Finally, a FAQ

Sunday, November 25, 2007

I get lots of questions. Lots. I answer the same questions over and over it seems. Thus, I have come to understand the logic of the FAQ. I will add to this list as seems necessary. For now, here are this site's Frequently Asked Questions - I will try to answer each one as if it were a perfectly valid question (not always easy). Note: every time I mention my "sidebar" (below), I mean the sidebar as it appears from this site's homepage ( - for whatever reason, pages for individual blog entries show only a partial sidebar:

1. Why do you highlight one answer in every grid? / What does the blue square mean?

I solve the puzzle at the NYT puzzle site (for link, see sidebar). The software (aka the "applet") lets you know which answer you're working on by highlighting it in gray for you. The blue square is the cursor. This is a long-winded way of saying there is no particular significance to the highlighted answer / blue square.

2. Why are you writing about a puzzle that's different from the one in my paper?

Please read the subtitle to this blog - it explains all. In short, you are five weeks behind, in syndication-land. Click on "Syndicated Puzzle" link in my sidebar to go directly to your puzzle.

3. Why don't you write about the [insert paper title here] puzzle?

I just don't. I do all the major daily and weekly puzzles (see Question #12, below). I just don't write about them. Maybe someday. Not today. For write-ups of many, many different puzzles, see Orange's Diary of a Crossword Fiend.

4. "Why did you rate Monday's puzzle 'Challenging' and Saturday's puzzle 'Easy' - I solved Monday's puzzle much more quickly blah blah blah" (and variants)

I rate puzzles according to RELATIVE difficulty: that is, I rate their difficulty relative to the typical difficulty for That Day Of The Week. This baffles people so much that I may stop doing it.

5. How do I post a link in the "Comments" section?

You must code it in HTML. It's Very Easy.

Go here for an explanation.

5a. You have a "Comments" section?

Yes. Just click on "Comments" at the bottom of any write-up to view what other people are saying about the day's puzzle (and my write-up). I recommend reading the "Comments" section before commenting yourself or e-mailing me with some question about the puzzle - there's a good chance someone else has covered the issue you're concerned with.

6. Why do you talk about your solving times? You must think you are So Superior. I think I enjoy the puzzle more than you because I savor it blah blah blah x infinity...

I like to time myself on occasion, especially on early-week puzzles. I'm always in a kind of low-level training for the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament (again, see sidebar for link). I don't care if you are faster / slower than I am, or if you don't care about timing at all. More power to you. Everyone does the puzzle differently. There are solvers of all different speeds who read this site. There's no reason for anyone to feel defensive / self-conscious.

7. How could you not know [fill in the blank]?!

Either a. I am stupid, or b. I am not 80. Or both, I suppose.

8. Why was my comment deleted (you jackass)?

Take your pick: a. you were rude to someone, b. you were way off-topic, or c. you were talking about tomorrow's puzzle (you jackass)

9. Why won't you return my email?

No one has ever asked this. And yet I feel compelled to respond. I reply to most mail I get, but I get a lot, and some days it's just overwhelming. I do my best to send a polite response to every email, but this doesn't always happen. If I don't reply, don't take it personally ... unless your email said something like "Fuck you" (actual text of recent email), in which case, you can't honestly have expected a response, can you?

10. How can I find your write-up for [insert puzzle date here]?

Check in the "Blog Archive" - last item in the sidebar. You can pinpoint any day from there.

11. I can't read your posted grids. Is there any way to make them bigger?

Yes. Click on them. Ta da!

12. What other puzzles do you do?

Every weekday, I solve the New York Times (NYT), LA Times (LAT), CrosSynergy (CS), and Newsday puzzles. On Wednesdays, there's The Onion AV Club puzzle. On Thursday's, Matt Jones's "Jonesin'" puzzle. On Fridays, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE), and Village Voice (VV). And on Sundays, The Boston Globe (BG), The Philadelphia Inquirer (PI), and The Washington Post (WP). The NY Sun folded, but its puzzle lives on, and it's about the best puzzle out there. I also do Matt Gaffney's and Brendan Emmett Quigley's puzzles - see "Rex Recommends These Puzzles" in my sidebar.

13. Where do you get the other puzzles you solve every day?

I subscribe to the NYT puzzle on-line. For almost everything else, I go to "Ephraim's Crossword Puzzle Pointers". The only major puzzle Ephraim doesn't feature is Matt Jones's "Jonesin'" puzzle, which you can get at Will Johnston's "Puzzle Pointers."

