In 1925, a very upset librarian wrote a report for the New York Public Library about the latest craze among the nation’s young people. Were they necking in the library? No, something more insidious: they were solving crossword puzzles.
“When prizes are offered for solutions, and the puzzle ‘fans’ swarm to the dictionaries and encyclopedias so as to drive away the readers and students who need those books in their daily work, can there be any doubt of the Library’s duty to protect legitimate readers?”
You can almost hear the horror. Reading for PRIZES?! What’s next, competitive spelling?
The New York Times also chimed in:
“Fortunately, the question of whether the puzzles are beneficial or harmful is in no urgent need of an answer. The craze evidently is dying out fast and in a few months it will be forgotten.”
You know the rest. 90+ years later, crosswords have a staying power that librarian could have never predicted. Only one other word game has an even longer history…. riddles!
We can only hope that our own “prizes for solutions” will cause the kind of craze that inspires stuffy librarians to write outraged editorials, inspires any number of blogs, and is still a part of many people’s morning routine 100 years later. There’s many similarities between solving a crossword and solving a riddle – both require some knowledge of history, a keen eye for wordplay, and a good memory for pattern recognition.
Can you learn from the crossword pros to solve riddles? We combed through the many tips and tricks, and came up with a few…
- Watch your tenses. Is the riddle in the past tense? Your answer is probably also in the past – as in, it doesn’t exist in the present.
- Hold onto your homonyms – that’s often where the misdirection lies. Kathy Matheson, AP reporter and longtime crossword addict, has a great example for this one: “Tumbler” is a type of glass but also an acrobat. “Sewer” is an urban drainage system as well as someone who sews things.”
- A proper noun could be a regular noun. Ms. Matheson has a great example for this one too: “Warriors’ grp.” refers not to an association for soldiers but to the NBA, the “group” to which the Golden State Warriors belong. “Giant in the field” is usually OTT, for Mel Ott, who played baseball for the New York Giants (before they moved to San Francisco). “Budget alternative” nearly always refers to Budget car rental, not a generic spending plan.
- Try not to focus in on any one solution too quickly. Will Shortz, longtime crossword editor at the New York Times, says this well: “Mental flexibility is a great asset in solving crosswords. Let your mind wander. The clue ”Present time” might suggest nowadays, but in a different sense it might lead to the answer yuletide.”
If you want to get better at crossword solving (and maybe practice for riddlin’) make sure and follow Rex Parker’s famous crossword blog, where he solves the New York Times crossword puzzle every morning; also, follow Kathy, Rex, and Will on Twitter.