Crosswords with Friends ... of the University of Minnesota Libraries
"Midrash" by George Barany (September 2013)

This puzzle was commissioned to appear in the printed program to accompany the September 12, 2013 presentation "An Evening with the Puzzle Master" by New York Times crossword puzzle editor Will Shortz [click on his name to learn more about his background and interests, or go lower on this page] sponsored by the Friends of the University of Minnesota Libraries, and taking place in Ted Mann Hall on the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus (West bank). As an adjunct to the presentation, the University of Minnesota Bookstores displayed (see photo to the right) the following books edited or co-written by Will: Will's Best: Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of The New York Times Puzzlemaster: 400 Crossword Puzzles and Intruduction by Will Shortz (2013), Will Shortz's Puzzle Master Workout (2012), Will Shortz Picks His Favorite Puzzles: 101 of the Top Crosswords from The New York Times (2011), The New York Times Little Black (and White) Book of Crosswords (2006), and The Puzzlemaster Presents: 200 Mind-Bending Challenges (1996). Update September 14, 2013: Click here for a blog report on the event, and go to the bottom of this page to see a photo of Will Shortz with ten Minnesota-area crossword constructors. Update September 19, 2013: Click here for a 95-minute YouTube video of the Will Shortz presentation. Update September 27, 2013: High-resolution photos from the event can be downloaded from this flickr site.

As a starting point, library staff [Nancy Herther, Meghan Lafferty, and Katherine McGill] brainstormed for library-related potential theme entries and subsidiary words, presenting me with an Excel spreadsheet of nearly 200 words, terms, and phrases ranging from 3 to 28 letters in length. Adding WILL_SHORTZ to the mix, this gave me more than enough to draft the puzzle, which was further refined by our usual Barany and Friends process. Note that the central spanning entry, DOESN'T_HAVE_A_CLUE, just sort of fell into my lap once four 10-letter entries had been arranged in a "pinwheel" pattern, but it seemed remarkably apropos. Nancy and Meghan suggested a few clues, while Jon Jeffryes test solved our earlier drafts with a special focus on the library angle. Meanwhile, representing our core Barany Friends group, Marcia Brott, Martin Herbach, and Michael Hanko were my first line for evaluation and refinements, including Michael's inspired clue for 39-Across and his brilliant recommendation for the puzzle's title that riffed on this apparently highly popular on-line game that I myself had never heard of [although I am quite fond of the classic board game Scrabble, on which WWF is apparently based]. Trying to avoid test solvers who were likely to be in the audience, we also reached out to Noam Elkies, Dan Feyer, Brent Hartzell, and Karen Kaler, who each provided additional highly useful feedback that further improved the puzzle.

Since some of the answer words (and corresponding clues) may not be immediately familiar, there follows a brief list along with perfunctory annotation. Solvers who are inspired to do further research via Google should in no way feel guilty; our purpose is to teach as well as entertain.

18-Across. DESIDERATA. In library-speak, this refers to things (e.g., books) that are wanted or needed (click here for definition and etymology). However, most people will associate the word with this 1927 prose poem, which starts with ... Go placidly amid the noise and haste ... that I've seen in poster form in many a college dormitory room.

27-Across COS. We are an institution of higher learning, so I elected to clue it as the trigonometry ratio, cosine, which also figures importantly in calculus, etc. Easier to some might have been the familiar name of comedian, entertainer, author, activist, megastar Bill Cosby (referred to in the Barany household as William Cosby, Jr., star of arguably the greatest TV sitcom of all time), or I could have gone chemistry nerd on solvers with the chemical formula of carbonyl sulfide.

60-Across HATHITRUST is a partnership of academic and research institutions, offering a collection of millions of titles digitized from libraries around the world. If you visit their twitter page, you find the logo (embedded within the graphic on the main page for this puzzle) and their slogan "There's an elephant in the library" which is evocative of this. For more fun reading about "hathi," please click here.

