The Quick 10: The New York Times Crossword Puzzle

The New York Times crossword app on my iPhone is probably the best and worst investment I have ever made. I use it all of the time, which is more than I can say for some of my other apps (I meant well, Tetris, I really did), but I probably use it way too much. The problem/awesomeness of the app is that you can consult a calendar and pick any crossword you want going several years back. This means I am doing crosswords all of the time. I have become one of those people who is always completely enthralled in the iPhone and can't be bothered to make eye contact with anyone. It's not healthy. And no, The New York Times certainly hasn't paid me to endorse their app, although if they would like to, I'd be happy to provide my Paypal address. It's really all just a long-winded way of saying that I have crosswords on the brain lately, so it only seemed natural to do a little research on the American pastime.

1. Prior to 1942, the Times was kind of snobby about the wordplay game. They called it "a primitive form of mental exercise" and turned their collective noses up at people who would deign to spend their time arranging letters in little boxes. But the paper finally decided to give in to fun and games during the WWII, when it was decided that perhaps readers needed something a little bit frivolous to take their minds off of the considerably heavier events going on in the world. 

2. There are about 20 errors in the crosswords every year. When you consider that 417 are published annually (there are two on Sundays) and each crossword contains more than 50 clues, that's a pretty good rate. But keep your eyes peeled anyway"¦ it's always fun to spot one.

3. Celebrity NYT crossword fans include Bill Clinton, Kitty Carlisle Hart, Norman Mailer, Jon Stewart and Beverly Sills. "You are never famous until you've had your name in a crossword puzzle," she once said. "There is a group of people who mail the puzzle to you when your name comes up in it."

4. Clinton is such a fan that he collaborated on an online-only crossword for the Times in 2007. He wrote the clues, but the grid was constructed for him. Shortz edited the puzzle "“ albeit very little, he said "“ and reported that Clinton's clues and answers were "laugh out loud" funny.

shortz5. Will Shortz doesn't write all of the crosswords, but he does edit them. The puzzles are written by a team of freelance writers. There is apparently a pool of about 500 puzzle writers who can produce New York Times-quality clues, which is up from only 100 about 40 years ag.
6. Incidentally, Shortz' favorite puzzle clue of all time is "It might turn into a different story." The answer? "SPIRALSTAIRCASE."
7. You can rotate the crossword 180 degrees and, more often than not, the position of the black and white squares will not change. If you see a puzzle that is asymmetrical, it's probably because there is a rebus or theme that required the puzzle to break its usual shape.
8. There have only been four editors of the NYT crossword since its 1942 inception. The first, Margaret Farrar, started her career as a secretary who was hired to help Arthur Wynne, the inventor of crosswords, with his work. Her work soon became more popular than his. Will Weng was the editor from 1969 to 1977, Eugene Maleska then became the editor after years of freelancing for the famous diversion. Shortz took over when Maleska died of throat cancer in 1993 and is the only editor (the only known person in the world, actually) to hold a college degree in enigmatology, the study of puzzles.

9. In 1998, a man proposed to his New York Times crossword-loving girlfriend using the puzzle. Bob Khan prepared a puzzle where answers to clues included "BILLG" (his first name and last initial") "WILLYOUMARRYME" and "AMODESTPROPOSAL." She said yes. What do you want to bet that completed crossword puzzle is hanging on their wall, framed?

10. A few tips to help you on your life quest to finish the Sunday Crossword (or is that just me?):
"¢ Any time the clue uses an abbreviation instead of spelling out the word, the answer is an abbreviation.
"¢ If the clue ends in a question mark, the puzzle author is using a play on words or is doing something else particularly clever.
"¢ The answer will never be in the clue itself.

The Sunday puzzle, by the way, is supposed to be about the difficulty of a Thursday puzzle.

My crossword puzzle-addict friend, who is a lot better at them than I am, swears by Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle. He explains answers and is a bit condescending ("[This was] medium for me, but rebuses always befuddle a significant chunk of the audience"), but is also entertaining and kind of helps you understand the reason behind the clues and answers so you'll "get" the writers better in the future.

Any other NYT crossword junkies out there? Maybe we can start a group. Leave a comment and let us know how far in the week you can get, and then we'll divide into small therapy sessions from there"¦ And yes, I have seen the documentary Word Play, and it makes me feel bad about my intellect.

Have a Q10 request? I'm on Twitter and I'm all ears! Err... all keys. Something.


10 Sweet Facts About Candy Canes

The sweet and striped shepherd’s hooks can be found just about everywhere during the holiday season. It's time you learned a thing or two (or 10) about them.


While the origins of the candy cane are a bit murky, legend has it that they first appeared in hooked form around 1670. Candy sticks themselves were pretty common, but they really took shape when the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany got the bright idea of twisting them to look like shepherd’s hooks. He then handed them out to kids during church services to keep them quiet.


It’s no surprise, then, that it was a German immigrant who introduced the custom to America. The first reference we can find to the tradition stateside is 1847, when August Imgard of Wooster, Ohio, decked his home out with the sugary fare.


Candy canes without the red don’t seem nearly as cheery, do they? But that’s how they were once made: all white. We’re not really sure who or exactly when the scarlet stripe was added, but we do know that images on cards before the 1900s show snow white canes.


Most candy canes are around five inches long, containing only about 50 calories and no fat or cholesterol.


