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FIRST LADIES

New York Times, Sunday, February 5, 2017

Author: Sam Trabucco
Editor: Will Shortz
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1410/29/20159/22/20180
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1.67140
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 ... more
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 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 ... more
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 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.

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© 2017, The New York TimesNo. 0205 ( 24,561 )
Across Down
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
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: 12 unique to this puzzle, 1 debuted here and reused later, 3 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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