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From Square One: A Meditation, with Digressions, on Crosswords

2.99  ·  Rating details ·  95 ratings  ·  32 reviews
From Square One is Dean Olsher's captivating and in-depth exploration of the cultural history, psychology, and even metaphysics of crosswords -- their promise of a world without chaos and uncertainty.

It is often repeated that more than 50 million Americans do crossword puzzles on a regular basis. Skeptical of that claim, Dean Olsher does his own research and finds that t

Hardcover, 192 pages
Published June 23rd 2009 by Scribner
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Feb 12, 2014 rated it it was ok
I love crosswords and "From Square One" seemed to be right up my alley, but it wasn't. Perhaps I should have paid more attention to the title of this book: it's a meditation first, with digressions second, and crosswords last.

The only reason why I gave this two stars is because the information on crosswords is quite good: some history, a few amusing anecdotes, and interactions with crossword royalty (Will Shortz and others). I thoroughly enjoyed these sections, but nearly skipped anything to do
Kelly Spoer
Oct 05, 2010 rated it it was ok
Ya know, I thought I would love love love this book, but it ended up just being depressing. It has some awesome blurbs from people I respect, but it still fell short. Maybe if it was longer? Maybe if the author didn't have a stick up his butt? Maybe if his radio show wasn't canceled? I'm actually saddened that I didn't like this book more. ...more
Jun 30, 2009 rated it it was ok
How to Write a Book About Nothing by Dean Olsher.
Nov 06, 2019 rated it it was ok
some interesting crossword history tidbits [British intelligence in WW II used a crossword puzzle competition to select some recruits for a major code-breaking task; Merl Reagle, who went on to be Sunday Wx Post puzzle person, was recipient of a "letter to a young constructor" at age 16 [p. 88], featuring advice from some crossword vet].....

and some enjoyment of recognition (oh no, not Mel Ott or Bobby Orr again, wielding an "epee" or any of the other grossly overused clues].....

but for the most
Louis Koch
Mar 05, 2017 added it
Shelves: 2016-2017
Electronic Book Cards

Author Background: Dean Olsher has been a radio broadcaster for more than thirty years. He was an arts and culture Correspondent for NPR News as well as host and creator of The Next Big Thing.

Literary Time Period: the book was written in the Early 2000’s, but the time period of the story was around the mid to late 1900’s in America.

Setting: thought this was a book of more philosophy and psychological studies pertaining to crosswords, but this story also does bring up parts
Aug 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, memoir
This guy was pretty obnoxious. I probably wouldn't have read past the introduction if Lani hadn't recommended it. He kept making unnecessary snide remarks about politics (Bush administration and, even less topically, Linda Tripp ... really, Olsher, not even Clinton still cares about Linda Tripp), and he kept going off into his own psychological issues and only very tentatively, if at all, connecting them to crossword puzzles. Annoying.

Oh, and he quotes T.S. Eliot saying something pretentious. N
May 17, 2012 rated it liked it
I don't always read non-fiction.

But when I do, I read about a topic I love and it's written by a former correspondent for NPR.

"From Square One" is a lovely, quick read. It's more an interesting memoir about a personal relationship with crosswords than an historical account or a philosophical explication of crossword puzzles. Olsher writes like any good radio personality speaks: never overbearing and when humorous is wittily so--those kinds of punchlines that hit you two sentences later and make
Evanston Public  Library
Is a crossword puzzle part of your daily routine? Do you use pencil or pen? Do you time yourself (i.e., are you in some way competitive)? Do you know anything about the history of crosswords? Dean Olsher, NPR commentator, offers his take on these and other word puzzle issues, some surprisingly thorny. He suggests that for some of us puzzlers, solving a word puzzle is more satisfying than solving a number puzzle like Sudoku. Why? Well, it has something to do with the denotation and connotation be ...more
Sep 25, 2009 rated it it was ok
I love a good crossword puzzle, so I thought this book would provide insight into the quirky personalities who write crosswords and those who plan their days around completing them. It started off great with lots of intelligent and witty insights, but then slowly deteriorated into a rambling travelogue/monologue of the author's take on a select group of players and competitions. The rest of the book was abruptly hijacked into a revery about a certain type of crossword - the "cryptic crossword"- ...more
Dawn Betts-Green (Dinosaur in the Library)
I am a complete sucker nonfiction, especially about my own obsessions, hobbies, and loves. So when I stumbled on this one at the Dollar Tree, how could I not pick it up? Nonfic? Crosswords? A dollar? Yes, please. Unfortunately, the book was rather disappointing. Not that it wasn't well written. On the contrary, Olsher is quite a good writer. It isn't that I wasn't interested. I love crosswords. The problem lies more in the organization. At times, it felt as though I was reading something written ...more
Sep 30, 2009 rated it liked it
I haven't done a crossword puzzle for some time. And cryptic crosswords - I never understood them. There was a point in my life that I did the NYT puzzles, but I hadn't really missed them. Until now.

