Two quick positive Grammy thoughts: One, Herbie Hancock (see 24-Down) looks great at 68 years young. And, oh yeah, “Rockit” still rules 25 years later.
And two, congrats to Adele, whoever you are, for winning the “kiss of death” Best New Artist Grammy. You shall now live on in crossword infamy, occasionally replacing the old tired clue “Fred Astaire's sister.” Take a listen to her here. (Actually not a half bad song. Though I thought “pavement” meant “sidewalk,” as in the margin of a street designed for pedestrians. Is that ever pluralized? Aren't sidewalks the adjuncts that run up to the front doors of houses? What the hell does “Chasing Pavements” even mean? Did Pavement feel stupid that their name meant “sidewalk” in England? I need answers!) Anyway, welcome to the crossword club, Adele. Your vowel-heavy name is welcome here.
Adele, let me tell you. Your first crossword appearance as “2008 Best New Artist Grammy winner” will raise eyebrows as you'll be considered “too obscure.” But give them time. Eventually, you'll be one of the names we automatically fill in after reading a few words of the clue.
Some editors feel too many makes the puzzle very difficult -- you either know it or you don't. Any obscure name with a strange spelling essentially makes that entry essentially “unchecked” (that is to say, you're getting that one exclusively with the crossings). Another argument against the notion of excessive name-dropping is that puzzles should have a timeless quality to them. Here today gone tomorrow celebrities don't give it that eternal feel.
Should a puzzle be timeless? I say yes. But let me ask you: is it the puzzle itself, or is it the form that is timeless? Isn't the reason the crossword is still so popular and timeless because of its durability? I think the popularity and “timelessness” stems from the continued innovation of puzzlemakers. Take for instance, in the late 70s, the New Wave of constructors led by Will Shortz, Merl Reagle and Henry Hook, dragged puzzling into the modern era by deemphasizing obscure words for obscurity's sake, ramping up humor, and introducing the previously verboten brand names to grids. With changes like that (and pioneering work with the magazine GAMES), crosswording was given fresh new life.
Crosswords continue to be timeless as they adapt to the world around it. In the mid '90s puzzle addiction was kicked into another level once every paper on the planet started posting their puzzles on the web. Computer-assisted construction has made previously nigh-impossible gridwork commonplace. Googling answers (and Googling entries for clue writing, for that matter) has became an acceptable practice. And now people are embracing the puzzle bug through alt.weeklies, iPhone apps, and blogs like this one.
Crosswords are eternal. I just don't think that means we need to be doing puzzles from the '40s, unless we're talking about the 2040s.