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FIRST LADIES

New York Times, Sunday, February 5, 2017

Author:
Sam Trabucco
Editor:
Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
2110/29/20157/20/20190
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
3102357
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.68150
Sam Trabucco

This puzzle:

Rows: 21, Columns: 20 Words: 131, Blocks: 72 Missing: {JQ} Spans: 1 This is puzzle # 3 for Mr. Trabucco. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Sam Trabucco notes:
I wrote this as an, uh, coping mechanism after certain late 2016 events. It's so important for kids to have role models they can see themselves in, and celebrating women who reach ... read more

I wrote this as an, uh, coping mechanism after certain late 2016 events. It's so important for kids to have role models they can see themselves in, and celebrating women who reach the top of fields historically dominated by men is a huge part of that. Shoutout to all my friends who will be those women for tomorrow's girls interested in STEM.

The crucial concept of BREAKing THE GLASS CEILING was very much in the news around the election, and hearing and thinking about it got me to thinking about how to literalize it in a crossword grid (this phenomenon happens to everyone, right?). A bit of brainstorming got me to the idea you see today, though I was pretty sure it'd be impossible to execute. There aren't that many ???GLASSes out there, and surely it'd be tough to find a set which could be broken in the manner I needed. I got lucky and it just barely worked out — I didn't leave too many good glasses on the (proverbial) table!

Lack of glass flexibility also led to a lack of flexibility in choosing women to include. I was bummed that I could only think of one GLASS which could be broken by a C, because CURIE and CLINTON were both at the top of my list. I went with CURIE mostly for field diversity, since a lot of others that were fitting in ended up being in politics. I was also sad that I couldn't think of any that could be broken by W, because I wanted to use either Edith WHARTON or Oprah WINFREY. Ditto Aretha FRANKLIN for F; the only "option" I found for F was WA(F)TER GLASS, and neither WAFTER nor WATER GLASS itself is strong at all.

This lack of flexibility, unfortunately, left me with a set of all white women, which I wanted to avoid, if possible — a puzzle celebrating diversity of extraordinary achievement feels incomplete that way. But overall, I was just happy to get a workable set of well-known glasses and women (and, in particular, women well-known as the breakers of their glass ceilings).

Wrangling the grid also wasn't trivial. It was easy to arrange the three glasses at the top of the grid since those ceilings naturally exist. Including all the black squares necessary to construct the remaining three ceilings constrained the grid a lot, and in particular led to the choked-off, relatively open sections that the theme entries are mostly contained in. And those sections themselves were pretty constrained, as happens with crossing theme entries, leading to some trade-offs in the fill — most notably in the CURIE / WIN(C)E GLASS region. I hope never to see the entry I SEE A again (though shoutout to my mom, who claims to have played "Bohemian Rhapsody" a lot when she was pregnant with me — explains a lot).

As for the rest of the puzzle, I think the fill is pretty solid in other regions, with (hopefully) enough interesting non-thematic stuff to keep solvers entertained. Writing ? clues is my favorite part of constructing, so I'm glad Will didn't quite excise all of them (luckily for everyone else, he did excise most of them). I think I'll add "first person to put the word SEXILE in the NYT crossword" to my dating app profiles — appreciating that feels like it'd have a really high correlation with getting along with me. Read into that what you will.

Jeff Chen notes:
Sam helps BREAK THE GLASS CEILING today, six women cracking into their respective fields. The circled letters contain types of GLASS — it's not a PINT that's a 16-ounce ... read more

Sam helps BREAK THE GLASS CEILING today, six women cracking into their respective fields. The circled letters contain types of GLASS — it's not a PINT that's a 16-ounce container, but a PINT (GLASS). It's not STAINED that's a building material, but STAINED GLASS. Nice how each of the women breaks through these different GLASSes. I enjoyed these groundbreaking — er, ceilingbreaking — women getting featured in a puzzle with a nice trick.

Fun that the first letters of the women's names helped form a new word in those GLASSes. PINT to P(O)INT, STAINED to ST(R)AINED, etc. Didn't totally get the rationale for that, but there were some interesting finds.

I also dug Sam's fill. I love the DIY KIT, OH GEEZ, YOU IDIOT, SEXILE mid-length entries. FLEXAGON is another one I love (written about by the great Martin Gardner). Some may hate it because they don't know what it is, but haters gonna hate.

I wasn't a fan of the grid segmentation. As Sam mentioned, it helps create six distinct "ceilings," and makes each of the "rooms" easier to construct — but it was such a choppy solve. Felt like solving 10ish mini-puzzles; no flow at all.

The north and south are the worst offenders, what with a single entry connecting them to the rest of the grid. Opening those even just a little, like moving the block between IRE and EASTON one space to the right, would have helped tremendously. But that would have made construction much more difficult, no doubt.

A couple of gluey bits, but less than usual in a Sunday puzzle: I SEE A is indeed a bad partial, and OSA is an entry Will and Joel are trying to phase out. But very smooth overall, especially considering all the constraints.

All in all, I liked the concept and celebration. If only the grid had been even a little less partitioned, it would have gotten serious POW! consideration.

