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Juliana Pache is talking to me in a video interview from a sunlit room in her Queens apartment. Ms. Pache speaks thoughtfully and shares the story of how she became a crossword constructor as well as the creator of Black Crossword, a venture that launched in January.
There are many self-started crossword websites, but the uniqueness of Ms. Pache’s project lies in her intent. Her puzzles are meant to increase Black representation in crosswords, but they also underscore the fact that this historically underserved market — Black solvers who would like puzzles that are culturally relevant to them — is not a monolith. The diversity among Black communities, Ms. Pache feels, is the point.
Ms. Pache, whose parents immigrated from Cuba and the Dominican Republic, primarily identifies as Black and was raised with a lot of exposure to Caribbean and Latin American culture. Frustrated by the dearth of Black people from Latino cultures in magazines and other media, especially during Black History Month, she started a Twitter hashtag, which took off (#blacklatinxhistory) in 2016, to share the accomplishments of prominent Afro-Latinx individuals.
To paraphrase her current mission, she hopes that the inclusion of entries and clues from all of the cultures in the Black diaspora, whose ancestors were enslaved and forcefully dispersed throughout the Caribbean, South, Central and North America, will inspire those communities to learn more about each other. Haitian solvers may not be familiar with clues about Afro-Latinx culture, for example, but may be motivated to look up these cultural references and read about them. Ideally, she would like the puzzles to spark conversation among the communities about their differences as well as their commonalities.
“I mostly want people of the Black diaspora to learn about each other in a way that’s fun and rewarding,” she said.
Ms. Pache grew up in Hollis, Queens, and moved to Florida in her early teens. In the last semester of her senior year of high school, she reshelved books at her public library, and many of the titles caught her eye. She read as many as she could.
“I think that’s really where I started to gain a love for facts and knowledge,” Ms. Pache said, “as well as Black culture, history and the diaspora.”
After graduating from Temple University in 2014, Ms. Pache worked in marketing and social media but left her job in 2021 to work full time on the handmade jewelry business she had started the year before.
A word lover (she and her fiancé are avid Boggle players), she also began solving crossword puzzles as a pastime. The experience left her feeling as if something were missing.
Representation in crosswords is a broad topic, and Ms. Pache wants to dispel the notion that all Black people will be satisfied by simply dropping Black icons and references to Black culture into a crossword.
“I got the idea for this when I was doing the New York Times Mini, actually,” Ms. Pache said, “and I was stuck on a word.
“For whatever reason, I wondered if there was a Black version of this,” she continued. “Because this answer feels like something that I wouldn’t know. And I know that’s also the beauty of a crossword — to learn — but I was stuck. I wondered if there was a Black version, so I looked it up and bought the domain, BlackCrossword.com.” (Another website called BlackCrosswords.com is not related to Ms. Pache’s puzzles.)
“There are a lot of terms that are common within our communities — plural,” Ms. Pache emphasized later in the interview, “and I would never expect to see some of these things that I’ve been putting in these little mini-crosswords elsewhere, to be honest.
“Some of them are just not a part of mainstream culture,” she added, “which is fine, it’s OK.”
If white solvers want to try her puzzles, Ms. Pache thinks that’s great, but it’s not her focus. “I think that if white solvers want to try Black Crossword,” she said, “it’s an opportunity to learn about things you don’t know.”
The road from initial idea to live puzzle website can be daunting if the creator is inexperienced, but the skills that Ms. Pache picked up in her professional life came in handy. She designed the Black Crossword website using skills she learned from developing a site for her jewelry business. Her background in social media and graphics also helped with marketing her crossword.
Ms. Pache did all of the work on Black Crossword herself, which included constructing the puzzles and plowing through the stacks of paperwork involved in establishing a trademark and a limited liability company.
But she was quick to note that she was buoyed by a warm welcome and a lot of support from #crosscord, a Discord channel for constructors.
“I know how important it is to feel seen in crosswords,” Nate Cardin, one of the creators of Queer Qrosswords, wrote in an email. “Especially when it feels like the form doesn’t reflect the people, ideas and cultural touch points you know to be just as valid as what’s currently in crosswords.
“I respect Juliana for seeing what the current crossword landscape does (and does not) offer and actively deciding to make her own puzzles that center terms and clues from the Black diaspora,” he added.
After a short beta test in mid-January, the website was ready for the public. Ms. Pache published her first crossword on Jan. 23, and the response on Twitter, while small, was almost immediate.
Nicole A. Tinson is the chief executive of HBCU20x20, an organization that connects Black college students and alumni with employment opportunities. On Jan. 24, the day after Ms. Pache’s puzzle ran, she shared her solving time on Twitter. When reached by email, Ms. Tinson said, “Juliana’s Black Crossword Puzzle is not only culturally relevant, but affirming.”
Ms. Tinson has vivid memories of solving newspaper crosswords with her mother as a child, but at age 11, she struggled to answer clues about topics that were unfamiliar to her.
“I’m fortunate to see an activity I grew up doing with my mom be a reminder of how far we continue to progress,” Ms. Tinson added. The Black Crossword, she said, “truly demonstrates how diverse thought spawns inclusivity and creativity in the places we often forget about.”
Adesina O. Koiki, a constructor who has been published in The New York Times and is the author of a book of mini-crosswords, has solved some of Ms. Pache’s puzzles and said he enjoyed them.
“Black Crossword is a sleeping giant. Period,” he said in an email. “There’s already a built-in demand among many solvers to encounter and experience elements of culture that are gaps in their knowledge, along with a desire to boost the work of Black creators and businesspeople — increased, among other things, by the cultural reckoning that’s occurred in the country over the past three years.”
He praised the small format as a way to bring in new solvers. “Instead of swimming around 70-some-odd clues and 180-some-odd white boxes to find maybe one or two entries that mirror your background and culture, go short and sweet and right to the point with things more in your wheelhouse,” he wrote.
Ms. Pache is still learning about her craft. She didn’t make it into the second class of the competitive New York Times Diverse Crossword Constructor Fellowship, but she did stand out to the application panel. As a result, she is among a handful of people not in the program who are invited to sit in on construction classes taught online by the puzzle editors.
And there are still business decisions to make. The mini-crosswords on Black Crossword will continue to be free, Ms. Pache says, but she is mulling over a paid subscription for standard-size daily or possibly weekly puzzles. She would also like to bring on additional constructors in the future to contribute to the rotation.
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