14. Why are there clues in parentheses in the title of each post?

It's a clue I've chosen to highlight for one or both of the following two reasons:

a. it's a clue that seems likely to move people to Google
b. it's a clue that strange, challenging, colorful, or otherwise noteworthy

Some helpful vocabulary:

  • APPLET - the online solving software at the NYT puzzle site
  • CROSSWORTHY - worthy of being in crosswords, i.e. sufficiently famous
  • MALESKA - Eugene T., former editor of the NYT puzzle - Will's immediate predecessor. I came of (puzzle) age under MALESKA's Draconian tutelage.
  • NATICK PRINCIPLE - "If you include a proper noun in your grid that you cannot reasonably expect more than 1/4 of the solving public to have heard of, you must cross that noun with reasonably common words and phrases or very common names." Go here for the answers that occasioned my coining this phrase.
  • ORANGE - My fellow crossword blogger, without whom this site might still be a backwater.
  • REBUS - a puzzle in which multiple letters or a picture or symbol can be written / drawn into a single square. Here are some examples.
  • SPOOR - I word I use sometimes for what others call "crosswordese" - i.e. horrible little words that appear in crosswords all out of proportion to the frequency with which they appear in ordinary human speech. They are nuisance words that are in the grid ONLY because of their ultra useful letter combos. They are inevitable, but a glut of them can really ruin a puzzle.

I'll add to this as necessary.

Best wishes,
Rex Parker


Unknown 3:49 PM  

Don't get rid of the difficulty ratings! It's especially satisfying to finish a Friday (as far as I go, at this point) that you rated "Medium" or above.
On the other hand, maybe an absolute scale would make more sense, say 0=easy Mon, 2=hard Mon/easy Tue,..., 10=hard F/easy Sat, and anything past that means 'incredibly frustrating'.

Anonymous 4:46 PM  

I still don't understand #5. Could you please rephrase it or refer me to a reference? Thanks.

wendy 4:57 PM  

Maybe I can help, anonymous. The best description I ever saw for how to create a link is here

Although it says the same thing as Rex has laid out here, I think this description breaks it down visually in a way that the code-challenged can actually process it. If I can do it, you can do it!

Anonymous 5:18 PM  

LOL. Rex rules!

Unknown 8:23 PM  

Rex - I love your website - I found it about a month ago, and being a NYTimes crossword fiend, I look to you Friday through Sunday for the clues i can't get. Please leave the ratings as they are - I enjoy the slight anger I get when you think puzzles are easy & I get about 25% (e.g. Sat. 11/24, which could be because I am a 29 y.o. graduate student and know nothing about golf...). The one thing you might add is how you manage to find some of the most random clues - do you use the internet? I really enjoy the site and look forward to your comments.

Anonymous 9:27 PM  

Rex, it's a nice feature, thanks. Despite being one of the idiots (my term) that didn't understand your "relative ratings," I like to see them and hope you keep them. Maybe you could hyperlink the phrase directly to #4 of the FAQ.

Michael 11:20 PM  

Yeah, I just wanna add that I also really like your site. I love when I manage to finish the puzzle and wonder what Rex thought of it... I esp. like the images related to the clues -- the more tangential the better. Thanks for the FAQ and pls. keep up the fun blog!

ps. HAG HAS HAY HAT was my favorite today, too.

flyingpig 5:02 AM  

Love the FAQ, love the blog. Love the fact that you are so dedicated to it despite the few downsides. Keep the ratings! Keep up the great commentary, insights, random thoughts, cool images, etc. Puzzling wouldn't be the same without you Rex!

Anonymous 10:16 AM  


Unknown 10:31 AM  

You have become a household name in our house. "What does Rex say?"
Thank you for the useful FAQs.

Anonymous 12:28 PM  

love the my toolbar links, a daily read. thanks for doing and do not change a is boggling that someone who routinely does the NYT crossword would have such a hard time with use of the word "relative" in the "relative difficulty" section. huh. anyway, i love it and seem to always agree. getting stuck on a monday and then coming here to know you were stuck as well (you get stuck much less often, natch)

thanks again...

Dave 3:17 PM  

I vote for making your difficulty absolute, maybe a number from 1-10. I think even with the word "relative" you still will get a lot of questions from confused readers. I doubt you have been consistently rating the puzzles relatively. I see some Monday puzzles rated "Easy" which would mean they are ultra easy.

Anonymous 10:10 PM  

I used to just look forward to doing the NYT Sunday Crossword every Saturday in the Vancouver Sun. Now I look forward to finishing the puzzle so I can read the blog for that week. I love doing the puzzle and I love your blog. Keep it up. 10downing

Orange 10:52 AM  

I really thought I'd commented here the other day. Maybe I didn't. Or maybe some jackass deleted my comment. (Insert wry emoticon here.)

Great FAQ, Rex, and thanks for the shout-out.

Anonymous 10:53 PM  

My daughter found your site for me and I love it now. A great place to come to compare my experience to yours when I'm done with the puzzle (or I've given up).

Anonymous 8:27 PM  

I do the NY Times puzzle in our local "Urban Tulsa" edition. The puzzle I just finished originally ran Nov. 24, 2006. I enjoy coming to this site, not only to help me with the answers, but to see what Rex has said...I try not to feel stupid!

Anonymous 10:07 AM  

I have medium speed DSL, and have noticed your web page loads take 30-60 seconds, even when returning to the page during the same session.

Is anyone else having issues?
Any advice?
LH in CA

K-Money Mertz 9:53 PM  

This is such a sweet blog. Love what you write. I'm too impatient to wait for the next day's paper to see the answers after I've given up... this is instant gratification. Also so fun to read. Keep it up. Peace

+wordphan 3:04 AM  

Thanks for making me feel great about myself! I was all over this puzzle, feeling very bluff, brain-wise, then into the mire of...well, you know. As Maxwell Smart used to say, "missed it by that much!"
You are most certainly the man.

