The Future of Crosswords: Multilingual Grids?

[Image courtesy of Seton.]

Anyone familiar with crosswords these days knows that you need more than a thorough knowledge of English to be a topnotch solver these days.

Sure, English is still the basis for the vast majority of crosswords you’ll encounter — even if some weird, unexpected, and obscure words pop in from time to time — but you’ll need a grasp of other languages to complete most grids these days. (And I’m not just talking about European rivers or foreign currencies.)

After all, the Greek alphabet shows up in crosswords all the time. I can’t recall the last grid I completed that didn’t have ETA, IOTA, RHO, or PHI in it. And clues like “Fraternity letter” are rarely specific enough to help you fill the clue on your first try.

[Image courtesy of Greek Boston.]

You need to know your Latin to solve puzzles too. ET TU, AD HOC, DIES IRAE… plenty of words and phrases pilfered from Latin litter crossword grids.

The modern crossword will send you on a linguistic tour of the globe. From “Scottish Gaelic” for ERSE and “Indian nanny” for AMAH to “Kimono sash” for OBI and “German mister” for HERR, you could visit the languages of half a dozen countries in a single crossword.

But if you’re talking about other languages in crosswords, the top two are undoubtedly Spanish and French.

[Image courtesy of Wikipedia.]

Spanish and French words are so common that Wordplay, the blog dedicated to The New York Times crossword, has entire articles dedicated to Spanish and French words you need to know.

For Spanish, they list entries like BESO for “kiss,” ESTA for “this,” and RIATA for “rope.” (Though they missed TIO/TIA for “uncle/aunt” in their rundown.)

On the French side of things, you get common crossword entries like AMI for “friend,” ROI for “king,” or SEL for “salt.”

(The crew at Crossword Unclued even wrote an article about how often French words are used in Cryptic-style cluing, for fans of that version of crosswording.)

[No, something a little tougher than that. Image courtesy of Mommy Maestra.]

All this multilingual puzzling made me wonder… has anyone tried to create a bilingual crossword? I’m talking about a crossword where a significant portion of the entries (if not half) are from a second language.

As it turns out, constructor Bryan Betancur recently accepted that challenge, creating “Bilingual Puzzle #1.” This puzzle not only features a fair number of Spanish words in the grid — not as filler but as significant entries (which I won’t mention, in case you want to solve it yourself!) — but many of the clues for Spanish AND English words are written in Spanish, ensuring a mental challenge beyond the usual crossword fare.

Yes, it was a confusing solve not to know whether the answer to a given clue would be English or Spanish, but that made it all the more satisfying when I was able to confidentally place words in the grid.

It’s the only crossword on the WordPress Blog “Bilingual Crossword,” but here’s hoping others join it soon.

In the cultural melting pot that is modern society, there’s not only opportunity for inclusivity, but there’s also opportunity for challenging, bilingual crossword grids to pique your interest (and make you wish you’d paid more attention in high school foreign language classes).


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The Crossword From Hell

This is an innocuous looking grid. A smattering of black squares. Classic diagonal symmetry. At first glance, this could be any crossword.

But this isn’t any crossword. This is The Crossword From Hell.

A brilliantly tongue-in-cheek takedown of obscure cluing and other frustrating puzzle conventions, The Crossword From Hell challenges you to come up with, among other things:

–The opposite of “forty”
–Person who did not speak quote
–Color I am thinking of
–Color I will be thinking of for tomorrow’s puzzle
–He batted .219 in 1953
–“… a ______” (Keats)

I have to confess, I love this puzzle. The mix of fill-in-the-blank clues that could be ANYTHING and the incredibly obscure, yet specific, requests for trivial minutiae delightfully skewer the worst crossword constructing practices, particularly crosswordese.

This parody puzzle is the creation of Dr. Karl M. Petruso, an anthropology professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. I reached out to Dr. Petruso regarding his hilariously snarky rejoinder to the puzzle community, and here’s what he had to say about the puzzle:

Yes, that puzzle is my only foray into crossword composition (well, fake composition, truth be told. I did field at least one email from somebody who said he had solved all the clues but one, and he believed that I cheated on that word. I suspected he was pulling my leg…).

Since my grad school days in the ’70s I have been a snooty puzzle solver: only the NYT puzzle, and even then, nothing earlier than Thursday, always in ink. I was able to solve maybe a third of the Saturday puzzles, but it took me well into the next week to do it. I love the clever themes and wordplay in the Sunday puzzles, and could often complete them, but by no means every time.

I decided to take my frustrations out on clues that were at once obscure and too much trouble for someone as lazy as me to remember the words for. Creating that puzzle was very satisfying, kind of like an exorcism or something. I don’t know. I have always thought the web is the perfect place to post snark and work out dark impulses.

