Publishers Weekly Reviews
Poet Raphel (What Was It For) delivers an intriguing and informative look at the crossword puzzle. She recalls a family tradition from her teenage years—Monday night "races" to solve that day's New York Times crossword—which instilled in her a lasting appreciation for the game. Raphel digs deep into its history, from its 1913 origin to its 1924 explosion in popularity after a fledgling Simon & Schuster published the first crossword puzzle compilation. Though there are occasional diversions, such as about crossword-as-metaphor in a Sex and the City episode, or a human vs. computer contest, all narrative roads lead back to the Times—which, ironically, was late to the game, not publishing one until February 1942. Casual crossworders may be surprised to learn that the paper's puzzles are submitted by amateurs (they are paid $500 for the daily puzzle, $1,500 for the Sunday version) and vetted by a handful of staffers. Raphel also tries her hand at crafting one, with digressions on grid design and computer programs for ferreting out new word combinations, to illustrate the difficulty of creating original clues for a game that is over a century old. This enjoyable survey illuminates many lesser-known aspects of a wildly popular pastime. Agent: Melanie Jackson, Melanie Jackson Agency. (Mar.)
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The award-winning author of What Was It For presents an immersive history of the crossword puzzle that discusses its 1913 invention, roaring commercial success, perilous digital transformations and popularity among millions, including famous celebrities. Illustrations. - (Baker & Taylor)
"The crossword is a feature of the modern world, inspiring daily devotion and obsession from not just everyday citizens looking to pass the time but icons of American life, such as Bill Clinton, Yo-Yo Ma, and Martha Stewart. It was invented in 1913, almost by accident, when a newspaper editor at the New York World was casting around for something to fill some empty column space for that year's Christmas edition. Practically overnight, it became a roaring commercial success, and ever since then has been an essential ingredient of any newspaper worth its salt. Indeed, paradoxically, its popularity has never been greater, even as the world of media and newspapers, its natural habitat, has undergone a perilous digital transformation. But why, exactly, are its satisfactions so sweet that over the decades has it become a fixture of breakfast tables, nightstands, and commutes, and even given rise to competitive crossword tournaments? Blending first-person reporting from the world of crosswords with a delightfultelling of its rich literary history, Adrienne Raphel dives into the secrets of this classic pastime. At the annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, she rubs shoulders with elite solvers of the world, doing her level best to hold her own; aboard a crossword themed cruise, she picks the brains of the enthusiasts whose idea of a good time is a week on the high seas with nothing but crosswords to do; and, visiting the home and office of Will Shortz, New York Times crossword puzzle editor and NPR's official 'Puzzlemaster,' she goes behind the scenes to see for herself how the world's gold standard of puzzles is made"-- - (Baker & Taylor)
“This cultural and personal history of crosswords and their fans, written by an aficionado, is diverting, informative, and discursive.” —The New York Times Book Review, Editors’ Choice
A delightful, erudite, and immersive exploration of the crossword puzzle and its fascinating history
Almost as soon as it appeared, the crossword puzzle became indispensable to our lives. Invented practically by accident in 1913, when a newspaper editor at the New York World was casting around for something to fill empty column space, it became a roaring commercial success almost overnight. Ever since then, the humble puzzle has been an essential ingredient of any newspaper worth its salt. But why, exactly, are the crossword’s satisfactions so sweet?
Blending first-person reporting from the world of crosswords with a delightful telling of its rich literary history, Adrienne Raphel dives into the secrets of this classic pastime. Thinking Inside the Box is an ingenious love letter not just to the abiding power of the crossword but to the infinite joys and playful possibilities of language itself. - (Penguin Putnam)