[Updated 12/28/2001 now that I actually have the book...:)]
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The Crossword Obsession:�The History and Lore of the World's Most Popular Pastime is recommended reading for anyone who is obsessed with filling in little white squares with letters. The book is authored by Coral Amende (herself a crossword constructor), but it reads more like a round table of the cognoscenti of the crossword world, people like Will Shortz (editor of the NY Times crossword), Maura Jacobson (New York Magazine's crossword), Stanley Newman, Trip Payne, Ellen Ripstein (who finally won the Stamford tournament this year!), Merl Reagle (San Francisco Examiner), etc.
There's lots of inside dish about crosswords, including what it was like to work for Dell under the legendary editor Kathleen Rafferty or the New York Times under Eugene T. Maleska, what kinds of words don't belong in crosswords (one constructor says she will never use the word DONUT in a puzzle... go figure), and why two groups of constructors working for the same company were not on friendly terms for a number of years.
For the aspiring constructor, there's generous info on how to get started with an overview of crossword-creation software and contacts at puzzle magazines and newspapers (including the Times), little known crossword mechanical issues such as number of black squares and number of words allowed per puzzle (yes, there are such requirements!), a listing of internet resources (such as Cruciverb-L, info about crossword tournaments, etc.
There are even some puzzles you can solve, including the notorious Election Day 1996 New York Times crossword (under the editorship of Shortz, from a contributor who first floated the idea in 1980 when Shortz was editing Games Magazine) - which featured two consecutive across words at the puzzle's center that could be solved as either CLINTON ELECTED or BOBDOLE ELECTED - with all the crossing words making sense either way!
The only thing that left me with a little tinge of remorse is the revelation of how underpaid the puzzle constructors are for the geniuses that they are. I don't recall the exact amount, but I winced when I found out what Will Shortz pays for the New York Times puzzles. I think it's something like $75 for a daily!
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