Prize-worthy posers

Revisiting the greatest clues of the 2024 ACPT

Published April 21, 2024

Happy Sunday everyone! Two weeks on from Paolo Pasco’s win at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Stamford, it’s time to look at some of the featured clues.

NOTE: If you want to solve these puzzles unspoiled, be sure to purchase the puzzles at, and then STOP READING. We won’t discuss any puzzle themes here, but we’ll be spoiling clues. We’ve said that twice now, but one more time: Look away!

For everyone else, let’s see some of the favorite clues we came across (and down).

Clues you can use (to win tournaments)

Puzzle 1, constructed by Lynn Lempel

Europe/Asia border range = URALS

A classic crossword entry, the URALS are the 1,600-mile mountain range stretching from the Arctic Ocean to Kazakhstan, and mark the traditional border between Europe and Asia. The Russian cities of Ufa, Ozersk, and Perm (of Permian geologic fame) are all nearby, and the highest point is Mount Narodnaya (6,214 feet, with 5,814 feet of prominence). The Urals are also the source of the important folk tale The Mistress of the Copper Mountain, featured in Slavic and Russian myths. And if you’re still not moved to fill in your Russian knowledge, well, they also appeared as a background in the original ‘80s Tetris.

Puzzle 2, constructed by Anna Shechtman

“The Collected Schizophrenias” author ___ Weijun Wang = ESME

At age 30, novelist Esmé Weijun Wang was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, leading to this 2019 essay collection about her daily life since then. It won the 2016 Graywolf Nonfiction Prize, and subsequently became a New York Times bestseller. In a glowing review, the New Yorker especially praised “the bravery it took for her to do it.” ESME has already been clued this way in the NYT and USA Today puzzles, so be on the lookout!

Puzzle 3, constructed by Tracy Bennett

“Air Music” composer = ROREM

Ned Rorem won the 1976 Pulitzer for Music for “Air Music,” which is subtitled “Ten Etudes of Orchestra.” Like etudes, Rorem himself is worth a study. A former student of Aaron Copland (and a crossword solver), Rorem’s large corpus includes his 36-song 1997 cycle “Evidence of Things Not Seen,” and the 2006 opera “Our Town.” (Yes, it’s a Thornton Wilder adaptation.) Rorem died in 2022 at age 99, leaving behind diaries detailing his relationships with many 20th-century figures. One quip from Leonard Bernstein: “The trouble with you and me, Ned, is that we want everyone in the world to personally love us, and of course that’s impossible; you just don’t meet everyone in the world.”

Puzzle 4, constructed by Kevin Christian

Oscar winner for the song “Fight for You” = HER

A successful musician, Gabi “H.E.R.” Wilson has seen musical and non-musical success on screens big and small. The Oscar-winning Fight for You comes from the 2021 film Judah and the Black Messiah, and she recently made h.e.r. acting debut as Squeak in The Color Purple (2023). TV viewers most recently saw H.E.R. as part of Usher’s Super Bowl halftime show, but she also played Belle in the 2022 ABC broadcast Beauty and the Beast: A 30th Celebration, and even voiced a dinosaur in 2022, on Blue’s Clues

Puzzle 5, constructed by Mike Shenk

Fashion designer Behar = IKE

The Cuban-born founder of an eponymous fashion label, Isaac “Ike” Behar has been in the game since the 1960s. As an octogenarian, he designed John Wick’s signature black and charcoal suits, adding to his work on other films including Wall Street and Richie Rich. Nowadays he leaves the operations up to his three sons. Which does he like the most? I bet it’s a tie.

Puzzle 6, constructed by Robyn Weintraub

Viscoelastic material originally developed by NASA = MEMORY FOAM

Specifically, North Carolina-based aeronautics engineer Charles Yost created memory foam in 1966, filling a NASA contract to make airplane seats more crash-absorptive and thus safer in emergencies. Today, NASA calls memory foam the “most widely recognized NASA spinoff”; I like to think we wouldn’t have made it to the moon without comfortable seats. Yost was posthumously inducted into the Flexible Polyurethane Foam Hall of Fame in 2015. But surely you already knew that.

Puzzle 7, constructed by Joel Fagliano

___ Danvers a.k.a. Supergirl = LINDA

In parallel universes I don’t quite understand, Linda Danvers merged with the shape-shifting lifeform Matrix to become Supergirl. First appearing in 1996, Linda is one of several Supergirls, and the main one until 2003, when she married Superman and had a daughter, Ariella Kent, who assumed the mantle after being transported to the future (huh?). Linda has only been played in live action once, by Laura Vandervoort in a Smallville episode, and confusingly is not related to Carol Danvers (aka Captain Marvel). So be careful when you’re filling in that grid!

Grids these days

Since the ACPT, the best piece of crossword writing is a New York Times article about Gen Z, and its infiltration of young crossworders and crossword clues. A great read, it features many wonderful solvers and constructors, including–here he is again–Paolo Pasco.

Meanwhile, there was an article in The Berkshire Eagle about the fascinating life of longtime constructor Michelle Arnot. It includes a photograph of her many ACPT nametags; she’s been connected to the tournament since 1987.

Looking to the future, August will feature Lollapuzzoola in New York, and in October we’ll see the new Midwest Crossword Tournament at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Here’s hoping this review has made you just a little more likely to do well at those, but for now, have a great week of solving!

Chris King is a longtime crossword commentator, and the author of five published puzzle books. His column appears on Questionist every Sunday.