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Jesse Eisenberg: ‘New York Times’ Crossword Star

Last week, the actor and Tablet contributor appeared as a crossword clue. Today, he co-constructed the puzzle.

Stephanie Butnick
February 15, 2017

“Oscar-nominated actor who has written several humor pieces for The New Yorker.”

The clue appeared in the New York Times‘ February 10 crossword—a notoriously difficult Friday puzzle—but it was easy enough for anyone relatively attuned to popular culture: J-E-S-S-E-E-I-S-E-N-B-E-R-G.

Eisenberg, whose vowel-heavy name makes him a prime contender for crossword immortalization, had never had his full name appear in the Times’ crossword before. But that wasn’t the end of his brush with crossword fame. In less than a week, Eisenberg has gone from puzzle clue to creator, collaborating with constructor Patrick Blindauer on today’s puzzle. It’s the first in a new feature, “in which famous people co-construct crosswords with some of your favorite New York Times Crossword constructors,” according to the newspaper’s official crossword blog, and it carries the added acclaim of running on the 75th anniversary of the first crossword puzzle published in The New York Times.

Without spoiling too much, the puzzle was very clever, especially for a Wednesday. And of, course, there was a Philip Roth shoutout. (You can read Eisenberg’s explanation of the puzzle’s vegan influences here.)

Eisenberg was already an accomplished writer before today. He’s been writing Shouts and Murmurs columns since 2013, covering everything from sleepaway camp to Carmelo Anthony. His most significant contribution to the New Yorker, however, remains this video about cats.

Eisenberg spoke to Tal Kra-Oz last year about his humorous short story collection, Bream Gives Me Hiccups, offering a nuanced explanation of the Jewish inflection in his writing:

I’m writing in a tradition of, frankly, mostly Jewish writers. You could say that Woody Allen is the most important father of this. And while I don’t think of what I’m writing as particularly Jewish, when you print out the pages, after it’s done, you realize that it’s in the tradition of Jewish writers. I think there’s something in writing humor, writing this kind of fiction, that actually dovetails with the Jewish-American experience, or with the Jewish experience in general, which is that Jews have a way of both assimilating and separating, and they do it very deftly. They’ve done it in Europe, they’ve done it in America. It’s not Machiavellian, it’s just habitual. And this kind of writing manifests from that because you’re both commenting as an observer and also immersed as a player, and it’s that strange world perspective of the kind of outsider-assimilator that creates a funny and often compelling juxtaposition.

Eisenberg also contributed a story, “Mongolia,” to the most recent issue of Tablet’s print magazine.

Stephanie Butnick is chief strategy officer of Tablet Magazine, co-founder of Tablet Studios, and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.