Crosswords and Diagramlesses from "Tough Puzzles"

Three months ago I released a collection of "Something Different" puzzles from the original indie crossword publication, Stanley Newman's Crossworder's OWN Newsletter (later renamed Tough Puzzles). I've finally got another tranche of classic crosswords from the same source, originally published between 1984 and 1994, ready to share with Stan's blessing.

Both links lead to the same .zip file containing three folders: Themed (15 puzzles), Unthemed (23 puzzles), and Diagramless (21 puzzles). All files are in .puz format, which can be opened in Across Lite and other solving programs.

Please see the previous post for a little background on the Newsletter, and some caveats about the style and difficulty of the puzzles. They're not too different from the crosswords of today, aside from some bygone cluing tropes. It's the old-school vocabulary and now-outdated cultural references that make these especially challenging. Also, I took care this time (I hope) not to republish any material that could cause offense.

Some additional notes:
  • This is just a small sample of what was published in the Newsletter. Each issue included at least a dozen crosswords, cryptics, and variety grids, but I only transcribed the ones of particular interest. I prioritized themeless puzzles (as those tend to be more fun and challenging), favorite constructors, and historical oddities, like the first published puzzle by a 14-year-old Matthew C. Gaffney.
  • I decided to separate the Themed and Unthemed puzzles so the solver would know what to expect. For a few puzzles that don't fit neatly into either, I chose the folder that's less likely to "spoil" the solving experience.
  • Several of the Themed puzzles are more properly considered Variety crosswords; those have a note in the puzzle's title (in addition to the Notepad) so you won't miss the relevant instructions.
  • All of the Diagramless puzzles include the "starting square" hint in the Notepad. None of them include a symmetry hint, because with [I won't say how many] exceptions, they all use standard crossword symmetry. Beware the first Diagramless (from 1984); it's one of the few that's themed, and especially difficult!
  • I've been using the open-source, extremely customizable XWord solving program to test-solve all the diagramlesses digitally, and can't recommend it highly enough. I started using the program when its latest update was released a few weeks ago, and I'm never going back to Across Lite.
Enjoy, and please let me know if you have questions or spot any errors! I've got one more large collection of Tournament crosswords to vet and share. (Hit me up if you're interested in helping test/proofread those puzzles, so it doesn't take me three more months to distribute them...)

The Crossword Graveyard, Laid To Rest

Welcome to the third and final installment of The Crossword Graveyard, wherein I write a little about the crossword books I've solved over the years before relegating them to the recycling bin. (Also see Part 1 and Part 2.)

These two books are reissues from a four-volume series called Masterpiece Crosswords, published in the mid-1990s and curated by Random House editor Stanley Newman. Each book of 50 puzzles features two or three contributions each from all the top names in crosswords. The original volumes also included biographical sketches of the constructors. I can imagine that 25 years ago, these were the absolute favorite books of crossword aficionados. These puzzles still hold up pretty well, and the reissues from Puzzlewright under the Crossword Superstars title are very much worth a look.

Couple of unrelated titles, linked by their smaller physical sizes. David J. Kahn's Baseball Crosswords is an early entry in the Peter Gordon era at Sterling, and one of the first books I bought, crammed with baseball content. These puzzles have since been reissued in combination with Kahn's other baseball-themed crossword book. The Penguin Classics volume of literature-themed crosswords is a one-off from 2011, edited by Ben Tausig, with a wide variety of contributors. The puzzles are excellent, and the book is memorable to me because I solved it all during a run of the musical Company. I was playing piano in the orchestra, and had enough downtime during dialogue scenes to complete 75 puzzles in the space of two dress rehearsals and six performances.

Mr. Kahn is known for his tribute/obituary crosswords in the Times, so he went ahead and wrote a whole book of them for Puzzlewright! Francis Heaney's Trivial Pursuit-branded book uses actual questions and answers from the game as theme answers, so each puzzle is built around 3 to 6 trivia questions from the same category. If you're reading this, you probably already know that anything Francis writes is worth solving.

I put these together just because of the similar titles. Martin Ashwood-Smith's puzzles are the wide-open themeless grids that he's known for, but the clues are at a Tuesday/Wednesday level. (His Triple-Stack Crosswords, which is still unsolved on my shelf, works the same way.) Martin is a contributor to the Challenging volume, alongside a dozen other CrosSynergy authors. This is a collection of "Sunday Challenge" themelesses from the early 2000s, which tend to play around a Friday NYT level.

