Jeremy Zilar is the Content Strategist and Blog Specialist at The New York Times where he has overseen the launch of over 200+ blogs and real-time news publishing.
On Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2008, I proposed to Juliette through a crossword puzzle in her copy of The New York Times. Jim Horne, the writer behind WordPlay, the New York Times Crossword Blog was kind enough to publish our story.
Juliette loves the N.Y.T. crossword puzzle. She prefers the real paper version of the Times, organizing it by section and devouring it piece by piece, saving the arts section for last. I thought proposing via the crossword puzzle would be wonderful. All the pieces seemed to fit. We were getting ready to start a new Crossword Blog at The Times, I was probably going to be working with Will Shortz, and maybe, just maybe, I could ask him if he would run a special crossword for me. Oh, and Valentine’s Day was around the corner.
I e-mailed Will. He declined. He said he famously did this back in 1998, that he’ll probably never do it again, and that he doesn’t like to repeat ideas. However, he did give me the name of a constructor who could help: Fred Piscop. After many nights trying to build my own puzzle and failing, I e-mailed Fred.
Fred was great. I sent him a list of relevant words, clues, and description of Juliette and me. A few days later, Fred sent me his first draft. I was amazed. I did ask him to change a few words in the puzzle. BETRAY became BETTOR, and a few others changed as a result. Since this was only meant for Juliette to solve, I took liberty to modify some of Fred’s clues to be more specific to our lives. Then, I spent a few hours seeking out the crossword page template for the arts section.
The whole job took a good amount of field research. Most mornings I was up at the crack of dawn and raced downstairs to get one of the few papers available at the local bodega. Then, I would present her with her paper, carefully watch her go through each section, noting how she designed her reading habits to arrive at the crossword puzzle last. Some days she would fold the arts section up and stuff it in her bag before heading on the train. Other days, she would save it until she was ready for bed.
Finally, it all came together. I had arranged to get a copy of the arts page just after 5 p.m. when the section closed, and with the help of the art director of the travel section, I had printed out a near perfect copy of the page — the exact page the real crossword was printed on, front and back.
The day arrived. I had the ring. I woke up at 6:30 a.m., the precise time that the bodega downstairs opens, and bought a copy of The New York Times. Then, I went upstairs, and in the hallway outside the apartment, I switched out the page with the actual puzzle for the one I had created, and just to make sure it looked like part of the original run, I folded the arts section back up, pressed the fold a few times before inserting it back in to the rest of the paper right below Thursday Styles. I sneaked back into the house and proceeded to make breakfast for Juliette.
I watched as she sat there, flipping through each section, casually reading, saving the arts section for last as I had seen before. When she finally did get to the end, she made like she was going to save the crossword for the train when I stopped her and said, “Maybe you should take a look at today’s crossword puzzle. It is a special one.” She opened it up, stared at it for a few moments, then totally squealed, “Oh, my God! You made the crossword puzzle!” I swear, to this day, I have never again seen her react like that. I handed her a pen — it happened to be a pen with archival ink — and suggested she try to solve it. She hesitated for a moment because in her mind, Thursday puzzles were not very easy to solve, much less while the solver was being watched.
Within a few minutes, when she got about halfway through the puzzle and had already filled in a few words that fed into the bottom row, she smiled and told me that she could see the end of the puzzle. I let her fill in all the vertical words that filled out 62 and 63 across. When she finally filled it out, WILLYOU MARRYME, we both stared at each other for a second, unsure of what to do next. Then I asked her to marry me.
On September 5, one year after our first date, we got married in the Prospect Park Boathouse in Brooklyn. Juliette and I are now expecting our first child, due to arrive in this world around July 21, 2009.