The Year In Crosswords, 2012


Betty White’s 90th birthday “bash” consists largely of doing crossword puzzles and “having a wonderful time with my dog.”

30 Rock makes an incisive jab at a certain crossword market with this line, spoken by Jenna: “Amazing news, Liz! I made the People magazine crossword. One word, five across, Jenna Maroney’s first name!”

Wolfram Alpha releases a new “words reference” app which includes New York Times crossword clues from 1994-2009 and Scrabble scores for each word. (Such functions are also available on Wolfram Alpha’s web interface.)


The New York Times reports financial difficulties, chiefly cost-related, prompting a somewhat troubling analysis from the Motley Fool. This is followed in March by a restructuring of the NYT‘s digital subscription offerings, even as the Fool suggests news is moving to an ad-supported model.

In slightly less than a month, the Times crossword sees minor, civil controversies emerge over two different clue-answer pairs: the eyebrow-raising MID-ASS TOUCH (“Cause of a sexual harrassment complaint?”) and the possibly outdated ILLIN’ (“Wack, in hip-hop”). Lynn Lempel, who wrote MID-ASS TOUCH, seems to have a pattern of challenging Times readers every three years: in 2009 she caused a minor stir with CRAP (“Losing roll in a casino”) and in 2006 with SCUMBAG (“Scounderel”).

A user poll suggests that Words With Friends can serve as something of a dating service for word aficionados.

The Crosswords Facebook app reaches 100 million users.


The American Crossword Puzzle Tournament featured an unusual stumble by Dan Feyer, a suspenseful race between two-time champ Feyer and previous five-time champ Tyler Hinman (Feyer won), and an extraordinary display of sportsmanship by Anne Erdmann.

For major news outlets, though, the biggest Tournament story was Dr. Fill, the artificial intelligence which attempted to solve the tournament puzzles— and largely came up short, prompting some discussion over whether AIs could be taught humor.


Derrick Niederman releases The Puzzler’s Dilemma: From the Lighthouse of Alexandra to Monty Hall, a Fresh Look at Classic Conundrums of Logic, Mathematics and Life.

Accused of selling missile material to Iran, extradited and imprisoned businessman Christopher Tappin is denied crosswords and other puzzles sent by his family, just one of many controversies surrounding his extradition and treatment.


Venezuelan TV pundit Perez Pirela accused crossword constructor Neptali Segovia of embedding a message in his latest crossword puzzle, urging solvers to assassinate Hugo Chavez, the brother of Venezuela’s ailing president. A police inquiry followed, and then nothing further. Following the controversy, another newspaper crossword, while not urging assassination, quite deliberately lampooned the government.

Crossword critic Rex Parker is profiled by CBS News. (Video link.)

Doug Heller, puzzle writer, editor and tournament judge, passes away from cancer at 57.


Roger Wolff releases a book of fifty variety cryptics to the underserved American market.

ACPT champ Dan Feyer organizes a puzzle tournament of his own in the Napa Valley.


Beginning July 9, the New York Times’ “Premium Crosswords” feature is no longer part of a general subscription, signaling a move to greater price discrimination aimed at crossword aficionados. The New York Observer takes the opportunity to gloat.

Joe Krozel sets a new record with the first New York Times crossword to have only 17 black squares, the fruit of 9 months of labor. Critical response to the content is mixed on this blog and elsewhere (with blog commenters more enthusiastic, on average, than regular critics). Record-keeper Jim Horne puts the achievement in perspective: “There are now 8 published puzzles [in the Times] with fewer than 20 blocks. Mr. Krozel created 6 of them.”


David Steinberg kicks off his Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project, an effort to digitize all the puzzles to be published in the New York Times before the “modern age” ushered in by Will Shortz’s editorship. Invaluable to future puzzle scholars, this project looks likely to be completed in mid-2013.

Will Shortz posts some important advice for future New York Times submitters.

The Crickler, a fusion of crossword, anacrostic and other elements, shoots to the top of Apple’s “most downloaded puzzle app” list, surpassing the Times.

Arachne’s Guardian crossword of August 22 spelled out DANIEL MORGAN and JUSTICE NOT DONE in the perimeter, a sign that The Guardian hasn’t forgotten Morgan’s unsolved murder.


Tim Croce has a Times puzzle published after an 11-year delay.

Major online-puzzle publisher Puzzazz hits the market with a new app.

Leo Traynor attempts to masquerade as a crossword constructor, “renowned author” and Internet abuse victim.


A study by Alan J. Gow challenges the belief that crosswords and similar puzzles are the best preventative medicine for senile dementia. Physical exercise seems to be an essential ingredient, but other evidence suggests that mental stimulation plays an important role, too.

Mark Goodliffe wins his fifth consecutive London Times cryptic crossword tournament, a competitive feat matched only by Tyler Hinman’s five consecutive wins at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament.


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