Finishing up with an olio of old-school Sterling offerings. These four are all comprised of original puzzles, with a few exceptions. Cathy Allis's book was reissued in 2014 as Humorous Coffee Shop Crosswords, and the puzzles are typically clever and fun. Trip Payne's fun volume cycles among three different styles: themed, themeless, and Siamese Twins. Rich Norris's gimmick, as advertised, is that every puzzle is a pangram. The first 26 puzzles are themed, each inspired by a different letter, and the rest themeless. Harvey Estes's book is a straightforward collection of themed puzzles, some larger than 15x15. It's a prime example of the silliness of the Mensa logo deal, mentioned in my previous roundup.

Matt Jones's and Ben Tausig's books are collections of their syndicated indie puzzles (Jonesin' and Ink Well, respectively). Trip's Pop Culture has original themed puzzles on various pop culture topics. Wrath of Klahn is one of the few crossword books I couldn't put down. Usually I stretch out a particularly special puzzle book as long as possible (I spent about five years working through Berry's Puzzle Masterpieces, and I'm over ten years and counting with Cox & Rathvon's Atlantic cryptic collection). Even though I'd already solved many of the previously published "Sunday Challenge" themelesses in the book, Bob Klahn's gorgeous grids and nonpareil cluing were addictive, and I finished it in a matter of weeks. Klahn has apparently retired from constructing, but deserves more credit as one of the all-time greats.

"Something Different" Puzzle Pack

I am pleased to share this collection of "Something Different" crosswords, originally published between 1985 and 1994 in Crossworder's OWN Newsletter and Tough Puzzles, edited by Stanley Newman. Years ago I digitized these puzzles for my personal use, and with Stan's permission, offer the files for everyone to enjoy.

Both links lead to the same .zip folder containing 26 .puz files. Download the folder to your computer, and "extract" or "unzip" it to access the individual files. Look to the top-right for the "download" icon on both sites. You do not need a Google or Dropbox account.

The .puz files can be opened in Across Lite and other solving programs. If you prefer solving on paper, open the puzzle in your program of choice and print from there. File names include the publication date (year/month) and author's initials.

UPDATE, 4pm PT: Puzzle "88-08" was missing a handful of clues. Fixed and re-posted the entire bundle. To download just that puzzle, click here.

CONTACT ME with any questions or problems!

(from the experts)

"In this puzzle, most of the answers are made-up words and phrases. For example, the clue "Stupid plane" would lead to the answer DUMBJET, and "Similar to cartoon character Fudd" to ELMERIC. Normal answers are clued in the regular way."
--Peter Gordon, Fireball Crosswords

"This is an unusual crossword type that allows any phrase that makes some sort of sense and can be fairly clued. A few examples: "Seafood transportation" is LOBSTER BUS and "The Crow State" is  CAWIFORNIA. All wacky answers are clued in a very straightforward manner. Those few answers that might actually be found in a normal crossword are clued normally."
--Stanley Newman, Masterpiece Crosswords

"Something Different crosswords allow made-up entries that can be clued in any way. For example, the clue "Flowery poem about one 1980s fad" might lead to ODE ON A RUBIK'S CUBE; the clue "Like margarine" might lead to OLEOESQUE. Most Something Differents will include some real words as well, particularly among the shorter entries; these will be clued normally and are good places to start. Expect anything and keep your mind open!"
--Trip Payne, Triple Play Puzzles

(from me)
  • Look for the "normal" short answers that are clued regularly. Start there to gain a foothold.
  • Fill-in-the-blank answers work as in normal crosswords, though the "partial" phrases are longer and more outlandish. 
    • ___ is a curved line = AN ARC
    • "Listen when I'm ___!" (bell's annoyed remark) = TOLLING TO YOU
  • Long answers can often be solved one component at a time.
    • Impartial flightless bird = FAIR EMU
    • Frame the star of "Home Improvement" = SET UP TIM ALLEN
  • The most fun answers are straight-up jokes clued as a whole, like "City near Cantataburg" = ORATORIOVILLE
  • There might be unnecessary articles (A, THE) in a phrase, or awkward syntax, or other weirdness. Just remember that the usual crossword rules don't apply!
  • If you're new to Something Different, I recommend starting with the later puzzles, because the first ones made are less smooth and more difficult.
Michael "Rex Parker" Sharp posted a video about Trip Payne's recent Cuckoo Crossword for Fireball Crosswords. Check it out for some more fun clue/answer examples! (SPOILERS if you haven't solved Fireball Year 11, Puzzle 14, published 4/1/20)

Evan Birnholz wrote a Something Different for the Washington Post Sunday crossword, and posted a detailed write-up about constructing the puzzle, including solving tips (and SPOILERS for the Post Magazine puzzle of 9/16/18).


