Two installments earlier, we mentioned the problem of taking material for a puzzle without attribution. In the course of researching this entry, I looked up Cruciverb.com’s database of clues with the word “quip” in them. (You’ll need to be a Cruciverb member to get to most of the crossword-authorship-related links I’m about to drop on you.) And I found a fair number of crosswords using unattributed “quips” that belonged to other sources– quote crosswords in disguise, if you will. Thankfully, the practice seems to have petered out around 2004.
I’m not just talking about unattributed “quips” that have floated around with anonymous authorship. Those are more debatable. But there are also cases where some quick digging, confirmed by multiple sources, makes it clear who exactly is not getting their due props.
“A study of economics usually reveals that the best time to buy anything was last year.” –-Marty Allen, not Alice Long
Yes, some of the constructors have “massaged” their quotes a bit, altering their wording slightly to make them fit into the grid. That doesn’t really count as making them original. And yes, crossword clues are often freely “borrowed” without consequence, but borrowing the whole backbone of your puzzle is larceny on a grander scale.
(Incidentally, before anyone points it out, the anonymous Winston Churchill cartoon in the last installment really was anonymous, part of the offerings on CartoonStock.)
<Obama>Let me be clear:</Obama> I’m not accusing anyone of intentional skullduggery, or even passive-aggressively “wondering” about that. (As an indirect beneficiary of her advice, I regard Nancy Salomon as somewhere between a patron saint and the tenth Muse.) It’s easy to overhear a quote, mostly forget it for five years, then have it “come” to you in the guise of your own idea.
Solvers don’t especially care if the aphorism in their puzzle comes from a comedian they’ve never heard of or a crossword constructor they’ve never heard of. But sometimes they will have heard the joke before, and to prepare for that, a quick googling to confirm originality or decide attribution is good ethics and good sense. The result might be a little less fun for the solver than the chance to say “gotcha, I heard this one years ago!” But constructors, that’s just a sacrifice you’ll have to make.
The constructor should not get discouraged if he/she keeps discovering his/her original idea is not so original. Because the “quips” that do appear original with the constructor aren’t necessarily… well… remember our theory about how puns can “work” for a crossword yet be immense groaners when read aloud? Even the solvers’ feeling of cleverness is less pronounced when it takes longer to get to a not-that-rewarding punchline:
“Are persons who draw faces of suspects known as con artists?” —Ed Early
“The fellow who wed a dogcatcher said marriage gave him a new leash on life.” —Mel Rosen
For all that, the improv crossword, built around a quickie saying that is original with the speaker, is a form worth exploring. Like any medium, crosswords can adapt material produced for other environments, but something special can happen when they run ideas developed just for them, as I think is true of the following examples. (Always a chance that the constructor’s uncle or nephew suggested it to them, off the record.) Some of them can stand with the best quotables from other sources:
“I drove my dog nuts. I’d yell ‘fetch,’ then throw a boomerang.” —Patrick Jordan
“I’d like to see them come out with Chicken Soup for Dummies’ Souls.” —Cathy Milhauser
“A person who says ‘I won’t say another word’ always does.” —Harvey Estes and Nancy Salomon (am I forgiven, Nancy?)
Others make creative use of the crossword format– abbreviations, the use of non-alphabetic squares and the crossword’s ever-exacting space restrictions:
“If I had a nickel for every time I put a dollar in the bank I’d have 1/20 what I have now.” —Henry Hook
“Haste makes waste, or so it’s said; you must take pains to plan ahea–” —Bill Zais and Nancy Salomon
Similar to the quote and improv crossword, and bound by similar opportunities and pitfalls, is the riddle. Riddle crosswords are not rhetorical queries with no elegant, simple answer, like Jordan’s question above about Harry Potter’s nearsightedness. They contain the answer to the riddle within the text of the puzzle itself. (If they didn’t, they’d be contest crosswords, about which more later.) Because that answer is the punchline, the structure of the puzzle has the focus that’s sometimes a challenge for quote crosswords, and because the solver’s sense of participation in arriving at that punchline is stronger, the constructor can get away with a bit more punniness.
A… bit more. The second and sixth example below, both of them quoted from anonymous sources and neither of which are redeemed by a really inventive grid, don’t really strike me as in the same league as their peers. Found in many a joke book and relying on a single pun, they don’t afford the same level of challenge and reward to the solver.
“[Q.] Divide the circumference of a Jack-o’-lantern by its diameter and what do you get? [A.] Pumpkin pi.” –Anonymous, quoted by Lee Weaver
“[Q.] How can you tell if two people are married? [A.] Do they yell at the same children?” —Mel Rosen
“[Q.] How did the oak ask out the maple tree? [A.] ‘I wood pine fir yew.'” —Zach Jesse
“[Q.] What would you get if you threw a piano down a mine? [A.] A flat miner.” –Anonymous, quoted by Michael Shteyman (using an unusual 15-10-15-10 division, but eh)
“[Q.] Why are computers like bikinis? [A.] They save you a lot of guesswork.” —Patrick Jordan
Riddles mesh surprisingly well with the crossword format. I usually find telling riddles a lot more fun than being told them– their answers are tough to guess, and if I show the slightest hesitation, the riddle-teller will usually pounce on me, merciless as the Sphinx, and tell me the answer. This makes me feel dumber, not smarter, and puzzles should be about achievement, not being browbeaten. But in the comfortable environment of the crossword, with its multiple paths to every answer, the obnoxious riddle is on my turf, and I can show it who’s boss. Yeah. You’re not so clever now, are you, stupid riddle?
Next time out: the narrative and the multi-parter. We’ll have a few stories to tell.