CTS #23: The Metamorphic Varieties

There are more than two directions in the world, you know. The Vector Three has already reminded us of that. But while Vector Threes link letters find unusual connections among letters that are still organized in a traditional configuration, metamorphic crosswords change the configuration of every word in the puzzle.

Such puzzles generally must contain clear instructions about which directions answers may travel in. And the number of shapes that a crossword matrix can take is nearly infinite. Still, it’s worth dwelling a bit on the most popular forms. These are all really the territory of the aficionado at present, but you never know. One of them might rise up to challenge the square one day. One of them, which might surprise you by its presence in this section, definitely has a following all its own.

Rows Garden. Some answers read across the rows of letters, with no clear demarcation between answers. Other six-letter answers read in either clockwise or counterclockwise fashion, beginning at any point within each of the colored hexagons that compose the grid, one answer to a hexagon. This example, by Andrew J. Ries (who does them fairly regularly on his site) should illustrate the point. Note that the hexagons’ contents were given clues that were assigned a color value, but not a specific number:

My sole published puzzle in Games Magazine used a genre called the “beehive,” which used a similar hexagonal grid, but featuring only six-letter words in any possible hexagonal configuration. Each hexagon overlapped at least two others, and the interior ones overlapped six. Also unlike the rows garden, but like the traditional crossword, the beehive’s clues were numbered rather than classified by shade (with the numbers placed in the center point where each set of six pieces met). I also remember titling the puzzle “O, Beehive” because every clue started with the letter O, and thinking that this was more clever than the entirety of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. I don’t think I’ve actually changed that much.

Snake Charmer. Answers are laid end to end in a chain that works its way clockwise around the outline of an S-shape. Beginnings of answers are clearly marked. The “crossing” comes from the fact that the chain overlaps its own path, making two laps in that clockwise direction before finishing up.

Check out this example from Patrick Berry and Mike Shenk, which I’ve solved for you just because I needed an extra paragraph to keep this layout even.

1. RODIN 2. CASH AND CARRY 3. DERVISH 4. NUPRIN 5. TRUNCATE 6. RINGTONE 7. O’CONNOR 8. MALI 9. ZEALANDERS 10. HOWITZER 11. GOSLINGS 12. HOT ROD 13. INCAS 14. HANDCAR 15. RYDER 16. VISHNU 17. PRINT RUN 18. CATERING TO 19. NEOCON 20. NORMALIZE 21. ALAN DERSHOWITZ 22. ERGO 23. SLINGSHOT[ROD]

Spiral. The letters are arranged in a concentric spiral, with answers reading on an inward and outward path and no clear demarcation between answers in either direction. Our example of this one comes from Will Shortz himself. Admit it, once or twice you entertained the thought that he was just a guy who hid behind lots of other talented guys, didn’t you? Didn’t you? Don’t worry. We all did.

MAD, STOPPAGE, DARTMOOR, DUMDUM, A LA MODE, PROTRACT, ALFRED NOBEL, LIVRE, MOSLEM, MARTYR, LEVERAGED, OBESE, NAVAJOS, TUNDRA, WALES… SELA WARD, NUTSO, JAVANESE, BODEGA, REVELRY, TRAMMEL, SOMERVILLE, BONDER, FLAT CAR, TORPEDO, MALAMUD, MUD ROOM, TRADE GAP, POTSDAM.

Marching Bands. Some answers read across the rows of letters, others read clockwise from the top left of the concentric “bands” that compose the grid. There is no clear demarcation between answers in either direction. Here, have a Brendan Emmett Quigley:

PATELLA / P B AND J, SENTRA / PRESIDE, MELANIN / ACCRUE, ANSWER / NERDIER, JARED / IMPLODES, CLEMSON / CEPEDA, IPHONE / ESPRIT, FATHER / OMELETS, FEATHER / EVER SO, ASMARA / DARRELL, RUSSA / MAGNOLIA, TANK CAR / TEENER, DEMANDED / DUBAI — PATEL, LAP BAND, JEERS AT, SOLARIA, BUDDED, NAMED, TRAFFIC JAMS / ENTRAP, RESIDUE, EDITS, LIENEE, TRACK, NAUSEA, PLANE / LA NINA, C C RIDER, ERELONG, AMASS, MATHERS / WERNER, DOPPLER RADAR, AT HOME / DIMPLE, SEVERE, HENS / ONCE MORE

