For many people, The New York Times is America's most important paper. Not because of the high quality reporting, in-depth coverage or thought-provoking...

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“Crossworld: One Man’s Journey Into America’s Crossword Obsession”
by Marc Romano
Broadway Books, 238 pp., $24.95

For many people, The New York Times is America’s most important paper. Not because of the high quality reporting, in-depth coverage or thought-provoking editorials, but because of a small black-and-white grid generally found in the Arts section.

Although no exact numbers exist, author Marc Romano estimates that people buy 100,000 copies of the Times every day just for the crossword puzzle. These purchasers are part of an estimated 64 million people who “crossword” at least once a week. Romano explores this puzzle passion in his new book, “Crossworld: One Man’s Journey into America’s Crossword Obsession.”

The first crossword appeared in 1913 in the New York World newspaper, and by the early 1920s, crosswords had crossed the ocean. By the end of the decade crossword plays, songs and clothes were appearing. The New York Times puzzle became a regular feature in 1942; it was and still is the pinnacle of the crossword world for many.

Presiding over the Times grid is editor Will Shortz. Shortz is the type of person who wrote his college thesis on puzzles, owns thousands of puzzle-related books and helped organize the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament.

Shortz and the people who construct the crosswords are by far the most interesting aspect of the book. For example, Michael Shteyman, a contributor to the Times puzzle page, is a Russian immigrant who barely spoke English when he arrived in 1998, and Brendan Emmett Quigley, who crafts puzzles for several newspapers, creates elegant, creative puzzles without using a dictionary.

Romano himself is far less interesting. Readers don’t need to read that he turns his nose up at the Monday and Tuesday Times crosswords, about his ogling of a female judge or about his justification for not getting the score in the tourney he “could and should have chalked up.”

Crosswords, the people associated with them, and their history are interesting subjects, and Romano does a fine job of describing them. The book could just use less of him.