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January 23, 2007

The State of Crosswords

Until recently offered a free archived crossword puzzle every day. The site offered puzzles from a few years ago all the way back to puzzles from the 50s. Some of the puzzles weren't even a full 15x15 grid – some were just 13x13. I decided to do some research. I chose to only do puzzles that were at least 20 years old. My main objective was to determine if there was more crosswordese back then than there is now. In the process I began to think about what things make a good crossword.

Were crosswords better in the good old days? Definitely not – not even close.

The first thing I've come to realize that good puzzles have is an interesting theme. Much of the time I work on puzzles with groups of people during coffee breaks. Trying to work out the theme in a group setting is a lot of fun. None of the puzzles I worked on from between 20 and 50+ years ago had a theme.

Secondly, good puzzles have clever clues. I enjoy clever clues so much I've decided to recognize the best crossword creators and editors with my Clever Clue of the Month page. Once again, the old puzzles had almost no clever clues.

Lastly, although this site is dedicated to crosswordese, I'll be the first to admit that too much crosswordese in a puzzle is not a good thing. Did the old puzzles have more crosswordese? My research determined that the old puzzles averaged about 7.2 crosswordese words per puzzle. That compares to 5.3 in 2006.

While we're on the subject of crosswordese – in my sample of 365 puzzles in 2006, only 3 had no crosswordese. So, while the amount of crosswordese has diminished, I think this shows that it will always be with us. The puzzle with the most crosswordese? Actually, there were two – two puzzles each had 13 crosswordese words: an AOL puzzle from February 15th of last year and a USA Today puzzle from the very next day!

The most common crosswordese? Aria came in first, as usual, showing up 35 times. Epee came in second showing up 27 times.

So far this year we are averaging 5.5 crosswordese words per puzzle and I expect it to stay right around that level. And, of course Aria leads the way again showing up in about 10% of the puzzles so far. Following close behind at this point are Eire and Emir.

Even though recent puzzles are much better than the old ones, I'd still like to work on one or two old puzzles a month. If you know of a source for puzzles 20-50 years old, please let me know.

Paul Stynsberg, © 2007