A couple of issues back, the Nation puzzle temporarily took on an unfamiliar look. In place of the standard grids that have been the norm for nearly all of our puzzles and those of our predecessor, Frank Lewis—a 15-by-15 diagram with alternating black and white squares—we did something different.

Just for the sake of variety, we ran a puzzle with a bar diagram, in which heavy lines rather than black squares separate the grid entries. And as is traditional with such grids, we included a little extra gimmick in the puzzle—seven of the entries were clued using wordplay only, with the definitions indicated elsewhere in the puzzle. (If that description sounds a little vague, it’s because we’re trying to avoid spoiling the puzzle for anyone who hasn’t solved it yet.)

This wasn’t the first time we’ve varied the shape of things in this way. We used a bar diagram for a puzzle thematically linked to the release of the 2011 film adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, another one to celebrate our 100th contribution to the magazine, and one or two others for no timely reason at all. And each time we do it, we hear a few complaints from solvers who seem put out that the puzzle doesn’t look just like all the others.

Look, we get it. For crossword lovers, solving the puzzle is one of the most comforting routines there is. And it can be disconcerting to encounter something in a different shape or format than what you’ve come to expect.

But the truth is that these variety puzzles using bar diagrams aren’t all that far afield from the usual Nation fare. The clueing techniques are identical, or nearly so (the no-definition gimmick in the most recent puzzle is really only a minor wrinkle in the traditional formula). And although a bar diagram may look daunting at first glance, the mechanics of solving turn out not to be hugely different from a black-square diagram—you’re still writing letters into squares one at a time.

So consider this a plea to solvers who may have been put off by the new format—which, fair warning, is going to keep popping up here from time to time—to give bar diagrams a shot. You might be surprised at how easily they work.

This week’s clueing challenge: NOVELTY. To comment (and see other readers’ comments), please click on this post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen.

And now, four links:
• The current puzzle
• Our puzzle-solving guidelines | PDF
• Our e-books (solve past puzzles on your iOS device—many hints provided by the software!)
• A Nation puzzle solver’s blog where every one of our clues is explained in detail. This is also where you can post quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle, as well as ask for hints.