5 Questions: Alumni Edition!

Welcome to a special edition of PuzzleNation Blog’s interview feature, 5 Questions!

Normally, I’d be posting a new interview with a puzzle constructor, game designer, puzzle enthusiast, or a member of any other creative field that enriches the world in a puzzly way.

But instead, today I thought I’d reach out to our 5 Questions alumni and bring you news on what they’ve been up to since their sessions of 5 Questions.

First off, puzzle constructor Trip Payne’s new Puzzle Extravaganza launches tomorrow, August 1! You can still sign up through the end of August, and the extravaganza is only $10 (a little more for bonus puzzles).

Put your puzzly skills to the test against a topnotch constructor who has contributed to dozens of newspapers, outlets, and puzzle books, including Will Shortz’s WordPlay!

[To check out Trip's session of 5 Questions, click here!]

Next up, the dynamic duo of Aubrey and Angela, better known as The Doubleclicks, are continuing to fulfill all the promises made in the Kickstarter fundraising campaign for their newest album, Dimetrodon!

And they’re currently touring across the Midwest and East Coast! Their ambitious schedule of venues includes Toronto, Boston, Brooklyn, and plenty of other cities, many that will experience the Doubleclicks live for the very first time!

In addition, they’ve just completed their Weekly Song Wednesday project, where they posted a new song and video every Wednesday for ten weeks. You can visit their YouTube page to explore all sorts of delightful content fit for puzzlers and game fans of all ages.

[To check out Angela and Aubrey's session of 5 Questions, click here!]

And lastly, I have some exciting updates from BaffleDazzle founder Rachel Happen.

After launching a tremendous Kickstarter campaign to fund BaffleDazzle’s first line of jigsaw-inspired puzzles, Rachel recently sent her Kickstarter backers an update on how the production phase is going.

So far, she’s on target to deliver all of her promised puzzles by the end of August!

As a one-woman puzzle-making machine, Rachel is exceeding expectations on all fronts, not only redesigning and improving every aspect of the looming delivery process, but designing brand new bonuses to include.

Just take a gander at these stacks of Codebreakers puzzles, freshly produced and awaiting happy homes and eager puzzlers:

[To check out Rachel's session of 5 Questions, click here! And for a spoiler-light review of the BaffleDazzle puzzle Cirkusu, click here!]

These are just a few examples of puzzly people doing amazing, entertaining, fascinating things, and I’m glad I’m lucky enough to share their work with you, my fellow puzzlers.

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out our library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

5 Questions with Board Game Designer Jim Deacove

Welcome to another edition of PuzzleNation Blog’s interview feature, 5 Questions!

We’re reaching out to puzzle constructors, video game writers and designers, board game creators, writers, filmmakers, musicians, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life, talking to people who make puzzles and people who enjoy them in the hopes of exploring the puzzle community as a whole.

And I’m excited to have Jim Deacove as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

[Jim, left, alongside his wife, Ruth.]

For more than 4 decades, Jim Deacove has been designing games for Family Pastimes, a Canadian board game company (and family business) dedicated to cooperative gaming. With over one hundred games to his credit, Jim is one of the most prolific and passionate game designers at work today.

Whether he has players teaming up to serve hungry customers (Bus Depot Diner), keep the livestock happy while predators lurk nearby (Coyote!), or pull off a flawless magic show while avoiding being trapped in their own tricks (Amazing Illusions), Jim’s games are bright, colorful, creative, and many are appropriate for all ages. And that’s not getting into his puzzlier efforts, like AARI (an acronym/abbreviation-themed scrabble variant) or Gridlock (a sliding-tile puzzle game about a monster traffic jam).

Jim was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!

5 Questions for Jim Deacove

1.) How did you first get into board games?

When I was about 5 years old, my mother says I began making up board games with paper, crayons and various items from my dad’s woodshop. My inspiration came from looking at pictures of games such as Sorry and Monopoly in what was a popular Christmas catalogue, Eaton’s. We were too poor to buy them, so I made imitations of what I thought the games were about. As they say, the rest is history.

2.) Family Pastimes is rare, in that the company focuses completely on cooperative games, whereas most board games are built around competing with other players, not working with them. How is designing cooperative games different from designing more traditional board games?

I used to design competitive games in high school, mostly strategy games, because I played Chess a lot until in university, I lost the taste for blood. I also designed competitive games on sport themes, largely for my and my friends’ enjoyment. I once designed a world political game that took three days to play and I agreed with a player who said that life was too short to spend so much time on a game, designing or playing one.

I have always found designing games to be easy, once I get in the mental space that lets the ideas flow, this is usually assisted by a warm bath or by keeping a notebook by my bedside, because some of my best ideas have come while I am asleep. I record them upon awakening.

