12.17.2009

The story behind Merl Reagle's Wednesday puzzle

A lot of people noticed that the fill in Merl's puzzle yesterday was, well, not as smooth as they might expect. A Roman numeral at 1-Down? E-TAIL and A NET? OST and ACADS? Some baseball player we don't all know?

A man in Philadelphia had gotten in touch with Merl, since Merl's Sunday puzzle runs in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The man's wife CLARA (1-Across) is a big fan of crosswords and she has been battling a tough cancer. The man hoped that a newspaper might run a puzzle with a theme devoted to Clara. That, Merl explained, was not possible—but he came up with the idea of seeding a themed puzzle with all sorts of stealth answers that would mean something to Clara but nothing to the rest of us.

The Philadelphia Inquirer also runs the L.A. Times daily crossword, so Merl and editor Rich Norris put the plan into motion.

Clara's dog CHOCO is there, as well as her husband's name, her favorite baseball player, her maiden name—about 15 answers in all. So the fill had to work with Merl's five theme answers and the other 15 entries planted around the grid, thus compromising the remaining fill.

Clara did the crossword in the hospital today, thinking all those answers with personal meaning were mere coincidences until she came upon CHOCO and said, "Wait a minute. What's going on here?" The family burst into laughter, and the joyous experience was the best Christmas present they'd ever had.

I'm a firm believer in crosswords having the best quality fill and offering the solver an entertaining time. This one time, the bulk of the entertainment was directed at a minuscule part of the solving audience, not at the rest of us. But hey, the other 364 puzzles this year are for all of us. This one puzzle gave Clara's husband a chance to do something really memorable and joyous for her, and I'm glad it worked out.

Thanks to Merl Reagle for sharing the story, and thanks to Rich and Merl for doing a good deed. The rest of us? We still had a decent crossword to solve, and we got to be witnesses to a touching tale.

36 comments:

Crockett1947 said...

Orange, Thank You for sharing the story. What a marvelous gesture for Merl and Rich to do. A very heart-warming story.

Sam Donaldson said...

Thanks, Orange, for relaying this story, and kudos to Merl and Rich for making this special moment happen!

chefwen said...

Thanks for the truly touching story, I am typing this looking through very misty eyes.

Sfingi said...

Very impressive, A wonderful gift for a friend. Give Clara our prayers.

ddbmc said...

@Having a family member going through a horrific disease myself, I am beyond touched! Thanks so much for sharing this story. Merl, Rich, Orange-what a special gift this was. Clara, angels all around you!

crazycatlady said...

Thank you so much Orange for sharing this with us. As a cancer survivor, I can only say hooray for such a wonderful husband and crossword constructor!! I send out my prayers to Clara and her family and thank Merl Reagle and Rich Norris being so kind and generous.

crazycatlady said...

oops left out FOR

Tinbeni said...

Merl that is the best Christmas wish to come true that I have heard this year.
Thank You very much Merl & Rich giving Clara and her family a wonderful gift and sharing this story.

Also a big Thank You to you Orange for not letting this come out early.

*David* said...

What is there to say, very special.

mac said...

Agree with all of you, very moved to read about this wonderful effort by Merle and Rich, and thank you, Orange, for not just explaining, but making the run-up so exciting!

Van55 said...

All's forgiven, including CCC.

split infinitive said...

The story behind the puzzle has me choked up. I'm believing in miracles and human goodness this evening.
What an inspiring movie could be made from this series of events, honestly. Hats off to all who made this happen, and who kept a 'lid' on it.

I won't soon forget the puzzle or the touching tale that brought it to our kitchen tables, comfy chairs and computer screens. Thanks for filling us in.

split inf. & co.

JD said...

Thanks for sharing this touching story. It says a lot about Merle and Rich, and,of course,Clara's husband..such a unique personal gift.We're all rooting for you Clara.

Matt Gaffney said...

As if. I needed. Another Reason. To idolize. Merl Reagle.

gespenst said...

All that, AND I liked the puzzle!

Bravo Merl, and best wishes Clara!

Anonymous said...

That is really sweet - thanks for sharing the story!

Amy B.

Rex Parker said...

HOLY Cow. Seriously, Holy Bleeping Cow. Merl is more of a legend than ever. I'm speechless.

Norm said...

Merl, you rock!

Crosscan said...

wow.

Parsan said...

A wish for blessings for all who made this holiday gift possible!

will nediger said...

Wow, that story just made my day.

PhillySolver said...

Thank you for sharing the Holiday spirit from the City of Brotherly love. Merl and the paper deserve a broader coverage.
Best wishes to Clara.

rosieflower said...

I'm a day late, but this story gave me goose bumps and teary eyes. God bless!

Clueless in Cincy said...

Thanks for sharing this with all of us, such an uplifting and heart warming story. I struggle with most of the puzzles and reading something like this makes me glad I do. Merry Christmas or happy holidays to all.

Merl said...

geez, guys, your comments leave me speechless, and for me, that's saying something! later today i'll probably write a couple of paragraphs about how it came about, but in the meantime i can't imagine christmas presents getting any better than the reactions on this list--unless it was the reaction of clara herself. as i mentioned to amy, i'm just hoping that some of those euphoria endorphins were strong enough to kill a couple thousand cancer cells. in any event, i hope you all have a great holiday! --m.r.

JOHNSNEVERHOME said...

Goes to prove that crossworders do have a heart. Merle, I salute you for bringing joy to a lovely person and her thoughtful family.
This is such a heartwarming story and it just fits the spirit of giving that we feel in this season.
Bless you, Merl, and also Amy for sharing this very touching story.

Meg said...

That was a wonderful story and shows the tender human side in all of us we don't always connect with. Thanks Amy and Merl.

SethG said...

Yeah, that's pretty much the most awesomest thing ever. Thanks to Merl and Rich, and best wishes to Clara and family.

backbiter said...

I have a giant lump in my throat. My prayers are with you Clara. Very touching story. Thank you for sharing that Amy, and thank you Merl and Rich for such a wonderful gift.

Whitney said...

Ditto what everyone else said. Misty eyes. Lump in throat. What an amazing thing to do! Lots of love to Clara.

imsdave said...

I am literally speechless - the spirit of Christmas x 100. Thanks to Rich and Merl (and Amy) for letting us share this wonderful moment. God bless you all, and all of my prayers to Clara and her family.

Howard B said...

That's just amazing. Thank you for sharing this.

Truly wishing all the best to Clara and her family. Thank you, Merl.

Anonymous said...

A wonderful gesture by Merl and Rich. Thanks for sharing the story behind the crossword.

janie said...

and *that's* what it's all about.

lovely, moving gesture and story for so very many reasons.

thank you merl, rich and amy for the insight--

;-)

Charles Bogle said...

absolutely wonderful gesture to warm the hearts of all!

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