Themeless Puzzle

by Amanda Rafkin & Ross Trudeau


When I opened my eyes this morning, it took me a few long, disoriented moments to realize that what I was feeling was relief. We’re in the midst of a pandemic, yes, and huge barriers to justice and the health of our democracy lie ahead… and yet. Relief.

I think the last time I felt anything like this way was when I was seventeen and a day or two removed from major back surgery.

The memory is of being sure that I was going insane. Of lying in a hospital bed believing very acutely that I would never think rationally again. I was with-it enough to marshal certain facts that made it terrifyingly plausible. I knew I’d had spinal surgery—yesterday? I knew that I’d had general anesthesia, two antibiotics, morphine, Benadryl for the itching, Zofran for the nausea. My own mother had gone bonkers because of one steroid. Why shouldn’t this medley have kissed me into oblivion?

I remember waking up crying in the dark. I had anticipated pain, and they told me I’d need days to regain feeling or movement in my legs. But I was not prepared for the isolation of insanity. Monitors beeped and whirred. Walls distorted. A giant Technicolor butterfly painted on the ceiling—it was a pediatric ward, but what were they thinking?—threatened not to attack me but to do my deranged bidding.

Then, my father stood up. He leaned over the bed and told me, “I’m here, I’m here, Rossy. it’s okay.” I wept and tried to explain that I was crazy, that I’d dreamed he was dead. But he touched my hair and finally I looked at him and saw that his face was wet. He was also dreaming about his father, just right then, he said, wiping his cheeks. And I stopped crying. I felt relief. Even though I was paralyzed from the waist down and my whole brain hurt, because daddy was there, he’d been there all night on the chair, and he’d been dreaming, too.

More on my latest themeless with dear friend Amanda Rafkin after the jump.

As per usual, let Amanda’s delightful cluing wash over you this morning. I’ve asked her for some insights into her cluing process, but she generally demurs. This is the sign of genius. [It’s often over angel hair?] for HALO. *mwah*

To be honest, I haven’t got too terribly much energy to talk crossword shop this particular morning. But I will say that generally I prioritize smoothness in themeless puzzles. I’ll gladly let go of a zippy seed entry if it’s forcing me into compromise words that inevitably draw my attention more than a nice marquee entry. That said, ZOOM MEETING and NERD ALERT were darlings that survived the editing process.

I hope you’re doing well out there.

Warmly, Ross

11 thoughts on “Themeless Puzzle

  1. Orthography squad here, Ross. Maybe Amanda’s “demure,” but, when you ask and she’s reluctant to answer, she “demurs.” Much relief on this side of the border, too. Thanks for the puzzle.

  2. Many thanks for your comments. I’ve never been in a situation such as you describe, but I can certainly see why current events reminded you of it. I too am struggling with a remarkable mixture of feelings – a sense of having been severely damaged, overlaid by a measure of relief, but with a sense of dread mixed in. (The forces that put a monster in power are still out there and could put another monster in his place.)

    A question: In the clue for 42-Down (“Triage sights, for short”), was “sights” intentionally spelled that way? Or was it meant to be “sites”? Either word works, of course … just curious.

    And I was going to make another comment, but the “orthography squad” has already spoken … 😜.

    Very much enjoy your puzzles. Thanks …

    • Yes, indeed. I’m still sitting with the competing emotions over here, as is Jessie. It’s funny… if I’m ever unsure of the provenance of an emotion, or I’m not able to put a name to something I’m feeling, I can often start constructing a crossword and let more clarity come to me implicitly while my attention is more actively focused on the puzzle. We’re about to sit down with the Sunday Times puzzle, so, TBD…

  3. Thank you, Amanda and Ross! This is, indeed, a smooth and lovely puzzle. You should’ve seen me struggling with 52A…first I looked at my keypad. Then I actually started manually writing the numbers upside down! I kept fixating on SIX for heaven’s sake…and grumbling because SIX is three letters and the answer called for four…duh! 🙂

    Really nice time…thanks again!

    P.S. How did you find out my secret, re: the clue for 28 Across???

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