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Four-Letter Words: And Other Secrets of a Crossword Insider Paperback – August 5, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. While opening up a window into the unique world of those who write, edit, and obsessively solve crosswords, puzzle writer, editor and self-proclaimed "acrossionado" Arnot (What's Gnu: History of the Crossword Puzzle) opens up a chest of insider secrets and solving tips worth the price of admission themselves. The title refers not to profanity, but a stable of commonly occurring crossword answers-"repeaters" to the insider-that form the foundation of nearly every standard crossword-and are cleverly highlighted, with an accompanying clue, throughout the text, equipping her readers with old-pro tools while keeping up a fleet, at times manic examination of the puzzle's people and processes. Bouncing with little or no warning from topic to topic, Arnot comes across like a close friend finally given the green light to unload about a lifelong obsession. She wisely outlines her thoughts into chapter topics like geographical words, the occurrence of "E," proper names, 3-letter words and crossword variations. Crossword fans should tear through this like a specimen from Monday's New York Times, but Arnot's enthusiasm alone could make anyone curious into a convert.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Veteran crossword-puzzle creator and editor Arnot uses four-letter words, the staple of the puzzle composer and solver, as a jumping-off point for a journey through the world of crosswords. The book is full of little-known (to most of us, anyway) nuggets of information: the first crossword puzzle appeared in a New York newspaper on Christmas Day 1913; there are strict rules for composing a puzzle (no more than one-sixth of the spaces can be black, for example); future publishing giant Simon & Schuster’s very first book was a collection of crossword puzzles. The author also charts the evolution of the crossword puzzle, showing how certain words have been standbys since the beginning (they’re called “repeaters,” because they turn up in puzzles all the time), but their clues have changed over time—Omar, for example, is a proper-name repeater whose clue has evolved from World War II general (Bradley) to television actor (Epps). The book is like a crash course in crossword puzzles and should appeal equally to veteran solvers and novices. --David Pitt
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Top customer reviews
One of the most puzzling of the publishers' attempts to transfer books to Kindle is that so many publishers seem not to understand the concept of a "paragraph." One gets the sense that the transfer is being supervised by people who have never seen (or rather, read) a printed book.
This particular instance is notable for a fairly novel way to mangle paragraphs. Some of the paragraphs are indented, and some are not! I'd say it's about an 80-20 ratio or so. Was there some sort of Solomnic compromise in the editing room about whether to indent paragraphs? (For instance, "Unkeyed in crosswords" or "For decades, the dictionary" or "The fact that Erlenkotter's" begin paragraphs that are unindented.) The strange formatting is distracting and, particularly for a crossword book, annoying.
And as usual, there are a few of those sui generis Kindle typos, "buriedthere"; "tothe" and "StamfordCrossword" all make appearances as single words; and there was also one of those in-text hyphenations of an unhyphenated word that was not at the end of a line. But this is fairly normal even for reasonable Kindle transfers and was not notably distracting.
Of course, the transfer is still better than most Kindle transfers, but why should crazy paragraph formatting that is unacceptable in a printed book suddenly become acceptable on a Kindle?
The book itself is well-written and engaging, full of funny, interesting and educational stories. I disagree philosophically with the author's tacit and not-so-tacit condoning of the modern trend of inserting popular culture into crosswords. But I suppose it's the world we live in.
Even with the poor transfer, this is a good book.
As long as I am here, I should say that in my view the greatest modern puzzle constructors were Cox & Rathvon, whose amazing puzzles graced the pages of The Atlantic for years. Those, of course, were cryptic clues - but the clues were erudite, crisp, classical, and funny in a way that very few contemporary cruciverbalists, cryptic or otherwise, can manage any more.
Why people should do crossword puzzles is a subject for the gerontologists and will not be debated here. Suffice to say you may know, as I do, some folks who could benefit from the practice and perhaps don't have all the crossword skills that the more experienced puzzlers have by now internalized. Arnot lays it all out in such an engaging way that by the end of the book one will have learned more than enough to fold the NY Times back to the puzzle page, put on the readers and amaze your friends!
Once you have gleaned some of Arnot's vast knowledge the answer to every puzzler's question, "How smart am I?" will be "Pretty darn smart!"