A miniature New York Times crossword can now float above your couch, courtesy of an augmented reality effect available on the Times’ Instagram page. Pull up the effect on your phone, and a prompt will appear saying, “The crossword has shattered into pieces!” A small crossword sits on whatever surface you’ve picked, while a cloud of letter shards hovers above it. As you move your camera around, the change in perspective will reveal the words that solve the puzzle.
It uses the same principle of perspective, anamorphosis, that some artists play with to make work that creates an optical illusion when viewed from a specific vantage point. It’s a neat concept, but it’s not exactly the same as actually solving a crossword. Fiddling with your phone camera doesn’t require quite as much intellectual rigor as the Sunday puzzle, but taking a guess at the word you need can help you hunt for the right shapes in space.
The game is either fun or frustrating, depending on your tolerance for gimmicks. Some of The Verge staff found it too finicky for their tastes. I, however, am a simple person of simple pleasures, and I derive satisfaction from watching little pieces click together and fall onto the crossword.
please enjoy this clip of me desperately trying to find the right angle to arrange four letters pic.twitter.com/aQ7EMqjeDK— crisp distancing (@crisp_red) December 22, 2020
It’s a gimmick that seems to hope the puzzler will be impressed with AR — which may not be the case for most crossword fans. But it did manage to pull me off the couch for a full minute (much to the confusion of my dog) while I tried to get the scattered fragments of the word “acts” to fall into place. You don’t have to physically circle around — you can use two fingers to rotate the little cloud of shards and zoom in or out — but these days, I’ll use any excuse to stretch my legs.