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Out of Left Field

Cryptic Crosswords
by Joshua Kosman and Henri Picciotto

Frequently Asked Questions

Click the triangles for the answers!

Why "Out of Left Field"?

The immediate reason for the name of our project is that for nine years our puzzles appeared in The Nation, a left-wing magazine. But it is also appropriate because of our occasional deviations from the very rigid traditions of US cryptic crosswords: we include politics in our clues when the occasion presents itself; we sometimes omit the space between words in the clue; our anagram fodder is occasionally broken into separate pieces; we use non-standard clue types such as letter banks and rebus clues, and are open to any and all forms of wordplay; about a third of our puzzles have a theme. Some of these departures from US cryptic conventions are only obvious to specialists, and in any case we don’t do any of them very often (except the themes), but cumulatively they help to justify "Out of Left Field".

▶ Why Did You Leave The Nation? ▼ Why Did You Leave The Nation?

It was not our decision. Like all print publications, The Nation is struggling financially. They decided they could no longer afford the puzzle.

Almost all of Left Field puzzles #1-28 were created for the magazine, and we published them just as they would have appeared there. As we create new puzzles for #29 and beyond, we do not expect to make any changes to our cryptics in either style or difficulty.

▶ Where Can I Find Current and Past Puzzles? ▼ Where Can I Find Past Puzzles?

Everyone can find information about our books of Nation crosswords, as well as some of our other cryptic ventures, on this site's home page. The Nation puzzles are not available through Patreon.

Subscribers to Out of Left Field Cryptic Crosswords can always find current and past Left Field puzzles on the Patreon site. To find recent offerings, just scroll down: the links follow the posts that are labeled "Puzzle #x". To go further back in time, you can use the filters near the top of the page: click on Month ⋁ and select a month.

▶ Will You Make Variety Cryptics? ▼ Will You Make Variety Cryptics?

On several occasions in the past we used our space at The Nation to create small-sized variety cryptics that were designed to present roughly the same amount of solving time and effort as our usual puzzles — which is to say, less than the full-sized variety cryptics you can find in the publications we mention below. We plan to continue doing that in Out of Left Field cryptics, but not very frequently.

Can You Make the Puzzles More Difficult?

This is a frequently asked question, but we also hear from solvers who need the whole week to complete the puzzle, and from some who aren't always able to finish it.

Since there’s no way we can satisfy everyone’s requirements about difficulty anyway, we decided long ago to focus on one criterion: We would like our puzzles to be fun. We measure that by our own aesthetic, and not at all by whether the puzzle is easy or hard. We do try to avoid creating a puzzle where every single clue is extremely easy, or extremely hard. But in between those extremes there's a wide range, and we don't really focus on difficulty. That is not likely to change in the foreseeable future.

Luckily, if you want harder puzzles, we can recommend some options.

Many contributors to the All-Stars books are members of the National Puzzlers' League, which is a source of yet more cryptics.

If that's still not difficult enough for you, you can do what many experienced cryptic solvers do, and try British cryptics, which can be found in The Guardian, The Observer, the London Times, and many, many other venues.

Good luck in your search for a challenge!

Is there a physical hard copy version of Word Salad?

As of now, and for the foreseeable future, the answer is no.

Word Salad is our e-book introduction to cryptic crosswords. It is by far the most comprehensive book on this subject ever published in the United States, and can be read on any platform. Given the fact that publishers have long given up on making money from cryptic crosswords, we decided to self-publish. However, the costs involved in producing a physical volume ourselves would have priced it far above what is reasonable to expect people will pay, which is why it's an e-book. We welcome interested publishers' inquiries!

▶ How Do I Cancel My Left Field Cryptics Subscription? ▼ How Do I Cancel My Left Field Cryptics Subscription?

Log into the Patreon site, and go to this page for instructions.

▶ What Is the .puz File? ▼ What Is the .puz File?

Every week, we post three files: two PDFs and (almost always) one .puz file. If you want to solve the puzzles on paper, you can ignore the .puz file. If you accidentally download it, you can delete it. It is only there for people who want to solve the puzzle on a screen, and for those who want to save ink. (See the next questions.)

▶ How Do I Use Less Ink? ▼ How Do I Use Less Ink?

There is a free app called Across Lite which can be used to open .puz files on Mac, Windows and iPad. Across Lite preferences include the option to modify the darkness of the black squares when you print the puzzle.

▶ How Do I Solve the Puzzles on a Screen? ▼ How Do I Solve the Puzzles on a Screen?

Exolve Player is an online option: just drag and drop the .puz file on this web page.

Another online option is Collaborative XwordJS. This one allows you to solve the puzzle simultaneously on more than one computer, so you can work with a remote friend or family member.

There is a free app called Across Lite which can be used to open .puz files on Mac, Windows and iPad.

We've heard of two Android apps that will open .puz files: Shortyz, and Alphacross. For the latter, the secret seems to be to open the attachment directly from the email, and that will give you the option to use "Crossword Importer", which is really Alphacross.

There are other apps on all platforms that will open .puz files. One free one that we are familiar with is Puzzazz for iOS. Among other nice features, it allows you to enter letters by handwriting them with your finger, which is convenient on a small screen.

Note that on rare occasions, we are not able to create a .puz file, because of some unusual feature of the puzzle.

▶ How Do I Open the .puz File in Puzzazz? ▼ How Do I Open the .puz File in Puzzazz?

Here is what worked for us:

One way to somewhat streamline the process is: when you get to Copy to Puzzazz, tap Edit, and then tap the + sign next to Copy to Puzzazz. This will make the app easier to get to in the future.

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