Indie Crossword Puzzlers Are Shaking Up A Very Square World
August 30, 2016 10:34 AM   Subscribe

The death of the Buzzfeed crossword puzzle after less than a year leads FiveThirtyEight Senior Writer Oliver Roeder to survey the state of indie crosswords ("The Times is a Budweiser lager; the indies are small-batch saisons and IPAs.").

Roeder was previously seen here blowing up the plagiarism allegations that resulted in crossword editor Timothy Parker's resignation from USA Today and Universal Crossword.
posted by Etrigan (33 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
I am a devotee of the NYT one (though I've fallen off as of late as my time gets eaten up by my life) and I feel so old in that I didn't even know indie crossword puzzles existed!
posted by Kitteh at 10:39 AM on August 30, 2016 [4 favorites]


RIP AV Club crossword!
posted by tofu_crouton at 10:49 AM on August 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


tofu_crouton: "RIP AV Club crossword!"

Say what now? This is about the death of BuzzFeed Crossword. AVC is alive & kicking.
posted by chavenet at 10:55 AM on August 30, 2016 [5 favorites]


I wrote and sent in a goofy Caleb Madison-style puzzle to Buzzfeed a couple of months ago. Caleb was appreciative and offered some helpful feedback, but apologized he were no longer taking submissions and said that the puzzle has some, uh, existential issues. Since there appears to be no other venue for it, I am releasing this puzzle TO YOU, RIGHT NOW, FREE OF CHARGE! PDF, AcrossLite puz file
posted by theodolite at 10:55 AM on August 30, 2016 [8 favorites]


chavenet: WOW I did not realize that it was the same thing. This is lovely!!
posted by tofu_crouton at 11:01 AM on August 30, 2016


RIP AV Club crossword!

Don't scare me like that!

And there's nothing wrong with the Tuesday-Friday NYT Crossword. Sunday Times is sacred even if it has become more accessible to non-Met-opera fans over the years. Still the best theming anywhere.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 11:13 AM on August 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


I have been disappointed every time I try a puzzle other than the NYT. But I also want to do them with a pencil, preferably in a small hand held book. I'm not going to do them on a screen, somehow that feels like work.
posted by bongo_x at 11:16 AM on August 30, 2016


FTA:
Criticism of the Times puzzle seems to have expanded of late, beyond the stylistic and into the political. It’s not just that the Times puzzle is staid, or geared toward olds. It’s been accused of tone deafness on issues of race and gender. A recent clue for the answer HAREM was “Decidedly nonfeminist women’s group,” and the clue “Exasperated comment from a feminist” led to the answer MEN. “Gangsta rap characters” were THUGS.
This is such an annoying thing about NYT crosswords. I'm working my way through the Best of Saturday collection of puzzles published between 2012 and 2014. For the puzzle I'm currently solving, the clue for 10-across is 'Big top features?' and the solution is 'DCUPS.' 63-across clue: 'Child support payer, in modern lingo.' The solution? 'BABYDADDY.'

So, yeah.

Nothing like filling in the punchline to some gross joke to make recreation feel like a chore. I should try to keep in mind that it may come from the long-forgotten days of yore, 2013, where people just didn't know any better.
posted by palindromic at 11:33 AM on August 30, 2016 [5 favorites]


Funny, I just recently restarted doing crosswords—I have to take long breaks every now and then, because they become all-consuming. I do a lot of Brendan Emmett Quigley and Ben Tausig puzzles, along with the Newsday Saturday Stumper, which still kicks my ass. But this last Sunday I did the NYT puzzle on paper for the first time in forever, and contrary to bongo_x, I much prefer to do them on my phone. When I was finished I felt robbed of the little dopamine-releasing screen that informed me I'd completed it successfully—or the immediate feedback that there's a mistake lurking in one of those hundreds of squares. (Also, the NYT Magazine's paper is terrible for writing in pencil.)
posted by ejs at 11:40 AM on August 30, 2016


(Also, the NYT Magazine's paper is terrible for writing in pencil.)

So use a pen.

(Actually, the Magazine's paper is terrible for that too.)
posted by stopgap at 11:50 AM on August 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


While I still do crosswords, I prefer cryptic crosswords much more than the current state of crosswords. Cryptics rely on wordplay as a feature. There's just too much 'cutesy' wordplay in crosswords today that it seems the constructors are trying to show how smart or witty they can be instead of creating good, fun clues. Maybe it's just a personal preference but I've seen it get much worse over the past 10 years or so.

