Thumbnail graphic by Diane Zhao / North by Northwestern

At a weekly Crossword Team meeting, Weinberg fourth-year and founder of the club Jackson Baker heard an underclassman member confidently and incorrectly telling his friends about how the club originated from  a community of transfer students and grew from there.

This is just one of the many rumors flying around campus about the 94-member club that meets weekly to collaboratively solve a crossword puzzle and has outside social events, merchandise and an official application process. Many students suspect something sinister lurks behind the club’s innocuous exterior — is it a secret society? A front for partying? A cult?

But Baker knew the truth: the club began with his group of friends gathering every Monday when they were first-years to do the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle in the fifth floor lounge of 560 Lincoln St., now Schapiro Hall. They never imagined it would grow to be the competitive club shrouded in mystery it is today.

Medill fourth-year Stephanie Markowitz, another founding member of the club, said she thought Baker was joking when he first suggested registering with Wildcat Connection to make the Crossword Team an official club three years ago. *Editor’s note: Markowitz previously contributed to North by Northwestern.

“I thought it was so funny that it started as this silly way to be together during COVID, and now it is actually registered,” she said.

Since its founding, the club has grown in both size and reputation. According to Markowitz, it received over 100 applications this year.

How do you think Pennsylvania should be spelled?

What picture do you wish was on your Wildcard?

These are a couple questions from this year’s application. Weinberg third-year and current puzzle chair Abigail Sprinsky said it is like a “vibe check” for potential members.

“We’re not necessarily looking for people who are insanely good at crosswords,” she said. “We’re just looking for people who are creative and have a wide breadth of knowledge.”

At the weekly meetings, members gather in a lecture hall and collaboratively solve the New York Times Sunday crossword. But first, they begin with icebreakers such as “What is a tattoo you would never get?” and “What would you name your racehorse — wrong answers only?” The social aspect of the club makes it about more than just solving puzzles, Markowitz said.

“It’s a plus if you like the crossword and you’re good at it,” she said. “But it’s less about that and more about a place to have fun and riff off each other.”

Over time, the club has developed a unique culture that Baker said began with the original friend group’s “absurdist” and “dry” sense of humor but has evolved over time.

“It’s very silly,” Sprinsky said. “It’s kind of a place where we show up to take nothing seriously.”

Baker and several of the other original members are still friends and live together. They have taken a back seat in the club and passed it down to a new executive board.

“It’s been really cool to see other people enjoy the space we created,” Baker said. “And as much as we created it, they have definitely made it their own and made it what it is today.”

All the Crossword Team members made one point very clear: while there is a strong social side to the club, it really was formed to solve puzzles.

“We actually do crosswords,” Sprinsky vowed. “It’s legit.”