Perhaps the funniest thing about this exaggerated crossword is that, to many who struggle with tougher crosswords, it probably doesn’t seem exaggerated at all.

Great crossword puzzles manage to be clever and challenging while sidestepping many of the pitfalls featured in The Crossword From Hell. But this is a wonderfully funny reminder of what you should strive NOT to do.

A huge thank you to Dr. Petruso for his time AND his creative efforts on behalf of puzzlers everywhere.


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Crosswordese: Now with Rhythm!

[Image courtesy of Crosswordese Selfies.]

Crosswordese is the bane of solvers and constructors alike.

For the uninitiated, crosswordese consists of words that appear frequently in puzzles, but not nearly as often in conversation or common use. (My favorite variation on that definition: “words that crop up a lot but are otherwise pretty useless.”)

Not only does crosswordese prevent new solvers from enjoying crosswords to the fullest — by forcing them to learn a weird, esoteric jargon that feels exclusionary — but it hounds constructors who are trying to build solid, engaging grids, tempting them with easy letter combinations and tricky corner resolutions.

Crosswordese is so prevalent in the field that some crossword enthusiasts try to craft stories that include as many examples of crosswordese as possible.

The father of Reddit user Cheedrifin went another way, though, penning a delightful poem full of crosswordese!

We’ve posted it in full below. Enjoy!


THE CRUCIVERBALIST’S BALL

I was stunned, I’ll admit, when I got the call
To go to this year’s cruciverbalist’s ball.
For eons I’d wanted to earn such a bid
To see all the bigwigs who live in the grid.

I should say that I don’t have a poet’s portfolio
Up to describing this fabulous olio,
But I’ve always said “Carpe diem’s my motto.”
I’ll give it a shot with some help from Erato.

The lot of us boarded a sleek SST
And flew over what looked like the dry Aral Sea.
But just where it was held, I can’t properly say.
They swore me to silence at point of epée.

But it might have been Riga, or maybe Oman.
The Rhine? The Rhone? Iraq or Iran?
It could have been Agra—I know it was far—
Or maybe an aerie perched over the Aare.

Wherever it was, they served us some naan,
Aioli and Nehi and roasted eland.
And down at our heels, keeping watch for dropped pasta
Were dogs from the A-list: Ren, Odie, and Asta.

We all settled down at the sound of a raga
Announcing arrivals of sri, shah, and aga.
Still more eastern royals stepped out of the car:
An Arab emir and a ranee and tsar.

The big names could not keep away from this forum.
Mel Ott! Ernie Els! William Inge and Ned Rorem.
And brimming with pride both paternal and filial,
The architects Saarinen: Eero and Eliel.

Sajak was stoked to meet old Ayn Rand.
And Ezio Pinza hailed Elia Kazan.
Malia and Oprah remembered Chicago,
And Amis and Imus examined Iago.

James Agee went on about where he had been
With Ani DiFranco and Anaïs Nin.
We saw Uta Hagen, who didn’t speak German
To Yma and Uma (yeah, Sumac and Thurman).

E. Utne shared new-age convictions with Moby
While Cheri Oteri was tying her obi.
We sampled the ahi (it’s really just tuna)
With dear Mrs. Chaplin, who said “Call me Oona.”

We sang and we danced till they all had to go,
Catching planes to the Urals, or trains to St. Lo.
Now I’m stuck for an ending. Have one I can borrow?
I guess I’ll just wait for the answer tomorrow.


So many of the chronic crosswordese offenders are included! Did the poem miss any of your favorites/least favorites? Let us know in the comments section!

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An Excluded Solver Strikes Back!

sculpture

Many people find crossword puzzles daunting.

For some, it’s the crosswordese, those obscure or curious words that you only encounter in crossword grids. Whether it’s European rivers or needlecases, these entries never make casual conversational appearances.

For others, it’s the pop culture that often feels dusty and out-of-touch. It’s not like many silent movie stars are household names these days.

Thankfully, many current outlets and constructors have moved away from this stodgy approach to grid construction and cluing, working hard to keep cultural references fresh and up-to-date, and striving for fluid grid-filling entries that remain both accessible and interesting.

Unfortunately, the reputation of crosswords as behind-the-times is still prevalent in many circles, including among younger solvers.

But I was amused to find one younger solver who sought to balance the scales a bit by taking matters into her own hands.

Tumblr user Greater-than-the-Sword created and shared her own crossword. (Well, technically a criss-cross to puzzle aficionados like ourselves, but the average person would call this a crossword.)

In her own words:

Tired of your parents always doing better than you at crossword puzzles just because they’re old and get the ancient pop culture references? I made this Millennial’s Crossword Puzzle™. Guaranteed to make your parents feel old and less smug.

Sample clues included “is either white and gold or blue and black” for DRESS (referencing the optical illusion that took over the Internet for a day or two) and “Popular Youtuber” for PEWDIEPIE.

