As marriage proposals go, this one was pretty puzzling.
With help from the puzzle editor of The New York Times, 27-year-old Bill Gottlieb encoded his intentions in a Times crossword, then watched as his beloved, 24-year-old Emily Mindel, solved 56 Across: Will You Marry Me?
Mindel, a third-year student at Brooklyn Law School and a crossword devotee, worked the puzzle over brunch Wednesday at a restaurant, while Gottlieb, a lawyer, sat across from her, pretending to read the paper.
As the puzzle took shape, she found her first name (18 Across: poet Dickinson), Gottlieb’s first name (14 Across: Microsoft chief, to some) and the three long answers that provided the puzzle’s theme: “Modest Proposal” (20 Across: 1729 Jonathan Swift pamphlet, with “A”); “This Diamond Ring” (38 Across: 1965 Gary Lewis and the Playboys hit); and “Will You Marry Me” (56 Across: 1992 Paula Abdul hit, with Stevie Wonder on harmonica).
A quarter of the way through the crossword, Mindel said, her heart began to race.
“In the back of my mind, I thought this has to be for me, but it can’t be,” she said. “It was just too coincidental.”
Gottlieb affected a detached air.
“Every time I said, ‘Oh, my name is in the puzzle,’ he said, ‘Oh really?’ and went back to reading the paper,” she recalled.
Gottlieb picked up the story: “Four letters from being done, her voice is sort of quivering and she says, ‘This puzzle …’
“I said, ‘What do you mean?’
“She says, ‘This puzzle …’
“I just kissed her and said, ‘Will you marry me?”’
Mindel’s response was identical to the answer to 57 Down: “Yes.”
Gottlieb, who grew up in Hawaii, began dating Mindel, a native New Yorker, in 1996 after they were introduced by relatives.
He sought Times puzzle editor Will Shortz’s assistance last fall, after trying - and failing - to create his own puzzle proposal. Shortz, who had never met Gottlieb or personalized a puzzle before, liked the idea
“Normally a crossword is something two-dimensional in the paper,” Shortz said. “In this case, it gave the puzzle a third dimension. For most solvers, it’s just a regular good crossword puzzle. It just held special meaning for two people, or a handful of people.”