|As anyone who comes to this page must realize by now, this puzzle honors the gifted DAVID_STEINBERG on the occasion of his 19th birthday. Moreover, the puzzle has several features: (1) three long entries are all anagrams of "David Steinberg"—as obliquely hinted in the final across entry, i.e., ANAG; (2) the grid is filled entirely with the eleven letter bank corresponding to David's full name, i.e., the vowels AEI and the consonants BDGNRSTV; (3) the first half of the title is yet another anagram, and the second half of the title tells David's age; (4) truth be told, the chosen theme answers, and quite a bit of the remaining fill and/or corresponding clues, skew towards the salacious and any number of double entendres. Though we anticipated—correctly as it turned out—that the puzzle's growing and maturing inspiration could more than handle the last-mentioned feature, we nevertheless took the precaution of creating a secondary, less ambitious and less audacious themeless "backup" puzzle, entitled (appropriately enough) RATED_GEE, relying on that same letter bank and also having DAVID_STEINBERG as its "reveal."
A few words about process. Wc credit the fertile mind of Ralph Bunker for planting an initial seed (sorry about the tortured metaphor) with his "runt" puz entitled Man of Letters that he created for one of us (GB) in February 2015, that in turn led to this gem by the other of us (JC). The two aforementioned exercises relied on a rather restrictive eight letter banks [AEO and BGNRY], but it occurred to us that something quite interesting could be constructed if we had just a bit more to work with. We thought of David for several reasons, not the least of which was that a November birthday might give us enough time to get properly organized. We started to brainstorm for anagrams of his name; among those that did not make the final cut were: ADVERTISING_BED, DIGESTIVE_BRAND, DRIVING_DEBATES, INVITED_BADGERS, and VINTAGE_BIDDERS [Added in proof: we later learned that David himself, when he was still age 16 or so, had come up with DEVIANT_BRIDGES, which of course was on our list too].
For maximal flexibility [and we knew this was bound to come in handy moving forward], we decided to arrange four long entries of length 14 in a pinwheel pattern. In turn, this dictated the need for an 18x grid [not 19x to correspond to David's age]. We were further encouraged when we noticed that our grid had exactly 54 words going across, 54 words going down, and 54 black squares (16.67%). 54 + 54 = 6 x 18 = 108—a sacred number in Hinduism and Yoga. Plus, 18 is "chai"—a symbolic number in Judaism, and source for the toast L'Chaim (To Life).
At some point, JC took existing wordlists and figured out how to whittle them down to slightly under 10,000 words that used only the eleven letter bank we had chosen for this puzzle. Standard crossword software and "tricks-of-the-trade" allowed us to draft and optimize a surprisingly clean grid, given these restrictions; this was followed by a first pass at cluing. The fact that we work in time zones on opposite sides of the globe certainly helped progress in "tag-team" fashion. It was already the beginning of November, but not to worry, we knew that our amazing friends group would come through for us to discard clumsy or inaccurate clues, and suggest razor-sharp replacements or modifications. You can find the names of those involved on the puzzle's main page.
David got a "sneak preview" of the puzzle a few days before his birthday, just as he was starting the weeklong Thanksgiving break from his first quarter at Stanford. We held our respective breaths, wondering how he would react [the fact that he had recently published this stunt puzzle, and had recently entered some rather R-rated fill and clues in his own puzzles, like this one and this one, gave us cause for optimism.] Here is part of what he wrote, several hours after we alerted him:
"Thanks so much for the amazing birthday puzzle—it totally made my day! I finished the puzzle in 8 minutes and 11 seconds while finishing laundry, which turned out to be nearly the perfect amount of time for the washer to be done. I didn't realize my name had so many hilarious PG-13 anagrams! The only time I ever anagrammed my name was when I needed a pseudonym for some of my Celebrity crosswords, and I ended up with the much less interesting BRIDGET_N._DAVIES. The grid is truly a feat of construction, too! In fact, the solve was so smooth that at first I didn't even notice that the only letters in the grid were the ones from my name. I hope not knowing that my middle name is Paul (another vowel and two extra consonants) didn't cause you guys too much consternation when filling the grid!
The "spicy" clues were hilarious, especially the one for NEATENING [which I confess I may have done at least once this year!]. In fact, all the clues were a joy to puzzle through! I especially love the ones for B_TEN, SENATE, BARB, IDEA, and VISA! The one for EVAN was really nice to see, too. Please feel free to post whichever version of the puzzle you want on your Web site! I'd love for other members of the crossword community to get as much joy out of solving the puzzle as I did. Let's just hope that VIBRATING DEEDS don't cause any solver to end up with a midrash :) !"
Also, in case you did not recognize the photo on the puzzle's main page, it's one of a young David Steinberg ... the comedian, who is still going strong to this day—please note that young David Steinberg the constructor worked in DAVID_STEINBERG the comedian into this puzzle published in May 2013 [this fact is noted in the reveal clue of RATED GEE].
As for the puzzle itself, the clues are peppered with allusions that we assumed might resonate with David and/or that have some significance for the co-constructors and our team. For example, the clue for RARA winks at David's love of Latin; the clue for DENT refers to one of John's favorite books; the clue for DEB names GB's beloved daughter while BARB(arany) is GB's wife. Some of our test solvers were unfamiliar with GGG, but Dan Savage is quite popular in the alternate press and the college lecture circuit, and inspired another ADULT CONTENT puzzle on our website. Plus, we're all big Woody Allen fans ... at least from the early funny days [click here for Peptide ANGST: La Triviata].
The clue for DIGS digs at another constructor who parlayed a letter bank stunt theme based on his name. We have science with DNA and BIV (compare also to this recent Steinberg clue!), opera with DIE, gender issues with RENEE and EDNA, baseball history with REESE (also see this), Beatles with SITAR and GIVE, Rolling Stones with A_DRAG, oddly spelled horse names with SIRE (see also this puzzle), and arcane trivia with SIRI. Cluing ENIS was a real challenge, but one that John solved elegantly in a way that should give the solver a real LOL moment [space limitations do not allow listing or exposition of all the other spectacular clues that are primarily John's]. Michael Hanko came up with brilliant clues for BARGES_IN, BEAT, EVER, and NEATENING, among others, while Noam Elkies proposed the fabulously misdirectional anagram at 94-Across. The DEAR_ANN clue reminded me of this tribute puzzle co-constructed with Arthur Rothstein, that David edited for the Orange County Register.
RATED GEE also has some fun stuff ... we'll leave the pleasure of discovery on most of them to you, the solver. The unusual clue for TRIG was inspired by this tabloid-type item that actually made it to the MSM. Of all the versions of Cry Me a River, our clue refers to this Justin Timberlake cover, while one of us is partial to this Joe Cocker rendition instead [see also this puzzle]. The clue for ARIA is evocative of a Chronicle of Higher Education puzzle with Martin Herbach, called The Ring of Truth.
If there is anything else (from either puzzle) you would care to see commentary about, please e-mail and we'll update the midrash!