Northwestern Crossword Team creates community through Wildcat wordplay


Illustration by Seeger Gray

The NU Crossword Team solves The New York Times Sunday crossword each Monday to foster community between members.

Jessica Ma, Senior Staffer

For the Northwestern Crossword Team, solving crosswords is a team sport.

Two years ago, SESP junior Abby Nudell and her friends began gathering in a Schapiro Hall lounge to collectively solve crosswords, inspiring the start of NUXW. 

“We’d hook up the computer to the TV and project the crosswords,” Nudell said. “Some people would come in and watch us do it … Slowly, we began to realize that a lot of people like to do crosswords at Northwestern.”

Today, NUXW aims to provide a community for crossword lovers. 

Nudell, the team’s treasurer, said the idea for the group began as a joke but eventually became more concrete. 

Weinberg junior Asher Martin-Rosenthal filled out paperwork to officially register NUXW on the grid as a University-recognized club. He may be the team’s president on paper, but he said he’s more of a figurehead. 

Martin-Rosenthal said NUXW was branded as a “team” — instead of a club — for amusement. But, calling the group a “team” also makes its community feel more legitimate, he said. 

“It was kind of a satire on the competitiveness of other clubs,” Martin-Rosenthal said. “Also, we thought it sounded cooler … ‘Team’ makes it feel like you’re (a) part of something together.”

Every Monday, NUXW solves The New York Times Sunday crossword. Martin-Rosenthal said figuring out the overarching clue for each week’s puzzle is exciting.

He said solving the weekly puzzle has its highs and lows, like when no one knows the word. But, the entire experience is engaging, Martin-Rosenthal said. 

The team began with five members in 2021 but has grown to about 50 members, Nudell said. With the influx of members, she said the team’s approach changed. 

“Now that we’ve gotten pretty big, we’ll split into two groups and race to do the Sunday (puzzle),” Nudell said. “Whoever’s quicker gets bragging rights.”

Nudell enjoys the social aspect of solving the crossword with a group — it’s “teamwork,” she said. 

Martin-Rosenthal said he had never worked on a crossword with other people prior to NUXW’s inception. Everyone uses their own knowledge to solve the puzzle, he added. 

“We do Sunday puzzles in 20 minutes sometimes,” Martin-Rosenthal said. “I’m like, ‘This would take me days!’ It’s just as fun to hear someone else come up with an answer as it is to come up with your own.” 

Every Fall and Spring Quarter, the team runs recruitment cycles to attract new members, aiming for 20 to 30 students each time, Nudell said. 

McCormick sophomore Breck Dunbar, a member of NUXW, found the application process entertaining. She was asked to write fanfiction for her application.

“I was like — even if (I didn’t) want to be on the team, I want to respond to these application questions,” Dunbar said. “It was just a funny application.” 

Through NUXW, Dunbar met people she wouldn’t have otherwise known, she said. NUXW is a community, which she said drew her in. 

Martin-Rosenthal said NUXW deviates from the campus culture of “AND is in our DNA.” 

“Northwestern does not have a lot of places where you can find a community focused on something that’s just an interest,” Martin-Rosenthal said. “(NUXW) gets to that part that’s often missed in peoples’ college experiences.” 

McCormick sophomore Cate Mathews joined NUXW last spring. She considers herself a “4.5 out of 10” in terms of crossword-solving ability.

Like Martin-Rosenthal, she said NUXW brings students from different backgrounds together.

“At its core, (NUXW is) a group of people who get together and do the crossword,” Mathews said. “It’s such a fun mix of different types of Northwestern students who all have a shared interest.” 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @JessicaMa2025

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