Word Count: 76
Average Length: 4.97
Difficulty: 2.5 out of 5
I’ve got a different kind of themed puzzle for you this week. No tortured puns and no classic rock references – the worldwide relief is palpable – just a straightforward trivia quiz about US Presidents. For background, read the spoiler-free discussion below the photo. If you enjoy the puzzle, please share it far and wide. Finally, thanks to my brother Eric for helping me out of a bit of a mess in the middle of a grid.
Over the last several years, I’ve read biographies of every US President. One thing I learned: our country has been blessed with a few superstar leaders (Lincoln, FDR, Washington, Truman), cursed with a handful of awful leaders (Buchanan, Pierce, A. Johnson, Trump), and otherwise mostly muddled along with Presidents ranging from pretty bad to good-but-not-great.
We’ve had some fascinating mixed bags: LBJ was one of our greatest Presidents in terms of domestic policy but embroiled us in Vietnam; Teddy Roosevelt was a Progressive firebrand but an unreconstructed imperialist. We’ve had at least two Presidents whose place near the top of most rankings is difficult to square with their actual achievements, JFK and Thomas Jefferson. And on the other side, there are at least a couple – Truman and Carter – who I think are underappreciated.
Which brings us to this puzzle. None of the names above is a theme answer. Of the ten Presidents included in the grid, some were very good, some were mixed bags, and some were forgettable. All, however, fit symmetrically, which is an admirable attribute.
1A: This President was instrumental in negotiating the Louisiana Purchase while serving as Ambassador to France, entered several treaties with Great Britain following the War of 1812 that benefited both nations economically, resolved boundary disputes with Great Britain, obtained Florida from Spain, issued a Doctrine warning European nations about interfering in the Americas, and promoted infrastructure improvements. Of course, like every US President before 1850 except the two Adamses, he was a slaveholder, and he only reluctantly signed the Missouri Compromise because he didn’t believe slavery should be restricted anywhere.
63A: This President was a talented and internationally respected mining engineer, and during and after World War I he ran food relief efforts both domestically and in Europe that saved millions of lives. Later, as a dynamic Secretary of Commerce under Coolidge, he sought to improve virtually every sector of the economy and was instrumental in promoting the development and regulation of radio. Alas, upon becoming President he inherited an unsustainable economy from Coolidge and seemingly did everything in his power to make things worse, resulting in the Great Depression.
37D: This President served as governor of the Philippines under McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt and strove to secure land for Filipino farmers, treat Filipinos equally with Americans, and give Filipinos a role in governing their own country with an eye to eliminating the perceived need for American presence. Following his largely unremarkable Presidency, he served as a well-regarded Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, where he markedly improved administration of the federal courts.