Friday, March 26, 2010

The Crossword, A Tutorial. (of sorts)

It seems that the secret to routine success at crossword puzzles is to do a lot of them. Dozens and dozens and dozens of them. Some I finish, some I cheat at, some require Google to solve, but pretty soon I start to notice a pattern - the same questions are asked repeatedly.

For example: Mansard makers. No idea (and I resisted a google/webster's foray). Had to skip it the first two times it came up. But by the third, the words around it came together. The answer? Roofers. (who knew, right?) Now, I own that question. And fyi, mansard = a hip roof, each face of which has a steeper lower part and a shallower upper part.

Clues that produce the best answers are those that end with a question mark (?) Makeup artist? (liar) Warranted inquiry? (search) Fire bug? (ant!) Escape hatch? (loophole) Halting words? (whoas!) Stand for a sitting? (easel)

The hardest (for this country bumpkin) are contemporary culture clues - especially having to do with film or television. Kevin of "Kojak?" Not a clue. Mouseketeer O' Brien? Hum. "Make room for Daddy" daddy. You've got to be kidding me. 40's actress Massey? Whatever. My husband is particularly incensed at my total and complete lack of sports trivia knowledge - at least I have him to draw on as a resource, right.

Let me tell you though, I can totally rock the French ones - Pere Goriot's creator? Rocked that one - thanks French Lit 370. Not at all grand? Oh, yes. Land amid a mer? Seriously simple. Piaf's "______ en Rose"? Gotcha. Pied-a-_____. Yep, score.

The most satisfying clues to solve are those solvable because of recent exeperience. Ms. Golightly? (saw Breakfast at Tiffany's a few weeks ago) Falstaff's quaff? (attended a lecture on Henry V last week) Foucault's Pendulum author? (been reading a few Italian authors recently)

Sometimes, if with the right source, a partner is invaluable. But mostly, crosswords are best assembled piece by piece, clue by clue, alone. It's surprising what a day will do for my ability to complete clues that seemed utterly impossible only the night before.

So there you are - Crossword Theory 101. Current unsolvable mystery: Bring to heal? 5 letters, starts with n. humpf


  1. I love crosswords! You might enjoy the ones on the USA today webpage. You can print them out or do them on the computer with or without hints.

  2. Thanks, Rach. Right now I'm working through a collection of the LA Times Sunday crosswords, but I miss the Daily Universe's NY Times editions - especially that they got progressively harder as the week went on. I'll check out USA Today's. Do they get progressively harder?