Rest in peace, Henry Hook

Merl Reagle, Henry Hook. (@ Nancy Shack)

Merl Reagle, Henry Hook. (@ Nancy Shack)

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). 

This entry was posted in Daily Puzzles and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

49 Responses to Rest in peace, Henry Hook

  1. Martin says:

    I had the privilege of meeting him at the ACPT in 1998. He was rattling off puns and one-liners like you wouldn’t believe. He was a true larger than life character, and one of the most talented puzzle constructors (of all kinds) that ever existed.

    I only just heard the news a few minutes ago. So soon after losing Merl Reagle too. I am shaken and saddened.

    And yes, the chapter in Matt Gaffney’s crossword book about HH, is well worth the read.


  2. aries says:

    Man, I wore out that Twisted Crosswords book back in the day. I think it was my introduction to a lot of variety formats. I especially loved the 3-D puzzles in that book (the grid was shaped like a cube) and I was frustrated that I could never find any more puzzles of that type.

    So sad that two titans have left us far too soon. Rest in peace, Henry and Merl.

  3. Matt Gaffney says:

    Henry was indeed larger than life, and I felt the same way as Amy about seeing his byline in GAMES in the 1980s. You saw it and felt a sense of excitement and perhaps dread as well. His “Hooked on Puzzles” series of the ’80s-’90s was a revelation for me.

    Rest in peace, Henry Hook.

  4. Evan says:

    I did not know Henry well personally, but I know he had a great imagination and that he helped shape a whole new generation of puzzle writers. In addition to his pioneering work with Games and cryptic crosswords, he apparently also co-created Something Different puzzles along with Merl. I absolutely love solving and writing Something Different puzzles, so I clearly owe both Henry and Merl a lot for that. May they both rest in peace.

  5. Martin says:

    There are a lot of brilliant people in the crossword business, but Henry already struck me as beyond brilliant. “Genius” is a controversial notion but in a world with many Haydns, Henry was a Beethoven.

    Blustery persona notwithstanding, Henry was kind and fair. He’d hate and deny that but we all knew better.

    This has been a very sad few months.

  6. David R says:

    My only interaction with HH was in this blog and in these comments. There were two contributors that I was particularly interested in reading what they had to say and now one of them is gone.

  7. Jamie says:

    My eyes always lit up when I say a HH comment here. I knew I was in for some perversely smart curmudgeonly snark, my favorite kind.

    Well done, HH. You broke all the rules.

  8. ktd says:

    Some of my earliest crossword-solving memories are of doing Henry Hook’s Boston Sunday Globe puzzles as a kid. If I’d ever had the chance to meet him I would’ve thanked him for helping get me interested in the world of crosswords. Very sorry to hear of his passing.

  9. Bencoe says:

    Dang. I will miss HH’s contribution to the commentary here, and his wonderful puzzles.

  10. Tony says:

    First Merl, now Henry.

    Never got the chance to meet him, but I loved his puzzles. I still have a few of his books that I am going through. I loved how he could take a simple crossword and make it something else altogether. Loved his cryptics, twisted puzzle series, and the History Mystery book where some of the answers went into a limerick to lead to the historical name. Quite possibly the first meta puzzles.

  11. Tony O. says:

    I met Henry a few years ago at ACPT and then again at a few Lollapuzzoolas – I also spoke to him on the phone for about an hour when he was in the hospital for his foot. As can happen when meeting one of the titans of a field you work in, I cannot remember many or maybe any details of our chats, as they were mostly eclipsed by my incessant inner monologue of “Crap! I’m talking to Henry Hook right now!” He was, as billed, super acerbic and snarky, but there was always a note of humor right there with it – certainly an impatience and probably even disgust for stupidity of whatever kind, but never outright meanness. Like Merl, Henry had a beautiful way of free associating about whatever topic was on the table – the playfulness they had around words, and their ability to highlight and lampoon the absurdity of life in the process, went way beyond any puzzles they may of created: the puzzles were a nice byproduct, to be sure, but not near enough to encapsulate these guys. I’m very lucky to have met them both.

  12. Steve Levy says:

    Another tragic loss. What a horrible few months. RIP.

