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How Puzzled Can You Get?

How to beat Bay Weekly cruciverbalist Ben Tausig

I’m no Bill Clinton.    
    The 42nd president of the United States gets no competition on crosswords from my family. Even working together, husband Bill Lambrecht and I can’t approach Clinton’s unofficial record for finishing the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle in less than an hour.
    Instead, we typically spend the week meandering through it, along with Will Shortz’s Washington Post Sunday Crossword and Ben Tausig’s Bay Weekly puzzler. We approach crosswords like a box of chocolates, sharing and making the pleasure last instead of eating it all at once.
    Most weeks we master one puzzle, sometimes two. Victory is triumphant and personal. Unpuzzling crosswords is a battle of wits. A good deal of the fun is grappling with the devious mind of an adversary who sets you the kind of Herculean task that’s supposed to beat you — or make you rise from everyday okay to your best.
    So when we solve one, we’ve defeated a wily opponent. (Self-servingly, we pretend that solving a puzzle is equal to creating one. In our deepest hearts, we know it’s not. Lambrecht made one once, for a magazine I edited, and still kicks himself for imperfections of symmetry.)
    So we crow, We’ve got you this week, Tausig … or Shortz … or New York Times, when we win. Then we sign and date the puzzle and file it away in 2013’s box of mementoes.
    As long as we win sometimes we’ll keep playing, even if we lose more. That’s because intermittent reinforcement is the most addictive reward. Surely, the next win is ours.
    If you never win, you quit, writhing in frustration.
    Some Bay Weekly readers say cruciverbalist Ben Tausig’s Bay Weekly puzzle is crucifying them.
    A while ago, there was an item in the paper that the crossword puzzle was to become more user friendly. Hah! If anything, it has become more inane than ever. I can usually finish any puzzle in any publication in the country. I’m lucky if I can get a tenth of the answers in Bay Weekly, writes Matt Talbert.
    Over the years, other readers have also begged for mercy.
    Has Tausig, who wins awards for puzzlement, gone round the bend?
    Ben, I wrote last week, you’d better tip the odds in our favor. The masochism of Bay Weekly unpuzzlers goes only so far.
    By return email, Tausig explained the method behind his madness:
    Ink Well, Tausig’s syndicate, does skew a tad younger than the New York Times and USA Today, but not radically so, he wrote.
    Solvers should expect to draw from a wide range of areas in solving a given puzzle, from conventional grammar to slang, movies and music, modern food and celebrity. All this is mixed with classical knowledge, including famous operas, classical composers and geography. We try to draw from all of those.
    Better still, he offered helpful hints:
    Meanwhile, if you’re ever stuck, Google should be able to help with just about any problem. It’s not cheating, either. You can try using Google for an answer here and there in a grid if you’re stuck. You might be surprised when the rest of the grid falls afterward — even the areas you thought you had no idea about.
    Crosswords are primarily about having confidence in yourself. Nearly everything is common knowledge, so if you put enough time in, you should be able to solve even a tricky puzzle.
    How much time has Clinton put in to ink in the New York Times puzzle in under an hour?
    In the documentary Wordplay, the former president revealed his secret. Find a thread you can grab onto, and go from there.
    Then, if you’ve still got a tangled web, seek help.
    Long before Google, there was the New York Times Crossword Dictionary. We’ve just found the inscribed one Lambrecht gave his mother Ada for Christmas in 1982. Between that book, our two brains and a couple of iPhones, we expect to raise our margin of victory.
    So thanks, Ben, for renewing our confidence.
    But could you give me a little help on No. 36. Across in this week’s puzzle, The Big Case: Feature shared by iPhones and ObamaCare, and what can found in 17-, 30-, 43-, and 59-Across?

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com