Thursday, August 29, 2013

Editors wanted (Puzzle No 3,292)

No, not for Hot and Trazom, who have done a good deal of editing themselves, but for just about anyone else who intends to have someone apply ink to pieces of paper and then sell the resulting product for cash money.  As an editor myself (I’ve edited the train riders’ newsletter in Philadelphia for more than twenty years: a couple thousand pages and millions of words), I cringe at seeing some of the stuff that makes it into print, even in major newspapers.  I sometimes cringe to re-read earlier blog posts and other online publications of mine too, to be honest.

First it was desktop publishing, and then it was blogging.  Each of those reduced the number of steps between the producer of an idea and the consumer.  In fact, the invention of the printing press started the process--before then, written works were either copied out by the reader or by someone the reader commissioned to do it (like inking a Torah).  But it also reduced the number of eyes of people perusing the work and querying the author if s/he really intended something to read the way it does.

So we’re in the same boat with puzzle-related stuff.  We have the great fortune of the Web bringing us many more choices of puzzles to solve.  Twenty years ago, Games magazine and its peers were the main source of new cryptic and variety puzzles in America.  Today there are blogs devoted exclusively to Rows Gardens (as well as to cryptics published in national opinion magazines...) and Games is working hard to survive.  Authors and content have increased: editing resources have not kept pace, leading to books that read like a blog archive and posts where the blogger didn’t realize he forgot to update the instructions from a previous puzzle.

I worked a bunch of the puzzles in Roger Wolff’s new book of variety cryptics while I was in San Francisco and Nantucket.  While the puzzles were enjoyable, there were moments in most of them that I found a bit jarring.  A good editor would have noticed them and suggested revisions.  In a self-published book, the author is in it alone, or mostly alone.  Wolff acknowledges that lack, and thanks the purchasers of the first edition who e-mailed corrections and complaints.  But there are still some clues that don’t work quite right, and some bits of fill that would benefit from revision.  Wolff’s style is clear and steady, most of the themes work well, and the puzzles are pitched at a moderate level of difficulty that should satisfy most solvers.

Worth buying?  Yes.  There’s definitely still a place for paper and pencil (though I would have preferred to get these in Puzzazz and save the printing and mailing expenses) and all solvers ought to have at least one actual books of puzzles to work on when the captain has turned the “fasten seat belt” sign on and all electronic devices must be powered off.  But if something’s worth printing and selling on Amazon, it’s worth paying an editor to look at.

You might wonder if there are errors in this week’s The Nation puzzle, but I didn’t find much of anything to complain about: impressive for a puzzle where there are so many theme- and cross-references.  We’re back to the weekly schedule this issue, and back to school, so Hot and Trazom had no qualms about making this a hard one.

Puzzle No. 3,292

Link to puzzle:

Hozom’s comment:  “More Unique,” in which Hot and Trazom elaborate on the subject of clues with more than one answer, and remind us of another excellent creation (by Kevin Wald and Guy Jacobson) in the NPL book Hot and Trazom edited.  Like the “Clinton elected” puzzle, this had two distinct solutions.

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): hard, though getting easier once you get the theme figured out.

Themework: lots of cross references.

The adjective that came to mind when I was working this one was “jazzy.”  There are themes and variations (though not “Theme and Variations” as Sondheim and Maltby have each constructed) and I envisioned Hot and Trazom having a good time working on this: each riffing off a particular set of notes.

Comment at will.  But no hints until Monday!


  1. The Wald/Jacobson puzzle, seen a whole grid, has a unique solution (save for a mirror image) -- so it's not like the "Clinton elected" puzzle. It is each clue that has two solutions: one is entered across, one is entered down, creating what is called a double square in NPL parlance.

  2. In my case, while I do have aspirations of being a professional puzzle constructor, right now I am trying to build up my chops by writing puzzles on a weekly schedule. If and when I make the transition to writing puzzles for pay, I fully intend to avail myself of test-solving and editing resources. While I do presently solicit donations on my site, it is more of an experiment than a business model, and is intended primarily for the occasional extravaganzas that I write, which take more effort and do get extensively vetted. In any event, I do appreciate having my errors pointed out, and one advantage of having a digital platform is that such errors are easy to correct.


If you're responding to a hint request, please remember not to give more information than necessary. More direct hints are allowed after Monday.