Thoughts on American crosswords part 1 (July 24)

The puzzle this time round is from Enigmatic Variations in 2002, and is one I was always rather fond of.  I should note immediately that if you like this you should rush off and try the Enigmatic Variations puzzle on 7 August.  If you don’t like it, you should also try the puzzle to see how much better I’ve got.  There may be an Inquisitor for you to have a go at the day before as well, but I haven’t had confirmation yet.

Marjorie has been blogging a bit of a travelogue, and I don’t rule out something along those lines myself at some point.

But I did say I would talk about American crosswords, with particular reference to the items I bought while over there the other week.  Given the vast range of material available, and the weight limitations imposed by Qantas, I could only bring back a tiny sample.  I spent some time making the selection – even so, I can’t pretend it’s really representative.  I went to two Barnes and Noble stores (Tempe, Arizona and Dublin, California) and hunted round news-stores (especially at airports).

What I came back with were three books, a puzzle magazine, and a copy of Harper’s.  I intend to look at each book and the magazine in more detail, once I’ve solved a few puzzles in them (that may not be immediate…).  The books are:

The Boston Globe Sunday Crossword Omnibus Volume 2


So I watched Spotlight again on the flight over…  The real draw on this book was the set of names: Cox & Rathvon and Hook.  There are lots and lots of books of newspaper crosswords available – this particular one is a compendium of four annuals from 1996 to 1999.  I didn’t notice the numbering of any subsequent volumes in the store, but there were plenty of different newspapers to choose from (the latest Boston Globe edition on Amazon is vol. 15 from 2006, a snip at $1,828.34 – one surmises that the Globe is no longer offering dead-tree versions).  You could also select Wednesday crosswords (or Thursday, or Relaxing Summer, or Weekend crosswords) – there is clearly a graded hierarchy, with Sundays frequently the toughest.  Sunday crosswords are also generally themed, so the 200 in this volume use up a fair number of themes (sample titles at random: Silly sitcoms, Shifty characters, Off the track).  Drawback of this book: a standard binding, meaning the verso crosswords are on the fold of the book.

One solution I saw to this was Simon and Schuster, who produce a series of original puzzles (i.e. not previously in a newspaper) and perforate the pages for tearing out.  I’m slightly kicking myself for not picking up a copy.  Simon & Schuster puzzle books continue to appear as books (though with an app) – this one is forthcoming, in what seems to be an annual series, offering close to a puzzle a day.

Will Shortz’s Favorite Puzzlemakers


Will Shortz is, of course, something of a legend.  Still, can you imagine the next volume of your favourite Guardian setters having Hugh Stephenson on the cover?  It is difficult, though, quite to capture Will’s industriousness – there are 13 other of books he has curated on the back cover (including Colossal Crossword Challenge, Crossword Diet, Winter Wonderland, and Grab & Go (also with perforated pages)) and 15 more on page 5 (sample: Tons of Puns, Crosswords on the Rocks, Cuddle Up Crosswords and, somewhat redundantly I’d say, Will Shortz’s Favorite Puzzlemakers).

Will is on the cover, and he hasn’t set a single puzzle in the book but, in a sense, he is its ringmaster.  His criteria for selecting his favorites might be applicable to UK publications:

  • A current contributor, with more than X puzzles published (X=25 for Will, but I can see it could be varied);
  • Must do both dailies and Sundays, demonstrating breadth of constructing expertise;
  • Producing puzzles of all skill levels, easy to hard.

OK, choose your paper, and off you go.

Bizarre Crossword Variants


Puzzles with varying modes of entry – again selected because of the names: Hook, Longo and Payne, all known from Games World of Puzzles.  There are about 20 different formats here: Crazy Eights is familiar as Azed’s Eightsome Reels, for instance; Marching Bands turns up regularly in the Wall Street Journal Saturday slot (this weekend, in fact); Catching Some Z’s has entries that follow Z-shaped lines, and so on.  I could be happier with fewer than 66 Vowelless Crosswords (however remarkable the cross-checking is) out of 164 puzzles, but that’s quibbling, I guess.  And this one is ring-bound so will lie flat.  (I should confess that, since I do a lot of solving in bed, this isn’t necessarily a major consideration…)

The Magazine: Dell Official Variety Puzzles


I can’t say I found as great a profusion of magazines as I did of books.  Nonetheless, Dell promise to be publishing another 19 magazines in July alone – mostly full collections of a single puzzle type, whereas this Variety magazine contains only a few of any one type.  There are some interesting twists among the ideas, one or two of which could well be expanded into fully-fledged IQ or EV ideas (you have been warned).  I found myself wondering what the circumstances were that led them to call if ‘Official’.

