SUNDAY PUZZLE —Will Shortz, in his printed introduction to this grid, writes: “Tracy Bennett is the digital puzzle editor for The Times. She manages Wordle and helps with the Crossword. In this themeless puzzle, she took a bold grid pattern with lots of white squares and placed a marquee answer in each corner—“something new or that had an appealing sound or clue potential.” Then she built out from there.”

This is a super cool solution for themeless fans! There are so many wide stretches of vibrant, surprising entrances, and all the steps of different lengths create a dazzling geometry. That massive diagonal run of 15 black squares had a zipping effect on my solution, splitting the grid in half. I had great luck on the left, or top side, and staggered around the bottom of the puzzle for ages before reaching a satisfactory finish.

14A. The unexpected answer to “That makes two of us!” is CLONING, which made me laugh and think Dolly the sheep, the first mammal clone, born in 1996. Seems like such a long time ago! Foofaraw about artificial intelligence now reminds me of the fear of human cloning back then, which fortunately never came to pass.

48A. This is a wonderful clue and entrance combo, my favorite for a while. “Super stupid?” is a fanciful homophone of “superior” with a very different (and ridiculous) meaning: WACKADOODLE.

57A. “Canal inspector” contains a reference to anatomy, rather than geography, and indicates an ENT.

92A./93A. These are a couple of lovely entries to finish this puzzle – bookend you might say! “Leaf,” at 92A, dissolves into the onomatopoeic RIFFLES, which makes me picture flipping through pages of thick paper, possibly trimmed with gold. Then the clue to 93A, “Set books with maps, perhaps,” evoked an image of an old atlas or almanac; however, the answer is the FANTASY SERIES. The maps in these books are part of the world creation process, a la JRR Tolkien’s Midgard.

32D. This entry has appeared in the Times Crossword a handful of times, beginning in 1954; for anyone without expertise in the material (especially French) it’s probably crosswords. I don’t think I’ve seen it anywhere else, at least. The “coarse loose weave fabric” in question is RATINE.

34D. As much as people love to brood over the slang of the moment, we really have nothing to compare to the colorful lingo of a century ago. “Go hastily, in picturesque use,” resolves to TAKE A POWDER, which has one few possible origin stories. One involves an escape to the POWDER room and then from the situation itself; in another, the POWDER is a headache remedy that one takes before excusing oneself from lying down. The POWDER in question could also be a “Mickey”, slang for a drug that slipped into someone’s drink; “Mickey” is named after Mickey Finna bartender from Chicago who would calm down his customers and rob them in the 1890s.

44D. This is an impossible trivia! Hats off to anyone who knew the answer to “Mandatory Old Age Payments”, or MULCTS, which is from Latin, and has made a few appearances in past Times puzzles — in the 1950s, notably. A dash of the abstruse is good in a weekend puzzle, isn’t it?

84D. I mistakenly selected one artiodactyl instead of “the largest of the lagomorphs” here, and wrote in “hart” instead of HARE. This caused 93A to read “fantasistries”, which looked like a typo rather than proof that my taxonomic knowledge was lacking.

I’ve never done a themeless puzzle this size before. I knew I wanted to preset a marquee answer in each quadrant, something that was either new or had an appealing sound or cue potential. 23-Across, 48-Across, 50-Across and 87-Across were the starting points. I admire Patrick Berry’s work immensely, and I intentionally started with a grid pattern that he used for his Sunday themeless 2018-11-04. I ended up flipping a girth cheat sheet while filling.

My working title for this puzzle was “Step Right Up” because of the stair step pattern of blocks in the middle of the grid, and because I saw myself as up to the challenge of tackling these large open spaces. There are a couple of issues that I hope solvers will forgive (the term on 44-Down is tough and archaic). My favorite clue that was kept in the edit (and my favorite answer) is at 48-Across. I tend to be both playfully silly and a bit versatile in my cueing, so there were some wise and disciplined edits to my originals (-:

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