Although the puzzle didn’t make me feel old or less smug, it did make me laugh, since I found several of the entries completely baffling and impenetrable. It also reminded me of how amazingly fast cultural references emerge and vanish in the age of the Internet. I got about half of the reference in the puzzle, many of which applied to memes and pop culture from the last few years.

(Though I must confess that it took me an embarrassingly long time to realize the clue “bendy cabbage patch” meant BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH.)

I was unable to reach Greater-than-the-Sword to ask her what sort of feedback she received on the puzzle — either from millennials or from older solvers who accepted the challenge — but I found it to be a delightful response to lazy crossword construction.

You’re welcome to try your luck against the puzzle here.


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5 Questions for Constructor Doug Peterson

Welcome to 5 Questions, our recurring interview series where we reach out to puzzle constructors, game designers, writers, filmmakers, musicians, artists, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life!

It’s all about exploring the vast and intriguing puzzle community by talking to those who make puzzles and those who enjoy them! (Click here to check out previous editions of 5 Questions!)

And I’m excited to welcome Doug Peterson as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

Crossword gentleman and constructor Doug Peterson is a regular in the Los Angeles Times and many other outlets, offering topnotch grids and brilliantly fun, pop-culture-savvy cluing. Doug was also one of the constructors in this year’s Lollapuzzoola crossword tournament and a winner at this year’s American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. Anytime you encounter one of his puzzles, you’re guaranteed a great solve.

Doug was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!


5 Questions for Doug Peterson

1. How did you get started with puzzles?

Like many others, I caught the puzzle bug from older family members, specifically my dad and maternal grandmother. I’d spend summers at my grandparents’ house, and my grandma always had a stack of Dell puzzle books on hand. My favorite thing was to tackle one of the huge 21×21 crosswords, which would literally take me days to finish. And that was great, because I had a lot of long, boring days to get through.

2. What, in your estimation, makes for a great puzzle? What do you most enjoy — or most commonly avoid — when constructing your own? What do you think is the most common pitfall of constructors just starting out?

I think the most important element in a puzzle is craftsmanship, meaning that significant effort has gone into making that puzzle as enjoyable as possible. I realize that’s a little vague, but it’s like the old line about pornography: “I know it when I see it.” Basically, the theme, fill, and clues should all demonstrate care and a personal touch.

I’m not the best at coming up with themes, so I strive to make my fill and clues pick up the slack, so to speak. There’s plenty I avoid in my grids, and I’m getting pickier all time. For the record, I’ve never used ÉTÉ in a grid. I don’t trust three-letter words with two accent marks. Also on my “banned list” are IDI, AMIN, and ULEE. I’m not going there. I hate brutal dictators, and bees kinda scare me.

The most common pitfall I’ve found among newbies is trying to do too much right out of the gate. My advice is to get a few 15×15’s under your belt before trying to construct that 21×21 triple rebus with five meta-answers and a tribute to your favorite band hidden diagonally. My first published puzzles are embarrassing to look at now. I used PATLY in my debut puzzle. PATLY? That barely resembles a word that a human would use. But I got better, and by the time I was ready to tackle something truly challenging, I had some constructing chops.

Teaser: I’ll give my best advice to newbies (and all constructors) in my answer to Question 5.

[Two of Doug’s books currently available on Amazon: Sit & Solve© Brain-Straining Crosswords and Sit & Solve© Lickety-Split Crosswords.]

3. Do you have any favorite crossword themes or clues, either your own or those crafted by others?

We’re living in a golden age of crosswords, and there are so many superb themes and clues out there, and of course I can’t think of anything specific off the top of my head right now… I solve a crapload of puzzles, more than 20 per week, so honestly it’s hard to single out themes or clues that made me say “Oooh!”

Constructors whose themes I admire include Brendan Emmett Quigley, Andrew Ries, and Erik Agard. They’re at the top of my “why the hell didn’t I think of that?” list. BEQ publishes two free high-quality puzzles a week, which boggles my mind. And he used to do three a week! Just recently, he posted puzzle #900. I would have burned out years ago. BEQ’s puzzles are a blast to solve, and they’re hip without being eye-rolly.

Andrew Ries publishes a weekly crossword (www.ariesxword.com) that’ll run you $12 bucks a year (a steal!) and consistently features fresh themes and clues. It’s often my favorite puzzle of the week. And then there’s Erik Agard over at gluttonforpun. Mind-bending, multi-level themes and clues that make me laugh out loud. This dude is the next wave of crossword puzzles.

The best venue for stand-out themes by a variety of constructors is Fireball Crosswords, edited and sometimes constructed by Peter Gordon. Shameless plug: I constructed the first Fireball puzzle of 2017, which will hit solvers’ in-boxes in January. It’s a theme that’d been bouncing around in my brain for over two years, and I finally got off my lazy butt and made the puzzle.

