Growing up, it felt like the ultimate test of intelligence. My father and my grandmother competed intensely whenever we visited. Who could do the Saturday puzzle in pen faster? It had to be erasable pen, thought, so whoever got to the paper second could still do the puzzle.
When I started trying to do the puzzles myself, it was my last fall semester of college, where free newspapers were delivered daily to a rack just outside the café where I liked to get breakfast. I grabbed a newspaper, and a pencil, and sat down to try to do one.
“No, don’t try today,” said my friend Julie, who did the crossword every day, usually in less than half an hour, with a pen. “It’s Thursday.” I had no idea what she meant. “You need to wait until Monday.” The puzzles get more difficult as the week progresses, with the easiest on Monday and the most difficult on Saturday.
It’s not just as simple as looking at the clue, there’s a technique. Start with at the end, with the last clue in the down category, Julie explained. Those were the easiest. Whether that’s actually true, I’ve never been able to tell because I’m still terrible at them, but they’re a wonderful resource for those who enjoy them.
The New York Times website states “Playing The New York Times Crossword means entering a world where your curiosity is always rewarded.” The puzzle is available in the print version, but there are also versions for mobile apps, and miniature variations that subscribers can play.
According to an article written by Richard F. Shepard in 1992, the New York Times was the last paper to adopt the crossword puzzle in 1942, which I find funny since it is now the golden standard for crosswords. Being able to do the daily puzzle, in pen, seems to me very impressive.
My feelings might, again, be due to the fact that the only time I have completed the New York Times Crossword without cheating was last week with an online Tuesday (or maybe Wednesday) puzzle projected at the front of the class with at least 10 people helping the effort.
It still took us three hours.
Later in the article, Shepard says “For a feature whose main purpose is entertainment, it is for many an emotional, serious Sunday business, by turns frustrating and heartwarming.”
For more than seventy years, this has probably been true.