1
P
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O
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C
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D
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C
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G
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M
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B
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H
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G
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C
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B
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B
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H
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S
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T
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© 2017, The New York TimesNo. 0205 ( 24,561 )
Across
1
16-ounce container : POINT
6
Material commonly used during cathedral construction : STRAINED
14
Primitive timer : STAND
19
Pinnacles : ACMES
20
Sidney Poitier's 1980 autobiography : THISLIFE
21
Moretz of "Carrie" : CHLOE
22
Performs, biblically : DOETH
23
When soap operas first flourished : RADIOERA
24
They're measured by pluviometers : RAINS
25
Geneticist's study : DNA
26
Rage : IRE
28
Sheena who sang "U Got the Look" with Prince : EASTON
29
"No worries" : ITSOK
30
It helps you achieve balance : INNEREAR
33
Highlighter shades : NEONS
34
%: Abbr. : PCT
35
Reply to "No offense" : NONETAKEN
37
Aid after a computer crash, say : ITHELP
40
Get : GROK
41
Mark : DENOTE
44
Mosaic pieces : TESSERAE
46
Question after a photo finish : DIDIWIN
47
"How's it hangin'?" : SUP
48
Click "Going" on a Facebook event, e.g. : RSVP
49
2013 best seller by Sheryl Sandberg : LEANIN
53
Pennsylvania vacation locale, with "the" : POCONOS
56
Pokey's pal on TV : GUMBY
57
Spanish she-bear : OSA
60
Running a bit behind : LATISH
61
Part of a stock exchange? : MOO
64
Overcome a certain career barrier ... or what the answers to the starred clues do? : BREAKTHEGLASSCEILING
68
Heavy weight : TON
69
"Same with me" : IAGREE
70
Move hastily : HIE
71
Also-ran in 2000 : NADER
72
Gray squirrel, in slang : TREERAT
74
Send elsewhere for the night, as a roommate, in modern lingo : SEXILE
75
Easy-to-carry telescope : SPAY
79
Cubs' home : DEN
80
Less safe for a plane landing, in a way : FOGGIER
84
Change from black-and-white : COLORIZE
86
Classical musician with a Presidential Medal of Freedom : YOYOMA
87
Pub vessel : ABLE
91
Permeates : IMBUES
92
Behind : POSTERIOR
94
Fix, as an election : RIG
95
Cab destination? : WINCE
100
Geometric toy whose sides change depending on how it's folded : FLEXAGON
101
Drop a bit : SLIDE
103
Arthurian princess : ISEULT
105
Poetic preposition : ERE
106
Scrape (out) : EKE
107
Go online : LOGIN
108
Remove fat from, as a soup : DEGREASE
110
Caramel candies from Hershey : ROLOS
112
Opposite of standing : ADHOC
113
Getting ready to swing : TEEINGUP
114
Lake catch : TROUT
115
White who is the oldest person ever to host "S.N.L." : BETTY
116
Participate in deciding : HAVEASAY
117
Took care of : SAWTO
Down
1
Superfluous part of an essay : PADDING
2
*One who 64-Acrossed for Supreme Court justices ... : OCONNOR
3
Emphatic refusal : IMEANNO
4
After deductions : NET
5
Gift shop item : TSHIRT
6
Hurriedly showed oneself out? : STREAKED
7
"J to ___ L-O!" (Jennifer Lopez album) : THA
8
*... for astronauts : RIDE
9
Like over four billion people : ASIAN
10
"Victory is yours" : ILOSE
11
Mexican president Enrique Peña ___ : NIETO
12
Zac of "Neighbors" : EFRON
13
Professors answer to them : DEANS
14
Reading material for a Hollywood agent : SCRIPTS
15
*... for British prime ministers : THATCHER
16
Most-wanted invitees : ALISTERS
17
Texting while driving, e.g. : NONO
18
Anchor's place : DESK
27
Enter, as data : READIN
31
Cousin of "OMG!" : EEK
32
Guido who painted "Massacre of the Innocents" : RENI
36
Today : NOW
37
"Hmm, guess so" : ISPOSE
38
Loo, for short : LAV
39
___ rally : PEP
42
What boats shouldn't do : TIP
43
___ Gay (W.W. II plane) : ENOLA
44
Best Foreign Film of 2005 set in South Africa : TSOTSI
45
Kennedy who was the mother of Maria Shriver : EUNICE
46
Aid for the handy, informally : DIYKIT
49
Letters of "pride" : LGBT
50
Alternative to a pound : EURO
51
Emphatic agreement : AMEN
52
Org. with a travel ban? : NBA
54
Bills, e.g. : CASH
55
Hit record? : SHINER
57
"Yi-i-ikes!" : OHGEEZ
58
Pacific : SERENE
59
Ending with teen : AGER
61
Certain conservative skirt : MIDI
62
Hillary Clinton in 1969 or Bill Clinton in 1970 : ONEL
63
Monster : OGRE
65
Fictional spacecraft created by the Time Lords : TARDIS
66
Like lettuce : LEAFY
67
West Coast air hub : LAX
73
Overly : TOO
74
Two-___ (smallish car) : SEATER
75
___-fi : SCI
76
Yapping dog, for short : POM
77
*... for secretaries of state : ALBRIGHT
78
"Don't be so dumb!" : YOUIDIOT
81
Rip off, informally : GYP
82
Clown (around) : GOOF
83
[Yawn] : IMSLEEPY
85
Rule by governing board : REGENCY
87
Altar constellation : ARA
88
*... for Best Directors : BIGELOW
89
Ranger's station : LOOKOUT
90
Che Guevara's real first name : ERNESTO
93
Puts forward, as effort : EXERTS
95
Factor in area calculation : WIDTH
96
"___ little silhouetto of a man" (Queen lyric) : ISEEA
97
Desert NE of the Sinai Peninsula : NEGEV
98
*... for Nobel laureates : CURIE
99
1941 chart-topper "Maria ___" : ELENA
101
Slice for a hearty appetite : SLAB
102
Miner's strike : LODE
104
Catches off base : TAGS
109
Apologia pro vita ___ : SUA
111
60 minuti : ORA

Answer summary: 11 unique to this puzzle, 2 debuted here and reused later, 1 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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