I've been doing a lot of crossword puzzles lately. I like the way they make you think both in and outside the box. As a matter of fact, I've become so compulsive about it that, while doing one in the park the other day (while also sitting on the ground), someone actually approached me and asked if I needed "money." Not unless it's the answer to 115 ACROSS, or something, I might have said, uh, crossly. But didn't, of course. (It was really rather nice of them, after all, and perhaps I did look a bit "sketchy," hunched there with crude writing implement in hand and sort of a wild look in my eye.) In any event, the practice has prompted a number of questions—from me if not necessarily to me. To wit: Why do multiple puzzles on the same day (or even on the same page of the newspaper, as in this case) often contain the same answers (with different clues)? For example, "Martial arts teacher" and "Karate instructor" (SENSEI) or "NYC airport" and "JFK alternative in N.Y.C." (LGA). I mean, WTF? (Or "How in heck is that possible?" briefly.) And why is the only way to be angry, mad, or irritated around here IRATE? Oh wait, I know the answer to that one! Crossword puzzle makers love words that have more vowels than consonants. It makes them so much more compatible with other words. And everybody loves a vowel. Just ask Vanna White. The answer to both those questions is the same, really. A great many puzzle words are used repeatedly, and there are also many ways to define, allude to, or exemplify them. Short words, acronyms, homonyms, prefixes, suffixes, vowels, and common consonants are favored. (Latin, French, and Spanish show up frequently; German, Welsh, and Icelandic, not so much.) And lastly, in somewhat more of a zen mode (zen is also popular with puzzlers): Why, as I now sit staring blankly and bemoaning my stubborn insistence on doing these things in pen, combined with an unfortunate tendency to not even always count the number of letters, much less check the perpindicular hints, before gamely setting off—why did my garbled gaze suddenly drift from this sad inky Rorschach test over to "Dear Abby," whose own theme for the day was: Choose Your Words Carefully. Well?? Answer that puzzling crossword puzzle question, Mr. Will Shortz! (Another word for very cool coincidence? WOW.) Today's typo was revealed twice in OhioLINK and 74 times in WorldCat.
Note: Just like crying in baseball, there are NO typos in crossword puzzles. If you should ever come across one, please let us know.
(Apparently homeless man doing crossword, by Ivaan Kotulsky ca. 1995 , courtesy of the City of Toronto Archives and Wikimedia Commons.)