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September 14, 2011 10:22 AM   Subscribe

How Will Shortz Edits a New York Times Crossword Puzzle
posted by SpiffyRob (63 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thank you. That was exactly what I wanted to read as I ate lunch just now.
posted by Aizkolari at 10:29 AM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Will Shortz is seriously awesome. He has a degree in enigmatology!

One of my favorite crosswords of all time was the 1996 Election Day puzzle. See if you can figure out what's going on before spoiling yourself.

Of course any puzzle and/or Will Shortz aficionado should have already seen Wordplay and subscribed to Sunday Puzzle.
posted by kmz at 10:36 AM on September 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


Liz's clue was Rory's mom on Gilmore Girls, and I didn't think solvers should have to know that.

I feel like he's covering for the fact that every time there's something related to contemporary pop culture in the NYT crossword, another mailroom clerk has a stress-induced breakdown.
posted by griphus at 10:36 AM on September 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


I can hear his cheerful voice as I read this. (Hearing that tone is also a reason I still listen to the puzzle podcasts he does weekly.) I love the sense of joy he brings to his job, and think that partly explains why he is so good at it.
posted by bearwife at 10:41 AM on September 14, 2011


I remember that puzzle! Specifically I remember that "A Mexican might sleep under it" was kind of a questionably offensive clue for "SOMBRERO."

I feel like he's covering for the fact that every time there's something related to contemporary pop culture in the NYT crossword, another mailroom clerk has a stress-induced breakdown.

I recently did a puzzle on the NYT page-a-day calendar where one of the answers was DRE DAY. As in "Fuck wit Dre Day." I wonder how many subscriptions were cancelled for that.
posted by theodolite at 10:44 AM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


That election day puzzle is astounding.
posted by DU at 10:50 AM on September 14, 2011


What was the clue for that?
posted by griphus at 10:50 AM on September 14, 2011


I saw Will speak back in '01. Incredibly funny, smart guy.

I went through a long stretch of doing the puzzle every day, but my online access lapsed a few years back and I stopped for a while. After discovering that my family gets access to the puzzles online because they get the Sunday edition, AND that families can open a second online account for free, I'm back!

I try to do it every day, and follow each attempt (Successful or, in the case of Friday/Saturday, otherwise...) with a visit to Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle.
posted by SpiffyRob at 10:51 AM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you're reading this post, consider picking up "Four-Letter Words: And Other Secrets of a Crossword Insider," by Michelle Arnot. Arnot, who has long experience in creating and editing crossword puzzles, has put together a short, readable, often funny look at the history and practice of puzzling. The background is interesting -she has a great gloss on the fresh attitude that Shortz brings to the NYT puzzle--and it's a terrific way to learn a bunch of new four-letter words.

Not affiliated, just enjoyed the book.
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:59 AM on September 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


He assumes we'd know this football coach's name but wouldn't know Lorelai from Gilmore Girls?

Fooey on him.
posted by dlugoczaj at 11:05 AM on September 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


And then there are the masochists who write the damned crossword in the back of The Nation. @$&%#*!!1!
posted by Thorzdad at 11:12 AM on September 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


The football coach is a famous person (who I wouldn't have known). Gilmore Girls is a current tv show that has yet to prove it won't be forgotten in a couple of years.

I wish he was more strict about crappy pop culture clues.
posted by cmoj at 11:12 AM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


dlugoczaj: I guess his point was that we wouldn't necessarily know that her name is spelled Lorelai, instead of the more common Lorelei.
posted by papafrita at 11:15 AM on September 14, 2011


He was also a big part of the "classic era" Games Magazine.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:16 AM on September 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


dlugoczaj: I guess his point was that we wouldn't necessarily know that her name is spelled Lorelai, instead of the more common Lorelei.

