For some reason this blog generates far more private mail than it does comments so it's time to reach into the old electronic mailbag and catch up on some reader stories and questions.
British Cryptics update
Here's a link to British puzzle master Peter Biddlecombe's new post Independent and Financial Times Crosswords for new solvers including commentary, some frequently asked questions, and links to the puzzles themselves. Check 'em out.
The family that puzzles together...
I loved hearing from reader Michael McFadden. Here are some of his comments and a story that proves crosswords don't have to be a solitary activity.
Jim – I started reading your [January 13 post] with the bit about "why aren’t crossword puzzles more popular?" – good question. I try to turn people on to them by showing them completed interesting ones, where there is a cool twist to it. I have the famous 11/5/96 NYT hanging on my office wall (the Election Day one where "CLINTON" and "BOBDOLE" were interchangeable) and show that one often. However, most neophytes will pick up a blank puzzle and scan all the clues quickly, in its entirety and feel overwhelmed. They don’t realize that you don’t even have to know all the answers, there are plenty of hunches and good guesses involved once you get into the nitty gritty of the grid. I see sudoku fanatics on the bus all the time. I tried it, it gave me a headache and I kept thinking "I could do this in a minute in Excel". Plus, where is the payoff? Where is the wit? AND you never learn anything (today I learned MICHAELMAS DAISY was an aster…. Never knew that before!).
Your speed post was great, the phrase: "some supernatural force of nature from Chicago whose over-clocked brain works on completely different scientific principles" cracked me up. I am the same way as you, I do not go for speed at all and am awestruck by people like Amy. Then again, I slow down during the last chapters of a good book just to savor the experience. I started doing the Sunday NYT puzzle with my dad, he would start it off and then pass it around to the family and we would all chip in. He had a few rules — don’t put anything down unless you have something crossing it to anchor it down. He also told me never to underestimate yourself; once there was a large quote running through the puzzle as a theme and there was an ending clue that said something like "Writer of the quote" and we had a lot of blanks and then NKN together. I told my dad that we screwed up, something is wrong — who has a name that has NKN together? He said to hang in there and he was right as the answer was AUTHOR UNKNOWN.
Best regards, Mike
Questions and Answers
Here are some answers to questions I've received, some from multiple sources.
Q. Why don't you include a complete puzzle analysis each day?
A. Because there are lots of other great sites that do that, some linked from the left column. Instead, I enjoy thinking about and writing about the world of crosswords and I often let each puzzle inspire the day's theme.
Q. But I came here looking for answers!
A. No problem. Even when I don't blog about a specific puzzle, I post my answers each day. There are links right under the Quick Clues module in the right hand column.
Q. Is that painting supposed to be you? Is that what you look like?
A. No and no. It's a Picasso self portrait. I just happen to love it.
Q. Do you do other crosswords? Other puzzles?
A. I do lots of each. I love puzzles. This site concentrates on NYT crosswords because I wanted to limit my scope and because the NYT is the only important institution which makes its archive available publicly going back far enough to make statistical analysis interesting. See www.xwordinfo.com.
Q. Have you ever written a published puzzle?
A. Not a crossword but there's one famous puzzle I created, or at least popularized. Every version of Microsoft Windows from about 1990 until Vista shipped last year included a puzzle game I wrote called FreeCell.
Q. Why the anonymity? Why just JimH?
A. With every job I've ever had, my email address has been jimh and that's how many people know me in real life. You can see my full name by opening up FreeCell, choosing Help from the menu, and opening the About box.