Riddle me this, Twickster!

Why is there an “editor” for crossword puzzles? In the “L.A. Times” and the “N.Y. Times,” the crossword has both a byline and an editor. If somebody wrote the thing, what the hell does the editor do? Make sure everything is symmetric? Fact-checking? Or do you say, “You know, this clue would be even cuter if you put it this way…”?

Not to question the necessity of your existance, or anything; I’m just curious.

Cuz’ in some papers there is no editor, only a byline.

Misspellings in the questions? That’s about all I can come up with

You know there’s more publishing people than Twickster around here! Who do you think she comes to for advice?

An ‘editor’ can fill many different roles. Someone who’s editor for specific features like crosswords or comics or somesuch will be in charge of making certain the paper has the right piece for each day as well and coordinating with the syndicate that supplies them. There’s also answering mail and checking to make sure the puzzle designer hasn’t slipped a hot one in.

It’s not what I’d call a ‘top level’ editorial job but everyone has to start somewhere, right?

The editor looks over the puzzle submissions and decides whether the puzzle meets the editorial standards. Some are going to be too easy or too hard for the market. Maybe they have seven April Fool’s Day themed puzzles submitted; the editor picks the best.

You’re under the common misconception that an editor’s job is to edit a work. Few editors actually rewrite anything; they just decide if the items submitted to them are appropriate. There are also copyeditors and proofreaders, but they are separate jobs.

This isn’t to say an editor won’t correct a typo or suggest a better clue. But that’s only done occasionally, and only with works (or puzzles) that only need a slight tweak.

Yeah, well, Mr. Smarty-Pants – before you coached me through the interview process so I could land my current job, I spent 14 years as a puzzle editor, so I actually know the answer to this from direct experience.

The job of a puzzle editor, put briefly, is to make sure that the solver has a good time. Some of this you’ve touched on already – checking that the puzzle solves correctly, for instance that it doesn’t break symmetry rules or include two-letter words [illegal in all but the cheesiest TV-Guide caliber puzzles]; that the “theme” entries are all correct and on-topic; and that the “filler” doesn’t include too much crap (obscure words, misspelled words). It might be necessary to rework the grid to get rid of some of said crap.

Making sure the solver has a good time also involves that anything that the puzzle is in good taste; you’ll never see the word “NAZI” in a puzzle, or see “AIDS” clued in reference to the disease. Speaking of cluing: Another element is making sure the puzzle is clued at the appropriate level of difficulty – a person who’s looking for a challenging puzzle will be just as pissed off by easy clues as someone who’s looking for an easy puzzle will be by challenging clues. Keep in mind that constructing a puzzle – putting together the answer grid – and writing the clues are two completely different skills, and most people who are good at one aren’t particularly good at the other. (Merl Reagle is the most famous exception to this rule; Mike Shenk, a lesser-known but equally talented puzzle guy, is another.) (Mike Shenk, BTW, is one of the people behind the “New Yorker Cartoon Book of Puzzles” that came out recently – which is wonderful.)

So the editor is responsible for both checking the puzzle, and also tweaking it to make it as entertaining as possible.

A big-name editor – like, say, oh, Will Shortz – also has other responsibilities, as Jonathan Chance suggests – like evaluating the literally hundreds of puzzles submitted to him, a lot of which aren’t very good. You also end up mentoring new constructors – critiquing their work and suggesting changes and corrections. He also has to deal with mail from solvers, etc.

Syndicated puzzles are, in fact, edited – I know a couple of people who do it – but not by big name people, thus the lack of byline.

It’s appropriate this question comes up today. Wordplay, a film about Will Shortz, opens in theaters today.

It’s about crosswords in general, not just Will.

All I know is what I read on the Internets.

I’ve seen it. There’s quite a bit about Will, but there’s also quite a bit about the annual crossword tournament (which he organizes), contestants at the tournament, other constructors (like the above-mentioned Merl Reagle), interviews with Bill Clinton, Jon Stewart (swoon), and the Indigo Girls, etc.

So, no, it’s not just about Will.

I sold some material to Will way back when he was editor of Games magazine. Articles, mostly, rather than pure puzzles. He was always a pleasure to work with.

“NAZI” is in bad taste?? I don’t get that one at all.

Especially since crossword constructors love the Enola Gay, which I’d think they wouldn’t use if we’re still that sensitive about WWII-era unpleasantness.

shrug All I know is you won’t see it in a crossword grid.

Constructors ALSO love “Sten,” which is a gun that a British soldier would have used to shoot at Nazis. I guess “Sten” just has a magic mix of really common letters that makes it irresistable, because I saw it an awful lot back when I was more into crosswords.

WAG–I suspect that they also check for foul language or double entendres in the puzzle.

I’m willing to include that under “makes sure … the puzzle is in good taste.”

If it’sthe same clue, you know it’s “??EN” and the “S” or the “T” don’t fit, then it’s a Bren gun. The better cruciverbalists – such as Merl Reagle, whose work I love – seem to manage not to have to use these old fallbacks (I’m looking at you, “swan genus” and “sea eagle”).

I personally have a theory that the letter frequency distribution in crossword puzzles is approximately proportional to the square of the distribution in the dictionary. I’ve never gotten around to testing it, though…

And, of course, sometimes the puzzle-makers deliberately flout such tendancies. I did one a month or two ago that had words with double 'z’s (“buzz”, “pizza”, etc.) all over the place.

It struck me as amusing that the very day Wordplay opened nationwide, and had reviews which stressed this point, the Times puzzle had “Sadomasochism” as an answer!

twickster, does the editing for a puzzle book by big names (like Cox and Rathvon) get edited for correctness, not clues? I’d suspect that cryptic clue construction in 90%, unlike regular grids, and thus gets less editing.

Hmm. Usually I’m just killing time. But that’s me.

I never knew that they just accepted cold submissions. Now it makes more sense. I just assumed they had a few people on staff who could be relied upon to do it right. In France, though, they have two-letter words, don’t they?

Actually, I’ve suspected that they been using computers–out-souced computers, in fact. Why else are they so obsessed by “EPEE,” which of course is not obscure, is it? In fact, in nature, it only occurs in crossword puzzles.

Yeah, well it’s been brewing in the back of my head for a while, and it just happened to be properly fermented.

Speaking of Shortz, take an eleven-letter word that refers to a kind of cement mixer, move the second to last letter in front of the fifth letter, and remove any other letter that is even, to make it mean a kind of champange no longer manufactured, without the first letter, then reverse all the letters, except for the third and fourth to last, and reverse the letters again, to make it into the national anthem of a former Balken state.

And have fun. I dare you


Voyager – not sure what distinction you’re drawing – correctness is about both grid entries and cluing, how can you separate them?