True--I admit, I did think the unorthodox spelling might throw some folks.
posted by dlugoczaj at 11:25 AM on September 14, 2011


Psh, it would only throw off those ignorant buffoons who aren't listening to the Cocteau Twins' Treasure on a daily basis like the rest of us cultured and educated people.
posted by griphus at 11:27 AM on September 14, 2011


He was also a big part of the "classic era" Games Magazine.

Except for the two years or so that the mag was defunct, I've been buying GAMES for over thirty years. It just isn't the same under the Kappa regime. No hidden contest, far fewer contests overall, fewer fiendishly difficult puzzles. I don't like the art direction compared to the glory days in the 80s. I don't like the fact that every cover is a puzzle composed in Illustrator. I don't like the inevitable cartoon puzzles on the last page, I don't like the guy who does most of the game reviews these days (and especially don't like his conservative, reactionary bias). I don't like their Games 100 choices, which have often been really fucking stupid. Jump Gate? C'mon.

I do like my (roughly) monthly dose of Pencilwise, and the World's Most Ornery Crossword has never failed to please, under the purview of any editor. I don't dislike everything about it, which is why I keep subscribing.

But the magazine isn't as clever or witty or subversive or creative as it once was, and that's a shame.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 11:32 AM on September 14, 2011 [7 favorites]


And no Fake Ad! Which of the pitches is full of hitches?
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 11:33 AM on September 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I watched Gilmore Girls. I liked Gilmore Girls. I had absolutely no idea that she did not spell her name -EI. But I would take stupid pop culture clues any time over stupid sports culture clues.
posted by jeather at 11:40 AM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wish he was more strict about crappy pop culture clues.
I would take stupid pop culture clues any time over stupid sports culture clues.

Sports and pop culture both need to be excised.

See also: Trivial Pursuit.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:46 AM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the issue is time. If in five or ten years Gilmore Girls is a hallowed classic, then fine, but it's not. Superbowl winners is standard trivia.

All this is gonna make me buy another P&A that I can only solve half of.
posted by cmoj at 11:47 AM on September 14, 2011


I agree that the reason for rejecting the "Lorelai" clue is that the spelling is not the usual one. I think Shortz would allow, say, a character from a popular book spelled not in the usual way. But we don't often see the names of TV characters written out, so how are we supposed to know that Lorelai Gilmore spells her name that way?

But GRAHAM clued with reference to Lauren Graham (instead of, say, "s'more cracker" or "senator Lindsey") would be fine, since we see the names of actors in print.
posted by madcaptenor at 11:51 AM on September 14, 2011


Whoa check out the old skool Mac.
posted by odinsdream at 11:51 AM on September 14, 2011


Amen, Ten Pounds! I'm another 30 year veteran and I'm sick at what has happened to Games to the point where I only subscribe to Pencilwise (which comes out 6 times a year.)
I'm assuming that there just isn't the audience for pencil and paper puzzles.

That said, I've been doing the Sunday Times puzzles for at least 10 years. Every Sunday morning at brunch my husband and I do the puzzle together while we eat and at other times we do the acrostics together on line or do one of the Sunday Puzzles from one of the many Collections. Speaking of which, I wish Will Shortz would do a sequel to this; I really enjoyed reading why each puzzle made his list of favorites.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 11:52 AM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I like Will Shortz and all, but I miss Eugene T. Maleska. He loved his "winged" (ALATE) "dagger of yore" [SNEE], and made me love them too.
posted by dersins at 12:05 PM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


28 down: "90 is a pretty high one" - PROOF
No, no it's not. I think Will Shortz is not a drinker.
posted by Plutor at 12:08 PM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ok, Plutor, what do you consider a pretty high proof?
posted by kenko at 12:12 PM on September 14, 2011


And then there are the masochists who write the damned crossword in the back of The Nation. @$&%#*!!1!

"Sadists," I think you mean and, until recently, there was just the one sadist at The Nation creating those puzzles, Frank W. Lewis.
posted by aught at 12:13 PM on September 14, 2011


He assumes we'd know this football coach's name but wouldn't know Lorelai from Gilmore Girls? Fooey on him.