/yells at kids to get off lawn
posted by splen at 11:52 AM on August 30, 2016 [4 favorites]


(Actually, the Magazine's paper is terrible for that too.)

this is my biggest pet peeve about nyt mag's crosswords. theyre pretty much impossible to write on with nearly anything. like what is even the point!!!!!!
posted by burgerrr at 11:53 AM on August 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the exposure to a world of puzzles I didn't know existed, ensconced as I am in the even-more-staid-than-the-Times land of Cryptic Crosswords (I get mine from the online edition of the Victoria Times Colonist - the paper whose cryptics my parents have been doing religiously every single morning at the breakfast table since before I existed - but I'm pretty sure they're using puzzles syndicated from various UK publications).
Anyone have any links to a similar super cool subculture of indie puzzle constructors, but for cryptics?

On preview: Hi, splen!
posted by Dorinda at 11:54 AM on August 30, 2016


Hi there, "Metafilter user starts scale with peel and top mark. (7)"
posted by splen at 12:02 PM on August 30, 2016 [9 favorites]


Lord help me for defending the NYT talking about "gangsta rap" but "thugs" is more a dated reference (to the period where rappers actually were claiming the term) than anything, no? (And we still have Young Thug at least.) I guess you could question whether Times crossword writers have standing to make that reference.
posted by atoxyl at 12:36 PM on August 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


I've been meaning to check out AV Club crosswords. I've been doing the NYT puzzles religiously for the past few years, but I haven't enjoyed them as much recently. Sunday-Thursdays seem to be a mixture of dutifully filling in the standard crossword-ese (epee, aida, snee, alou, olan) and deciphering horrible puns. I find myself (sometimes physically) recoiling from puns more and more the older I get, for no discernible reason - not a valid criticism for crosswords, I know. But on the worst days, my solving experience is mix of slog and ugh, with less of the pleasure you get from figuring out a clever bit of wordplay.

I remind myself constantly that making all these words fit together is hard, and that I'm really in no position to judge since I can't imagine having the skill to make even a Monday puzzle.

Although THUG, HAREM, ILLEGALS, and MEN (“Exasperated comment from a feminist”)? Sweet Jesus.

And the Fridays and Saturdays seem to have gotten a lot easier as of late. I've been working my way back through the archives, and by 2012, the Fridays seem more like current Saturdays, while the Saturdays take me forever. I can't tell if puzzles have become simpler, or if I'm hitting some sort of proper noun shelf date beyond which obscure words are even more obscure. Or perhaps I'm now closer in age to the constructors, who are drawing on trivia from the 70s to the aughts.

It doesn't help that I enjoy reading Rex Parker's often brutal daily crossword reviews much in the same way I liked reading TWOP recaps of shows that I had come to hate-watch. He's been championing the AV Club puzzles for a while now, and this post has made me more convinced I should give them a try.
posted by bibliowench at 12:59 PM on August 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


Hi there, "Metafilter user starts scale with peel and top mark. (7)"

As always, mental repunctuation of a clue is the key to its solution.

I tried SO FUCKING MANY TIMES to figure the Harper's crossword lingo and thanks for that trip down agony lane.
posted by psoas at 1:56 PM on August 30, 2016


Metafilter user removed father from ersatz sugar's tail
or... centered in a wasp lens:
Re: Indie Cryptics... as it seems cryptics are fading out in popularity in the US, there are likewise not many notable constructors, indie or otherwise. The nation publishes one, but I don't solve it. Primarily I look for the work of the impeccable HEX (Henry Rathvon and Emily Cox... their varieties are now found mostly in the WSJ. (WSJ used to be much better with sorting by tags, it currently is half broken,. All their archives are free, however, thus making it a worthwhile plundertrove if you want to slog through.) NYTimes has a monthly cryptic as well, but it's pretty trifling in comparison.
Additionally, the always awesome Patrick Berry dabbles in Cryptics, and although some are published in Cryptics monthly, you should really give his Middle of the Road(WARNING LINK GOES TO PDF) a spin and then go back to his other free puzzles and see if you want to buy the crypt or his other cryptic collections.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 2:37 PM on August 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


Oh man I was excited for the BuzzFeed crossword but it was just so immature. Caleb Madison is a terrific constructor though, and I'll be checking out his new project for sure.
posted by lalex at 2:40 PM on August 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


For links to nearly all the good crosswords out there each day - paid and free - I recommend the right column on the Cruciverb site.
posted by twsf at 3:06 PM on August 30, 2016


You know what the worst thing NPR ever did to me? Putting Will Shortz on the radio. Now when I do the NYTs puzzle and read the definitions, I hear his voice.

But that's the thing about crossword puzzles: they have different voices, and it takes a lot of training to get the style of the puzzle. I can do the NYTs cryptic, but it took years to master the Nation's. I don't even want to think about anybody else's.
posted by acrasis at 4:57 PM on August 30, 2016


I only recently started doing the NYT crossword puzzle. I recently did one from a couple of years ago, and it referenced Cheryl Tiegs and a hole bunch of other 70-80s things that didn't strike me as having a lot of longevity culturally, that made me doubt that anybody who wasn't born in the 60s or before would have ever heard of them.

