Date: March 2007
Byline: Sondra Forsyth
How They Met: Four Letters, Starts with "L"
This pair shared a passion for crossword puzzles that led to so much more.
The Crossword Couple
When Greg Pliska proposed to Jessica Switzer in January 2006, he did it with crossword puzzles. That much she'd expected; after all, the couple's 10-month courtship — which followed their meeting at the 2005 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, in Stamford, Connecticut — had been punctuated with romantic crosswords that Greg composed just for her. But even Jessica was surprised at the ingenuity of this one. "When she wasn't home, I hung clues for a game that would lead her through a series of puzzles," says Greg. "The final puzzle had two different sets of clues. When all of the spaces were filled in, both spelled out 'Will you marry me?' in each of the puzzle's four corners, with the answer in the center. But the center answer in one set spelled 'No,' the other 'Yes.' She had to figure all that out and then make her choice."
"Of course I chose 'yes,'" says Jessica, ticking off the qualities that she loves in Greg. "He's well-read, he's a math and science whiz, he's a musician. He's good at so many things yet he's unassuming. And even though he's impossibly smart, he's adorable and charming and funny and cool." Most of all, she says, "he's a deeply good person."
Jessica had been a regular at the tournament since 1997. "I'd always loved doing the New York Times crossword puzzle," she says, "but when my college roommate and I started going to the tournament, we were embarrassed to tell anyone because it sounded so nerdy. It was not exactly the sexiest of hobbies."
Greg, a crossword devotee who'd been attending the tournament for even longer, would have been just the guy to disabuse Jessica of that notion — if the two had ever managed to meet. "Jessica has a picture of herself at the 2004 event standing with Will Shortz, the New York Times crossword puzzle editor and founder of the tournament," says Greg. "I'm standing right behind them, but we might as well have been miles apart. I guess it just wasn't the moment we were supposed to connect."
Falling in Love
That moment arrived the following March, but only with the help of two twists of fate. "I was planning to attend just the Friday-evening social events and games," says Jessica, the founder and executive director of the New York Opportunity Network, a nonprofit organization in New York City that helps low-income public high school students. "I never thought I was good enough to compete during the actual competition on Saturday and Sunday, so I went home on Friday night. But when I woke up on Saturday morning, something told me to get on a train and go right back to the competition."
Meanwhile, Greg almost missed the '05 tournament altogether. A composer and conductor of popular music whose arrangements have been recorded by Carly Simon and Michael Stipe, he was on tour in Europe. "Our tour ended earlier than we thought," he says. "The morning after our plane landed, I drove straight to Stamford, getting there just in time to do the first puzzle. I looked over at one of the other tables and there was this beautiful woman. I instantly felt something."
Greg, who had been briefly married before, went over to talk to a friend during a break. "That was a ruse," says Greg, now 44. "He was sitting next to Jessica and it gave me an excuse to introduce myself to her."
"I knew the minute we started talking that Greg was different from any of the other guys I'd dated," says Jessica, 32. "We just clicked." She was delighted when they ate lunch together, then dinner. "After dinner, we played Boggle and other games for hours," she continues, noting that "he was head and shoulders above me in ability. I kept thinking how glad I was that I'd followed my instincts and returned to the tournament. I got very lucky — who'd have thought my nerdy pastime would introduce me to the love of my life?"
At 3 a.m., when the two word wizards finally headed back to their rooms, they stole a passionate kiss in the elevator. By the time the tournament ended on Sunday evening, they were "an item," as Jessica puts it.
Greg offered to drive Jessica back to New York City, where they both lived. "I really knew Jessica was the woman for me when I heard her on her cell phone in the car," says Greg. "She was speaking with a high school student her organization had helped. The combination of encouragement, solid advice, and genuine caring came through so clearly."
The couple got married on June 3, 2006, Jessica's 32nd birthday. Will Shortz, puzzle-meister extraordinaire, was among the guests. "I've been a Will Shortz groupie since my college days," gushes Jessica. "I used to go to every event where he was speaking! To have him at our wedding was a thrill — and couldn't have been more appropriate since Greg and I would never have gotten together if it weren't for the tournament Shortz started."
At the end of the ceremony, the cantor who officiated made a prophetic pun, offering up the hope that "never a cross word will pass between you." And that, the couple's shared hobby excepted, is exactly what has come to pass.