July 12, 2006

Young vs. old crossword fans

I get the Cruciverb-L mailing list in digest form each night. Last night's batch of posts involved a heated discussion spurred by a nascent constructor asking the list members if TRL was kosher crossword fill. The responses were largely split between younger constructors like Ben Tausig and Curtis Yee, ardently defending the validity of crossword entries that skew young, and older ones arguing against an apparent abbreviation (alliteration!) that older solvers might not understand even after completing the puzzle. The esteemed elders pointed out that it's not a term that would show up in a printed reference book (yet), and felt it wouldn't be a fair entry.

Far be it from me to avoid the fray. Here's my opinion: Go for it. Yes, crossword editors who are catering to a largely older audience won't necessarily be fond of an answer best known to MTV viewers. Yes, older solvers may be vexed by such entries appearing in "their" crosswords. However, if the crossword industry as a whole doesn't want to dwindle toward extinction (sudoku, anyone?), it must continue to evolve and try to lure younger solvers. Ben pointed out that the younger generation of crossword solvers have never seen the movie, The Man Who LOVED CAT DANCING which was a theme entry recently. Dean Olsher had a recent post about names that live on primarily in crosswords—how many people under the age of 40 who don't do crosswords know who Eve Arden, Irene Castle, Una Merkel, Elena Verdugo, or Erle Stanley Gardner were? And yet these names haven't been blacklisted from crosswords. I say for every ELENA or ERLE, young solvers have earned a TRL or LIL JON. Plus, if the clue provided a little information (e.g., "MTV show hosted by [whoever hosts it]"), solvers might not learn what TRL stands for, but at least they'd now know that TRL was an MTV show. And who knows? It's possible that a few decades from now, the show will be deemed as key to pop music as the old "Ed Sullivan Show" was. Why not start teaching solvers the content that their puzzles will continue to have in the years ahead?

And remember Will Shortz's philosophy, articulated in Wordplay and elsewhere, that the NYT crossword can include everything that appears in the paper? A search for TRL and MTV turns up 30 articles in the New York Times.

*getting off my soapbox now, feeling ever so young*