wordplay, the crossword column

Film About Fish Tanks

Simon Marotte enters the realm of themeless crossword puzzles.

A boy peered into a tank full of oscar cichlids in Bangkok.
Credit...Lillian Suwanrumpha/Agence France-Presse—Getty Images

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FRIDAY PUZZLE — How times change. Since we first met Simon Marotte in 2021, he has had five crosswords — not including this one — published in The Times, and all of those were in the Monday-to-Wednesday range.

This is Mr. Marotte’s first Friday puzzle, and it’s always exciting to see a constructor move from the themed realm to the freestyle, themeless one. He has done it successfully, in my opinion. The grid and the clues are both fun and challenging enough to prolong the pleasure of the solve.

More about the puzzle below the spoiler alert.

Spoiler Alert!

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My first answer was 17A’s PIZZA ROLLS, and I can tell you that starting a puzzle off with two Zs is a little heady, even for this old hand.

The inclusion of high-Scrabble-count letters in a crossword is no guarantee of fun, but in this case I can honestly say that I had fun. LOADED DICE sits atop those PIZZA ROLLS, and the entry I DON’T WANNA plunges through both of them. On the other side of the grid, I loved I GOT NOTHIN’ crossed by WINE SNOBS. At the bottom, a PRAIRIE DOG and Sir IAN FLEMING are bisected by the entry NIGHT SHIFT.

How can you not like a grid like that?

And take a good look at those misdirected clues! It took me quite a while to understand the clue “Funny bones?” and I explain it below. “Bond issuer?” is another very clever one. We’re not talking about a financial instrument. The “issuer” is IAN FLEMING, the creator of James Bond.

1. This “Book of legends” is not a tome about superheroes. The legends in this clue are the symbols on maps. The answer is ATLAS.

14A. A nickname for dice is “bones,” and if they are “funny,” they’re loaded. The answer to “Funny bones?” is LOADED DICE.

28A. These “Port authorities?” are WINE SNOBS, not the authorities at a maritime port.

45A. My first thought was “Finding Nemo,” but it turns out that the “Film about fish tanks?” is SCUM, or the film that sometimes builds up around the glass.

59A. A “Heated competition?” is an athletic MEET. A heat is a race or other competition from which the top finishers advance to the next round.

I’m thrilled to have my first themeless in The Times!

I have to give credit to the constructors Robyn Weintraub, Nam Jin Yoon, Caitlin Reid and Ryan McCarty (to name a few), whose puzzles inspired me to challenge myself to construct a fun Friday crossword.

Hope this was a gratifying solve!

The New York Times Crossword has an open submission system, and you can submit your puzzles online.

For tips on how to get started, read our series, “How to Make a Crossword Puzzle.”

Almost finished solving, but need a bit more help? We’ve got you covered.

Spoiler alert: Subscribers can take a peek at the answer key.

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