I’m a purist when it comes to crossword puzzles. While I don’t work them very often, when I do I stick to the basics: a No. 2 leaded pencil with a soft rubber eraser, regular dictionary, crossword puzzle dictionary and several cups of coffee.

So when my sister-in-law and her husband recently stayed at our house, she suggested one morning that we take on the Sunday New York Times puzzle. “You’re a puzzler?” I asked. “Darned right,” she said, brandishing a pen (of all things). “Let’s do it.”

My style is to cruise through the horizontal clues first and then the vertical clues, looking for the easy and obvious answers. I go back through a second time and see if I can use letters from words nailed in the first round to make further progress. I use the dictionaries when necessary.

We made reasonable progress but got stuck on clues having to do with obscure movies, television shows, books and celebrities. I had a number of answers on the tip of my tongue but couldn’t deliver. I don’t know if was the pressure of the moment (my sister-in-law is a better puzzler) or just another example of a failing memory (something my kids remind me of on a disturbingly regular basis).

Then it hit me how I could find the answers to those difficult or trick questions: Google.

I grabbed my laptop computer and we went on a roll. The answers kept popping up on my screen. My sister-in-law nodded in amazement. She kept writing – in pen, if you can believe it – the answers into those little boxes. Before we knew it, we were done.

“You’re Googling?” my wife said at one point. “Isn’t that cheating?”

“Ah … um … of course not,” I replied with just an edge of defensiveness. “I mean, I don’t think so. … I don’t know … I mean, why not? We use dictionaries. Why not Google?”

“I still think it’s cheating,” she repeated.

Do you?

13 Responses

  1. Shirley Haverstock MPLS

    I use a dictionary to check whether there is such a word and have learned quite a few new words this way. When really baffled, I don’t hesitate to use Google. After all, it takes some smarts to research, too. Crossword puzzles are entertainment for me and I don’t feel I am cheating when using the dictionary, and, only recently, Google.

  2. Rabbi

    Thank you very much for giving us such type of information.
    We can only make people think. We cannot change people’s taste. For this reason, it is a good idea to concentrate on the performance.

  3. Bob, St Paul

    My son tends to help with his ipod when dad gets stuck!

  4. Stan Clark, Blaxland, Australia

    My approach:-
    1. Regard crosswords as educational tools.
    2. Solve as much as possible without reference material.
    3. Then use reference material, including the Internet.
    4. Remember: it is not feasible for any person to know everything, including the compiler. Surely compilers use reference material in preparing puzzles.
    5. You are developing research skills when using reference material.
    6. Always build on previous words as far as possible, and use pencil.
    7. If you solve without reference it is too easy – you haven’t reached your limit. You won’t learn anything.

  5. Tom Summers, St. Paul

    I always do the two in the Minneapolis paper, plus I always have a book of really hard puzzles next to my chair.
    I keep a dictionary, atlas and Leonard Maltin movie book within easy reach, but using the Internet? Heresy. Why not just look in the answer section in the back of the book?

    And I use a pen. A Pilot V-Ball extra fine, matter of fact. A pen indicates confidence and committment, I believe.

  6. Erin, New Hope

    It doesn’t ask you to cite your references. It just asks for the right answers.

    You try with your own brainpower first, then you know your resources.

    I am a pencil person myself … drives me insane on an airplane to find a crossword half done and half wrong in pen. Tsk Tsk.

  7. Mary Beth, St. Paul

    I only recently became a crossword junkie. I generally work in pen, though I usually start with a light color (pink or teal) and go over the words I’m confident with in black later.

    Google is certainly a last resort for me, but I use it. I usually try to make it more work for myself, though. Instead of typing into the search bar “Region north of Oaxaca,” I will pull up a map of Mexico. When I get truly stuck on a puzzle, I’ll find a clue that will open up the most options for me and seek out the answer to that one, hoping all I need is a quick jump start.

    I say do what feels good to you. If you still feel engaged in the crossword, Google away. When it stops being fun/rewarding, a problem arises. But not until then.

    Besides, how would I ever have worked my way into the world of elder and younger Saarinens without looking it up?

  8. Stretch, Shoreview

    Doug, after knowing you for over 30 years, I am shocked and appalled. My rules: always in pen, no eraser, no dictionary. Just you against the crossword writer, mano a mano. Come on, a guy with your literary prowess and triva knowledge should be able to whip through it no problem! What would MacArthur say?

  9. Char Andrle-Olson

    I do the Pioneer Press crossword and New York Times puzzles every day with my crossword dictionary at my side, and I don’t consider it cheating. Although my twin sister thinks it is. It’s not as if you’re “given” the answers … you have to use your power of deduction and decide which of the many alternate words listed is the right one. You are using “your brain” and expanding your word knowledge, and that’s the purpose of a puzzle, isn’t it? So, Doug, I’m with you. Keep looking up those words. And I do my puzzles in ink.

  10. Liz, St. Paul

    If the alternative is giving up doing the puzzle all together (which is what I tend to do) AND if you are internalizing those answers from Google, adding them to your wealth of “Cliff Claven-like” knowledge, then I say Google away!

    It is entertainment, right? We’re not talking about a test, after all…

  11. Susan Alexander

    What? Google? Why don’t you just wait until next Sunday and fill in all the banks from the answers in the paper?

    And using a pencil – with a good eraser, no less? Of course, a man who does all the across followed by all the downs rather than working section by section does need all the help he can get.

    I really think the New York Times should drop you as a subscriber.

  12. Cathy Davis, Hopkins

    Of course it is (cheating). But I also think it could be considered shady to use the dictionary. So … what IS a “purist?”

  13. Chris Trygstad, West St. Paul

    I guess you’re cheating yourself. Do the rules say no Googling? I would think they would have thought almost the same thing about the dictionary usage, too. You’re not specifically playing against anyone, or for a prize; you’re just reducing the challenge of the game. I would put it on par with cheating at Solitaire, because you’re too lazy to reshuffle. Not to say that it necessarily has to harm someone else to be cheating, but when the stakes are nil, it’s your game, and make up the rules as you see fit.