Millennial love affair with crosswords

In the age of theSkimm, Buzzfeed, and receiving news through Facebook, it should come as no surprise that print newspapers are slowly becoming ancient history. The rapid increase of digital media has led many to become obsessed with their cell phones, social media, and technology as a whole. This is especially true for the Millennial generation, otherwise known as those aged 18 to 33. However, it does come as a surprise that although Colby students tend to love their technology, many of them also love completing the occasional (or daily, in some cases) New York Times crossword puzzle, a feat that some might say is comparable to that of completing a ten-page paper for a class.

“20 across, eight letters, the latest time by which something should be completed,” Sara Kaplan ’16 mumbles into her newspaper. After tapping her chin for a second or two, the figurative light bulb goes off in her head, and she gleefully scribbles the answer— “deadline”—into the correct boxes, and moves onto the next clue. Kaplan is working on completing Tuesday’s edition of the Times crossword; this is her first time working on a crossword in a week or two, and she mentioned that she feels more at ease now that she’s had the chance to work on one again.

Kaplan is not alone in her enjoyment of the Times crossword. Although she doesn’t do it every day, she takes pleasure in feeling like she’s being productive while not completing work for a course. “The crossword is a good distraction from the rest of my day, but I still feel like I’m being productive somehow, and I just kind of like knowing random, useful facts,” Kaplan says.

The Times publishes a crossword daily, and editor Will Shortz has been overseeing every puzzle that goes to print since 1993. The easiest puzzle comes out on Mondays, increasing in difficulty until the hardest puzzle notoriously hits stands on Saturdays. Thursdays are also known for being extremely difficult; in a Times article entitled “How to Solve the New York Times Crossword Puzzle,” Shortz writes, “The Sunday Times puzzle, while larger than its weekday counterpart, averages only Thursday-plus in difficulty.”

Although previously only published in print, the Times has recently begun putting crosswords online and on its app. While many would assume that avid cell phone users—especially Millennials— would prefer this option, this is, in fact, untrue. “As far as ‘digital Millennials’ go, most of us only do them with pen and paper…. There’s definitely a temptation to look up answers when you’re on technology, but it also exists with pen and paper. I find analog style to be much more satisfying, because if I mess up it doesn’t erase easy. It also feels like a more personal challenge, just me versus Will Shortz,” Conor Kravitz ’17 said.

Caelin Weiss ’16 echoed Kravitz’s sentiment: “I would rather do [crosswords] on a physical paper copy than online because I can’t look up hints, and because I have to be pretty sure before I write a word in (since I usually do it in pen).” Kaplan slightly disagreed, stating, “I guess I prefer pen and paper, but it’s harder because it feels more official, and if I’m doing it on pen and paper, people will always come up to me and see that I’m doing it and annoy me about it.”

Although newspapers are a dying media source, many newspapers still have loyal readership, even amongst Millennials. According to the International News Media Association, in 2002, people of all ages read an average of approximately 1.4 different newspapers a week, but today, 18-to-24- year-olds read an average of 1.61 different newspapers each week, 25- to 34-year-olds read 1.47 different newspapers per week, and those 35 and older who read 1.49 different newspapers each week.

However, of these readers, 42% of those ages 18-34 receive their news online or on their mobile device, whereas only 19% of those above the Millennial age use their mobile device to get their news. It only makes sense, then, that Millennials such as Weiss, Kaplan, and Kravitz still enjoy during the crossword, even though working on a crossword puzzle may at times be associated with those of the middle-aged or older generations.

So, what it is about the cross- word puzzle that entices Colby students? “I take the crosswords from the newspapers in the dining halls (versus doing them online) because I like working on them throughout the day. I would rather do a puzzle that takes me all day than one that I can get in an hour, and crosswords are cool in that they make you think in a bunch of different ways in order to get all of the clues,” Weiss said.

Addie Bullock ’18 expanded on Weiss’ statement: “I think it’s nice to start your day off with something to wake up your mind and engage you in a non-academic way, because with all of the work that we do, I can spend all of my time doing work and not anything intellectual that’s just for my own enjoyment. I think it’s nice to have something you do regularly, like a routine, and it’s a nice tradition that you can do with other people.”

Kravitz enjoys doing the crossword because it adds to his vocabulary in a unique way: “I’ve definitely learned new words from doing the crossword, but a lot of them where. They definitely train your mind to think in new ways, especially with some of the funkier clues, but I find that doing crosswords makes your brain better at doing crosswords and not much else. The only disadvantage I can think of is that they’re a real fun time waster and of course you could always turn into some huge nerd who puts solved puzzles on their wall.”

Both Kaplan and Bullock mentioned that they began doing crossword puzzles because their parents and/or grandparents did them, thus confirming the idea that crosswords are at times, or often, associated with an older generation. Kaplan also mentioned that there might be another stigma surrounding those who do crosswords: “I think there might be a slight stigma around people who do crossword puzzles; that they’re seen as nerds or more intellectual. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I like doing the crossword; it’s fun and it’s a brain teaser.”

18-34-year-olds in this day and age are assumed to be isolated, tech savvy, and constantly up-to-date on news, trend, and all things media. However, what does it say when more and more Millennials are beginning to enjoy the New York Times crossword puzzle, whether it’s once a week or once a day? Perhaps the crossword is just a more old-fashioned form of isolation.Perhaps Millennials feel the need to stretch their brains past spark-noted news and clickbait. Or, perhaps, puzzle lovers are simply finding comfort in the old, in the familiar, in the puzzling.