I was happy to see a good “middle” puzzle like Winding Down, because I would never even attempt to do a Diagramless.
My only absolute gimmes were CROMWELL, HUMOR and SIGNORA.
Everything else required searching.
(Well, not BUTANE, but my search for THE NATURAL yielded five of its six letters.)
Funny thing is, I remembered CLARABELL, but I had to search for it anyway because I was unsure if it ended in ELL or ELLE.
I had gimmes with THE NATURAL, CROMWELL, and CLARABELL, taking the puzzle well past the half-done to start with. I thought CLARABELL had a final E too, but figured that out pretty soon. All in all, a pretty easy go, but fun.
For me, it was a rare fail due to the equally rare Nixon (proper name crossing proper name) of the clown and the online company. And not enjoyable to get stuck by that kind of situation!
That is an interesting use of "Nixon", which I never before heard used in that way. I'm trying to figure out the origin of that, because "Nixon" SOUNDS kind of palindromic, but it's not.
I always like to solve the Diagramless without reading the note first, since I don't want to know the starting square beforehand. So the dropped word feature was a surprise along the way. I had always thought it was a two martini lunch, so when 9A was just MARTINI LUNCH, I took that to be the whole idea: lunch with a martini. The light came on with DAY WEEKEND.
The unusual choice of symmetry could have been difficult to figure out without reading the note, but since the width maxed out at 20A, grid placement resolved itself pretty early on. By then, the graphic shape of the diagram started to become clear. From that point, it was just a matter of finishing up like a regular crossword.
Good fun. I wish we had more Diagramlesses in the mix, like we used to. We used to get at least seven of them through the year. Now we only get two or three. They're becoming the "orphan drug" of online puzzles: demand is low because software doesn't support them. Software isn't developed because demand is low. And so it spirals down. Please keep this venerable art form alive!!
To be specific, there used to be a six-week rotation:
Novelty, Acrostic, Diagramless, Acrostic, PandA or Cryptic, Acrostic.
Now the Diagramless has been placed into the Novelty category, and there is a four-week rotation:
Novelty, Acrostic, PandA or Cryptic, Acrostic.
Deb, it's a 3 BEAN SALAD, very popular in my house. I make it with green and wax beans (cut up), red kidney beans and chick peas, with chopped onion, diced red peppers and a vinaigrette. Looks pretty, goes fast. And keeps the vegans happy. So that's one of the themers.
This was fun. More diagramless please. I miss the time when we had more of them.
Aha! Thanks, Viv. I was hunting for the last 2 themers - this gave me #5, and led me to its neighbor, the 3 Wisemen, to make all six. Much obliged!
III Cheers for this puzzle!
HIP HOP hooray!
I enjoyed it - I echo other commenters' calls for more diagramless crosswords.
36 D - Could anyone explain to me how ALER is the answer to Yank, for one?
Rick, the New York Yankees play baseball in the American League East. ALER and NLER are useful things to know for the puzzles; they'll appear a lot.
Sometimes I do the diagramlesses on graph paper and figure out the starting square and symmetry myself, but this time I printed out the grid. I got down to  DAY WEEKEND easily (I was glad I knew the word MARIPOSA) but then started to have to experiment in the next few rows. Beyond AIR OUT I got stuck and started working up from the bottom. The middle of the numeral was my last fill, and it was lovely to see the number 3 appear.
I too really enjoy the diagramless puzzles and wish there were more of them.
Hurray for the return of diagramless! We need more--they're always a fun twist! Thanks!
I, too, would lie to see more diagramless puzzles. This was fun but don’t really see a three shape. Disappointing.
I loved this! For me it was apt that it appeared in an issue that featured an article about one of America's last pencil factories. I've been using the crossword app for some time now, but there is something gratifying about doing a puzzle in pencil (or pen). The sensation (for lack of a better word) is so much different than completing it on an iPad. I recall always having a freshly sharpened pencil at the ready to complete the daily puzzle. (I admit: it was almost ritualistic.) The Diagramless always gives me the opportunity to do so again.
P. S. For anyone who doesn't see the 3, hold the paper at arm's length and squint your eyes. You will see it!
Another vote for more diagramless, please. Man, I miss having them more often; I love opening up the Sunday Magazine to find one, so much so that I'll put the regular Sunday crossword on hold until I finish it.
And I almost missed this one, since my deliveryperson failed for the second time in THREE weeks to get my paper to my door. Would've been really bummed to have missed it, but a friend gave me his, and thankfully he never touches the puzzles.
My sixth "3" word was "three" gun for Colt. 45??? What am I missing?
We could have more diagramless puzzles if we were given the option of printing an empty grid for everyday puzzles. Have you thought to make that an option?