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Interesting and potentially outstanding, but diminished by unnecessary pettiness and self-promotion,
on April 12, 2008
This work is marred by unexpected self-aggrandizement and mean-spiritedness. In the first chapter, the author lets us know he was able to beat competitors to win three major crossword competitions in a row. He also tells us he was brave enough to attack, in writing, Eugene Maleska, then crossword editor of the New York Times. Dr. Maleska's approach, and one of his apparent flaws as Mr. Newman sees it, was to encourage and use many crossword clues based on classical and obscure references, including Latin words, rather than the more pun-oriented wordplay, and contemporary references approach used by most modern crossword constructors. There is some irony that Mr. Newman's book is titled, "Cruciverbalism - A Crossword Fanatics's Guide..." rather than simply "Crosswords - A Fanatics's Guide ..."
Word play and current references make crossword puzzles accessible to a wider audience, while less common "academic" references often inform and educate. Thus, it is appropriate to contrast and discuss each of these approaches, and consider if one approach is always more appropriate and desirable, or if both should co-exist to appeal to different audiences, or to the same audiences at different times. However, Mr. Newman's comments are not just a reasoned explication and evaluation of these two construction approaches. Rather, his attacks are ad hominem, and appear to reflect a strong and extended personal animosity that has continued even after Dr. Maleska death in 1993.
Mr. Newman has, to me, the ill-manners to note that after Dr. Maleska's death he, Mr Newman, was assigned to edit Dr. Maleska's puzzles. To quote Mr. Newman, this is what the phrase "spinning in his grave" was invented for.
During Eugene Maleska's tenure at the New York Times he produced irritation and anger among some solvers and many constructors, not primarily by his approach to crossword construction which many disagreed with, but more by his notoriously sharp rejection letters to crossword constructors whose work he would not accept. An earlier perceptive reviewer told Mr. Newman to "deal with it"; I agree. Mr. Newman's obsession with Dr. Maleska, and the author's self-promotion, fatally damages what should otherwise have been an outstanding work.
Some reviewers here refer to the author as "Stan". Whether they already know him or not, its clear many folks hold him in high regard. Additionally, the book carries a short endorsement from the current and widely respected NY Times crossword editor. Thus, this work appears atypical of Mr. Newman's attitudes and relationships in the crossword world.
The author is clearly in the top tier of crossword solvers and constructors, and very well versed in the business side of crossword publishing. This work already contains some quite fascinating anecdotes and stories about crossword solvers and constructors, discussion of solution strategy, as well as some interesting history about the growth of the U.S. crossword interest/obsession. Its list of 100 essential words for crosswords puzzles is excellent. If the egregious personal attacks and egocentric references could be removed from any later editions, and the work expanded -- the relatively small format, page count, and margins make this almost more pamphlet-sized than book-sized -- to include more for Mr. Newman's clearly outstanding knowledge of crossword solution strategies, history, construction, and the crossword business this would be an exemplary work for crossword enthusiasts.
The often stated, "It's Not What You Say, It's How You Say It" applies here. Mr. Newman's stories and anecdotes are frequently informative and often fascinating. Rewritten with less animus, this would be an exceptional work. Unfortunately, in its current state, it reflects an inappropriate pettiness, and contains so much vain and boastful writing that it cannot be highly rated.