by Veronica Louis
I think I can die happy now. After years of eagerly solving crosswords puzzles, I’ve stepped over the threshold to construct crosswords. Well, at least I’ve constructed my first crossword puzzle (See below).
A crossword puzzle consists of a grid with intersecting squares. Each blank square is part of two words (spelled across and down). The black squares indicate where words end or begin.
Conventional crossword puzzles follow three simple rules:
1-The answers are at least three letters long
2-The grid is in the shape of a square with an odd number of squares in the rows and columns
3-The grid is diagonally symmetrical (the black and white pattern looks the same when the puzzle is turned upside down)
In his book Cruciverbalism, Newsday crossword editor Stanley Newman adds a few more points:
“Crosswords should be fun, they should be challenging, and they should be enjoyed by any reasonably literate person.”
“Crosswordese and obscure words are prohibited (only occasional exceptions are made for otherwise outstanding work).”
“Clues must be balanced in general knowledge (no more than one non-theme reference to football or opera in a puzzle).”
Why Do I Love Crosswords?
Every new puzzle challenges me to use my wit to decipher clues and search my brain for general knowledge of nonessential information. (Not surprisingly Jeopardy is my favorite game show). I might get stumped on a clue, and keep at it, or return to it the next day only to have an “aha!” moment and feel victorious.
Case in point: there was this one crossword puzzle from my New York Time’s Little Black and White Book of Crosswords, edited by Will Shortz (Shortz is to crosswords what Oprah was to talk shows). It was a Saturday puzzle, which means it was as hard as it gets. Monday puzzles are the easiest of the week leading up to Saturday. And for the NYT puzzles specifically, Sunday puzzles are like Wednesdays or Thursdays but with a larger grid.
So, this puzzle was a Saturday. And when I do Saturday puzzles I allow myself to use different resources such as a dictionary, thesaurus, Wikipedia, etc. There is no such thing as cheating when it comes to solving a puzzle. The experience is personal to the solver and it is up to the solver to determine the ways in which he or she solves (dictionary or no dictionary, pencil or pen, etc). Having said that, there are many times when a dictionary isn’t any help because some clues could be so darn clever.
So, like all NYT crosswords, this puzzle had no title. There was a theme but no title (You eventually figure out the theme by filling in the squares). And the grid looked like this:
The four longest words in the puzzle establish the theme (or series of words, because answers can have more than one word, but the number of words is not indicated).
The clues were:
1 Company once run by astronaut Frank Borman
2 Onetime subsidiary of AT&T
3 Martin Luther King Jr., e.g.
4 Line from Seattle to Chicago
By solving the shorter words Down and Across, I got 1 Across: EASTERNAIRLINES and 3 Down: SOUTHERNBAPTIST. But for the others I kept on getting strings of letters that were just not possible in the English language and did not yield any Google results, so I just kept on erasing those squares over and over again, almost making myself mad.
The “aha!” moment came when I realized that the theme had something to do with compass points. Keeping that in mind, I reentered those letters I was sure were right because of the crossing words and a pattern emerged that made me laugh out loud.
Here were the answers to the rest of the theme clues:
2 Across: CIRTCELENRETSEW
4 Down: CIFICAPNREHTRON
Notice what amused me so much? Not only did the puzzle constructor Randolf Ross, form crafty answers, he also designed his grid to be a visual representation of his theme, adding an extra and subtle hint.
All this to say, crossword puzzles to me are more than just a grid where you have to fill in squares with random letters. Ironically, filling in a little box forces me to think outside the box. I must look at the bigger picture (the macro) all the while figuring out the finer points (the micro), which is a wonderful exercise in problem solving in terms of flexibility in perception. In addition, like writing, solving crosswords allows me to escape. It’s a relaxing daily activity.
My First Crossword Puzzle
We’ve covered what crossword puzzles are, how they work and why I love doing them so much. So without further ado, here is my first-ever constructed crossword puzzle. I think it’s a Tuesday.
Download it, print it, please give me feedback! Have fun!
Win a Prize!
The first solver to email me back the puzzle with all the answers correctly filled in will win a signed copy of my new book (to be released in 2014). Good luck!
The answers will be posted on Tuesday, July 16, 2013.
For More Information on Crosswords
Cruciverbalism by Stanley Newman, this book focuses on strategies and techniques to improve crossword puzzle solving skills while explaining about the crossword puzzle culture and its major players.
From Square One by Dean Olsher, this book is the author’s memoirs and thoughts on crossword puzzles and includes a lot of information on the link between solving puzzles and keeping certain maladies like Alzheimer’s at bay.
The Compleat Cruciverbalist by Stan Kurzban & Mel Rosen, this book goes into a detailed history on how crossword puzzles first began and how they gained in popularity and spread across North-America and the world. In addition, it’s a how-to guide on solving, constructing and selling crossword puzzles and other types of word puzzles.
Wordplay, directed by Patrick Creadon is a documentary film that explores American crossword puzzle tournaments and the community around it. It also features well-known crossword puzzle solvers such as former president Bill Clinton and The Daily Show host Jon Stewart.