The word is out. Double crostics fan launches a Web site



It takes just seconds to figure out that words dominate Sue Gleason's life.

Just enter her living room. This word maven's Montclair home is packed with books -- novels, poetry anthologies, mysteries, physics books -- as well as puzzle books strewn by a computer.

Gleason, who views insomnia as a perfect excuse to work on a puzzle, searches through books for compelling quotes or phrases that stir her, then uses them as the basis for the double crostic puzzles she creates on her Web site,

The year-old site has its followers and subscribers, who pay $25 a year for three new weekly puzzles, plus the already published ones. Many of the double crostics come from fans of the site who are as obsessed as Gleason.

To play double crostics (also known as acrostics), Gleason explains, a player will read clues and fill in the puzzle, much like a crossword puzzle. The difference, she said, is that the words you enter horizontally are referenced not, as in crossword puzzles, to other words you enter vertically, but to a quotation instead.

In addition, the answer words constitute an acrostic of the author's name and title of the work: If you read vertically down the first answer column, you will find out who wrote the quote originally, and where.

So, says Gleason, in addition to the pleasure of solving the puzzle, you get a literary experience -- "a passage which will delight you with its beauty, humor or resounding truth."

Gleason, a computer programmer who majored in math at Barnard College, stopped working full time after the birth of her first daughter 21 years ago. Over the years, she has done freelance programming and also tutors in math and SAT preparation.

During her free time, she would work on double crostics, but was often frustrated by the fact that if she made an error on one part of the puzzle, the same error would be repeated on the other part.

"If you have to erase a few letters a few times, the puzzle gets too messy to see what you're doing," Gleason said.

Therein lies the dilemma. Guesswork is a big part of playing.

"Because it's so hard, you need to make guesses based on very little information," Gleason said. "The fun of it is being able to do that. It's like reading hieroglyphics."

For example, if a player sees a four-letter word ending with "wn," he might guess the word is "down." But it could be "lawn" or "fawn."

That's why Gleason wrote a computer program to solve those pesky annoyances, and decided to share her puzzles with others. Then she began thinking like the freelancer she is -- "I can make money." She asked users for contributions, and to her amazement, the money started coming in.

Gleason said double crostics are not as readily available anymore. In the old days, they were published in the Saturday Review and Harper's magazines, but nowadays only a few newspapers run them.

"The market is small. It's so literary, maybe too highbrow," Gleason said.

Bob Cooper, a retired Burke, Va., Navy computer programmer who has constructed some puzzles for Gleason's site, believes there isn't such a great demand for the puzzles because they can be difficult.

Which is one reason he has relished doing them for at least 30 years.

"Most people find them a little more challenging than crossword puzzles," Cooper said. "I enjoy working with words. It's a challenge."

For her own puzzles, Gleason takes quotes from any text with good writing -- literature as well as from a physics book.

Like a passage from 20th century poet Robert Lowell called "Marriage" from the collection "Day by Day," (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) Lowell refers to a 15th century painting by Jan van Eyck titled "The Wedding of the Arnolfini":

They are rivals in homeliness and love; Her hand lies like China in his, her other hand is in touch with the head of her unborn child. They wait and pray, as if the airs of heaven that blew on them when they married were now a common visitation, not a miracle of lighting for the photographer's sacramental instant.

Or from "Fundamentals of Physics" by Halliday, Resnick and Walker (John Wiley & Sons. Inc.) which her daughter, Georgia, used in high school AP physics class.

The air, as we wave a hand through it, seems to be perfectly continuous. Yet on a fine enough scale, it is not continuous at all but comes in "lumps," that is, in particles of specific masses -- mainly oxygen and nitrogen molecules. We say that mass is quantized.

"To me, this is like poetry," Gleason said. "It's the celebration of beautiful writing wherever you find it, the weirder the better."

Her subscribers agree.

She gets fan mail from players saying they are concerned about the addictive quality of the puzzles. One asks, half-kiddingly, for advice on how she can continue to play while staying employed.

"For those of us who love it, it's never enough," Gleason said.

Carmen Juri is a reporter in the West Essex bureau. She can be reached at or (973) 439-3302.

Reprinted from The Star-Ledger, July 10, 2001.