63-Across TRET is an allowance for waste, after subtracting the tare. It's a word that has appeared only five times in the Will Shortz era, and only once in the 21st century. The suggestion was made to change the second T to an X, which would have the powerful T_REX (see also this) crossing the partial SEX_ON (the beach), but this was deemed to flunk the "breakfast test."

65-Across AFBS are air force bases, and our clue refers to U.S. airplanes, the B-2s (stealth bombers) and the B-52s (stratofortress bombers, not the American New Wave band or the cocktail). Given the crossing word (62-Down) of UFO, for "unidentified flying object," great pains were taken to not create cross-referential clues based on this famous incident, and besides, we already had some fun with our clue for ALIEN (64-Across), the possible UFO pilot.

2-Down CIVET refers to a small nocturnal mammal that is also the source of a musk perfume.

3-Down OPEN ACCESS is an issue of considerable current concern to librarians, with spill-over ramifications into how scholarly work is refereed, evaluated, disseminated, and supported financially.

6-Down DOS refers to "disk operating system." This is what personal computers (PC's) ran on, in the early 1980s, until Microsoft introduced Windows platforms (click here for a fascinating historical outline).

12-Down CYAN is a greenish-blue color, sometimes also referred to as AQUA.

30-Down WILL_SHORTZ, the man of the hour, is the subject of several fascinating profiles/interviews found (most recent first) by clicking here [this first one, on the day of the event, in the Minnesota Daily], here, here, and here. You may also enjoy Will's definitive 2001 essay on How to Solve the New York Times Crossword Puzzle, and this 9-minute video entitled Stealth Lawyer.

31-Down ETUI is a word, derived from French, that means a small ornamental case for carrying small items like needles, toiletries, etc., especially as used by women. Though much derided as "crosswordese," the word has been used often both during the Shortz and pre-Shortz eras—just too useful a 4-letter combination for it to be any other way.

53-Down ARETE is a mountain ridge, examples of which can be viewed by clicking here. Regular crossword solvers will recognize the word, but its intersection with the obscure TRET at 63-Across creates a potential "Natick." Changing ARETE to A_NOTE would also create replacement Across words IN_STONE and TROT, and we'll be curious to learn on September 12 whether or not the Puzzle Master considers that an improvement over the current arrangement.

59-Down ISBN, or International Standard Book Number, is well-explained here.

Note added in proof: We were all set to go with "Mauer and Morneau, e.g." [referring to the local version of the "M&M Boys"] to clue 51-Down (Minnesota) TWINS, when the heartbreaking (to many) news came that the 2006 American League M.V.P. had been moved to the Pittsburgh Pirates, hours before the midnight September 1 trading deadline. A mad scramble ensued to come up with a replacement clue. Staying with the hometown baseball club, but focusing on outstanding players whose entire careers had been with the organization, made us think of Kent Hrbek, Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, and Kirby Puckett. More devious would have been a clue referring to the recent first-borns (note plural!) of Joe and Maddie Mauer, news that has already been memorialized in one of our puzzles. Another suggestion was to move away from baseball, but stay in-state by somehow call attention to the legendary longitudinal twins studies carried out at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. A further idea was to go with legendary twins from legends [e.g., Apollo and Artemis, Castor and Pollux, or Romulus and Remus]. One of the mathematically inclined members of our team even suggested "41 and 43, e.g." which refers not to the two Bush presidents, père et fils, but rather to twin primes. After reviewing the long compilation found here, as well as this "top ten" slide show, we finally opted to go with two Jewish advice columnists from the Midwest, both born on the fourth of July, both married on their 21st birthdays, and one of whom is the subject of a tribute puzzle published earlier this summer.

New York Times Puzzle Master Will Shortz meets Minnesota-based crossword puzzle constructors on September 12, 2013. From left to right: David Bael, Zhouqin Burnikel, George Barany, Will Shortz, Tom Pepper, Deane Morrison, Victor Barocas, Jay Kaskel, Dan Kantor, David Liben-Nowell, and Marcia Brott

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