ONE morning last February, my boyfriend, Ian, and I were sitting at the kitchen table, working the Los Angeles Times crossword puzzle. And after we had filled in the last letters, he stood up, put his hands on his hips and announced, "I'm formulating a plan."
"Oh, yes? A plan for what?" I asked, putting down my pencil. Ian is a handy sort, so I assumed that his plan would involve, like, hammers and a glue gun.
"I'm thinking about proposing."
At first I was tickled, flattered. But as he started to clear our breakfast dishes, I began to sense the division between the two camps in our relationship: he who knew exactly everything about the engagement, and she who knew basically nothing.
Ian, excited about his plan, began to discuss it with most of our close friends: my brother and his girlfriend, my best friend, his relatives, etc. I would have none of this secrecy.
When pressed about the clandestine information, these people would say yes, they knew about the details of the proposal, that it was impressive, that it was romantic, and no, they would tell me nothing about it. I was just going to have to wait.
I would ask Ian, "How are you going to propose to me? When?"
"Trust me," he would say, "you'll like it."
In a fit of late-April need, I started to guess proposal dates. To my surprise, Ian politely confirmed that I was correct -- it was to be June 20, 2006, the day before the anniversary of our first date. By mid-May, he had even let me try on the ring.
Because he nonchalantly gave away the major elements of the proposal, I knew that he was supremely confident in how they would come together. But for all the knowledge I had, I was a mess.
"Today's the day," I said to Ian as we rolled out of bed on June 20. After I finished getting dressed in my specially selected outfit, I expected something more spectacular when I walked into the kitchen. He was just there, in cargo shorts and an old Keith Haring T-shirt, doing the crossword puzzle.
Not feeling like ushering in such a day with cereal, I suggested that we go out for breakfast, and he took the Calendar section with him, adding, "Why don't you work the puzzle while I drive?"
I filled in a few answers and came to "Actress Bateman of Family Ties."
"That's Justine," I said. "My name's in the puzzle, Ian. That's so cool."
He nodded his head as we drove. We continued to work the puzzle as we ordered breakfast, and his name was in there too. "Bond creator Fleming," he said casually as he filled in the three block letters.
I solved a couple of the long clues (the answers being "Could it be magic?" and "Wouldn't it be nice?"), and then, as my eggs reached the table, I realized that "Will you marry me?" fit perfectly in 60 Across.
I checked the newspaper to see if it was real. The Calendar section was complete from the cover to the comics. And my answer to the question in 60 Across? There it was, in 64 Down: Yes.
As I did, Ian produced a ring from his pocket and put it on my finger. He showed me that CalArts (where we both went to school), Houston (where Ian went to college) and Padua (where I studied abroad) were all answers in the puzzle too. He said that back in February he had gotten in touch with the editor of the crossword puzzle, Rich Norris, who thought the proposal was a fantastic idea.
That morning, thousands of other Los Angeles Times readers solved my proposal puzzle, but now I was the one with the secret information: My 64 Down was the only one that really mattered.
Editor's note: Sorry, puzzle-solving would-be grooms, Mr. Norris figures this was a one-time deal. Justine Schroeder may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.