The toughest part about writing a crossword (in my opinion) is coming up with a theme that works, so it feels nice when I give myself the freedom to skip that step. Of course, the trade-off is that all of the saved time goes into wrestling with a more wide-open grid. With fewer constraints but longer words to deal with, the process of filling the grid goes by much more slowly.

Here are some notable answers and clues from today’s 132-word themeless:

  • 1A: [Assessments providing incontrovertible proof] is ACID TESTS. Apparently this phrase, along with FOOL’s GOLD, originated from the Gold Rush years when miners would confirm whether they found actual gold by testing how their ore reacted with acid.
  • 20A: [Air fare?] is RADIO SHOW. Think of “air” like being on the air.
  • 23A: [“Fame” actress who sang its title song] is IRENE CARA. I’m more familiar with her singing “Flashdance … What a Feeling,” but I didn’t want to use “dance” in the clue because of 67A.
  • 24A: [Type of dog that Elvis sang “Hound Dog” to on a 1956 episode of “The Steve Allen Show”] is BASSET. It’s true.
  • 51A: [Stressful competition?] is POETRY SLAM. Hopefully it’s a less stressful competition than the clue might suggest, but “stress” here refers to the stressing of syllables in a poem.
  • 62A: [Evaluation of a future partner] is BAR EXAM. Is there a dating website for lawyers called Romantic Partners or Court Dates or something like that? There should be if there isn’t. Don’t steal those names from me, though; it’s a billion-dollar idea.
  • 67A: [Artistic movements?] is INTERPRETIVE DANCE. I started the puzzle with this answer since I had the clue picked out beforehand.
  • 86A: [Parks’ partner] is RECREATION. Either the generic phrase or the TV show title makes sense here, I think.
  • 91A: [“Well, I could ___ forever / But it’s of her I dream” (Dandy Warhols lyric)] is SLEEP. That’s the title of one of my favorite Dandy Warhols’ songs. I saw them in concert back in 2008 and they played a really, really long set — over four hours — but sadly, they didn’t play this song as I’d hoped. Many years later, they didn’t get to play any songs at all. I had gotten tickets in Dec. 2019 to see them again in April 2020, but then the pandemic happened. So I’ll just settle for listening to them here.
  • 110A: [Condition of a jinxed team, so to speak] is BAD MOJO. It’s also the name of an old 1990s computer game about a crooked entomologist who turns into a cockroach, but I never played it.
  • 120A: [Late human rights activist Marielle ___] is Marielle FRANCO. She was doing very important work in Brazil before she was assassinated in 2018. You can read a long retrospective of her life by Lia De Mattos Rocha here.
  • 122A: [D & D in Disneyland, e.g.] is ENDS. Literally the left and right ends of Disneyland.
  • 12D: [Highlights of Black Sabbath’s “N.I.B.” and Rush’s “YYZ”] is BASS SOLOS. Solid solos, too, in my opinion. But you be the judge (here and here).
  • 17D: [Knight-time event?] is RENAISSANCE FAIR. Although every time I’d been to a renaissance fair I was far more likely to find people dressed as pirates than as knights.
  • 30D: [Writing implement designed to work in zero-gravity environments] is SPACE PEN. I’m recalling that classic episode of “Seinfeld” with one of these pens.
  • 37D: [Systems of electrical grids?] is SOLAR PANELS. They look like grids to me, anyway.
  • 39D: [Those pushing a narrative?] is PLOT DEVICES. One of my favorite plot device terms is the MacGuffin. No reason why; I just think it sounds neat.
  • 43D: [Most expensive property between Go and Jail (not counting houses or hotels)] is READING RAILROAD. I’m now wishing I had clued this as the equivalent of the same space in special-edition versions of the game, like the Super Star Destroyer space in Star Wars Monopoly.
  • 97D: [“The Majority Report” host Seder] is SAM Seder. I’ve been watching clips of his show on YouTube a lot ever since last July when his co-host Michael Brooks tragically passed away. I don’t always agree with Sam’s takes but he has an interesting perspective on a lot of issues that I enjoy watching. Personally, I’d recommend checking out clips of the late Brooks if you’re into politics shows.

What did you think?