Younger Solvers and Constructors Building Online Crossword Communities!

It’s a dynamic, fluid time for crosswords. It feels like we’re on the cusp of a sea change.

Women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community are featured more often, although we still have a LONG way to go on all of those fronts where representation is concerned, both for constructors and editorial staff.

Younger voices are rising up the ranks, and helping to influence the direction of crossword language through projects like the Expanded Crossword Name Database. Online resources like more inclusive word lists, free or discounted editing software (often constructed by younger solvers!), and words of guidance from online crossword collaboration groups are more available than ever.

Recently, these topics were tackled in The New York Times itself in an article about younger crossword enthusiasts penned by freelance writer and reporter Mansee Khurana.

mansee

Her article is a terrific snapshot of the modern crossword world.

It discusses the divide between older solvers and younger, and how the content of crosswords doesn’t always serve both sides. It tackles the concept of “evergreen puzzles” — crosswords edited for timeless reprint value, eschewing up-to-date and provocative references that would appeal to younger solvers and underrepresented groups for the sake of republication later.

The article mentions the many virtual and online spaces that are now comfortable haunts for younger crossword fans. Facebook forums, Discord chats, Zoom solving parties, Crossword Twitter, r/crossword on Reddit, and even Tiktok accounts dedicated to crosswords got some time in the sun, and it’s really cool to see how these new spaces have emerged and grown more influential.

[A solve-along video from YouTube, Twitch, and Crossword Tiktok user
Coffee and Crosswords. Actual solving starts around 10 minutes in.]

Several names familiar to crossword solvers were cited as well. Constructors like Sid Sivakumar (mentioned just yesterday in our Lollapuzzoola wrap-up), Nate Cardin, and Malaika Handa were all quoted in the piece, reflecting many of the same concerns we’ve heard from new and upcoming solvers in some of our recent 5 Questions interviews.

I actually remember the author’s post reaching out to the contributors and readers of r/crossword a few months ago, and I was glad to see the subreddit getting some mainstream attention. Yes, like any internet forum, it can be combative and argumentative at times, but that’s a rarity.

Most of the time, it’s a supportive community for crossword fans and aspiring constructors, a place where they share questions, bravely offer up their first attempts for input and criticism, and discuss all things puzzly. It’s genuinely inspiring to see new solvers on a near-weekly basis reaching out and being embraced by fellow solvers and cruciverbalists-in-progress.

I highly recommend you take the time out to read Mansee’s piece. She captures a true sense of not just where crosswords are now, but where they’re headed. And if these young people have anything to say about it, it’s headed somewhere very bright indeed.


dailypopwsicon

Have you checked out our special summer deals yet? You can find them on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search! Check them out!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

Delving into the 2021 Boswords Tournament Puzzles!

boswords2021

I finally had a chance to sit down and try my hand at the puzzles from the Boswords Crossword Tournament. Given the talent involved amongst the organizers and constructors — as well as the reliable puzzles featured in the previous three tournaments — I had high expectations, and I was not disappointed.

So let’s put those puzzles under the microscope and see what’s what!


Practice Puzzle #1: One Direction by Ezra Lieb and John Lieb

The first of two unscored opening puzzles, this 16×14 grid was a terrific warm-up solve, designed to get the puzzly brain moving and kick off any solver ring rust that might be lingering about.

It was quick, accessible, and the grid fill flowed nicely. There were four themed entries, each containing the word EAST in some capacity (naturally, as a CT boy, PHINEAS T BARNUM was my favorite of the four). Plus, as the solver worked their way down the grid, EAST slowly migrated further east in each successive themed entry, which was a nice touch.

Interesting grid entries included JASON MOMOA, NAVAJO, DRECK, and THE FED, and my favorite clue was “Stamp with a raised design, like the Oreo’s fleur-de-lis” for EMBOSS. Seeing “Oreo” and “fleur-de-lis” together was a treat.

Practice Puzzle #2: Vowel Language by John Lieb

Boswords’ resident master of warm-up puzzles strikes again with a fun fill and a solid hook in this 16×15 grid. The themed entries were all two-word phrases where the words started with the same vowel (EARLY EDITION, e.g.), running through all five vowels (sorry, Y) as the grid was completed.

In fact, apropos for a letter-based theme, this grid was nearly a pangram (only missing J and V). Creative and interesting fill helped elevate this puzzle nicely.

Interesting grid entries included ZESTY, KENNY G, I QUIT, and MYST, and my favorite clue was “Enjoy a certain 7-Eleven drink, say” for SLURP.

monkey-puppet-side-eye-borderless

Puzzle #1: Self-Contained by Malaika Handa

The tournament proper launched with this great 18×15 starter, packed with themed entries that both started and ended with the letter I. These entries were helped along by both the title (which I loved) and the revealer GIVES SIDE EYE.

