Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Love this: How Will Shortz Edits a New York Times Crossword Puzzle

Okay, I promise one day to post my "how I got five crossword puzzles published in the New York Times" story here. I can tell you the blow by blow of making a puzzle and the chutzpah needed to sell your very first puzzle to the Times. I know at least one of you (thanks Rob!) is looking forward to reading this.

Until then, let me strongly encourage you to check out How Will Shortz Edits a New York Times Crossword Puzzle in the Atlantic. Shortz talks about the process that happens after the puzzle gird is finished, when the constructor (Liz Gorski, in this case) creates the clues. The editor's job is then to make the clues a little snappier, less obvious, more "fresh" -- fresh is a word that Will Shortz loves.

This is a great example of his mind, talking about Liz's clue for the word snow:
One clue that's fun and twisty is 11 Down: "Wet blanket" for SNOW. I can check the database—I bet she's not the first person to ever use that clue. That's just too nice a clue never to have been used before. Hold on one second, I'll see. There is a database of every clue back to my start. [A pause.] I see previous clever clues for SNOW that include "winter fall," "white blanket," "winter blanket," "white coat," "falling flakes"—that's not all that clever. This one's sort of cute—"serial killer." Snow on your TV, it's going to hurt your reception of a serial. Oh, one more. "Drifter," with a question mark. Well, I don't see "wet blanket." Maybe it is fresh.
How can you fit this into psychology? I suppose you can make it fit nicely into the Cognition unit when you talk about algorithms and heuristics. Me, I put it squarely in the Intelligence section, under Genius.  :-)

--posted by Steve

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