Friday, December 13, 2013

From the beginning (Puzzle No. 1)

Double issue of The Nation last week, so no new puzzle this week.  I had queued up this puzzle as the next Old Time Hockey post, and as I worked the puzzle, it was just too compelling to just toss up there as a weekly post, so I’m postponing the second installment of the Alphabetical Jigsaw post until Monday.

Puzzle No. 1 (yes, 1, but it wasn’t numbered at that time):

Let’s go back... all the way back.  The Nation has posted a few of the very first puzzles they ever published, and in the absence of a new puzzle from Hot and Trazom, I’ve been working on it this week.  This is Frank Lewis, from 1947, two thirds of a century ago.

The first thing that struck me was the degree that it resembled Lewis’s work from more than 60 years later.  There were the answers split across multiple lights, the cross references, and the loose approach to cluing rules.  Ximeneans would have a heart attack doing this puzzle, but having done the Puns and Anagrams in last week’s New York Times, this looked a lot more familiar.  What’s more, this puzzle made the point to me that Puns and Anagrams is our modern-day link to the cryptics of the past.

At the time Lewis constructed this,  Ximenes on the Art of the Crossword was still nearly 20 years in the future.  Constructing was still decidedly a free-for-all.  There were no expectations, no critics, no web sites to turn to if the puzzle in front of you wasn’t to your liking.  Puzzles were a one-way communication from constructor to solver.  I expect it was a lot more easy then to develop an individual style.

And on top of that, there weren’t the advanced tools we rely on today: the crossword software or even the basic drawing tools.  Grids were done in pen and ink, and dictionaries were weighty books instead of searchable databases.  The content of a puzzle reflected the knowledge and library of its constructor, and thus was much more individualized.

So as I said, this reminded me a lot of a Puns and Anagrams.  Indicators were not obligatory: they were offered at the generosity of the constructor.  So it took me a little while to start making progress.  Once I dialed down my expectations and started thinking more creatively, the puzzle made more sense.  I’m still not done with it, though that’s because I had some other things occupying my time.  This would definitely be hard by modern standards, but Lewis always created hard puzzles.

What an experience (despite the terrible editing by whoever converted this to HTML--there are several mis-numbered clues).  if you’re an experienced cryptic solver, it’s well worth your time to work some puzzles of this era in honor of the 100th anniversary of the crossword.

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