Even More Puzzling

Speaking of puzzles, I also recently got to design and assemble a book of crossword puzzles from a certain weekly progressive newsmagazine. There wasn’t much to design, and what there was of it I cribbed from the magazine itself. Nor was there much to typeset, since after a not inconsiderable amount of wrangling we were able to get the Quark files from the magazine. But I did learn how crossword puzzles are set, or at least how these particular ones are: It’s a typeface.

That is, the magazine has its own crossword typeface (similar to this one), which includes black squares, empty squares, squares with tiny numbers in the corners, and squares containing letters. So each puzzle is just x lines of x characters each, where x is the number of squares across (assuming that your crossword is square—do crosswords have to be square? I don’t even know: puzzletard!).

It’s an elegant way to handle them, which surprised me. I’m so used to seeing semigraphical elements, such as tables or math, set in Quark using filthy, klugeous hacks, because Paste-up Was Plenty Good Enough For Us When Everything Was Rubyliths and Wax, that I expected these to be multiply grouped wads of EPS files with the type all converted to outlines, or some similar nonsense. Instead, converting eighty crosswords from one application to another was a very simple matter of copying the text out of Quark, pasting it into InDesign, and applying some paragraph styles.

Under this system, if you want to make all of your crosswords smaller or larger at once—for example, if you find that you need to fit only two solutions per page instead of six to make your page count—you can just change the “SOLUTIONS” stylesheet. I did this several times, but always by first scaling an existing puzzle, to make sure that I kept the relationship between font size and leading the same. Then I would update the stylesheet to match.

Can I solve any of these crosswords? Dunno.

Bonus: Despite being a puzzletard, I did very much enjoy Francis Heaney’s evisceration last fall of (the beginning, at least, of) Crossworld by Marc Romano. You may, too: parts 1, 2, 3, 4.

4 thoughts on “Even More Puzzling

  1. Chess diagrams are set the same way. There are chess typefaces that contains empty squares for the board, squares with different kinds of pieces and pawns on them, bits and pieces of the border around the board with and without coordinates, and so on. To change the style of your chess diagrams, you just swap in a different chess typeface. That’s the theory, anyway. In practice, it’s a bit more complicated because different faces tend to use different nonstandard encodings. But the technical people are working on getting that right…

  2. Makes sense.

    I was thinking the other day, after skimming Victor Gaultney’s paper Balancing typeface legibility and economy: Practical techniques for the type designer, about how much newspapers and magazines drive typeface design. They have clearly defined needs and the money to commission typefaces that meet them. Who else would come up with a chess typeface? Who else can afford to sponsor such an insanely large project as a whole new type family? (Insurance companies aren’t very reliable clients, it seems.)

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