I am a pretty good crossword solver. I solve between 150 and 200 crosswords per month, and in 2014 I came in 46th at the national crossword puzzle tournament.
My interest in crossword puzzles is not something I talk about very much. I move in pretty uncool circles – computer geeks and academic nerds – but even there, this hobby gets a “what a dweeb” reaction from most of my friends.
As chance would have it, though, over the last few days a few friends and colleagues have talked publicly about solving. And my wife pointed me toward this piece in the Atlantic, which paints a pretty dour picture about the future of the puzzle. So I thought now would be a good time to come out of hiding, as it were, and do a bit of crossword advocacy.
It is a pretty awesome time to be solving crosswords. Since I started solving seriously about ten years ago, puzzles have become more innovative, varied, weird, funny, vulgar. It may be true that the demographics of crossword solvers skews old, but the puzzles themselves generally don’t. If you don’t do crosswords because you think they’re for blue-hairs, you’ve got another think coming.
Cool things about crosswords
Here are some cool things about crosswords that should appeal to the kind of dweeb who reads my blog:
- Pattern recognition
- Intentional conflation of use and mention
- Syntactic and lexical ambiguity
- 80s pop culture references
- You can do them on shiny things like iPads
Places to find good crosswords
The first step to getting into crosswords is finding high-quality puzzles. Here are a couple of my standbys:
- New York Times – This is “the crossword”. Puzzle difficulty increases from easy on Monday to quite hard on Saturday, with the large Sunday puzzle at about a Wednesday or Thursday level of difficulty. $40/year.
- Los Angeles Times – Similar to NYT puzzles, but generally a bit easier. Free.
- Creators Syndicate – Weekday puzzles are generally very easy. Saturday Stumper puzzles are typically the hardest puzzle of the week. Free.
Special shout-out to the following puzzles, which are not put out by large publishers, but are instead supported by subscription and donations to individual constructors. If you really want to support the future of crosswords, you should be supporting them:
- Brendan Emmett Quigley – Twice-weekly(ish) puzzles. Funny, cool, free. Thursday themed puzzles are moderately difficult. Monday themeless are pretty hard.
- American Values Club – Very awesome, not particularly PC. Works like a collective for crossword constructors, offering them some of the best pay in the industry. $18/year.
- Fireball Crosswords – Hard puzzles that are also the bomb. $20/year
Get out there and do some crosswords, and one day you might be as cool as me.