I haven’t had the presence of mind to pull together my thoughts on legendary crossword constructor Henry Hook, who died this week (the crossword community just learned the sad news this afternoon), but I want to get something up here so there’s an open thread for comments on him. Here goes.
Diary of a Crossword Fiend readers know Henry mainly for his Boston Globe/CRooked Sunday puzzles (every other week since 1986) and for his curmudgeonly comments here (as “HH”). It was the hugest compliment that he deigned to apply his crusty persona at this blog, because he doled out his attentions sparingly.
Henry’s byline was a regular highlight in Games magazine, and I probably started doing his puzzles between 35 and 40 years ago. Those early Games legends were like rock stars to me, and Henry was a particularly elusive rock star since he had stopped attending the ACPT by the time I started going in 2005. I think it was the tournament’s final year in Brooklyn when Brooklynite Henry made an appearance, mostly lurking alongside the walls and waiting to be recognized. So many people only found out later that they’d missed seeing him and were sorely disappointed. Henry also popped in at Lollapuzzoola a couple times. It was wonderful to finally get the chance to meet him.
Henry had an exceedingly rough final year, with diabetes costing him a foot, but I’m told that he was looking good at this August’s Lollapuzzoola. I’m sorry to have not been able to attend.
Henry’s specialty wasn’t the Sunday crosswords he made for years. His real love was cryptic crosswords, variety cryptics, variety-grid crosswords—basically, any sort of puzzle that would mess with your head pretty seriously before you figured out how to proceed. There wasn’t a huge market for that sort of thing—easy puzzles sell much better—but you can find new and used books with his name on the cover. Here’s the Amazon page with a bunch of titles. There’s the recent Cryptic All-Stars and its sequel, both including some of his work. Twisted Crosswords, variety grids (non-cryptic). There are lots of old volumes of his cryptics on the used market, at Amazon, on eBay, and elsewhere.
There was this one time that I reviewed one of Henry’s Globe crosswords, and the theme just seemed weirdly conceived to me. Henry explained that it was his late wife Stephanie’s birthday? Their anniversary? Something of relevance to his beloved. She had died far too young, and I don’t know if he ever got over losing her. It was terribly sweet that he was still making crosswords for her, perhaps 20 years after her passing. Henry didn’t have an easy life, that’s for sure. I wish like hell that he had, and that his wife had never died, and that he’d had excellent health, and that making wickedly hard puzzles paid as much as investment banking.
For more on Henry, read the Hook chapter in Matt Gaffney’s book Gridlock, plus this terrific New Yorker profile from 2002. How notable do you have to be to merit a New Yorker profile? Henry sure made the grade.
Please share your remembrances of Henry Hook in the comments. If rudeness or snarkiness is involved, I think Henry would have appreciated that. Earnestness is also welcome.
Addendum: A note from Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon, Hook’s cruciverbal partners for three decades. “In the early Eighties, in the Games magazine offices on Madison Avenue, Henry Hook and Merl Reagle (and then Mike Shenk too) began writing goofy crosswords for each other’s warped amusement. The point of these law-breaking 21s was to create as many nonsensical-yet-guessable entries as possible. This was the dawn of the Something Different crossword. In our recollection, Henry had written one whose central 21-letter entry was EXCHANGE STUPID PUZZLES. Does anyone have a copy of this? After all these years, we’d love to see it.” Addendum #2: Dan Feyer litzed the puzzle and you can get it here (the .puz file doesn’t include the solution so you’re on your own there).