There's a peculiar error -- or, at best, a mischaracterization -- in The New York Times' trend story today on the disappearing crossword puzzle: As Exhibit B, it submits The New York Sun's late, lamented crossword, a favorite of one Sam Szurek, an Upper West Side copywriter who was distraught to hear that The Atlantic Monthly is getting rid of its puzzle.

"Mr. Szurek's other favorite puzzle, the one in The New York Sun, gasped its last breath on the Internet last year (as did the rest of the newspaper)," the Times reports. The story continues: "As magazines and newspapers cut pages to save money, crossword puzzles, acrostics, sudokus and other games are being left on the production-room floor."

Um, the Sun's crossword, edited by the extraordinary Peter Gordon, gasped its last breath simultaneously in print and online when the Sun folded last fall. One assumes the Sun website is where a crossword fan in a New Haven suburb got the puzzle each weekday. According to the Times, she's "still suffering from the loss of the New York Sun crossword, and she wonders what the future will bring." But the puzzle was never banished from the Sun's printed page. Neither was the paper's sudoku feature, which was created by Frank Longo and went by the winningly cheesy moniker "Sun-doku."

The Sun, whose crossword was emblematic of its brainy bent (the Times, to its credit, notes the puzzle's "Ivy League street cred"), lost money by the barrel; that's what happens when you don't master the crucial skill of bringing in enough income to offset lavish spending. But it would have lost even more, had it taken the crossword out of the physical paper and alienated that feature's fervent, extremely vocal fans.

The wrath of puzzlers is not something to be trifled with. Nor is their passion. For more on that, see the Times story, in which a Bay Area librarian compares crossword solving to multiple orgasms.

The story makes an interesting point, too, about the tactile element of working crosswords:

Old or young, some people avoid crosswords online because the physical pleasures don't translate.

"There is something visceral about a ballpoint pen on newsprint that is not duplicated by pointing and clicking," said Ken Jennings, who is editing a book of crossword puzzles but who is best known as the sort of Roger Federer of the quiz show "Jeopardy."

On the subway the other day, I sat next to a woman who was doing a New York Times crossword -- which she had photocopied from the printed page. Her own paper? A co-worker's? I'm still wondering about that.
July 12, 2009 8:54 PM |


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