Serious Scrabble is not everyone's cup of tea, especially once you realize it has very little to do with words, their usage and meanings, and everything to do with memorization, anagramming, calculation and strategy. As much as I like Scrabble, I have to admit that it merely masquerades as a word game. When you get stuck with a bunch of A's and E's, or worse, all consonants, you wish you were playing in some other language.

The most serious contender for being called the king of word games, in any language, is - the crossword. For many, it is as much of a daily addiction as their cup of coffee in the morning. The meteoric rise of Sudoku puzzles seems to suggest that to the general population even crosswords are just too hard, and even elitist. To them and fellow word fanatics, I recommend Stanley Newman's book - Cruciverbalism. Somewhere along the way, the few rules about crosswords have been obscured from sight. It was a surprise for me to learn the unwritten rule about daily crosswords - they progress in difficulty with the day of the week. So, starting your crossword career on a Saturday might not be a great idea. One of the few pleasant things about Monday is that the crossword is the easiest.

The short book is wittily written and explains the hidden rules of the grid, history of the crossword, and tips on getting better. Enough to get you hooked, provided you start on a Monday. The only feature of the usually ludicrous campus rag, The Michigan Daily, that never lets its readers down is their crossword. As is the case with many newspapers, a large chunk of their readership is attracted by the crossword. Despite their importance crosswords are treated like step-children and are always tucked away in a corner within the folds of the newspaper. Newman argues on behalf of the constructors who spend hours constructing puzzles that aim to tickle and tease readers only to end up as no-name nobodies who don't even merit a byline on the page. It is interesting to note that the most prolific constructors of crosswords are guests of the state. Apparently, felons are among the few who have the time to spend hours and days working on the possibility of a $50 reward.
Passionately making his case Newman says:

"I saw nuances in language, I'd never appreciated before, I savored witticisms that I might have not understood in the past, and I become adept at considering information from a multitude of angles, identifying possibilities and patterns with ease..."

It was a little disappointing to find that the book hardly mentions cryptic crosswords. When crosswords crossed the Atlantic the Brits found them to be too boring and spiced them up by inventing cryptic crosswords. If crosswords are addictive, cryptic crosswords are doubly so (once you get a hang of the idea). The Hindu, which rather magnanimously allows free access to their daily cryptic puzzle, is now a daily fixture till I rise to Guardian level standards.

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