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Inside Bill Clinton’s Puzzling Mind


Clinton in New York last month.Photo: Getty Images

Bill Clinton is a crossword buff; he even makes an appearance in Wordplay, the film about puzzle maniacs and their patron saint, Will Shortz. Sunday, finally, he moved from a mere solver to a published author: The Times Magazine published a crossword with the clues — although not the grid itself — designed by the former president. The magazine seemed vaguely unimpressed with Clinton’s effort — his exercise didn’t supplant the usual puzzle but was published alongside it, and Shortz appended an “editor’s note” pretty much wiping his hands clean of it: “The clues in this puzzle are a little more playful and involve more wordplay than in a typical crossword.” Ouch. We went ahead and solved the damned thing today, on five hours of sleep and battling a hangover. (Don’t say we never do anything for you!) After the jump, a journey through the presidential puzzle. Needless to say, the crossword equivalent of spoilers follow.

First off, the former president’s handiwork didn’t strike us as all that different from the usual Times fare. Sure, some puns are on the cheesy side — “a disapproving king” is “Tut” and “Social events for flirts” are “teas” (not state dinners?) — but, by and large, it’s nothing you wouldn’t see in a Monday or Tuesday puzzle. Some clues were clever; we liked the use of “copy” as the answer to “I heard you.” The real interest, though, was the window this provides into Clinton’s head. There’s some interesting junk in there:

Bill has way too much free time on his hands. The president knows who ALF is; more amazingly, “She has a high-school reunion” is “Romy,” from a rather obscure Kudrow-Sorvino flick.
Bill likes ‘em exotic. Leave it to Clinton to use “those French girls,” “foreign lady friends,” and “harem room,” in addition to the aforementioned flirts, as clues.
This isn’t about politics. Or is it? After “A party I don’t attend,” three letters, turned out to be GOP, we started looking for more partisan proclamations. We were hoping the clue “It can make you sick” might turn up something like “The rape of the habeas corpus,” but it was merely “E. coli.” The closest Clinton came to another anti-Republican slam is making fun of Henry Kissinger’s accent.
Something for conspiracy theorists. The answer to a very meta clue, “It’s just short of a clue,” is “a clu.” Or is it, gasp, ACLU? Is Clinton saying the ACLU is clueless? Interesting.
• Oh, and the first letters of every ninth “across” answer and every eleventh “down” answer spell out B-U-S-H K-N-E-W. *

Bill Clinton’s Puzzle [NYT]

* Actually, they don’t. Kidding.

Inside Bill Clinton’s Puzzling Mind