If you’re a crossword fan, chances are you’ve attempted to tackle the Los Angeles Times crossword at some point. The puzzle is one of the most iconic in publishing, appearing in more than 200

out-of-market titles.

For years, the Times’ various puzzle offerings served as a valuable connection point with readers. But those relationships suffered over the past decade or so as the paper cycled through bankruptcy and ownership changes.

But the Times’ latest transfer of ownership is changing that. In June 2018, biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong purchased theTimes, the San Diego Union-Tribune and LA Times En Español from Chicago-based Tronc (now Tribune Publishing) in a deal valued at $500 million.

“The Soon-Shiongs have been wonderful stewards of our business and we’ve taken back ownership of things that were previously managed and outsourced by Tronc, including games and puzzles,”Vice President of Business Development Lee Fentress told News & Tech. “We endeavored to not only take back ownership of the puzzles section, but more importantly, the relationship with the user.”

To bolster its puzzle offerings, the Times partnered

with San-Francisco-based Amuse Labs late last year. Amuse, chaired by John Temple, former editor and publisher of the now-defunct (Denver) Rocky Mountain News, developed an HTML5-based crossword platform, dubbed PuzzleMe.

TheTimes went live withAmuse’s platform in February for LATimes games, its suite of online crossword, Sudoku, word search puzzles and other games. The technology allows puzzles to be embedded anywhere on a website and can be tailored to look like a publisher’s native page. Publishers can also monetize puzzles.

“We know we have a pretty significant brand, and we have game players from around the country that aren’t necessarily subscribers,” Fentress said. “The hope is to eventually convert some of those users to subscribers, and although we are just at the beginning of that, we’re pleased with the early results.”

Advertising approach

All of the Times’ puzzles are currently free, and when it comes to advertising the Times’ puzzle offerings, Fentress reiterated that it’s all about taking back the customer relationship. He said the publisher now has the ability to integrate puzzles into all of its products, including its homepage, newsletters and editorial features. That’s an option the Times didn’t have when puzzles were outsourced.

“We’ve undergone a complete refresh of the games section,” Fentress said. “We’re publishing ads for it in the printed paper, and we’ve run some online and digital campaigns to create awareness as well.”

Fentress said the puzzles section has also become a more sought-after spot for advertisers in print and online during a time when news coverage is particularly bleak.

“We’re creating an environment for advertisers that don’t want to be adjacent to coronavirus or political coverage,” he said. “Those ads are getting a lot of views because people don’t typically play these puzzle games for just five or

10 minutes.”

Besides the improved functionality of the

puzzles, Fentress said he also attributes some

of the uptick in puzzle participation to the

COVID-19 outbreak. In addition to solo participation, the Amuse platform provides the

ability to collaborate remotely with someone

else to complete a crossword. That’s a particularly appealing option at a time when people

are feeling more isolated.

“People need a break, and there is also still

this group of people that like to start their day

with a crossword,” he said. “It’s good for the

mind and brain — the research is clear on that

— so we’re glad to provide that break from the difficulty of the pandemic.”

Fentress said he believes the potential for editorial customization of the puzzles is endless around events such as the Oscars and Emmys, for example.

“I think in our industry it’s so important to build relationships via customer service and feedback,” he added. “There are so many possibilities with this, and so far we are thrilled with the progress.”

Amuse Labs has also partnered with The Washington Post, Newsday, and New York magazine in the U.S. as well as The Hindu in India andThe Guardian in the U.K.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.