Olsher has written a book that has rekindled my interest. I don't think that was his intention. I think Olsher is just fascinated with crosswords and had to share his obsession. He did a good job of telling his story, his involvement with crosswords.

And for me, besides learning all kinds of odd fact
Jul 28, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
While the author is rather obnoxious, the book is still pretty interesting. I'm not quite the crossword nerd that many of these people are, but I enjoy learning the weird esoteric trivia as much as the other losers.

The interviews are fun, and the discussions with Will Shortz are pretty interesting. In general I guess I had never given all that much thought to the production or development of crossword puzzles. Neat stuff!

If you're willing to laugh at the pretentiousness of the author, it's a pre
Jun 04, 2016 rated it did not like it
A book written by a pretentious crosswords snob for pretentious crossword snobs. While there we're a few interesting tidbits of information in the book-such as famous people who like crosswords, and comparisons between doing crosswords and taking a cruise as real-world escapes-the book talks about people and words that I haven't heard of. I consider myself a fairly educated, intelligent person-I have a Masters Degree and listen to NPR every day-but for those who don't do the New York Times cross ...more
Brian Sison
Nov 01, 2011 rated it liked it
This is a memoir written by a crossword addict. It's not exactly about crossword puzzles, so much as it's about the people who do them.

It was ok, but I would recommend Cruciverbalism by Stanley Newman over this.
Aug 08, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This is a frustrating book, because he talks about achieving a flow state when doing puzzles or listening to music, but the prose jumps around from topic to topic such that achieving a flow state reading the book is impossible.

There is a cryptic crossword by Francis Heaney in the back, though, which is a plus.
Jan 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
Wonderfully nerdy.

p. 45: "The pleasure principle [is:] overrated. Instead, we are primarily motivated to create challenges for ourselves that we can overcome. This drive for satisfaction, which manifests itself whether we're solving puzzles, running marathons, or engaging in S&M (for some people, anyway), is hardwired into our brains."

Feb 26, 2010 rated it liked it
This book is partly a history of crossword puzzles, partly a collection of quotes and stories from crossword puzzle enthusiasts, and partly an attempt to find deeper meaning in crossword puzzles and the enthusiasm that they command.

I wish there was more history; then again, how much history is there? The best part of the book was the cryptic crossword at the end.
Sep 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
I found much of this book--perhaps especially Olsher's thoughts on the mental illness aspects of crossword puzzles--quite familiar. I concluded that I don't care whether periodic crossword binges are proof that I am seriously mentally ill...since that is already an otherwise established fact. Anyone who has a similar obsession with crossword puzzles will likely find this book fascinating. ...more
Dec 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
Oh my… I'm afraid I have many similar tendencies that Olsher has… and he has succeeded in resparking my interest (and hope that one day I might solve) acrostics.... Having instructions from Ximenes regarding the types of clueing is a helpful—maybe. I still am baffled by the one included at the end of the book.... ...more
Nov 29, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: microhistory
I've read a few crossword books in the past couple of years (although I haven't really been doing puzzles lately) and this one doesn't disappoint. A rambling, but always interesting look at puzzling's history and possible future, with a bit of focus on "cryptic crosswords." ...more
Dec 28, 2009 rated it liked it
A fun and quick read for puzzle dorks. Mostly a love-letter to the crossword puzzle and its elegance. That said, Olsher sometimes tends to get a little too dramatic and sentimental, especially when praising the cryptic crossword, which he does at great length.
Matt Kelly
Dec 07, 2013 rated it it was ok
I really wanted to like this book, but it was just a meandering stream of consciousness about crosswords. Fully a third of the book is spent trying to convince the reader how great cryptic crosswords are, but as I already solve cryptics, this was not really useful to me.
May 14, 2009 is currently reading it
so far, brilliantly written to mimic the feel and philosophy of a crossword puzzle.
Oct 12, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
Subtitled, "A Meditation, with Digressions, on Crosswords." Well, maybe there's just not that much to say about crossword puzzles--some amusing digressions, though. ...more
Feb 18, 2010 rated it liked it
There's a lot not to like in this book, but any crossword enthusiast will probably enjoy it. ...more
Judith Guyot
Apr 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
Lots of fun. Informative about different crossword constructors and ways clues are developed.
Jun 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I adored this -- like a long, very good radio programme on crosswords. And it taught me how to do cryptic crosswords, which I have always wanted to learn! Probably not for everyone, though.
Jan 11, 2013 rated it liked it
What a weird little book.
Nov 02, 2013 rated it liked it
Memoir of the joys of crossword puzzles, including history, lore, and addictive qualities.
Jan 01, 2015 rated it it was ok
Mostly about cryptic crosswords and a bit whiny.
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