From Square One
A Meditation, with Digressions, on Crosswords
By Dean Olsher
(Scribner, Paperback, 9780743287630, 192pp.)
Publication Date: July 16, 2011
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Public radio personality Dean Olsher explores the fascinating history, lore, and addictive appeal of crosswords in this clever and entertaining narrative—featuring the construction of an actual puzzle by professional puzzle writer Francis Heaney.
Filled with lively, original reporting,From Square One is a captivating and in-depth exploration of the puzzle world. It delves into the psychology—even the meta- physics—of crosswords. Olsher assesses the claim that solving crosswords helps prevent Alzheimer’s and discovers, in fact, that the drive to fill in empty spaces is more likely a mental illness than a cure. Puzzle obsession, while it can be a light- hearted metaphor, can also be indicative of actual addictive behavior.
Skeptical of the widely reported claim that more than fifty million Americans do crossword puzzles on a regular basis, longtime crossword enthusiast Dean Olsher does his own research and finds that the estimate is conservative. Along the way, Olsher looks into the origins and traditions of this popu- lar pastime, which made its debut in a New York newspaper in 1913. And, he revives the quest of musical theater legend Stephen Sondheim—who composed crosswords for New York magazine in the 1960s—to introduce American solvers to a British crossword style that demands a love of verbal playful- ness over knowledge of arcane trivia.
Informative, engaging, and often surprising, From Square One is a unique and enjoyable cultural history for puzzlers and non-puzzlers alike.
Dean Olsher has been a broadcaster for more than thirty years, most of which he has spent in public radio. He was an arts and culture correspondent for NPR News as well as the creator and host of The Next Big Thing, a popular national show. Olsher is currently a visiting professor at New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.