Welcome to Word Salad, where we will be blogging regularly—sometimes jointly and sometimes separately—about our puzzle in The Nation, about cryptic crosswords, about wordplay and word puzzles in general, and about words and language. We enjoy slicing, dicing and tossing words about—hence the name of the blog. If you look this phrase up in an unabridged dictionary, other connotations may present themselves.
Our plan is to maintain a weekly posting schedule, coordinated with the regular Thursday appearance of the magazine online (which will necessarily put us significantly ahead of the paper edition).
• On Friday we’ll discuss the previous week’s puzzle, and encourage you to do the same. Once the solution has been posted, we can all delve into the workings of particular clues, talk about the decisions that went into the puzzle and bemoan lost opportunities. We’re hoping solvers will use this post to leave comments, questions and complaints.
• On Monday, with the new puzzle up for several days, we will offer hints on a few clues, pitched for both beginners and experienced solvers. There will be spoilers, so proceed with caution. Additional hints can be requested and offered by readers in the comments.
• Wednesday’s post will be the occasion for commentary not tied to a specific puzzle. This will include general ruminations on puzzles and wordplay, the esthetics of cryptic clueing and anything else that may arise. Today seemed like an appropriate day to leap into this new forum.
Let’s begin with a few words of introduction. Our collaboration goes back more than fifteen years as cryptic editors for the National Puzzlers League. (A collection of those puzzles is available in Cryptic Crosswords of the NPL, which is available for free download on the NPL site.)
We were honored to have been chosen by solvers to continue the United States’ oldest cryptic crossword series here at The Nation. We hope to take the best from that tradition, merge it with the best from our generation’s contributions and perhaps even break some new ground.
Our main goal in all of this is to entertain. While we try to stay generally within the framework of standard cryptic crossword ground rules, we’re not shy about deviating from them as the muse dictates. Likewise, we try to offer a range of difficulty, with some easy clues and some tough ones in each puzzle—not to mention the occasional less-than-common word or phrase. This blog provides the perfect venue for coaching beginners and explaining our choices.
Given the grim state of the world, it is nice to have problems that are solvable: for us, constructing the puzzles, and for you, solving them. One friend says that he sees solving a cryptic crossword as a metaphor for social change: "At first it seems impossible, but after working on it for a while with others, you are surprised at how much you accomplished!" We agree, and we’ll add that constructing the puzzles is a metaphor for social change in another way: there is no ready-made recipe—vigorous discussion along the way is both inevitable and desirable.
Let the conversation begin! What are your questions? What are your gripes? What would you like to see on this blog?
—Henri and Joshua