…about favorite clues. A couple of recent posts here got me thinking about my favorite crossword clue that I’ve written. Not the best or funniest or cleverest, just my favorite. This is the clue: Extinct Namibian shrub genus: Var.
Pretty bad, isn’t it? But there’s a reason for that. There are also a few interesting incidents surrounding the puzzle in which it appeared (NYT, January 15, 2004). You can try the puzzle if you’d like [CLICK HERE for a PDF] or just read on. Sorry, Across Lite won’t work for it.
The theme entry running through the puzzle was: CAN YOU FIND TEN THINGS WRONG WITH THIS PUZLE. The word “PUZLE” was one of the mistakes. The Namibian shrub clue was another, the mistake being that it had no accompanying answer in the grid. What better chance could there be for writing the lousiest, dumbest clue one could think of?
Perhaps the most surprising thing to me about this puzzle was the wide range of reactions to it. A few people deemed it one of their favorites, while others felt quite the opposite. One person, who threw it out half-finished, told me, “There are some things you just shouldn’t do with a crossword puzzle!” And that was a friend!
The oddest incident surrounding the puzzle was a series of phone calls I received from my sister-in-law the morning it appeared. Through a friend, she’d gotten a part as an extra in Jonathan Demme’s “The Manchurian Candidate” and was hanging out during a lull in the shooting with four secret service agent actors — who were trying to solve the puzzle! They knew something odd was going on with it but couldn’t quite figure out what. My sister-in-law asked to see it and saw my byline on it. “My brother-in-law wrote that puzzle! I’ll call him,” she told them. She did, and after a series of calls over the next hour, they completed the puzzle. (Alas, she ended up on the cutting room floor, nowhere to be seen in the movie.)
Just one last incident I’ll mention, and then I’ll let you go. It concerns the puzzle’s appearance in The New York Times’s European sister publication, the International Herald Tribune. One eagle-eyed assistant on their staff noticed that Will Shortz’s name was misspelled “Will Shorts” (one of the 10 mistakes) — and corrected it! I can only imagine what solvers there thought of the puzzle, hunting for a 10th mistake that didn’t exist.
PDF answer: [CLICK HERE]