Lots of discussion in the comments last week. Thanks for all of your thoughts. Here are some of my own thoughts, in all of their unsolicited glory.
First, some puzzles are harder than others. I don’t think that means that you shouldn’t a puzzle just because you’re told that it’s a hard puzzle. I do think that means you should change your expectations/rules accordingly. Don’t expect to solve a puzzle as quickly as you’re used to, whether you tear through “easy” puzzles in 5 minutes or 55 minutes. Further, when I started solving puzzles, I often solved with a partner. When using the computer, I’d leave what I call the “cheats” (where the software tells you when you’ve put in a wrong letter) on. I allowed myself the use of the Internet when I got stuck. I don’t think, for someone starting out or just used to puzzles from other sources, that any of those should be discouraged. It should also be noted: just because I think a puzzle’s challenging, that doesn’t mean you’ll think it’s challenging.
Second, yes, I do like putting bits and pieces of popular culture in puzzles. (And there are other fields I draw heavily from, too. Math and mythology spring to mind.) Allow me to cite the spec sheet for the Los Angeles Times crossword:
Using names of people and places enhances a puzzle, especially when the names are drawn from all over: TV, movies, literature, music, science, etc. A variety of names scattered about the grid can challenge solvers and help expand their knowledge base. Too many names in a puzzle, in our opinion, turn it into a trivia contest. Please avoid overuse of people’s names, or any other material that falls in the either-you-know-it-or-you-don’t category. If you have no choice but to use a difficult name or place, make sure it doesn’t cross something equally difficult in the grid.
I greatly respect Rich Norris, the editor of the LAT puzzle, and try to follow most of this in writing puzzles for this site. I will say that I have a much higher tolerance for an overall name-count, because I enjoy a good trivia contest. But I do try to take names that I feel that today’s solvers would be likely to know (i.e., I omit opera singers of the 1910s and the like), and I really try to keep the crossings fair. That said, I’m not perfect. I know of one particular crossing in last week’s puzzle that I was not pleased with at all, but I could not fix it. Sometimes things happen.
Finally, one reason I started this site was to be able to do really weird things that you wouldn’t see in a newspaper puzzle. I like being able to occasionally surprise solvers, and I always intend for it to be a pleasant surprise. I hope that you enjoyed last week’s twist, and I hope you enjoy twists to come, including today’s (much more upfront) offering.
Reminder: Lollapuzzoola 7 is this weekend in Manhattan. Go to there. (Or solve at home!)