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Printing Crossword puzzles

Started by mg, October 21, 2023, 03:28:45 AM

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Hey all,  new to letterpress, was wondering if anyone could point me in the direction of an article about how Crossword puzzle grids were typeset for newspapers?  I'm imagining a grid of type high leads where the "boxes" are filled in with type high plugs for black and left empty to be filled by the player.  And wedges to fit the 3 or 4 pt numbers in the begining of word boxes.  Thanks! Best regards from a noob in Canada.

Dave Hughes

Hi mg and thanks for posting.

In my experience crossword grids were supplied as "camera ready artwork" and zinc plates were produced from that to be reproduced in the newspaper. The same grid was often used for more than one puzzle.

Newspaper printing and typesetting was not what you would call "high end" and often time-saving techniques like this were used to speed up production.

Wikipedia has an excellent article on Crossword Puzzles, and gives this guidance on grid construction for the English language:

QuoteGenerally, most American puzzles are 15×15 squares; if another size, they typically have an odd number of rows and columns: e.g., 21×21 for "Sunday-size" puzzles; Games magazine will accept 17×17 puzzles, Simon & Schuster accepts both 17×17 and 19×19 puzzles, and The New York Times requires diagramless puzzles to be 17×17.[75] The odd number of squares on a side ensures that achieving symmetry is easier; with even-numbered puzzles the central block of four squares makes constructing a symmetrical puzzle considerably more difficult.[76]

The black squares must be arranged so as to (1) ensure there are no two-letter words; (2) form 180-degree rotational symmetry (so that if the grid is turned upside-down, the pattern of black squares remains the same); (3) ensure that every letter is checked (appears in both an across and a down word); (4) not occupy too much of the puzzle (generally speaking, 16% of the puzzle is considered a rough limit for the percentage of black squares); (5) ensure that the entire puzzle has "all-over interlock"—that is, that the black squares do not "cut" the puzzle into separate sections; and (6) ensure that (generally) no non-theme entry is longer than any of the theme entries. In addition, it is considered advisable to minimize the number of so-called "cheater" black squares, i.e., black squares whose removal would not change the word count of the puzzle but which make it easier to fill by shortening the length of the words therein.[73][74][77]

The grid is then filled with suitable words, keeping in mind that (1) no word can be repeated in the grid (with the exception of prepositions or articles); (2) profanity or graphic or "unpleasant" words are generally not allowed; (3) obscurity is strongly discouraged in easy puzzles and should be kept to a minimum in more difficult puzzles, where two obscure words should never be allowed to cross (and, ideally, where the obscure word would be of interest to most solvers—a genus of little-known water bugs would not be a good choice); (4) uncommon abbreviations and variant foreign spellings should be avoided, as well as the use of crosswordese (those words that no longer appear in common speech but that occur frequently in crosswords due to their favorable letter combinations, such as the Asian buffalo ANOA); (5) in modern puzzles, pop figures and corporate and brand names are generally considered acceptable; (6) no made-up words are permitted—there should be a dictionary or other reference that can cite each entry if asked.[73][77]

Modern constructors frequently (although not always) use software to speed up the task. Several programs are available, of which the most widely accepted is Crossword Compiler.[72] These programs, although they cannot create themes and cannot distinguish between "good" fill (fun, interesting words vs. dull obscurity), do speed up the process and will allow the constructor to realize if he or she has hit a dead end.[78]

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