The problem with THUG isn't just its datedness. It's that there are two filler answers that show up all the time, and are often the only references to people of color in the puzzles. One is THUG; the other is AFRO. If black people's names show up, they're more often a couple of the same rappers over and over (DRDRE, anyone?).
posted by not that girl at 6:36 PM on August 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


Do crosswords in the US usually show a political opinion/editorial slant?

There is a book on cryptic crosswords in the UK, titled Two Girls, One On Each Knee (which is, in itself, a cryptic clue). According to it, the UK crosswords mostly steer away from politics, with the exception of the Guardian's one, which, of course, veers left. (One clue they ran once was “Tory in LAB disguise”, to which the answer is, of course, TONYBLAIR.)
posted by acb at 9:50 AM on August 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


I really liked what Buzzfeed was trying to do with their crosswords, but I was always frustrated by the lack of support that Caleb Madison seemed to be getting. They couldn't even get the applet (or whatever the technology is) to run the crossword working half the time.

Then, it seemed like Caleb was bowing to pressure to make puzzles "easier," which resulted in frankly insulting 5x5s and the like. I got some great suggestions in this Ask when I saw the writing on the wall in March, and I find that I really click with Brendan Emmett Quigley's style in particular.

I also know that I'm at least part of the problem in the indie crossword world, because as much as I don't begrudge puzzle setters making a living, I have a hard time justifying the cost of a regular subscription to the American Values Club or similar. And god knows I'm not going to whitelist ads on buzzfeed.

What I'd love would be a platform (web-based and android app) that let me make micropayments when I start a new puzzle. I wouldn't mind occasionally buying "points" that I could spend to shoot BEQ or Ben Tausig $0.25 or whatnot before downloading a puzzle. But the paypal --> emailed .puz --> load in app-of-choice systems that are out there just seem far too kludgy.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:59 AM on August 31, 2016


Do crosswords in the US usually show a political opinion/editorial slant?

This is my favorite crossword nerd story ever. Especially given the fact that Bill Clinton is a known crossnerd himself.
posted by sparklemotion at 12:04 PM on August 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


The problem with THUG isn't just its datedness. It's that there are two filler answers that show up all the time, and are often the only references to people of color in the puzzles. One is THUG; the other is AFRO. If black people's names show up, they're more often a couple of the same rappers over and over (DRDRE, anyone?).

For sure I just meant it didn't seem entirely fair to assume "NYT crossword writers think it's okay to call people thugs" vs. "NYT crossword writers are dimly aware of Tupac and not much else." Which still kinda sucks.

(I'd have a lot of fun with a legit rap-reference themed crossword.)
posted by atoxyl at 12:04 PM on August 31, 2016 [3 favorites]


This is my favorite crossword nerd story ever

I did that one without knowing the story a few years ago and my mind was blown.
posted by bongo_x at 1:13 PM on August 31, 2016


This is my favorite crossword nerd story ever.

There's a similar trick in today's NYT puzzle that also addresses some of the other complaints in this thread. Rex Parker review (with spoiler for whole puzzle right at the top) and Slate article (also by Roeder) calling it "One of the Most Important Crosswords in New York Times History".
posted by Etrigan at 8:23 AM on September 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


> There's a similar trick in today's NYT puzzle that also addresses some of the other complaints in this thread.

Wow, I did this one last night and didn't even pick up on the meta-puzzle aspect. By chance I managed to put Fs in all the relevant squares. That's pretty goddamn clever.
posted by savetheclocktower at 12:13 PM on September 1, 2016


Yeah, I was all Fs, too, and I had all four filled before I got the center clue.

One thing I didn't notice pointed out: those four are the only uses of F or M in the puzzle.
posted by Etrigan at 12:32 PM on September 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


Uh, with the exception of the theme reveal at 37A...mmm SURM.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 12:39 PM on September 1, 2016 [1 favorite]




I subscribed to the NYT Crosswords just now for the express purpose of doing yesterday's puzzle and I was a little disappointed! It turns out it's so important only because the NYT is so musty/fusty. I had the pleasure of doing the Clinton/Dole puzzle the day it was published, and was hoping for something similarly mind blowing—besides the social/political aspect of this, it seemed a pale imitation. (For the record, I filled 3 Ms and 1 F. I've never heard of a PREMIX.) (Also, I realize it's significant that the NYT is finally using answers such as GENDERFLUID and QUEER, but this is a thread about indie crosswords which have been woke for much longer, so the NYT gets its cookie for catching up I guess.)
posted by ejs at 9:59 AM on September 2, 2016


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