Crossword Puzzles - Love 'em or ... don't

I love crossword puzzles, and just made my greatest read ever.

Clue: SOS, for one.

Eleven letters, all I had was a ‘P’ at position 1.

And the answer was…

Well, we’ll get to that in a minute.

Thoughts on Xwords: Merl Reagle, a genius. The Washington Post “Crossenergy”, pretty good too. One thing I hate, is the classic “Start of a quip.” Hey, I don’t mind a challenging xword, but that just strikes me as a little bit unfair. If it was “Start of a quip, by Will Rogers” that would be okay. Otherwise, it just seems like the go-between, well, between the puzzler and solver is reduced a bit.

Anyway, I assume that the hardcore solvers have stopped reading way up, and tried to get the answer also.

Of course it was…

Well, we’ll get to that in a minute. But first, I propose a little game.

To wit: give a clue, and guess the answer. Now I’m not saying just give any clue, but one of the classic clues that we all see over and over (this will weed out the hardcore people from the amateurs). Here, I’ll start us off with one or two:

Presidential Dog:

Architect Saarinen:

And of course, swtich ending:

Btw, the reason I think Reagle is a genius, is that I’ve never, ok, almost never, seen him use the “classic” clues.


I just did a crossword puzzle in today’s SF Chronicle that contained both the words BRALESS (“lacking support”) and TITS (“wee warblers”). That had to be intentional.

Wow … in the SF paper? Really?


“Mine entrance”

Any love here for cryptics? Either I’m getting better at them, or they’re getting easier. I used to linger over the puzzles in Harper’s or The Atlantic for most of the month, but I’ve done the last three from Harper’s in two days, each.

I was thinking


I used to take The Atlantic. I could never even understand the instructions to the Puzzler!

Edit: added / for italics.

Robot Arm, I’ve never seen a clue such as the palindromic SOS having any meaning for the answer. But what do I know. I’m only the guy that came up with:

A man, a plan, panama.

In my off days, I also authored this gem: Able was I, ere I saw Elba.

In the French: Non!

I did come up with that. Well, the idea anyway.

Er, A man, a plan, a canal, Panama!


The Atlantic Puzzlers are quite easy, though. They are great puzzles, with ingenious themes and beautiful clues, but c’mon, they’re not hard. I think they’ve had maybe two in the last eighteen months that I couldn’t finish in one go, and I’m no great shakes as a solver.

A lot easier than British crosswords, but to be honest ours are often harder simply because the clues are unfair. The Atlantic clues are commendably, scrupulously fair, so much so that having become accustomed to them I now can’t be bothered with stupidly hard British puzzles.

Fair enough as for the Atlantic. I took it back in, oh, 1997 or so, and had never done any xwords or anything else.

As for unfair, I still remember the day that I realized, if there is an abbreviation in the clue, then the answer will be abbreviated too.

What makes the British puzzles so hard, IMHO, is that they use a mix of cryptic and non-cryptic clues, without identifying which are which. There’s hard fun, and there’s hard obnoxious – I find that hard obnoxious.

twicks, who’s left the biz, but still test-solves cryptics for Games :cool:

Merl Reagle is a genius. His crosswords in the Philadelphia Inquirer are at the ideal level of difficulty for me – challenging but completable. I’d love to get my hands on a compilation of his.

In what way are they “unfair”?

I used to do him in The New York Observer. Here’s a tip: go to He sells his stuff there.

I can’t get cryptics at all. And I’ve also never been able to find a place with “easy” cryptics (like Monday/Tuesday NYT level cryptics) that I could work my way through. (Or I have found Monday NYT level cryptics and they were still way, way, way too hard for me.)

I also ended up with PALINDROMIC for the SOS clue.

I don’t know of any British puzzles that mix cryptic and non-cryptic clues. Unless you are referring to the so-called Cryptic Definition clue, which I understand is considered unacceptable in US cryptic puzzles. That is, the type of clue where there is no wordplay part, just a misleading definition. Example: The rest of the afternoon (6).

Answer: SIESTA.

Presidential Dog: ASTA

Architect Saarinen: EERO

And of course, swtich ending: EROO

Bonus - Mine entrance: ADIT

My favorite: Five-sided brass container: (eight letters)

They’ll use questionable definitions, either for the answer or for components of the wordplay. Or the indicators (the code-words that tell you to anagram or reverse wordplay components, for example), will be vague or downright illogical, just to fit the surface reading of the clue. It is much easier to write clues if you allow yourself such licence. Cox and Rathvon of the Atlantic, however, do not take that easy option, yet still manage to come up with clever and elegant clues. And their themes are always fun and inventive. The closest British equivalent is the Independent magazine puzzle.

I like tackling Aracauria in the Saturday Guardian. He’s legendary, but probably one of the easier cryptic setters, on the basis that I stuggle with most of the other Guardian cryptics (Anyone try Bunthorne - he’s savage!).

Some from a while back - last Christmas I think

kcul (9-2-7)
ytud (3-7)

Mixing cryptic and non-cryptic clues was common practice up until the 1960’s, but no modern British puzzle would do it.

Can you post a specific example please?