Harper’s Magazine provided its usual puzzle by Richard Maltby, Jr.  Maltby is a theatre lyricist (e.g. Miss Saigon), though unlike Sondheim he doesn’t do the music as well.  The puzzle I’ve just solved was Hex Signs (with acknowledgments to Lascia of The Listener).  Many of Maltby’s puzzles make such acknowledgment (I think I’ve seen more than one example of Ad’s Missing Faces, for example), and I wonder whether he has a pile of elderly Listeners which he dips into to find an enticing idea. Lascia was L Barclay (Leslie, I think) who had five Listener puzzles between 1968 and 1974, and it’s the last of these (2295: Favous Plexus) that Maltby is acknowledging – it’s the only one formed of triangles interlocking as hexagons in a sort of honeycomb, Lascia’s others being on normal square or rectangular grids.

It was a very pleasant solve with the usual issues of these types of puzzle – getting enough adjacent answers to be able to determine shared letters, and then trying to imagine how words might grow from the exposed letters in an unsolved hexagon.  I was fortunate that my first choice was the right one (there are often symmetrical options in this sort of grid) and the whole thing flowed nicely.  Not hard, though the anagram counters might have rolled their eyes at the final tally.  (American cryptics do seem to have a higher proportion of anagrams among their clues.)

Will dig into these publications more over the coming weeks, though I also want to do a little looking around the Australasian scene.

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A crossword in the headlines (16 July)

There was a rare instance of a crossword news story this week – a German gallery exhibited a work by one Arthur Koepcke from 1965 which included a crossword and the phrase “Insert words”.  So an elderly visitor took them at their – ahem – word. The BBC helpfully illustrated the article with an unfilled […]

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The jetlag weekend (update 10 July)


As I rather anticipated, there is rather a lot of jetlag rattling round the system, and thus a distinct lack of enthusiasm for putting a puzzle up.  Sorry – the one I have in mind for a fortnight’s time is a nice one, though! I do have, however, quite a few ideas for future weeks. […]

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American crosswords (June 30)

Arizona Republic

So far I’ve found it very difficult to find newsagents and bookstores – the Scottsdale Fashion Square Mall had precisely zero, despite a regularly cycling screen advert for books.  But the hotels had free papers, so I picked up the local Arizona paper, and the Wild Horse Pass resort offered the Wall Street Journal on […]

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The Blogpaws Conference


Here we are in sunny (at times relentlessly sunny) Phoenix, Arizona, sat in direct line of the air-conditioning to offset the dawn heat (30C – it never even reaches 30C in Wellington).  Last day of the conference today, and I’m picking up some ideas to implement over the next few posts. It’s an eclectic bunch […]

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Clueing your own name (update 11 June)

The puzzle this week is from the BBC Music Magazine and my thanks to them for permission to republish.  2002 is a year I haven’t investigated much, but I do seem to have landed on yet another August issue.  This must come from my opening the boxfile and sticking my hand in somewhere around the middle… […]

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Memory and Ninas (update 29 May)

I almost prepared a puzzle to go up today, but thought at the last minute to check the relevant page on the site – sure enough, I’d already picked it, and its neighbour. Pshaw! I thought, and prepared the next one I had on my list.  Which once again it was a puzzle I had already […]

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A new Beelzebub (update 15 May)

As promised, I am putting up one of the several completed Beelzebub puzzles that haven’t seen the light of day.  This one very nearly made it (there was an early proof), but in the end was replaced by the ‘special’ I produced containing the names of all the setters. I have something like a dozen in […]

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The annual APEX (update 1 May)

Even allowing for the most desultory postal messages, the results should have reached participants by now, so I can put up the annual puzzle that got the site and blog started in the first place: the 2015 edition of the APEX Christmas Crossword.  You can click through to the solution, and at the bottom of […]

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The consequences of change (update 17 April)

Well, if I’m going to start titling these updates then occasionally something portentous-sounding will emerge. This time the puzzle is an Independent daily from 2005.  It doesn’t feel entirely like one of mine – far too many cryptic definitions, for one thing – but I seem to have been paid for it! The Independent daily […]

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