3.) What, in your estimation, separates a great game from a run-of-the-mill game?

Probably time. Some games hold up, others don’t and it is difficult to judge even then, because what is one person’s run-of-the-mill is another person’s great game. But even time is suspect. I know this will enrage some folks, but Chess has held the interest of humans for a long time and could be described as a great game, while Checkers has also held up, but personally I think Checkers is a run-of-the-mill game.

4.) What’s next for Jim Deacove and Family Pastimes?

I thought of retiring and taking up other pursuits that have been just a hobby up to now — cartooning, jazz drumming, oil painting, running a live theatre, finishing a variety of writing projects, etc. — but the game ideas keep on coming. The real world is so full of inspiring themes. For example, one of my new designs, Moon Mission, was inspired by the landing of the Curiosity Rover on Mars and witnessing the expressions of joy in the NASA Control Room when it happened. Who says a collaborative effort can’t be exciting?

My plan is to keep on going with new designs. I can’t help it. It’s my work. As I say to folks who chide me saying, “You have to start getting out more. You are 75 years old and your expiry date is nearing.” Hey, I reply, never mind the expiry date, I still have room on my “Best Before” date.

5.) If you could give the readers, writers, aspiring game designers, and puzzle fans in the audience one piece of advice, what would it be?

Make cooperative games. Please. We have enough of the other game experience. And, it’s selfish, I know, but I always enjoy playing someone else’s cooperative game for a change.

Oh, and keep your day job, and avoid having a garage, because that is where you will end up storing unsold cartons of your game.


Many thanks to Jim for his time. Check out Jim’s library of cooperative board games at Family Pastimes. I can’t wait to see what he cooks up next.

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

5 Questions with Constructor Trip Payne

Welcome to another edition of PuzzleNation Blog’s interview feature, 5 Questions!

We’re reaching out to puzzle constructors, video game writers and designers, board game creators, writers, filmmakers, musicians, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life, talking to people who make puzzles and people who enjoy them in the hopes of exploring the puzzle community as a whole.

And I’m excited to have Trip Payne as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

A freelance puzzle constructor for over twenty years, Trip Payne is one of the most prolific and respected names in puzzles. A multi-time champion at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, he’s been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Uptown Crossword Club, GAMES Magazine, Will Shortz’s WordPlay, and numerous other outlets.

On August 1, he’s launching his latest Puzzle Extravaganza, a collection of a dozen different puzzles (plus a special metapuzzle) for only $10! Previous extravaganzas have featured themes like the 2011-2012 television season and the Man of Steel himself, Superman, but this year’s theme is a closely guarded secret! Check out the details here, including an offer for three bonus crosswords!

Trip was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!

5 Questions for Trip Payne

1.) How did you get started with puzzles?

As a very young child, I was attracted to the black-and-white crossword patterns, and my parents noticed that interest and bought me children’s puzzle books. I was always into riddles, magic, games — everything sort of related to puzzles.

Eventually I started coming up with puzzles for my elementary and junior high school newspapers, and when I was 15 I had my first puzzle published nationally in GAMES Magazine.

2.) What, in your estimation, makes for a great puzzle? What do you most enjoy — or try hardest to avoid — when constructing your own?

In terms of crosswords, my #1 rule has always been: It’s All About The Fill. Of course you want a great theme and clever clues, but the second you resort to weak entries, you’ve lost my interest. A lot of people are willing to “justify” weak entries because they’re “necessary” to pull off a wide-open grid or an ambitious theme; I don’t agree with that. With enough work, and perhaps a willingness to pull back a little from the original concept, you can pretty much always avoid poor fill.

Look at Patrick Berry: his themes are great, and you’d have to inspect his puzzles with a microscope to find a weak entry anywhere. That’s not magic — he just has high standards and a willingness to put in the work to make his puzzles as good as they can be.

A great puzzle is one that gives a satisfying “a-ha” at some point, that makes the solver glad that they’ve invested the time with it.  In a logic puzzle, it may be some clever leap that has to be taken; in a word puzzle, it may be an interesting anagram or misleading clue; it may be on a larger scale, as when you discover how the answers to various puzzles interact to solve an overall “metapuzzle.” 

3.) You’re a three-time American Crossword Puzzle Tournament champ and a perennial top 10 finisher. How does tournament solving differ from regular solving, and do you think your experiences with game show environments (like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, Million Dollar Password, and Scrabble Showdown ) helped you thrive in the ACPT?

Well, not perennial, since I retired in 2011 (though I did compete one final time in Lollapuzzoola in 2013). My game show work all came after my ACPT championships, so there was no real connection there. But I do think that the fact that I was a professional puzzlemaker before I started competing in puzzle tournaments helped me; for one thing, you get a sense of letter patterns and a feel for how a puzzle constructor might have filled a corner.

