Skip

Resting, missed the final note, but you hear the part. (4, 2, 5)
December 5, 2010 2:10 PM   Subscribe

Frank W. Lewis, longtime cryptic crossword setter for The Nation, passed away on Nov. 18 at the age of 98. Although best known for his puzzles, of which he set nearly 3000 over sixty years, Lewis also had a distinguished career with the War Department. His work on the team deciphering Japanese shipping codes during World War II led to awards for Exceptional Civilian Service, Outstanding Civilian Service, and Bletchley Park Service.

Should you wish to test your wits against Mr. Lewis, his instructions are available on The Nation's site, as well as a collection of classic puzzles.
Classic Puzzle 1
Classic Puzzle 2
Classic Puzzle 3
posted by ecurtz (16 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
Those instructions are charming. Thanks for this.
Puns are one of the mainstays, of course. When FEATURED LIKE GOLDILOCKS' VILLAIN? turns out to be BEARFACED, you can thank Heaven the pun isn't worse. I can appreciate the groans that might follow the discovery that the answer to DOTH THITH MAKE THE HEART GROW FONDER? is ABSINTHE.
posted by jessamyn at 2:24 PM on December 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


I can almost never finish Lewis's puzzles — there's something about his form of trickiness, the unabashed violation of the "square-dealing" principle of the American-style cryptics, that just completely stymies my Maltby/Cox/Rathvon-taught mind — but I'm in awe of his career. He was a titanic cruciverbalist, perhaps the greatest wordplaysmith of the 20th century.

Unending ado to online moment of silence (3)
posted by RogerB at 2:41 PM on December 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


There were also nice obits for Lewis in the New York Times and the Telegraph (UK). The latter has one of the best brief explanations of Lewis's idiosyncratic cluing style that I've seen:
His anagrams could be devilishly daunting or pointedly pithy – in one of his puzzles “Change of heart” yielded the solution “Earth”. Such a clue might affront some British setters, but Lewis ignored the convention whereby clues divide into two or more components, one of which is a definition of the answer. Indeed he would think nothing of using multiple components, or sometimes only one. His clue “S”, for example, led to the solution “Largess”.
posted by RogerB at 2:53 PM on December 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


I used to love doing the cryptic crosswords that were a part of every Microsoft puzzlehunt- so much so that I feel compelled to share the story of one of my all-time favorites.

It was a single sheet of paper with an Alice in Wonderland quote at the top about a chess game (I can't recall it, but I believe it was a quote from Looking Glass involving a chess problem, something about all the places to put a knight that would lead to mate in one move). Below this quote were three completely separate cryptic crosswords (with clues) in three side by side columns, each one challenging in its own way as cryptic crosswords will be- especially the second one, when you finally realized they were unfairly including in a cryptic crossword the NYT gimmick of using a full word in a single space, like [RED][R][A][W] in 4 spaces, or "[WHITE][N][I][N][G]" in 5 spaces.

Once you finally solved all three, you were left wondering "Okay, what now"... until you realized that all 3 puzzles were of course 8 x 8 crossword puzzles- just like a chessboard! And further that if you laid the second puzzle- with its special squares with the words WHITE and RED in them- over the first puzzle, you'd realize that every space in the second grid lined up over a space in the first grid that used letters like K, Q, N, B, etc- which a puzzle solver would immediately realize were standard chess notation symbols. Therefore, you were able to describe a two-player chess board layout using a combination of information embedded in the first two puzzles. If you then took that chessboard layout and placed it over the third board, you could then re-read the opening quote and realize that was your puzzle: find all places where you could place a knight such that it's mate-in-1. Those spaces you identify, on that third crossword, could be read in order (L->R, T->B) to make one, final, cryptic crossword clue- the answer to which was the answer to the puzzle.

Aw man, I really miss Puzzlehunt...
posted by hincandenza at 2:56 PM on December 5, 2010 [5 favorites]


RogerB: The latter has one of the best brief explanations of Lewis's idiosyncratic cluing style that I've seen:
His anagrams could be devilishly daunting or pointedly pithy – in one of his puzzles “Change of heart” yielded the solution “Earth”. Such a clue might affront some British setters, but Lewis ignored the convention whereby clues divide into two or more components, one of which is a definition of the answer. Indeed he would think nothing of using multiple components, or sometimes only one. His clue “S”, for example, led to the solution “Largess”.
See, that would infuriate me; like you said it violates a sense of "square dealing" we expect from our puzzles or from puzzlehunt.

