August 07, 2007

Review: Terribly Twisted Crosswords

Last night I finished Henry Hook's Terribly Twisted Crosswords.

It's got about 20 different varieties of crosswords, none with a single standard crossword grid. This generally serves to make the puzzles more challenging to finish, because the solver often won't know how long an answer is and/or where exactly it belongs, and most puzzles have no theme to give you a leg up. Hook's clues tend to be a little off-kilter, more indirect than the clues in a standard early- to mid-week crossword. The fill in these oddball grids also tends to be zippy—one puzzle included PIRSQUARED, or πR2, for example.

My least favorite varieties in this book were the type I see elsewhere, such as the "Around & About" spiral, the "Helter-Skelter," and the "Crushword." I see "Marching Bands" puzzles in the Games publications, but I do like them.

"Quadrants" is one of the varieties I enjoyed the most. In these puzzles, the grid's segmented into four quadrants with a center quadrant that interlocks with the other four. All the answers are 6 letters long, but you have to strategize to figure out where they go by noting the letters they have in common and where those letters fall in the words.

Another with consistent answer lengths is "Crazy Eights," all 8-letter entries. The answers circle around the clue number clockwise or counterclockwise, and as with "Quadrants," you work off of the letters in common to deduce the answer placement. "Honeycombs" take a similar form, but with 6-letter answers circling the clue numbers in the grid.

"Jigsaw" puzzles are a bit like "Quadrants," only with nine...ninths (is there a word for a section that's a ninth of a square?) containing 5-letter words held together by four 15-letter entries that span the grid. Similar pattern recognition skills are needed to determine where the answers fit.

The "Maze" puzzles are similar to "Marching Bands"—there are two Across clues for each row, and the letters are checked by words traveling through the grid in maze fashion ("Marching Bands" grids have concentric bands rather than one long "Maze" string of answers).

An easier but fun puzzle type is the "Intersections" puzzle. It looks like a standard 13x13 crossword grid, but the clues are given in pairs. If the number 1 appeared in the top left square, all you would know is that 1-Across and 1-Down had that pair of clues, but figuring out which goes where is your job.

"Crossing Paths" were the hardest variety for me. Four zigzagging paths make a lap around, but answer lengths aren't given so you have to work forward and back from the first and last clues for each path. Each path contains about 10 answers, so good luck finding your way!

Second hardest were the "Angling" variety. You're given the first and last square numbers, but not told where the answer takes a 90° turn or which end the word starts on. There's partial checking of the answers via shaded squares that contain a quote, but it takes a good long while to fill in enough to complete the quote so it can help with the rest of the answers.

There are several more varieties of puzzles, each with its own twist on the crossword format.

If you find that standard crosswords don't stretch your brain enough, crossword folks will often encourage you to "come to the dark side" and delve into cryptic crosswords. If you prefer American-style crossword clues over parsing cryptics' clues, though, this book may be just the ticket. (I also enjoyed the book's 2003 predecessor, Twisted Crosswords.)