    For Hook crossword fans, check out the puzzles “Competing Brands” and “Namesakes”, both of which he published at the Globe in 2002. Two really outstanding pieces of imagination. (Feel free to contact me if you have difficulty finding them.)

  13. Henry was one of my favorites as was Merle Reagle, who was also a personal friend.
    The Crossword World will miss both of them.

  14. renal failure says:

    Numerous studies prove new remedy to work lowering GFR in KIDNEY DISEASE individuals

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      I am editing out this spam comment’s links but leaving the comment up because it’s so wrong. If you “lower GFR,” you are reducing kidney function! This would be a terrible sort of “remedy.”

      • Kathy Barry says:

        I would like to have copies of those puzzles. Merl and Henry were two of the greats. I get the Globe and always looked forward to Henry’s puzzles.


  15. John Sholeen says:

    I too would like the classic HH puzzles; the Games era got me started with using my noggin to keep the brain young. Thank you

  16. Ernie in Berkeley says:

    I’d love to see those puzzles. Thanks so much.

  17. jack rawlins says:

    Amy, I would love copies of those two puzzles–thanks so much.

    In past years I used to have a regular puzzling session with my daughter. We would get together for 2-4 hours and do crosswords and cryptics. We would warm up with the lesser giants and minor gods; then, when our brains were humming, we would pull out Henry–to quote Trevanian, “the final experience.” We knew we would be delighted, challenged, outraged, and taken to wonderful and strange places. God bless you, Henry Hook.

  18. RPardoe says:

    Yes, please. Would like to see the 2 Hook puzzles.

  19. pj says:

    Would appreciate the puzzles, Amy. Thanks for a fitting tribute to HH.

  20. Dave Gill says:

    Please –

    Folks, if you’d like .puz files of those two Hook classics, leave a comment and use your real email address in the comments form—I’m able to view the email address and can forward the puzzles to you. Note: The solution is not part of the file, so the software won’t tell you if your solution is right.

  21. Icdogg says:

    I would love to try these puzzles.Thanks!

  22. Chuck says:

    I would appreciate the HH puzzles. Thanks.

  23. Bill says:

    At one time I equated Henry and Merl, but later I realized they each had their own pantheon.

    I remember plowing through each Hooked on Puzzles as it came out. Wow.

    I probably did the two puzzles from the Globe, but please send them for one last hurrah.

  24. April says:

    I was saddened to hear of Henry’s death. We met at a National Puzzlers’ League convention in 1978 and became friends. He sort of had a crush on me, in fact. He taught me how to solve cryptic puzzles. Somewhere in my basement are puzzles he constructed for me. We stayed in touch briefly after his wife, Stephanie, died, when he pulled away from everyone. What I most remember about him was his quick wit. Weird thing: this summer I came across the first of a then-new series of puzzle books he was editing. He had sent me a copy, with a note apologizing for the errors and blaming the publisher for not letting him proofread. I haven’t solved puzzles for years, aside from those in the Sunday Globe, but felt drawn to work my way through this book. It had sat on a bookshelf for 30 years, but something drew me to it a few months ago. A pull of old friendships. RIP, HH.

  25. Gary Abrams says:

    Henry Hook was married to my sister,Stephanie Abrams-Hook,unfortunately I lost contact with Henry after her death,in 1992.I can tell you that he was a very interesting person to have at family functions etc.
    My favorite anecdote about Henry was when we watched Wheel of Fortune on TV,he would solve the puzzles with NO letters turned around..its very frustrating to me.

    • Amy Reynaldo says:

      Gary, I’m sorry you lost your sister so young.

      Great anecdote! I need at least some of the letters showing to figure out the answer on “Wheel.” Although it was probably easier 25 years ago, when they hadn’t run out of legitimate phrases to use. Their current phrases include a lot that are a real stretch.

      • Gary Abrams says:

        another anecdote was that he was turned down as a contestant on Jeopardy…I think it was because he had contacted them about a wrong answer or something to that effect

    • Gary Abrams says:

      my sister actually died in 1988…brain glitch on my part

Comments are closed.