How old is that crossword?

At the Xword Info blog, New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz writes that today’s Times puzzle was written four years ago (!):

church-clockI accepted this puzzle in 2009, but held it for so long because I’d run similar themes in 2004, 2002, and 1997.

This is not unusual for the Times; constructors regularly mention to me that an NYT puzzle of theirs has been sitting around for years before seeing the light of day. Such a lag is frustrating for constructors and suboptimal for solvers since the grid won’t contain any entries fresher than four (or however many) years old.

One big advantage that independent, web-only constructors have over the newspapers is their extremely quick publication schedules, so an indie puzzle you solve has almost certainly been written in the past couple of weeks (or even days).

As you might guess, quick publication gives a puzzle a much snappier feel than long-delayed publication.



Your Brain Is a Wonderland

mayerIt’s a well-known fact that crossword solvers are an extremely sexually alluring group of people.

Case in point: in a new Billboard interview, Katy Perry swoons over boyfriend John Mayer‘s speed-solving ability:

“He literally is a genius, as is evident from his songwriting. I always tell him, ‘Darling, you know I’m going to have to give your mind to science after you’ve passed, because we’re going to have to understand how all these sparks work.’ We’ll be in bed, and he’ll be doing the crossword puzzle. Every night, he tries to finish it in under 10 minutes. When he puts his mind to something, he really gets it done very well. I always ask for his help.”


When celebrities write crosswords

OswaltThe American Values Club Crossword (AVCX) is running a series of puzzles co-authored by celebrities. How cool is that?

Last week AVCX editor Ben Tausig teamed up with Yo La Tengo singer Ira Kaplan; this week it’s crossword wunderkind Caleb Madison co-authoring a puzzle with “King of Queens” actor Patton Oswalt.

The celeb-written puzzles cost a dollar apiece and you can get them here. The Oswalt-Madison puzzle might be food-related, judging by its title: “Hello Donut My Old Friend.”

“Hey Matt” (#1)

question_mark_clip_art_9044“Hey Matt” is going to be a regular feature on this blog, starting today. It’s simple: a solver asks a question about crosswords, and I answer it.

Today’s question:

Hey Matt,

What’s the one entry you never want to see in a crossword again?

— Anonymous

Matt’s answer:

AMEBA. The microscopic organism is spelled AMOEBA, as everyone knows. “Ameba” is a variant spelling that dictionaries find acceptable, but it irks me every time!

Of course, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone could find that I’d used it once or twice over the years…but still.


Got a crossword question for me? Send an e-mail to with “Hey Matt” in the subject line. If I use your question you’ll receive a “Gaffney on Crosswords” pen & pencil set as a prize.


A classic BEQ entry at 15-across

SDRRCIf you like tough themeless puzzles, be aware that Brendan Emmett Quigley (a.k.a. BEQ) writes an outstanding free one every Monday at his site.

He’s known for his risque entries, like 15-across in today’s lovely puzzle. Not sure that’d be permitted in one of Brendan’s many New York Times crosswords. But this is the guy who wrote a book called Sex, Drugs & Rock ‘N’ Roll Crosswords.

Hollywood, here I come

lastvegasThe new comedy Last Vegas opens Nov. 1, starring a bunch of guys you’ve never heard of: Kevin Kline, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Michael Douglas.

Why am I telling you this? Because one of my books may appear in the film. Its producers bought rights from Sterling Publishing to use up to 10 puzzle books in the movie, including several of mine, as well as volumes by puzzle greats Stan Newman and Frank Longo.

If you see the movie before I do, shoot me an e-mail and tell me what puzzle books you spotted (if any; all those grids could always end up on the cutting room floor).



Crossword contests

Neville Fogarty is running a crossword contest at his site this week. It’s free to enter and the deadline is 6 AM Eastern Time on Thursday, October 17th.

cropped-header-named5Crossword contests have experienced a boomlet in popularity over the past few years; even the New York Times runs one every autumn now. Unlike live crossword tournaments, where contestants are ranked by how quickly and accurately they fill the puzzle grid, online contests instead feature what’s called a “metapuzzle.”

The metapuzzle (or just the “meta”) is a secondary puzzle of some kind you have to figure out after solving. Instructions tell you what you’re looking for, usually a word or phrase such as a city, movie title, or celebrity’s name. E-mail it in and you’re entered in the contest.

Solvers like metas because of the “aha moment” you get when the meta emerges. It’s an adrenaline rush of a kind you don’t often experience in a regular crossword.

If you’ve never solved a meta before, read my article explaining how it’s done. Then give Neville’s contest a shot.

Error in USA Today crossword

usaterrorGeography error in Friday’s USA Today crossword, where SUDAN at 32-d is clued as [Africa’s largest country].

One problem: this hasn’t been true since July 9th, 2011, when South Sudan broke off from Sudan and formed its own country (with a crossword-friendly capital, JUBA).

That secession knocked Sudan down to the third-largest country in Africa, and left Algeria as the largest.