Friday, October 30, 2009

Cross Words Over Crosswords

[This article originally posted to on September 30, 2009]
I'm a casual crossword-puzzle doer. I work on the LA Times one that my newspaper carries on Sundays, the one in the weekly Onion, and the monthly National Geographic's. I'm not a fanatic over solving entire puzzles. I'm somewhat proud if I complete somewhere between 80% and 100%, but don't fret too much if I'm able to complete only 10 words. High and total completions don't occur often.

In working crossword puzzles, I don't do web lookups, I don't use a thesaurus, and only occasionally look in a dictionary. As another indication of my casual methodology, I use a pen. Oh, sure, I letter in answers that turn out incorrect, then do a somewhat messy job of striking out the wrong stuff. At least I've learned to be a bit conservative and initially skip over words I think I might be wrong about, returning later.

Crossword puzzles seem to have evolved from the ones I used to encounter way back. Or maybe it's because I'm not seeing the types I used to work on. No longer do I see the following kinds of clue helpers:
  • Two words
  • [foreign language]
  • Abbreviation
  • Plural
Puzzles these days seem to assume some exposure or schooling in very elementary Spanish and French, life experiences spanning back to the 70s, and/or convenient researching via dictionary, thesaurus, Internet, .... I've seen a couple of common clues and/or answers appear in several puzzles. Puzzle makers seem to love ENOLA (as in Enola Gay) and any part of COUER D'ALENE. (Even though I studied some French in the past, I always have a tough time spelling the not-heart part of the term without looking it up.)

Anyway, one puzzle had some clues that I considered irritatingly inadequate; it was an LA Times one (August 30, 2009), themed Organ Transplant. (OK! I'm sure I couldn't create nice-looking, diagonal-axis symmetrical puzzles like those elegant ones I pen in. I'm aware that there are software puzzle creators that make the tasks easier for human creators. I just don't take puzzle solving seriously enough to want to dive in to create any.)

The following list shows the position, the answer, the official clue, and my opinion on a better clue. (Yes, I finally reached the close-in-look part of this blog item!)
  • 41A, answer: TATTOO
    Clue: Body language
    Better clue, IMO: Inked body expression

  • 62A, answer: PLUS
    Clue: Furthermore
    Better clue, IMO: +

  • 87A, answer: ENDORSE
    Clue: Back
    Better clue, IMO: Recommend

  • 31D, answer: TOO
    Clue: Overly
    Better clue, IMO: Also

  • 37D, answer: ATON
    Clue: Hardly
    Better clue, IMO: 2000 pounds

  • 49D, answer: ANTS
    Clue: Farm workers
    Better clue, IMO: Picnic "guests"

  • 56D, answer: SIDEB
    Clue: Cassette half
    Better clue, IMO: Single's second-choice song

  • 91D, answer: DARTS
    Clue: Dashes
    Better clue, IMO: Pub target game

  • 96D, answer: GLASS
    Clue: Calm water metaphor
    Better clue, IMO: Window material

  • 102D, answer: JIM
    Clue: Dandy dude?
    Better clue, IMO: Diamond or Slim
In case any reader now feels like working on an LA Times crossword puzzle, visit

1 comment:

Pat Jackson said...

I used to do the crosswords in the Galveston Daily News all the time. I get the Statesman now from a friend who does the crossword puzzle every day except Sunday. That one is too hard for me to do in the limited free time I've got.

I know what you mean about better clues, but the purpose of a crossword puzzle, as done these days, is to be clever about the clue. That is, the person creating the puzzle feels that everyone doing it appreciates the clue not being straightforward, but requiring further thought.

Several crossword-puzzle magazines, found on magazine racks in various stores and bookstores, are aimed to those who don't appreciate the clever aspects.

A friend gave me two such magazines for Sudoku puzzles. Late at night, when I want to work on such a puzzle but am too sleepy to do the usual ones in the newspaper, I work on one of the magazine puzzles for a few minutes.

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