Why In The World Is BuzzFeed Launching A Crossword?
What's a fun-letter word for viral?
Over the past three months, I've thought a lot about how crossword puzzles are going to fit into the phantasmagoric landscape of BuzzFeed content. Crosswords are not quite quizzes, although they do allow you to achieve a complete result by supplying information you already know in response to a series of creative prompts. They're also not quite lists, although they do involve numbered bits and pieces of language intended to provoke recognition and involvement. And they aren't exactly videos about how to make unconventional dishes, although I once used one to wrap a burrito and it actually didn't taste that bad.
So I guess it's like some sort of weird mutant hybrid. Like if a quiz and a list had a baby and that baby was a grid of letters. What I like about crosswords is that they organize things I know from all different parts of my life in a way that makes it seem like they all make logical sense together. I love when crosswords speak to my experience of the world and represent that experience as coherent. When they resolve the slang I hear, the movies I watch, the sites I visit into one harmonious grid. Crosswords can do that because, like BuzzFeed, they switch gears fast and often, pivoting from pop culture to history to vocabulary to sports all in the same area. I want the BuzzFeed puzzle (tentatively branded PuzzFeed) to be fun not only for academics who know a lot of obscure information, but for anyone who walks around the world with their eyes and ears open. Also their heart. I'd always prefer not to stump you with a fact you don't know, but rather disguise what you already know in a fake mustache and glasses so when you realize who's under there you'll be like "Oh!!!!!!!!" An equal-opportunity solve, where highbrow not only exists alongside lowbrow but often intersects with it literally.
This is why crosswords are easier and more naturally accessible than their reputation would suggest: because every letter is in two answers, which are also connected to three or more other answers (and so on and so forth), so you always have another chance. Since a puzzle covers so many different types of knowledge from so many parts of life, there's probably something you're familiar with in any given area. You start with what you know and, building off of that, solve a little mystery. Little tricks can help chip away at the grid. Like if a clue is plural, you can probably plop an "S" down as the last letter. If it's in the past tense, toss an "ED" on the back end. Sometimes there'll even be a theme running through the puzzle that connects the longer answers, and maybe you only understand it when you've completed the whole thing. And who knows? You might even learn a thing or two about yourself in the process :).
Crosswords are also a means of communication. The people who make puzzles actively choose and clue every answer, so the final product represents something more personal than a computer could ever automatically make. At least until the singularity happens. Over the past 10 years, the crossword puzzle world has had a boom in independent puzzling, where venues and constructors with strong and distinctive voices can regularly connect with a cult fanbase of dedicated solvers. These puzzles have been pushing the crossword to a more creative place that generates critical conversations about preference and taste. I want the BuzzFeed puzzle to highlight the role of a crossword puzzle constructor as the designer of a distinct solving experience in a medium of expression governed both by the graphical constraints of the grid and the idiosyncrasies of the English language. So basically I hope people get excited about certain bylines and angry about others, like wrestling or a sitcom.
If you like solving crosswords, you will also probably like making them, and I hope you'll try and make some for BuzzFeed. It's fun and not as hard as you might think and also pays pretty well. If you have a Mac, try the free trial of CrossFire, and if you hate Steve Jobs, try Crossword Compiler. Or make it by hand if you think you're so cool (it's much harder but definitely doable). Check out the puzzle specs I posted here. Look to Cruciverb or this book by Patrick Berry for resources. Watch the movie Wordplay. Check out other amazing crosswords at the New York Times, Washington Post, American Values Club, BrendanEmmettQuigley.com, etc. Read crossword blogs like Rex Parker and Diary of a Crossword Fiend and Wordplay to get a sense of what people like and how people talk about puzzles. Hook up with Stanley from The Office. Whatever you need.
Finally, I'd like to thank the people without whom doing these puzzles would be impossible: the tech people. Michael Hansen, the engineer who built the editorial creation tool and turned this into a usable game. Allison Chefec, the designer who made the concept into an experience that plays smoothly and intuitively on mobile and desktop. Yeny Santoso and Melissa Bulzomi, the QA team that made sure this whole thing worked in every way possible. And, lastly, Nicole Leffel, who made sure all of this really happened, made sure I knew what was going on, and kept everyone real AF.