August 2022 Review
September 09, 2022

They're just like us!

Summer vacations, my birthday, and a couple days of sick leave prevented this month from getting totally back to business-as-usual, but I made some progress on my larger goal and got outside of my comfort zone on some non-coding work.

Goals From Last Month

1. Schedule research interviews with five potential users

Grade: C

I've only conducted one interview so far. But I have some more irons in the fire, so I'm hoping I'll finish this soon. I'll discuss the specifics more below, but cold emailing a highly niche group is hard!

2. Whittle down the features I'd like to build before launching

Grade: B

I'm not sure how to grade this one. I'm happy with the work I've done, but I'm also worried I'm putting the cart before the horse. Scheduling and conducting research interviews takes a lot of back-and-forth communication, which has left me with some time to fill. I've used that to drill down into my vision for this project, but I probably should be waiting to finish research before getting any deeper into designs. I'm going to take a break and work on something else while I finish up my research.

How I Spent My Time This Month

Unnamed Crossword Project

I still don't feel totally comfortable writing about this while it's still in the research stage. But it's also boring to keep referencing a mysterious future project, so I think it's probably time!

As crossword puzzles become more popular than ever, the economics of constructing haven't kept up. Due to COVID boredom (and Wordle, I'm sure), the NY Times surpassed 1 million subscriptions to its "Games" product last year. At $40 for a year's subscription, that's more than $40 million in revenue.

While the Times' editing and user experience are great, there's no question that the primary draw is the quality of the puzzles. With so much cash rolling in and motivation to maintain their status as the most prestigious crossword in the world, they surely must be passing on that revenue to their creators, right? Sadly, no. Average pay for a daily puzzle comes in around $750 (more for a Sunday). This works out to less than $400,000 (1 percent of their revenue!) going to the talented creators every year.

With the economics so harsh, it means only those constructors who are already established can hope to make a living. Thousands of amateurs submit a puzzle to the Times, never hear back, and give up on their dream entirely. With such stark barriers to entry, it serves to keep the (straight, white, male) pool of constructors from ever evolving. And it keeps us crossword enthusiasts from appreciating the style and perspective we'd get from a more diverse group of creators.

I don't mean to call out the Times specifically here, since other publications pay even worse. But they're certainly the major player and could do more to enact change than anyone else. Since it seems they aren't willing to try, let's talk about what I can do!

I have a bunch of ideas that might start to solve this problem, but as an amateur creator, I don't have a clear window into the needs of professional constructors. So my first step is getting that! I'm reaching out to a wide array of constructors to get their opinion on the current state of affairs and how it might be improved.

So far this has meant cold emails to constructors whose puzzles I enjoy, but I'm hoping to get introductions to others who want to be involved. If you or someone you know is a serious constructor, I'd love to talk to you! Feel free to spread the word!

If these pay and diversity problems interest you, this article gets into it more than I have here.

Goals For Next Month

1. Interview three more constructors

I've got a bunch of emails out to potential interviewees, so I'm hoping I can get a few more on the books soon. Cold emailing and interviewing are definitely not my forte, but I'm going to try to push myself to get them done anyways.

2. Publish a side project

While waiting for interviews (to prevent myself from speculatively coding the crossword project), I started playing around with another little idea that I'm excited about. I'm hoping it should only take about a week, so look out for that soon!

After a few crazy months, I'm going to try to get into a better routine (and maybe even publish my monthly review earlier) going forward. See you in October!