Where do crossword puzzlers go to strut their stuff? To the annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament held each spring in Stamford, Connecticut. Now, you can go there, too.
Yale alum and a former New York Review of Books staffer Romano is an inveterate puzzler, addicted to crosswords. He can do the Sunday New York Times crossword in under 20 minutes. As our guide to the world of super crossworders, Romano tours the annual tournament and introduces us to some of the greats, like New York Times puzzle master Will Shortz (also famous for his weekend brainteasers on NPR). Romano pontificates about what makes a good crossworder. A love of words helps, obviously, but so does the type of mind that can do math or music. He includes a dab of history: the impulse to play with words goes back eons, but the first known crossword puzzle, then called a word-cross, didn’t appear until 1913. The slightly tongue-in-cheek concluding chapter, “The Eschatology of Puzzles,” offers an apologia for crosswords. Working puzzles isn’t just a hobby, Romano claims, it’s actually a road to self-improvement. There’s even a bit of gendered analysis thrown in. Women puzzlers get to wear cool shirts with slogans like “Real Women Do It In Pen,” but men tend to dominate the upper echelons of the puzzling world. The spatial relations and hankering for trivia that serve crossword fans well, suggests Romano, represent “a challenge to women, who until very recently haven’t, on the whole, been encouraged to develop, in grade school especially, their faculties in this respect.” That sentence highlights the author’s capacious perspective—and his one failing here. At times, Romano is, simply, a clunky writer, using too, many, commas, and unwieldy, phrases.
Still, reading Crossworld is almost as much fun as working a crossword.