One of the "golden rules" of a puzzle, and certainly of a cryptic crossword puzzle, is that strong sense when you've solved it that you've definitely solved it- and a proper cryptic, having that two-part approach (one is a more standard definition, so to speak, and the other is a punny form, with a VERY unclear division between them), means that when you come up with an answer it's highly unlikely you're wrong if it meets both parts of the clue. It's like a built-in puzzle checksum!
posted by hincandenza at 2:59 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Extra points for the title.

Slowly but surely, normal crosswords have been approaching the deviousness of the cryptic style. The first time I solved an unhearlded rebus puzzle my eyes nearly popped out of my head when I discovered the silly gimmick I tried solving the puzzle with turned out, in fact, to be the real answer.

I don't think cryptics are for me, oddly enough they seem to be too settled in their form, but Lewis' seem like they loosened up a bit more than that.

I'm not going to try to write a clue obit. I'll just close with a .
posted by JHarris at 4:20 PM on December 5, 2010


One of the "golden rules" of a puzzle, and certainly of a cryptic crossword puzzle, is that strong sense when you've solved it that you've definitely solved it- and a proper cryptic, having that two-part approach (one is a more standard definition, so to speak, and the other is a punny form, with a VERY unclear division between them), means that when you come up with an answer it's highly unlikely you're wrong if it meets both parts of the clue. It's like a built-in puzzle checksum!

I would counter that crossword puzzles already have such a checksum, provided by the crossing of the words, and that cryptics pull back a bit from the elegance of crosswords in general by providing reduced letter density. Those "checksums," however, whatever form they are, are actually what make crosswords puzzles rather than simple quizzes or riddles.

It is certainly odd that cryptic crosswords, which are much more obtuse to a first-time solver, appear to be more staid and calcified than ordinary crosswords, which have been going crazy for a while now with clever themes, symmetry games, their own special clue types, and the rebus puzzles I mentioned above.
posted by JHarris at 4:27 PM on December 5, 2010


Oh, this is making me sad, because my dad used to do these. Or try to do these--he was a shark for regular crosswords, but for some reason Lewis's puzzles threw him, and we would so often chat about the answers and how Lewis had generated the clues.

What a long and fruitful life Lewis had! I am sure his friends and family have memories to treasure always.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:44 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's pretty rare to end up with a solution you aren't sure of (or are sure of but can't explain) but it does happen. As with all puzzles, practice is king. At one point a fews years ago I could pretty reliably complete one puzzle during my multi-hour commute, but I've been looking at Classic Puzzle 1 on and off since the post and am maybe 2/3 of the way.

I hadn't realized it, but that is his first puzzle for The Nation and contains the "featured like Goldilocks' villain" clue jessamyn posted from his instructions. It also has at least one clue I thought was even better:

It isn't geese who are disturbed by such perils. (7)
posted by ecurtz at 6:25 PM on December 5, 2010


Chickens?
posted by Wolof at 7:07 PM on December 5, 2010


(Somebody can't count.)
posted by Wolof at 7:23 PM on December 5, 2010


cryptic crosswords, which are much more obtuse to a first-time solver, appear to be more staid and calcified than ordinary crosswords

You should really take a look through a sample of the last couple decades of Atlantic and Harpers puzzles, if you haven't yet — they're technically called "variety cryptics," I think, because each has a different gimmick, and the gimmicks are a lot like what you say you're enjoying elsewhere. They range from answers that won't fit in their grid spaces until you figure out some secret trick, to answers that wander across the grid in some semi-random pattern, to unconventional or unlabeled grids, to unclued but themed answers, to more esoteric tricks. My personal favorite is the "Abecedarian Jigsaw," in which some of the answers have to be entered in a substitution cipher that you can only work out by solving the other clues.
posted by RogerB at 8:30 PM on December 5, 2010


Aaah RogerB, those do sound awesome, yes.
posted by JHarris at 9:03 PM on December 5, 2010


I spent many happy hours with the Nation cryptic, and I've enjoyed reading about Mr Lewis.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:15 PM on December 5, 2010


Moment of silence! (6)
posted by painquale at 12:06 AM on December 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sorry, when I said "Abecedarian Jigsaw" above, I really meant "Diametricode."
posted by RogerB at 1:42 PM on December 6, 2010


« Older Offer Up Your Steps So I Can Climb   |   Figment Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post