Theme twins

Today’s New York Times crossword (by Kevan Choset) uses the same theme as a 2009 Los Angeles Times puzzle (by Todd McClary). In both cases, the constructors found phrases ensconcing the word EARTH, such as CLEAR THE AIR, I DIDN’T HEAR THAT and LINEAR THINKING. The revealer is J.R.R. Tolkien’s MIDDLE EARTH, which is the final theme entry in both puzzles and describes the gimmick nicely.


Of course, the puzzles weren’t exactly alike — the clues and grids were different, and the only theme entries the two shared were CLEAR THE AIR and MIDDLE EARTH. But the idea was still the same, and it’s always interesting to compare how two constructors approach the same concept. Here is a review of Todd’s 2009 puzzle, and here is a review of Kevan’s 2013 puzzle.

The most striking difference between the two is that Todd went with four theme entries, while Kevan chose to use five. This made the fill in Kevan’s a little less smooth than Todd’s since he had that extra entry to accommodate.

Note also that there’s no question of plagiarism when this happens in crossword puzzles. Constructors are a small group and we know and trust each other; besides, we’ve all been on both sides of the theme duplication fence many times and understand that it just happens.

Here’s an article I wrote explaining more on this subject, from when I unknowingly duplicated a theme that crossword legend Mike Shenk had used previously.