Because they were written 25 to 35 years ago, these puzzles may contain:
  • Old-school crosswordese like UNAU, ANOA, AI, etc.
  • References to entertainers, politicians, and celebrities who aren't very famous anymore
  • Language that's culturally insensitive in 2020, like "Indian" meaning Native American (UPDATE: to avoid the most uncomfortable material, skip puzzles "85-10" and "86-12")
  • Stray typos, which are entirely my fault


Crossworder's OWN Newsletter was the first "indie" crossword publication, founded by Stan Newman as an alternative to the not-so-fun New York Times puzzle under Eugene Maleska's editorship. Along with GAMES Magazine, the Newsletter represented the "New Wave" of crosswords, emphasizing creativity and wordplay, and providing outlets for brilliant young puzzlers named Shortz, Hook, Reagle, Shenk, Cox & Rathvon, to name a few.

Something Different was invented by two of the all-time greatest cruciverbalists, who both sadly passed away in 2015. This "editorial" by Henry Hook appears with Merl's puzzle in the October 1985 Newsletter:

I recently, half-jokingly, suggested to Merl Reagle the idea of a "something different" puzzle, wherein any conjured phrase that is grammatically sensible and fairly-and-squarely clueable may appear, allowing for a puzzle that can be best described as "goofy." For example, "Milestone in an actor's life" might be WALLACE BEERY'S FIRST SHAVE. Or "Philharmonic transportation" might be ORCHESTRA BOAT. [. . .]
[This] is the first crossword of its kind ever to be published.

Stan recalls that Henry was the first to create such a puzzle, but that grid wasn't published until 1989 (it's the only one by HH in this collection). Several different authors wrote Something Differents in the early years, before Trip Payne took over as the regular constructor, with a puzzle in almost every issue. After the Newsletter (later renamed Tough Puzzles) shut down, Trip remembers making a few more for GAMES or World of Puzzles, under the title "Anything Goes." It wasn't until the mid-2000s that Peter Gordon revived the idea for regular publication, running Trip's annual April Fool's Day puzzles in the New York Sun and Fireball Crosswords.


Four additional Something Different crosswords from Tough Puzzles are available on Triple Play Puzzles, along with many other free puzzles by the master of the Something Different form, Trip Payne. (Those four are not included in this collection.)

Fireball Crosswords (edited by Peter Gordon) publishes a Cuckoo Crossword by Trip Payne every April Fool's Day. Previous years of puzzles are available at the website and in collections from Puzzlewright Press.

Evan Birnholz posted three free Something Different puzzles at his indie site, Devil Cross: Puzzle #12Puzzle #40; Puzzle #69

In the coming weeks and months, I'll be posting more digitized puzzle collections from the Newsletter, including standard crosswords, diagramlesses, and (non-ACPT) tournament sets. Have fun and stay safe!

The Crossword Graveyard, Continued

Here's another bunch of completed crossword books that I'm not keeping in my library, but want to send off with a photo shoot and blog post! (Part 1, if you missed it)

These books hooked me on cryptic crosswords. The puzzles were originally published in Canada's National Post, where easy cryptics by Cox & Rathvon still run every Saturday. This blogger posts a PDF each week along with an answer breakdown, and I highly recommend it especially to novice cryptic solvers. I print and solve all the National Post puzzles (usually a year or two behind publication), because even though they're easy, they're smooth, elegant, and sometimes even themed. Side note: The "Mensa" branding was part of a long-term deal between Mensa and Sterling Publishing, which is why the logo appears on so many covers and even in book titles. It's not an indication that the puzzles are particularly tricky or smart - just marketing!

Sterling/Puzzlewright editor Peter Gordon had the idea to publish mini puzzle books in cute shapes, geared to commuters and, well, poopers. It was a huge success, and presumably helped keep parent company Barnes & Noble solvent for an extra few months. The notable title in this batch is Tile Crosswords, a unique style devised by legendary puzzlers Mike Selinker and Thomas Snyder.  I haven't seen those puzzles anywhere else, so check out the book if you can get your hands on it.

Pretty self-explanatory! Most of these are from my early solving days, before I subscribed to the NYT puzzle and worked my way through the entire online archive. For the yellow and orange books, I tore out pages to speed-solve and tracked my times by day of the week. I was excited to find Super Saturday in some bookstore, since those puzzles are from the early Will Shortz era (1994-1996, before the NYT crossword went online). These old Saturday puzzles were challenging enough to be worthwhile, and fun enough to actually bother solving, unlike a book of Saturday puzzles from the Maleska era that I am recycling without the courtesy of a photographic tribute.

