Note from Amy: T Campbell, the guy who constructed the Ubercross “Fiddy” 50×50 crossword, has been doing a lot of thinking about crossword themes, coming up with labels and definitions for all sorts of themes. T is breaking up his treatise into digestible pieces and will post them at Diary of a Crossword Fiend on Saturdays. Please join in and we’ll work towards a clearer understanding of theme varieties. Take it away, T!
How many kinds of crosswords are there?
It’s a simple-seeming question, but the answer gets harder the more you think it over. Amy Reynaldo and other crossword bloggers keep mentioning “this or that kind of theme” and explaining as needed how they define the “kind” in question.
But how broad or narrow is the “kind?” What if the “kind” of theme is so narrow as to only appear twice in ten years? What if it’s so broad that it appears somewhere every few days?
What are the most useful ways to define a “kind,” and what can we say about each “kind” that can lead to better crosswords?
Because I think clear language does help us toward that goal. We constructors have evolved slang like “fill” and “unchecked” to help us do our jobs, but many species of crossword have never had official names before, and they have never been mapped in relation to one another. So let’s put on our taxonomist hats and give that a whirl!
(This’ll be an interactive exercise, so while I’ll post my own ideas first, I may revise as I go based on your responses. It’s not a democracy, though… you’ll have to talk me into it.)
Some overlap between “kinds” is inevitable. This ain’t biology, where you can define each species by who has sex with who. (Crosswords, as far as I am aware, do not have sex with each other, not even when I close the puzzle book and leave it in the dark for hours.) Still, I do think it’s useful to borrow biology’s “division tree” structure. In my view, there are classes, categories and subcategories of crosswords, and like in biology, the classes divide into categories, and the categories (sometimes) into subcategories.
I define six broad classes of crossword: the themeless, the fact-finder, the wordplayer, the run-on, the trickster and the mutant. What do all these names mean? I’ll start telling you next week. In the meantime, post your best guesses in the comments!