Judith Dupré’s Guide to the “Strong and True” Puzzle
May 23, 2016
There’s no bigger thrill for a crossword buff than meeting a constructor, especially one as accomplished and beloved as Elizabeth Gorski. Liz and I met through our mutual appreciation for both puzzles and architecture. When she agreed to make a custom puzzle to celebrate my new book, One World Trade Center: Biography of the Building, I did cartwheels of joy (metaphorically speaking, alas).
The puzzle started with a Tuesday difficulty rating, but evolved to a slightly more al dente level. When I described it as having a “Tuesday/Wednesday" difficulty to Kai Ryssdal of NPR’s marketplace, he said, “Now that’s the most New York phrase I’ve ever heard!”
Typical of her sky-high generosity, Liz calls this a “collaboration,” but she did all the heavy lifting. I wrote 15 clues themed on One World Trade Center, and added some clouds and a spire to the top of the puzzle. That tiara, as Liz described the spire, crowns the drawing that solvers make by connecting the circled letters in alphabetical order. Yes, this is one of Liz’s famous “Connect-The-Dots” puzzles, a form she invented in 2003. Like I said, no bigger thrill.
From the start, we knew that ONE WORLD TRADE CENTER would run across the puzzle’s center. Another definite inclusion was 1A, the name of architect David M. CHILDS of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the lead designer of One WTC. I only wish you could have seen David’s face when I presented him with the puzzle. He melted, saying he would solve it and frame it too. Liz insisted that my name also appear—hard to quibble with that, since it's probably my first and last chance to appear in a puzzle. Originally I suggested “Not the cellist” for 87A, as I’m always asked about my more talented distant relative.
Liz managed to work in 15D, STARCHITECT, a word that increasingly is used to describe high-wattage designers. That allowed me to name some of the many talented firms that designed the WTC’s nine major structures.
She delighted me with answer 60D: HEIGHT IN FEET. I had to juggle the clue’s wording [“1,776, a year for independence and, for 64A, a measure too”] so the puzzle would print on a single page. 1776 refers to the year the Declaration of Independence was signed and to One WTC’s height. It’s one of many references to the American democracy embedded into the tower’s design. Another one, 83D [“Washington Monument and 64-Across, for example”] is OBELISK. Childs modeled his tapered tower after the obelisk form, which was used first by the ancient Egyptians, later adapted by the Romans, and employed by Robert Mills in his design of the Washington Monument. Mills also was fascinated by navigational aids, such as lighthouses; these two forms (marker and navigational aid) naturally blended in his imagination. Childs’ skyscraper similarly blends the two, yielding a tower that anchors the Manhattan skyline and also marks the location of the 9/11 Memorial.
96A [“Kind of view that looks to the past and to the future, as 64-Across does”] is a bit of a headscratcher, but JANUS perfectly describes One WTC’s impossible task: to stand for all that was lost, and reclaimed, on 9/11. The tower looks back in remembrance and forward with optimism. It does this by reflecting in its glass surface everything around it—the sky, clouds, other buildings, the faces of passersby. Much like the city it loves, One WTC’s truest identity is found in its capacity to absorb, change, and endure.
Other notable answers, clues, and eyebrow-raisers:
The word “designer,” used here to mean architect, caused some fiddling. To minimize confusion, 24A is now a “couturier” and 10D is a “fashion icon.”
Eagle-eye that I am, I saw that 43D (originally AROD, “New York Yankee”) could be changed to ARAD, designer of the 9/11 Memorial, and that 54A (BRO, “male sib”) easily morphed to BRA. Like ARod, Michael Arad was a wunderkind, only 34 when he won the 9/11 Memorial competition—and he then devoted a quarter of his lifetime to completing it.
45A is OBSERVATORY, a nod to One World Observatory at the top of One WTC. [“From here, you can see forever (or at least, NY, NJ and PA)”].
Three of my clues raised Liz’s eyebrows. 37A [“A concrete meas. of strength”] is PSI, an abbreviation for “pound per square inch,” an answer she deemed too difficult. It would have been even harder if we had gone with my original clue, “Strength, concretely.” WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff, which engineered most of the WTC, used 14,000 psi concrete at One WTC, the strongest concrete ever used in a skyscraper. The race to move, mix, and pour that concrete before it dried was heroic—and measured in minutes. If you want to know how many minutes, read the book!
Another one, 76A [“Asian architectural concept”] is OKU. This was my bow to Japanese master architect Fumihiko Maki’s sublime design of 4 WTC, which employs oku principles. Rooted in Zen Buddhism, oku connotes the innermost depth of a building or a place, referring less to measurable distances than to psychological dimensions.
Everyone knows that WIND is the “Great nemesis of skyscrapers,” don’t they? Apparently not! Liz wisely changed clue 58A to “Current event.”
Lastly, the Saarinens, father and son, have to be the hardest working architects in puzzledom. However, Liz’s inclusion of ELIEL,19A, was particularly efficacious, given that his entry into the 1922 Chicago Tribune Tower competition would influence generations of American architects. The Tribune architectural competition, by the way, was the largest ever held—until it was eclipsed by the 2002 competition to design the WTC.
**Special thanks to Elizabeth Gorski, Jane Driver, and others for test-solving this puzzle, and to my editor Michael Szczerban for proofreading the clues.**