The Riddles of the Sphinx

by Anna Shechtman

Sunday, June 9, 2024

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This book is subtitled “Inheriting the Feminist History of the Crossword Puzzle” which explains why Darren bought it for me for the birthday as by my count there are at least four Kirsty-will-like-this buzzwords in that (“Inheriting” is the only one that I’d take a pass on really). This is all about the American kind of crossword puzzles rather than British cryptics. I’ve always dismissed American puzzles as being far more about interlocking increasingly weird terms rather than interesting clues but this book tells me that I’ve underestimated them and at some point I should look again as there is definitely a lot more going on in some of them, I think I’ve probably only come across the American version of the UK’s “quick crossword” with no riddle or intrigue to it at all and haven’t looked further.

Muddled up (and I mean that in the nice sense) with the stories of various women who made American crosswords what they are is the authors own experience as a young crossword compiler and a lot about how this interacts with her experience of being ill with anorexia. At first I found the eating disorder parts a bit hard to take and they also seemed entirely separate to the main thrust of the book. But after a while it all starts to make sense, they’re not separate threads but ones that tangle and intertwine. And I think anyone who has ever struggled with feeling they need to attain some kind of perfection (which is probably a lot of us female and male) will find a lot of familiar stories that we tell ourselves in here.

I now understand more not just about American crosswords, or about anorexia, a disease I’ve never really understood before, but about myself too. Some parts of the book are better than others but overall it’s definitely an interesting read.