concept to publication

Death of the Novel: A Literary Crossword

Click for larger version (pdf format). Commentary below.

death of the novel: literary crossword puzzle

A daughter got me doing crosswords over the holidays. One thing that struck me was that the persona of the puzzle maker emerges pretty clearly from the puzzle — and many come across as, well, unhip, for want of a better word.

With my usual arrogance I figured I could do better. And I soon got my comeupance, because I found constructing the puzzle difficult.

Most crosswords today follow rules originally established by Simon & Schuster:

  • No orphan letters (all letters must function in both down and across words)
  • No two-letter words
  • The puzzle must be diagonally symmetrical (A black square at top left must be echoed by a black square in the inverse position at bottom right, for example)
  • Not too many black squares (fewer than one sixth of total, says Sam Bellotto, Jr.)
  • Most puzzles are 15 x 15, although bigger puzzles are seen, especially in weekend papers

There are also aesthetic factors:

  • A pleasing puzzle pattern
  • Trend toward theme puzzles, meaning a handful of related words, both down and across
  • Not too many grotesqueries (obscure acronyms, names, archaisms, foreign words, etc.)

I did three versions of this puzzle before settling on this one. The first two were just too ugly. This one is better, although I wish I had managed to use more of my theme words. And I did have to resort to a couple of unappealing words.

I think the puzzle will be fairly easy for anyone with a passing familiarity with world literature. Maybe it would have been better with more oblique clues. Feedback welcomed.


Solution to the puzzle is here (pdf format).



A printer’s rant


Book cover design: On Fishing


  1. Claire

    Find them in the piazza?

  2. Yes, that’s good!

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