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Puzzling Women | The Nation

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Word Salad

Kosman and Picciotto on their Nation puzzle, cryptic crosswords, wordplay and puzzles in general.

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Puzzling Women

Why is the world of crossword puzzles such a damn boy’s club? This question was raised a couple of weeks ago—a bit less bluntly and far more eloquently—in a splendidly impassioned essay at The American Reader by Anna Schechtman. Schechtman can speak with some authority on the subject—at 23, she has already established herself as one of the more inventive figures in the wave of young constructors that have helped revitalize the field.

And Schechtman’s critique of the field in which she is making her mark pulls no punches. Citing data compiled by her fellow wunderkind, the 17-year-old puzzle whiz David Steinberg, about the authorship of the New York Times puzzle over the decades, she lays out the problem with convincing fervor. Not only are women hugely underrepresented among Times constructors, but the gap has steadily widened over the years.

In our little corner of the puzzle world, that of cryptic crosswords, the gender imbalance is even more pronounced. The only woman publishing cryptics on a regular basis in North America is Emily Cox, one half of the pre-eminent constructing team known as Hex. In the UK, the predominance of male voices is no less striking.

There are a number of possible explanations for this situation, all of them unsatisfactory to varying degrees. Steinberg, in a talk at the most recent American Crossword Puzzle Tournament that prompted Schechtman’s article, evidently proposed that the growing use of computer software to construct crosswords may have tipped the field further toward the male-heavy gender breakdown seen in the world of tech.

Schechtman retails a suggestion by the crossword editor and blogger Amy Reynaldo that crossword construction was once a pursuit for stay-at-home moms who have long since entered the workforce. And Schechtman puts the spotlight directly and uncomfortably on the editors—the Times’s Will Shortz chief among them—who act as gatekeepers to the nation’s puzzle pages.

The cause of the imbalance is probably some combination of these factors, and others yet undetermined. But one way or another, it’s past time to see it corrected.

This week’s clueing challenge: GENDER GAP. To comment (and see other readers’ comments), please click on this post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen. And now, 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, as well as ask for hints.

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