Circular crosswords have been around in some form since 1924 (see comments), but they haven’t gained enough traction for a firm set of rules to be built around them. Answers could go clockwise, counterclockwise, toward the radius, away from the radius… any two of those directions. They could include uncrossed squares or none, and arc-sections toward the center of the crossword could represent part of more than one word, or not.

Petal pushers, on the other hand, have a clear clockwise-counterclockwise relationship. This handsome bloomer, another Will Shortz creation, includes the words TINY TIM, TOPIARY, CAPTORS, PARFAIT, CANVASS, SOLVENT, CAUSING, CAREENS, MESSIAS, TANGIER, CONCHES, CIRCLED, PANTHER, MUSCLES, HURTFUL and HOT IRON clockwise, and TORCHES, TITTLED, CONIFER, PAPYRUS, CAPITOL, SARTAIN, CONFORM, CAVALRY, MAUVAIS, TERSEST, CASEINS, CONSENT, PINGING, MARCIAS, HUNCHES and HUSTLER counterclockwise.

There’s also the stacked grid. Multiple grids are “stacked,” adding a z-axis to the x-axis of “Across” and the y-axis of “Down.” Only a few labeled “columns” within the stacked grids are read along the z-axis. Recently, Tribune Media published a “3D Crossword” edited by Ben Tausig, with select z-axis clues and answers connecting three two-dimensional grids. (However, it doesn’t seem to be listed among their current repertoire of puzzles, and may not have caught on.)

Occasionally I’ve seen an attempt at a cubic crossword, with the grid either an actual cube or a two-dimensional rendition of a cube, with three visible “sides.” The latter type is much easier to construct and solve. In both cases, the answers read across the cube’s surface, whereas in stacked crosswords they travel through its body.

Any shape you can think of, really, so long as every letter is part of at least two words. But the most complex “shape” you can think of often isn’t considered in geometric terms at all. It’s the acrostic.

The first part of an acrostic is a set of lettered clues, each of which has numbered blanks representing all the letters of the answer. The second part is a long series of numbered blanks and spaces, representing a quotation or other text, into which the answers for the clues fit. Sometimes an acrostic’s clues will spell out the name of the quote’s author and/or the work it’s taken from, Moriarty-fashion, but you can’t count on that or anything.

If you’re a constructor, you also can’t count on a lot of help putting these varieties of puzzle together. Tausig’s stacked crosswords are relatively easy to make with Crossword Compiler (you just have to pre-build the “through” clues). And Quigley has cited an acrostic-making app made by Mike Shenk, but it doesn’t seem to be available to the general public. And cubics, spirals, snake charmers, beehives, rows gardens and marching bands? None of those types seem to have any programs designed for them.

(If I’m wrong about this, ambitious programmers– or hey, even their devoted fans– may correct me in the comments as usual. I love finding out about tools to aid construction! It lets me do more things! And Mr. Shenk, this includes you and the fine folks at Puzzability… sorry for not inquiring personally before putting out this article, but I didn’t think about it until the deadline was knocking on my door.)

Metamorphic configurations, like the standard crossword grid, seem like they were designed by aliens until you get used to them, and then everything is fine, and you’re ready to welcome your new snake master overlords. Still, with the possible exception of the acrostic, these more unfamiliar forms inspire their constructors to use longer words on average, the better to encourage smooth, easy matching. Constructors also tend not to get too scrabbly with the fill, perhaps compensating for the more unfamiliar territory. In all the examples above, only one puzzle features any Zs, only one has any Js, and none have any Qs or Xs.

Still, as puzzling moves to a more digital, more game-centered, more visual model, the metamorphic’s future looks to be bright in the coming years. Assuming this “Internet” thing sticks around. And assuming the Mayapocalypse doesn’t get us.

