October 24, 2006

The "Today's Puzzle" forum

Okay, I tried posting these remarks at the NYT "Today's Puzzle" forum twice this morning, and the "Service Unavailable" message stopped me in my tracks. So, change of venue.

The preponderance of evidence suggests that the forum is intended to be a social community for crossword fans, and that this identity supersedes any pretense that it's devoted to discussion of that day's NYT crossword. The "spoiler rule" bars posters from getting specific about a crossword until noon on the day of publication. So everyone who avidly downloads the puzzle the night before (and pays a subscription fee for the privilege) is supposed to wait up to 14 hours before posting comments about the theme, specific answers, or really, anything that a hypersensitive individual might deem to be a spoiler. The first-thing-in-the-morning solvers also have to wait several hours before the spoiler deadline passes.

Imagine if you had plans that kept you out of the house when your favorite team had a critical game on TV. You'd tape or TiVo the game and look forward to watching it later. If you wanted to avoid hearing the final score, you'd skip the local news broadcast, you'd certainly shy away from watching ESPN, and you'd be careful about what websites you visited. What you wouldn't do is expect ESPN to scrupulously avoid giving away the score before you'd gotten around to watching the game yourself. And that's basically what's happening at the "Today's Puzzle" forum. Enough people have grown accustomed to hanging out there for chit-chat, and they'd prefer not to have to avoid the site until they've finished the puzzle themselves. The continued enforcement of the spoiler rule indicates that the preferences of that particular group of people supersede the dedication to talking about the day's crossword.

One of the key reasons I started this blog was to talk about the Times crossword when it was fresh in my mind, minutes after solving it online. (Would you believe someone once e-mailed me to ask me to abide by the forum's spoiler-rule schedule on my blog?!?) I know a number of you appreciate having a place to read or write about the puzzle when it's convenient for you, regardless of whether noon has arrived—and I certainly appreciate reading your comments and keeping a puzzle-centric conversation going.

So from my perspective, the main problem with the NYT forum is that it's misnamed. Call it the "Crossword Fans" forum and highlight the spoiler deadline. How does it enhance that community of solvers to chide any newbie who mistakenly visits the "Today's Puzzle" forum in the morning to ask a specific question? It doesn't. It's certainly reasonable for someone to assume that the "Today's Puzzle" header is an accurate description of the forum's scope—but really, it isn't, is it?