Cryptic Puzzle ToM ToCe
THiS MoNTH’S Puzzle CoMeS To uS FRoM
RiCH NeWell, an associate actuary with guide-
one insurance in West Des Moines, iowa.
Rich is a big fan of the cryptic crossword.
“I typically start all your puzzles, make it through about
five clues, and lose interest,” Rich wrote in a note to me. Along
with the flattery, Rich sent me a puzzle that he had created,
explaining, “I’m more interested in the normal-looking cryptic crossword, to be honest. Those strange-looking concoctions
simply don’t appeal to me, even though I could do better if I
tried.” (Rich did appear on the solvers list once—for the Party
Time puzzle last year—so he is trying.)
“Although cryptic crosswords are a good challenge for actuaries,” Rich continued, “some variety—and something a bit
more like a normal crossword—might appeal to more people.”
The puzzle Rich sent was a normal crossword with an actuarial theme. I thought it was terrific. I’d always wondered
what it meant to edit a crossword puzzle—and now I know. I
offered suggestions for Rich, some regarding the diagram, some
regarding fine-tuning the answers in it, and most involving improving the clues.
I enjoy crossword puzzles, too. I’ve never created one,
though I’d like to. I admire Rich’s efforts here. And the puzzle probably will appeal to many more actuaries than one of
my usual “strange-looking concoctions.” People like different
things, and I believe we should celebrate diversity. In the words
of Stephen Sondheim:
tHe 2011 cryPtic PuZZles
Some people can get a thrill
Knitting sweaters and sitting still.
That’s okay for some people.
Sondheim played a large role in popularizing cryptic puzzles
in the United States. In the introduction to his collection of
cryptics, he writes:
The kind of crossword puzzle familiar to most Americans
is a mechanical test of tirelessly esoteric knowledge: “Bra-
zilian potter’s wheel,” “East Indian betel nut” and the like
are typical definitions, sending you either to Webster’s New
International or to sleep. The other kind . . . offers cryptic
clues instead of bald definitions, and the pleasures involved
in solving it are the deeply satisfying ones of following and
matching a devious mind (that of the puzzle’s author) rath-
er than the transitory ones of the encyclopedic memory.
Sondheim’s lyrics are famous for their irony. Since irony involves saying one thing and meaning another, cryptic puzzles
are a kind of irony, too. There’s no doubt in my mind that the
people who love irony represent a small part of the population,
actuarial and otherwise. But I’ll come back with a strange-looking concoction for them in the July/August issue. For now, I
give you Rich Newell’s crossword puzzle. There’s no need to
send in your answers or completed diagrams. You’ll know if
you finish it correctly.