencil and notepad set -- oh, and cruciverbal immortality, since I'll start using the winning term exclusively on this site instead of "themeless."

E-mail your entry to me at crosswordcontest@gmail.com by Tuesday at noon ET. Please put your phrase/term/neologism in the subject line of your e-mail. Note: any entry submitted will count as correct towards the monthly pen, pencil and notepad prize drawing.

To print the puzzle out, click on the image below and hit "print" on your browser. To solve using Across Lite download the free software here, then join the Google Group (854 members now!) here.

Solve well, and be not led astray by words intended to deceive. See you in HELL MONTH!

1 comment:

Trip said...

Thanks for the link and the nice comments. One slight correction: while I don't have my own database, I do use various online databases, such as cruciverb and onelook, for pattern searches to supplement what I can think of on my own. I don't have the computer try out possibilities in the grid, though, so I think it is fair to say that I basically construct by hand.