I added the collection to my Christmas wish list (it was December and my mother has spent years drumming it into me that you never buy yourself anything in that month). Then, I counted down the days to the 25th, hoping someone would get it for me.
Someone did. (Thank you again to my brother- and sister-in-law!) But when I tore into my newly acquired gift, I discovered something even more wonderful than I’d expected: a novel puzzle format. Unlike what I’m used to seeing in the Saturday Globe and Mail, the puzzles published in The New Yorker have no blank spaces; every square is home to a letter.
In this interview with The Nation, Fraser Simpson explained that although the magazine originally wanted a full-on variety puzzle, space constraints pushed the puzzle’s space allowance to a single column. Rather than give up on the project, as Will Shortz, his partner, thought they might be forced to do, Simpson devised an 8 x 10 grid. “The unusual size turned out to be a gem,” Simpson is quoted as saying.
I shouldn’t be surprised: plenty of writers have described how a shorter supply of time sharpened their focus. Alice Munro, my favourite Nobel prize winner, wrote while her children napped. Cryptic crossword aficionado and mystery writer Howard Shrier, at work on his first novel, would often get up “at four or five in the morning to get in a few hours before the kids woke up.”
Simpson’s constraints were temporary, and mine will be too. But until life opens back up again, I’m choosing to view the challenge as a gift.
What about you?
Have you ever had to do more with less, and found yourself amazed by the results?