The Grey Lady has pulled some reprehensible stunts over the years, including writing puff pieces on neo-Nazis, helping lead the United States into a deadly war in the Middle East, and even employing Bret Stevens. But today it finally burned its most dedicated customers: those of us who pay the paper of record $6.99 a month to play its once-vaunted crossword on our phones.
Each day, the Times crossword app provides digital subscribers with a “Mini,” a small puzzle usually solved in under a minute that serves as a sort of pre-crossword snack. Today’s Mini, however, abandoned the traditional parameters of what a crossword even is, to the grave disappointment of myself and about a dozen other people on Twitter. Is that a lot? No. It’s actually very, very few people. But it’s about the principle of the thing.
Solve this quick: “Easy as ___.”
Pie, right? A pretty simple fill-in-the-blank question with a common idiomatic answer, especially given that, for over 75 years, the answers to the New York Times crossword have almost all been composed of letters, or at the very least a series of letters.
Well, take your expectations and throw them down a hole: The answer is “123.” As in numbers. As in math. As in, “Hey, I thought I was playing a goddamn crossword, not a KenKen or Sudoku or doing my taxes for fun.” The answer branches down to the solutions “1am,” “2pac,” and “3hole”—as in “a three-hole punch”—a phrase no one in the world writes that way!
One of the Times’ Twitter accounts even made light of the ire this clue had inspired, seemingly blaming today’s date, 1/23, though the clue had nothing to do with that. You must feel very clever, Tuesday Mini. Rebellious. Superior, even.
Amid the terrifying flood of near-apocalyptic notifications rumbling across my phone each day, the Times crossword has served as a place of safety installed on that very same phone. During commutes, it’s been a distraction from the unfixed, century-old infrastructure around my subway car, as well as the plutocrats who sucked the public coffers dry. Mostly, it was a bond of trust. And today, that trust was broken—for both myself and something in the neighborhood of 12 other people. C’mon, New York Times. We just wish you were better.