first things first: the kaidoku solutions.
kaidoku #1 was a straightforward, easy kaidoku with a mini-theme: the four long answers all began with the pattern ABCABC. they turned out to be KINKINESS, BARBARIANS, ASSASSINS, and TSKTSKING (yes, that's a legal play in scrabble, although you'd need at least one blank and at least two of the tiles would already need to be on the board). i think ASSASSINS was probably the easiest one to guess first, and that made KINKINESS pretty clear. from there, it was pretty much a sprint to the finish. at the finish line, there was a brief slowdown with so many singletons in the grid, but all of the words containing the singletons were very common words, so it wasn't a big problem.
kaidoku #2 was a lot tougher. a lot tougher. when alex sent it to me to solve, i was eventually able to crack it by guessing the E (based on high frequency and tendency to show up at the ends of words). then i guessed EVEN (although i actually had it wrong first as EVER, but that was resolved fairly soon). then i sussed out the Q-U combo, and i was able to grind it out. i never even looked at the three long answers until i had about half of the letters in place, and then i figured out what was going on. very clever, alex.
so what was the contest answer? well, if you used those two rows at the bottom of each puzzle to keep track of letters as you solved the two grids, you would have noticed that the correspondence between the numbers 1-26 and the letters A-Z was not quite random. in particular, in kaidoku #1, the last six numbers (21 through 26) spelled out SAMUEL, and in kaidoku #2, the last five numbers (22 through 26) spelled out MORSE. so the famous american you were looking for was samuel morse, a fitting solution to a coded crossword meta.
twenty solvers submitted answers to the contest, and all twenty were correct. congratulations to all of these successful codebreakers! several of them remarked that they had used some backsolving to crack kaidoku #2. perhaps the wiliest was margaret rosen, who remarked:
I enjoyed these puzzles a lot! Once I saw SAMUEL, I knew the meta had to be Samuel Morse since Clemens has two e's, and I don't know any other famous American Samuels. Though it was a lucky break for me that MORSE was placed as the last five letters in the second puzzle, matching the SAMUEL in the last six spots of the first puzzle. If MORSE had been placed elsewhere I would have had a much harder time; as it was, the second puzzle was actually easier than the first for me since I had five gimme letters.
it had honestly not occurred to me that the meta answer would be guessable from just SAMUEL, since it's such a common name. my son is named samuel and has an isogrammatic last name. so do supreme court justice samuel ALITO, gunsmith and inventor samuel COLT, playwright and actor samuel SHEPARD (though he does go by sam), and presumably others i can't think of off the top of my head. but of course MORSE is the only one with the code tie-in, and margaret's excellent hunch paid off.
john l. wilson asks:
Besides his famous code, did Morse have a sideline as a U.S. TINsmith?
ha! no, not that i know of. neither of the themes of the individual kaidokus factored into the meta. in fact, alex sent me these puzzles as standalone kaidokus, and i was the one who decided to renumber the grids to add the meta aspect.
well, that closes the book on this contest. i hope everybody enjoyed the kaidoku. whether you did or didn't, feel free to let me know in the comments section or by email. in any event, the next variety puzzle will be a little closer to a "normal" crossword with definition-style clues. and of course, the next rows garden puzzle drops tomorrow.