MGWCC #631

crossword 2:43 
meta -1:00 


hello and welcome to episode #631 of matt gaffney’s weekly crossword contest, “Women’s Firsts”. for this week 1 puzzle, the instructions tell us that the answer is a First Lady of the United States. (i typically try to do week 1 without looking at the instructions, but i accidentally saw them this week as i was opening the email.) what are the theme answers? four long proper names are arranged in a pinwheel pattern in the grid:

  • {He upset Jimmy Connors to win the 1975 Wimbledon final, just two weeks after Connors had filed an (ultimately unsuccessful) $3 million libel lawsuit against him} ARTHUR ASHE.
  • {“___: Right Now” (2019 Netflix comedy special)} AZIZ ANSARI.
  • {Actress best known for “Fatal Attraction,” “Patriot Games,” and “Short Cuts”} ANNE ARCHER.
  • {Dancer whose “Revelations” premiered in 1960} ALVIN AILEY.

these people all have initials a.a., so our mystery first lady must be abigail adams. (in case you’re wondering, john quincy adams’s first lady was named louisa. until quite recently, she was the only foreign-born first lady.) by some coincidence, i solved this crossword right after watching 1776 (a fourth of july tradition in our family, although this year it was supplemented by first watching hamilton—two musicals with a very different take on john adams), in which abigail adams is one of two female speaking characters. (and no, they don’t speak to each other, so it fails the bechdel test.)

so, this is certainly an easy enough meta for a week 1. i’m a little surprised the puzzle wasn’t called “ladies first”—seems like a more natural thing to title a puzzle about first ladies and the letter A. it’s also a little curious that three of the four theme answers were men; on the other hand, certainly the most famous A.A.-initialed woman i can think of other than abigail adams herself is amy adams, who would not be a good choice as a theme answer as it would dupe the adams part of the meta answer. so i guess it’s fine. i also had the vague memory that we’ve seen a week 1-ish abigail adams meta before from matt, but my searches didn’t turn anything up, so perhaps i’m misremembering. at any rate, over 631 weeks it’s hard to remember everything you’ve already done!

a couple quick notes from the puzzle:

  • {You, me, or a chimpanzee} HOMINID. i learned something from this clue! i thought hominids were only members of genus homo and its direct ancestor australopithecus. but no, hominid actually refers to any member of family hominidae, which includes all the great apes. so chimps, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans, plus a handful of extinct groups. apparently hominid used to mean what i thought, but there has actually been a relatively recent revision in the terminology, with hominin now meaning what hominid used to mean, and hominid being broadened to include the great apes. fascinating stuff.
  • {Imran ___ (cricket great who currently serves as Pakistan’s prime minister)} KHAN. i didn’t know this either.
  • {Suffix with Black, Grown, or Mixed, in Kenya Barris series titles} ISH. there’s a lot going on here, too. i’ve heard of black-ish and mixed-ish, but not grown-ish.

that’s all i’ve got this week. how’d you like this one?

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9 Responses to MGWCC #631

  1. C. Y. Hollander says:

    I wonder whether anyone submitted Barbara Bush.

  2. Dave says:

    In case you’re wondering, Chester A. Arthur’s wife’s name was Ellen.

  3. Matt Gaffney says:

    Thanks, Joon — 706 right answers this week. New record! Previous subscription-era high was 683.

  4. pgw says:

    > i also had the vague memory that we’ve seen a week 1-ish abigail adams meta
    > before from matt, but my searches didn’t turn anything up, so perhaps i’m
    > misremembering.

    I had that same vague feeling and probably we were both remembering this – – which Matt tweeted just a few months ago, probably around the time he had whatever idea turned into this meta.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Oh I’d forgotten about that. Didn’t inspire this one (except maybe subliminally)

  5. Todd Dashoff says:

    Matt: You still owe us the story behind last week’s rework that caused the puzzle to be delayed a day.

    • Matt Gaffney says:

      Oh shoot. I’ll post it on the site as well this Friday but long story short: I spent 4 hours on the grid (this is the CYCLOPS puzzle) and had it down to one corner left but I just couldn’t close the deal. Over and over it seemed like a certain fill should work, with a number of options for success in several different places, but no go.

      So then I began to wonder if I were dealing with an impossible task? There were 80 entries and 40 I’s, so each I had to part of both an Across and a Down entry. That much I had known all along, but then came the worst aha moment ever: I only then realized that for that to happen, you need to have *40 Across and 40 Down entries*. I clicked on the relevant tab in Compiler and there was the awful truth: 41 Acrosses, 39 Downs. The crossword gods had been laughing at me for hours.

  6. damefox says:

    1776 is a 4th of July tradition in my family too! When I tell this to other people, I’m often met with, “What is that?” A friend of my sister’s, upon first seeing it, asked, “Is this a spoof of something?” No, it’s just a fantastic musical, thank you very much! Although yeah it definitely doesn’t pass the Bechdel test. Or really any other test that requires characters not be white men.

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