(Cross-posted at Bitch Ph.D.; a few edits made here.)
When you see someone engrossed in a sudoku puzzle, I encourage you to look on them with pity. And when you witness someone solving a crossword, please smile, nod appreciatively, and flirt.
Sudoku puzzles serve their purpose, yes: they pass the time (I admit to doing them on occasion—haven't I said I am a procrastinator?). But don't kid yourself. You're not learning anything, and you're not making yourself any smarter by doing them. It's the same logical challenge every time. It's not as if you've learned something essential about the number 4 and can now unlock the mysteries of the universe.
Now, crossword puzzles are a different story. Every one is different, the good ones have some funny clues, you stretch your brain when you have to think flexibly to interpret tricky clues, and you learn an awful lot of trivia (which can expand your horizons a little—think of all the 70-year-old women who now know the names of a few rappers because they appeared in the New York Times crossword).
If you've grown fond of sudoku, is it because you "can't do crosswords"? Nonsense. You may think you can't do crosswords, but really, you can. Just start with the easy ones. There are plenty of books of NYT and other crosswords specifically labeled "easy" (or even "easy, breezy"), and the Monday NYT puzzle has become easier of late. Start with the easy ones (and go for the easiest clues first—generally fill-in-the-blank clues, or anything asking for a name you know), and check the solutions in the back of the book for any answers you don't know. Don't just fill them in—reread the clue and figure out how the answer goes with it. Over time, you'll learn the ropes and become more adept, and then you can move along to tougher puzzles.
If you thought crosswords were stodgy things for boring old folks, think again. Even the Onion (the Onion!) will start running a crossword in a few weeks. See? So not stodgy. This is not your grandmother's crossword puzzle any more. But sudoku? Stodgy by nature. You can tart it up with different twists, but it remains the same logical task for your brain, over and over. All the cool kids are moving to crosswords.
If you've ever wondered how crosswords are made, don't miss Patrick Creadon's entertaining crossword documentary, Wordplay; it's still playing in selected theaters, and the DVD is due out in early November. Be sure to save it in your Netflix queue, because it's a good movie, some of my crossword-geek friends star in it, and I cameo in it—watch for the curtsy by the woman in lime green. Jon Stewart and Bill Clinton are among the famous crossword fans featured in the movie, and they ain't stodgy. See the movie, catch crossword fever. (And don't hold your breath for a sudoku movie.)
There are some impassioned defenses of sudoku in the comments at Bitch Ph.D. I find them unpersuasive, of course. Not only do crosswords give me an ego boost because I'm good at them, they also landed me in a movie. Can't beat that.