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November 19, 2020 2:56 PM   Subscribe

"Actress Gardner (3)" or "Director DuVernay (3)"? The Pudding dives into the data on minority representation in crossword puzzles, and explains why the USA Today puzzle is more current and diverse than any other major crossword. posted by theodolite (19 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
It was cool to see the data!

I don't know anything about the readership of USA today - are they more likely to be young/nonwhite? Or is it just that the editor is young and good at his job?

I read the previously (I think I've read it before) and it reminded me of the movie review I heard on NPR describing a film in which a male college student went to a party and met a "coed". Hi, NPR, welcome to 2020, the term you're looking for is "female classmate". Ugh.
posted by Emmy Rae at 4:11 PM on November 19


It’s funny, definitely part of my enjoyment of crosswords is the feeling of stepping into a fusty, older, slightly foreign culture full of obscure references I don’t immediately get: it’s like learning a foreign language. I love the idea of a bigger, more diverse pool of references, but I am adamantly opposed to a content dump from pop culture. I want, like, forgotten women writers from the 1800s and references to particular movements in African art mixed in with my Latin pronouns and Milton. I don’t need to see myself represented in the puzzle, necessarily, just a broader view of the world.
posted by Merricat Blackwood at 5:36 PM on November 19 [6 favorites]


Puzzles are certainly waaaay easier when you've got common ground with the constructor. The occasional NYT puzzle by a mathematician with a love of 1980s video games is always a breeze. And in that regard, the crossword is kinda like the Stick Game: it's still not easy if you're in the In Group, but it definitely doesn't hurt. So aiming for more inclusivity and getting a broader array of influences is great, imo.

I kinda love going off to listen to forgotten musical acts at the end of the puzzle... And it would be great if those acts are not reo speedwagon.
posted by kaibutsu at 6:16 PM on November 19


It’s funny, definitely part of my enjoyment of crosswords is the feeling of stepping into a fusty, older, slightly foreign culture full of obscure references I don’t immediately get

There are some that make me feel that way, but more often (at least in the book of NYT Tuesday puzzles that used to be in the breakroom at my job) I would end up stuck on a baseball player from 1962, an actress from 1935, a famous pool player from 1923 and a violinist from the NY Philharmonic. And a "joke" in which I could detect no joke or even a sad play on words.
posted by Emmy Rae at 7:51 PM on November 19 [4 favorites]


Honestly, crosswords were a significant point of entry into learning the cultural shibboleths of bourgeois old white men and I really wish I'd done something better with my time.
posted by Jon_Evil at 8:15 PM on November 19 [4 favorites]


Or is it just that the editor is young and good at his job?

He's young and good and himself biracial. And he seems to be respected among crossword fans more than he is controversial, perhaps because he was already known as a top-level crossword solver.
posted by atoxyl at 10:18 PM on November 19 [3 favorites]


I did a couple of the USA Today puzzles after seeing this post. They're pretty fun. Probably NYT M/Tu difficulty at most, though.
posted by atoxyl at 10:24 PM on November 19 [1 favorite]


Some crossword solvers raise the stakes by cherishing feelings that the only way to solve a crossword puzzle is 100% without cheating, and any deviation renders the whole solution worthless or morally culpable. Which if that's your bag I'm not judging as such, but it does tend towards a desire for a closed universe of crossword knowledge, so you can climb towards perfection -- follow the news (usual sources) to keep up to date on new terms of course -- and maintain your self-image as a skilled expert, without having the ground under your feet shaken by inappropriate introductions into the approved universe.

So I like the quote from atoxyl's article that "It’s about viewing the crossword as a place to learn something new rather than simply confirm what you already know." Everybody knows different things. I wouldn't actually know "Compete like Eliud Kipchoge", but I can probably fill it in from the other direction, and now I know. Even if in the end I have to Google something, I learned something.

