Novelty Crossword Songs!

Although the crossword as we know it celebrates its birthday on December 21, tracing its roots all the way back to 1913, it was the 1920s where crosswords really caught the public eye.

By 1924, crosswords had officially become a fad, inspiring fashion trends (black and white patterns) and moral panics alike.

But it was also the year of the novelty crossword song. Yes, crosswords found their way into the world of music, serving as inspiration for numerous comedic ballads.

Perhaps the most famous of the 1924 crossword songs is the curious “Crossword Mama, You Puzzle Me (But Papa’s Gonna Figure You Out).”

The subject of the song is an ardent puzzle solver, but the singer of the song is more bothered by the fact that he doesn’t have her full attention, painting her as someone who ignores him or flirts with other guys. He is clearly suspicious of her, and expresses his suspicions through crossword clue references.

[Although written and arranged by James V. Monaco and Sidney Clare,
this version of the song was recorded in 1925 by Frank Crumit.]

For example:

Crossword Mama you puzzle me,
But Papa’s gonna figure you out.
You call me honey – that means bee!
Looks like I’ll get stung no doubt.

Your Papa’s gonna crossword you right now,
You better get your answers right.
I heard you mention “butcher” – that means “meat”!
Who you gonna “meet” tonight?

The singer is clearly confused by both crosswords and the object of his affections. It would be best if he just left them both alone for a while.

Given how difficult some people find crosswords, you shouldn’t be surprised that there was a blues song penned about crosswords the same year.

“Cross-Word Puzzle Blues,” penned by Fred Herendeen and performed by The Duncan Sisters, is surprisingly upbeat, as the sisters describe themselves as “criss-cross crazy” and discuss their difficulties solving puzzles. It’s very silly indeed.

Be careful not to confuse this with the jazzier song by D.J. Michaud and Marguerite Bruce, “I’ve Got the Crossword Puzzle Blues,” featuring such tongue-in-cheek downbeat lyrics as “I’m feeling awfully down and cross / I spend all day solving, but I still don’t have a clue.”

(Unfortunately I couldn’t find a decent public recording of this one to share with you.)

There’s a strange recurring theme with these songs where women are primarily the solvers, and the men in their lives are utterly baffled by the pastime.

In a similar vein to the first song, “Cross-Words (Between Sweetie and Me)” is all about a man who feels spurned and underappreciated by his crossword-obsessed lady.

Sorrow has torn at my heart strings
I wonder who is to blame
My sweetie never has time for me
She’s deep in love with a game
Crosswords have made me blue as can be,
Cross, crosswords between my sweetie and me,
She’s been puzzling, don’t seem to care
Whether I’m near her or taking the air
I’m jealous. How can I win sympathy?
I’m hoping she’ll soon need L-O-V-E.

[Recording of Billy Jones from Edison Records, circa 1925]

He goes on to describe how a group of people solving crosswords were so quiet, he thought they had died, and he subsequently broke into the house to make sure they were all right.

Billy clearly has boundary issues, and although his sweetie might be spending too much time with crosswords, at least they’re keeping her away from her weird, weird paramour.

This is just a sampling from a single crossword-obsessed year. I’m sure there are many more puzzle-inspired songs out there. Do you know any? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you!

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Better Gaming With Math and Statistics!

[Image courtesy of]

Statistical analysis is changing the world. The wealth of available data on the Internet these days, combining with our ever-increasing ability to comb through that data efficiently using computers, has spawned something of a golden age in data mining.

You don’t need to look any further than the discovery of Timothy Parker’s plagiaristic shenanigans for USA Today and Universal Uclick to see how impactful solid analysis can be.

But it’s also having an impact on how we play games. Statistical analysis is taking some of the mystery out of games you’d never expect, making players more efficient and capable than ever.

We discussed this previously with the game Monopoly — specifically how some spaces are far more likely to be landed on than others — and today, we’re looking at two more examples: Guess Who? and Hangman.

Guess Who? gives you a field of 24 possible characters, and you have to figure out which character your opponent has before she figures out the identity of your character. Usually, if you end up with a woman or someone with glasses, your odds of winning are low, because some aspects are simply less common than others.

But is there an optimal way to pare down the options? Absolutely.

Mathematician Rafael Prieto Curiel has devised a strategy for playing Guess Who?, based on an analysis of the notable features of each character, breaking it down into 22 possible questions to ask your opponent:

Based on this data, he has even created a flowchart of questions to ask to maximize your chances of victory. The first question? “Does your person have a big mouth?”

Yes, not exactly a great first-date question, but one that yields the best possible starting point for you to narrow down your opponent’s character.

It’s certainly better than my first instinct, which is always to ask, “Does your person look like a total goon?”

Now, when it comes to Hangman, the name of the game is letter frequency. Just like a round of Wheel of Fortune, you’re playing the odds at first to find some anchor letters to help you spell out the entire answer.

But, as it turns out, letter frequency is not the same across all word lengths. For instance, E is the most common letter in the English language, but it is NOT the most common letter in five-letter words. That honor belongs to the letter S.

In four-letter words, the most common letter is A, not E. And it can change, depending on the presence — or lack thereof — of other letters.

From How to Win Games and Beat People by Tom Whipple:

“E might be the most common letter in six-letter words, and S the second most common, but what if you guess E and E is not in it?” In six-letter words without an E, S is no longer the next best letter to try. It is A.

In fact, Facebook data scientist Nick Berry has created a chart with an optimal calling order based on the length of the blank word.

For one-letter words through 4-letter words, start with A. For five-letter words, start with S. For six-letter words through twelve-letter words, use E. And for words thirteen letters and above, start I.

Of course, if you’re the one posing the word to be guessed, “jazz” is statistically the least-likely word to be guessed using this data. And your opponent will surely hate you for choosing it.

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You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!