This week, the blogger Braze pointed us to a post from last year by the crossword blogger Jim Horne. Horne used to blog regularly about The New York Times’s daily crossword, but gave it up, he says, because (among other reasons) he was dismayed by the high level of negativity among those commenting regularly on the daily puzzle (especially on such sites as Amy Reynaldo’s Diary of a Crossword Fiend and Rex Parker’s blog).
“I enjoy New York Times crosswords,” he writes, as if confessing to a shameful secret.
Horne goes on to make some perceptive points about the shortcomings of much crossword commentary—particularly the apparently boundless conservatism of longtime solvers, and their reliance on rules to decide whether a puzzle is successful or not. We’ve encountered a little of that hidebound viewpoint in the responses to our own puzzles.
But fundamentally, Horne’s post is based on a misconception about what criticism is for—and criticism, in the broad sense, is what the sites he mentions are all about. Offering a critique of something isn’t the opposite of loving or enjoying or appreciating it, as he intimates humorously in his opening; rather, for many solvers, the two go hand in hand.
Commenters who demand the best, as they see it, from the Times crossword do so not out of spite, or a desire to belittle the efforts of the constructors or editor Will Shortz. They do it because the Times crossword is regarded, quite rightly, as the standard-bearer in American puzzledom. Holding it to the highest possible aesthetic standard is another way of saying that the quality of the puzzle is worth caring about passionately.
Of course, thoughtful people can, and should, disagree about what that standard should be, and we’ve hashed out many of these issues on this blog. How important is symmetry in the disposition of a grid layout, or theme entries? What kind of knowledge should solvers be expected to have?
Yet the notion that there are love and appreciation on one side, and criticism on the other, turns on a false dichotomy. There is plenty of room for casual enjoyment of puzzles, just as there is in the case of any creative endeavor. Even the fiercest critic sometimes likes to leave judgment behind and simply take what’s given. But when they don’t—when they subject a puzzle to a rigorous and tough-minded assessment of its virtues and flaws—that too is a sign of appreciation.
What are your thoughts on criticism? Please share here, along with contributions to this week’s cluing challenge: CARPING. To comment (and see other readers’ comments), please click on this post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen.
And here are four links:
• The current puzzle
• Our puzzle-solving guidelines | PDF
• Our e-books (solve past puzzles on your iOS device—many hints provided by the software!)
• A Nation puzzle solver’s blog where every one of our clues is explained in detail. This is also where you can post quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle.