We're Living in the Golden Age of Crossword Puzzles

This April 18, 2011 photo shows the April 17 Sunday Washington Post crossword puzzle.
This April 18, 2011 photo shows the April 17 Sunday Washington Post crossword puzzle.
Photo: Getty

During a time when we’re stuck inside and looking for things to occupy ourselves with, may I humbly suggest the crossword puzzle?

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As something of a crossword enthusiast—in more normal times, I typically do one each day on my train commute into work—I can say with certainty that we are living in the Golden Age of this specific kind of puzzle. Hear me out. You can carry them everywhere with you via apps on your pocket computer, you can enable helpful features like word-check, and you can even play them with a partner, as with the New Yorker’s recently introduced crossword Partner Mode—that is, if you don’t mind sharing some of the victory of puzzle completion with a friend.

And you should. Right now, during an unprecedented time of physical separation from those we love, puzzling can offer the twofold benefit of human connection with a shared goal. Don’t get me wrong, hosting a meet-swap with my colleagues in Animal Crossing or FaceTiming with close friends and family are great, for a time.

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But there’s something sweet about completing a puzzle that you can work on together intermittently—a task you can pick up throughout the day in those spare moments between work or other tasks, especially while sheltering at home. If you’re a monster, maybe you’ll even convince your partner to complete the puzzle in a single go. One of the many beauties of puzzling is there’s really no wrong way to do it. It’s a ymmv-sort of activity.

That’s another great thing about puzzles right now: Unlike the ol’ pen-and-paper method, apps open up a whole new way to play. Features like auto-check and word-check mean that you’ve got a good chance at completing even more advanced puzzles, like those that arrive later in the week from the New York Times. Reveal a single letter, a row, or the entire grid to move your puzzle along or complete it entirely. Some might think this is puzzle heresy, but again, puzzling’s rules are singularly defined by you, the person completing the puzzle.

Me? I’m a bit of a puzzle completionist, and I’d rather know the answer to a clue that’s stumped me than abandon a puzzle entirely—a thing that wasn’t always possible before puzzles went digital, and one of the reasons I tend to prefer them. (Though I still cherish my puzzle book and the occasional newspaper puzzle, when I have the chance to grab one.)

All of this is to say, now’s as good a time as any to pick up puzzling. Who knows, crosswords may be just the thing you need right now.

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DISCUSSION

Thanks for a positive puzzle story. I’m a fan, but is seems like too many who write about crosswords have moved over to the “cranky old person” point of view - every puzzle disappoints. 

But Partner Mode? I can remember the days of my youth when I liked people enough to want to do the puzzle with some one else. Now? “Don’t talk to Dad, he’s working on the crossword.” Though, if you subscribe to the NYT, you can click on the Archive and see a calendar that goes back years. Watch out for current events clues that might have been obvious in 2013 but are very obscure now. 

I am also a completionist. I do them on my laptop but may switch back to printing them out. I’m too prone to do a quick Google to complete a clue. And worse, a missed typo can mess me up for quite a while.