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The Pirate's Eye

The Student News Site of West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South

The Pirate's Eye

The Student News Site of West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South

The Pirate's Eye

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More than headlines: The NYT’s puzzle craze

     “Strictly a newspaper–for intelligent, thoughtful people,” is what The New York Times (NYT) boasted in its Mar. 25. 1925 daily issue, calling games a “sinful waste of time”. In 1942, however, in the middle of World War II, the NYT released its first crossword, beginning a legacy of popular games.

    Since then, several others have launched, including The Sudoku, Mini Crossword, Spelling Bee, LetterBoxed, Tiles, Vertex, Wordle, Connections, and Strands.

    Today these games are more popular than other puzzle games, creating daily rituals for millions. “My friends always ask what the Wordle is today or if I have done the connections,” said Aditi Shenoy (‘26). 

     Unlike typical electronic video games, these offer satisfaction and a sense of community through challenging puzzles.  “I see students playing these games when they finish their work,” said Ms. Dara Sheller, an AP literature and language arts teacher. 

     “I look at every single computer [in class], and like everyone is playing the Wordle or doing The Connections,” said Shenoy. One reason for their popularity is their ability to offer quick mental challenges. “They’re challenging and fun to play when you’re bored in class,” said Apurva Shinde (‘26).

     Another key factor to the games popularity is its accessibility. “These games are the ones that aren’t blocked on a school chromebook,” said Shenoy. The games are also only a search away and mostly free. “For the New York Times bigger crossword you have to pay for it or you need a subscription,” said Shenoy. This is why most lean to the free games that the NYT offers.

     With a variety of options to choose from, most students have a routine of playing three to four. “I play the Wordle, The Mini, The Connections and sometimes The Strands,” said Ruchika Majumdar (‘26).

     The Mini Crossword, released in 2014, was the first of these games. It’s a smaller version of the larger crossword puzzle that NYT is famous for. Since it’s small, players will challenge themselves to complete it quickly. “I’m very upset with myself if I can’t do it in under a minute,” said Ms. Sheller. 

     According to The NYT, the mini crossword was created to “encourage more people to try the main New York Times crossword puzzle, which is considered one of the toughest — and which many beginner solvers find overly intimidating.” 

     The short time it takes to complete the Mini makes it more appealing than the larger crossword. In 2023, The Mini Crossword reached one billion plays. 

       Wordle, released in 2021 during the pandemic, quickly became the most popular NYT game, reaching an all-time high of 4.8 billion plays last year.

     In Wordle, players have six tries to guess a five-letter word, with letters turning gray, yellow, or green to indicate what you have right. To minimize the number of tries needed to guess the word, avid Wordle players strategically choose their starting word.  

     “My starting word for Wordle is adieu,” said Shinde. According to The NYT this was the most popular starting word in 2023 with eight percent of people using it because it uses a lot of vowels. However, there is a higher chance of not getting the word using adieu. “I use radio, audio, or pinky,” said Shenoy.

     Shortly after the pandemic Wordle lost popularity, but after the release of The Connections Wordle became popular again.  Connections is a game made of 16 tiles with words on them. Players have to place the words into four undisclosed groups. The groups are sorted into the colors yellow, green, blue and purple from easiest to hardest. Players are only allowed to make four mistakes before the game gives you the answers, creating a competitive edge. 

     “Sometimes it’s really hard, and sometimes it’s really easy,” said Shenoy. It’s normal to lose the Connections. 

     “There was a time when I was playing with my family friend and we went through all four tries on all of our devices,” said Majumdar. 

     The Connections has been a game that has brought students together since it came out. The Connections creates teamwork and satisfaction in doing hard puzzles.

     A newer NYT game is the Strands. The Strands, released in 2024, is similar to a word search where players are given a hint and have to find words hidden in many letters. Players can connect the letters in any direction to create words. Among the words players have to find there is a special word called the “spanagram” that describes the puzzle’s theme. 

     The strands are still in its beta version and gaining popularity quickly. 

     Daily releases keep the NYT games engaging. “It’s fun to look forward to a new game each day,” said Majumdar. 

     Ms. Sheller said, “I feel like I must do it before I get on with the rest of my day,” The NYT games are a refreshing change from the usual violent video games students are used to. Whether playing in class or at home, the games connect students and staff and stimulate the brain in a way that no other video game can.

Answers for Connections:

Things Pirates own: Parrot, Patch, Sword, Map
Valuables: Loot, Treasure, Gold, riches
Famous pirates: Blackbeard, Hook, Sparrow, Roberts
Pirate’s ______: Eye, Pick, Ship, booty

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