Couple that with some clever cluing — both informative and wordplay clues abound in this puzzle — and you have a very strong opener to this year’s tournament.

Interesting grid entries included HYDRA, OBEY ME, SAY CHEESE, and LATVIA, and my favorite clues were “Org. that might investigate your case” for TSA, “Something popped by toasters?” for CHAMPAGNE, and “Heady challenge for Hercules?” for HYDRA.

Puzzle #2: For Your Amusement by Hoang-Kim Vu

The second tournament puzzle eschewed a wordplay-based book for a very cool visual element. This 15x grid had the word TEACUP six times in the grid, spelled out in circled loops in the grid, and even tied it all together with the word TEACUPS reading down the center of the grid.

This did mean for some difficult grid fill in order to suit the gimmick, but the puzzle remained a solid solving experience and a pleasant shift in style for a tournament that’s often quite wordplay-heavy in its themes.

Interesting grid entries included LUCIDITY, HETERO, I TRY, and ASANTE, and amidst a load of informative and colorful clues, my favorite was “Aging texting acronym that some in Gen Z replace with a skull emoji, as in ‘You kill me'” for LMAO.

Puzzle #3: Rise to the Occasion by Garrett Chalfin and Andrew Kingsley

This 17x grid utilized its themed entries’ crossings in an engaging visual manner, as the double O’s in each phrase were stacked vertically instead of being spelled out — turning DOOM AND GLOOM, for instance, into DOM and GLOM with double O-words crossing the puzzle at the O’s. This gimmick was smartly explained by the corner revealer STANDING O’S.

This was arguably the toughest puzzle of the tournament, mixing the visual element with some interesting grid fill to make Puzzle #3 a step-up in difficulty in vintage Boswords tournament style.

Interesting grid entries included PAR THREE, NO DICE, AGAWAM, and TIME WARPS, and my favorite clue was “Answer that doesn’t belong here among the Downs?” for UPS.

art heist

Puzzle #4: Art Heist by Chandi Deitmer

This 18x grid featured the names of artists hidden within larger phrases — KAHLO inside HOOKAH LOUNGE, for instance — but added an additional twist to the solve by ignoring the letters in those artists’ names for the Down entries. So, while KAHLO filled the circled letters reading across, the answers reading down (as clued) would exclude those letters.

But, most importantly, those circled letters STILL formed words reading down, just not the one being clued. So, for example, 4-Down was clued “Comedian whose ‘seven dirty words’ spurred a 1978 Supreme Court ruling on media censorship” gives you the answer CARLIN, but if you include the letters of two artists’ names that the down entry crosses, you get CAROLINA.

It took a little while to get used to using the letters across and ignoring them down (or, at the very least, considering the clued answers down without them while still forming the longer down words), and this made for a fun, yet challenging solve. This was a very cool and well-executed hook for the puzzle that added a lot to the traditional word-hidden-in-phrase crossword theme.

For the third year in a row, Puzzle #4 features my favorite gimmick of the tournament. What a streak!

Interesting grid entries included BEER ME, ANO NUEVO, STUNT DRIVER, and ENGULF, and my favorite clues were “Cliff notes?” for YODEL, “What a designated driver shouldn’t have to pick up?” for TAB, and “Proud papa with a cygnet ring?” for COB.

extras

Puzzle #5: Hollywood Extras by Rob Gonsalves and Jennifer Lim

Gonsalves and Lim return to Boswords after a successful debut last year and close out the tournament’s open competition puzzles with a solid 18×17 grid, cooling the solvers down nicely after the one-two punch of puzzles 3 and 4.

This movie-themed puzzle added a letter to film titles — THE BOOK OF ELI becoming THE BOOK OF DELI, for example — and the bonus letters spelled out DRIVE, making the revealer DRIVE-IN MOVIES tie the whole puzzle together nicely.

It’s a really fun, accessible theme that allowed for some fun cluing — I particularly enjoyed MONA LISA SIMILE — and served as a nice capper for the event before the final puzzle.

Interesting grid entries included BOUGIE, GIBRALTAR, CRETAN, and LET’S EAT, and my favorite clue was “Dwarf planet beyond Pluto” for ERIS, because I will forever stand up for Pluto and Eris as planets.

120718_crossword_L

Puzzle 6: Championship Themeless by Wyna Liu

For the third year in a row, a different constructor tackled the challenge of creating the final boss for Boswords, and Liu absolutely smashed it. This was a terrific 15x themeless grid, jam-packed with interesting fill and great crossings.

