As someone who has attended the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in the past, I can attest to how blisteringly fast some of the top solvers are.
And there’s a lot that goes into a top-ranked solving technique. There’s the regular experience of actually solving on paper in pencil (which is very different from solving on a screen), and years of familiarity with crossword tropes, building a well-established lexicon of common crossword words, letter patterns, and cluing styles to draw on.
There may be a natural gift or affinity for puzzle solving as well, or simply a knack for reading past clever wordplay and cracking tricky clues and elusive themes faster than most.
In any case, it’s a curious alchemy that makes a top-notch solver. But you don’t have to be top 3 in a tournament to be fast. I am routinely impressed by the average times posted by constructors and fellow puzzlers alike.
During the Boswords 2020 Fall Themeless League, for instance, plenty of fellow solvers completed puzzles in less than half the time it took me.
So when I heard that YouTube’s famous experimental quartet The Try Guys were testing their puzzly mettle against a respected constructor, I happily watched along.
In the video, the team tried to group-solve a Monday New York Times crossword in the time it would take magician and crossword constructor David Kwong to solve FOUR New York Times puzzles.
I won’t spoil how things turned out — watch the video for that! — but I do want to discuss the role David played as puzzle ambassador in the video.
If you know someone who is intimidated by crosswords, or maybe wants to try solving them but hasn’t yet, I would highly recommend sending them a link to this video.
David does a terrific job introducing the Try Guys to the rules of crosswords, discussing everything from themed entries and rotational symmetry to some of the common crossword tropes we all know and love. (He even explains the famous November 5, 1996 quantum puzzle where either BOB DOLE ELECTED or CLINTON ELECTED could fit in the grid.)
He helps demystify the puzzle, but manages to do so in a way that still makes the challenge seem fun. The Try Guys go from being apprehensive about the race to being excited to bring their own unique trivia knowledge and skills to the table.
Not only does it encapsulate a lot of what’s fun and enjoyable about crosswords, but it serves as a small sampling of competitive solving, which might make fellow puzzlers more interested in participating in a tournament someday.
In short, it’s great fun AND great PR for crosswords. I don’t think it’ll make me any faster as a solver, but I enjoyed watching nonetheless. Nicely done, David. Nicely done, Try Guys.
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