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 . . . . .)