Crowds and Power

Crowds and Power

Puzzle constructors are turning to their fans for support

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Earlier this month, one of the country’s finest puzzle constructors wrote these poignant words on the Internet: “Unfortunately there are hardly any venues in America that accept cryptic puzzles for publication, so I rarely have any reason to make them.”

The writer was Patrick Berry, whose creations range from innovative and beautiful new puzzle types (Rows Garden, Some Assembly Required, Snake Charmer and more) to traditional crosswords of unparalleled virtuosity. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Games and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Yet as Berry rightly laments, his opportunities to publish cryptic crosswords are few and far between. There are only a handful of outlets that regularly run cryptics—among them The Nation, Harper’s, The Wall Street Journal and Games—and each of them tends to be the province of a particular constructor. The result is that solvers are deprived of the fruit of his efforts in this field.

Happily, the new Internet-based economy is coming to the rescue where the old market economy has failed. The sentence above is quoted from Berry’s new Kickstarter project, a collection of twelve new cryptics (both black-square and variety puzzles) that is already fully funded but still taking backers.

And Berry isn’t the only top constructor turning to the wisdom of crowds to make large puzzle projects possible. Just in the past few months, we’ve seen these undertakings:

Unique Puzzles for a Yankee Echo Alfa Romeo, a year-long puzzle hunt by constructor Roy Leban and the puzzlers at Puzzazz
The Maze of Games, an “interactive puzzle novel” by the endlessly inventive Mike Selinker
Triple Play Puzzles Extravaganza, Trip Payne’s second suite of interconnected word puzzles

All of these are projects that are too complex, and perhaps too specialized, to be fully supportable through the usual economic means. So it’s fortunate that the Internet now provides the means for a willing pool of buyers—solvers and puzzle aficionados of all stripes—to help bring these creations into being. And in most cases, these are self-published, which means that most of the money generated by these campaigns and by later sales ends up in the pocket of the constructor.

That’s the upside. The downside, as with any sort of highly targeted undertaking, is the difficulty of expanding your audience. The crossword puzzle (like the sudoku after it) became popular because people came across it in their daily newspaper, on their way to read other things. But the projects listed above, and others like them, rely heavily on word circulating through the already existing circles of puzzle buffs.

That’s why we’re doing our bit to publicize these efforts. If you like puzzles, please look into them—and if you like what you see, help us spread the word.

Do you know of other crowd-sourced puzzle projects? Please share here, along with any quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle or any previous puzzle. 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 three links:
• The current puzzle
• Our puzzle-solving guidelines
• A Nation puzzle solver’s blog where you can ask for and offer hints, and where every one of our clues is explained in detail.

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