Milestone In Inorganic Chemistry
"Midrash" by George Barany (May 2013)

This puzzle pays homage to the remarkable teaching and research career of my colleague John E. Ellis, on the occasion of his 70th birthday (May 26, 2013). Just a week earlier, a number of past and present Ellis graduate and postdoctoral students, organized by Paul Fischer and aided behind the scenes by John's wife Lynda, held a special symposium in John's honor. The keynote speaker was John himself, in a talk entitled "Recent Developments in Low-Valent Transition Metal Chemistry," and click here for his handy handout. I was duly inspired to write the crossword puzzle that you have just solved, while his friends and admirers generated this wonderful recap [photographs by William Brennessel, who was also a beta tester on the puzzle].

On the following lines, I explain a few things about the puzzle that some of our beta testers (listed on main puzzle page) found puzzling. But before I do, it seems only appropriate to share this link to a 3-minute youtube video that started going viral coincident to our hero's birthday festivities.

Explanation of Theme Entries:

17-Across, LIGAND_FIELD. John's research area (FIELD) involves, in part, the development and use of all sorts of novel LIGANDs that bind to low-valent heavy metals. A second meaning of the word FIELD winks at LIGAND_FIELD theory, a staple of inorganic chemistry developed in the 1930s and 1940s.

24-Across, HEAVY_METAL_GROUP. See above paragraph about HEAVY_METALs being a focus of John's research. With a wink to a genre of rock exemplified by GROUPs such as Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Iron Maiden, Mötley Crüe, etc., etc., the clue and answer also focuses on the meaning of the word GROUP to designate the team of research students and postdoctoral fellows led by a University professor, e.g., click here for the current Ellis GROUP. Interestingly (see links in first paragraph for photographic documentation), John began his lecture at his own Symposium by removing, a la Superman, his outer shirt to reveal a T-shirt showing the chemical symbols and icons of a number of the HEAVY_METALs that he and his GROUP investigate. [Note: We hope that not too many of our solvers over-think the word GROUP, insofar as it also refers to any column of the Periodic Table.]

37-Across, JOHN_EMMETT_ELLIS. Self-explanatory, and how convenient to be the canonical crossword dimension of 15 letters. To make JEE's middle name accessible to solvers who would not have a clue what is was, I found this site via a google search, from which I chose two attributes that most people who know him or have worked with him would have to agree with.

49-Across. TRANSITION_STATE. Several simultaneous meanings, starting with John's interest in TRANSITION metal inorganic chemistry, and continuing with the important concept of a TRANSITION_STATE as the high energy point on the reaction coordinate as chemists of all persuasions seek to elucidate reaction mechanisms. Keeping in mind that life milestones such as "odometer" birthdays may be considered TRANSITIONs, and considering that the 40+-year independent academic career of John Ellis has taken place entirely in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, the flagship school of the STATE of Minnesota, we think that our simple clue packs in a great deal of information.

60-Across. NANOSCIENCE studies very small chemical structures (atoms, molecules, etc.), and the clue offsets the word major (double meaning, one of which is antonym of "small") in the clue for 17-Across. This is a "hot" research area that has attracted the efforts of thousands of scientists in academia and industry.

Comments about Specific Entries and Clues:

This discussion will not be comprehensive, and will focus on the "main" version that is targeted to the puzzle's honoree and others with a chemistry background [and for once, we are constructing to a demographic that is not intimidated by technically accurate clues for words like ACIDS, IMINE, and BENZYL]. For example, no individual comments are provided on several clues where we used one or two-letter symbols from the Periodic Table to "spell" words, a trick that we have exploited in other puzzles (click here and here). Note that just about all of our words can be clued in a manner accessible to non-specialists, as we have done with this version. If anything still puzzles you after reading through all this and checking the various links, please contact me via e-mail:

6-Across. Change E to F refers to "empty" and "full," rather than letter grades or alchemical transformations. In a bizarre coincidence, the same clue concept was used (31-Across) in a New York Times puzzle on Friday, May 24, 2013, after we developed our puzzle but before it went "live."

21-Across. "Lowest possible valence?" as a clue for ZERO is sure to provoke head-scratching, controversy, or both. Valence, defined loosely as the combining power of atoms, is an old and sometimes misunderstood chemistry concept, and it cannot be a negative number. I merely sought to call attention to John's research theme of working on low-valent transition metals, and what number could be lower than 0?!

33-Across. The given clue is accurate as a general definition, and refers specifically to sodium fusion, a technique for elemental analysis going back to the middle of the 19th century.

45-Across. The answer we are looking for is REDS. Noam Elkies suggested that surely among the many metallo-organic compounds synthesized by John and his students, there must be several with that color. Sure enough, William Brennessel stepped up with literature references to compounds that are deep red, dark red, brown red, etc., etc., with the intention to "showcase" a variety of "Ellis-normal" ligands like CO, CNXyl, napthalene, anthracene, and butadiene. He also pointed out that most really good acceptor ligands tend to produce colorless (or nearly so) anions. Thanks for the chemistry lesson!

18-Down. John Ellis is renowned for the DEMOs he gives as part of his teaching of general chemistry. With many to choose from, I elected to refer to the classic methanol "whoosh" bottle, re-enacted here (from youtube).

Note that 49-Down could be either T-CELL or B-CELL, and 63-Down could be either EPR or ESR (the same technique with two-different three-letter-acronyms) but the correct choice comes from the crossing word. 53-Down refers to a popular local eating establishment, but could just as well be clued for the Broadway musical. According to Jim Horne's invaluable database, EPR has never been used in a New York Times puzzle. After scanning through the titles of a few publications from the Ellis laboratory (links a couple of paragraphs above this one), we recognized yet another unusual cluing opportunity for 4-Down ETA, but submit that the clue actually used is esoteric enough.

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