August 30, 2006

The puzzles I solve

What crosswords do I like to do, and where do I find them? Most of the puzzles I solve regularly are from newspapers, and they're available online. The main sources are Will Johnston's Puzzle Pointers page and Kevin McCann's

• The New York Times puzzles (edited by Will Shortz) are released online the evening before publication to the avid subscribers (if you don't get the dead-tree NYT and haven't signed up for Premium Puzzles, go here). There are four basic ways to solve the NYT crossword: In the actual newspaper, in the Premium Puzzles timed applet ("play against the clock"), on your computer screen via the Across Lite application, or printed out on paper from Across Lite. (Millions of people see the NYT crossword in syndication in their local papers—daily puzzles are printed on a six-week delay while Sundays are one week behind, as I understand it.) The difficulty level ramps up from Monday to Saturday, and then the Sunday puzzle is bigger (21x21) and clued at a mid- to late-week level.

• The CrosSynergy Syndicate's puzzles run in the Washington Post and Houston Chronicle, among other papers, and are available via Puzzle Pointers. These puzzles are subjected to peer review among the group of people who construct them. Monday through Saturday are typically pretty easy, like Tuesday or Wednesday NYTs; the Sunday Challenge is a themeless puzzle that's usually a few notches easier than a Saturday NYT.

• The Los Angeles Times crossword is edited by Rich Norris. It's available in an online form I don't like using, but registered members of can access the LAT puzzle in Across Lite. Generally a little easier than the NYT, but following a similar path of increasing difficulty throughout the week.

Newsday puzzles, edited by Stan Newman, aren't released in an Across Lite format; you can solve online or download printable PDFs through Stan's website. The weekday puzzles tend to be quite a bit easier than the NYT, which makes them handy if you want to show off your speed. The Saturday Stumper is a themeless puzzle, with difficulty ranging from "easier than you'd think" to "toughest puzzle of the week."

• Editor Peter Gordon's puzzles for the New York Sun were among my favorites—especially the themeless crosswords and the super-tough themed ones—but the newspaper ceased to be in fall 2008. If enough people express interest in subscribing to the Sun Crossword, Peter will bring the puzzle back to life and distribute it independently. Visit to sign up.

Several other outlets publish crosswords once or thrice a week. In the daily size (15x15), there are:

  • Ben Tausig's Ink Well puzzle and the Onion's A.V. Club puzzle he edits. New puzzles are released at Ben's Google Groups page; become a member of the group and the puzzles will be e-mailed (in Across Lite and printable forms) each week, usually on Tuesday.
  • The Chronicle of Higher Education crossword that Patrick Berry edits. Also available via Puzzle Pointers each Friday, except those weeks the CHE doesn't publish an issue.
  • Matt Jones' Jonesin' crossword. Available via the Jonesin' Google Group in Across Lite and printable JPEG formats. Join the Google Group and receive each week's puzzle via e-mail, usually on Mondays.
  • Matt Gaffney's Weekly Crossword Contest. Visit Matt Gaffney's Weekly Crossword Contest for his Google Group link. There's a new puzzle each Friday, with instructions for the post-solve contest given on Matt's blog.
  • Constructor Brendan Emmett Quigley's crosswords. Via his blog, BEQ provides new puzzles on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays in Across Lite, in printable form, and for online solving.
In the Sunday size (21x21), all available in Across Lite from Puzzle Pointers, we have:
  • Merl Reagle's self-syndicated Philadelphia Inquirer Sunday crossword. 
  • The Friday Wall Street Journal puzzle that Mike Shenk edits.
  • The Boston Globe puzzle, constructed in alternate weeks by Henry Hook and the duo of Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon (Elizabeth Gorski joined as a substitute constructor in fall 2008). I think these puzzles are still provided in Across Lite after a several-week delay.
There are other newspaper puzzle syndicates out there, but I don't seek out those crosswords. Either the puzzles are too easy, the quality isn't on a par with the aforementioned puzzles, or the crosswords are offered only in an online interface that I feel is more bother than it's worth. (A creature of habit, it throws me off to navigate through the grid in a way that differs markedly from Across Lite.)

I've subscribed to two puzzle magazines for years: Games and Games World of Puzzles. The latter contains far more puzzles. Both may include crosswords (standard grids of varying sizes, diagramless, variety grids), cryptics (standard and variety), acrostics, logic puzzles, Split Decisions, the Quint-Essential word search (in which you have to generate the word list and sort it into categories yourself—much more fun than it sounds), cryptograms, and more. In recent years, the publisher has taken to recycling material from their past contributors and from other publications, which is lame, but they still offer a grand assortment of puzzles.

When my favorite puzzle constructors and editors release books, I can't help myself and end up buying still more puzzles.

(Post updated on October 29, 2009.)