We ran an anonymous survey in early January to find out what people really thought about XWord Info. Some of what we learned was predictable, some was surprising, some was baffling. We got specific suggestions about what we could do better (a couple have already been implemented) and we learned some things about the crossword community along the way.
I need to start with the usual caveat: this was not a statistically valid survey because participants were not selected randomly. They volunteered to offer their opinions. Those who weren’t interested never came to the site or found a link.
It’s not surprising, then, that those who chose to participate were overwhelmingly positive. 74% were extremely satisfied and another 18% were somewhat satisfied. Two participants declared that they were extremely dissatisfied but neither explained. Two-thirds of the respondents solved at least one puzzle a day. Perhaps surprisingly, the more people constructed, the less they solved.
The single most popular feature on the site is one that appears only occasionally – commentary from Will Shortz. Other high-scoring features were data organized by constructor, stats about record-setting puzzles, Jeff Chen’s commentary, and our Finder Page. (We knew the Finder was popular. It’s been used well over a million times already!) The Grid Art and Visual Puzzles pages are also widely loved.
The least popular feature is the Acrostic solver, although we know that solvers who use it are passionate about it. The rest of the Variety puzzles are nearly as unpopular. This continues to surprise me because I think that the cryptics and diagramlesses in particular are gems.
Jeff’s comments rated highly overall but had some low votes too. Some people though he was either “a buzz kill because he was too nitpicky” or “not enough like Rex” to be entertaining. Opinions also diverged on Jeff’s Puzzle of the Week with most liking it but some not. Personally, I think Jeff's comments are the best part of the website.
On the question of payments, the most common (and most adamant) comment was that everything should be free. Why not? Most constructors would consider paying for features that could help them create better puzzles.
As often happens in surveys, the most valuable feedback comes in what are called the verbatims, the free-form comments you type in. Here are some with our responses:
- It’s too hard to find, say, 15-letter words that contain a certain string of letters inside. DONE! You can now specify the length of words you want returned, so for example, you can find all 10-letter words that contain CAT by searching for *CAT* and specifying length 10. I don’t know why we didn’t think of this before.
- The “Constructors by Year” page would be easier to read if the order of the years was reversed. DONE!
- The home page is too confusing. We heard this a lot. A professional designer did the original design but our home page has now grown into a sea of hyperlinks that would scare anyone off. We’ll have to figure out what to do about that. One commenter complained that unlike Cruciverb's friendly user interface, ours felt too slick and "professional." We're not sure what to do about that.
- It should be possible to search for puzzles that contain a list of words, say *SLEEPY*, *DOPEY*, *DOC*, etc. to see if a theme has been used before. Interesting idea! This could never be 100% accurate but we’ll think about how to provide that functionality.
- Allow users to comment on Jeff’s blog posts. We don’t plan to do this. It turns out, though, that there are lots of other places on the web to comment about puzzles.
- XWord Info should come free with an NYT subscription. Not possible – we’re independent.
- Check for duplication of letter strings. I presume this means in uploaded puzzles. Good idea.
- Show number of times each answer word has appeared right on the Crossword page, that is, without having to click through each word. Probably won’t do that because it would clutter the page. That information is nicely available in one place when you click the Analyze button.
- Answers to Split Decisions and other PDF-only puzzles. We should do a better job linking to the NYT answers for these. We can’t add them to our database for analysis because parsing the PDFs is not simple, and answers that have no clues (like Split Decisions) are probably not so interesting.
- Create a page showing puzzles that have non-contiguous grids. Interesting idea.
- Improve the mobile experience. Yeah, our site works best with a mouse and keyboard. The crossword solver page and the Acrostics page both absolutely require them. Doing a great job for mobile is a lot of work and we’re unlikely to do this soon but it’s something we’ll consider. If you just want to check answers on your phone, www.xwordinfo.com/mobile/ works well.
- Link to Wiktionary or Wikipedia pages for Finder results. Another interesting idea. Did you notice that when you find a word or phrase in the Finder page, it links to a dictionary definition as well as to all the published clues for that word?
- More constructor photos! Solvers love to see what the constructors look like. If we’re missing yours, don’t be shy. Send something in. We can crop and edit and make you look your best.
We got so many responses that it’s going to take a while to sort through all the data, but those are the initial highlights. Most feedback was positive and many of the suggestions are helpful. One main learning is that we should have asked your opinion long ago. We wouldn't have spent so much time on features like pop-up grid tooltips when you hover over dates or Baseball Card views of constructors (nobody mentioned either in the survey) and concentrated more on Constructor features.
Thank you so much to everyone who participated. Feel free to comment here, send us mail (link on home page) or if you prefer to be completely anonymous, you can still take the survey at www.xwordinfo.com/Survey.