How to strengthen your crossword-solving muscles — the Diana NYAD way

I first learned of Diana NYAD by solving crosswords.  For as long as I can remember, she’s been crossword’s only NYAD, clued as “long-distance swimmer” or “swimming great” or “swimming star.”

Not only is Diana Nyad a swimming star — she is a crossword star, simply because of the wordplay surrounding her name.  It’s downright eerie-sistible.  Check this out:

(a)  NAIAD (a homophone of NYAD) —  another crossword regular — is a Greek water nymph.

(b)  On Facebook, Frances Heaney noted that NAIAD anagrams into DIANA.  (Cue the dissonant organ chords …); I’d never noticed that!

(c)  Amy Reynaldo, also on Facebook, cited the NAIAD/NYAD connection as case of nominative determinism.

When Nyad achieved her Xtreme dream earlier this month, she’d been training for years.  15-hour practice swims and a mental playlist of 65 songs helped prepare for the historic Cuba-to-Florida swim.

There was pushback, to say the least.  Swimming against the Gulf Stream at 60 strokes per minute — NYAD dealt with dehydration, hypothermia, shoulder pain, fogged goggles and venomous box jellyfish. She completed the course, without a shark cage, in 53 hours.

Now, I think that — based on the wordplay alone, NYAD deserves to be in the crossword forever. But it’s her inspirational message and focus that speaks to me.  “We should never, ever give up” she says.  That’s great advice for everyone, especially those of us who want to improve our crossword-solving skills.

If we applied the same training to solving, consider these strategies: if you’re stumped by a clue, work through the puzzle by concentrating and re-reading the clues; or put the puzzle aside and come back to it with a refreshed outlook.  Make your brain work. Don’t rely on Google unless you’ve exhausted your cortex. Fog up your goggles, paddle through the brain cramps — 15-hour swims, remember?  We can train our brains to solve better.

In this 2011 Ted Talk, Diana Nyad talked about focus, commitment and achievement.  At the end of the talk, she vowed to achieve her dream.  She’s the consummate puzzle solver.  She never, ever gave up.

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Jim Horne’s Xwordinfo Launches “Constructor Notes”


This just in from the Crossword Nation newsroom …

We’ve received the following announcement from Jeff Chen — the excellent and creative New York Times puzzle constructor — who’s launching a new feature on Jim Horne’s already-feature-rich

Today launches new features! 

“Constructor Notes” will accompany some solution grids, giving commentary about the puzzle from the constructor him/herself. Additionally, “Will Shortz’s Notes” will occasionally give a tidbit of color from the Puzzlemaster himself. Finally, “Jeff’s Notes” will be added, giving technical commentary about the puzzle construction.

 We hope these Notes will show more of the human side behind the New York Times crossword. Here’s a link to today’s:

I hope you’ll check out “Constructor Notes,” and explore the many benefits Jim’s website offers to constructors and solvers.

BTW, my “Constructor Notes” will appear this weekend in conjunction with my New York Times crossword on Sunday, August 18.  I hope you’ll enjoy the puzzle.  Okay, then — see you there.  Congratulations, Jeff and Jim!

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Lollapuzzoola 6 Crossword Tourney — this Saturday in NYC!

Party Time

 This Saturday — August 10 — is your chance to reconnect with your Crossword Tribe.

The place:  Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

Throw on your seersucker TOGA and summer-weight BOA — then head on over to Lollapuzzoola for a full day of crossword tournament fun.  The atmosphere is relaxed and perfect for first-time tourney-ites.

Click here for tournament details and directions.  Enjoy!


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