A Sinful Waste of Time
February 15, 2017 8:31 AM   Subscribe

Today is the 75th Anniversary of the NY Times crossword puzzle. To celebrate, the Times have posted a brief history of the puzzle. Also, celebrity solvers are pairing with experienced creators to produce some celebratory puzzles. Today's was by Jesse Eisenberg. Currently the first month of subscription is free on several digital platforms here. So brush up on the difference between eyelets and aglets, memorize your four letter Middle Eastern ports, and waste some time...sinfully.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln (20 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Love the NYT crosswords. Still have to leave a lot of spaces blank though. Rats!
posted by strelitzia at 8:36 AM on February 15, 2017

I knew a couple of people in college who could just plow through the Sunday one in about an hour - and they were still probably well below the level of the people who contend for laurels at solving competitions!

In my lifetime, there has been an interesting shift in the clues, from lots of pop culture stuff from the 50's and 60's to, well, not having that. This favors me, I guess, but people a little older have maybe felt that the rug was pulled out from under their feet.
posted by thelonius at 8:43 AM on February 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Rex Parker weighs in (SPOILER: Parker posts the solution to today's puzzle):
A note on this new and apparently recurring "Celebrity Crossword" phenomenon. Celebrities are human beings, and deserve all the basic considerations afforded to other human beings, so my objection to this way of "marking the 75th anniversary of the NYT crossword puzzle" is in no way personal. Having famous people co-construct is a simple publicity stunt that has nothing to do with making good puzzles, and has no clear relationship to crossword puzzles, period. How about you "celebrate" your anniversary by paying your crossword constructors (much) more. Then you might get back some of the constructors you've lost. Then you might get a better overall quality of crossword submission. Constructor pay actually relates *directly* to puzzle quality, which is all any solver cares about in the first place. The NYT crossword is, pound for pound, the most profitable part of the paper (esp. in stand-alone digital form), so how about you double constructor pay immediately and maybe I won't be so put off by self-congratulatory publicity stunts. That said, I think Jesse Eisenberg is a good writer and actor and I saw him in LAX once and he was far shorter than I imagined but still handsome. Oh, and Patrick Blindauer is good at making puzzles. I was at his first wedding. Just kidding, his only wedding ... so far! Just kidding, he is happily married and his family is adorable.
posted by Etrigan at 8:53 AM on February 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

I was just about to post that Etrigan! Still relevant: Solving the Broken Crossword Puzzle Economy.

I basically agree with Rex, and I groaned at the celebrity co-constructor stunt the way I groan when Teen Jeopardy starts a run.
posted by lalex at 8:57 AM on February 15, 2017 [5 favorites]

Fuck. You just killed my day.
posted by brokeaspoke at 9:11 AM on February 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

The app just added an anniversary pack, which includes that first February 15, 1942 puzzle. Thanks to a combination of obsolete words/spellings, utterly foreign pop culture (1-across is "Famous one-eyed general"), and old-timey clue writing style, it's hard as fuck. Example: 8-down is "Heavy wooden mallet" (BEETLE, apparently) crossing 30-across "Name of 3 successive Pharaohs" (USERTESEN !?!?).
posted by theodolite at 9:18 AM on February 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

I got started on the NYT crossword through the Sunday Puzzle Omnibus. The Sunday crossword is generally the best themed, with the theme called out in the title. So there is a meta-element there to help when just the clues leave you stranded. If you are going this route, pick Omnibus 9 or higher to start with, as the pop cultural references are more up to date and less NY focused.

The rest of the week's puzzles are frequently themed cleverly, and this is what sets the nyt apart from other puzzles. The themes tend to be punny, especially since Wil Shortz took over chief editing duties. The puzzles also increase in difficulty from Monday through Saturday. While Sunday is larger, the defined theme generally makes it easier than a Saturday. Saturdays are strictly for crossword masochists.

My normal time to solve for a Sunday is between 18-25 minutes...but I am an addict.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 9:34 AM on February 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Crosswords had been around since the initial craze in the 1920s (kick-starting the firm of Simon & Schuster, interestingly enough.)

The question then becomes, how long did it take the Times to twig to suduku?
posted by BWA at 10:44 AM on February 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

The Sunday New York Times crossword is a weekly dose of humility. It's an unsubtle reminder that I'm not as smart or clever as I think I am.
posted by zooropa at 12:06 PM on February 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

So after the horror show that was the 2016 election, I decided it was time to support journalism by buying an online subscription to a quality newspaper. I was torn on whether to go for Wapo or NYT, but in the end I decided on NYT since it's geographically closer to me. I didn't realize that with the subscription, you get access to all their online crossword puzzles as well... and I am now completely consumed.

