November 10, 2005

Cross, part 3

Continuing with my comments on chapter 2 of Crossworld. We're up to page 40.

The crossword puzzle was simply nuts to a populace seeking distraction from the task of hauling their loot to the bank every Monday morning...

Is this a usage of "nuts" I don't know?

In his brilliant book about the New York banking industry, Where Are the Customer's Yachts? or A Good Hard Look at Wall Street, the humorist and (I hope) inveterate crossworder Fred Schwed Jr. tells the tale of the bowl of nickels placed by the exit of a club car bearing sundry millionaires to Pennsylvania Station in 1929; it was there for the convenience of the nabobs, who were thus spared the necessity of having to reach into their pockets for the subway fare downtown.

I quote this merely because of that parenthetical "I hope". I guess I should be pleased that he's being so open about completely making shit up. "It is a little-known fact (because I am inventing it even now) that Emperor Hirohito did not surrender in WWII because the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb; he had become so enamored of crosswords (well, it seems plausible, doesn't it? I mean, he probably knew English) that he could no longer do battle with the country responsible for their creation."

Jon Delfin played some [crossword songs] by way of Saturday-night entertainment at the 2003 Stamford [tournament], and the 500-odd participants (an easy crowd, granted) roared their approval.

Jon didn't do this in 2003 that he recalls, although, he says, he may have done so in a video that was shown that year. He and Leslie Billig did perform a selection of crossword songs at the tournament, but that was in 1995.

Regarding a puzzle whose grid contained the phrase SUPERBOWLLXXXVI:

Any non-American who happened to solve enough cross-clues to yield the string LXXXVI would tear his hair out wondering what on earth word or phrase could contain it, and soon rip the puzzle to shreds.

This seems, oh, I don't know, like a...stupid thing to say? I think most British people have at least a passing familiarity with Roman numerals. And I have heard of the World Cup, so it doesn't seem implausible that they might have heard about the Super Bowl in passing.

In pointing out that British-style crosswords are nigh-impossible to solve for an American who isn't familiar with their rules, he overreaches considerably in suggesting that the converse is true, and that handing a NY Times crossword to someone from the UK would stymie them utterly.

...American-style puzzles require that every letter appearing in them has to be connected to at least two others, while British-style puzzles allow -- in fact they prefer -- there to be as many unchecked letters as possible.

Firstly, that's a crappy description of checked letters. A letter has to be connected to at least two other letters? If the middle letter of a three-letter word is unchecked, it's still connected to the letters at the beginning and end of the word. (He means that each letter must be used in two words: one going across and one going down.) And saying that British puzzles prefer as many unchecked letters as possible is kind of a crazy statement. I don't know how strict UK puzzles are, but over here, at least half the letters in every word in a cryptic grid must be checked. If they prefer as few checked letters as possible, why even construct a grid? Why not just have a bunch of clues to solve?

For his 2003 book about cryptics, Sandy Balfour chose as a title the phrase "Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose" for very good reason. Once you've applied your store of cryptic know-how to that clue, you get REBELLED -- because "crimson rose" can be "red" and a synonym for "pretty girl" can be "belle", so if you place the latter within the former, "rebelled" is what you come up with.

In the margin of my book, I have written "DOLT!" This shows a complete misunderstanding of how cryptic clues get solved; for those of you that don't know, a cryptic clue includes both a straight definition of the answer and wordplay that leads you to it, with no indication of where the break is. So "Puff up insane general" would be a clue for ENLARGE ("insane" indicates that you should anagram the letters in "general", and "puff up" is a synonym for "enlarge").

Anyway, this clue does in fact indicate that you should put BELLE (pretty girl) inside RED (crimson), but "rose" is a definition of the answer -- it's a synonym for "rebelled".

And now I must go get ready for work. More later.

Posted by Francis at 08:05 AM

The crimson rose crayon was always my favorite.

Posted by: Orange at November 10, 2005 10:03 AM

Perhaps he meant "the nuts" (1920s slang, 'extremely pleasing' or 'extremely unpleasant').

Posted by: saphir at November 10, 2005 02:50 PM

And BTW, the misexplained cryptic clue is where I gave up hope of the book redeeming itself. The completeness of the emperor's nudity was revealed.

Posted by: saphir at November 10, 2005 02:56 PM

I'm just happy that I've finally seen (not that I looked very hard) a straightforward translation of how the British clues work. I've understood them generally, but now I might be able to actually do them. Maybe.

Posted by: Charles at November 10, 2005 03:24 PM

Charles: the Guardian has been running a series of short articles about solving cryptic crosswords. Try

Posted by: Matt at November 10, 2005 04:05 PM

Conversely, now that I hear that somebody's nudity will be completely revealed, I'm even more interested in reading the book.

Posted by: Billy Joel at November 10, 2005 06:06 PM


Posted by: Lance at November 11, 2005 05:49 PM

Hey, Billy Joel used to be a boxer and took a lot of blows to the head. It's very inconsiderate of you to expect him to be working on the same level as the rest of the readers of Heaneyland.

Posted by: Francis at November 11, 2005 05:52 PM

I'm still unsure why you didn't just limit yourself to "This book is complete and utter crap from beginning to end." There must be some work you're avoiding.

Posted by: Rick at November 11, 2005 05:55 PM

Hey, it's one thing to say something is utter crap. That's easy, and I've seen it on the Internets very often.

On the other hand, to document each piece of corn, and to explicitly explain why it couldn't be digested, takes a great deal of analysis, so to speak.

Among many other flaws, that idiotic explanation of the cryptic clue cemented my dismay with this book. And I'm going to flush it ... now. Ahh, the sweet relief of justice!

Posted by: Atom at November 15, 2005 11:03 AM

That cryptic clue explanation made me put down the book and stare into space for a good two minutes. Guess it's true that some books today, even from major publishers, are completely unedited.

At some point, I began reading the book for its crypto-autobiographical content as much as for its crossword content.

Posted by: Eric at November 25, 2005 05:59 PM
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