Executive Decision Midrash

Executive Decision by Tom Pepper
"Midrash" by George Barany and Tom Pepper (February 2013)

GB: On the main page for this puzzle, I indicate how I became acquainted with Tom and learned about this wonderful construction. Immediately below, we provide below the solutions (yes, that's a plural!) (and yes, they're both pangrams!), then some precedents and context, and finally the "inside story" from Tom himself.

As you can see, there are TWO (as "revealed" by 62-Down, the final down clue) answers that fit the clues. Jim Horne, taking a cue from Joon Pahk, refers to this general "trick" as "Schrödinger puzzles," which is a definite upgrade from the moniker "schizophrenic" that was used earlier. Of course, the most famous example of the genre is the legendary Election Day 1996 puzzle by Jeremiah Farrell, and others that have been published in the New York Times are compiled here at Horne's site. Furthermore, you may click here and here for discussions (with the solutions revealed) of non-NYT examples, by Caleb Rasmussen and Ben Tausig respectively. Then, T Campbell penned a wonderful retrospective covering the field through June 2011. This brings us to Tom Pepper's "Executive Decision," first released in February 2013, which got a rave review — well worth reading — from Howard B. for Amy Reynaldo's blog. I have little to add from the crossword analysis point-of-view, but it did bring back memories of a widely circulated screed that made the rounds after JFK's assassination, in which any number of apparently eerie similarities and coincidences to the events in Ford Theater, nearly a century earlier, were pointed out. A google search quickly brought me to this snopes site, which provides a recap and then debunks much of it; see also this entertaining account.

TP: The original idea was about faces on U.S. coins (see below, grid on left side). My original themers were WASHINGTON (i.e., quarter), JEFFERSON (nickel), EISENHOWER (dollar), and ROOSEVELT (dime) with LINCOLN/KENNEDY (penny/50-cent piece) in the middle. The themers were clued as "namesake of .... " So, Washington was Western state, Jefferson was Midwestern capital city, Eisenhower was interstate highway system, Roosevelt was park in Georgia, and Lincoln/Kennedy was East coast center for the performing arts (Lincoln Center in NYC, and Kennedy Center in DC).

The revealer at the bottom of the grid was HEADS, clued something like "Side of coins depicting six U.S. Presidents, all of whom can be found in this puzzle." And of course, most would presumably only find five Presidents until they properly interpreted the revealer ... if they even bothered to count in the first place.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, in the end), I discovered one day that the U.S. mint had not long ago coined commemorative quarters with all the Presidents on the faces, so I would have had to qualify the revealer, which was unwieldy enough already. I still liked the central Lincoln/Kennedy thing, so I kept stewing about how to make it work.

At some point, the Lincoln/Kennedy likenesses clicked with me and I eventually came up with the themers you see today. I created many versions of a grid (e.g., right side, above) with 36 blocks, but I didn't like that SIXTIES and JOHNSON were shorter than a couple of the across non-theme entries. Those long acrosses were also iffy and boring. The only fix I could figure for that was to insert the extra 4 blocks, which made for a much uglier looking grid because so many black squares were already crunched in the middle, but the more I worked with it, the more I got used to it and accepted that it was probably the best I could do, and that's what you see today.

The central clue, "A face of change in America?" evolved as a play on the double-meaning of change (coins) from my initial effort, and that the answer itself could change. And as both Lincoln and Kennedy were agents of change in our country, it really had a triple-meaning.

All told, I worked on this on and off for about 18 months, and went through over a hundred versions, using 16 different templates. I submitted the puzzle to Will Shortz, but he declined, saying, "ingenious, but I just didn't like it enough." I wish he'd liked it more, but I'll always be grateful to Will for opening the door to my puzzlemaking career. I hold him and his puzzle judgment in the highest regard. Fortunately, Brendan Emmett Quigley was kind enough to post the puzzle on his web site. He flavored the puzzle with a few "Sex, Drugs, Rock 'n Roll" clues -- I liked that.

George (and friends) pointed out a couple of minor glitches that have been corrected in the version you see here. Thanks for the help, George!

If you want to tell others about this particular page, refer them to http://tinyurl.com/executivemidrash

Back to top

View My Stats