Across Lite and the New York Times: A Crossword Kerfuffle

How do you solve crosswords, fellow puzzler? Are you a pencil-and-paper solver, an app solver, an online solver?

There are lots of options for solvers, depending on which outlet you’re talking about.

Unfortunately for some fans of the New York Times crossword, there will soon be fewer ways to access the flagship crossword.

It was announced recently that the NYT will no longer be supporting Across Lite, a third-party file format that some solvers use to import the puzzle into their solving app of choice.

I’m not sure how many solvers use Across Lite — there are millions of daily solvers of the Times crossword — but the online reaction has been fairly negative. Both Crossword Twitter and r/crossword feature numerous posts from disillusioned solvers, including Dan Feyer, multiple-time ACPT winner, who considers this little more than a cash grab by the NYT. (He has gone on to explain his point in greater detail in further tweets.)

I have no doubt that the staff at the Times anticipated some kind of blowback. I mean, we’re puzzle people. Puzzlers, despite an incredible capacity to learn and adapt and suss out all sorts of puzzly solutions, can be set in our ways. We like what we like.

While sitting in with my friends at the Penny Dell Puzzles table at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament one year, I offered a woman a free pencil. She went on a three-and-a-half-minute diatribe about the inferiority of the pencil and what she views as appropriate qualities for a solving pencil. After she was done, I waited a few seconds and then said, “Miss, you don’t HAVE to take the pencil.”

Like I said, puzzlers like what they like.

Of course, I can see both sides of the argument. The Times is under no obligation to support non-NYT methods of using the puzzle. I mean, knowing how hard our programmers here at PuzzleNation work to make sure our puzzles are accessible across many platforms, I suspect the NYT has the same issues with their own puzzle distribution, let alone worrying about non-brand formats.

But then again, there are reasons third-party platforms exist. Several solvers with visual impairment issues claim that the official app lacks the functionality they need, and they prefer to solve through third-party apps.

That’s a gap that needs to be closed, and if the NYT won’t, someone else will. I know other apps are already being suggested or developed in the wake of this decision.

One big reason is comfort: solvers are hoping to avoid losing the solving style they prefer.

Others begrudge the NYT for being so proprietary and locking away their expansive library of puzzles behind services that they find unwieldly or unreliable.

I’m intrigued to see what happens in the weeks and months to come. Do other apps rise to prominence and fill the gap formerly served through Across Lite, or will the Times respond to the criticism by stepping back or updating their own platforms?

Either way, I’m sure crossword fans will have plenty to say about it.


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