4.) What’s next for Trip Payne?

I’m currently editing the Daily Celebrity Crossword for PuzzleSocial, and I have a few other regular assignments, such as the “wordoku” in TV Guide and my themeless crosswords for the Washington Post Puzzler.

I plan to continue making my annual extravaganzas and hope to completely overhaul my website, tripleplaypuzzles.com, within the year. And I also hope to continue doing work writing and researching for TV game shows, and perhaps pitching my own game show ideas to producers.

5.) If you could give the readers, writers, and puzzle fans in the audience one piece of advice, what would it be?

Enjoy the puzzles that you love, but experiment: there are all sorts of great innovative puzzles out there, and you might be surprised what you end up enjoying.

Also, buy my puzzle extravaganza!


Many thanks to Trip for his time. Check out his website for links to all his puzzly endeavors, and be sure to follow him on Twitter (@PuzzleTrip) for the latest updates on his many irons in the fire! Can’t wait to see what puzzle fun he conjures next.

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

5 Questions with Constructor Brendan Emmett Quigley

Welcome to another edition of PuzzleNation Blog’s interview feature, 5 Questions!

We’re reaching out to puzzle constructors, video game writers and designers, board game creators, writers, filmmakers, musicians, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life, talking to people who make puzzles and people who enjoy them in the hopes of exploring the puzzle community as a whole.

And I’m overjoyed to have Brendan Emmett Quigley as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

A professional puzzle constructor for almost 20 years, Brendan is one of the top names when it comes to crosswords with strong craftsmanship and clever cluing. One of the most prolific contributors to The New York Times Crossword in the modern era, his puzzles have appeared everywhere from GAMES Magazine and The Los Angeles Times to Wired.com and The Crosswords Club.

In addition to the two puzzles he constructs every week for his website, he’s created many puzzle books of his own, and contributed puzzles to an American Red Cross fundraiser for Hurricane Sandy victims. (He also masterminded Puzzle #5 at this year’s American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, the puzzle only a few dozen solvers managed to conquer in the time allotted.)

Brendan was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!

5 Questions for Brendan Emmett Quigley

1.) How did you get started with puzzles?

I started making puzzles at a very early age. In Kindergarten art class, specifically. We were given 11×17 sheets of paper and told we could draw anything. I drew mazes. Shortly after that, I realized I could make the puzzles more complicated if I eschewed crayons and used finely sharpened pencils. When I discovered GAMES Magazine, sometime in second grade, I was hooked and became a puzzler for life.

I didn’t get into crosswords until much later. It was a way to while away the hours at a miserable summer job in 1995. After a whole summer of dutifully attempting (and not necessarily succeeding) at solving the Times crossword, I was determined to make and sell one. Which I did by January of 1996. I haven’t stopped since.

2.) What, in your estimation, makes for a great puzzle? (Other than your signature knack for stacking long entries.) What do you most enjoy — or most commonly avoid — when constructing your own? What do you think is the most common pitfall of constructors just starting out?

A good original and hopefully funny theme is all you need to make a great puzzle.

The most common pitfall for newbies is unoriginal themes, or ones that don’t employ enough wordplay. The English language is full of nuances, we should exploit them.

[Check out Brendan's latest collection, Sit & Solve® Marching Bands!
For more information on marching band puzzles, click here!]

3.) Will Shortz has credited you with bringing some hipness to the New York Times Crossword with your cluing and entry-word choices. Do you have any favorite clues or entries that have appeared there, either in your puzzles or puzzles by other constructors?

Mike Shenk once wrote the clue “Strips in a club” for BACON, and well, that’s a classic.

4.) What’s next for Brendan Emmett Quigley?

I think I’m going to have a beer.

5.) If you could give the readers, writers, and puzzle fans in the audience one piece of advice, what would it be?

Don’t do drugs. Be drugs.


Many thanks to Brendan for his time. Check out his website for twice-weekly puzzles, and be sure to follow him on Twitter (@fleetwoodwack) for updates on all things Quigley. I look forward to solving whatever he cooks up next.

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

5 Questions with Constructor Matt Gaffney!

Welcome to another edition of PuzzleNation Blog’s interview feature, 5 Questions!

We’re reaching out to puzzle constructors, video game writers and designers, board game creators, writers, filmmakers, musicians, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life, talking to people who make puzzles and people who enjoy them in the hopes of exploring the puzzle community as a whole.

