Kosman and Picciotto on their Nation puzzle, cryptic crosswords, wordplay and puzzles in general.
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[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 great detail.]
An indispensable thing for any puzzle-making enterprise is to have test solvers who will give you tough, honest and helpful feedback. It’s all too easy, when crafting a crossword or indeed any kind of puzzle, to get lost in the world of your own ideas. Things that seem obvious to you, knowing the answer as you do, can turn out to be unexpectedly daunting for a solver. Clues can include unintended red herrings, and even flat-out mistakes (“I do not think that word means what you think it means”) can easily creep in.
For the Nation puzzle, we are fortunate to have the assistance of a tireless, canny and wonderfully generous team of test solvers. They get no credit for their contributions, but these puzzles could not exist without them. Every week we send them drafts of our efforts, and they return them with weaknesses noted and often corrected.
Lest they think we are guilty of ingratitude, we will use this blog post as a heartfelt and overdue note of public thanks to our testers—all of them fellow members of the National Puzzlers’ League, and many of them long-time solvers of the Nation puzzle:
• John Chaneski, a writer and puzzlesmith who can be heard on the public radio show A Way With Words and NPR’s Ask Me Another
• Mark Halpin, the theater designer and puzzlesmith whom we interviewed here
• Margaret Miller, an editor and children’s book author living in Beijing
• Sally Picciotto (Henri’s daughter), a dancer and public health researcher
• Greg Pliska, a composer, music director and puzzlesmith who can also be heard on the public radio show A Way With Words and NPR’s Ask Me Another
• a group of solvers that meets over breakfast in Berkeley, including Jutta Degener, Joe Fendel, Michael Fidler, Erica Klarreich, Dunn Miller and Barbara Selfridge.
Our editors at The Nation, Judith Long and Sandy McCroskey, are also an invaluable source of advice and wisdom.
Here are a few occasions on which test-solvers saved us from embarrassment, or added something great to the puzzle:
• Puzzle 3217 originally included the word EDWARDEAN, which we clued under the impression that it meant “pertaining to the reign of Edward VII.” Testers soon put us straight—we were thinking of EDWARDIAN; EDWARDEAN means “pertaining to the Colonial preacher and theologian Jonathan Edwards.”
• In Puzzle 3248, a clue for OPEN SECRET originally read:
Strike recent pose—everyone knows that (4,6)
We thought “strike” was a good anagram indicator, but none of the testers liked it. So the final version read:
Everyone knows that recent pose is affected (4,6)
• One of our favorite definitions was in this clue from Puzzle 3243:
IAGO I back the man who plays Othello (4)
That definition, using “play” in the sense of “manipulate,” was suggested by Sally Picciotto, and we adopted it enthusiastically.
• And here is a wicked clue from Puzzle 3246 by Mark Halpin, vastly better than our initial idea:
IMMORAL Wicked Jimmy stripped clergyman Roberts (7)
Needless to say, any mistakes that remain in the puzzle are entirely our own. But because of these good people, there are always fewer than there might otherwise have been.
Please add a word of thanks 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.