THE ANNOUNCEMENT this week that Samuel A. Alito Jr. is taking Harriet E. Miers' place as President Bush's nominee for the Supreme Court should make it clear to everyone that his picks for the high court have nothing to do with the ideological makeup of the Supremes and everything to do with crossword puzzles.
I mean, "Alito"? It's a fantastic name for crosswords -- a mere five letters long but brimming with regularly used consonants and vowels (and how generously alternating they are!). Alito, if confirmed, might find himself as the next Eero Saarinen (for years, the hottest architect on the crossword scene) or the next Ernie Els (the hottest crossword golfer, although Michelle Wie is creeping up on him).
Of course, cruciverbally speaking, everything would also have been just fine with a Miers appointment. Except that Miers, one could argue, was an even better find than Alito. Her last name, too, offers a compact, easy-to-intersect set of letters that would work well in crosswords, but the variant spelling of her middle name, Ellan, makes her the double threat that Alito is not.
Never mind their first names. They offer nothing new for crosswords. "Playwright Becket" or "Composer Barber" come quickly to mind as possible clues for "Samuel," and, of course, the answer to the clue "Underground Railroad hero Tubman" would be "Harriet." These names have appeared on numerous occasions in the crossword puzzles of the country's most distinguished newspapers. But has "Ellan" ever been an answer to a crossword clue in the Washington Post? No. Has "Miers" ever appeared in the grid of a puzzle in the Los Angeles Times? Nope. And has "Alito" ever been written down, using either pencil or pen, on the crossword page of the New York Times? Never. Or at least not since cruciverb.com started keeping track.