I assume this is in line with the NY Times' editorial attitude, where sports has always been covered fairly deeply, but television feels like the least important topic in the arts.
posted by aught at 12:19 PM on September 14, 2011


kenko: "Ok, Plutor, what do you consider a pretty high proof?"

151, althought that might have been too easy of a clue. 100 or 120 would qualify. Anything under 100 is "moderate" in my book.
posted by Plutor at 12:20 PM on September 14, 2011


Superbowl winners is standard trivia.

But it shouldn't be. I will argue this until the end of time, if need be. The overlap of people who care about difficult crossword puzzles and people who care about the coach's name from some sports championship is smaller than the overlap of people who care about difficult crossword puzzles and people who care about mythology. If it isn't, it should be.

(I'll allow hockey clues to stay, just because those are the only ones I ever get right. But if they disappear too, I won't mind.)
posted by jeather at 12:23 PM on September 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hm, I would consider 90–101 "pretty high" for the purposes of regular drinking, while anything over 100 is "pretty damn high" and either significantly watered (absinthe) or used extremely sparingly as a float, to be ignited, to be infused, etc. (overproof rum and whatnot).
posted by kenko at 12:25 PM on September 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Rex Parker", although he has a full plate...is a natural-born MeFite, and I wonder if we can't win him over with some clever sideblog bait a la JavaScript man! Sometimes I kick myself for checking his site too early, when a couple more minutes blankly staring at a Saturday puzzle would have resulted in filling the grid.

Oh, and last Thursday's puzzle featured the answer KLUDGE! (clue: workable if awkward solution to a crossword computer problem, see also)
posted by obscurator at 12:29 PM on September 14, 2011


crossword
posted by obscurator at 12:30 PM on September 14, 2011


jeather: "I will argue this until the end of time, if need be. The overlap of people who care about difficult crossword puzzles and people who care about the coach's name from some sports championship is smaller than the overlap of people who care about difficult crossword puzzles and people who care about mythology. If it isn't, it should be."

I was ready to agree with you until "it should be". Come on, facts is facts. Why "should" people who like to know things be more willing to know about millennia-defunct Gods instead of decades-ago sports champions? The only reason one is "jock" and one is "nerd" is tradition. I'm a sports nerd and a crossword fan and proud of both.
posted by Plutor at 12:33 PM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


This was really interesting.

I often don’t know the TV clues, and hardly ever know the sports clues, but totally agree with those choices. I would have been really irritated by the Gilmore Girls thing, and I figure the names of spots people are fair game as long as they’re very well known in general. What I find ridiculous is when there is obscure trivia in both the down and across clues. If you don’t know those answers you can’t finish the puzzle.
posted by bongo_x at 12:36 PM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm annoyed by the "things people say" that are creeping in as clues/answers. A typical one might be "Aw, do I ___?" (Answer: HAVETO).
posted by gubo at 12:38 PM on September 14, 2011


When I was a teen I picked up a very small number of Games Magazines, and I remember Will Shortz's name from them. Yay, me!

Come on, facts is facts. Why "should" people who like to know things be more willing to know about millennia-defunct Gods instead of decades-ago sports champions? The only reason one is "jock" and one is "nerd" is tradition.

It's a question of notability. People who do not specialize in myths have a greater chance of getting a mythology clue than people who do not specialize in sports have of getting a sports clue. Further, most people, I'd say, once they learn about a myth they feel they've obtained important information; the same is not true of Random Coach of Champion Team From Last Decade.

I bother to reply here because the biggest thing that keeps me from doing more crossword puzzles is sports clues. (Second place: music clues, although I'm more willing to admit personal culpability in that.)
posted by JHarris at 12:41 PM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was ready to agree with you until "it should be". Come on, facts is facts. Why "should" people who like to know things be more willing to know about millennia-defunct Gods instead of decades-ago sports champions? The only reason one is "jock" and one is "nerd" is tradition. I'm a sports nerd and a crossword fan and proud of both.

