Saturday, December 11, 2010

Fireball Crosswords

I've taken an interest in crossword puzzles over the past several years, or more accurately, focused my lifelong diffuse interest. By solving the New York Times crossword at first every Friday and Saturday, then nearly every day, and attending the last two American Crossword Puzzle Tournaments, I've gradually become immersed in a whole new lake.

Besides getting better at solving crosswords than I've ever been, I've also come to appreciate the lake's depth. Beyond the millions who solve the crossword in their daily newspaper, there are active communities of crossword constructors, daily blog readers, and listserv discussion groups, plus the thriving membership of the world's oldest surviving puzzle club (the National Puzzlers League, founded 1883).

Along the way I've met a lot of interesting people: crossword bloggers, newspaper and magazine puzzle editors, superstar solvers, and plenty of just plain folks like myself who happen to share this interest.

Take crossword constructor Peter Gordon.  Like many puzzle pros, he got his start at Games magazine as a young prodigy, and went on to work with Will Shortz at the New York Times. When a new daily paper called the New York Sun came along, Peter became its crossword editor.

He raised a lot of eyebrows and developed a hardcore following as he ambitiously, audaciously mounted the first serious challenge to the NYT in decades for crossword supremacy. Who won the battle? Everyone who likes quality crossword puzzles.

Unfortunately the Sun didn't make it, but hearing the outcry of his public, Peter kept its beloved puzzle going under the name Fireball Crosswords (get it?). It's now a subscription-based puzzle that Peter will email you 40 times a year for a nominal fee. I handed him a $10 bill at last year's national tournament and it was so worth it.

The Fireball puzzle isn't for everyone. As Peter says on the Fireball website, "The puzzles are hard. How hard? If you have to ask, too hard for you."

If you can finish or at least make a healthy dent in the Saturday New York Times crossword, you will enjoy the Fireball. If you run out of momentum by the middle of the week, or you prefer more casual crosswords like those in USA Today or TV Guide, this is not the puzzle for you.

I mention it now for two reasons. First, it's the holiday season, and if you know someone who likes tough crosswords, a 2011 Fireball subscription would make an excellent gift. Visit its website,, for subscription information.

You'll also find a number of puzzles Peter wrote and some interesting articles about the Sun puzzle, particularly a 2005 story from The Weekly Standard in which fellow constructor Matt Gaffney attempts to settle, in a methodical, systematic fashion, the then-raging debate over which puzzle, Sun or NYT, is best.

I also mention Peter because I recently contributed in a small way to one of his other current puzzle gigs, the weekly crossword at The Week magazine. At the end of every calendar year, Peter creates a year-in-review puzzle for The Week in which he summarizes the year's news headlines by anagramming the names of newsmakers in the grid. For example, if Jay Leno had been elected mayor of Los Angeles (God forbid), Peter might give the clue JAY LENO for the answer ENJOY LA.

Several weeks ago, Peter put out the call to his friends in the crossword community for puzzleworthy headline anagrams. I chipped in a few ideas and was gratified to learn the other day that from the dozens of entertaining suggestions he received, he chose three to use in the puzzle and one of them is mine (at 1-Across and 69-Across, no less). I've solved the finished puzzle and it's a lot of fun.

The Week's year-in-review puzzle won't be available for another month or so. To tide you over until then, you might get a kick out of this.

From Peter Gordon, a guy who writes some of the world's best crosswords, here's The World's Worst Crossword:


Peter Gordon said...

Sign-ups for the 2011 Fireball Crosswords won't be available until January 1.

To be sent a reminder, you can email me at and I'll put you on the mailing list.

--Peter Gordon

Elaine said...

That puzzle is hilarious. Until I enlarged it I couldn't see what made it the worst, but now....
But...what, no alphabet strings?

I just got my last Fireball puzzle for the year... Enjoyed most of them very much, but really what made them difficult was not clever cluing or wordplay, it was the plethora of rock music-related clues. I realize that for a lot of people (BEQ comes to mind) these are gimme-type entries...just not for me.

It's cool that Peter Gordon has found a way to market his work vs having to peddle his puzzles to various newspapers.