Over the last few years I've been concerned about my terrible word recall, to the point where I was getting a little worried about early onset Alzheimers, so I thought - hmm - doing crossword puzzles is probably a decent way to keep those braincells around a little longer. And it's working! Over the few months that I've been doing this, I notice that I'm fumbling for words much less often, both when I'm solving a puzzle and in everyday conversations, and I'm really excited about it. It's also fun to see my average solve times go down. Saturday puzzles still kill me, and Friday ones are juuust a bit too hard, but Thursday puzzles present a satisfying challenge and Wednesdays are fun. Monday and Tuesday puzzles are perfect for in between chores or while waiting in line. Sunday puzzles - well, those are perfect for lazy Sunday mornings with my favorite tea. They take me the better part of an hour, but what a lovely way to spend the morning.

So now I'm a huge crossword fan with better word recall, is what I'm saying. Well worth the price of the subscription.
posted by widdershins at 12:50 PM on February 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

Saturdays are strictly for crossword masochists.

No no no you can do them! It just takes practice.

May I suggest that anyone coming more recently to the NYT crossword take advantage of the archive to work through Patrick Berry's puzzles? IMO he's in a class by himself - his puzzles are lively and modern with very little crosswordese.

A list of his puzzles can be found by scrolling down this page...I didn't link to his author page because it has thumbnails of the completed puzzles.
posted by lalex at 1:12 PM on February 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

I had a 67- day streak going, then a bad storm blew through and we lost power and Internet for a couple of days, unceremoniously ending that streak. I was livid. Monday-Tuesday puzzles take around ten minutes, Wednesday about fifteen. Thursday depends on how quickly I grasp the trick, usually twenty or thirty minutes. Friday takes half an hour plus. Saturday I beaver away at for forty minutes or so. Sunday is usually about as hard as Wednesday, just bigger, so thirty to forty minutes. A couple of weeks ago there was a Thursday puzzle where all the starred clues had to be entered backwards. For some reason, I got the trick right off the bat and finished the puzzle in under ten minutes. So proud.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:13 PM on February 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

Earlier this week I downloaded the iOS app and have shifted my time wasting habits dramatically. This and the desire to support fact based journalism has driven me to consider subscribing. Is it correct that you have to go for the all out deluxe subscription package to have crosswords included? Is the "insider package" worth the difference between a deluxe subscription and basic subscription plus a separate crossword subscription?
posted by the christopher hundreds at 5:47 PM on February 15, 2017

When I worked on a newspaper, absolutely the #1 thing we got complaints about was the crossword, especially on Mondays -- we were a 5-day paper and the syndication was a 7-day service so someone would have to cut out the Friday solution from Saturday's puzzle and paste it into Monday's puzzle. This got screwed up far too often and BOY HOWDY are crossword people shirty if you mess up their puzzle answers.

One time I opened a (different) paper and saw that one of the editorial cartoonists had solved the crossword and published it as their cartoon for the day for April Fool's. The paper had to run a front-page apology the next day. DO NOT FUCK WITH CROSSWORD PEOPLE.

My college roommate took her crosswords very seriously, but was not very good at them. She was AWESOME at Jeopardy! so after she kicked my butt at an afternoon Jeopardy! session I'd always try to grab two papers the next morning so we could start the crossword at the same time and I could wipe the floor with her; I was way, way better at crosswords than she was. I'd be all "DID YOU GET 43 ACROSS YET?" (Like, I could rip through a Monday puzzle in about 8 minutes or so, about as fast as I could write it, and it took her 20 to 30 minutes. It was like she'd never even heard of Enya or Asti or Elba or the Orne.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:48 PM on February 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Also, I prefer to solve my crosswords in pen.

My dad uses pencil. My mom uses pen. It is a long-standing dispute between them. I don't have this problem because my husband is terrible at crosswords so I can just merrily use pen, and he is not allowed to write in the crossword because all his answers are wrong. I mean, Jesus Christ, four letter volcanos are always Etna, never Fuji, what is wrong with you???
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:28 PM on February 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

hmm - doing crossword puzzles is probably a decent way to keep those braincells around a little longer.

Hate to break it to you, but...

Though they can help improve vocabulary and recall of Pacific volcano names, mostly doing crosswords makes you good at doing crosswords.

Three other things:
-Rex is a joyless curmudgeon (though he makes a good point about paying authors).
-I do only the Fri/Sat NYT crosswords. The rest of the week, including Sunday, is too easy.
-In pen... mic drop.
posted by sixpack at 9:51 AM on February 16, 2017

It's a point of pride for me as an IU alum that Will Shortz is a fellow alum. (He contributes puzzles to the IU alumni magazine.)
posted by SisterHavana at 12:48 PM on February 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

I was disappointed that the huge mega-puzzle the Times put out around the holidays was so easy - it was basically a Wed. Something of that size at Friday difficulty would have been awesome.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:11 PM on February 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

I had a 67- day streak going, then a bad storm blew through and we lost power and Internet for a couple of days, unceremoniously ending that streak.

One. Hundred. And. Seventy. One. Days. I was more sanguine about my first marriage ending.
posted by Etrigan at 3:27 AM on February 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

(He contributes puzzles to the IU alumni magazine.)

Thank you for reminding me of that before I chuck the thing out unread again.
posted by asperity at 8:22 AM on February 17, 2017

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