Dissolute man, from the French / TUE 12-6-22 / Bellicose humanoid of Middle Earth / "Girl in Progress" star with a line of cosmetics / Portrayer of the nurse Marta Cabrera in "Knives Out"

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Constructor: Ross Trudeau and Wyna Liu

Relative difficulty: Medium

THEME: Crossword Lady Ladder — it's basically a word ladder, where one letter changes at each "rung", only here the "word" that's changing is a three-letter woman's first name. Because of their vowel-consonant-vowel structure and short length, the first names that make up the ladder tend to appear in crosswords a lot:

Theme answers:
  • INA GARTEN (18A: The Food Network's "Barefoot Contessa")
  • IDA B. WELLS (22A: Civil rights leader who co-founded the N.A.A.C.P.)
  • ADA LOVELACE (29A: Mathematician regarded as the first computer programmer)
  • ANA DE ARMAS (35A: Portrayer of the nurse Marta Cabrera in "Knives Out")
  • AVA DUVERNAY (47A: Director of the miniseries "When They See Us")
  • EVA MENDES (54A: "Girl in Progress" star with a line of cosmetics)
  • EVE ENSLER (59A: "The Vagina Monologues" playwright)
Word of the Day: IDA B. WELLS (22A) —
Ida B. Wells
 (full name: Ida Bell Wells-Barnett) (July 16, 1862 – March 25, 1931) was an American investigative journalist, educator, and early leader in the civil rights movement. She was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Wells dedicated her lifetime to combating prejudice and violence, the fight for African-American equality, especially that of women, and became arguably the most famous Black woman in the United States of her time. [...] In the 1890s, Wells documented lynching in the United States in articles and through her pamphlets called Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in all its Phases, and The Red Record, investigating frequent claims of whites that lynchings were reserved for Black criminals only. Wells exposed lynching as a barbaric practice of whites in the South used to intimidate and oppress African Americans who created economic and political competition—and a subsequent threat of loss of power—for whites. A white mob destroyed her newspaper office and presses as her investigative reporting was carried nationally in Black-owned newspapers. Subjected to continued threats, Wells left Memphis for Chicago. She married Ferdinand L. Barnett in 1895 and had a family while continuing her work writing, speaking, and organizing for civil rights and the women's movement for the rest of her life. (wikipedia)
• • •

Sam Spade consoles Iva Archer on her
exclusion from this puzzle
On the one hand, there's a weird whimsy to this theme that I kinda like. I mean, it's fun to say their first names in quick succession, and there's a kind of insidery winky thing going on where the puzzle is showing you All The Same Names It Always Shows You, Every Day, but this time the names are in a carefully curated and crafted arrangement. It's a crosswordese parade, or maybe a crosswordese flash mob—same old faces, only suddenly there's a dance routine and everyone is moving in precise order. Plus, they've got fancy dress on (i.e. they appear in full-name, not just the usual three-letter first-name, versions). On the other hand ... well, the puzzle is showing you All The Same Names It Always Shows You. So, I guess your feelings about the puzzle are going to depend on whether you see the theme as a dazzling new dish or reheated leftovers. I thought it was cute, though it wore a bit toward the end. I didn't catch the word ladder angel until the end, when I was trying to make sense of the themer logic, i.e. why these names, why this order, what about UMA Thurman and UTA Hagen, etc. The one thing that didn't work for me was EVE ENSLER, which is a real clunker, especially as the final themer, considering she's the only one out of terminal-A rhythm. I guess you could see her name as putting an emphatic final exclamation point on the name series ("INA IDA ADA ANA AVA EVA EVE!"). And that seems a reasonable reading. But when I was actually solving, my brain made that record needle scratch sound. I wanted them all to be tra-la two-syllable names ending in "A." But instead we get one syllable (the only such answer). And an "E" ending (the only such answer). Again, it's all a matter of taste. That finale is either rhythmically perfect or jarringly out of sync ... or else you didn't even notice. Anyway, there's a basic thoughtfulness and cleverness and creativity here that I mostly enjoyed. It's also at least ... plausible? ... that the puzzle isn't just a word ladder, but one with specific thematic content. I mean, it goes from INA GARTEN ... to EVE ... so ... if it helps to read that progression biblically, why not go ahead and do that?

The fill made me wince maybe a little more than it should. Some of it was because of improbable plurals (AMNIOS but *especially* EASTERS ...), but most of it was from a slight excess of crosswordese (ECOLI and ENEWS and EELIEST *and* EERIE **and** EPEES, etc.), as well as abbrevs. I have just never liked or heard people actually use (specifically CRIT and VID). In a theme this dense (seven long names!), it's probably hard to keep your fill whistle-clean throughout. There are a number of longer Downs, but none of them ELEVATEs the fill quality much. They're mostly solid, though there's a mild dreariness to the sheer number of preposition-ending phrases (SNARL AT, STEAM UP, KNEEL ON), and a definite dreariness to RATLIKE and BEATDOWNS (the latter of which is both the most original bit of non-theme fill and the most violent and depressing). The theme is the thing today, and as I say, it mostly delivered for me. Oh, I almost forgot "WELL, DUH!" Was that a high point for me? Well ... yes. 