Here's a whole series of "topical" crossword books, either edited or fully written by Matt Gaffney. I think there are a few more, but these are the ones I acquired and solved. Many of these puzzles are surprisingly terrible - the standards of fill quality have really changed in the last 15 years, and I imagine the great Mr. Gaffney would be embarrassed at some of his old work! There's not a lot to say here except that these fall in the rare "do not recommend" category.

Spicy!! Banned Crosswords was a self-published collection spearheaded by Jim Jenista, who's famous as the "costume guy" at the crossword tournament. Crasswords comes from Sterling editor Francis Heaney, with contributions from top constructors, most of them pseudonymous (I remember being very proud of myself for figuring out that "Eli Dunbar" is an anagram of "Blindauer"). Both books have themes and fill full of sex, drugs, swearing, and whatever else couldn't be seen in mainstream puzzles. (Both books also predate the rise of indie puzzle sites, which is where such filth can be published these days.) I have a copy of the second edition of Crasswords (The Enhanced Edition - Bigger - Longer - Harder), which I intend to solve someday even though I've done most of the puzzles already.

This is a bind-up (as they call it in publishing) of four previously issued books, two of which are collections from the '50s and '60s and thus not worth solving. The Cox/Rathvon offering is First-Class Crosswords, puzzles from the U.S. Airways in-flight magazine. Some are written by other A-list constructors, and half are 17x17, which gave me a chance to practice speed-solving those "intermediate" sizes. The real draw was Beat the Champs Crossword Puzzles, featuring 72 original puzzles and including the solving times of the three top tournament solvers as of the 2000 publication: Jon Delfin, Doug Hoylman, and Ellen Ripstein (who was not yet an ACPT champ, but would be soon). I beat the champs on most but not all of the puzzles!

Stay tuned for one more installment of the Crossword Graveyard...

The Crossword Graveyard

My bookshelves are full of puzzle books. Some of them I'll never bother to finish because they're not great, some I'd like to start but won't ever have time, and some are finished but too much fun to get rid of. After years of saving everything, including many, many fully solved books, and even shipping them across the country, I finally went through my collection to cull some books that I don't need to keep. But before they hit the recycling bin, I'm memorializing them here...

These are famously difficult collections of themeless puzzles by legendary constructor Frank Longo. I heard about them early in my career and couldn't wait to get my hands on them! I actually solved the second one ("Super Smart") first. One fun thing about the sequel is that half of the puzzles are asymmetrical, so Frank had more flexibility for big chunky fill. I actually have clean copies of these in my collection, and one day I'll solve them again, this time much more quickly.

More Frank Longo, but these puzzles have a crazy constraint: every entry is a legal Scrabble word. No proper nouns, no multiword phrases, none of the lively fill (or themes) that make crosswords fun. Furthermore, all the clues are straight definitions, without wordplay or misdirection. So why did I solve three volumes of these, as someone with no interest in memorizing Scrabble words or finding bingos? I'm not sure. It was quite a challenge to get every letter correct because of all the obscurities in the fill, so it was good practice guessing at tricky crossings, and interesting to encounter so much unfamiliar vocabulary.

David Levinson Wilk is perhaps the most prolific constructor who's not that well-known in the "puzzleverse." None of us could regularly solve his syndicated alt-weekly crossword because it wasn't available in Across Lite. So these collections were all-new to me! They're in the same vein as Ben Tausig and Matt Jones's long-running indie puzzle series, full of fun themes and fresh, pop-culturey fill. I proofread these books when they were reissued under different (but still "Clever") titles a few years ago. David's day job is game show writing, and I got to work with him briefly when I proofread questions for Million Second Quiz.

It's the first 13 volumes of Simon & Schuster's Mega Crossword Puzzle Book series! There are 300 puzzles in each book, and while the publishing frequency has shrunk from three to one per year, I've long since given up trying to keep pace. Starting with #14, I'm not solving every puzzle, because the quality varies so widely. There is plenty of great work by A-list constructors, but there are always some puzzles that make me wonder how bad a submission has to be to get rejected. The Mega series has always been the best source of puzzles in bulk, with pages conveniently perforated so I could tear them out, staple into small packets, and solve on the subway or in front of the TV. This is also where my first-ever published puzzle ran, a 19x19 grid in Mega #8.

These aren't crosswords, and I didn't actually solve these books, but they were a big part of my puzzle career. Patrick Merrell hired me to test-solve and proofread this series from Time/Life Books. I think there are a couple more titles that I'm not chucking, one of which I wrote a bunch of puzzles for because Patrick's deadline was too tight. The series was discontinued years ago, but I still test-solve Patrick's People Magazine crosswords!

(. . . . . TO BE CONTINUED . . . . .)