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The above crossword puzzle was published in the New York Times on November 5, 1996 — or, in the United States, election day. The clue for 39 Across: “Lead story in tomorrow’s newspaper (!), with 43A.”   The clue for 68 Across: “Title for 39A next year.”  Even though American voters were taking to the polls to vote for the country’s next president, the Times‘ crossword decided to forgo the formalities and just declare Bill Clinton the victor over Bob Dole a day early.

Or so it seemed.

There is nothing sinister about the puzzle displayed above. In fact, it is rather ingenious. The puzzle was all but guaranteed to predict the winner of the election, yes, but not because of Clinton’s large lead in polls entering November 5th.  Rather, the puzzle was pre-ordained to be correct because it could have also led to the result below:

Magic?  Hardly.  Just incredible clues.  39 Down is “Black Halloween animal” — which could be CAT or BAT, depending on whether the GOP or Democrats took the White House.  The other clues followed the same mold:

40 Down: French 101 word
41 Down: Provider of support, for short
23 Down: Sewing shop purchase
27 Down: Short writings
35 Down: Trumpet
42 Down: Much-debated political initials

One puzzle, two answers.

And this was not the only way in which the puzzle was schizophrenic.  Will Shortz, the Times‘ crossword editor, simultaneously loved the ingenuity behind the puzzle and bemoaned the angry phone calls from upset readers who did not realize that there were two answers — and could not fathom why the newspaper would dare declare either candidate the winner a day early.

Bonus fact: The 1996 election was the first time that a presidential candidate who won the male vote (Bob Dole) did not win the general election.

From the ArchivesVice President… Who?: The crossword puzzle didn’t care about the Vice President, which is par for the course in America — and in this case, ridiculously so.

Related: “The New York Times Ultimate Crossword Omnibus: 1,001 Puzzles from The New York Times,” a whole lot of puzzles for under $15.

Originally published

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