Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Like the Symmetry of a Sliced Pizza (Radial)

Acrostic puzzle by Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon from the New York Times Magazine, November 28, 2004, page 124. Click for larger image.

The puzzle above is from 2004, but I just found it last night. Oh goody! An unsolved crossword and/or acrostic puzzle! About food! It’s like finding fifty bucks in your coat pocket. Now I know what you are going to say. You are going to say that I can in fact go out at any time and buy a book of crossword puzzles for way less than fifty bucks, and you are so right, but somehow, it’s not the same. The puzzle has to be raw. It can be two years old, but it can’t be cooked.

I enjoy crossword puzzles, and I have to admit I enjoyed that crossword puzzle movie. I just loved the bit where we get to see puzzle composer Merl Reagle write a crossword puzzle freehand. That is so cool! I could watch a full length movie of nothing but people writing puzzles. I wish we could have seen more about puzzle composing and especially more about the extraordinary Margaret Farrar, who invented the puzzle. How did she know to make them symmetrical?

I was surprised by the low-technology of the tournament process. When you finish a puzzle, you raise your hand, and someone walks over and picks it up. Then you wait while the puzzles are scored by hand. It was also a bit of a surprise that the crossword puzzle solvers, with the exception of one who is a professional baseball player, were somehow less articulate and verbal than I might have guessed. They were nothing like the kids in the movie Spellbound.

I also liked Spellbound, but it is a very different movie, just as spelling and puzzle-solving are very different pursuits. Crossword puzzles are things that people actually do all the time in real life, while spelling viva voce must be completely alien to almost anyone’s experience. Maybe sometimes someone will ask you "How do you spell 'blah blah blah'?"and you'll say "B, L, A, H, space, B, L, A, H, space, B, L, A, H," but not too often, and you can scribble it on the back of an envelope or something.

I will just mention another movie that ought to have been as engaging as these two but was not. Shortly after Spellbound, there was a movie about children in New York who compete in a ballroom dancing competition. I am so annoyed with this stupid movie that I am not even going to google it to get the correct title, which seems to elude me. The filmmaker must have thought that she could lift the template from Spellbound, replace spelling with ballroom dancing, and have a movie just as irresistible, or maybe more so, because wouldn’t you think that dancing is more cinematogenic than spelling? I sure would have thought so, but it’s those spellers who just bake your potatoes.

Read about Merl Reagle’s life in puzzles.


Blogger zp said...

Wow. I thought I was going to have to actively avoid the crossword puzzle movie.

Spellbound really worked for me too; I watched it with lots of different audiences and that was fun.

9:45 AM  
Blogger the chocolate lady said...

Hi zp,
What were the different audiences, and in what ways was watching with them different?

As diverting as the crossword puzzle movie is, it's no Spellbound. There's a whole lot of Will Shortz, and you have to look at Ken Burns. I still had great fun.

10:50 AM  
Blogger zp said...

the younger generation - felt the pressures of inane youth oriented competition

the older generation - wondered about whether/which kids attended public school

grad students of middle years - more on the doc subject as performer

middle years cinephiles - how cute

I love it when doing a crossword puzzle is a group activity because just when I am stumped that is where someone else's random cultural knowledge comes in handy.

7:08 AM  

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