Google and Crossword Puzzles: Cheating or not?

I’m a purist when it comes to crossword puzzles. While I don’t work them very often, when I do I stick to the basics: a No. 2 leaded pencil with a soft rubber eraser, regular dictionary, crossword puzzle dictionary and several cups of coffee.

So when my sister-in-law and her husband recently stayed at our house, she suggested one morning that we take on the Sunday New York Times puzzle. “You’re a puzzler?” I asked. “Darned right,” she said, brandishing a pen (of all things). “Let’s do it.”

My style is to cruise through the horizontal clues first and then the vertical clues, looking for the easy and obvious answers. I go back through a second time and see if I can use letters from words nailed in the first round to make further progress. I use the dictionaries when necessary.

We made reasonable progress but got stuck on clues having to do with obscure movies, television shows, books and celebrities. I had a number of answers on the tip of my tongue but couldn’t deliver. I don’t know if was the pressure of the moment (my sister-in-law is a better puzzler) or just another example of a failing memory (something my kids remind me of on a disturbingly regular basis).

Then it hit me how I could find the answers to those difficult or trick questions: Google.

I grabbed my laptop computer and we went on a roll. The answers kept popping up on my screen. My sister-in-law nodded in amazement. She kept writing – in pen, if you can believe it – the answers into those little boxes. Before we knew it, we were done.

“You’re Googling?” my wife said at one point. “Isn’t that cheating?”

“Ah … um … of course not,” I replied with just an edge of defensiveness. “I mean, I don’t think so. … I don’t know … I mean, why not? We use dictionaries. Why not Google?”

“I still think it’s cheating,” she repeated.

Do you?