One Down (Cryptic #5, 15×15)

Dive in!

Hint version: This version highlights the themed clues, and offers an additional hint to kick start your solve.
Complete or print “One Down (Hint version)” at AmuseLabs.com

Expert version: You’re on your own!
Complete or print “One Down (Expert version)” at AmuseLabs.com

(…keep your eyes peeled for one of my famous theme-appropriate Easter Eggs…)

The back story

I’ve been sitting on this crossword for quite a while. My most recently published crossword, High Definition, was my most accessible so far, so I thought it was a good moment to release a more challenging one.

I’m really pleased with this one. Something LR (@LRxword) mentioned last year put me onto the idea, and it proved as challenging to clue as I expected! The upside was that the gimmick permitted a surprising range of possible themed answers (thanks to Tristan at @xwd_bot for his automated dictionary search wizardry). This gave me the flexibility to pick the answers that offered up the niftiest clues, and avoided any compromises on grid structure – there’s no double up of checked or unchecked letters; all answers have at least half of their letters checked; and most answers start with a checked letter. The grid has more 3-letter answers than I would prefer, but there were so many great 3-letter theme options I couldn’t pass them up!

Difficulty

I’d probably rate this as my hardest puzzle to date, primarily because of the theme. Double definition clues can be challenging at the best of times, so this puzzle’s reliance on them – in a themed way, no less! – will likely present some head-scratchers. For this reason I have provided both an expert version and a hint version of the puzzle. The hint version identifies the themed clues, and offers a bonus opening hint to get you underway. Expert leaves you to fend for yourself.

Outside of the theme, I feel most clueing is pretty fair and manageable. I might have pushed the boat out a little with 29-down… I’ll let you be the judge!

And FYI international solvers, 34-across involves an informal Australian term.