I've always been envious of those bloggers who hit the big times by delving into the dark secrets places where traditional journalist fear to venture. And now it's my turn! I'm about to turn your world upside down with a revelation so mind-blowing it nearly defies belief. Will and the Gang at NYT are not perfect. Or perhaps there's an even deeper, more sinister explanation for what I'm about to reveal.
My database at www.xwordinfo.com now goes back to the very beginning of recorded time — Oct.23, 1996. That's the date the NYT started publishing in Across Lite format. Going back further would require actual work and since I'm lazy, it isn't going to happen.
It turns out 14-letter answer words are not that common. Among the most common (with only three occurrences) is CHARIOTS OF FIRE. Take a look at that link and you'll see something amazing. The Feb 3, 2003 clue is "Hot movie of 1981?" The exact same clue is used a few months later on Sep 15. Not only that, they're both answers for 20 Across! IS PARIS BURNING is the answer on both those dates for 49 Across!
What's going on here? Take a look at the two puzzles in separate browser windows by clicking here and here. The two crosswords, both by Sheldon Benardo, are nearly identical. The big 15-letter clue in the center is TOWERING INFERNO. It's a nice theme, but there's a certain sense of deja vu.
They are not completely identical. The top row in Feb goes ELSE NETS PROWL. The top row in Sep is ELSE DESK PROWS. And so on.
What happened? Did Sheldon submit the same puzzle twice and Will edit it in different ways without realizing? Was an early draft mistakenly published? Is it a secret code telling enemy agents the location of the hidden spy decoder ring? Anything is possible. Whatever the deep answer is, I'm sure it's sensational and I expect heads to roll at the Times based soley on this reporter's personal efforts.
And remember, you read it here first.