HD: Future of the Crossword
Posted: 12 July 2014 04:34 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Good article in The Atlantic

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Posted: 12 July 2014 08:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Hmm. THey don’t give much actual evidence that the crossword is in trouble.

I thought this was an odd comment:

“British puzzles have more black squares, and the effect is not merely aesthetic—it means that the constructors can limit themselves to words found in a dictionary,” Connor explained. “The words in American puzzles interlock far more often, which means that they end up including proper nouns: unlikely places, extraordinary people, and everything from inventions to fragments of phrases.”

The Guardian and Times* crosswords routinely use place names and the names of prominent people.

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Posted: 12 July 2014 09:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I wonder whether Sudoku has made inroads into the crossword puzzlers’ numbers?  Or, are they a separate tribe?

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Posted: 13 July 2014 01:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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If there are any challenging US crossword puzzles, I’ve never seen them.  Most of the ones I’ve come across are elegantly constructed, but have clues of the standard : “XXX = deity”.  UK puzzles encompass a much wider range of complexity. In some, the clues are couched entirely in riddles. I remember as a youngster, feeling very proud of myself for once figuring out one of the clues in the Observer’s “Ximenes” *. I think the only people who ever solved Ximenes (to win a half-guinea book token) were retired Anglican clergymen and University dons. 

* I’ve never forgotten it. It was: “Even they could not forbear to cheer”. The answer: Etruscans.

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Posted: 13 July 2014 03:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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If there are any challenging US crossword puzzles, I’ve never seen them.

The NY Times puzzles can be challenging, especially later in the week. (Monday is the easiest--I can often solve it within five minutes, faster if using pencil and paper; Saturday is the hardest--I can rarely solve the entire thing without help; Sunday is a largest puzzle, but is about as difficult as a Wednesday puzzle.) But none are in the near-impossible range of the Ximenes puzzle described. But in addition to the grids being different, the style of clues is very different. Anagrams and other puzzle clues are vanishingly rare in American puzzles, and the clues tend to be more knowledge based--that’s where I fall down; I may not know a rapper’s name or the director of a particular movie. Also, NY Times clues often use words and phrases that can be interpreted in multiple ways; one infamous example was “famous tower,” three letters. The answer was “AAA” (American Automobile Association), making the play off the building structure and a group that runs a fleet of tow trucks.

One really ingenuous Will Shortz (i.e., NY Times) puzzle was the day after Election Day, 1996. The central clue was “winner of yesterday’s election,” and both “Clinton” and “BobDole” would work, as all the perpendicular clues had multiple answers as well.

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Posted: 13 July 2014 07:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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If there are any challenging US crossword puzzles, I’ve never seen them.

This feels like a trollish comment (on the order of “If there is any edible British food, I’ve never seen it"), though I know you didn’t mean it that way.  Obviously, those of us who enjoy US crossword puzzles find them challenging; the fact that they are not challenging in the same way as UK ones simply means that they are US crossword puzzles and not UK crossword puzzles.

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Posted: 13 July 2014 07:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I guess one just becomes accustomed to the puzzles of one’s own nation. My own favourite compilers were Araucaria in the Guardian and Torquemada in The Spectator or The Listener. The latter especially was fiendishly difficult with many entertaining variants - single-letter misprints in unspecified clues, black squares omitted in the grid, etc. Thus trying to untangle the cryptic was only half the battle. I remember The Times accidentally printed the wrong grid one day. The extra challenge was irresistible and several of us still managed to solve it and wrote to The Times asking for more of the same.

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Posted: 13 July 2014 08:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I’m sorry you thought my comment sounded obnoxiously truculent (“troll-like”), lh --- as you say, it certainly wasn’t meant to be. I was trying to emphasize what I think is a basic difference in approach, between most of the US and the UK crosswords I’ve seen. On reflection, I see that “puzzling” would have been a better-chosen word than “challenging”.  I agree that a knowledge-based crossword, such as Dave mentions, which calls for knowledge of names of rappers or movie directors, or dates of battles, or area of lakes, or whatever, is most certainly a challenge --- but it is not a puzzle, in the sense that the cryptic UK crosswords used to be; those needed a lot of unravelling, as well as calling for a lot of knowledge. The example I gave was a very simple one (which is why I was able to solve it ;-); but it called for both knowledge and analysis.

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Posted: 13 July 2014 10:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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There are such puzzle aspects as well, but they play less of a role than in UK crosswords. Sometimes answers in the NYT puzzle will follow particular patterns which must be deduced; today’s puzzle was “X is X,” as in “boys will be boys” or “enough is enough.” Other times, particular portions of words or phrases must be dropped before they will fit on the grid. Other times the answers will read across and at a certain point continue in downward direction, or vice versa.

It’s simply a different style, and I would hesitate to say either style is more or less difficult per se. Difficulty depends on the specifics of the individual clues, not the style in which they are written, as well as on the familiarity the puzzle solver has with that style.

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Posted: 14 July 2014 05:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I agree with your points, Dave, from your assessment of the new NYT app, to the sticker-shock of the $40 per year price tag.

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Posted: 15 July 2014 04:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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lionello - 13 July 2014 08:19 AM

I agree that a knowledge-based crossword, such as Dave mentions, which calls for knowledge of names of rappers or movie directors, or dates of battles, or area of lakes, or whatever, is most certainly a challenge --- but it is not a puzzle, in the sense that the cryptic UK crosswords used to be; those needed a lot of unravelling, as well as calling for a lot of knowledge.

Why ‘used to be’? There are still plenty of cryptics around – the five major newspapers publish at least one, and sometimes more, every day. Do you mean that the standard has dropped off?

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Posted: 15 July 2014 07:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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My favorite word puzzle was the National Review Trans-O-Gram.  Sadly, they stopped publishing them many years ago. Does anyone know what I’m talking about, and if you do, do you know where I can find similar puzzles today?

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Posted: 15 July 2014 12:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Why ‘used to be’? There are still plenty of cryptics around – the five major newspapers publish at least one, and sometimes more, every day. Do you mean that the standard has dropped off?

Wouldn’t dream of suggesting such a thing. I was just being unconsciously nostalgic, I suppose. I stopped being a reader of English newspapers more than half a century ago.

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Posted: 15 July 2014 07:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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No reason for that to be a bar to doing cryptics, though. It’s free to do the Independent and Guardian crosswords online as long as you’ve got Java; if you haven’t, or if you prefer paper, you can print off the Guardian or FT puzzles. (The Times and Telegraph demand actual money for this.)

http://cryptics.wikia.com/wiki/Comparison_of_cryptic_crosswords

[ Edited: 16 July 2014 12:47 AM by kurwamac ]
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