How to Do It: The New York Times Crossword Puzzle Instruction Manual

Connections, a new online game from the venerable New York Times, is the latest offering from the puzzle world’s esteemed and increasingly competitive pantheon of (mostly) word games. The game plumbs the depths of our ability to identify words that share categories and patterns, and demonstrate how we form associations quickly and efficiently. If you are a puzzle person, or just looking for a way to train your brain, here is a primer to this new game: what is Connections, how do you play it, and how can you play it well?

Unraveling the Mystique of Connections

It might be described, at base, as a sort of word-association and thematic link game. You start with a grid of 16 words, and your task is to identify the words that belong to four separate groups, each sharing some covert thematic thread in common. A thread that might be basic (eg, prominent pop culture touchstones) but also borderline esoteric (eg, linguistics). You need to move far beyond the easy, obvious answers.

The Blueprint to Success in Connections

THE MOVE: Embracing the Basics

Novices must first learn how the works. Each puzzle contains a group of words that, at first, appear to be a jumble. But upon a single clever move or a bit of lateral thinking, patterns start to reveal themselves – be it a constellation of words about food, the Bible or a set of famous singulars. It’s up to you to join the dots, or words.

Strategic Moves and Tips

Another useful feature of Connections is that, unlike other acrostics, the grid can be shuffled at any time – a good tactic when staring at a cluster of four or five seemingly impenetrable words. You should always start with the yellow group, the easiest to decipher, then pull that information into the blue and purple groups to more easily decode the harder words.

Navigating Today’s Connections: A Guide to Enlightenment

Even with the excitement of the challenge, there are puzzles that are harder to solve than others. On days when we feel we couldn’t possibly figure it out, we throw a line to the shore – a set of gently guiding clues. If you’re having trouble with today’s Connections, let us know. We’ll keep our suggestions (theme, hint) deliberately vague so that you can get there yourself.

Today's Themes: A Glimpse into the Puzzle's Mind

To play efficiently today, think widely about the classes that might comprise a solution, from technology and literature to the natural world. And to all those times when we just can’t seem to find our way, we show one word from each group to give that last kick to the brain.

Mastering Connections: Moving Beyond Today's Challenge

For everyone who managed to work through today’s puzzle, struggled along as you probably did – a mixture of trial and error and a dash of luck – and finally figured it out, my congratulations. But if Connections was always just a series of one-off puzzles, submitting them to you every day, the magazine wouldn’t have lasted 60 years. The secret to Connections’ longevity lies in the fact that, when you sit down with the words and themes of a new puzzle, it’s not just your mind of the moment that’s being improved – it’s your cognitive flexibility and pattern-recognition skills in general, every single day.

A Move Towards Tomorrow: Embracing the Daily Puzzle

Keep this mind, of course; it’s the heart of Connections, and your main reason for playing the day’s puzzle is to learn what it teaches you. But tomorrow there will be another day, a whole new grouping of words to toy with, posing a fresh set of problems to solve, if only we can regain our equilibrium after whatever success or failure the day’s puzzling brought us.

Understanding the Move: The Heart of Connections

At its essence, then, Connections is not just a game about words; it is a tribute to the expressive potential of language and to the crowd of associations that he has inter-linked through the language of culture and consciousness. The ability to move within that crowd, its free-associative world, is a skill — but it is also an art, one that can expand the imaginative dimensions of everyday cognition as an individual player manages to catch the proverbial new rabbit out of the extra hat.

Let’s master Connections together, one day at a time, never forgetting to take things slowly, ask questions, and stay buoyant as we search, struggle, and sniff out an answer, because the fun is often in the hunt, in the wrestling, and in the gratification of the solution.

Jun 09, 2024
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