October 29 Midrash

The Djerassi Gambit, and Others
"Midrash" by George Barany (October 2012)

As you surely realize by now, this puzzle celebrates a number of individuals, some living and some of blessed memory, some better known than others, who share a birth date of October 29. The genesis of this puzzle came during an e-mail exchange with Martin Herbach, one of my best crossword cyberfriends ever since shortly after publication of A Cryptic Tribute at the end of June, 2012. As we reminisced about the relatively recent losses of our respective fathers, each an eminent academician in his respective field (biochemistry and mathematics), Martin pointed out that his birthday was the same as my Dad's. Moreover, I realized that each had a full name of the same length (13 letters), so these could be placed symmetrically in a standard-size (15x15) grid.

A Google search quickly gave a long list of candidate names that could be used as additional theme entries for the puzzle. I chose two names to span the grid (i.e., 15 letters) that also resonated with cultural landmarks of my early and mid-adult life: Richard Dreyfuss (a star since his appearances in American Graffiti and Jaws n.b., he is clued herein for less iconic roles) and Dan Castellaneta (of The Simpsons fame). Beyond that, I tried to be opportunistic and was able to work in first names of Kate Jackson (Charlie's Angels), Fanny Brice (brilliant Jewish comedienne played by Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl), and Akim Tamiroff. I was particularly pleased to be able to use KATE as 14-across, since that was my Mom's first name, and is near in the grid to my Dad. One name that I could not work in, though, was that of Carl Djerassi, a Stanford Chemistry professor who helped to develop "the pill" and who has had a parallel career writing fascinating "science-in-fiction" novels, including The Bourbaki Gambit. Hence, the title of the puzzle.

In the real world, Bourbaki was a pseudonymous construction of the French mathematical community to collaboratively develop a rigorous exposition of their field. My principal collaborators on the present puzzle were (in alphabetical order) Charles Deber, Noam Elkies, and Michael Hanko, which means that on a much smaller scale, I have the privilege of working collaboratively with a brilliant group of individuals to construct puzzles that occasionally educate or amuse. Ordinarily, Martin Herbach is an integral member of this team, but for this one puzzle, he needed to be on the sidelines and console himself with words like IBM, NINA, and LEON (his own Dad's name) that were worked in specifically for his benefit.  I also clued ERA, LATE TAG, COOK, SOYA, ANNA, and EBOLI with a nod to Martin's affections for the 2012 baseball World Series champion San Francisco Giants, fine cuisine, and opera (which latter I share), threw in some crossword in-jokes (ADIT, ONEG, LACHINE), and got in two references to the wonderful Ninotchka, as well as a legendary scientific paper, a remarkable mathematician, an iconic scene from one of Woody Allen's early funny movies, and a certain canine, for the enjoyment of our truncated team.

One last point, our group has often debated on how to clue a proper name with an S tacked on to the end. There is the school of thought, to which I subscribe, that one must be able to come up with two (or even three) recognizable exemplars of that name. However, one (not widely used) work-around is the use of a possessive, and I suppose that a case can be made for that. However, what you see most often is "...and others" and now you understand the second part of this puzzle's title.

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