The strong construction was highlighted by two sets of solid clues — both the MILD and the SIZZLING clue sets had some clever entries for solvers to unravel — and all in all, this was a worthy obstacle for the eventual winners to overcome.

Interesting grid entries included UNO CARD, BLOBJECT, SUSHI CHEFS, ARTIVISTS, and BIKE RIDE (which I KEPT trying to make BICYCLE to my continuing dismay).

As for favorite clues, here’s a list:

  • MILD: “Academic fire safety?” for TENURE
  • SIZZLING: “Lift a paddle?” for BID
  • SIZZLING: “Keeping track?” for TENURE
  • SIZZLING: “Place to see a metal band?” for RING FINGER
  • SIZZLING: “Number of syllables in ‘Milano’ or ‘Napoli'” for TRE

Overall, Boswords continues to impress. Between the summer tournament and the seasonal themeless leagues, Boswords has really stepped up their game over the last two years, and as always, I was impressed by the array of puzzles assembled for this year’s tournament.

There were tricky themes, visual themes, and even a teacup ride, all of which made great use of both the cluing and the grids themselves. Every puzzle made an impact, and the tournament puzzles as a whole were challenging and creative in their design without being off-putting or getting too esoteric.

While I do think this year’s tournament was a bit harder overall than previous years, Boswords remains the perfect tournament to introduce solvers to tournament-style puzzling, making up for difficulty with accessibility, playfulness, and straight-up solid grid construction.

Once again, I cannot wait to see what they cook up for us next year.


But then again, we don’t have to wait that long for more Boswords fun! At the end of the broadcast for this year’s summer tournament, they announced the roster of constructors that will be contributing to the upcoming Fall Themeless League!

E7N_korXEAIEThl

That is one heck of an all-star team to look forward to! See you in October and November for this year’s Fall Themeless League!


dailypopwsicon

Have you checked out our special summer deals yet? You can find them on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search! Check them out!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

The Boswords Crossword Tournament Returns This Weekend!

boswords2021

Yes, fellow puzzlers, it’s tournament time again!

This Sunday, July 25th, from 1 PM to 6 PM Eastern, the Boswords Crossword Tournament returns! The fifth edition of this event will be contested online for the second year in a row, so it’s the perfect opportunity to test your puzzly skills.

If you haven’t signed up yet, registration closes tomorrow at 5 PM Eastern.

With two divisions to choose from — Individual and Pairs — puzzlers of all ages and experience levels are welcome to enjoy some challenging and clever crosswords in a day of puzzly fun and camaraderie.

Tournament organizers Andrew Kingsley and John Lieb (along with talented puzzle editor Brad Wilber) have gathered a diabolical Ocean’s Eleven-style crew of terrific constructors for this year’s puzzles. The five themed puzzles in regular competition (as well as the championship themeless final) will be constructed by Malaika Handa, Andrew Kingsley, Chandi Deitmer, Wyna Liu, Hoang-Kim Vu, Rob Gonsalves, and Jennifer Lim!

Boswords is asking for $25 for adults, $35 for pairs, and $5 for students to (virtually) attend and compete, which is a real bargain! (Also, for anyone with financial difficulties, there is a discounted rate available.)

If you want to solve the puzzles at your leisure and outside of the competitive setting, it’ll only cost you $10 for the puzzle packet, which you’ll receive Monday by email.

To check out the full details of this year’s event, click here! (And for our rundown of last year’s tournament puzzles, click here!)

Will you be attending the Boswords tournament, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let us know! We’d love to hear from you.


dailypopwsicon

Have you checked out our special summer deals yet? You can find them on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search! Check them out!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

5 Questions for Crossword Constructor Malaika Handa!

Welcome to 5 Questions, our recurring interview series where we reach out to puzzle constructors, game designers, writers, filmmakers, musicians, artists, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life!

This feature is all about exploring the vast and intriguing puzzle community by talking to those who make puzzles and those who enjoy them.

And this marks the sixth edition of our series of interviews where we turn our eyes to the future of crosswords. Instead of interviewing established talents in the field, I’ve been reaching out to new and up-and-coming constructors and asking them to share their experiences as a nascent cruciverbalist.

And we’re excited to welcome Malaika Handa as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

You have to be fairly ambitious to get into constructing crosswords, but Malaika Handa is setting the bar pretty high.

Less than a year into her cruciverbalism career, she’s already been published in outlets like Grids These Days, Matthew Stock’s Happy Little Puzzles, and the American Values Club Crossword.

