Created by Natan Last, a senior at Brown University, three-time intern with Will Shortz, and in 2008 the youngest person to have a puzzle published in the Sunday New York Times, Word kicks the crossword puzzle squarely into the 21st century for a new generation of puzzle-lovers, replacing fusty crossword-ese with hip cultural references, modern wordplay, and a lively mix of high-and low-brow pop trivia. A Word puzzle begins with the shared knowledge of a literate but not-so-reverent generation, and celebrates the knowingness with a deft touch. Your parents’ crosswords make solvers feel smart. Word puzzles make solvers feel smart and cool, getting the references to The Daily Show, Mario Brothers, the Goo Goo Dolls, and a hefty dose of nostalgia (the name of the motel in Psycho). But they also know the core curriculum: Charlotte Bronte’s Jane, Roman generals, Berlioz and von Bismarck, Homer—and not just Homer Simpson.
The puzzles are constructed with all the smarts of a daily Times crossword: themes, interconnected clues, titles that unlock the overall puzzle (solve all the clues and the circle letters will spell out a famous name at Hogwarts). Assisting Mr. Last is a group of five more top “under 25” constructors, all of whom have published puzzles in The New York Times.