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Monday Book Review: Crossworld: One Man’s Journey into America’s Crossword Obsession March 15, 2010

Posted by dataduchess in Book Reviews, Book vs. Movie.
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In my opinion, crossword puzzles are a fun diversion from the stresses of every day life. I first started doing the New York Times Daily crossword puzzles during high school, when, through some newspaper readership program, stacks of NY Times were delivered to the school for students’ use. Always a lover of games and puzzles, I was instantly attracted to the Times’ crossword, a perfect balance of challenge and the satisfaction of achievement. Over the years, my obsession with the NY Times puzzle waxed and waned, depending on the availability of the newspaper (and whether I could get a copy for free!).

In 2005, I found Marc Romano’s book, Crossworld: One Man’s Journey into America’s Crossword Obsession in the “New and Interesting” Display at my local library, and immediately upset the composition of the display by borrowing it – and though I felt bad about leaving the empty space, I knew the librarian would be happy someone was interested in what she had put out. I didn’t get a chance to read the book before its due date, so I dutifully returned it for the next reader, and stopped at the bookstore to buy my own copy – which in the last 5 years, I have picked up and put down at least a dozen times.

I kept giving the book another chance, because I truly love doing crossword puzzles, and there were more than a few bits about the history of puzzles in America, Will Shortz’ personal puzzle ephemera collection, and tips about crossword puzzle construction and solving. I was also curious to read about the author’s first-hand account of a rookie’s experience at the American Crossword Tournament, for which he had trained by doing over 2,000 puzzles. Unfortunately, I despised the tone of the author, and could only handle reading his extremely arrogant yet still somehow self-loathing babble for so long. He brags about how cool it is of him to take his Thomas Pynchon novel down to the bar rather than make conversation with any of the introverted tournament competitors, and drinks a neat scotch and soda while awaiting the “cool kids” to arrive in the bar. Oh – and let me not forget to mention, the “cool kids” crowd, or “Cru” (a take on crew, from “cruciverbalist”, a designer or aficionado of crossword puzzles) is headed up by one of the author’s favorite young constructors, Brendan Emmett Quigley, upon whom Romano can barely conceal his massive man-crush. The entire section of the book about the tournament itself was spent either noting what a bad idea it was to take so many anti-anxiety pills and thus be floating around in a cloud, or mooning over where is Brendan now, and how is Brendan scoring and look at all the groupies Brendan has, and on and on.

Several years ago, I learned that Will Shortz, editor of the NY Times Crossword Puzzle, has been coordinating the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament since 1978. The 33rd annual tournament was held just a few weeks ago in Brooklyn, NY, and the event has grown to be a weekend-long expo-like extravaganza, with vendors hawking all kinds of crossword-themed paraphernalia, game-related activities, receptions and ceremonies. The Tournament was the focus of a 2006 documentary, Wordplay, which undoubtedly led to the increase in the tournament’s popularity which precipitated a move from the Stamford Marriott venue which had hosted the tournament for 30 years, to the larger Brooklyn Bridge Marriott. A solid documentary, Wordplay was an intriguing peek into the world of crossword constructors and solvers, though possibly, only because I was already interested!

Even if you are interested in Crossword Puzzles, or the Tournament, you ought to skip this book and rent the movie. Wordplay was a great documentary that covered substantially the same ground, minus the attitude.

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Comments»

1. mike - March 16, 2010

Well, I am glad you stuck with it finally and am glad for the movie recommendation, too.

2. pupfiction - March 17, 2010

I feel like Romano comes into my bar! I know the exact same type only he’s replaced Pynchon with David Foster Wallace!

3. dataduchess - March 17, 2010

Oh no – Romano would NEVER grace a bar in upstate New York…. He only hangs out in trendy places in Brooklyn that he (obviously) knew about before they were trendy.

4. Jump or Go Down with the Ship? Abandoning Books is Not for Me « The Infomavens' Desktop - May 6, 2010

[…] me to finish a book, and I might read another 1, 2, or 12 books in between. Remember my review of Crossworld? It took me something like 5 years to get through that book! There are several books I have […]


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