But she’s best known as the creator and curator of 7xwords, an attempt to create a puzzle for every possible 7×7 crossword grid in a single year. If that’s not impressive enough, she launched 7xwords after having only constructed crosswords for a few months!

Malaika was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!


5 Questions for Malaika Handa

1. How did you get started with puzzles?

I started solving the New York Times puzzle about two years ago, when I got a job that had a commute. Eventually, we switched to working from home, but I still would solve the puzzle every morning. I didn’t realize regular people could make puzzles (“crossword constructor” felt akin to “astronaut” in terms of attainability) until a crossword blogger I liked refilled a corner as an example of how to make it better. That blew my mind! I started making mini puzzles in Excel, and then finally bought Crossfire around October 2020. Hand gridding is not for me, I’ve learned!

2. What, in your estimation, makes for a great puzzle?

I really don’t think there’s such a thing as a canonical great puzzle– or if there is, I am frankly uninterested. Appealing to every single solver seems like an impossible task, and a good way to end up with a puzzle that’s a little flat and lifeless. I like to solve puzzles that are fun for me, Malaika Handa, to solve! (I hope that framing doesn’t seem selfish.) Puzzles with pop culture references that I know, computer / math stuff, make-up / fashion stuff, Twitter slang.

Adam Aaronson had a puzzle with SYNTACTIC SUGAR in it, and I plunked it in with no crossings. I solved the rest of the puzzle floating on a cloud. I love that term so much– when I was a teaching assistant in college (one of my favorite jobs I’ve had) I taught it to my students, and I think it is a lovely and evocative phrase. I bet a lot of people had never heard of SYNTACTIC SUGAR before, so maybe that was really tough for them, but that’s okay. We don’t have to have the same opinion on everything.

What do you most enjoy — or try hardest to avoid — when constructing your own? 

When I write puzzles, I like to use fill and clues that make me really excited, even if it’s things other people might not have heard of. (I think that’s called “voice,” by the way.) Once I clued ISLA as [Stephanie Perkins’ heroine] and all my test solvers said they had never heard of that reference. I kept it in the puzzle anyway.

Then my older sister solved it and when she got to that clue, she texted me with a zillion exclamation points and we freaked out over how good Stephanie Perkins’ books are. My number one advice to other constructors is: If a particular entry doesn’t make you excited, what is it doing in your puzzle? (By the way, sometimes the answer is “it’s holding in place three other entries that make me excited” and I think that’s fine.)

Do you have any favorite crossword themes or clues, either your own or those crafted by others?

I love hearing people’s favorite clues. Mine are Robyn Weintraub’s [Batting equipment?] for FAKE EYELASHES, and Mollie Cowger’s [“Thank God it’s Friday”?] for SHABBAT SHALOM, both of which I, no exaggeration, think about probably once a week. My favorite clues that I’ve written are always clues from my most recent puzzles. So right now there’s 50-Across from this puzzle ((Editor’s note: Great clue, but NSFW)), or [Wireless device] from this puzzle.

3. Your 7xwords puzzle blog has become something of a sensation in the puzzle world, shouted out by fellow constructors like Erica Wojcik, Kevin Trickey and May Huang. Where did the concept for 7xwords come from? What have you learned from the project so far? Will 7xwords reach its ambitious goal by week 52?

The site started with the discovery that there are 312 legal 7×7 crossword grids, which works out to a six-days-a-week midi puzzle. (I talk more about the 7xwords origin story and the math behind it in this episode of Fill Me In, at around 24:30. And if you’re curious about the code I used to build the grids, feel free to message me on Twitter!)

I’ve learned so much from this project, I don’t even know where to start. Stuff like “How to make an html page exist on the Internet instead of just locally on my computer” and “Having a separate email address for a project like this will make your life one hundred times easier.” I’ve also gotten a lot better at articulating why a particular clue or crossing feels like it needs improvement. That’s a skill that has come from copy editing *checks notes* about 150 midi puzzles. Back in January, I was operating mostly under vibes (“this feels like it could be better”) but now I can usually identify what needs fixing, and how to fix it.

As for whether we’ll reach the goal… I do have a constructor locked down for every single grid. So it feels very promising. I have also seen that final grid, with no black squares, and it exists. So, even more promising!

4. What’s next for Malaika Handa?

The most concrete thing coming up is my puzzle in the Boswords summer tournament! Registration will open on July 1. Join us!! It’s going to be a super fun time.

5. What’s one piece of advice you would offer fellow solvers, aspiring constructors/setters, and puzzle enthusiasts?

I would love for solvers to remember that just because they personally didn’t like a puzzle doesn’t (necessarily) mean the puzzle should not have been published. (Sometimes it does, of course. Like Woody Allen tribute puzzles– we can just stop with those.)

