... a thoughtful and in-depth look at a hobby that has been occupying minds for over a century. Through a combination of historical research and first-person experience, Raphel takes the reader on an engaging and entertaining stroll across and down the cross-world ... It’s a rich and thorough history, one that features a number of fascinating and eccentric characters ... There’s so much here, even for those with a lengthy cruciverbalistic history ... The common thread throughout is the clear passion Raphel has for crosswords, resulting in a fun and celebratory read. She is present on every single page, her joyful love for these puzzles and the people who embrace them is palpable. The combination of historical snapshots and personal experience results in a layered and captivating piece of nonfiction.
At the end of this diverting, informative and discursive book, [Raphel's] love for crosswords is clear, but her reasons—despite a determined effort on her part to explain them—remain, in the end, a puzzle of their own ... Raphel proves a skilled cultural historian, dipping into newspaper archives and movie reels and private correspondence to describe how the crossword came to conquer the world ... It is in the modern era that this book loses its lapidary elegance ... We meet many constructors and their artful creations ... But none of these people seem as vivid as their long-dead predecessors ... no one now alive seems quite as, well, alive ... [Raphel's] affectionate exegesis of this pastime, this passion, this 'temporary madness,' succeeds. Like a good crossword, her book challenges us to back away from our assumptions, allows us to think differently and apply ourselves again.
...I read Thinking Inside the Box and realised the richness of the American relationship to crosswords. Adrienne Raphel, an aficionado, mixes history with reportage from the crossword frontlines ... Her writing is packed with the sort of beautifully observed details you’d expect from a New Yorker contributor.