The NYT Mini Crossword

A Modest Start

The initial Mini crossword didn’t exactly start with a bang. It sparked a flurry of social media chatter within hours of publication due to the inclusion of an abbreviated internet profanity, causing the crossword’s creator, a new editorial assistant at The Times, to contemplate whether their first day on the job would also be their last. Swiftly, the clue was revised to reference a musical group, steering clear of slang.
The date was August 21, 2014, and The New York Times had recently introduced a crossword app that featured the Mini as part of its offerings. The objective was straightforward: entice more people to try the main New York Times crossword puzzle, renowned for its formidable challenge, which could be intimidating to novice solvers.

The Birth of the Mini

Collaboration between The Times’s crosswords editor, Will Shortz, and product director Matt Hural led to the creation of a 5×5 crossword, a bite-sized version of the traditional puzzle. This Mini crossword would be available daily, at no cost, alongside the main puzzle, with the hope of cultivating a daily habit among beginner solvers until they felt ready to tackle the larger puzzle.
The puzzle’s creator, a recent college graduate and full-time editorial assistant for Will Shortz, eagerly embraced the opportunity to develop the Mini crossword project. Having previously crafted 25 full-size puzzles for The Times, this new puzzle size and format presented an exciting challenge. Unlike other Times products subjected to rigorous user testing and market research, the puzzle’s content was entirely at the discretion of its creator.
The early days of the Mini were characterized by experimentation. Some early Minis featured squares only intersected by a single answer, a departure from the norm in Times crosswords. Although the crossword creator abstained from text slang following the initial hiccup, the puzzle’s difficulty, tone, and references underwent near-daily adjustments in pursuit of setting it apart.

The Mini’s Unique Appeal

Over time, the Mini crossword revealed several advantages over its larger counterpart. Its compact size became an asset in an era characterized by fragmented attention spans and fleeting free moments. Solvers found it the perfect diversion, taking only a minute or two to complete.
Furthermore, its relative ease of completion served as a stepping stone for solvers who had long felt daunted by the main puzzle’s challenge. The Mini introduced a large and untapped audience of beginners to the joy of filling in that last square.

In late 2015, the Mini was integrated into The Times’s main news app, significantly expanding its audience. Today, it is solved by hundreds of thousands of people across various platforms, including:, and The Times’s app
At one point, it even appeared in The Times’s daily Snapchat story.

A Puzzle Maker’s Journey

As per the individual responsible for crafting each Mini puzzle, their experience has been both exhilarating and anxiety-inducing. Crafting these puzzles comes with the challenge of finding fresh, five-letter words that are often vowel-heavy, a conundrum humorously acknowledged by the crossword creator (thanks, OBAMA!). Concerns about running out of ideas have been addressed by drawing inspiration from all aspects of life, from conversations with friends to current events and reading materials.

In this way, the puzzle creator ensures that the Mini remains as interesting for them as it is for the solvers who eagerly await each day’s wordplay challenge.

The Mini crossword’s remarkable journey from its experimental beginnings to its cherished status in the world of puzzles is a testament to its enduring appeal. It has not only provided daily entertainment, but also welcomed a new generation of solvers into the crossword-solving community. As it continues to captivate and challenge, the Mini crossword remains a daily delight for puzzle enthusiasts of all levels.