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VOL. 38 | NO. 18 | Friday, May 2, 2014

Customized crossword content? Who had a clue?

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Dear Judge Vic, Do you believe in hiding messages in a crossword puzzle – like for birthdays, anniversaries, weddings and such? Curious.”

“Dear Curious, Believe in it? Heckfire, I’ve seen it happen!” I’ve even done it myself. And will do it again. The question is when. And for whom.

The most highly publicized instance of this in the past few years had to do with a puzzle in the Washington Post in 2011.

The two answers in the middle of the grid were MARLOWE and EPSTEIN, separated by a black square. The clues for these were something like [English dramatist Christopher] and [“Casablanca” screenwriter Julius].

Innocuous, right? Well, not so much for a woman named Marlowe Epstein of Alexandria, Virginia, who happens to be an avid crossword solver.

For some reason that day, her boyfriend, Corey Newman, was insistent that she work the puzzle in his presence.

The clue for a long entry in the lower half of the grid was [Question asked on bended knee]. To which the answer, of course, was WILL YOU MARRY ME. For good measure, the last horizontal answer, in the lower right corner, was COREY.

Yes, Corey proposed in a crossword. And so can you. But you’ll need my help, won’t you?

Well, Corey actually got the help of my friend Bob Klahn, but that’s because Bob’s one of the authors of the puzzle that appears in the Post.

The I Swear Crossword appears in Little Rock’s Daily Record, Chattanooga’s Hamilton County Herald, The Memphis Daily News, and The Nashville Ledger. It’s available for papers everywhere, however, so don’t hold back on telling your local editors about it.

On more than one occasion, someone has been surprised by a message in the I Swear Crossword. Four years ago, the following clues and answers appeared in an ISC:

Siamese or tabby: CAT (in the upper left)

Father’s Day in 2011: JUNE NINETEENTH

Certain estate: HOLY MATRIMONY

Year of Super Bowl XLIV: TWO THOUSAND TEN

Mack or Danson: TED (in the lower right)

Ted and Cat live in Atlanta and will celebrate their fourth anniversary in a few weeks.

In another 2010 puzzle, the following clues and answers appeared:

One of the Seven Dwarfs: HAPPY

Golden anniversary: FIFTIETH

Census datum: BIRTHDAY

Crystal ___ (singer): GAYLE

Gayle might not have been the happiest camper that someone told her age.

In an untitled 2012 puzzle, these entries stood out:

Killington’s state: VERMONT

Classic TV comic: TIMMIE ROGERS

Ponzi scheme operator: BERNIE MADOFF

The Big Apple: NEW YORK

Bernie and Timmie, husband and wife, have homes and business interests in New York and Vermont. I forget which anniversary they were on.

The occasion doesn’t have to be ultra-special to merit honoring someone in a puzzle. Welcome someone home from college. Give the guest speaker at your civic club a token she’ll never forget. At a fundraising gala, give attendees a crossword praising the college or charity or candidate. And on and on.

You, too, can be in puzzles. You have my contact info.

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.

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