I suspect that it is, but I have absolutely no proof of this other than my general feelings. I say that it should be because I don't like sports and do like crosswords and prefer that my crosswords be sports free.

But millennia defuct gods have a history to them, so if you (or cmoj) say that decades-old sports are more important than years-old tv shows because they have lasted the test of time, then you need to accept that decades-old sports are less important than millennia-old gods. Of course, then you get into the "no pop culture ever" problem, which I am not a fan of, either. But I do find there's a lot of sports stuff in crosswords which would never be okay for anything popular except sports, and I don't think that makes much sense. Will Shortz made all sorts of changes to what the rules were with crosswords when he took over from Eugene Maleska, and his rules can be changed too.

In short, I am picky about my specific preferences and feel that they are correct and exactly what crosswords should be like.
posted by jeather at 12:42 PM on September 14, 2011


As the only person I know who's nerdy enough to make his own crossword puzzles and distribute them to friends and co-workers, I thank you for posting this.
posted by Rykey at 1:13 PM on September 14, 2011


Huh... I don't really remember there being all that many sports clues in the NYT crosswords. I do have a decent grasp of sports history, but I would have whiffed on Coach Ewbanks too.
posted by kmz at 1:13 PM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Great stuff. I love the NYT puzzles, love Gorski, love Shortz but miss Maleska and love this post.
posted by caddis at 1:20 PM on September 14, 2011


I don't like the guy who does most of the game reviews these days

What I don't like about the game reviews (at least for board games, I'm not a video gamer so I ignore the electronic game reviews) in GAMES is that they're not really reviews at all. They're brief descriptions of the rules, along with rankings on "simple/complex" and "chance/skill" scales, but they don't tell you whether the game is any good. Out of the eight or so reviews in an issue, there might be two or three that pique my interest based on the description, but then I have to go to BoardGameGeek and look them up to see if they're any good.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:09 PM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Coach Ewbanks" is only an acceptable clue because WEEB is necessary crosswordese. If you do plenty of crosswords, you know WEEB. He's not just a famous coach, but he also has a handy crossword construction name, which means that solvers have seen him around and he is fair play. WEEB is sufficiently famous and worth knowing in the crossword world for a self-recursive reason: because he is sufficiently famous and worth knowing in the crossword world.
posted by painquale at 2:24 PM on September 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


ten pounds, SLoG, do either of you remember the name of those puzzles where you'd get a grid with a series of numbers at the end of each column and row, like 2 2 16 4 which meant that in that row would be two squares filled in in black, and them some unspecified amount of white squares, and then two more, and so on. You had to use logic to figure out where all the filled in squares went, and it formed a little picture. I always liked those, and I wonder if anybody's made an iPad app of them.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 2:30 PM on September 14, 2011


I know those by the name picross puzzles.
posted by cmoj at 2:34 PM on September 14, 2011


I got off my butt (metaphorically; I actually stayed seated the whole time) and Googled it myself: Paint By Numbers, or generically Nonograms.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 2:37 PM on September 14, 2011


The overlap of people who care about difficult crossword puzzles and people who care about the coach's name from some sports championship is smaller than the overlap of people who care about difficult crossword puzzles and people who care about mythology.

I'm not sure that's true. I'd think the overlap between crossword players and bar trivia geeks is pretty high, and that's the kind of thing you'd memorize for serious bar trivia. But, then, so is mythology.

Anyway, I'm not saying that sports are more important than anything. It's just the kind of thing that comes up in these things, so people who do these things tend to know these things.
posted by cmoj at 2:38 PM on September 14, 2011


"Coach Ewbanks" is only an acceptable clue because WEEB is necessary crosswordese. If you do plenty of crosswords, you know WEEB. He's not just a famous coach, but he also has a handy crossword construction name, which means that solvers have seen him around and he is fair play. WEEB is sufficiently famous and worth knowing in the crossword world for a self-recursive reason: because he is sufficiently famous and worth knowing in the crossword world.

