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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A Game Kerfuffle in Wisconsin Politics?

We have a game day in the office once a week. Wednesday has been known as Game Day around here for years now, and we have a small group of regulars who use their lunch hour to eat, socialize, and play games. It’s a marvelous way to break up the work week, meet new friends, try out new games, and relax a little.

Those are all positives. It has never impacted productivity or caused any problems, save for the occasional scheduling snafu when people need the conference room.

But apparently, similar activities are causing problems in the Wisconsin State Senate.


[Image courtesy of Wikipedia.]

According to a reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal, the legislative pages have been playing games during work time.

There are conflicting reports about how much time has been spent playing games; some folks are upset with people playing games on company time, while others point out that downtime is common and as long as their duties are being performed capably, what’s the big deal?

Well, the game they’re playing is probably what’s raised eyebrows.


[Image courtesy of the New York Times.]

It’s called Secret Hitler, and given the emotionally charged political climate in the United States, it’s understandable how this particular choice of game might be controversial.

For the uninitiated, Secret Hitler is a social deduction game, similar to Werewolf, Mafia, and other games, where the goal is to root out a hidden traitor among the players.

Only in this case, as the game’s title states, instead of a mafia member or a werewolf, it’s a Secret Hitler lurking among the players, as well as players trying to place the Secret Hitler into a position of power.

More controversially still, there’s an expansion pack to the game that adds members of the current administration to the game.

It’s unclear which version of the game has been making the rounds in the Wisconsin State Senate offices. After all, in February 2017, free copies of Secret Hitler were shipped to all 100 members of the United States Senate by the game’s creator.


[Image courtesy of TabletopFinder.]

Now, I am purposely not going to make any statements about this administration, regardless of my personal feelings. I make a point of not getting into politics in this blog. It’s supposed to be a place for puzzle and game fans to find out news, read reviews, and revel in all things fun and puzzly about the world.

That being said, I’m sure the choice of Secret Hitler was deliberate.

Maybe it was intended as a way to blow off steam in a political climate that is more tense than ever. That certainly wouldn’t be the most diplomatic choice, but you can easily see how it would make for a tongue-in-cheek way to defuse office stresses.

On the other hand, maybe it was intended as a statement, a sly shot at the current administration and ill feelings towards particular people in the government or political limelight. I don’t know.

But it’s pretty clear to me that it’s the game that got these pages in trouble, not the act of playing games. If they were playing Forbidden Island or Fluxx or Chutes & Ladders or any of a hundred other games in their downtime, it probably wouldn’t be a big deal.

I’m curious to see what the fallout from this story will be. According to reporter Riley Vetterkind, the game has been confiscated and HR is investigating the matter.

I hope nobody loses their job because of a game, whether it’s a political statement or just a ballsy choice of time-wasting and indulgence.

But it makes you wonder if any other games are popular in political offices and whether they’d prove as controversial as this one.

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