The premise of each Layton game is that the titular Professor Hershel Layton, an English gentleman and professor extraordinaire, and his snippy apprentice Luke Triton engage a foreign space, its people, and their puzzles. There is certainly a resemblance to a Conan Doyle novel in each of these adventures, with unique characters and a cartoonish but engaging art style, but the mainstay of the series lies in the puzzles that pervade each game.
As well as its implementation of standard quiz game conventions, CNN Challenge takes on a more nuanced and intricate approach to online news trivia. Many of these subtleties were revealed in an interview with Kay Madati, current Vice President of Audience Experience at CNN. In our talk with him, we discussed the ways in which CNN Challenge is important on its own as a quiz game. More importantly, however, Madati explains how it fits into a larger, more complex structure that extends beyond notions of play. Instead, the game can be useful as a platform through which other purposes can be served within the CNN organization.
Traditional crossword puzzles are incredibly successful but they have several serious drawbacks: (1) They are difficult to construct, (2) Most words are short and often silly--chosen only because they fit, (3) Matching clues to numbers is a distraction, and (4) A given puzzle is usually either too easy or too hard. Cricklers solve all of these problems while retaining the essence and feel of a traditional crossword puzzle.
One might think this easy access to information would lead to a more informed citizenry, but as a 2007 report by the Pew Research Center demonstrates, this is not necessarily the case. In the report, Pew asked respondents questions that tested their public affairs knowledge in 1989 and then again in 2007, and despite the many changes in mass communication that have occurred over the almost two-decade span of time, public affairs knowledge changed little. In some instances, it decreased: 74% of respondents could name the vice-president in 1989, but in 2007 that number dropped to 69%.
This leads to a tacit first question: what number of newspaper-subscribers buy the paper just for the puzzles? There are some difficulties acquiring statistically significant numbers here. First, most newspapers don't do regular surveys of their readers to actually find out why they're buying the paper. Will Shortz at the New York Times shares an interesting figure - he does after all have a lot at stake here as the world's current Dean of Crossword Puzzles. In a 2004 interview Shortz discussed a survey from earlier in the decade that found 27% of newspaper readers playing the crossword occasionally. That numbers isn't particularly compelling for our purposes, but there is one other number dropped by Shortz that does carry some weight: 1%. That's the percentage of Americans who named crossword-solving as "their favorite activity in the world."
Is how The Wonkette Quiz begins and, with it, an interesting approach to news quizzes."If you're a former ballet dancer with a hot temper and nine and a half fingers, you're probably glad to see that this Rahm Emanuel fellow came along. If he can make it, so can you! Emanuel also has two brothers, Zeke and Ari, with whom you might have more in common than you might think. Take Wonkette's Official Emanuel Brother Diagnostic Personality Test and find out!"
One traditional news quiz is the New York Times News Quiz, which has a strictly pedagogical bent. The focus of this quiz, which is similar to many other newspaper-based news quizzes, aims to instruct younger readers about techniques of reading and synthesizing information from a newspaper article whose style of writing is different than styles taught in school such as the essay or short story.
While the crossword is a relatively recent construction (about 95 years old), word games and riddles have appeared in newspapers since the 17th century. The forms themselves, the riddle, word square, rebus, and enigma date back thousands of years .
The puzzles take the form of several smaller puzzle, each a take on the theme (usually a holiday or event, such as the United Nations Day Puzzle, Country Club). The answers to these smaller puzzles are then used as entries in the last puzzle which answers a question posed by the writers at the beginning of the puzzle. For example, in Patriot Games, the question asked is: "our vote for the best way to spend Fourth of July holiday weekend". The answer for this puzzle (I hope it's not too much of a spoiler) is "Join a Party" which, as many word puzzles tend to be, is a pun on the word party as both a festivity and a political group.
This led me to think about the nature of these puzzle's construction and whether the creators themselves saw themselves working in a journalistic or editorial capacity. Moreover, how did these puzzle even come about in the New York Times and why did they take the form of "Op-Ed" Puzzles?
I'd like to once again thank Amy Goldstein and the other members of Puzzability for politely answering my questions regarding these puzzle and both the formal and ideological processes behind their construction.
Below my interview with Amy Goldstein of Puzzability: