How best to start with NY Times crosswords?

I saw Wordplay over the weekend, so like presumably many others before me, I’m interested in trying out the vaunted New York Times crosswords.

Some background: I pick up the occasional issue of GAMES Magazine; I like the variety of puzzles. So I’ve had some experience with crosswords, although I’m not very good at them. I can complete maybe half of their two-star puzzles, but even then I usually end up a blank or two due to unfortunate proper-name/foreign-word crossings and the like. GAMES’s one-star puzzles are relaxing, but a bit too easy to fully satisfy me.

So my many questions begin: What’s the correspondence like between NYT daily difficulty levels and GAMES’s star ratings? Which days would be best suitable for me, given my current skill level? And what would be the best legal method of getting crosswords from those days (besides an actual subscription to the NYT)? I see they have a premium subscription service for past crosswords on their site. Checking a local bookstore, I saw that they offer Monday, daily, and Sunday collections, in addition to smaller, themed books. The dailies looked a bit daunting, though, with no difficulty metric that I could see, and it strikes me that a good half of the book would probably end up being useless to me. So I picked up a Monday collection, but those are definitely too easy. I understand why they don’t offer collections of the other days, but given that, what are my options? Are Sundays more difficult than Saturdays? Fridays? (I didn’t catch the answer from the film.)

Also, are the NYT crosswords really the cream of the crop, as portrayed in the film? What are some other highly-regarded sources by enthusiasts?

Saturdays are the hardest. They build up in difficulty level throughout the week. Dunno about Sundays.

I’ve recently been getting interested in crosswords myself, though I haven’t seen the movie. The NYT posts a free puzzle from their archives for you to solve online once a week, on Mondays, if you want to give one a shot before investing in a book of 200. There are also numerous other places to solve online: The LA Times has an online thingy too.

In pen, of course :stuck_out_tongue:

The way I approach all crossword puzzles, which I actually DO in pen, is to start at the beginning of the across hints until you find one you’re sure you know the answer to (or ‘to which you’re sure of the answer’ for you grammer nazis). Fill it in. Then check all of the clues for the down boxes and see if the letter that you filled in is any help. If it is, use that down answer to help with the next across answer. And so on. In my salad days, I used to limit myself to ONLY answering hints that included a letter from a previous hint. In other words, even if I knew the answer to “13 across”, if it didn’t include a letter I’d entered from a down answer, I wouldn’t fill it in. Made it harder. I don’t do many crosswords anymore; the ones in my daily paper are idiotically easy. But I did last Sunday’s NYT puzzle in toto, and in ink. Yeah me!

Monday - Thursday in ink. Friday and Saturday in pencil. Sunday’s puzzle could take all day, so definitely pencil, one with a good eraser.

I also just saw the movie and started doing the NY Times Crossword. I have never done crosswords before, but now I am hooked. Mon and Tues I can get pretty much everything, Wednesday I need to look up a few answers, and Thurs-Sat require www.oneacross.com.

I’d buy the dailies book if I were you.

Ditto to above comments. I would place the Sunday at maybe a Thursday level – but with many more clues.

I would also recommend trying the Wall Street Journal’s excellent crossword, which runs every Friday. It’s about the level of NYT Thursday, but with a consistently amusing theme and a larger grid. It can be found for free in a format designed to work with a free crossword puzzle platform, IIRC.

Saturday NYT are pretty challenging – I’d been solving for about a year (or two?) before consistently solving perhaps half of the Saturdays. Fridays are usually pretty fun, though, and occasionally quite challenging.

I haven’t solved in a while, though, so things may have changed somewhat in the past year or so. Dunno.

I just saw the movie also, but I’ve been doing Times crosswords for years. I think I’ve seen books for other days also. I’ve never been to the Stamford tournament, but I did go to the Games NYU one, and I went to a local contest that Will Shortz ran.

To start, I’d look for words you are very sure of, and put those in. Don’t worry about the upper left squares - sometimes those are made hard on purpose. After you do those, then start looking at the crossing clues - often just one letter helps. Probably the best thing to do is to save the puzzle, even if you don’t finish it, and look at the answers. Before long you’ll build up a vocabulary of crosswordese, (ram’s dam = ewe) and you’ll be able to fill in a lot more words quickly.

As for Games, I’d say Monday and Tuesday are one star, Wednesday is two, and Thursday is three. I find the Friday puzzles harder than the Saturday ones myself, and none of the Games puzzles get up to the Friday times level. The really big Games three star puzzles are pretty much at the Sunday level, though the Times Sunday puzzles are far more clever, usually.

I use pencil myself, out of long habit and because I don’t like how pen looks on the page. Mondays and some Tuesdays I do by filling in the across clues in order, just looking at the down ones for help, but never filling in the letters. At NYU I noticed that the really fast solvers did the clues in order, and didn’t jump around, and this is indeed faster. For really hard ones, though, you need to fill in whatever you get.

Thanks for the advice, everyone (especially Voyager for fielding the question about comparative difficulties). In addition to being less wary of the three-star puzzles, I think I’ll go ahead and try a collection of dailies; at the least, I’ll quickly develop the ability to gauge puzzle difficulty. I’ll probably check out the Wall Street Journal stuff when I get an afternoon to spare, too.

So, asked and answered, but I hate to waste a perfectly good thread. Maybe we can turn this into a general Crossword Questions / Appreciation thread?

Paging twickster

Not only you, but Will Shortz (the editor) as well. In an interview I read many years ago, he confirmed that the puzzles increase in difficulty from Monday (easiest) to Saturday (most challenging). Sundays are about par with Thursday, but are bigger and have a theme. Under Shortz’s editorship, I find that Thursday puzzles are frequently theme puzzles, such as rebuses, puns, etc. I don’t remember that happening with Maleska.

I started with the Boston Globe daily puzzle, but eventually found them to be rather dry and boring (although the Sunday Globe puzzles are either by Rathvon/Cox, or by Hook and are very good). Although crossword construction is crucial, for me it is the clues that make the character of the puzzle, and that’s why I like the Times. The NYT Monday puzzle is easier than the Globe daily puzzle, so you might want to start there.

Just when you think that you’re getting pretty good at standard American style crossword puzzles, look into cryptic crosswords. They are for masochists, created by sadists. And darn good fun. :wink:

I just do Sunday’s. I actually save them up for when I’m travelling, to do in airports or on planes or whatever. The difficulty is not usually the words (it’s not like they have words like “xyzzyphobia”) but the clues, which can often be interpreted in different ways – e.g., “Solo in space” answer was “Han.”

I’ve never been much of a crossword puzzle person, so you should take this with a grain of salt, but in my humble opinion the puzzles in the Atlantic Monthly seem much more difficult than a regular crossword puzzle.
The link here only works if you subscribe to the magazine:
http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/index/the_puzzler

The type of puzzles that you see in the Atlantic Monthly is described here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cryptic_crossword

The Times puzzles are syndicated many places. I have seen two different college papers carry them, and the local rag carries the Sunday puzzle in a Thursday entertainment supplement.

Xyzzyphobia … is that fear of Adventure?

I’m confused. How can you have a rebus with a crossword? Doesn’t a rebus require pictures? You know, like Lucky Beer bottle caps (Shortz doesn’t dare tread into that realm).

Sometimes the Thursday or Sunday puzzles have a common theme in the long answers. I’ve found that if I can guess the theme for the first one, the remaining ones are sometimes easier. And sometimes the theme is simply that a quotation is stretched over multiple answers.

I often have trouble with the letter substitution ones, where, for example, the letter “t” replaces the word “there” in several places in the puzzle. Does anyone know if this sort of thing is often done by one creator (since that might warn me ahead of time to be on the lookout for that sort of thing)?

What I’d call a rebus puzzle is where you have to put a picture in a square to represent a set of letters. One I remember is that you put in the greek letter pi to stand for pi. Some Thursdays do that, but lots of Sundays do. At the NYU tournament, at least one of the puzzles had a similar trick. I’m pretty good at figuring them out, so I don’t consider Thursday puzzles all that hard. If more than a few answers don’t make sense, that’s a sign you need to look for the trick.

I’d bet that clue would actually read: Solo in space?
The question mark at the end indicates a kind of pun.

I think the Atlantic Monthly puzzles (and there are two collections of them) are usually called variety cryptics. Regular cryptics, as sometimes appear in the Times, just have cryptic clues, but don’t have the added fiendishness of having to modify the answers.

As an odd type of cryptic, Thomas Middleton used to include a few acrostics with cryptic clues in his collections - or at least in the ones I did in grad school 25 years ago.

I just pulled out the remnants of a Simon and Schuster book, edited by Maleska, that was laying around. It’s a bit old, so I need to put myself in the right timeframe, but the major difference between these puzzles and the Shortz puzzles is the great number of obscure crosswordese words. Some do have themes - one is Dick Tracy, but the themes are pretty obvious, and not as clever as the Shortz ones.

I have a handwritten letter from Maleska, which I got when I found a mistake in a Times puzzle - softwear instead of software. I doubt the new generation would ever make such a mistake.