I loved the amazing information so fluidly presented- a fascinating history of crosswords and the gossip, recollections and stories of puzzlers both famous and unknown. I loved finding out that Meg Wolitzer, author of one of my favorite novels ("The Wife") is a serious crossword person. I also am a huge fan of cryptics, but don't really care if they take America by storm as long as I can get a few good ones a month from Harpers, The Atlantic and other odd sources.
What I really disagree with strenuously is Olsher's idea that solving crosswords is akin tot he experience to listening to a great piece of music or viewing a great work of art. This is just plain silly. As a visual artist and crossword fiend I find this ridiculous. Crosswords, especially cryptics, yield intense experiences. So do great works of art, but logic 101 teaches correctly that because two things have something in common it does not folllow that they are the same thing. One huge difference is that crosswords have only one solution. Art often has many "solutions" or perhaps more to the point, none at all. One cannot "solve" an art experience. One can analyze it but that may not be the point. This hyperbole about art and crosswords almost ruined an otherwise excellent book
I loved this book. What's wonderful about it is the way it seamlessly blends autobiographical details with a solid, well-reported appreciation of crossword puzzles. Yes, you learn about how avid British crossword puzzlers were recruited to help solve the Enigma code during WWII, and yes, you learn what the editors of crossword puzzles think makes a good puzzle ("fresh fill"), but what really lasts in the reader's mind are the scenes between the author and his father. (And also the story of a couple wherein the husband wakes up early to do the puzzle, and then erases all his answers so his wife can do it.) This book is literary in the best sense of the word.
The subtitle "A meditation, with digressions, on crosswords" should simply be "Digressions." Crosswords are almost incidental (except for occasional recurring comment on cryptic crosswords, which Olsher champions). It has been a long time since I have read something so muddled, unfocussed and chaotic, more a stream of consciousness than anything else.
I read this book two months ago and I am still thinking about it. What lasts for me are Olsher's terrific description of why he is drawn to crossword puzzles (strangely, they bring him a feeling of emptiness), and also a fabulous narrative strand about a couple in the Berkshires who both do the same puzzle each morning (he erases his answers after he completes the puzzle). Highly recommended.