TUESDAY PUZZLE — The universe of superheroes is a large one, but it is most definitely eclipsed by the number of devoted comic book fans who revel in the stories of these fictional heroes.
This puzzle by Jeremy Newton is a lovely and touching tribute to an important story in that universe, as well as to an actor who portrayed the superhero in that story. I’d say more, but I don’t want to give anything away. Not yet, anyway.
23A. The first word I thought of when I read the clue “Squirrel away” was STASH, but that’s too long. The answer is STOW.
43A. “X amount” looks like the clue is asking you to fill in a random number, as in “solve for X.” In this puzzle, however, the clue is asking for an “amount,” and the X is the Roman numeral for TEN.
57A. Nice wordplay. “Edge of fashion” sounds like we are supposed to be thinking about being au courant, but this is a real edge on a piece of clothing. The answer is HEM.
2D. These “draft picks” aren’t athletes. They’re ALES.
5D. The abbreviation in this clue is a signal that the answer will be an abbreviation. Editors’ (“Ed.’s” in the clue) inboxes are filled with MSS, or manuscripts.
12D. When I think of a MART, I think of a 7-Eleven type of convenience store. A “bazaar” suggests something far more exotic.
19D. Hi, kids! John F. Kennedy, popularly known as J.F.K., was the 35th president of the United States, from January 1961 until his assassination in November 1963. Before Kennedy, the 34th president of the United States was Dwight D. Eisenhower, also known as D.D.E.
27D. “Bill with ‘New Rules’” is a veiled capital clue. The “Bill” is not a precursor to a law, it’s a proper name, Bill MAHER’s specifically.
Mr. Newton pays tribute to the Marvel series “Black Panther,” focusing mainly on the 2018 movie starring CHADWICK BOSEMAN. Mr. Boseman, who also starred in “42,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Marshall,” “Get On Up” and more, died of cancer on Aug. 28 at age 43.
“Black Panther” tells the story of T’CHALLA, king of the fictional African country of WAKANDA. (This is the only theme entry that is not a debut. WAKANDA debuted in a puzzle by Tracy Gray and Jeff Chen in May.) The story is notable because it is the first comic book series with an African protagonist.
As Mr. Newton mentions in his notes below, it is truly serendipity when there is an opportunity to cross two important theme entries in a crossword, especially when they are 15-letter grid spanners. The sight of CHADWICK BOSEMAN crossing THE BLACK PANTHER is visually striking, especially when the other theme entries, HEART-SHAPED HERB and SUPERHUMAN POWER elegantly cross Mr. Boseman’s name. And it is somehow touching to see the entries T’CHALLA and WAKANDA flanking Mr. Boseman’s name.
He and the puzzle editors even sneak the Avengers, another Marvel franchise, in there at 71A.
Watching the opening rescue scene of “Black Panther” had me smiling and tearing up in the movie theater. Aside from being a terrific movie with a well-deserved Best Picture nod, what struck me emotionally was the powerful milestone — a spotlight shining on the first Black superhero in a mainstream blockbuster. And the actor Chadwick Boseman was brilliant as Black Panther. Such an iconic performance!
I was inspired to honor this Marvel superhero — and the actor who portrayed him — with a puzzle. I found my first toehold in my grid when I noticed that the K in THE BLACK PANTHER could cross CHADWICK BOSEMAN at the middle. When two 15-letter theme entries cross like that, it’s a gift from the crossword gods. No turning back at that point.
The gods were merciful again, with Black Panther’s alter ego T’CHALLA and his home WAKANDA locking symmetrically near the center. I just needed more theme to flesh out the northern and southern parts of the grid. I struggled a bit with fitting answers that included MARVEL, COMICS or AVENGER. I finally went back to Black Panther lore, and was psyched that the source of his powers, the HEART-SHAPED HERB, could lock neatly across the top. After that, I was able to squeeze in SUPERHUMAN POWER just opposite the HERB, providing a nice tie-in.
For me, trivia-based themes can sometimes be less compelling to solve than themes with tricky wordplay. Here, I’m hoping the dense theme interlock is interesting to discover with some fun supporting fill. A big thank you to Will Shortz and the editorial team for running this puzzle right now. I hope this puzzle does justice to Mr. Boseman’s performance.
The Tipping Point
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