This Free Multiplayer Crossword Beams Down to You Daily From Cats in Space
Joan E. SolsmanFormer Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
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Three Folio Eddie award wins: 2018 science & technology writing (Cartoon bunnies are hacking your brain), 2021 analysis (Deepfakes' election threat isn't what you'd think) and 2022 culture article (Apple's CODA Takes You Into an Inner World of Sign)
Planet Crossword launches Friday -- a free, daily crossword you can solve on your own or complete collaboratively (or competitively) in live interactive groups.
Why it matters
Like last year's viral word-game phenom Wordle, everyone plays the same free puzzle on Planet Crossword daily -- but Planet Crossword can be social from the start and expand to groups in the thousands.
Need to fill a Wordle-size hole in your social-puzzle soul? Planet Crossword, an online game launching Friday, aims to make crossword-solving interactive and social -- and delivered with the help of cute cat astronauts.
Planet Crossword, with its first puzzle going live at 9 a.m. PT/noon ET Friday, is the debut from Hovercats, a new studio born out of the similarly named startup Hovercast. A developer of crowdfunding technology, Hovercast made tools that fueled fundraising for high-profile Democratic candidates and campaigns in the 2020 election cycle, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.
But Planet Crossword's collaborative, social, crowd-play format tries to meet a "glaring need for new ways to play together in virtual spaces," Hovercats said in a release.
You can solve Planet Crossword's daily puzzle solo on any web browser, but you can also play in groups ranging from small collections of friends or family to massively multiplayer competitions with participants in the thousands. Collaborative games, whether small or huge, can play on platforms like YouTube Live, Discord, Twitch and even Zoom.
Wordle's word-puzzling phenomenon last year snuck up on pandemic-stuck folks, seeming to suddenly explode in social feeds filled with rows of grey, yellow and green squares. Like Wordle, Planet Crossword has only one puzzle a day, and everyone plays the same one. But it's a different sort of social. Where Wordle turned a solitary activity social through sharing on platforms like Twitter, Planet Crossword is collaborative and multiplayer -- even massively multiplayer -- from the get-go.
Hovercats gave a glimpse of Planet Crossword's large-scale potential during YouTube's live "Game On" event in August. During the event, tens of thousands of concurrent live players collectively solved two of three puzzles faster than crossword speed-solving champion Stella Zawistowski, who can finish a New York Times Sunday crossword in less than five minutes.
Planet Crossword works as a chat-based game, with players solving the same puzzle at the same time, either in a free-for-all race or in teams. After each new crossword is released daily, you can puzzle it out by yourself at your own pace, or you can play with a group, big or small. Whoever is playing types answers into a chat and hits enter. When one answer is correct, that word fills in on the puzzle. If an answer is wrong, nothing happens. One point is awarded for every correct square.
The puzzles are made by some big names in the crossword world. Zawistowski is one of the editors, and Ben Tausig is an adviser.
Hovercats plans for Planet Crossword to be the first in a series of collaborative games in what it's calling, yes, a "puzzleverse." Leaning into Web3 for a business model rather than spammy ads or pay-to-play, Planet Crossword's puzzles double as a daily digital collectable -- everyone can play it, but only one person can win an auction to "own" it as an NFT.
"Communities, friends, families, streamers and businesses all need better ways to have fun together online," Eli Stonberg, Hovercats founder, said in a statement. "We've noticed that there's a lack of quality social games that can be played by groups remotely. So starting with Planet Crossword, we're focusing on multiplayer games that can be played by anyone, anywhere."