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Crossed Words

Author Erin Brady

“Hated to death, say.”* Anyone who’s agonized over a clue like this (answer below) will be familiar with the work of Will Shortz. The veteran New York Times crossword editor, who provides the foreword to John Halpern’s new history, Centenary of the Crossword, is so steeped in the form you wouldn’t be surprised to hear that his first words were “One across.” Below, Shortz shares some of the stuff he’s learned in his history with the puzzle.

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There’s no ‘i’ in Kyrgyzstan
“The easiest words to work into a crossword are short ones with lots of vowels—like ale, area and opera. The hardest words are the long ones with lots of consonants. The Superman villain Mister Mxyzptlk would be a bear to include—although it’s been done.”

Aim for the punny bone
“The themes that make me laugh the most are often ones with puns. In a recent puzzle gently poking fun at how people in Boston speak, the clue ‘A “Star Trek” officer and a physician are going to board a plane?’ led to the answer ‘Spocks will fly’; ‘Where frogs shop?’ was ‘Hopper’s bazaar.’”  

@&#! is not the answer
“Crosswords are meant to entertain, so I avoid anything overly graphic, obscene or offensive. On the other hand, I think crosswords have a reputation of being prim and proper, which I dislike, so I’m not extreme in banning words. I try to follow ordinary good taste.” (Dec. 1)

*Answer: “Anagram.” (It’s a tough one, we know.)

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“Though the statisticians would have rounded his .39955 average up to .400, and though he could have sat out the last two games, Ted knew that history wouldn’t look kindly on that option, so it was really no option at all.”
—-From The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams, Ben Bradlee, Jr.’s biography of the great Boston Red Sox outfielder and Korean War fighter pilot. (Dec. 3)

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