It feels very strange to be posting a new puzzle right now. I got to celebrate two of my good friends’ happiness and new life together at their wedding last night. And this morning, just as I was getting ready to post this puzzle, I awoke to the sad news that Merl Reagle suddenly passed away. I hope that his family can accept my sincere condolences for their loss. I didn’t know him well personally; I’d only introduced myself to him for the first time last March at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. But he seemed to be a very warm person, and I knew he had an incredibly colorful imagination that always shone through in his puzzles. He was a master of the “story” type of crossword theme, where the longest entries would be part of a long-form joke that he’d tell using fill-in-the-blank punny phrases. His fairly recent meta puzzle “Book Notes” was remarkably clever; you can read a review of it here.
So following a last-minute editorial change, I gave Merl a nod in one of my clues — it’s a small way to pay tribute to his life’s work.
Rest in peace, Merl. Enjoy the puzzle.