I just finsihed Marc Romano's new book, Crossworld: one man's journey into America's crossword obsession
. I had great expectations for this book, as I was hoping it would do for crosswords, what Mark Fatsis' Word Freaks
did to Scrabble. I suspect the sphere for these two books overlap considerably. However, Crossworld is not as exhilarant and enlightening, and while some of this faults on the inherent nature of crossword puzzles, I found the onus on the author's emphasis in the book.
The crossword puzzle tournament takes place over a weekend, as opposed to Fatsis' yearlong pursuit. Romano doesn't interact with as many characters as one would hope. The most exciting parts of the book came from quirky oddballs like Brendan Emmet Quigley and Will Shortz, as well as other puzzle constructors and competitors. However, their appearances were scant mainly because of the authors focus on his own experience. Since crossword is a solitary pursuit, where you compete with a passive constructor, all the thought process dwells in your own mind, and no one else is involved. This I found was the problem with the book, and Romano details a lot of his own thought process and experience of the experiment, from the side effects of taking calming drugs, to checking out females at the tournament, to his falling ill after the tournament. This kind of details and detours make the book more autobiographical than journalistic, and I found this to be both annoying and detracting from crosswords.
I was hoping for more insight to what kind of quirky people would construct puzzles, would do them and would attend this tournament specifically just for puzzling, but the insights on this were minimal. Another source of thrill for me was when Romano describes crossword puzzles, such as their themes and such. But since fewer than 10 puzzles are featured over the tournament, this thrill was also in short supply.
I also found Romano's musing about cultural differences between crosswords and their british counterpart (cryptic crossword) a bit lofty and circumloquatious. He takes a few sub chapters describing possible causes to this divergence, and only a few paragraphs in describing the actual differences. I am also very impressed by the vocabulary of this book, as well as the multitude of cultural allusions, making this a delight to the avid crossword solver. However, the authors style is both intellectual and distracting from the subject at hand, as I felt that too many tangetial comments were made for humorous effect. In short, I felt the emphasis on this book was slightly misplaced, and by making the author the main focus, it gives him ample space to amble on about himself and gives the reader the distracting thought that he's really padding out a shorter book.