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19 June 2006

Crosswords

'Wordplay' is a hot new documentary about what most would consider a terribly uncool subject: crosswords. The work focuses on a man whose name is not so well-known to UK crossword fans, who feel utterly superior to American cruciverbailists but maybe should not; Will Shortz, the long-time crossword editor of the New York Times, deserves respect on both sides of the Atlantic.
Much of the superiority complex of the British solvers and setters is due to the fact that the quintissential British crossword is the cryptic, with "concise", "quick" or "easy" crosswords appearing in the more lowbrow publications and cheap puzzle magazines. In America, on the other hand, a very challenging "straight definition" style, with more closely packed crosses and very arcane words, is the standard fare of intellectuals, while cryptics can be found but are considered an eccentric variation. (Except for readers of the Nation magazine, which has featured a very excellent American-style cryptic since the 1800's.)

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