A bit of crossword history

Back in 1968, Stephen Sondheim (yes, the famous one) had a go at introducing the US to cryptic crosswords. (Someone else had tried back in the 1940s, but that attempt produced the Puns and Anagrams style of US puzzle, which roughly matches British cryptics of that time, and only appears rarely these days.) He succeeded, up to a point – there are keen solvers of cryptic puzzles in the US, and puzzles in various papers and magazines that trace their origins back to his series of puzzles in New York Magazine. But on the other hand, there is no daily newspaper cryptic puzzle in the US style, and cryptics are a fairly small corner of the American xwd world.

You can read Sondheim’s original article at:

Courtesy of the magazine’s 40th anniversary celebrations, you can try three of his puzzles at: http://nymag.com/anniversary/40th/crosswords/45747/
They’re based on Ximenes/Listener puzzles of that era, and Chambers is mentioned – presumably the ‘mid-century’ version of about 1951. This may mean there are words used that don’t appear in current editions of C.

8 comments on “A bit of crossword history”

  1. Clue given as example by Stephen Sondheim in stated article:

    American confused by wide-screen movie (8)

    …and yesterday’s Guardian by Paul

    Projection of American design (8)

  2. Thanks for this link Peter, a fun read. I’ll enjoy seeing how the Americanized version fells, even if it is from 40 years ago.
    1. I’ve done the Dedicated Dodecahedron puzzle. As long as you grasp the geometrical side of things properly (e.g. which sides of pentagons 8 and 12 need to match), this is pretty straightforward except for some bits of “1960s NYC” knowledge. The vocabulary is much more stratightforward than the mention of Chambers might suggest. I’ve seen the first puzzle before, and I’m guessing that Woodbabes will be harder than the Dodecahedron one.
  3. From an experienced setter: We’ve all been there, done it, got the T-shirt. Naturally we’re all allowed to do it once — but next time, what then …?
  4. Woodbabes now done too. Harder than the Dodecahedron one, but fairly approachable. No NY-specific stuff that I noticed, but one famous American gets a mention in a particular role rather earlier than ignorant UK sovlers like me might expect.
    1. Hi Peter, I did the Woodbabes puzzle first and thought it pretty straightforward, and have since started but not finished the dodeca- one. Thanks again.
  5. Dear Peter

    This has nothing to do with the current topic We don’t get the syndicated print version of the crossword until approximately 5 weeks after it appears in the UK, hence the delay. I can’t resist the only opportunity I shall ever get to help Peter Biddlecombe with a crosswword clue. You suggested the common meaning of “glide” to explain “slip” for “shoot” in puzzle 23.866 16down. The full OED 2nd Edition on CD-ROM (very expensive, but a constant joy) provides this definition for “slip” (noun 2).
    “A twig, sprig, or small shoot taken from a plant, tree, etc., for the purpose of grafting or planting; a scion, cutting.”.

    Kind regards

    Ian Robertson (Brisbane).

    1. Ian,

      I’d encourage you to add comments to the original puzzle, however late. I can’t be sure that all the other bloggers have the same ‘alert’ settings, but I get an e-mail alert whenever someone comments on one of my postings or replies to a comment of mine. I’ve added your comment to 23866 with a reply confirming that the def you found is also in the Concise Oxford under ‘slip’.

      Edited at 2008-04-25 06:10 am (UTC)

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