“This Is America” (Themeless)

[.puz][PDF][Solution] 🇺🇸 Difficulty: 4/5

For me, themeless puzzles are poetry; themed puzzles are prose.

Now, I’m not a poet. Sometime last year I sold my 100th crossword for publication; 100/100 were themed grids. I take immense satisfaction in developing puzzles with an identifiable–and hopefully elegant and unexpected–raison d’être.

As a solver, I relish both styles. A well-constructed theme *snaps* into focus with a satisfying “Aha!” moment. An elegant themeless grid washes over me in a more ethereal way, with the various answer words–and the tone and tenor of the clues–doing a subtle worldbuild under the hood as I go.

And without any thematic constraints, the themeless grid in particular prompts me to wonder about the constructor behind the choices. What do they love? What are their political priorities? Where did they come from?

On a related note, I’ve decided to start including a sort of “Vibe Check” with puzzles that I publish on this site. I believe strongly in representation and equity, so logging *who* makes it into my puzzles feels like a good way to stay aware of my own artistic choices. I’d love feedback on this, but at least for this week I’m going to log gender breakdowns and % of non-Hispanic white people–both real and fictional–who I include in each puzzle’s answers and clues.


This is a 66-word themeless grid with 41 black squares. I originally started with a grid that had black squares at the A in DONALD GLOVER (and the second C in INCANDESCENT), but after some futzing, I decided to go with a lower word count. At that point, I seeded the puzzle with the intersecting DEAD DROP and DONALD GLOVER, and went from there.

I keep coming back to Glover’s “This Is America” music video, which hits harder and and harder as 2020 inches along.

Anyway, please leave a comment above about your themed/themeless preferences. I’m likely going to largely stay in my Themed Lane, but, well, this is America: give the people what they want.

Have a great Sunday, y’all.


11 thoughts on ““This Is America” (Themeless)

  1. Speaking of themed puzzles, my absolute favorite was one I solved in an issue of Games magazine back in the 1980s. The theme that emerged was colors, and to my delight, I was able to discover that theme and how it worked in time to pull out my colored pencils to color in the boxes where color names would be placed. It was a perfect combination of discovery, delight, creativity, and surprise. I have no idea who wrote it, though.

  2. I love your analogy to writing! I think for me, themeless puzzles are nonfiction, themed puzzles are fiction, and cryptic puzzles are poetry. I always learn something about the world and a constructor’s perspective with themelesses, like in a good longread, whereas themed puzzles take me for a ride with plot twists and an “aha” ending. Cryptics feel like a higher plane of wordplay for connoisseurs, which I hope to fully understand someday…

    I look forward to your themed puzzles every week, but just like with reading, it can be nice to mix it up from time to time!

  3. This one was more difficult for me, being filled with people’s names (which I’m never good at, even among my own acquaintances) and current-day culture that I can’t keep up with (OK, Boomer…) but fun nonetheless!

    • Chris—-I know what you mean. There’s a forever tension for me between trying to reflect culture (past and present) and using non-name words that would be theoretically more broadly “gettable”…

  4. I enjoyed it very much. Especially your clue for 52 Across — possibly because i filled in the answer right away. 🙂 But your 34 Down clue even beat that one — terrific!

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