Why Decolonize the Crossword Puzzle?

Crossword puzzles are a colonized space–white men are way overrepresented in the world of crossword constructors.* And, many people who otherwise love words and wordplay experience crossword puzzles as not-for-them. They love language, but don’t love the weird secret crossword language and rules. They are knowledgeable, but don’t see their knowledge reflected in the content of grids or clue lists.

It’s a small corner of the larger pop culture universe, but it’s one that I know and can help to change, because I have access to the means of production. Solving puzzles intimidates people, and constructing them seems completely out of reach, but IT IS NOT. So…

I make puzzles. I am paid to do this for a publication, and I use the platform to amplify the work of women of color and queer folks in particular. I also make more ferocious puzzles than my publication wants, and those live on this site.

WE make puzzles: this is the “participatory democrossy” process.  I construct the grid for a puzzle, keeping it free and clear from overly lame or esoteric words, prioritizing potential for inclusivity and humor, and throwing most of the rules for publishable crosswords out the window (i.e, ours tend to be weirdly shaped, and the black squares distributed asymmetrically, etc). Then a bunch of people (at an event or fair or online) get to do the funnest part, which is write the clues using the language and knowledge that’s real to them. Then, a whole bunch of different people solve the puzzle based on those collaboratively written clues. Photos do this much more justice, so go look here.

* Who makes the New York Times Crossword puzzles?

Here’s a random month’s worth.

September 6-October 6, 2015:

Mike BuckleyJeremy NewtonBarry C. SilkPatrick BerryJohn GuzzettaFreddie ChengKurt KraussDan BischofJeff ChenTom McCoyDavid WoolfJames MulhernPeter A. CollinsMichael S. MaurerVictor BarocasTom PepperBruce HaightKevin AdamickGareth BainBrad WilberTimothy PolinJoel FaglianoFinn VigelandIain S. PadleyZhouqin BurnikelJoe DiPietroDamon J. GulczynskiTracy GrayMichael HawkinsJacob StulbergPaula GamacheByron Walden