A Note from Frank W. Lewis on The Nation Crossword Puzzles

Dear Fellow Puzzler:

As you have indicated an interest in The Nation‘s crosswords, may I take this opportunity to present a few words of explanation concerning them?

Just as there are regulations covering most games, there are comparatively hard-and-fast rules that should govern the maker of this type of puzzle. If I, as your opponent in this game of wits, overstep the bounds, you have a right to object. However, there are many legitimate ways in which I will strive to stump you (at least temporarily), and I hope you will agree that in aiming rather high, avoiding the too-easy and the cut-and-dried, I can make the game more challenging and more fun for both of us.

First of all, "straight" or dictionary definitions will be used sparingly (just often enough to fool you and usually when your first response is likely to be the "other" pronunciation and the "other" meaning–such as the definition of SEES for the answer OFFICES, in the ecclesiastical connotation, of course).

Anagrams will be rather common, and you will do well to keep a wary eye on suspect letter combinations which total the number of letters in the answer. The anagrams, in all fairness, will be made of complete words (not borrowing fragments from neighboring words), such as A CITY IS LARGE for answer ALGIERS. Quite often a hint will be given by the phraseology, so watch out for such give-aways as "sort of," "changing," "disturbed"–CHANGE OF HEART being turned into EARTH, for example. While not really relating to anagrams, there is a type of "hidden" cue which permits the crossing of words, providing the order of letters is unbroken. A sharp eye will detect the word RESTORE in the clue IN FOREST OR EVERGLADE YOU CAN BUILD IT UP AGAIN.

Puns are one of the mainstays, of course. When FEATURED LIKE GOLDILOCKS’ VILLAIN? turns out to be BEARFACED, you can thank Heaven the pun isn’t worse. I can appreciate the groans that might follow the discovery that the answer to DOTH THITH MAKE THE HEART GROW FONDER? is ABSINTHE.

Clues are often a suggestion to get you started on the right track–you must fill in the gaps of association. For instance, if the clue BEFORE FALL leads to the answer PRIDE, you can be grateful that the clue wasn’t SUMMER? which also goeth before a fall! (Admittedly this would be carrying things a trifle too far!)

Another type of definition is the one that analyzes the word and defines the component parts almost literally–the twist being that the total result means something very different. FLOWING WATER MARK? for example, is STREAMLINE. Look for a twist on any clue that has a question mark or exclamation point. My personal favorite is the clue typified by LITTLE SKIPPER? for the answer TRUANT.


Some clues approach the rebus type: I have seen such teasers as the clue BUR to suggest the phrase RUB THE WRONG WAY. You might have pondered a bit over UPBRAIDED AFTER DINNER, which resolved itself to DESSERT (it was a vertical, you’ll remember) "tressed" going "up" and meaning BRAIDED, of course. Or a clue might merely read S with the more or less obvious answer being LARGESS.

Don’t overlook such hints as "up," "down," "back," etc. IT’S PAINFUL WHEN THE GOD RETURNS yields SORE, for example. (EROS returns–i.e., is spelled backwards).

Many conventions will become more familiar as you meet them: the use of Roman numerals (V for five, C for 100, etc.) as in the example MARRIES AROUND FIFTY, which resolves itself to WELDS (WEDS around the letter L). "Eye for "I," "Bee" for "B," etc., are rather weak devices, but are permissible. A few conventional definitions, uncommon in themselves, are handy in breaking up words, such as the use of SHAKE for a hint that a word ends in–TIC, or HEADLAND to define–NESS endings, FISH or HEATHER for–LING.

Some references will test your prowess in the field of literature. However, direct quotations, with the puzzler to supply the missing words, will not be found as often as allusions in some other form. Thus, "A Shakespearean character asked to borrow them" seems preferable to "Lend me your_________. (Julius Caesar)."

In conclusion, may I say that I will rarely use the archaic terms, or very unusual "crossword" words. It seems more of a challege to disguise a common word in an unusual (and I hope, entertaining) way. Some biographical and geographical names might appear, but you’ll usually not have to have an unabridged dictionary, a Who’s Who and a Rand-McNally in front of you.

And there you have the ground rules of our course. So–have fun! (For isn’t that the avowed purpose of such puzzles?) And if, in the future, after honestly evaluating any given clue and answer, you feel that I have been unfairly misleading or have willfully violated the rules outlined above, please scold me in a note addressed in care of The Nation, and I will either explain myself or apologize!