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Cruciverbalism Hardcover – October 31, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Crossword puzzle fans will eat up this entertaining stew of history, arcana and personalities in this memoir–cum–instruction manual by longtime Newsday crossword editor Newman and Wall Street Journal deputy books editor Lasswell. And woven into the mix is a great lesson in how to engineer a midlife career switch. Newman, an advocate of "new wave" crosswords, gleefully describes his "war" with "pedantic" Eugene Maleska, the New York Times crossword editor from 1977 to 1993, a David-vs.-Goliath tale. But Newman doesn't neglect the nuts and bolts about difficulty levels (contrary to popular belief, Sunday isn't the hardest puzzle of the week: it's about midweek-level, but bigger), the types of clues used by constructors and the most effective ways to approach puzzle solving (start with an easy clue and try to fill in that entire section before moving on). Newman touts the health benefits of puzzling, citing studies that show it can help ward off Alzheimer's and senile dementia. He also provides some interesting trivia bits, among them, that the late Seagram's chairman Edgar Bronfman's passion for puzzles helped Newman finance a Lincoln Town Car, and many of the puzzles appearing in daily newspapers are constructed by prison inmates. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Crossword puzzle fans--solvers and constructors alike--will find a wealth of useful tips in this book by Newsday's crossword editor (and world record holder for the fastest solving of a New York Times crossword). The book is part autobiography, part how-to guide, and part manifesto: while telling us how he got to be a full-time puzzle editor, Newman both rails against editors and constructors who try to hold back the evolution of the crossword and celebrates the new wave of constructors and solvers, the brave men and women who risk their reputations on the front lines of the new crossword battlefield. Yes, the author does take his subject a little too seriously (and he has a troubling hate-on for former New York Times crossword editor Eugene Maleska), but he also has a good sense of humor, and his knowledge of his field appears to be virtually encyclopedic. For veteran crossworders, a fascinating glimpse into their special world; for newbies, an introduction to a world that can be intellectually stimulating and, at the same time, childishly petty. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
I've had a strong interest in crossword puzzles for years now and after playing some related word-games, I've recently begun to wonder about the crossword puzzle construction process. So it was with this in mind that my curiosity became tweaked when I saw Newman's book "Cruciverbalism: A Crossword Fanatic's Guide to Life on the Grid", available on amazon.com. So I bought it and its turned out to be a good purchase.
The book in quite short; only 140 pages long and is divided into six chapters.
The first chapter deals with Newman's ongoing 'annoyance' with the late Eugene Maleska editing techniques as Editor of the NY Times Crossword in the 1980s and 90s. I've noticed some other reviewer were somewhat taken aback by this 'assault' on Maleska, but after reading this section, I think I can at least appreciate Newman's point of view. It was Newman's disagreement with Maleska's methods that ultimately lead Newman into his strong affiliation with crossword puzzles.
One chapter deals with the history of crosswords and yet another gives some background as to how Newman got into the crossword puzzle business as a lifetime vocation.
The real meat of the book resided in the three remaining chapters. Here we find several topics of interest...
1.)what puzzle constructors think about when constructing a grid; i.e. the basic rules. What's allowed and what isn't.
2.)100 commonly found 3 and 4 letter words (that are at least 50% vowels) and make up significant number of the short words that surround the main themes.
3.)There is one section called 'Hidden Rules of the Grid' that is an extensive list of the different categories of clues that constructors use when building a puzzle e.g. quips or quotes, foreign words, starters and enders, comparatives, fill in the blanks, plurals, hedgers, rivals...and many more. Each category is accompanied by a brief explanation and examples .
4.)The penultimate chapter discusses several useful tips as how to improve your solving abilities, but only if your intensely interested and willing to spend some time and considerable effort to do it.
5.)And finally, on the last 2 pages there are a couple tips on how to approach the more difficult 'Sunday Stumper' puzzle. With regards to items 1-4 above; I was vaguely aware of them to begin with and not truly surprised to see in this book. However, these last hints were something I'd never considered and would be very useful as an approach to solving harder puzzles.
Although this book was not exactly what I was looking for, it was enjoyable and interesting to read. I was really looking for some useful ideas as to how to actually construct the physical puzzle itself. The main part of this book deals with how constructors think about tinkering with 'clues' to make an answer range from very easy to 'a revelation in the science of word-play'; and it succeeds famously in this regard.
In my meager attempts to construct even the simplest puzzle, I became acutely aware of just how hard it is to get even a corner of a puzzle to meld, let alone an entire grid. I've even consulted computer crossword puzzle makers, put in a couple of witty phrases that I want to use as my theme; the result, the program whirled for a long time and in the end came up with nothing usable. So my admiration (and some degree of jealousy as well) has increased for these cruciverbalistic heroes, since my humbling experiment with CW construction.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
If I were interested in doing crossword puzzles (like my wife is), the hints in the book would...Read more