Next week: What your fifth-grader knows about crosswords that you don’t.

About T Campbell

T Campbell is a crossword constructor and comics scriptwriter. Among his cruciverbal accomplishments are the Ubercross C-Spot (the largest puzzle to follow New York Times standard rules), Crossworlds, a collection of 50 science-fiction-themed puzzles, and the forthcoming On Crosswords: Callin' Out Them Squares.
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14 Responses to CTS #23: The Metamorphic Varieties

  1. donald says:

    I do recognize my own calligraphy…

  2. T Campbell says:

    If you want a credit, Donald, I’m happy to edit one in: I thought about it when putting this together, but couldn’t find a last name on your site. (People’s attitudes about their online anonymity are sometimes unpredictable, making the assignation of credit difficult in cases like these.)

  3. pannonica says:

    Will Shortz’s Petal Pushers are another notable variant in this category, but I suppose you had to stop somewhere!

  4. donald says:

    With my handwriting, would I want a credit (smile)!

  5. T Campbell says:

    Pannonica… aw, DANG, not PETAL pushers! No, I pretty much have to include those, but that won’t be a quick fix. I’ll have to do it later this week– I’ll make a quick announcement when it’s done.

  6. You missed my Q in ANYQUESTIONS! Tsk tsk…

    Seriously, though, I’m flattered that you would use one of my puzzles as the example for the Rows Garden format. It should be mentioned that Patrick Berry invented it about 20 years ago, and remains the foremost practitioner of the lovely format.

    You’re right about the lack of computer assistance on these forms. I can attest to Rows Gardens, because my construction process of those consists of printing off blank grids and filling them in top to bottom in pencil. This isn’t that unusual for me, though — I’m a hold out for using any type of crossword construction program, and have three standard crossword books published without digital assistance. Not knocking computers at all here — excellent puzzles are published each day that are assisted by Crossword Compiler and other programs. I guess I just love the manual pursuit of filling the grid!

  7. HH says:

    “…Will Shortz himself. Admit it, once or twice you entertained the thought that he was just a guy who hid behind lots of other talented guys, didn’t you? Didn’t you? Don’t worry. We all did.”

    I always did.

  8. pannonica says:

    He’s such a poseur. How he got a degree in Enigmatology is a mystery to me.

    I often entertain thoughts as to what’s really behind his moustache.

  9. Howard B says:

    All interesting types – thank you for posting, and hopefully exposing a few types of puzzles that don’t always get their due. They are works of art as well as fun puzzles.

    @pannonica: Rumor has it that behind the mustache is… another mustache. The man is full of puzzles, I tell you.

  10. Martin says:

    Thanks, Amy for this exploration of puzzles.

    Martin

  11. Martin says:

    My prior comment should read:

    Thanks, Amy for this exploration of puzzles.

    Martin S.

  12. Todd G says:

    Another type of crossword you didn’t mention is the circular crossword, where the grid is a circle instead of a square, and instead of answers going across and down they go circumferentially (around one of the concentric rings) and radially (toward or away from the center). Here is an example:

    http://www.roqa.co.uk/html/kreuzwort_im_rad.html

    I asked Will (aka The Poseur) about this, he said the earliest example he knows of is Foster’s Circle-Word Puzzles, published in 1924!

  13. T Campbell says:

    A quick update for those who are following Callin’ Them Squares– I’m using the comments section this time because I don’t want to hog an article’s space for this.

    No update this week, I’m afraid. I know, I know, this is getting a bit erratic. But: I’m going to Lollapuzzoola, have seen a big development on the Ubercross C-Spot (we are now 87% of the way to our goal! EIGHTY-SEVEN PERCENT!) and am in the midst of editing Crossworlds: Puzzles For The Sci-Fi Lover.

    The series has three chapters to go, and I’m still committed to finishing them in the remaining three weeks in August. But people have also alerted me to some revisions I need to make to the LAST couple of chapters, revisions which will also be droppin’ next Saturday.

    Thanks for your patience with me. It won’t be long now before we’ve called ALL the squares worth callin’.

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