+wordphan 3:09 AM  

It's 3am....egads. I meant "feeling very BUFF!! I'm sticking with you, Rex, most excellent teacher and zen puzzler.

Copy Editor 9:59 PM  

I just discovered your blog and I love it! I can usually only finish the NY Times on my own through Wednesday (the day I finished the Sunday puzzle with only three Google searches of the names of people I'd never heard of was the proudest of my life), but I think this blog will help me learn more about the types of clues that appear.

Debbie 2:34 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Debbie 1:00 PM  

After each title, you put a clue (or sometimes two) in parentheses. What is the purpose of this? Is it a clue you found particularly interesting/vexing/horrible/something else?

Rex Parker 1:05 PM  

See #15, above.


Anonymous 4:03 PM  

Hello all -- I've just found this blog and love it. So I have a question. When you talk about solving the puzzle & your solving times, do y'all consider googling for answers cheating? I do it when I get completely stuck, but then I don't feel like I really solved the puzzle on my own. Thanks, Barb

Anonymous 11:49 AM  

I find it hard to be critical of something that is such fun, and such a good learning experience! So, to the people who criticize . . move on, get over it and enjoy the process!


Found your site a few weeks back when I Googled an inane NYT Friday clue. The commentary on the clues based upon the author of the puzzles is unique. Don't change a thing!

OISK 1:11 PM  

Love the site. I generally visit on Fridays or Saturdays when I am uncertain about an answer. It is really rewarding to find that you almost always object to the clue that baffles me. Today, "Films are shown in them - Nabes" is one example!

embien 11:23 PM  

I live in Syndicationville. Although I enjoy reading the blog, by the time my puzzle is there, I'm old and stale (6 weeks for daily, 1 week for Sunday).

Assuming I have something really, really pithy to say, should I go ahead and put it in that day's blog or is that assigning it to obvlivion? Is there some appropriate place for syndicationers to post?

Rex Parker 6:21 AM  

Most people who read this site are in fact reading it in syndication. I read every comment (they're all sent to me as mail). As of now, syndication solvers comment in the same place original solvers do.


crackup 12:45 PM  

I first found your blog via crossword fiend. At first I came to you for answers now I visit often just to see what you have to say. Don't change you're wonderful they way you are!

Anonymous 6:33 PM  

You are a god-send. I am finishing up puzzles that have been piling up on my coffee table. Why didn't I find you sooner????

claugra 12:00 AM  

I am a frustrated syndicated solver. On my frequent visits to NY, I do solve direct. This is tantamount to peaking at Christmas gifts under the tree!!
Thank you, Rex for your time and your genuine love of the "game". You certainly understand "hands off my crossword puzzle" to all family members and visitors.
Agree with your rating. There are some Tuesday/Wednesdays that are bugaboos!

qv 2:22 AM  

Rex, your blog has become an essential tool since I stumbled across it while Googling for answers a few weeks ago. I grew up solving the Sydney Morning Herald cryptic crossword daily, then lost interest for a couple of decades, and am now a rusted on NYT lover. Best investment of $6 ever. Naturally I have an obsessive approach: first run through all the clues in order, generally picking up about a third, then go back and work on the crosses. By then I'm usually half done. Then I Google - the only way a Sydneysider can pick up references to US team sports, geography, politics. That sometimes finishes it, more often there are a few toughies. Only then do I consult the Oracle...

Anonymous 2:59 AM  

If I may make a suggestion, I find myself wikipedia'ing a lot of things, especially people I don't know of yet, and I was thinking if you made certain things hyperlinks to wikipedia or any other place that provides information to those of us not privy yet, it would make my personal experience better. Thanks for this site!

Anonymous 12:06 PM  

I'm not sure what made me try my first NYT crossword about a week ago, but I'm addicted! I've been doing puzzles in those EASY CROSSWORD books for years and just assumed that the puzzles in the paper would be too hard. Well, I was indeed overwhelmed so I Googled a clue (is that considered cheating?) and your link came up. I love your site! I have found that you get irritated by the same clues that I do and your explanations have helped me immensely! Thank you so much!

Anonymous 3:26 PM  

How can you know when a puzzle is going to have a "rebus" element?

Lemastre 11:49 AM  

Where can I get answers for NY Times crosswords as old as five years, preferably for free? I'm currently about four years behind in doing these puzzles. I cut them out of the Dallas Morning News and toss them in a box. Even though I don't save the Monday puzzles, there are quite a few in there, and they're out of sequence. So when I get stuck for an answer, there's little hope of finding it quickly.

Anonymous 9:57 PM  

Really!!! No comment on censors have STDs. Was I the only one to find the humor?

Anonymous 2:07 AM  

Is this your main occupation? And do you ever create puzzles yourself?

Thank you for your help and comments on the puzzles!

Anonymous 3:02 PM  

In No. 0827 don't 'get' "first through seventh row". Bands?

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