two-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
18-Sept-Oct-2005
By: 
Marc Romano
user_rating: 
0

One Man’s Journey Into America’s Crossword Obsession

A-CrossworldLifelong crossword enthusiast Romano drops tips on improving your own puzzle performance as he delves into the minds of crossword creators and solvers. While covering (and participating in) the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament for The Boston Globe, Romano met a cast of eccentric characters: Will Shortz, beloved editor of The New York Times puzzle and the only academically accredited "enigmatologist" (puzzle scholar); Stanley Newman, Newsday’s puzzle editor and the fastest solver in the world; and Brendan Emmett Quigley, a wickedly gifted puzzle constructer and part-time rock musician. The puzzles and the people who obsess over them reveal something about the world we live in, the cultures that nurture us, and the different ways we think and learn.
Broadway. 256 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 076791757X

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Romano deftly illuminates the arcana of crossword puzzling and brings the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament alive, extracting considerable humor and humanity." Jon Winokur

Newsday 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Crossworld is an erudite, hilarious visit to a Pickwickian planet. … Bonus: Crossworld is alive with history (the first crossword appeared in 1913 in the New York World as ‘word-cross’); lore (Bill Clinton once polished off a tough puzzle in six minutes and 54 seconds while answering interview questions and taking a call from Jesse Jackson); romance (a marriage proposal encoded into the Times puzzle was accepted by the inamorata, an avid puzzler) … [and] tips (how to spot letter patterns and constructors’ foibles, store your trivia in ‘the right mental cupboards,’ alter your penmanship for speed)." Judith Long

Boston Globe 2.5 of 5 Stars
"The pleasure of reading Crossworld is dimmed by the occasional error (the upper-left corner of the puzzle is called the northeast rather than northwest; a description of two puzzles notes that each has 70 words, then states bafflingly that the word count is higher in the second). Overall, though, it’s hard not to enjoy a book that recalls how the nation’s previous commander-in-chief not only read the newspaper but was timed completing The Times Wednesday puzzle with perfect accuracy in under seven minutes." Deborah P. Jacobs

NY Times Book Review 1 of 5 Stars
"Romano is a far less interesting character than Quigley, but unfortunately a much more prevalent one in the book. … If you’re going to write about words, and show off about them, you probably ought to be careful to get them exactly right." James Kaplan

Critical Summary

Some critics saw Romano, who frequently injects himself into his narrative, as irritating and biased. ("I am hopelessly addicted to The New York Times crossword puzzle," he writes, thereby never distancing himself from his subject.) Small factual mistakes will annoy attentive readers; after all, crossword puzzles are about the details. Romano’s writing style also irked some critics, who viewed it as clunky and at times elliptical. Yet despite Romano’s focus and style problems, Crossworld’s subject matter is unique and engaging. We wish better luck to him at the next crossword tournament.

Supplemental Reading

Word Freak Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players | Stefan Fatsis (2001): Fatsis chronicles a different word-obsessed subculture.