Cracking the NYT Mini Crossword's Hash

 · 1 min read

Cracking the NYT Mini Crossword’s Hash

Every day, the New York Times publishes a Mini crossword. It’s quite a lot of fun and takes just a few minutes. The best part, is you can share your time with your friends.

When you complete the crossword, it gives you a little badge you can share, with a URL like this: .

The structure of the URL is fairly straightforward, d is the date and t is how fast you solved it, in seconds. But interestingly, c appears to be some sort of hash, or checksum for security reasons. You can’t just go and modify your time in the URL, you get a blank time in the image if you do this. So, if someone sends you a URL, you can know for sure that they actually completed the crossword in that time!

You might imagine that the hash is the result of signing the date and time with some sort of secret key. But no. I tried a few of the most common hashing algorithms on the date and time. I also varied what was being hashed (the full URL, just the query parameters, etc). It turned out to be an MD5 hash!

To make a badge saying I solved this same puzzle in one second, all I have to do is run md5 on the query parameters of the puzzle, without the question mark:

$ echo -n "d=2023-10-01&t=1" | md5

Note the -n to omit the newline from echo’s output.

With that, we can construct the full URL: . Pretty neat!