39 Across: “ ‘Casablanca’ screenwriter Julius or Philip.”
37 Across: “ ‘Shakespeare in Love’ role.”
“Am I losing my mind?” Marlowe Epstein wondered.
It wasn’t until she landed on 51 Across that she figured out what was going on.
“Words with a certain ring to them,” she read aloud.
“Will you marry me,” she suggested, and looked to her boyfriend, Corey Newman, for agreement.
He agreed more than she realized. Newman pulled out a diamond ring. Down on one knee, he repeated the words back to her. “Marlowe, will you marry me?”
“Oh!” she whispered. “Yes, of course!”
For months Newman, 28, had been trying to figure out how to propose to Epstein. “I wanted to do something unique,” he said. One day as he watched her sit immersed in a crossword puzzle — as she so often is — he had an idea. And with a little help from Bob Klahn, veteran crossword creator, Newman’s plan became a black-and-white reality in Sunday’s Washington Post Style section.
“I was sort of blown away,” Epstein said later. “I was so impressed that he managed to pull that off!”
Careful Washington Post readers may have wondered about the bonus puzzle Sunday, and devoted puzzlers probably picked up on a theme. Clue: Seek to form a union? Answer: Pop the question. Clue: Wedding gown material. Answer: Lace.
But even Epstein, 31, didn’t notice how many questions were intended specifically for her. Other answers included “Aiken,” her home town in South Carolina, and “Corey,” her boyfriend’s first name.
Saturday morning, she said, “just seemed like business as usual to me.” When she woke up, there was a cup of coffee waiting for her. As rain whipped against the windows of the couple’s Alexandria apartment, she settled on the couch with Newman, who was working on a crossword. “I’m stuck,” he said, prompting her to help.
Newman had originally planned to propose Sunday, but a citywide scavenger hunt they’d planned to participate in was bumped to that day, so he made a last-minute decision to do it Saturday instead. For an hour that morning, he raced around Old Town, looking for an early Sunday edition that would have the puzzle, but none of the shops had received them yet. So he did what any desperate man would: swiped one from the front of an office building. No one’s there on the weekend anyway, he figured.
Newman met Epstein in January 2010 at Murphy’s Irish Pub on King Street. “I can still see her,” he said. “As soon as I turned my head and saw her standing in the door I was like, ‘Whoa.’ ”
Two weeks later Epstein, who works in communications, invited him to join some friends at her place as a blizzard was moving toward Washington. After everyone else went home, the two kept talking and the snow continued falling. By early morning Newman realized he was stranded; he wound up snowed in with Epstein and her roommate for four days.
They saw each other only sporadically after that, but when Newman, an event planner, moved from Dupont Circle to Old Town in late July, their get-togethers became regular. By September, they were dating exclusively.
Right away it was serious. “Three weeks after we started seeing each other, everyone was asking, ‘When are you two moving in together?’ ” Newman said.
That happened in January; by then, they were already talking about marriage. “Even though some people say, ‘Oh, you haven’t been together that long,’ it feels like we have,” he said. The blizzard gave them an opportunity to get to know each other in a way that can usually take months, he adds. “We never got the chance to pretend to be perfect.”
Once Newman flushed out his plan, he contacted The Washington Post, where editors put him in touch with Klahn. It took Klahn several days to create the puzzle, as he wanted to make sure it was as relevant as possible. (He’s had some practice at this: In 1998 he crafted a New York Times puzzle that also doubled as a marriage proposal. The woman said yes to that one, too.)
Hours after she solved the puzzle and looked at the ring, Epstein still couldn’t fully wrap her mind around what had happened. “I’m just amazed,” she said. “I did not see it coming at all.”
That was the idea. “I’ve been telling her forever that she was special,” Newman said. “And I wanted to do something so she would know that I meant it.