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Crossworld

W.J. Rayment / -- An interesting side of American life is the universal interest games, quiz-shows and puzzles, specifically crossword puzzles. Marc Romano takes an in-depth look at the crossword world in his book, Crossworld: One Man's Journey into America's Crossword Obsession.

Crosswords were first developed by a man named Arthur Wynne in December of 1913. He was born in Liverpool, England. His was a fairly simple puzzle with a considerable amount of black space, but it began a craze that hit the 1920's to the extent that crossword-themed clothing and songs were all the rage.

The Crossword world, in some ways has its own lexicon, which wanders the spectrum of difficulty from "grid" for the conglomeration of squares themselves, to "fill" for the words that "fill" up the spaces, to "cluing" for the hints that range in columns near the grid. Cruciverbalists are people who fill in puzzles and constructors put the puzzles together. For anyone interested in the authorship of a particular puzzle, there is a difference between editors and constructors. Editors, such as the famous Will Shortz, make changes to puzzles put together by others to conform to the standards of their own publications.

Will Shortz, himself, as well as Brendan Emmett Quigley, Stanley Newman, Peter Gordon and other lights of "Crossworld", take up considerable room in Marc Romano's book. And they should, for crosswording (if that is a word) is a particularly human activity. It involves effort and enjoyment. Marc Romano makes the conjecture that puzzle solving is somehow plugged into our genetic code. He is undoubtedly correct in this assumption. Yet, perhaps, he does not carry the idea far enough. Puzzle solving is what makes us what we are today. It has carried humanity from a hunter-gathering horde to a civilized, productive society engaged in inventing, commerce and the enjoyment of the life that pursuit of these activities has brought us.

Crossworld is also about Marc Romano's personal experiences as a crossword fanatic. He has an engaging style that is humorous, self-deprecating and not at all condescending, which you might expect from a man with a considerable wit and the ability to solve puzzles beyond 90 percent of the population (an estimate he, himself, makes, which may be on the modest side). The bulk of the story revolves around his experiences at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. It is a funny story, yet informative about an intellectual world that few get a glimpse of in their daily lives.

In the end, Marc Romano, makes the point that fanatical puzzlers are almost universally honest, friendly and introverted. In my experience there is veracity in this statement and could be extended to most avid board game players, if not necessarily to video-game players. There is, indeed, something redeeming about challenging one's self and it takes a certain honesty and self-knowledge to do it continuously.

The one thing I did not find while zipping through the pages of Crossworld was some methods on improving my own fumblings with crossword puzzles. Specifically, I wanted to know whether it was faster to simply go through the across clues and then through the down clues, marking the answered ones as I went, or if it was better to work around the first correct answer I could find. He actually queried the experts on this subject, but there was no definitive answer. I suspect the answer does lie somewhere, perhaps in next Sunday's crossword, 24 down.

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