Who’s the expected audience for American crossword puzzles?

Interesting article: “For crossword constructors, an inclusivity debate: What’s ‘common knowledge’ and who decides?

In particular, the article talks about the importance of publishing crosswords by constructors who aren’t white men, and the backlash from white male puzzle solvers against using words that are common knowledge to some people (especially Black people) but aren’t part of the standard white-male crossword-answers trivia canon.

(The article is specifically about American crosswords, not about (for example) British-style cryptic crosswords, but I imagine similar issues apply to the creation of any kind of puzzle that relies on cultural knowledge.)

And that issue is connected to a much broader issue: whenever you’re creating anything, there’s a question of who you expect your main audience to be, and how much explaining and accommodating to do for people who aren’t part of that audience.

The article itself reads to me a little like it’s assuming the reader is non-Black; for example, it opens with a set of questions that the article author seems to assume readers won’t know the answers to. But I may be reading too much into the phrasing.

PS: Content warning for mention of Woody Allen.

PPS: As usual, don’t read the comments on the article.

2 Responses to “Who’s the expected audience for American crossword puzzles?”

  1. -Ed.

    You might enjoy Crossword politics, an interview between Tempest‘s Camila Valle and crossword constructor Natan Last. They have a different (and also valuable) take on the question of inclusivity and crossword construction.

    Part of what’s going on, I think, is also a generational shift. I’ve started doing NYT crosswords again, and as I expected I found my cultural knowledge out-of-date, but not as out-of-date as it is for other forms of trivia-adjacent puzzles. The Times readership is notoriously homogeneous, oldish, wealthyish, and culturally middlebrow, and the clues are aimed at that comfort zone, even as that moves ever so slightly forward in time.


    • Jed

      That’s a great discussion at Tempest—thank you for the link! All sorts of fascinating and thought-provoking ideas there, about decolonization and labor and language and culture and lots of other stuff.

      My favorite line, I think:

      Generally, behind the curtain of the “breakfast test” is a whack-a-mole game premised on a white male ick factor—the roadside bomb “IED” is fine, but “IUD,” get that out of my puzzle.


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