Thursday, June 02, 2005

A Wicked Crossword

The lovely d and I have made a custom of solving the crossword puzzle published each Sunday the N.Y. Times Magazine. She usually has a go at it first, filling in a third or so. Then I graciously correct her mistakes, add my own answers, and leave it on the kitchen counter for her review. Back and forth we go, for several days, in fits and starts. We usually solve the puzzle, though sometimes the clues referring to sports or parochial New York matters outreach our mutual interests and, thus, answers.

Reading Seth Stevenson's ruminations on why he has become hooked on the Japanese number puzzle, Soduku, reminded me of my own reflections on the maddening joys of working crosswords. You have probably seen advertisements offering huge, poster-sized crossword puzzles. They evince the view that if some is good, more is better. I don't think that applies to crossword puzzles, though.

It would perhaps be different if the answers to a crossword puzzle's clues were more interrelated than they are. To some degree, of course, the clues of a puzzle's overlapping, "cross" words are mutually dependent on several right answers. But the interrelations of a crossword puzzle's answers seldom extend beyond a local block of words. You can usually solve one corner of a crossword, for instance, without it having much of an effect on your answers in another corner. Thanks to that sort of limited, localized interdependence, d and I can work the N.Y. Times Sunday crossword puzzle in easily managed parts.

Mulling over that phenomena, I came up with a plan for a wickedly maddening crossword puzzle. Its clues would allow for two equally plausible, but mutually inconsistent, sets of answers. The clue for one across might, for instance, ask, "Head of household." Either of "Mom," or "Dad," would fit. One down would likewise have a clue allowing for either of two triable answers. It might for instance read, "Don't catch," allowing as answers either "miss" (if "Mom" were chosen for one across) or "drop" (if "Dad" were instead chosen).

So it would go, with two possible sets of answers packed into one crossword. That alone would make it infuriatingly difficult to solve in the conventional way. You would solve one corner with solidly sensible answers, all nicely linked together, and then find that your block of words just will not hook up with another corner's equally plausible set of answers! I can think of a way to make it still more wicked, too—but I'll hold off on detailing that. I'm not sure the world is ready for a puzzle with so much power to drive its victims insane. Bwah hah hah!

4 comments:

Will said...

As I recall, Will Shortz did a puzzle like that for the NY Times for election day 1996, where one across was something like "The winner of the presidential election" and the answer was either "bobdole" or "clinton" and then 1 down was "black halloween animal" ("bat" or "cat") and so on. I don't think I've seen the puzzle, but that's how he described it at a lecture I went to a few years ago.

Tom W. Bell said...

Given the difficulty of coming up with something both original and wicked, I suspected someone might have beaten me to the punch. Too many people have been wicked for too long, it seems, to leave much room for innovation. Evil genius does not come easy, alas. Still, my secret crossword weapon retains, so far as I know, the potential to *drive people insane*! (Cackle, bwah ha, ha, and so forth.)

dgm said...

hey! whaddya mean i usually only finish one-third on the first go-'round? oh, puh-leeez. might i remind you who completed the thing this week (okay, with the exception of 2 or 3 letters) without your "corrections?"

still, you are pretty cute.

Tom W. Bell said...

Yeah, you had a good week. But I was talking in generalities, and thus about the *average* week. Still, though, you are cute, too (both in particular and on average).