In doing crossword puzzles, it’s interesting to hear people talk sometimes in terms of their outlook in doing puzzles. Often times, you will see people talk in terms of times, errors, and the use of ink. The opportunity to address these things came up, and I saw it useful to explain what I’ve learned.

As Steve Wallace writes:

Perhaps someone can explain to me why anyone keeps track of time and errors at all (except in competition, of course). Is a crossword puzzle a test? a speed contest? I don’t think so. I just solve the best I can, enjoying the nuances of the clues, the word play, the theme, etc., as I go. And solving in ink? What is the big thing about that? Just a senseless ego trip as far as I can tell . . . I can not see how making a “solve” a contest adds any enjoyment to the process. Someone is faster/better than someone else? . . . How does that add to the enjoyment?

I can’t speak for the majority of solvers, but I can relate my own experiences and what I’ve noticed. To start with timing and errors, people do keep track of those things for competition. But at the same time, it’s an objective measure of how you did with a puzzle.

To look at what I did when I started doing puzzles, I didn’t much care much about the time I spent on puzzles and wasn’t too strict on errors. I simply was interested in improving, as I still am. I usually didn’t finish puzzles, and I often needed several words to even break into certain parts of a grid. Back then, I measured errors in terms of words.

When the time came that finishing a puzzle without help wasn’t a question anymore, I needed to change the metrics beyond simply finishing the grid. I moved from counting number of words I needed to look up, to number of letters in error. And when I started realizing that a lot of puzzles were getting finished with no errors, I started timing puzzles.

If there is a competition in any way, it’s just with myself. I’ve even gotten old Los Angeles Times puzzles I’ve saved, redid them and compared them with what I wrote on blogs then. It’s fun to see progress and even encouraging, especially when I run into crossword puzzles I still have problems with. Part of my need in doing puzzles is to see that improvement, so in that sense I find an enjoyment in it. I can’t say that’s how others treat it, but that’s how I treat it.

As far as doing puzzles in ink versus pencil, it’s not an issue I’ve seriously addressed. I do most of my puzzles either online through Across Lite, or in pencil since I’m still way too error-prone in the course of doing a puzzle. As I understand it, some prefer ink because it is indelible – and that you can’t cover up your missteps upon inspection of the final product.

While there are objective standards to a puzzle in terms of how much you solved, there shouldn’t be anything that others should say in terms of your progress towards grids. As long as one gets there, there shouldn’t be any pressure from others as to how they get there, as long as they’re honest about how they get there.


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