The world’s largest candy cane was built by Geneva, Illinois chef Alain Roby in 2012.  It was 51 feet long, required about 900 pounds of sugar, and was eventually smashed up with a hammer so people could take home a piece.


Fifty-four percent of kids suck on candy canes, compared to the 24 percent who just go right for the big crunch. As you may have been able to guess, of those surveyed, boys were nearly twice as likely to be crunchers.


According to the National Confectioners Association, about 1.2 billion candy canes are made annually, and 90 percent of those are sold between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Which honestly begs the question: Who’s buying the 10 percent in the off season?


Bobs (that’s right; no apostrophe) Candies was the first company to really hang its hat on the sweet, striped hook. Lt. Bob McCormack began making candy canes for his kids in the 1920s, and they were such a hit he decided to start mass-producing them. With the help of his brother-in-law, a Catholic priest named Gregory Harding Keller (and his invention, the Keller Machine), McCormack was eventually able to churn out millions of candy canes a day.


December 26 is National Candy Cane Day. Go figure.


Here’s how they make candy canes at Disneyland—it’s a painstaking (and beautiful) technique.

10 Actors Who Hated Their Own Films

1. Sylvester Stallone, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. Sly doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to his film career. Despite co-starring with the delightful Estelle Getty as the titular violence-prone mother, Stallone knows just how bad the film was:

"I made some truly awful movies. Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot was the worst. If you ever want someone to confess to murder, just make him or her sit through that film. They will confess to anything after 15 minutes."

2. Alec Guinness, Star Wars.

By the time he played Obi-Wan Kenobi in 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope, Guinness had already appeared in cinematic classics like The Bridge on the River Kwai, Great Expectations and Lawrence of Arabia. During production, Guinness is reported to have said the following:

"Apart from the money, I regret having embarked on the film. I like them well enough, but it's not an acting job, the dialogue - which is lamentable - keeps being changed and only slightly improved, and I find myself old and out of touch with the young."

The insane amount of fame he won for the role as the wise old Jedi master took him somewhat by surprise and, ultimately, annoyed him. In his autobiography A Positively Final Appearance: A Journal, Guinness recalls a time he encountered an autograph-seeking fan who boasted to him about having watched Star Wars more than 100 times. In response, Guinness agreed to provide the boy an autograph under the condition that he promise never to watch the film again.

3. Bob Hoskins, Super Mario Brothers. He was in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. As far as I’m concerned, Bob Hoskins is forgiven for Super Mario Bros. Hoskins, though, doesn’t seem to be able to forgive himself. Last year the Guardian spoke with the veteran actor about his career and he summed up his feelings rather succinctly:

What is the worst job you've done?
Super Mario Brothers.

What has been your biggest disappointment?
Super Mario Brothers.

If you could edit your past, what would you change?
I wouldn't do Super Mario Brothers.

4. George Clooney, Batman & Robin. Sure, Batman & Robin made money. But by every other imaginable measure, the film was a complete failure, and a nightmare to the vast majority of the Caped Crusader’s most fervent fanatics. Star George Clooney recognized what a stinker he helped create and once plainly stated, “I think we might have killed the franchise.”

5. David Cross, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked. When actors have a movie out, it's customary that they publicize the film by saying nice things about it. Earlier this year David Cross took a different approach. When it came to describing his new film Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, the veteran comedian — better known for Mr. Show and Arrested Development — went on Conan and called the film a “big commercial for Carnival Cruise Lines” and told people not to go see it.

6. Katherine Heigl, Knocked Up. Judd Apatow’s unplanned pregnancy comedy was a huge hit and helped cement her status as a bankable film actress. After the film’s release, however, Heigl didn’t have all good things to say. In fact, what she specifically said about it was that the film was:

"…A little sexist. It paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys.”

7. Charlize Theron, Reindeer Games. The 2000 action film Reindeer Games starred Ben Affleck, Gary Sinese and Charlize Theron and was directed by John Frankenheimer. But it all somehow failed to come together. In the end the film lost a lot of money and compiled a wealth of negative reviews – including one from its star actress who simply said, “Reindeer Games was not a good movie.”

8. Mark Wahlberg, The Happening. Mark Wahlberg doesn’t exactly seem like a guy who lives his life afraid of trees. But that is the odd position M. Night Shyamalan’s 2008 film The Happening put him in. Wahlberg, as it turns out, doesn’t look back too fondly on the film. He went on record during a press conference for The Fighter when he described a conversation with a fellow actor:

"We had actually had the luxury of having lunch before to talk about another movie and it was a bad movie that I did. She dodged the bullet. And then I was still able to … I don’t want to tell you what movie … alright “The Happening.” F*** it. It is what it is. F***ing trees, man. The plants. F*** it. You can’t blame me for not wanting to try to play a science teacher. At least I wasn’t playing a cop or a crook."

9. John Cusack, Better Off Dead. John Cusack reportedly hated his cult 80s comedy so much that he walked out of the screening and later told the film’s director Steve Holland that Better Off Dead was "the worst thing I have ever seen" and he would "never trust you as a director again."

10 Christopher Plummer, The Sound of Music. The Sound of Music is considered a classic and has delighted many generations of fans. But the film's own lead actor, Christopher Plummer, didn't always sing its praises. Mr. Von Trapp himself declined to participate in a 2005 film reunion and, according to one acquaintance, has referred to the film as The Sound of Mucus.



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