Also, when you’re solving, look up entries that you don’t know! It’s a game, not a test.


A huge thank you to Malaika for her time. You can follow her on Twitter for all of her crossword endeavors, and be sure to check out her 7xwords puzzle site for both the 7×7 puzzles and her other crosswords! Whatever she does next, I’m sure it will be brilliant!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

5 Questions for Crossword Constructor Erica Wojcik!

Welcome to 5 Questions, our recurring interview series where we reach out to puzzle constructors, game designers, writers, filmmakers, musicians, artists, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life!

This feature is all about exploring the vast and intriguing puzzle community by talking to those who make puzzles and those who enjoy them.

And this marks the second edition of a new series of interviews where we turn our eyes to the future of crosswords. Instead of interviewing established talents in the field, I’ve been reaching out to new and up-and-coming constructors and asking them to share their experiences as a nascent cruciverbalist.

And we’re excited to welcome Erica Wojcik as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

Erica has only started constructing crosswords over the last year, but she’s already making waves. Most notably, she has spearheaded the Expanded Crossword Name Database, a resource for constructors where the crossword community at large can submit the names of women, non-binary individuals, trans individuals, or people of color that you’d like to see in crosswords.

She currently has a puzzle up on Matthew Stock’s Happy Little Puzzles, and we’ll start seeing her creations in outlets like The Inkubator in the coming months. I have no doubt her byline will be appearing elsewhere soon!

Erica was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!


5 Questions for Erica Wojcik

1. How did you get started with puzzles?

I used to do morning crosswords with friends in college, but only sporadically. In 2015, my husband got me hooked on the NYT crossword and ever since, our daily routine involves solving the Times puzzle together and reading Rex Parker’s blog. I study language development as a professor of psychology, and crosswords perfectly combine my interests in language and problem solving.

I’d been curious about constructing for a while, but finally decided to try it out in February 2020. I tweeted something about wanting to construct and tagged Anna Shechtman and Erik Agard on a whim, and they both gave super advice and other constructors chimed in as well. I was so shocked and delighted by how nice and helpful everyone was!

But, it was February 2020 and before I could actually dive in, the pandemic struck and I was stuck juggling a job, a toddler, and a newborn. I got my head above water in November, downloaded Across Lite, read Patrick Berry’s Handbook, got hooked up with a mentor via the Crossword Puzzle Collaboration Directory and very quickly became obsessed.

2. You have a puzzle in the pipeline with The Inkubator and you’re awaiting feedback on submissions to several of the major outlets. As you start to interact with the puzzle community at large, what have you learned along the way? What has been the most surprising part of the process for you?

Oh man, I’ve learned so, so many things from so, so many people! The most surprising part of constructing has been discovering the fun, welcoming online crossword community. I had no idea! It’s been such a delight to chat and joke and learn from so many folks. The most important (and most cliche) thing I’ve learned is to ask for help when you have a question. So many folks are willing to collaborate or share tips.

What, in your estimation, makes for a great puzzle? What do you most enjoy — or try hardest to avoid — when constructing your own?

I love puzzles that have personality and teach me something new, which usually means crosswords that have colloquial/contemporary phrases and avoid common crosswordese. Of course, I’ve learned that this is SO HARD to do. I end up ripping up entire grids because I have AMTOO and OSHA gnawing at me. But it’s worth it when you fill a grid that is just so clean and fresh throughout.

3. Do you have any favorite crossword themes or clues, either your own or those crafted by others? Who inspires you as a constructor?

There are WAY too many constructors that I admire to list here! But in recent memory…. I absolutely loved Nam Jin Yoon’s Saturday NYT puzzle at the end of January. So many good phrases. Such clever cluing on the shorter fill. I’m also a huge fan of Malaika Handa’s 7×7 blog. Those make me laugh out loud all the time.

4. What’s next for Erica Wojcik?

I’ve gotten so much positive feedback for the Expanded Crossword Name Database, and one thing that several people have asked about is whether I can create a similar database for cultural things (teams, places, organizations etc.) So I’ll be getting that up soon!

I’m such a n00b at constructing, so I’m still just constantly playing around with themes and grids and trying to really find my voice. I love love love collaborating so I hope to do more of that, too!

5. What’s one piece of advice you would offer fellow solvers, aspiring constructors/setters, and puzzle enthusiasts?

Read Patrick Berry’s Handbook and join Crossword Twitter 🙂


A huge thank you to Erica for her time. You can follow her on Twitter for all of her crossword endeavors, and be sure to contribute your ideas to the Expanded Crossword Name Database! I’m genuinely looking forward to seeing what she creates next.

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!