While it is true that some puzzles are disappearing from newspapers, magazines and websites, are we really to believe that they cannot thrive on the Internet? I would ague that crosswords have gained popularity with the Internet. Probably due, at least in part, to the fact that you can solve any major newspaper's crossword on-line, and in many cases for free. The New York Times has not only gained an even larger audience for their puzzles, they've also printed money with their on-line service.The article's author, Douglas Quenqua, argues that crosswords are unlikely to do well on the Web for two reasons: First, the average age for solvers is, supposedly, "well within the AARP membership requirements," (and presumably this age group does not use the Internet). Second, paper and pencil is part of the puzzle solving experience. Could he have used two more tired stereotypes of puzzle people?
According to Dean Olsher's latest book, “From Square One,” an estimated 63 million do crosswords “at least occasionally.” And, yeah 65 and older is one of the biggest demographies of crossworders. Taking a look at this latest U.S. Census shows roughly 35% the 65+ group are on the Internet. (I hate this demography, by the way. A 65 year old is completely different from a 75 and an 85 year old. But, I guess if they aren't bringing in tax money, they're all bunched into the same bracket in the government's eyes.) What Quenqua totally ignores and Olsher points out is that solvers in the 35-44 year range make up practically the same number of solvers as the 65+ group. 85% of 30-49 year olds are on the web. But even more telling from the Census figures is that all age groups show a massive increase in Internet usage over recent years, and it seems reasonable to predict that this trend will continue.
The argument that puzzles cannot be delivered through the Internet because people prefer to solve using pencil and paper just doesn't make sense. Just because you find a puzzle on the Internet doesn't mean that you can't print it out and solve it on paper. I offer three ways to access puzzles on this site: two of which allow a puzzle to be printed out (FWIW: certainly many people solve it in Java according to my site statistics. Now, I know many of you choose to do it in Across Lite. Just out of curiosity, how many of you print it out from there? Feel free to leave your answers in the comments section.) My guess is that the people who originally got into crosswords with pencil and paper just cannot imagine any other way to solve it. It will be interesting to see how the millions of iPhone/BlackBerry crossword app users feel once the new format for digital distibution of puzzles takes place.
Of course, the money quote in the article came from my boy Rex Parker. He sez the main reason for non on-line solving is that “people don't bring their laptops to the bathroom.” Jeez, I'm sure Rex talked this guy's ear off about loads more interesting things, but it's a shame that this one-liner is all he gets. FWIW: I do indeed bring my laptop to the bathroom, though not necessarily to do a puzzle.
This is just a continuation of the same tired Luddite argument: that change is a bad thing. We've heard this from time immemorial. The phonograph was supposed to stop people from seeing live music. The radio was going to going to stop newspapers. Television was going to kill the radio. Cable was going to kill movie theaters. Now the Internet is supposedly going to kill all of media entirely. In every one of these instances, the new innovation didn't make everyone's life worse, instead it enhanced them. It made it easier for people to enjoy the things they enjoyed in the first place This is the way of the world: change is a good thing! This is all about making people's lives better. This is all about convenience, and convenience is going to trump everything else.
I know you're going to say: that's easy for you to say, Brendan. You have your blog and you've got an outlet for all your puzzles. What about all the other puzzlemakers? Where are they going to post their wares?
To which my response is: it will be just a matter of time until the only way to get puzzles is digitally and all of us puzzlemakers are on-line exclusively. Probably, a goodly majority of them for free. I can see the puzzleholics out there cannot wait.