Solve the proposal puzzle – do it by crossword

In these days of spring and romance, it is reasonable to imagine Cupid can fire his arrow almost anywhere. Yet it is hard to imagine a place less imbued with matters of the heart than the smudgy black-and-white grid of a newspaper crossword, even if it is the Washington Post.

But for 28-year-old Corey Newman from Alexandria, just across the river from the nation's capital in Virginia, the Post's Sunday crossword solved a puzzle of his own: how to propose to his girlfriend of 15 months in a way that was, well, novel and a bit challenging.

Asking one of the country's top newspapers to publish an entire crossword dedicated to helping one reader turn a girlfriend into a fiancée may seem like a stretch, but the editors at the Post willingly complied. Mr Newman was put in touch with in-house puzzler Bob Klahn who set about determining which questions would deliver the right clues in time for publication yesterday.

The marvel may be that on a rainy Saturday at home – in the US, the lifestyle sections of the Sunday papers are distributed a day early – Newman managed to stay inscrutable as the woman he wanted to make honest, Marlowe Epstein, 31, worked through the answers, becoming more perplexed.

It was odd enough that 39 Across – "'Casablanca' screenwriter Julius or Philip" – quickly yielded Epstein. It was much odder that 37 Across - "'Shakespeare in Love' role" – then led her to scribble in Marlowe. Then she attempted 51 Across: "Words with a certain ring to them". That was when she twigged. "Will you marry me?" she asked out loud, looking at Mr Newman.

"I wanted to do something unique," he conceded yesterday, a ring now planted on Ms Epstein's finger. He had started the puzzle in the morning, before complaining he was stuck.

The couple met in January last year and moved in with each other at the start of this year. From there it was only a short leap for Mr Newman to find a way to propose.

The crossword solution turned out to be quite practical. Its setter, Klahn, had done a crossword containing a secret marriage proposal in the New York Times 13 years ago.

All that he needed was to find enough details about Ms Epstein's life and background to craft the questions.