What a question! Aren't they the single most popular solo activity in the English world? Ok, second maybe? And yet there's this nagging sense that it's a dying art form, that sudoku or something similar will displace it, that the nerd-factor won't go away, that when the current generation of blue-hairs addles away (more slowly if they puzzle, or so goes the common wisdom) that crosswords will become more and more marginalized.
Orange commented in my Sub in a tub post that she hates rhyming and alliterative clues. Wow. That really cuts down the number of clues you can love since it's part of the xword tradition to clue NON as "Oui's opposite" or "Vote in Vichy" rather than "No in Montreal", for example.
Here's the thing. She's right. I don't mean rhyming is bad and I luridly love apt alliteration but it plays into the hokey factor that in the long run will limit the audience.
Crossword neophytes have bad experiences because they don't know crosswordese the pros take for granted, they have trouble parsing Down answers, they don't know the basic rules about what "?" means, and so on. If they push through the first few puzzles, sometimes with the help of a friend, that dissipates quickly.
But then there's another hurdle. You do the work to get over that first hump and you can actually finish puzzles on your own without consulting outside sources and after all that, the payoff is lame. The quote you struggled to fill is some tepid joke that was popular on the Catskills Comedy Circuit in the 1950s. Or probably wasn't that popular. The cutesy clues causing cringing to Orange are part of the same zeitgeist. It's all so very inoffensive, it's all so very bland.
Opera companies and symphony orchestras have a similar problem. They mostly rely on older patrons for ticket sales, for donations, and yes for bequests, so catering to them seems essential to their ongoing existence. Yet pandering to safe standards creates an atmosphere that turns off younger or more adventurous audiences. I realize there are hipper alternatives to the NYT puzzles, but it's the mainstream ones like NYT that matter.
It's easy to whine, of course. I can get away with a masturbation joke in the opening paragraph because I don't rely on the financial success of this blog. Newspapers themselves are under incredible pressure to cut losses and I'm sure CFOs are tempted to shrink the size or replace the space with ads. Offending that fabled little old lady might result in NYT dropping crosswords altogether and we'd all lose. But man, it's nice to dream of a day when any word or sentiment that could appear in a Maureen Dowd column could also find its way into the puzzle.
I wasn't going to blog about today's Sunday puzzle BABY TALK by Stella Daily and Bruce Venzke but it fits my theme. We replace L with W to get wacky, wacky phrases like ART WINKWETTER clued as "Eyelid moistener at a museum?" I don't want to come across as completely stodgy. I enjoyed "The old frontier you and I don't remember?" becoming WEST WE FORGET, but every now and then, give me a joke I wouldn't be embarrassed to tell my friends, ok? Is that too much to ask?