The NY Times is one of the largest circulating newspapers on the market in the United States today, with a current reader base of over 1.8 million. However, did you ever wonder about the kind of secrets held in regards to their crossword puzzles section? Every major business has secrets, and the NY Times is no exception. So let’s dive in and see just what type of secrets we can dig up about these beloved crossword puzzles.
Crossword Puzzles Are Not Created Internally
That’s right! There is no one in the main offices of the NY Times newspaper that create or develop the crossword puzzles that are circulated every day. In fact, the crossword puzzles that you enjoy from this newspaper are created and designed by freelance crossword puzzle constructors. These freelance constructors submit their crossword ideas to the crossword puzzle editor, Will Shortz, similar to the way a freelance news writer would submit a news article to a local newspaper. Will Shortz then reviews these submissions, makes a decision on which submission he feels should be in any given newspaper circulation, and edits the submission if needed. Of course, there’s a lot more to Will Shortz’s job description list as the crossword puzzles editor, however this gives you a basic idea.
Crossword Puzzle Patterns
As you may or may not have noticed, there is a certain pattern to the difficulty level of the crossword puzzles published each day. Typically, the NY Times likes to place the easiest puzzles into circulation early in the week, progressively getting harder as the week goes on. This leaves the Sunday newspapers with the most challenging puzzles each week. In addition to the Sunday paper containing the most difficult puzzles, it is also the largest puzzle offered for the week, measuring 21-squares by 21-squares on average.
Crossword Puzzle Themes
In addition to the difficulty pattern typically found in the NY Times crossword puzzles, the Monday - Thursday and Sunday crossword puzzles also include a theme. These themes typically have a some sort of a connection between a minimum of three long answers. These answers are usually found in the word answers going across the puzzle, as opposed to going down. The puzzle themes range anywhere from a joke or pun, to a quote from a famous person, as well as holidays. Currently, Christmas and April Fool’s Day are the only two holidays that the NY Times crossword puzzles commemorate on an annual basis, however this does not mean that other holidays haven’t also been observed in this creative way.
Rotational Symmetry means that something can be rotated 180-degrees and still remain identical. The NY Times crosswords often follow this symmetry rule, with only a few exceptions to the rule. This quality began with the introduction of the crossword puzzles to the NY Times newspaper in 1942. When Margaret Farrar, the original crossword puzzle editor for the newspaper, was asked why this rule was followed, she simply stated, “Because it is prettier.” On rare occasions, other rules of symmetry are followed, such as those with vertical or horizontal symmetry, and on even rarer occasions asymmetrical puzzles may be found. However, typically the NY Times prefers to follow the rotational rule of symmetry unless a particular theme causes them to need to break this rule.
Two Additional NY Times Puzzles
Are you aware that the NY Times publishes two additional puzzles, as well as the primary puzzle for each day? Every day of the week you can find a puzzle known as KenKen within the paper. KenKen puzzles are similar to Sudoku puzzles, being that they are a puzzle of numbers. In addition to the KenKen puzzles, on Sundays you can also find a second, possibly smaller, word puzzle to enjoy.
Famous NY Times Crossword Puzzles
Many of the puzzles found in the NY Times have become quite popular. For instance, one puzzle published in 1996 by a man named Jeremiah Farrell was featured in the movie Wordplay. This puzzle became popular due to the way it was constructed, as well as the fact that it was published on the day of the presidential election. Farrell created the clue words for this puzzle centering around one specific, long clue/answer combination: “Title for 39-across tomorrow.” The answer, of course, was Mister President. The amazing thing about this clue/answer combination is that 39-across could have been filled in with either presidential candidate at the time, either Bob Dole or Clinton, without disrupting the rest of the clue/answer combinations in the puzzle.
In addition to this famous puzzle, there have been many crossword puzzles in the NY Times puzzle history that have been created, or collaborative efforts have been made, by certain noteworthy people. For instance, former President Bill Clinton collaborated with a well-known crossword puzzle constructor, Cathy Millhauser, in May 2007 to develop possibly one of the funniest crossword puzzles to cross Will Shortz’s desk. Shortz commented on Clinton’s work, stating that he found it quite comical and admitted to hardly needing to make any changes to any of the clues. Clinton wrote the clues for this crossword puzzle, which featured more wordplay than is typically found in a NY Times crossword puzzle, while Millhauser constructed the puzzle grid.