Sunday, May 1, 2011

Crosswordnomics

I have a puzzle out today (Sunday) in the New York Times, so I am thinking about crosswords.

Puzzles at the NYT (and many other papers that run their own crosswords) are entirely supplied through submissions by people like me (which is to say, anyone can submit a puzzle). If lucky, submissions are accepted, and then edited by Will Shortz for publication.

You may have noticed we're in an equilibrium where people are obsessed with the New York Times crossword puzzle. It has the best reputation, so many of the best puzzles are submitted there first, which propagates the reputation. People are willing to pay a premium for these puzzles, and indeed the NYT is effectively the only paper that can charge for access to its crossword puzzles -- specifically $40/yr. Plenty of people like puzzles enough to pay for them, but almost no one wants to solve more than 1 puzzle a day, so the other papers are really just out of luck.

Unfortunately this means I can't just link to my puzzle or post it here. That would be illegal. So if you're interested just shoot me an email. Of course it would be illegal for me to give away the puzzle even by email; I am definitely not overtly suggesting I would ever take part in such illegal activities. [Economonomics Pop Quiz: How do the letter and spirit of the law compare in this instance? Under what conditions would it make sense to pay a worker partly in free copies of a product that the employer can in fact produce at zero marginal cost?]

If you are just interested in coverage, you can go here (SPOILER ALERT):
or here for the completed puzzle:


If you're wondering, the NYT also pays the most for their puzzles, namely $200 for a daily puzzle and $1000 for a Sunday. Not necessarily a good hourly wage, but pretty good for a hobby that most of us would be doing for free anyway. Certainly one of the few hobbies I've had that (more than) pays for itself. Actually, some crossword constructors are pretty bothered by the fact that we only get such a tiny fraction of the revenue generated from the millions of people who solve our puzzles. On this there's plenty to say -- perhaps another time.

2 comments:

  1. Nice work, Xan.

    I read the comments at the NYT link. People seemed to enjoy it. Things are looking up :)

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  2. Exogenous CombustionMay 1, 2011 at 8:21 PM

    Congratulations, Xan.

    I imagine there are individuals out there with good crossword puzzles who are willing to pay to get their work published. I should think the payment of the Times is an honorarium, a product of vast space on the contract curve and a monopsonistic NYTimes. I'll be interested in your thoughts if you do indeed take this up as a topic.

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