Illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo
A database created by a software architect has aloft questions over whether old New York Times crossword puzzles were affected in added publications. ... “There was no way to clue this before,” [Times crossword editor Will Shortz] said. “This is article new.”—New York Times, March 5, 2016
A clandestine eye never goes attractive for a coquette fatale, but an 11-letter chat for “seductress” had aloof absolved into my office, and she had legs on her that went all the way from 14 beyond to 61 down.
“You’re the crossword detective?” she asked, analytical the affected and completed puzzles on the walls. The Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Saturday copy of the New York Times—I’d apparent them all.
“I’m a sleuth, a shamus,” I told her. “Both those words fit.” I went afterwards a specialized blazon of criminal, the lowlifes of the addle world—the definition-Googlers, the answer-looker-uppers, the pencil-it-in-first-ers. It was a boxy job, abnormally on weekends.
She looked me over like a retiree eyeing a half-completed Wednesday puzzle: disappointed, yet still intrigued. Finally, she said, “I accepted addition a little added square.”
“Not everything’s atramentous and white like the crosswords, doll,” I replied. “Now let’s cut to the chase: You’re attractive for answers.”
She told me she formed for a big-circulation general-interest newspaper, what best bodies would accede a three-letter chat for “piece of old cloth.” Their crossword editor was in some hot water—and we’re not talking about a seven-letter chat for “whirlpool bath.” Seems this adolescent may accept adopted a few too abounding grids from added papers, and now things were alloyed up worse than the Jumble. This editor had gone missing—and aloof like tomorrow’s paper, if I couldn’t acquisition him, they had no clues.
It was a complicated case, but that didn’t anguish me. Like always, I’d alpha at the top larboard bend and assignment my way down.
“Things could get ugly,” she warned me. “But anticipation by that samurai brand on your desk, you can handle yourself.”
I adapted her. “It’s a ‘fencing blade.’ Four letters.”
I fabricated her assurance the accepted contract—in pen, of course.
Looking aback now, I apprehend that sometimes there’s added than one appropriate answer, like that cheating New York Times crossword that could be apparent with either CLINTON or BOB DOLE. I should accept accepted that SIREN isn’t aloof a five-letter chat for “seductress.” It’s additionally a five-letter chat for “alarm.”
I ample my old accomplice ability be able to help. Saul gave up the crossword bold years ago for a adequate gig alive “spot the difference” cases, but his apperception was still sharp. Or so I thought. Back I absolved into his office, he was on me like an EMU in an abecedarian constructor’s puzzle. “See annihilation altered from the aftermost time you were here, Jake?” he asked.
Off the top of my head, I noticed three changes, but I told him I didn’t accept time for his little games.
“Know annihilation about this crossword appropriation case?” I asked, casting two puzzles on his desk, one from beforehand this week, the added from over a decade ago. Saul ran them through his database and anon begin the similarities. But attractive at the adamantine copies, he spotted article else.
“This new crossword ain’t copied,” he said, analytical the card adjoin the light. “It’s a counterfeit.”
The docks on the Lower East Side aren’t the affectionate of abode you’ll acquisition acclaimed puzzle-solvers. Sure, there’s a arch or two here, aloof not the affectionate Omar Sharif wrote about. But my antecedent at the mahjong tables in Columbus Park had some advice on a addition of knockoff sudokus advancing in from Hong Kong, and I had a activity our junk-peddling editor ability try to block a ride to assurance on a four-letter Chinese boat.
I trusted my source, but I never could abdomen lath games. Too abounding affective parts. Too abounding things that could go wrong. Doesn’t amount if it’s Monopoly, Battleship, Stratego, or the bold of all-around domination—they’re all four-letter words for “danger.”
I waited on a bench, ambuscade my face abaft an opened newspaper. It was addition risk: In all the excitement, I hadn’t yet accomplished that day’s crossword. I approved to focus on the case, but my eyes kept abnormality down, bottomward ... 17 bottomward ... “Ship’s admonishing device” ... seven letters, starting with …
Just then, a low, abysmal bang woke me from my reveries. And aloof as a tugboat emerged from the gloom, I saw her—the aforementioned amazon who beatific me out on this high-stakes chat search. She was antagonism bottomward the waterfront, cutting a trenchcoat and a fedora pulled low over her eyes. I knew from years of rifling through the appearance area attractive for crosswords that this wasn’t a new fashion—it was a disguise!
She spotted me and ran off against Canal Street. And like a dog block a paperboy, I followed. Even today I couldn’t acquaint you why. Maybe it was because I didn’t appetite this cardboard baby to get any added torn, or maybe it was because she looked like the albino in the Beetle Bailey strips my mother acclimated to apprehend me. If you’ve got the time, pal, arena that five-letter Austrian doc and acquaint me my diagnosis.
I bent up to her and spun her around, not alive whether I capital to kiss her or bang her, although I was appealing abiding the chat had four letters. And again my apple went chaotic faster than Dan Feyer finishes a Highlights puzzle. It wasn’t my applicant at all—it was a papier-mâché copy cutting a albino wig!
I’ll admit, this was an awkward aberration for a ankle of my ability to make. But I’m alone an able at crosswords. Saul’s the guy who spots the differences.
By the time I fabricated it aback to the docks, the baiter was continued gone, and all that was larboard of the counterfeits was a half-torn sudoku so base that all the 1s were absolutely I’s. Not surprisingly, it didn’t add up …
At atomic the amazon wasn’t involved, I anticipation to myself. And that’s back it hit me. I ran the 36 blocks bottomward and beyond to my office, pulled the arrangement from my filing cabinet, and looked at her name.
It was appropriate there, in atramentous ballpoint. Sue. Sue Doku.
All these puzzles and games, and it turns out I was the one accepting played.