N.B. This is a 21×22 grid, so the clues are going to present above and below the grid, and not also on the side as they do when I post narrower 15×15 grids. As such, you may get better mileage downloading and printing the puzzle, or solving the .puz in AcrossLite.
Back in May of this year I tweeted out a proto-version of this grid, prompting Jessie to text me the message below. Sometimes I get a little geeked out about the bones of an idea, and I can’t help but *send it out there*. In this case, I was also unsure about how plausible it would be to find enough theme material. (More on that below.) But with a little elbow grease, and a whole lot of Jessie iterating on fill, it turned out to work pretty ding dang decently.
The grid you see here is a 21×22, with the 22 vertical boxes *just barely* accommodating the two pairs of symmetrical ear shapes. Those ear shapes are also each constructed such that one two answers can be construed as “going into” or “coming out of” each one. Further, their size dictated that multiple pairs of theme answer, like NEVER LET THE SUN GO and FAKE IT TIL, end up pretty close to one another, and not plausibly separated by black squares in a meaningful way.
For crossword constructors making high-theme content puzzles, black squares are essentially the means by which you separate your theme box, limiting the overall number of down answers that pass through multiple theme answers and end up being rigidly constrained. Getting decent fill when you’ve got column after adjacent column constricted by multiple themers tends to be a real pain in the butt, so all credit due to Jessie’s doggedness on sorting out some pretty sparkly fill.
Can you think of other examples of common pieces of didactic advice that break down 50/50 like this? Honestly, there were only a couple of other possible options left on the cutting room floor…
-Ross & Jessie