Image of Ethan Pan on his bed with crosswords surrounding him
Pan is pursuing a double major in cognitive science and his own independent concentration, food writing.Photo: David DelPoio
First Person

Pandemic Puzzles
Five minutes with Ethan Pan ’22

By Ivy Scott ’21.5 / June–August 2022
July 6th, 2022

I will do any crossword that’s put in front of me—my mom will sometimes save clippings from random newspapers for me because I quite like doing them on paper—though I think the New York Times crossword is particularly even-keeled in its topic coverage. For me, the New Yorker crosswords are a little too literary, and magazines like People or Entertainment Weekly are super pop-culture-heavy, so I like how the New York Times dailies have a little bit of everything. The minis, I like doing with other people because there’s a sort of competitive element, but they don’t juice me up the same way. 

Crack Crosswords


I read Rex Parker, a fairly well-established crossword reviewer, on what is considered a quality crossword. For example: exciting fill, which is all of the like three- to four-letter answers. Good fill avoids crosswordese, which are words that are often in crosswords because they have a lot of vowels but are not super used in daily life. Like, does anybody know Mount Etna in Italy? I do, because I do the New York Times crossword, but most people wouldn’t. So it’s kind of like math or physics — there’s an elegance that makes a good crossword shine.

-: CLEANED :-

For a lot of my “I’m-a-person” adult life, I’ve had like a mild interest in crosswords. Like I would download crossword apps just to mess around, but I never really dug into it until winter break my sophomore year. There was a series the New Yorker did on YouTube with their crossword authors and I remember this one author said something like, “Either you’re here for the crosswords because you like trivia, or you like wordplay.” And I was like, “Wait, I like both of those—could this be the thing that’s for me?” 

That was when it first clicked and I got a yearly subscription to the New York Times crossword, but when the pandemic hit, I definitely sort of dug a little deeper. I’d say since about May of 2021, I’ve pretty much tried my hand at the daily crossword every day. If I forget, I feel really awful—especially the Mondays because I’ve completed every single Monday for like months and months, so I feel a sort of need to keep the streak alive.

I definitely aspire to have a crossword published in the Times, but cruciverbalism—the art of creating crossword puzzles—is an exceedingly difficult task. My sophomore year I tried to do a theme surrounding puns on Chinese food, and I recently have been constructing a Brown University-themed puzzle for Post.

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Related Issue
June–August 2022