The New York Times Rolls Out a New Puzzle to Fuel Its Rapidly Expanding Audience

Tiles, out today, is the third creation from the company's Games Expansions Team

New game Tiles is part of the New York Times' strategy to attract new subscribers, particularly internationally.
New York Times

More than 75 years ago, The New York Times finally accepted that puzzles weren’t a waste of time for readers and it became the last New York daily newspaper to put a crossword in its paper. Now, the publication is leaning even deeper into the category with a new game, called Tiles, that the company went live with today.

While the paper added the crossword to give readers a diversion from hard news after World War II, Tiles is intended to be a low-stakes game to help users relax and wind down, offering them what game designers hope will be an appealing, “not too stressful” puzzle, said Sam Von Ehren, the Times’ gamemaker.

Von Ehren is part of the company’s Games Expansions Team, devoted to brainstorming and designing new puzzles, which was formed in 2017. Just over a year ago, the team launched Spelling Bee, a word game, and in February, Letter Boxed, described as a puzzle for language lovers. Tiles is the third puzzle to be created from the group, which had noticed that users were writing in late at night asking the company for a game that would help them zone out. After many experiments, beta versions and walking around the newsroom asking staffers to play with it, the team produced Tiles, a pattern matching game.

“This allows us to explore other types of games for our very larger user base that have other needs for a diversion of some sort that meets their specific play types,” said Eric von Coelln, the Times’ executive director of puzzles.

It’s the latest product out of the Times’ game strategy after a long history of being in the category, which has now become a part of its overarching larger effort to attract new subscribers, particularly internationally.

“As the Times looks to expand our base, being able to provide the kind of quality… puzzles to a broader international audience, it’s something we’re really looking to do,” von Coelln said.

The Times, which had previously outsourced the crossword, put it online in 2009, added mobile play and brought the creation of it in-house in 2014, and “when things were changing in the industry” decided to put it behind a paywall in 2014. The Times has since grown the number of those subscribers to over 500,000, in the first quarter of this year, the company said. More than 100,000 of those subscribers were added since June of last year.

And new subscribers are getting on board without a news subscription. More than 60% of subscribers to the crossword don’t have a standalone news subscription, von Coelln said, who added that the Times’ popular Cooking app (for recipes) has a similar rate.

A current subscription to access all of The New York Times’ games, including its crossword, mini crossword, Spelling Bee and Letter Boxed, costs $6.95 per month or $39.95 per year. As the Times looks to experiment further with its games, possibilities down the line could include spinning the individual puzzles off into standalone apps—something that von Coelln says is in “early stages,” with nothing yet finalized.

The Times could also experiment with turning more puzzles into standalone subscriptions or further innovate how it partners with brands on these puzzles without muddling the editorial process of creating them, von Coelln said.

“We’re creating a product that has standalone value, but being inside the Times brand gives us even more ways of expanding that value to drive revenue for the Times,” he said.

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