Thursday, October 3, 2013

Variety crosswords for better and for worse

The syndicated New York Times crossword usually lags the publication in the Times by three weeks, so I was wondering when this particular puzzle would showed up in the campus paper, reminding me to post something about it.  It actually ran August 29 (Wordplay post with spoilers), so visit your library for a copy.

The best kind of twisted crosswords (the ones where something has to be done to some of the answers when entering them in the grid) are the kind where you’re absolutely sure you know a bunch of the answers, but can’t figure out how they go.  Then there’s a clap of thunder and the trick appears in front of you.  You race through all those entries you now know how to fill in, and all is right with the world.  That puzzle was one of them.

Meanwhile, today’s NYT puzzle came close to meeting that standard.  Deb blogs it (spoiler alert) at Wordplay, including an interview with the constructor, whom we learn is a Haverford alum (I wasn’t into crosswords when I was in college).  We also learn that these kind of puzzles can make life difficult for both programmers and users of Across Lite and other crossword software.  Finally, they noted a few entries that had never shown up in the NYT puzzle before.  To me the reason for one of them was obvious: earlier editors would have quickly vetoed “sucks” in a context other than siphons or vacuum cleaners (I scold my teenage children for such usage too—it may not be profane but it’s a lazy vulgarity: one people ought to have more appropriate words in their vocabulary for.  

Deb also had a nice post on the heuristic topic visited by my main post this week, and why we find these kinds of solutions (and things like fugues resolving) so rewarding.  Go read it.

The ugly part: take Tuesday’s Times puzzle, please.  Unusual symmetry in the grid made it pretty obvious there would be something different with the theme, the theme was left pretty out in the open, and the fill needed to make the theme work left a little to be desired.  And if you’re one of the ones who  do Harper’s too, it didn’t even feel novel.  (I’m sure both constructors came up with their themes independently).  So it met the fate of many NYT puzzles in my hands: do enough of it to complete the theme, then chuck it, the rest of the solve isn’t worth the time.    

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