Cool entries do tend to stick in my head, and a couple recent entries I loved (and wish I’d thought to use myself) were BEER O’CLOCK and DC UNIVERSE. Both were in puzzles by another of my favorite constructors, C.C. Burnikel. She turns out quality puzzles on a regular basis. In fact, on a more-than-regular basis. C.C. is remarkably prolific. Nary a week goes by that I don’t solve a well-crafted Burnikel puzzle in one of the major outlets.

4. What’s next for Doug Peterson?

On the constructing front, I’d like to branch out a little and create more non-American style crossword puzzles. I love constructing cryptic crosswords. I had a couple published in the New York Times ages ago, and then I drifted away from them. I got my start writing cryptic clues back in the Dark Ages in the rec.puzzles.crosswords Usenet group. (Psst, constructors. No one remembers USENET anymore, so stop putting it in your grids. SYSOP, too.) And maybe I’ll try my hand at constructing a Rows Garden or a Marching Bands puzzle. Something outside my comfort zone.

[A. A familiar Sudoku grid; B. A Kakuro (or Cross Sums) grid; C. A Nurikabe
grid, a variation on Minesweeper-style solving; D. A Hashiwokakero grid,
which readers might remember from this year’s UK Puzzle Championship.]

Speaking of comfort zones, on the solving front, I want to get much better at solving logic puzzles. And by “get much better at,” I mean “actually be able to solve.” I’m talking about Sudoku, Kakuro, Nurikabe, Hashiwokakero (yes, that’s an actual puzzle type I just found on Google), all the puzzles with Japanese names and little lines and boxes and circles. I’ve solved maybe ten Sudoku puzzles in my life, and it would be cool to stretch my brain in another direction or many other directions.

And hey, it will open up a whole new world of puzzles that I can print out and never quite get around to solving!

5. If you could give the readers, writers, aspiring constructors, and puzzle fans in the audience one piece of advice, what would it be?

To aspiring constructors, my best advice is: Solve puzzles! I cringe when I hear a constructor say that they don’t solve puzzles or “can’t” solve puzzles. Just looking at answer grids or reading reviews of puzzles isn’t enough. To me, solving is the only way to figure out what sorts of things make a puzzle enjoyable. There’s a reason I don’t use ULEE in my grids, aside from my slight apiphobia. It’s because it bugs me when I see it in a puzzle I’m solving.

Create the kinds of puzzles that you enjoy solving, and you can’t go wrong. (Unless you like solving really crappy puzzles for some reason.) And if you’re interested in being published and getting paid a few bucks for your hard work, it’s essential to solve puzzles from the venue you’re submitting to.

OK, I’ve rambled on long enough. Look for my été-free puzzles in all the usual places. Thanks for reading. Peterson out.


A huge thank you to Doug for his time. Be sure to follow him on Twitter for the latest updates on all his puzzly creations!

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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Funding and Fright edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, I’ve got some updates and answers for you!

First off, I want to say congratulations to Patrick Blindauer, whose Piece of Cake Crosswords Kickstarter campaign was funded by solvers hungry for quality puzzles without the obscurities and crosswordese!

It was down to the wire, but the campaign raised the final $10,000 in just seven days to pass the funding goal and ensure that 52 terrific puzzles will be wending their way to solvers all over the world!

In fact, the first one has already arrived in solvers’ inboxes! I can’t wait to see what Patrick has up his sleeve for the next 51 weeks!


And now, on to the answers!

On Monday, I posted a video by musician, comedian, and pun-enthusiast Ali Spagnola where she assembled twenty Halloween themed (or just generally spooky) songs and challenged you to name them all.

How did you do?

1. “Thriller” — Michael Jackson
2. Ghostbusters theme — Ray Parker Jr.
3. “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” — Eurythmics
4. “Time Warp” — The Rocky Horror Picture Show
5. “The Monster” — Eminem ft. Rihanna
6. “Monster Mash” — Bobby “Boris” Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers
7. “The Phantom of the Opera” — Andrew Lloyd Webber
8. The Addams Family theme
9. “This Is Halloween” — The Nightmare Before Christmas
10. The Twilight Zone theme
11. Little Shop of Horrors theme
12. “Crazy Train” — Ozzy Osbourne
13. Scooby Doo, Where Are You? theme
14. “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” — Backstreet Boys
15. “Enter Sandman” — Metallica
16. “Somebody’s Watching Me” — Rockwell
17. “Disturbia” — Rihanna
18. “Heads Will Roll” — Yeah Yeah Yeahs
19. “Hungry Like the Wolf” — Duran Duran
20. “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” — The Charlie Daniels Band

Admittedly, I didn’t get all of them — the Ghostbusters theme eluded me, and I don’t think I’d ever heard Rihanna’s “Disturbia” — but I got all of the others! Not too shabby!


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