There have only been four Damon J. Gulczynski puzzles at the Times but each has some kind of clever twist. Today's Thursday, August 14 puzzle (answers) has ten clues with two different answers each. You can include all the letters or not, he doesn't care. Either works.
The notepad reads: "When this puzzle is done, unscramble the five circled letters to find out how the circles could have been left with the puzzle's solution still being correct." When you anagramize the circled letters, you get the helpful word YTPME. I'm kidding.
The notepad was overly specific, I think. As soon as I read it, I thought empty must be correct and the theme was obvious. I really should learn to attempt the puzzle first and read the notepad later. Still, it's a clever theme and a remarkable accomplishment.
Calling Mary's husband JOEY amused me. "Hey, Joey, that kid in the manger. He don't look much like you, Joey. Know what I'm sayin'?"
There were some tough spots in this one, mostly in the middle right part of the grid. I have no idea who MIKE is. "One of a candy box duo," apparently. Is this an M of M & M? "Making necessary" is an absolutely accurate clue for ENTAILING but it didn't come easily to me. LLANOS appeared a couple of months ago but hadn't stuck in my brain.
Then there's "faithful, to a Scot" which turns out to be LEAL. I wonder sometimes if Robbie Burns was authentically trying to capture the lilting highland sounds of his native land, or if he just couldn't spell to save his life and now everyone in a kilt emulates his errors. I realize this is blasphemy.
64 Down is "Reconstruction, e.g." and the answer is ERA. This continues to be the single most common answer word, appearing 321 times in the Shortz, uh, era. It's only the second time Reconstruction is in the clue, though. The first was the very first appearance of that answer back in January 1994, so they make nice bookends now. Reconstruction refers to cleaning up the mess after the American Civil War.
On the other end of the scale, OCREA makes its debut today, clued as "papery sheath on a plant stem." I'm never going to remember that. Maybe the image here will help.