Thursday, January 30, 2014

What makes a puzzle hard–IV (Puzzle No. 3,312)

I really couldn’t say it better than Michael Sharp did, reviewing Ben Tausig’s book “The Curious History of the Crossword” for the Wall Street Journal (article behind lightly-guarded paywall, PDF here).  Sometimes puzzles are hard because they’re bad.

The article is illustrated with a 1915 puzzle from the New York World (you can see it on the PDF): typical for the early years of crossword construction.  Michael pulls no punches, saying those puzzles are “undoable,” even though the words are short and he’s a skilled solver.  He correctly starts his diagnosis with “clues vague and allowance for arcana broad” and doesn’t let up from there.  Stuff we take for granted in the rules, like agreement of parts of speech in clue and answer, was seemingly random then.

The difference is editing.  When the constructors filled a grid, they patted themselves on the back and sent their puzzle off for publication as-is.  Nowadays, publishers like the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal have editors to clean up submissions, and good constructors like Hot and Trazom have a cadre of test-solvers who help them edit their own work.  They catch the glaring mistakes and provide helpful feedback on the rest.

Sometimes puzzles are hard because the constructors did a lousy job.  Fortunately, the The Nation puzzles don’t fit that category.  Here’s the latest.

Link to puzzle

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): mostly easy.  I got the 15 on the left right away, and cruised along from there with just a couple of bumps in the road.

Hozom’s comment: “Going South” in which Hot and Trazom hide a bonus puzzle.  Solve it after you stop groaning at the rest of the post.

Back with the solution on Monday.  Join us this weekend for Sunday brunch!

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