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Word Salad

Kosman and Picciotto on their Nation puzzle, cryptic crosswords, wordplay and puzzles in general.

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Click here for Kosman and Picciotto’s tips on how to work their puzzles116.49 KB

What Do You Know?

[First, three links:

• The current puzzle
• Our puzzle-solving guidelines
• A Nation puzzle–solver’s blog where you can ask for and offer hints, and where every one of our clues is explained in detail.]

In a previous post, we discussed our willingness to occasionally include a few less-than-common words in our puzzles. We realize not everyone agrees. Some solvers prefer their puzzles to contain only ordinary, everyday words, thank you very much, and such solvers may find that some of their Nation puzzles will remain unfinished. But we consider that the joy of learning something new is one of the many rewards of crossword puzzles.

Of course, one person’s obscurity is another person’s commonplace. For example, Joshua thinks that GILBERTIAN is a normal, everyday word, but Henri had never come across it until Joshua put it in a puzzle. Henri’s INTEGER VARIABLE, conversely, was not familiar to Joshua. In these cases, the meanings were easy enough to guess, but the point remains: we all know and don’t know different things.

And vocabulary is only the tip of the iceberg. A similar issue arises because solvers don’t know the same songs as one another, nor the same celebrities, the same historical facts, the same geographical locations, and so on. Some people know rock ’n’ roll, others know opera, and yet others know neither or both. For every baseball or basketball maven, there is another solver who doesn’t know a pigskin from a puck. We are reminded of this almost every week when one or another of our test solvers makes a comment like “never heard of him,” or “didn’t know the word.”

This is often because of a generational shift: younger solvers are not familiar with the same trivia as we boomers. In fact, we had the same experience when solving Frank Lewis’s puzzles, which contained many references that were common knowledge among people his age, but were new to us.

And yet our test solvers, even the younger ones, are usually able to finish the puzzles. This is largely because in a cryptic crossword, you can make up for your ignorance of a particular area of human knowledge by using the wordplay to get you to the answer. Once you have a guess, you can confirm it in the dictionary, on the web, or just by asking someone who knows more than you do about a given topic.

That said, we do try to be sensitive to the fact that not every solver would be a star contestant on Jeopardy! If an entry is likely to be obscure to many, we try to make the clue straightforward. Here are some examples from our first year:

SAUSALITO  Auto sails around town near the Golden Gate Bridge (9)
SCINTILLA  Trace transgression involving a bit of chicanery up to Afghanistan’s capital (9)
SECONDO  Lease condominium in part, usually the lower part (7)
SIMULACRA  Representations of curve college grad is flipping (9)
STARSKY AND HUTCH  ’70s TV show is celebrity heaven and a home for animals (7,3,5)
SUPERHEAT  Euphrates nuked to get past the boiling point (9)
SYDNEY GREENSTREET  Actor’s tree-lined avenue Down Under (6,11)

Did you ever learn something when solving a puzzle? Please share here, along with any quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle or any previous puzzle. To comment (and see other readers’ comments,) please click on this post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen.

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