No real difficulty today if you solve crosswords regularly (grid is 16 wide, so if it played a little slow, maybe that's why). Name themes are often real dicey for segments of the solving population, depending on what field / era the names are drawn from, but as I say these names should all be super-familiar to the daily gridder. The fill didn't seem tough at all, and the cluing was pretty transparent. The toughest part for me was trying to navigate the vowels in DUVERNAY. I first put it in as DUV-RN-Y. Thank god for fair crosses. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld

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Former moniker of reality TV child star Alana Thompson / MON 12-5-22 / Onetime manufacturer of the Flying Cloud and Royale / Makeup of a muffin top

Monday, December 5, 2022

Constructor: Tracy Gray

Relative difficulty: Easy

THEME: "MY BAD!" (62A: "Oopsie!" ... and a hint to the ends of 18-, 25-, 39- and 50-Across) — theme answer ends with words that *can* mean "error" (but don't in the themers themselves):

Theme answers:
  • OLE MISS (18A: 'Bama rival)
  • DEPOSIT SLIP (25A: Bit of banking documentation)
  • SAN ANDREAS FAULT (39A: Cause of many California earthquakes)
  • HONEY BOO-BOO (50A: Former moniker of reality TV child star Alana Thompson)
Word of the Day: CHAPPAQUA (11D: Town in Westchester County, N.Y., where the Clintons live) —

Chappaqua (/ˈæpəkwɑː/ CHAP-ə-kwah) is a hamlet and census-designated place in the town of New Castle, in northern Westchester County, New York, United States. It is approximately 30 miles (50 km) north of New York City. The hamlet is served by the Chappaqua station of the Metro-North Railroad's Harlem Line. In the New York State Legislature it is within the New York State Assembly's 93rd district and the New York Senate's 40th district. In Congress the village is in New York's 17th District.

Chappaqua was founded by a group of Quakers in the 1730s and was the home of Horace GreeleyNew-York Tribune editor and U.S. congressman. Since the late 1990s, former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have lived there. (wikipedia)

• • •

First of all, congrats to the NYTXW on three days in a row with puzzles by solo women. In a just world, this would mean the NYTXW had SHOT PAR (three to four solo women in a week being roughly what one ought to expect), but given their terrible track record, well, good for them. And as for today's puzzle, yeah, OK, this'll do. It's not the most thrilling theme concept, but it's got a cool / unusual mirror symmetry layout, with OLE MISS being in a particularly unexpectedly thematic position, so that was a fun thing to discover. Funny that we just had "MY B!" for an answer on Saturday, and then bam, here it is, in its longer (more "formal?") incarnation, as the Monday revealer. I cringed at HONEY BOO-BOO because that show just seems like the worst kind of exploitation TV, and I'd rather not remember it, but I don't know what other answer is out there that ends with BOO BOO, or some slangy equivalent, so I can tolerate a small cringe in a coherent and interestingly presented themer set. The fill comes in a little on the stale side, but not inedibly so. And though I don't give a damn where the Clintons live, I think CHAPPAQUA is a colorful geographical entry—a very nice use of a longer Down. 

I wouldn't like to find a SALTY LUMP in my food, and I'm a bit concerned that the puzzle has both a LUMP and SPOT (and one on top of the other—you really oughta get that checked out!), but (taking this idea of serendipitously juxtaposed answers further) I like the idea of making up for your mistake by not only saying "MY BAD!" but then telling the people you wronged that "drinks are ON ME."  Oh, and ARROW KEY and AEROSOLS seem to be asking you to clap as well, so go ahead and do that. I also like the SEE SPOT succession. My daughter learned to read, in part, with some very old-fashioned Dick & Jane book that my grandmother got her, so there was a lot of "SEE SPOT this" and "SEE SPOT that" in her early childhood. I wonder when "TÀR" is finally going to get a movie clue. Shouldn't be long now, as that movie is likely to garner a bunch of Oscar nominations in the next month or so (whenever those come out). Speaking of movies, we saw "The Menu" today and while I don't think it's as good as "TÀR" it was nonetheless very entertaining. And it's got Judith Light in it, which is as good a reason to see a movie (or TV show) as any. There's some sudden and fairly graphic violence in "The Menu," but if you can handle that, it's really a very thoughtful and surprisingly funny movie. Nice to see it with a (smallish) crowd that legit laughed, a lot. 

["Please don't say 'mouthfeel'"]

Back to the puzzle for a bit. I tried to get cute and wrote in ADOBE at 20A: Mexican marinade made with chili peppers without (obviously) looking at the clue. I figured "ADOB-, what else could it be?" Touché, puzzle. No other stumbling blocks today. I think I needed a few crosses to finally see LEAKS, but that's the closest thing to "work" I had to do today (46A: Ways reporters get some secret information). A proper Monday, in that sense. That's all, I suppose. See you tomorrow.

Signed, Rex Parker, King of CrossWorld 

P.S. Today I Learned ... that "OLE MISS" is a "nickname with a racist past" (coined in the late 19c by a white student with plantation nostalgia, so ... yeah, for more details, read here, or search for yourself, thanks!)

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