This puzzle has two versions, one for my alma mater The Rockefeller University, and the other for a more general audience. To begin, I was invited to construct a Halloween-themed puzzle by Natural Selections—Rockefeller's unofficial publication for the edification and amusement of its community. I thought that GHOST_WRITER might make an interesting theme entry. but that had been done before. Besides, why not throw in a healthy dollop of science? It did not take me long to think of RED_CELL_GHOST, whereupon a Google search led me quickly to this wikipedia article about a protein called spectrin. Notwithstanding the obvious sense of humor evidenced by whoever named that protein, the very same article suggested a second theme entry, CYTOSKELETON. To round things off, and keeping in mind the symmetry rules for crossword construction, I came up with VAMPIRE_BATS (getting two Halloween icons for the price of one) and SPIDER_VENOM. The original working title of the puzzle was "Spectrin Analysis," a wink towards spectral analysis that is a hallmark of my chosen specialty of chemistry [and has nothing to do with ghosts, or, for that matter, ghostbusters].
The Barany and Friends process for creating, testing, and optimizing crossword puzzles has been described (click here). For the theme entries, I wanted the corresponding clues to honor legendary Rockefeller scientists. Since Donald Griffin's illustrious career included discovery of the fact that bats navigate via echolocation, my original VAMPIRE_BATS clue was "Griffin's hematophagous echolocators?" RED_CELL_GHOST was clued as "de Duve's hemolyzed phantom?" in tribute to the Nobel laureate cell biologist Christian de Duve, who discovered lysosomes. Fellow Nobel laureate cell biologist/electron microscopist George Palade inspired "Palade's closeted matrix?" for CYTOSKELETON, which also riffs on the idiom "skeleton in the closet." To clue SPIDER_VENOM, I found this 1982 paper by Larry Fritz and Alex Mauro, leading to "Mauro's black widow product?" [apologies to my friend Larry, but the rule was to use faculty names rather than students or postdocs]. I should add that venoms and toxins are very important in neuroscience research, and have considerable potential for medicine; structurally, many of them are disulfide-rich peptides which takes us directly into one of my core research interests.
There was, however, a problem with the initial theme clues—beyond the obvious fixation on blood, if not gore. They just weren't very funny—too literal in the opinions of several trusted beta testers [a list is in the second paragraph of this puzzle's main page]. Fortunately, with their wise and creative counsel, the livelier clues you actually see were crafted. In the metamorphosis to a "non-Rockefeller" version, further judgment calls were needed. For example, neither Palade nor de Duve could be replaced by "cell biologist" or equivalent, since CELL (as well as CYTO) was already in the fill. Again, we think that the revisions are fair yet interesting.
Other Rockefeller-allied information, some specific and some more tangential, was also woven into the original version of the puzzle; not all of this survived revision and polishing. ENEMAS, for sure, and to some extent DISEASE, are not words normally found in mainstream media crossword puzzles, due to something called the breakfast test [certain words can often be rescued by creative cluing, a point emphasized by the late great Merl Reagle]. However, we were targetting the puzzle for an audience devoted to scientia pro bono humani generis, with a long record of innovation in the diagnosis, treatment, and eradication of some of the major scourges of mankind—not exactly the most squeamish of crowds. Besides, the puzzle is for Halloween!
Of many ways that one could potentially clue CHARGE, I decided to reference two Rockefeller mass spectroscopists, Frank Field and Brian Chait. To clue standard crosswordese ENE, I thought of Mercedes-Benzene, and referenced two Rockefeller chemists, Bill Agosta and (my mentor) Bruce Merrifield. I was probably too clever by half when I clued YEAST as "Nurse's organism"—this referenced former Rockefeller President Paul Nurse, whose discoveries in yeast genetics were honored with a 2001 Nobel Prize. The clue also suggests a venerable campus building, the Nurse's Residence, but that may have been just too much. Similarly, initial clues for STEED ("Knight mare") and YORE ("Knight time") were nixed because, wouldn't you know it, they seemed too close to Rockefeller's Bruce Knight.
I was also pleased to get YANKEE into the puzzle, come up with scientific clues for CLEAVES and PSI, allude to one of my favorite Woody Allen movies, and use the full title of Verdi's famous aria for a baritone. The clue for (round-bottom) FLASK confused at least one of our beta testers, and some non-chemists were scratching their heads about THIOL. Not everyone will know about Jesse CRAIN, and the record he set while with the Minnesota Twins, while Sol HUROK might be more recognized by those steeped in the rich cultural life of New York City. This puzzle has four palindromic words, for each of which this property is stated explicitly in order to help the solver.
As the Rockefeller version of the puzzle was going to press, I learned that Moses Malone had died, unexpectedly. This was shocking news to me, particularly since MM and I were both born in 1955. Moreover, neither of us went to college. Bringing our theme full circle, I remembered that in 1974, the same year that Malone began his professional career in the ABA directly from high school, I dressed up as him for a Rockefeller student Halloween party. Therefore, it seemed only appropriate to dedicate this puzzle to MM's memory.