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Today’s puzzle features a meta with the following instructions: “Which former first lady should be the next theme answer in this puzzle?” There are seven long Across answers, so let’s start there:
- 23A: [“That’s How Heartaches Are Made" soul singer] is BABY WASHINGTON.
- 40A: [Former New York Times theater critic with a Pulitzer Prize] is MARGO JEFFERSON.
- 57A: [Jazz singer who wrote songs inspired by the civil rights movement] is ABBEY LINCOLN.
- 68A: [“The Terminator" actress] is LINDA HAMILTON.
- 80A: [Recipient of the Icon Award at the 2018 Billboard Music Awards] is JANET JACKSON.
- 97A: [Founder of a luxury skin-care company] is ELIZABETH GRANT. This also happens to be the birth name of the singer Lana Del Rey, though the skin-care company founder is a different person.
- 118A: [First woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame] is ARETHA FRANKLIN.
Those are all women of note, but where are the men of note as mentioned in the title? They can each be found on another kind of note: U.S. currency. The famous women’s last names match those of presidents and statesmen on dollar bills, beginning with the $1 and increasing in order:
- $1 –> George Washington
- $2 –> Thomas Jefferson
- $5 –> Abraham Lincoln
- $10 –> Alexander Hamilton
- $20 –> Andrew Jackson
- $50 –> Ulysses S. Grant
- $100 –> Benjamin Franklin
The next theme answer in the series should be the first lady who shares the last name with the man on the next denomination. The $500 bill comes next in the sequence, and William McKinley was most famously on the $500, so the meta answer is his wife, IDA MCKINLEY.
Though I thought it was neat for the title to hint at both notable men and women, I have to admit some misgivings about the meta’s execution. The faces on U.S. currency have long been canonical knowledge to me, even for the discontinued bills; it’s just one of those things I memorized as a kid. But it might not be well known to everyone else, especially since everything above the $100 has been out of circulation for decades. So, it might not be easy to track down the right info even if you know you’re supposed to look up the faces on dollar bills. If you check Wikipedia to help with solving metas (as I often do), this page could trip you up since multiple men have appeared on the $500. McKinley was the most recent, but John Adams and Abraham Lincoln were on it during the 19th century. Maybe those don’t yield acceptable alternate answers, though, since Lincoln is already in the grid and Adams technically hints at two first ladies (Abigail and Louisa). Another problem is that none of the other women in the theme answers are spouses of the men on the dollar bills, so Ida McKinley’s sort of an outlier in that respect.
Arguably it might have been a better idea to save this idea for a smaller grid and just use the first six denominations to hint at Aretha Franklin as the meta answer. Or, maybe it was no problem for you to track down the right answer and it all works fine. What am I if not neurotic about every puzzle I write?
Just a few other answers and clues of note:
- 19A: [Spanish digit seen in this clue number] is UNO and 91A: [English digit seen in this clue number] is ONE. I was stunned at how well this pairing worked out. The digits are flipped between the two clues.
- 20A: [Las Vegas’s WNBA team] is the ACES. They just began play this summer.
- 63A: [Portrait artist Alice] is Alice NEEL. She’s a woman of note who hasn’t appeared in that many crosswords as answer, even though her last name is really, really useful for puzzle writers.
- 1D: [One who rejoiced after the 2016 World Series] is CUBS FAN. I can confirm that this is true.
- 9D: [Aircraft carriers?] is LUGGAGE. I wondered for a little while if I should ditch the “air” clue since it’s right next to CONAIR at 8D: [Curling iron brand]. I just couldn’t let it go.
- 68D: [Where to make a pit stop in California?] is LA BREA. The La Brea Tar Pits, that is.
- 119D: [Vice writer Peyser] is EVE Peyser. I mentioned her and her self-described puzzle addiction in this space a few weeks ago. While writing this puzzle, I coincidentally happened to have her name in the grid. Surprise, Eve!
See you next week.