An Excluded Solver Strikes Back!


Many people find crossword puzzles daunting.

For some, it’s the crosswordese, those obscure or curious words that you only encounter in crossword grids. Whether it’s European rivers or needlecases, these entries never make casual conversational appearances.

For others, it’s the pop culture that often feels dusty and out-of-touch. It’s not like many silent movie stars are household names these days.

Thankfully, many current outlets and constructors have moved away from this stodgy approach to grid construction and cluing, working hard to keep cultural references fresh and up-to-date, and striving for fluid grid-filling entries that remain both accessible and interesting.

Unfortunately, the reputation of crosswords as behind-the-times is still prevalent in many circles, including among younger solvers.

But I was amused to find one younger solver who sought to balance the scales a bit by taking matters into her own hands.

Tumblr user Greater-than-the-Sword created and shared her own crossword. (Well, technically a criss-cross to puzzle aficionados like ourselves, but the average person would call this a crossword.)

In her own words:

Tired of your parents always doing better than you at crossword puzzles just because they’re old and get the ancient pop culture references? I made this Millennial’s Crossword Puzzle™. Guaranteed to make your parents feel old and less smug.

Sample clues included “is either white and gold or blue and black” for DRESS (referencing the optical illusion that took over the Internet for a day or two) and “Popular Youtuber” for PEWDIEPIE.

Although the puzzle didn’t make me feel old or less smug, it did make me laugh, since I found several of the entries completely baffling and impenetrable. It also reminded me of how amazingly fast cultural references emerge and vanish in the age of the Internet. I got about half of the reference in the puzzle, many of which applied to memes and pop culture from the last few years.

(Though I must confess that it took me an embarrassingly long time to realize the clue “bendy cabbage patch” meant BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH.)

I was unable to reach Greater-than-the-Sword to ask her what sort of feedback she received on the puzzle — either from millennials or from older solvers who accepted the challenge — but I found it to be a delightful response to lazy crossword construction.

You’re welcome to try your luck against the puzzle here.

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It’s Follow-Up Friday: That Dress edition

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today I’d like to return to the subject of optical illusions.

Yes, by popular demand, I’m talking about The Dress.


[The original photo is in the middle. To the left, the photo has been color-corrected toward white and gold. To the right, the photo has been color-corrected toward black and blue.]

For those who haven’t heard — and wow, I’m sincerely amazed you haven’t by now — the above picture of a dress was uploaded to Tumblr not too long ago, and the Internet collectively lost its mind debating whether the dress was white and gold or black and blue.

Some people think that color blindness has something to do with the different opinions on the dress, but the answer is simpler than that.

I’ve written about optical illusions in the past, and this photo is another prime example. As for why people are seeing two different sets of colors, it’s all about visual context and how we interpret contrasting colors.

The photo is saturated with sunlight, which skews the color of the dress. But for some people, when their eye color-corrects to determine what they’re looking at, they discount the blue in the photo, and end up seeing white and gold. Other people discount the gold in the photo, and see blue and black.

(This was also one of those cases where actually tilting your laptop screen could significantly change how the colors looked, since changing the angle of your screen altered how the image interacts with whatever light sources are nearby.)

I’ll give you another example. Check out this image from Gizmodo:


These green and blue spirals, contrasted against the pink and orange, appear to be different colors, but they are actually the exact same color. Our eyes are fooled into seeing them as different shades by the alternating stripes around them. (The “green” have orange contrast while the “blue” have pink.)

The differing interpretations of The Dress operate under the same principle.

Oh, and for the record, here’s the dress without the sunlight skewing the color scheme, as seen on Ellen DeGeneres’s show:


So which camp were you in, fellow puzzlers? White and gold or black and blue?

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