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Gridlock: Crossword Puzzles and the Mad Geniuses Who Create Them Paperback – June 15, 2006

4.0 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Matt Gaffney writes puzzles for the Washington Post Magazine, Simon & Schuster's crossword book series, and Random House Masterpiece Crosswords.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Running Press (June 15, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 156025890X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1560258902
  • Product Dimensions: 7.3 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #793,917 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Although a great many people work the crosswords in their local newspaper, buy puzzle books and magazines, and spend hours scratching their heads over devilish clues and fiendish themes, almost no one gives much thought to the people who construct, edit, or publish crossword puzzles. In "Gridlock," Matt Gaffney, one of the fifteen or so people in the U.S. who can claim the designation of professional cruciverbalist (someone who actually earns a living creating crossword puzzles), presents a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the crossword puzzle business.

This book is a veritable potpourri of facts, interviews, and anecdotes about crosswords. Gaffney interviews New York Times puzzle superstar Will Shortz, of course, but he also talks to New York Sun puzzle editor Peter Gordon and provides a humorous look at the Times/Sun crossword wars. He draws an interesting and touching portrait of reclusive constructor Henry Hook. He visits the offices of Penny Press, a large publisher of puzzle magazines. He discusses the marketing of original and reprint crossword collections, and describes the mind set needed to create and clue a specialty crossword for a niche market. He even takes the book to a personal level as he offers frank details about his own struggles, frustrations, and triumphs in getting his puzzles marketed.

There is ample information about the cardinal rules of crossword construction and about what makes a puzzle good enough to beat out the competition for publication in the New York Times. Although the reader gets to look over Gaffney's shoulder as he creates a puzzle, there is not enough information about the mysterious mechanics of filling a grid so that I would be able to successfully construct a puzzle myself.
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Format: Paperback
Gridlock, along with its recent predecessors in various media (Marc Romano's book, Crossworld, and the film Wordplay) opens up a world at once familiar and arcane. The familiar is the crossword puzzle, pastime of tens of millions (or maybe now fives of millions, what with sudoku's encroachments). The arcane is the world of top solvers and constructors who congregate every March at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Stamford, CT. I am a part of this world, having been in the Class B playoffs one year, and having done crosswords and other word and non-word puzzles for 50 years.

Puzzle mavens will find much that is new here--and much that is familiar. The new includes: (1) an attempt to determine how badly sudoku and other logic puzzles are undermining the more literate and humanistic discipline of word puzzles; (2) a peek at the judges' room at Stamford; (3) a visit to Penny Press publications; (4) a sad/funny description of his attempt, with Matt Jones, to market hip, alternative crossword puzzles; (5) in-depth discussion of grid construction. Not so new are the obligatory Will Shortz bio and house tour, and the run-through of the Stamford tournament (though not the same one covered in Crossworld and Wordplay).

There are many new insights, some quite funny. I agree with him that it is counterintuitive that so many crossword constructors are math-based, and that it would be difficult to imagine witty solving stories involving sudoku conquests. I can also personally vouch for the fact that solving giga-sized crosswords can produce lower back pain!

However, the big problem with the book is that he misses many opportunities for making his chosen topics more interesting and useful.
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Format: Paperback
In an age when the advent of computer-generated sudoku seem to be taking over, Matt Gaffney responds with this very eloquent and entertaining exploration of standard crosswords and how they are created.

Gaffney, an experienced puzzle constructor and editor, offers glimpses into the history of crosswords and their attributes, but the real strength of his book is its insight into the effort that constructors go in making gems for puzzlers.

He discusses the way that puzzle themes have evolved over time, the limits of themed and non-themed puzzles, challenges that constructors have posed themselves, and how new-wave constructors have pushed the boundaries of puzzles using technology to help them fill grids and using their twisted brains to find ever-more-intriguing clues.

This book is well written in a conversational style filled with humorous anecdotes and includes interviews with many editors and constructors.

Of most interest to me was a chapter in which four constructors are given partially completed grids and are asked to use their brains or computer assistance to generate "fills" that they think are best. The results are beautifully divergent, and the way that judges viewed them and rated them points out that the nature of "beauty" in crosswords is still a contested area.

Like Amende's "Crossword Obsession" and Romano's "Crossworld" this book focuses on a very small field, but the thoroughness and humor that suffuse it make it a strong addition.

This book will offer you insights into puzzles if you are a novice and will generate laughs of recognition and empathy if you are an expert or constructor. I recommend it.

Will J.
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