Introducing Puzzles For Democracy

For people who are not interested in puzzles, the hobby of solving puzzles must seem very strange. We go about our days facing one problem after another—family problems, work problems, financial problems, legal problems. Sometimes the problems are easy enough to deal with—but still, deal with them you must.

Sometimes the problems are infuriatingly hard. Who in their right mind sits on the sofa at the end of the day and says, “Please give me some more problems to solve?”
Me, and millions like me. And it’s not that hard to see why, really. Maybe I can’t figure out how to find the right person at my insurance company to help me clear up some foolish piece of bureaucracy—but by gum, I can solve this Sudoku, and earn a moment’s satisfaction for having done so.
And not only that, but I know this Sudoku has a solution. It’s out there, waiting for me to find it.

My insurance company offers me no such guarantee. Life doesn’t necessarily play fair with the problems it throws at you. But a professional puzzlemaker does play fair. There is always a solution, and the puzzlemaker wants you to find it. As a puzzle constructor, I am an adversary of sorts… but I am a friendly adversary. I’m on your side, and if I should happen to be in the same room with you when you solve my puzzle, I will give you a cheer.

The people gnawing away at the foundations of democracy, in America and around the world, are not friendly adversaries. They are interested in power; they are interested in running the show on a permanent basis. And rather than winning people over with their ideas, they prefer to stack the deck in their favor. Performing a variety of legal magic tricks in order to curb who gets to vote. Carving up Congressional districts with the sole objective of keeping their party in power. Crying fraud the moment it becomes clear they have lost an election. They are on nobody’s side but their own.

It is hard for most people to know what to do in the face of this growing onslaught. Voting is a must, but surely that is only a first step. What’s the step after that? What can we do? I mean, let’s say—strictly by way of example—that you are a professional puzzle constructor. What on earth is your role in all this? Can there possibly be a crossword puzzle that will bring anti-democratic forces to their knees?

Probably not. But I am happy to do what I can, and in my case that means getting together with my puzzlemaking friends to present a set of 51 puzzles—one for every state plus Washington, D.C. We made easy puzzles, we made hard puzzles, we made word puzzles, we made logic puzzles—we think we’ve made something for everybody. And we did it with the hope that we might raise a lot of money for Common Cause, the unfriendly adversary of those who seek to do harm to democracy.

I don’t know how this is all going to shake out. Unlike the logic puzzle I plan to enjoy as a reward for writing this essay, the problems caused by anti-democratic forces have no surefire solution. All we can do is persevere, and support democracy and pro-democracy organizations whenever and wherever we can—actively and loudly. That might not in itself be the solution to the puzzle, but it’s a step in the right direction.