This is one of my least favorite things about crosswords, though, and the biggest reason why a lot of people write them off as "too hard." Because even the most basic, common crosswordese, like OLIO or ERSE or EIRE or EMIL Jannings or Norma fucking RAE, which you just Need To Know to get anywhere on a lot of crosswords, don't even ping the radar of anybody who hasn't already done a million crosswords, whether they're an intelligent well-read person or not. Once you've seen a lot of puzzles it's easy to forget how many of them are basically built on a handful of the same obscure words that just happen to have a bunch of common letters in a weird order.
posted by theodolite at 2:43 PM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


M E F I
A V E R
M E T A
A R E S

posted by Horace Rumpole at 2:53 PM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


In any case I'd like to brag that I got my fastest Wednesday time ever today!
posted by theodolite at 2:56 PM on September 14, 2011


Those kind of puzzles are Nonograms, Horace.
posted by griphus at 2:56 PM on September 14, 2011


...stupid, uh, time zone difference.
posted by griphus at 2:57 PM on September 14, 2011


I see previous clever clues for SNOW that include "winter fall", "white blanket"... This one's sort of cute—"serial killer." Snow on your TV, it's going to hurt your reception of a serial.

Man, that is way too perverse to be fun.
posted by the jam at 3:29 PM on September 14, 2011


It just isn't the same under the Kappa regime.

I got a Kappa puzzle book in my Xmas stocking. I've been cussing it ever since. Short on wit, long on obscurity does not fun make. The friendship between many clues and their answers are only as deep as having sat in the same classroom once. The themes are right out of minor TV sitcoms. In shortz, they test even the patience of an Anglophile.
posted by Twang at 4:17 PM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Of course any puzzle and/or Will Shortz aficionado should have already seen Wordplay

I hardly ever do crossword puzzles, but I loved that documentary.
posted by straight at 7:20 PM on September 14, 2011


>Man, that is way too perverse to be fun.<

You don’t want to be doing any Cryptic Crosswords then.
posted by bongo_x at 11:01 PM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


jeather: "Will Shortz made all sorts of changes to what the rules were with crosswords when he took over from Eugene Maleska, and his rules can be changed too."

Boy, is that true. It was weird how palpably different the NYT puzzle felt when Shortz took over. Not worse, just different.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:52 AM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you like nonograms, this site may kill your productivity.
posted by nicepersonality at 6:17 AM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


WARNING: nicepersonality's link might seem like an innocuous "ha ha these puzzles are fun thing" but he is in fact telling you IF YOU LIKE HEROIN THIS NEEDLE FULL OF HEROIN MIGHT UGHHGAGHHHHhh....
posted by griphus at 6:35 AM on September 15, 2011


(Also: if you have gestures set up to move you back and forth in your history by a quick LClick-RClick/RClick-LClick, turn it off or you'll lose a lot of half-finished puzzles.)
posted by griphus at 6:40 AM on September 15, 2011


ten pounds, SLoG, do either of you remember the name of those puzzles

In GAMES, they're called Paint By Numbers puzzles. There's a book of them, too. The generic name for them is a nonogram. In Japanese, hanjie or o'ekaki. Lately, they've been marketed as 'griddlers' or 'paint-doku'. Nintendo published several Picross games for handhelds, too, in the same style. Picross 3D for the DS is a really great variation on the theme.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 8:50 AM on September 15, 2011


I'd never thought too much about the place of sports and pop culture in crosswords. I happen to have a lot of knowledge about both, but I'm crap at world history and Geography. I get, even if I don't agree with, the idea that the first two aren't as "real" as the latter two, but it hadn't crossed my mind until this thread. Regardless, the cross of SORIANO and BEANE made today's puzzle much easier for me.
posted by SpiffyRob at 3:58 PM on September 15, 2011


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