The StepClue Double Crostic by Sue Gleason

A normal double crostic consists of two parts: a grid with blank squares where the letters in a quote may be entered, and a list of clues with a dash or a blank square for each answer letter. A solver generally first reads through the clues, filling in the answers where she is confident of them. When I first published my puzzle 'cutz' on February 26, it had no clues. I added one clue a day till first Joe Buccino and then Pru Borland finished with 4 clues. I will be adding 1 or 2 a day till all the clues are in place, or perhaps as many as are needed.

Pru Borland provided the original inspiration for the double crostic with no clues: Pru told me that sometimes she could simply look at the pattern of light and dark squares in the grid and read off the quote, without ever considering the clue list or answer words. I had never even imagined that approach.

At some point I became aware that clues are not essential in solving American crosswords after some few answers have been entered. One day, after my usual undistinguished performance at last year's Crossword Tournament, I worked on a crossword with my friend Judy Holtzman, a much better solver than I. I saw that as she solved Judy paid more attention to the letters already entered, focussing on what letter combinations could work, and almost ignoring the clues.

I later learned that crossword constructors also look at diagrams that way. It became clearer to me why other solvers were not offended by things like pop culture references in crosswords - which generally made me livid. What made these crossword constructors and editors think that I would know, or want to know, anything about soap operas or pop music! For years they have expected me to know history and sports... but this is too much. Thus I became interested in word squares: to escape from the tyranny of clues. However, nobody seemed very interested.

I realized that better crossword solvers don't take offense at the breadth of knowledge expected from clue readers.. they may not even read the clues; they simply try to visualize a name or a word that fits with the letters already in place - why care whose name it is or what that person is known for?

Another element leading to the development of the one-clue-at-a-time puzzle was my secretive and one-sided constructing competition with Russ Wiggin: he both thrilled and infuriated me by often picking the same story I liked in the New Yorker, and sometimes even the same quote. This phenomenon led first to the "Hot off the Press" puzzle, which was originally going to be called "This Week in the New Yorker".

One of the weaknesses in my constructing software occurs at the point where the constructor tells me his puzzle is ready to roll. Some people click "beta ready" but most don't realize they should do it, and they do not. So I need to recognize when puzzles are complete by my own methods, while retaining the ability to test-solve them without peeking at them.

When I really need a puzzle--which happens frequently since I am devoted to maintaining constructor variety--I am forced to search through the works in progress. This is why I am always trying to get people to finish their puzzles, and volunteering to finish puzzles for them when I need to schedule one. It is less work for me to finish a puzzle than to sort through everything sitting in the database, determining relative completeness, without actually peeking at the puzzles.

On occasion, a puzzle looks complete to me, but the constructor is still tinkering with it. Russ decided he would prevent me from using a puzzle before he was done by leaving some of the clues blank. What a challenge to solve those puzzles! Plus the thrill of the transgressor! What fun to test it as soon as possible, and solve it before it was even complete! I loved doing it, so I knew some of you would too.

Next, Barry Tunick wrote to me on January 25:

"Fwiw, after hearing of several solvers Googling for
answers, beginning tonight I'm going to start solving
using the Net.  (Till now I haven't.)

I wonder if some miraculously speedy times are due to
folks finding not only entries but the entire quote on
the Net."

Barry had previously publicly renounced the practice of using references for himself, despite supporting their use by others. I felt that the contest aspect of the website was highly compromised. I had always assumed that the really fast solvers had no time to Google. And also I could not see how puzzling would remain fun, if everyone started googling the quote for a speedy finish. Barry had also warned me earlier that labelling a quote as being from this week's New Yorker presented certain drawbacks:

"I shouldn'ta been in such a hurry to solve, as the NYer 
with the quote arrived an hour later. Dang!"

Well, the new one-clue-at-a-time design seemed to be an answer. The logical deductions are somewhat different than in other puzzles. And we are perhaps embracing the internet in a new way, rather than allowing it to trample our old ways.

Please read the very illuminating descriptions by Joe Buccino and Pru Borland of solving the puzzle 'cutz' with only 4 clues. These can be reached from the comment page, when you have completed the puzzle.

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Page copyright March 4, 2007; Last modified: March 5, 2007