This puzzle is meant to have two layers of theme. One layer obviously is that the theme entries are actors whose names are types of salad. But also I wanted to chose actors who would actually evoke nostalgia for solvers' SALAD DAYS. I wanted to chose big name movie stars who spanned a large portion of film history.
Unfortunately, crossword puzzles require entries be within a certain range of word length and have an appropriate symmetry, and there are only so many last names that are also salads and only so many people who have ascended to the height of movie star, so I had to do make do with what was available. I like LEE J. COBB (great actor too -- 12 Angry Men is a classic) and SID CAESAR. I'm fine with ORSON BEAN. But I would have liked an upgrade over TOM GREEN. He's the least movie-starry of the four, and, personally, I never thought he was particularly funny. My SALAD DAYS included very little Tom Green. In retrospect, I could have easily gone with EVA GREEN, but I didn't realize this until the puzzle had already been accepted.
Eva Green also would have been better because it would have gotten a woman into the puzzle. As it is, we got four dudes. If you keep up with the crossword blogosphere, you are certainly aware there is a push among many puzzle enthusiasts to make crossword puzzles more inclusive. I think this is a good thing. Constructing and competitive solving are dominated by men. In the former, there are a few prolific females (particularly C.C. Burnikel who I swear has a puzzle published somewhere every day) and then that's about it. The big question: Why is this the case?
It's something I've thought about quite a bit. In a way, it's something I've been thinking about most my life, as I discovered at a relatively early age that most my major interests -- sports analytics, math, Scrabble, crossword puzzles, etc. -- are predominantly male pursuits. After many hours thinking and rethinking about this, reading opinion pieces, scientific studies, and the occasional controversial "academic exploration of hypotheses," here's what I came up with as the reason: I have no fucking idea. I haven't come across a single theory yet that I've found particularly convincing.
The root cause I think is clearly sexism. Back in the day, women were discouraged from doing these activities, and so we're seeing the residual effects of that today. This makes sense, but the missing piece -- the thing I really don't understand -- is why aren't we seeing this male-female gap to the same extent in other fields. Back in the day, women were discouraged from doing pretty much anything other than raising a family, right? So why is it that today woman are much better represented in fields like law and medicine (though still not close to 50-50) than they are in fields like math and crossword puzzles?
So it seems to me the only solution I have for getting more women involved in something like crossword puzzle constructing is to get more women involved in crossword constructing. And that's not actually a solution at all. It's a tautology.
(And by the way, if there are any aspiring female constructors reading this right now, and you need some guidance, I'm available! Actually, I'm available even if you're male or anywhere else on the gender spectrum. I'll just be excited somebody is asking me for advice about something.)
Getting back to my puzzle, I'm completely satisfied with it. I'm putting this up before I read any commentary about it, so I hope others feel the same way. The theme ended up being relatively simple, but I'm fine with a simple theme. If you have one though, I think it's imperative to make the non-theme entries sparkle and keep the grid clean. I feel like I did a good job with both of these. MAN'S MAN, MIC DROP, AW GEEZ, COIN-OPS, PAYPAL, TANK TOPS and I GUESS are all pretty solid entries, and the worse entry, in my opinion, is ESAS, which isn't even that bad. I'm guessing some will balk at RVER and AAHS, but I stand by both of those. RVer is a perfectly cromulent term for a person who travels by RV, and "oohs and aahs" are what people say at fireworks shows.
Another thing I anticipate some solvers not liking is all the proper names in the puzzle (NAMES, ironically, not being one of them). In addition to the theme entries, you've got ANI DiFranco, NGAIO Marsh, JADA Pinkett Smith, Nellie BLY, Judd APATOW, and Susan DEY. I concede that's a lot, but... that's kinda my thing. I've found I like a much heavier dose of proper nouns and pop culture trivia in my puzzles than most people, and since I'm me, I often design my puzzles the way I like them. I mean, crossword puzzles are supposed to have personality, right?
Alright, that's all I got for now. I might pop back on after I read the reviews. It depends on what they say. And it depends on how much time I have. It's supposed to be a snow day tomorrow (I'm writing this Monday night in D.C.), and when you have two children under the age of five, a snow day is not a day off. It is very much a day on.