Telling Him Yes on 11 Across and 14 Down

The SF Gate published a profile of Will Shortz–puzzle-master from the NY Times.

“Shortz, an avuncular, mustachioed man of 53, has become famous for his clues. Under the sharp point of his witty pencil, the clue for DERRIERES goes from the predictable “tushes” to the devilish “many moons?” For GRANDMA, the elementary “folk artist Moses” becomes the juicier “she may be off her rocker.” For THEATER, the overly New York-centric clue “Hirschfeld or Schubert, for example” becomes the clever “it has wings but doesn’t fly.”

When Shortz took over in 1993, the first thing he did was jettison the old rules. He started including clues about rock music, television and sports. He included more slang. He put in clues like “unknown element” (X FACTOR), “wake up” (FACE IT) and “babe or fox” (HOTTIE).

And then there was the time Shortz got a call from a young lawyer who wanted to propose to his girlfriend through the crossword. Shortz’ first reaction was that it was a preposterous idea. The New York Times crossword was an august institution, a puzzle consumed by a huge global audience. It was no place for dispensing personal favors. But the more he thought about it, the more he realized it could be “very cool.” So he assigned the crossword to one of his regular creators, and coordinated with the boyfriend about when the puzzle would appear in the paper. On the agreed-upon day, the man and his girlfriend went out for brunch, and on the way, they picked up the Times, just as they always did.

At the restaurant, she opened the crossword page, as was her custom, and started doing the puzzle. He pretended to read the front page, but in reality, he was watching her. He’d only slept 15 minutes the previous night. The theme of the puzzle was “A Modest Proposal,” the title of a Jonathan Swift pamphlet. “Oh look, your name’s in here,” she said at a certain point. “Oh, my name’s in here, too,” she said a few minutes later. One of the answers was THIS DIAMOND RING, a ’60s hit by Gary Lewis and the Playboys; another was WILL YOU MARRY ME, the title of a Paula Abdul song. She looked up. “This puzzle,” she said. “This puzzle!” The moment was right. He got down on one knee and asked for her hand. Her reply, too, was in the crossword, under the clue, “hoped for response.” The answer was YES.