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Terry Headlee - Changes leaves some readers puzzled

March 10, 2001

Changes leaves some readers puzzled

By Terry Headlee


Several dozen readers have weighed in on the changes made to The Morning Herald and The Daily Mail since we rolled out a redesign nearly two weeks ago.

I thought I'd be spending more time explaining why we dropped our professional wrestling page to make way for a page devoted to education information and issues in the Tri-State area.

But that wasn't the case.

Instead, most people were curious - and in some cases peeved - that we moved the crossword puzzle in The Morning Herald from the comics page to a new "Daily Break" page in our Lifestyle section.

I'm embarrassed to admit that I've never had much interest in crossword puzzles. I'm not sure I've ever completed one. In fact, I'm sure I haven't.

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But it wasn't until we made the decision to move the puzzle that I now appreciate the fact a lot of readers are quite passionate about their crossword puzzles.

The questions and complaints came from all directions: phone calls, e-mails, a fax. A Smithsburg woman sent in a postcard that simply read: "The crossword puzzle has moved to the Daily Break page. Why?"

Well, this is why: We decided to consolidate a lot of our popular features, such as Ann Landers, Heloise and the Horoscope, onto one page. For our morning readers, we believe moving the crossword puzzle to the page made a lot of sense. We ran the idea by four focus groups and they all thought it was fine.

There were other advantages to moving it off the comics page. By moving it to a new page, we could play around with its location to make it easier to use. That's why the Daily Break page is designed with the puzzle in the right-hand corner to make it easier to work when folded into quarters.

There's another advantage: By moving it to the Daily Break page, the second page of our Lifestyle section, it will always be anchored in the same location (except for Thursdays when our Lifestyle section becomes an entertainment/activities tabloid). The comics page now floats around in different sections of the paper.

In addition, readers of the afternoon paper, The Daily Mail, picked up a second crossword puzzle.

Still, some readers were miffed.

"It belongs on the comics page," several said.

I asked why. They said, "because crossword puzzles belong on the comics page."

Oh well.

I guess I can feel their frustration. I'm not one who likes change either - sometimes. But often there are good reasons why things are done differently even though they may not seem to make sense at the time.

There were other comments from readers.

One caller said that since the crossword puzzle was moved it is now smaller and she has to use a magnifying glass to read the clues. (The puzzle is the same size.)

I also learned that most people who work crossword puzzles, at least the ones that were contacting me, don't have much use for Seek And Find. That's a word game that filled the void left by the crossword puzzle move.

Apparently it's not challenging enough and others said only kids would play it. (Disclosure: I like to play Seek And Find.)

And finally, one reader said he liked all the changes to the newspaper and didn't have a problem with the crossword puzzle being moved.

But, he said, "Since I got you on the phone, have you ever thought about moving the Sunday crossword puzzles to the other side of the page?''

"Why?" I asked.

"Because the puzzles discriminate against people who are left-handed,'' he said.

"Really?" I asked.

He then went on to explain how "lefties" have to keep moving their hands more because with the box on the right hand side, their left hand and arm blocks the clues. Right-handers, meanwhile, have a full view of all the clues all the time because they fill in the boxes from the right side.

Even if we could just move the puzzle once a month to "to give the left-handers a break'' it would be appreciated, he said.

I said I would look into it and I did. Unfortunately, the extra time it would take to reformat the puzzle didn't seem to make sense.

Then again, what would the right-handers think?

Terry Headlee is the executive editor of The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 1-301-733-5131 ext. 7594 or by e-mail at terryh@herald-mail.com

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