This puzzle speaks to the odd use of the term word ladder, doesn't it, for yes, one can, of course, climb down a ladder, but it's usually got the connotation of something one climbs up. Anyhow, I am usually not a huge fan of this type of puzzle, but I was encouraged to pursue this one in part because of the unexpected direction it would take (through TOOTHSOME, no less!). The theme imparts a certain feeling to the grid: the top half of the puzzle seems brightly lit; the bottom half seems engulfed in a dark shadow. One of John McPhee's many dear pieces of advice on writing comes to mind. Calling thesauruses "useful" but "dangerous," he writes: "At best, [they] are mere rest stops in the search for the mot juste." Moral: caveat utilitor.