Twice before, I have written about crossword puzzles on Epinions. Once, long ago, I wrote about the Guardian puzzle. More recently, I wrote about the New York Times puzzle, and I even managed to re-use the same bad jokes. After all, being ecologically minded, it is only natural to recycle. However, during all those years, I have never used a crossword puzzle dictionary. When help was required, I relied on my old Pocket Oxford English Dictionary from my schooldays for English words, or my Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary for American. I have always considered a crossword puzzle dictionary to be cheating.
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Now I am sure it will come as a big shock to everyone to know that I am not that unique. In personality, intelligence and many other ways, I am a lot like my Aunt back in England, my mother's older sister. I have always been much more like her than any other family member, including my parents. So, it should come as no surprise that my 80-something Aunt also loves to do crossword puzzles.
Once she learned that I was doing New York Times puzzles, I started to hear a lot about how few puzzles she could get now she could not get to the stores and so on. It was only a matter of time before I sent her a book of Times Puzzles -- with the answers removed of course. She mirrors my tendency for cheating and lack of self control. Despite their difference from English style puzzles, my Aunt likes them and enjoys doing them. However, she had three problems: her old dictionary is falling apart; American spelling; and no Internet access.
This posed an interesting problem. For an everyday dictionary, she would have to buy one in England, since American spelling was of no use to her. To help with the Times puzzles, I would have to send her an American dictionary of some sort. However, Times puzzles are full of American slang, place names, people who are well known in the USA but not necessarily abroad, and common foreign words. When I run into Americana that I don't know, I can usually do a quick Internet search. My Aunt can not do that. After discussing it with her, it seemed that New York Times Crossword Puzzle Dictionary was our best choice.
The New York Times Crossword Puzzle Dictionary is a small, extremely fat paperback that contains a few pages of prefaces and 1457 pages of words: no definitions, no meanings, just words. All the words are in capital case. For example, the entry for Great looks a bit like this:
GREAT BAD BIG FAR FAT FIT OLD RAD BARO COOL DEEP DREE FELL FINE GONE GURT HUGE KEEN MAIN MUCH RIAL SOME TALL UNCO VAST VILE AMPLE BURRA CHIEF DANDY FELON GRAND LARGE MEKIL STOUR SUPER SWEET SWELL TOUGH YEDER FIERCE GAPING HEROIC MICKLE NATION STRONG SUPERB CAPITAL EMINENT EXTREME GALLOWS HOWLING IMMENSE INTENSE STAVING TITANIC VIOLENT VOLUMED ALMIGHTY CRACKLING ELEVATED ENORMOUS FAVORITE GALACTIC GALAXIAN GIGANTIC HORRIBLE INFINITE PRECIOUS TERRIFIC MONSTROUS MAGNIFICENT
The main word, in this case GREAT is in larger type as well as in bold, but because of Epinions limitations, I cannot show that here. As you can see, the words are arranged alphabetically within length. Both foreign and obscure uses are mixed right in. This is not just a dictionary of synonyms. The words are arranged in two columns per page, and each new letter starts a new page. White space is minimal, but the block letters and choice of type face makes it quite easy to read. I have no trouble with my glasses on.
This book is currently in its third edition, and the prefaces to all three versions are included. These not only explain the contents of the book, but also give a history of how it developed. For example, the first prefix explains why synonyms longer than 8 letters are rarely included, how gray boxes are used to enclose blocks of geographical information, and how the list of people included was created. It also shows how not just words but common phrases have entries using the phrase "turn aside" as an example.
In the second preface, it talks about how it added tons of literary references, mythological information, and expanded the list of people, adding 100,000 new words. The third preface, it further updates the people lists, and brings geographical information up to date. Also new with the third edition is the addition of phrases, which are written just as they would be in the puzzle. So, for example, under the word SUCCEED you will find MAKEIT (make it). It also includes common word pairs like YIN and YANG. All this stuff makes perfect sense to people that regularly do the puzzles.
While I have only had this book in my possession a few days, and it is soon to be wrapped for the US Mail, it is clear from my long association with puzzles, how easy it is to find information in this book, and how useful it will be. For $7.99 it is great value. Pretty soon I am going to be the one calling up to ask the name of a Brazilian river (APA, ICO, DOCE, GEIO, IVAI, JARI...)
However, I do have reservations. This is a VERY fat paperback. Because of its nature, it will be opened a lot, and probably held wide open as someone copies a word. It is bound to end up with pencils, erasers and other temporary bookmarks stuffed in the pages. In short, the spine on this book is bound to break. It is simply not robust enough to withstand the usage over time, and it will fall apart. Heavy users are going to be replacing this every few years. That may not necessarily be a bad thing. The first edition was in 1974, the second in 1984 and this one is from 1995. A new edition is overdue anyway, although sadly, this will be the last edition by Clare and Tom.
For ease of use and completeness, I give New York Times Crossword Puzzle Dictionary five stars, but I am forced to subtract a star from this paperback edition, for its lack of robustness.
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The New Comprehensive A-Z Crossword Dictionary by Edy G. Schaffer is the main competitor to New York Times Crossword Puzzle Dictionary. Readers of other review sites may notice a sizable number of 2 star reviews on the Times book, all of which mention the A-Z by name. This rating is ridiculous. It is pretty clear that those reviews were manufactured.
I looked at both of them in the store. They are similar in size and shape, and they are both very good in content. The A-Z adds the number of letters in bold parentheses in the listings, making it slightly easier to look up only 5 letter synonyms and it is about 50 cents cheaper, while the NY Times version has a lot more words. I am sure they both work beautifully. The deciding factor for me was readability. For my old eyes, the NY Times was simply easier to read.
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New York Times Crossword Puzzle Dictionary
by Tom Pulliam and Clare Grundman
Paperback: 1472 pages
Publisher: Random House Puzzles & Games; 3rd edition (January 19, 1999)
Language: American English
Size: 6.9 x 4.5 x 2.1 inches
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