Thinking Inside The Box: Adventures with Crosswords and the Puzzling People Who Can’t Live Without Them

Adrienne Raphel. Penguin Press, $27 (304p) ISBN 978-0-525-52208-9
Poet Raphel (What Was It For) delivers an intriguing and informative look at the crossword puzzle. She recalls a family tradition from her teenage years—Monday night “races” to solve that day’s New York Times crossword—which instilled in her a lasting appreciation for the game. Raphel digs deep into its history, from its 1913 origin to its 1924 explosion in popularity after a fledgling Simon & Schuster published the first crossword puzzle compilation. Though there are occasional diversions, such as about crossword-as-metaphor in a Sex and the City episode, or a human vs. computer contest, all narrative roads lead back to the Times—which, ironically, was late to the game, not publishing one until February 1942. Casual crossworders may be surprised to learn that the paper’s puzzles are submitted by amateurs (they are paid $500 for the daily puzzle, $1,500 for the Sunday version) and vetted by a handful of staffers. Raphel also tries her hand at crafting one, with digressions on grid design and computer programs for ferreting out new word combinations, to illustrate the difficulty of creating original clues for a game that is over a century old. This enjoyable survey illuminates many lesser-known aspects of a wildly popular pastime. Agent: Melanie Jackson, Melanie Jackson Agency. (Mar.)
Reviewed on : 12/05/2019
Release date: 03/17/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
Book - 978-0-525-52209-6
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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