Date: March 11, 2005
- More than 50 million people in this country work the puzzles fairly regularly.
- Vowels comprise almost 40 percent of the letters used in the English language as a whole, but they account for almost half the letters that appear in crossword grids.
- Most answers have no more than five letters.
- Although proper-name clues often reflect current affairs and cultural trends ("Supermodel BŁndchen" or '___ Phair with the 2003 tune `Why Can't I?' "), certain celebrities and historical figures appear so frequently they have achieved a sort of crossword immortality, among them ELLA Fitzgerald, ESTEE Lauder, ERLE Stanley Gardner, ELI Whitney, Leon URIS, ERMA Bombeck and Clifford ODETS.
- South Florida's top puzzle celebrity is of course, "Clinton Attorney General" Janet RENO.
If you were a New York Times crossword fan a few years ago, you quickly would have become familiar with the clue "Asian nursemaid."
Its answer was "AMAH."
Like "Celebes ox" ("ANOA"), it sometimes appeared more than once a week, a teasing bonus among such vexations as "Year the Ostrogoths were defeated at the Battle of the Taginae" or 'It `is nothing but perception' wrote Plato."
But, surprisingly, "good puzzle constructors try not to use words like that," says Trip Payne of Boca Raton, the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament's reigning champ and a professional puzzle-maker.
'Ideally, you only want to use words that the average person on the street will know. If somebody's coming to a crossword for the first time, if they can't solve something, you want it to be because maybe there was something clever going on, and that they just couldn't figure out how the clue worked. Not because they didn't know the word. It's not fun to look up an answer and say, `Oh, gee. That's the French spelling of a Swiss river.' You want it to be because they didn't parse something right, because the answer is 'Tree,' but the clue was 'Leaves home.'"
To see the first-known published crossword puzzle which appeared in New York World on December 21, 1913 go to crosswordtournament.com/more/wynne.html.