If it looks like a themeless and solves like a themeless, then guess what, Dear Reader, it is a themeless! And not only that, it's a bit of a stunt puzzle too, because (and yes, I learned this from xwordinfo.com) it has the fewest answers of any NYT Sunday puzzle to date - just 122. Which explains the title.
We've been seeing Mr. Longo's name in Games magazine for decades, so when I met him in person at my first A.C.P.T., I expected a grizzled old figure, but he looks at least ten years younger than me. Same with Mr. Fagliano. For some reason, when I first saw his name I began picturing him as sort of a Vincent Price-like character. Turns out he looks like a kid just out of college. Either creating puzzles keeps you looking very young, or I'm just not very good at picturing people. Maybe a little of both.
I often think that puzzle themes are overrated. Sure, a theme can be very clever, but for me it's separate from the fundamental joy of crosswords, which is the simple structure of clues and answers slowly helped along by the intersecting words. And when I say "theme," I don't mean "trick." Rebus squares, shape-shifting words crawling up or down, assumed letters that "appear" outside of the grid... these kinds of tricks are great. It's the word ladders, the "every last word can have this word added to it" or "is a part of this set," or "find the hidden word in this other word." That type of thing. I mean, it's fine, and usually it's fun enough, but I guess what I'm saying is that I don't need it to enjoy a crossword puzzle. Perhaps I'm just a simple guy.
So how was this themeless? Pretty good. I like the chunky corners with their 11- and 9-stacks, and the long, staggered entries in the middle were good too. There are lots of colorful answers like TIEDYEING, PRISONESCAPE, JEALOUSY, SLAKES, TOOKTOTHESLOPES (and the related SLALOM (Event that usually has gate crashers?) (great clue)), and I even liked METAANALYSES. But as with any "lowest word count" stunt puzzle, you're going to encounter things like COCCUS, TRIODE, ROADSTEAD, CLARO, and SAAR.
I credit Bruce Haight with making me see the light on stunt puzzles. Early in my reviewing career (if I can dare to call it a career), I savaged one of his stunt puzzles. When I met him at the following A.C.P.T., we talked about it and he defended the stunt puzzle as pushing the boundaries. Such experimentation is necessary to keep the field from stagnating. And really, when NASA pushes the boundaries, sometimes people end up getting killed. When crossword constructors push the boundaries, solvers end up learning new words, or gaining a new understanding of some kind.
I'll leave it there.
Congratulations, Mr. Longo, on this achievement. I hope we can look forward to at least a few more Sunday themelesses, whether they push boundaries or not, in the coming years.