GB: This puzzle HONORS (62-Down) JENNIFER PAONE-VOGT (74-Across), who TEACHes (23-Across) GENERAL CHEMISTRY (29-Across) at ST. MICHAEL'S COLLEGE (19-Across) in COLCHESTER, VERMONT (45-Across). Jenn and her husband DAN (82-Across) go on an annual family vacation to POPHAM BEACH, MAINE (59-Across).

AS: I have worked with the puzzle’s honoree for the past dozen years in the Chemistry Department at Saint Michael's College in Colchester Vermont. Jenn is the department’s lab coordinator and instructor. Her fantastic organizational skills keep the physical space in tip-top shape, and her upbeat attitude and witty humor lifts the spirits of all who spend time in her presence.

GB: I'm hazy on the details, but at some point, my one-time student and life-long friend Alayne Schroll cyber-introduced me to her colleague Jennifer, who I was given to understand enjoys crossword puzzles in general, and became interested in puzzles from our Friends group. JPV was added to my bcc distribution list, and became a Facebook friend—I finally got to meet her in person in September 2014 on the occasion of a seminar visit to St. Mike's.

Facebook is very good about sending reminders of upcoming birthdays, so it occurred to me that it might be fun to write a puzzle in honor of Jennifer. Of course, this requires a collaborator who can supply some inside information, so I was pleased when Alayne enthusiastically agreed to help. She generated a shopping list of information, from which I culled a set of four long answers that could be placed symmetrically in a non-standard grid (17x17) that had to be custom-designed for this occasion. I then tried to develop a quality fill for the puzzle that even incorporated a few "bonus" entries, based in part on information that Jenn and her family are real Italophiles. See words like PASTA (1-Down), COLOSSEUM (11-Down), NAPOLI (63-Down), and SERA (71-Down). Knowing that Jenn grew up in NYC (76-Down) informed my choice of this closing entry. Learning from Alayne about Jenn's keen interest in gardening suggested the puzzle's title.

A challenge for puzzles of this sort is to make the solving experience pleasurable to diverse constituencies. On one side are close family, friends, and colleagues of the honoree, who can fill in answers like 74-Across with their eyes closed, but may be stumped by a clue like "Crossword puzzler's favorite cookie" (18-Across). On the other side are solvers who have no clue who 74-Across is, let alone how to spell her name, and are counting on knowing the crossing Down words and hoping that they are fairly clued. One way to deal with this, that would be frowned upon in a more mainstream puzzle, is to provide anagram hints for difficult entries like USNR (44-Across), RIAL (64-Across), OREN (12-Down), LEO IV (22-Down), and YURTS (35-Down), among others. Then, there's occasional material that is fun to learn, but completely uninferrable, like IANDU.

Nevertheless, I was particularly happy to throw in a SCOOP (38-Down) of locally-created Ben & Jerry's ice cream into the puzzle [and did you know that Bernie Sanders started his political career as Mayor of Burlington, Vermont?]. Plus, of course, there are answer words and their corresponding clues that people in the STEM field would love, like BRASS (24-Across), AT&T (57-Across), MASS (8-Down), LEGS (13-Down), Neil deGrasse TYSON (33-Down), TARE (47-Down), ENIGMA [64-Down; note connection to Alan Turing], OCTAL (66-Down), etc. In terms of sports, I alluded to Super Bowl III (27-Across), the ALOU family of baseball fame (77-Across), and Chinese superstar YAO Ming (10-Down), among others. Click here to learn about the health benefits of CASHEW NUTs (46-Down).

If there are other answer words and/or their clues that you would like to know more about, please e-mail and we'll try to update this page.

AS: With this being my first-ever crossword puzzle, I was happy mainly to suggest theme material and consult on the clues. However, George gave me the opportunity to select the letter at the intersection of 30-Down and 41-Across. Viable options included B, D, M, P, S, T, V, and W. However, I chose L, i.e., intersecting ROLE and ALE, and then clued these words with respect to local landmarks: the SMC Playhouse and McKee's Pub & Grill. I hope Jenn gets a kick out of that!

 

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