Just do try not to cross two proper nouns, please.
posted by away for regrooving at 10:46 PM on November 19 [2 favorites]


Jaysus, about time! A few years ago I picked up a job lot of The Times2 Jumbo Crossword Books. These are "General Knowledge" puzzles that The Times (of London) puts out on bank-holiday weekends and they make a rather good fit with my expensive education. So much so that I'm sure, if I didn't go to school with the composer, he (surely a He!) was born +/-5 years and <100km from me, because I get almost all the references! My family like to work through some of these collectively when they come [came?] together for the holidays. A while back, to make it a bit harder, I decided to complete a couple of these puzzles by only entering the Dn/Ac intersecting letters. [The UK convention is to have a sparse grid with a symmetrical pattern of black squares] This infuriated the Xwording family members who are all female, more colourful and younger than me. My grandfather used to do jig-saws by starting at the top left corner and completing each row in turn: why short-cut if you're just passing the time?
posted by BobTheScientist at 1:05 AM on November 20


Actress Gardner aside, I have known the genus of parrots ever since I started doing crosswords.
posted by y2karl at 4:59 AM on November 20


I did a couple of the USA Today puzzles after seeing this post. They're pretty fun. Probably NYT M/Tu difficulty at most, though.

Yeah, I do the USA Today crossword pretty much every day to kill a few minutes, and it's usually pretty fun. Breezy for sure, definitely NYT Tuesday at-most, but I rarely find myself groaning at bad cluing or obnoxious crosses the way I do with some other daily puzzles (Newsday, I'm looking at you).

This is a great analysis, in any case. The generated mini puzzles are especially neat to see. It's always delightful to see a "traditional" answer clued in a fresh way (cf. ONT) and, contrarywise, it's often a real slog to work through a puzzle with the same old, outdated clues.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:43 AM on November 20


(today's USA Today crossword clues a slashfic reference for an answer that would traditionally be clued with an old white guy, for example)
posted by uncleozzy at 6:13 AM on November 20


(today's USA Today crossword clues a slashfic reference for an answer that would traditionally be clued with an old white guy, for example)

I bet it's John Locke. *checks* Nope, it was Poe. Color me pleasantly surprised! I'll definitely be checking out the USA Today crossword from now on.
posted by snerson at 11:57 AM on November 20


The USA Today puzzle is edited by Erik Agard

If you do crossword puzzles, that's pretty much all you need to know.
posted by chavenet at 2:31 AM on November 21


If you do crossword puzzles, that's pretty much all you need to know.

He is/was (?) contributing crosswords fairly regularly to the New Yorker, too.

(I “do crossword puzzles” in the sense that I do the NYT Sunday with my mom when I’m at my parents’ house because they still get the physical paper. And I’m good enough at trivia and word game stuff in general that it usually takes a Friday or Saturday NYT to bring me down. So I don’t know if I “do crossword puzzles” enough to recognize famous crossword people, generally, but Erik feels like he gets a lot of respect.)
posted by atoxyl at 2:22 PM on November 21


Also this post inspired me to look up the tools to try to make a crossword puzzle, which was fun for a bit and then really frustrating.
posted by atoxyl at 2:28 PM on November 21


I gave up crosswords for a while in that recent space of time where newspapers were scarce and the apps to fill them in weren’t great, but came back to them at the beginning of the pandemic and for a while was doing the USA Today one every morning. I concur that it’s on the easy side but then I wonder if it’s just easy because I get more of the references, and therefore what a stupid kind of hard a late-in-the-week NYT one is, anyway? I do appreciate a commitment to making them more modern and inclusive. I also really miss physical newspapers.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 9:42 PM on November 21


I concur that it’s on the easy side but then I wonder if it’s just easy because I get more of the references, and therefore what a stupid kind of hard a late-in-the-week NYT one is, anyway?

IMO when the late-week puzzles are good, it’s because of oblique (but hopefully clever) clueing more than obscure answers. I don’t feel like the clues on the USA Today ones tend to go that lateral, though I also have enough of the right sort of acquaintances for something like “ON T” not to feel that lateral.

Having done a few more of these I’ve run into some clues where I had no idea about reference itself. In the profile I linked Agard says he’s fairly lenient on niche or “foreign” cultural references (in the interest of not artificially limiting the palette) and I think that’s probably true.
posted by atoxyl at 11:34 AM on November 22


For the NYT, Thursday is the puzzle with the funky theme and greatest trickery. Friday and Saturday trends to be themeless with harder clues. At some point I saw a study that concluded that the inventory of answers is about the same, and it's really just the difficulty of the clues that ramps up over the course of the week.
posted by kaibutsu at 1:48 PM on November 22


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