The Gen Z Crossword Era


My 20-year-old niece, Emma, texted the other day to tell me she’s addicted to The Times’s game Connections; she and her friends play every day, along with the Mini and Strands. “The people who make the games need to make more fun games,” she declared.

I don’t mind her treating me as her personal on-demand suggestion box for The New York Times; she’s my personal on-demand focus group for Gen Z. She’s used to my asking her about Snapchat etiquette, or which athleisure brands are cool, or if it’s true that her generation is grossed out by feet.

I’d read about how younger people are getting into puzzles, but this was the first time my Gen Z rep had volunteered a report from the field. I was charmed; I’m a games nerd, but I’d never thought this was an activity that Emma and I would geek out over together.

I, too, love Connections, but my deepest and most abiding puzzle romance is with The Times’s crossword. I average a couple of puzzles per day, a simultaneously mindful and mindless diversion, a way to keep half my brain busy while the other half unpacks experiences and emotions for which there is no language, or no language yet.

I started doing crossword puzzles in my early 20s. From the puzzle, I learned the difference between ETNA and ELBA, ARAL and URAL, the names of golfers and pitchers and generals. I could give you dozens of clever ways to describe ASTA before I ever saw a Thin Man movie. The crossword filled gaps in my cultural and historical education, gave me an edge in bar trivia. Solving crosswords was like working out, something I got better at the more I did it, but while I acquired some niche familiarity with puzzle arcana, I never felt that I was getting smarter about the world that I lived in.

In the past several years, as puzzles have evolved from slightly esoteric entertainment to work that’s more quirkily personal, the experience has changed, so that doing a crossword today is less a quiet test of mid-20-century minutiae and more a spirited conversation with modern culture. The reasons are manifold: The technology used to make crosswords has improved, the online spaces where people commune over puzzle making and solving have proliferated, and there has been an industrywide effort to increase constructor diversity. The result? “Constructors today are more inclined to express themselves in their work,” as a piece in today’s Times about crosswords in the age of Gen Z explains.

Now, Times puzzles regularly include modern slang, internet speak, references to memes and films that weren’t shot on celluloid. Recent grid appearances include BITCOIN ATM and SELF-DRIVING CARS. “Arrive with great hype” was a recent clue for the answer COME IN HOT. Another clue called for a “Question of legitimacy”: IS THAT A THING.

This has, for me, resulted in a puzzle that’s more exciting, but I’ve spent enough time on online crossword forums to know that every longtime puzzler’s reaction might not be so enthusiastic. I asked the editorial director of New York Times Games, Everdeen Mason, if she has heard from people who are unhappy with the way the crossword has evolved.

The Times’s puzzle-solving community definitely feels ownership over the crossword, Everdeen told me. And she understands there’s “a sense of loss, maybe, when something that you thought was for you, you know, turns out to be for other people.” I’ve been thinking about that statement, how human it is to want to see yourself reflected in the things that you love. When I began doing puzzles, I didn’t question whether they were meant for me. It wasn’t until I started seeing clues and answers more relevant to my everyday that I understood how much of a tourist I was then.

Of course, you don’t need to see yourself in a puzzle in order to enjoy it or complete it. “A well-constructed puzzle is solvable, even if there are niche entries,” Everdeen said. Those niche entries are what make the newer puzzles so much fun for me. I’m not just calling up esoteric vocabulary from my weird-puzzler’s lexicon. I’m participating in an activity that feels relevant to my everyday life.

That doesn’t mean I’m not a little wistful for the days when I felt I’d established a sort of mastery of the crosswordese that comprised every puzzle, when solving a crossword was a bit dutiful, like reciting a memorized poem. I’m less sure-footed in solving these days, but I’m also more often delighted, which seems like a respectable trade-off.

Film and TV

🎼 “The Tortured Poets Department” (Friday): It may feel like you’re still digesting “Cowboy Carter,” but it’s time for another major album drop: “The Tortured Poets Department,” which Taylor Swift announced when she won a Grammy for “Midnights” earlier this year. Swifties, poets, even the grammar police have made their feelings known, and if you think the discourse will stop there, have you not learned anything from Beyoncé?

Do the words baked lemon pudding set your heart aflutter, as they do mine? Lucky for us, this recipe, which David Tanis adapted from JR Ryall’s cookbook, “Ballymaloe Desserts,” is a simple, speedy delight. A mere 10 minutes of prep time, plus 40 minutes’ baking, will yield a supremely citrusy dessert with two distinct layers: a puffed, spongy top that covers a soft and custardy center. Feather-light and brightly flavored, it’s just the thing to serve at the end of a big meal when you want something sweet but not filling. And for lemonheads who like things extra tart, substituting buttermilk for whole milk bumps up the tanginess in the best possible way.

The hunt: A couple wanted to find a home on the north side of Chicago that struck the right balance between square footage and access to coffee shops. Which did they choose? Play our game.

What you get for $420,000: A 1940 Colonial Revival house in Charles Town, W.Va.; an 1858 Greek Revival house in Holly Springs, Miss.; or a one-bedroom condominium in Washington.

Dressed to the nines: The comedians Hasan Minhaj and Ramy Youssef were among the hundreds of Muslims who gathered in New York to celebrate Eid al-Fitr.

Fashion week: Nigerian fashion designers are ready for their industry to take center stage.

Staples and well-kept secrets: Times readers shared their favorite New York City restaurants. See a list here.

Purchasing houseplants online can be useful if you don’t have a great brick-and-mortar store nearby. But not all plant purveyors are created equal. Wirecutter tested the most popular services, and landed on two we think offer the easiest shopping experience and deliver the healthiest plants. If you buy online, we recommend checking your new plant for pests, quarantining it from other plants for about a week, and repotting it in an ideal growing medium. Et voilà: fresh flora to celebrate the season — or perhaps a certain someone ahead of Mother’s Day? — Rose Lorre

The Masters golf tournament: Scottie Scheffler is the best golfer in the world right now, “and it might not be close,” The Athletic’s Brody Miller writes. Scheffler has a peculiar swing — his feet slide as if on roller skates — that nevertheless seems to send the ball exactly where he wants it. He enters today six under par, tied for the lead with Bryson DeChambeau and Max Homa. 3 p.m. Eastern today and 2 p.m. tomorrow, CBS.


Source link

Scroll to Top