Originally this post was going to be a nitpicky little thing where I focused on one of my puzzly pet peeves.
But it occurred to me that this might not just be a pet peeve of mine. It might similarly irk other puzzle people I know.
I then reached out to some of the constructors I know to ask what their puzzly pet peeves are. And, as it turns out, there are lots of silly little things in crosswords and other puzzles that catch the ire of constructors and puzzle-minded folks.
So please join us as we kvetch and complain a little bit and let off some steam about one of our favorite pastimes.
Welcome to Ask a Puzzler: What’s one of your puzzly pet peeves?
Constructor Joanne Sullivan:
The myth that solving in pen is the highest achievement.
Winners of the ACPT have told me that they never solve in pen. Almost all solvers (including the expert speed-solvers) use pencils at crossword tournaments. You could write a whole article on serious crossword solvers’ pencil preferences–wood vs. mechanical, .5 mm vs. .7 mm lead, disposable vs. refillable, etc.
When I’ve worked as a judge at crossword tournaments, I’ve been irked by solvers who solve in pen and then wrote over their original answers when they made mistakes because they couldn’t erase them. If they insist on using pens, at least they should use ones with erasable ink. Sloppy handwriting in tournament puzzles is also a pain for judges. What’s worse than mere sloppy handwriting is inconsistency. If a contestant always uses the same squiggle to represent a certain letter, it’s easier to determine their intent, but if they form the same letter different ways in different squares, it can be maddening for judges.
Washington Post Crossword editor Evan Birnholz:
A pet peeve of mine is the tendency to refer only to classical or Romantic-era music pieces when writing clues about keys (A MINOR, C MAJOR, etc). Mozart and Beethoven and Chopin are great, but there are other genres and musicians who used those keys, too.
Universal Crossword editor David Steinberg:
I’d say my puzzly pet peeve is when a crossword has too many cross-reference clues (like “See 19-Across”), since it’s always sort of frustrating to be sent all over the grid.
Constructor Doug Peterson:
Clues that want me to think the answer is a “good name” for a certain profession.
For example STU as a [Good name for a cook?] or SUE as a [Good name for a lawyer?]. OTTO for a chauffeur, OWEN for a debtor, PHILIP for a gas station attendant. The list goes on and on. I love third grade riddles as much as anyone, but for some reason these stick in my craw. =)
In my opinion, this sort of thing only works for pets. OREO is a great name for a black-and-white kitten!
Fireball Crosswords constructor Peter Gordon:
The best I can come up with is when someone feels the need to cross off the clue number after filling in the answer. Why bother doing that?
[PN Blog: I confess. I do this.]
Wordplay blogger Deb Amlen:
It took me a really long time to understand when there was a rebus element in a puzzle. I spent a lot of time cursing at my empty grid before I realized that something must be up.
Daily POP Crosswords constructor Robin Stears:
Puzzle books for little kids, particularly the ones in the dollar stores.
Very often, they’re nothing more than scaled-down grids with clues written for adults. And for some reason, they all contain the word ARIA, which I doubt children even know, unless Peppa Pig has a friend named Aria. I actually saw one with a Blackjack clue for ACE! Are these kids today playing poker on the playground? At my school, we didn’t learn how to count cards until the eleventh grade. 😉
Constructor Neville Fogarty:
My biggest pet peeve in the world of puzzles is actually in the world of cryptics — indirect anagrams! I can’t stand when a clue involves rearranging letters that you aren’t given. That’s just not fair; there are too many possibilities!
Fortunately, most publishers of cryptics edit these out, but I still see these on occasion from newer setters and indie sites. Yikes!
Oh, and what was the pet peeve that inspired this entry in the first place?
When people call things crosswords that aren’t crosswords.
I get it. You see a clued puzzle where words cross, and you think crossword. But it’s not. It’s a crisscross. It’s a perfectly valid puzzle, but it’s not a crossword.
Perhaps the most egregious example recently was featured on the Hallmark website page for the Crossword Mysteries series of films. They advertise a crossword tie-in to each show. And when you click on it, you get this:
That’s not a crossword. And this happens all the time. a blog page or an activity book or a tie-in product related to some pop culture property, you’ll be told there’s a crossword to solve…
And you get a crisscross instead.
Several of my fellow puzzlers chimed in on this topic when I mentioned it as my example of a puzzly pet peeve.
Joanne Sullivan: Oh, don’t get me started! Criss-crosses being passed off as crosswords are bad enough, but I think it’s even worse when clueless designers try to emulate real crosswords but make all kinds of mistakes like lack of symmetry, noncontiguous white squares, unchecked squares, and worst of all, nonsensical numbering. I can’t stand it when fake crosswords in cartoons or fabrics have numbers thrown in them willy-nilly.
Robin Stears: Dang it, you stole my pet peeve. I was just complaining to someone the other day about a book cover with a pseudo-crossword grid that wasn’t really a crossword puzzle at all!
Oh, and puzzle books for kids very often try to pass off criss-crosses as crosswords, too. It’s not just Hallmark — that new People crossword game is not a crossword either. Six words that vaguely overlap do not a crossword puzzle make, and you can quote me on that.
Did you enjoy this fun little venting session, fellow PuzzleNationers? Let us know in the comments section below, and we might do another Ask a Puzzler post in the future! (But not too often. I don’t want them to start dreading emails from me.)
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