SKYWRITING? BEEN DONE. ENGAGEMENT ring on the lobster claw? Boring. What Bill Gottlieb was searching for was the perfect way to propose to his sweetheart, Emily Mindel. And that's when Gottlieb got a clue. "Emily does the puzzle every day," says the 27-year-old New York City corporate lawyer, referring to the venerable New York Times crossword. "I thought that would be a romantic way to propose." So last October, Gottlieb called Times puzzle editor Will Shortz and asked him to play Cupid. "My reaction was, 'Wow, what a great idea!' " says Shortz, who agreed to weave a wedding proposal into the puzzle as "a onetime thing."
The puzzle ran on Jan. 7. Gottlieb invited Mindel, a Brooklyn Law School student, to brunch. "I just said, 'Let's grab the paper,' " he recalls. "Very casual. But I was so nervous." Gottlieb feigned interest in the rest of the paper while Mindel, 24 and a crossword whiz, penciled in answers: 38 Across asked for a Gary Lewis and the Playboys hit (THIS DIAMOND RING); 56 Across was a Paula Abdul
song (WILL YOU MARRY ME). Other answers included EMILY, BILLG and YES (the hoped-for response to 56 Across). "I had the feeling the puzzle was saying something," says Mindel, no dummy. "My heart was racing, and I got all hot and flush."
With only four squares undone, Mindel faced her beau and stammered, "This puzzle..." over and over.
"Her voice was all shaky," he says. "I smiled and asked, 'Will you marry me?' " Mindel's reply: an eight-letter phrase for absolutely ("Of course!"). Now the couple, fixed up by their families in 1995, are shopping for a ring and planning an intimate wedding (Shortz is on the guest list). When's the big day? Umm, they haven't a clue.