The New York Times launches an AR-enabled crossword on Instagram

The New York Times is bringing its signature crosswords game into augmented reality. The media company announced this morning it’s launching a new AR-enabled game, “Shattered Crosswords,” on Instagram, where players will be able to solve clues by finding spinning broken crossword pieces in AR. When the right vantage point is achieved, players will find the words hidden among the shards above the puzzle.

The concept is similar to those found in other 3D puzzlers, like Polysphere, for example, where you swipe to rotate broken pieces to see a complete picture. But in this case, The NYT has made the whole gaming experience appear in augmented reality, as well.

The new game was built using technology from Facebook’s Spark AR platform, the company says, and it’s the first time The NYT has created an AR gaming experience.

However, it’s not the first time The NYT has worked with AR technology.

This fall, The NYT announced a multi-year collaboration with Facebook focused on publishing a series of AR-driven reporting on Instagram. The reports would use AR technology to tell stories in a more visual and interactive way. To support its new efforts, The NYT also launched its own AR Lab with a staff of more than a dozen employees who would work alongside a dedicated newsroom team to develop the AR journalism content.

To date, the Lab has helped produce visual stories tied to the centennial of women’s suffrage, the science behind the effectiveness of face masks and coverage of the California wildfires.

The NYT had begun to experiment with AR in previous years, too, though not in partnership with Facebook. In 2018, for example, it announced it would begin using augmented reality to tell stories within its own native app for iOS and Android.

Before today, The NYT did feature “live solves” of its crossword on social media platforms, including Twitter and Facebook, as a way to engage players on social media. But these were not standalone games or built with AR — they were viewing experiences.

That said, the new game itself may have limited appeal, beyond being an interesting demo of AR from The NYT. The puzzle is too small and simple to appeal to any serious crossword fans, and the process of finding clues in the shards requires gestures and movement, which can get frustrating after some time. It doesn’t move as smoothly as something like Polysphere, either, we found.

It’s not clear who would return to this sort of puzzle on a regular basis, compared with traditional mobile games or even the standard crossword puzzle.

The “Shattered Crosswords” game is available on the @NYTimes Instagram profile page under the “Effects” tab, alongside the company’s other AR reports. It works on both iOS and Android platforms.