If you solve any one of my puzzles in 2020, let this be it.
I’m sharing it today for Women’s History Month, but I made it last spring as a tribute to the historic women’s caucus of our last Congressional election cycle. And then I mailed it to Speaker Pelosi… who wrote me back (see inset). Thrill of a lifetime.
I’m posting this as a “bonus puzzle” because the theme material is niche (though not trivial). *SPOILER ALERT* subsequent paragraphs detail why I’m so proud of this grid from both philosophical and technical perspective…
The seed idea for this puzzle was having newly-elected congresswoman intersecting and “breaking” a GLASS CEILING in the middle of the puzzle. But the idea presented two challenges.
1) A key convention of crossword puzzles is that they can’t have any “unchecked” squares: boxes that are only hinted at by one clue. So, if I had women cutting through the GLASS CEILING, whichever letter in their name ended up in the GLASS CEILING row would be unchecked.
The solution I found was that the letters intersecting GLASS CEILING could be cross-referenced by an apt revealer answer: PAY GAP. Which meant that I needed congresswomen with a P, A, and Y somewhere in their names to create the “gap.”
2) Theme answers in crosswords must sit symmetrically in the grid, which meant that I needed congresswomen with names of equal length with a P and Y in the identical position in their names, as well as a third congresswoman with an A as the 8th letter in her name. Needless to say, this was a statistically improbable grid idea.
In the end, this puzzle became a weighty project for me. Because the idea *did* end up working, simply because there were literally dozens of GLASS CEILING breakers to choose from among the congresswomen elected in 2018. Including AYANNA PRESSLEY, my own congresswoman here in Cambridge, who lent the grid the needed “P.”
Moreover, celebrating these women would have felt hollow and insincere if the puzzle didn’t acknowledge that despite their historic achievement, the path to justice remains fraught. The PAY GAP answer served as a necessary linchpin, as well as a reminder that barriers–to voting, to representation, to equal pay–remain.
But I remain optimistic that the women celebrated in this puzzle (and their colleagues) are up to the challenge.