The crossword constructor Aimee Lucido talks with Liz Maynes-Aminzade about the art of puzzle-making.
“What’s your full-length crossword answer?” might be the introvert’s “What’s your karaoke song?” These are the words that span all the spaces in a crossword-puzzle lattice, a chance for solvers to revel in their skills and creators to show off their personality. The crossword constructor Aimee Lucido tells Liz Maynes-Aminzade, in the above video, that a puzzle’s long answers are like its “anchors.” “Stars of the show,” Maynes-Aminzade says. “That you build the puzzle around,” Lucido agrees. It’s nice to know that makers and solvers alike appreciate the importance of those multisyllabic divas, which help determine the puzzle’s character. I see them as odalisques reclining across the grid, decked in exotica like “Z”s and “J”s. When I contemplate the idea of making my own crossword puzzles, something I haven’t done since I was a kid, I mostly just fantasize about the long solutions I’d use. Here’s one. The clue is “definition.” Eleven letters. (The standard adult puzzle takes fifteen, but I started small.) You’re primed, because of what you’re doing, to think about dictionaries. Maybe you guess “description”; maybe you reflect on the crossword-puzzle designer’s meta project of providing descriptions and definitions that lead a solver both toward and away from the chosen term. But ha! The answer is MUSCULATURE. (Screw language, says the language teaser that you have embarked upon. Ogle some abdominals.)
And yet: Isn’t MUSCULATURE a pretty noun? It is so physical, rippling and curving like the thing it denotes. I sometimes feel antagonistic toward words after trying to write. Probably, I think, the gooey bromides about language’s INHERENT and UNTRAMMELLED beauty are FULLOFIT. The crossword grid is a fine place in which to renew one’s vows with English. I mostly solve on the weekends; it’s fun to encounter the tools of my trade when they’re off-duty, too, lounging on a big square. Back in the office, I’ll sometimes frame a sentence around a piece of vocabulary in the same way Lucido says she does with a puzzle. (I remember, suddenly, that one of the first Facebook groups I ever joined was called “I Will Go Slightly Out of My Way to Step on That Crunchy Looking Leaf.”) This seems, it must be said, more conducive to good crossword construction than it is to good writing. But isn’t deploying a fun word exactly like stomping the best leaf on the sidewalk?