And I’m overjoyed to have Matt Gaffney as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

Matt Gaffney is a puzzle constructor, and over the last twenty-five years — fifteen as a full-time constructor! — he has made a name for himself as one of the most innovative names in crosswords. Whether it’s his signature Weekly Crossword Contest puzzles or the crossword murder mystery he launched on Kickstarter, he’s become synonymous with puzzles that contain a little something extra.

In addition to puzzle books and books about puzzles, he’s been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate Magazine, and GAMES Magazine, among numerous others. All told, he estimates he’s created more than 4,000 puzzles in his career!

Matt was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!

5 Questions for Matt Gaffney

1.) How did you get started with puzzles?

My older sister starting bringing home Dell and Penny Press puzzle magazines when I was about 8 or 9. I have a hypercompetitive personality with certain things, and puzzles turned out to be one of them, so I starting submitting crosswords to Dell Champion. They ran my first two published puzzles when I was 13.

2.) In addition to your daily crossword puzzles, you host a Weekly Crossword Contest, featuring crosswords with a puzzle-within-a-puzzle lurking inside. These “metapuzzles” have grown in popularity over the years. What separates a quality metapuzzle from a bonus answer that simply feels tacked on? What are some of your favorite past metapuzzles?

Ideally a metapuzzle is like a good hiding place in hide-and-go-seek. The seeker shouldn’t find you right away; they should overlook you a couple of times, walk past you a couple of times, and only later say, “Ah, I should’ve found you sooner.”

My favorite meta that I myself wrote in the past year is called “Corporate Structure” and can be found here.

My favorite meta that someone else wrote is called “Seasonal Staff” by Francis Heaney and you can buy it for $1 here (under “Puzzle” scroll down to 2013-12-18).

[Just one of many puzzle-themed titles Matt has authored.]

3.) When you celebrated 5 years of your Weekly Crossword Contest, you stated that MGWCC will run for 1,000 weeks, which would put the final edition around August 6, 2027. Do you have any predictions for how crosswords might have changed by then?

I think by then individual crossword writers will be more brandable than we are now. With a few exceptions like Merl Reagle, familiar crossword brands are still usually publications or, in the case of Will Shortz, an editor.

The Web has allowed constructors like myself, Brendan Quigley, Liz Gorski, Erik Agard, and many others to get our work out independently, so I think solvers will move more towards seeking out their favorite individual constructors rather than solving newspaper puzzles. Sort of like how you can buy an album by your favorite artist instead of waiting for them to play on the radio.

4.) What’s next for Matt Gaffney?

I’m going to market my Daily Crossword this summer. I’ve been too busy to find a good home for it but the number of hits it gets, with zero marketing on my part, is amazing to me.

5.) If you could give the readers, writers, puzzle fans, and aspiring constructors in the audience one piece of advice, what would it be?

I would encourage people to explore the indie crosswords. If the newspaper dailies are ABC, NBC, and CBS, then the independent puzzle writers are HBO and Showtime. Go here and click on any of the names on the bottom-left sidebar and see what’s good.

Not all of them are indie crossword sites (some are crossword critique sites, some are other crossword-related stuff) but about half of them are personal sites of independent crossword writers.


Many thanks to Matt for his time. Check out his Daily Crossword, his Weekly Crossword Contest, his blog about crosswords, and his website, and be sure to follow him on Twitter (@metabymatt) for the latest updates on all his projects. I can’t wait to see what other puzzly tricks he has up his sleeve.

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

5 Questions with Puzzler Leslie Billig!

Welcome to another edition of PuzzleNation Blog’s interview feature, 5 Questions!

We’re reaching out to puzzle constructors, video game writers and designers, board game creators, writers, filmmakers, musicians, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life, talking to people who make puzzles and people who enjoy them in the hopes of exploring the puzzle community as a whole.

And I’m overjoyed to have Leslie Billig as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

[Leslie, next to trivia whiz Ken Jennings, at the
2006 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament]

Leslie Billig began her puzzle career at Dell Magazines in 1982 and went on to create, edit, proofread, and fact-check puzzles for numerous outlets, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Games magazine, People, and Reader’s Digest.

She’s also published her own puzzle books, authoring Sit & Solve Cryptograms for Sterling and coediting Dell Magazines’ Puzzler’s Sunday Crosswords. In addition to all that, she has served as editor of The Uptown Puzzle Club – a by-mail Puzzle of the Month Club subscription with high-quality, New York Times-style puzzles — for more than a decade, but she’s making an exciting transition to a new post! (Come on, I can’t tell you everything in the intro. *smiles*)

Leslie was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!

5 Questions for Leslie Billig

1.) How did you first get into puzzles?

I’ve loved puzzles and wordplay from an early age, and started solving crosswords at my father’s knee. He did the New York Times crossword puzzle (in ink!) and at some point I was able to fill in the squares he left blank. I also enjoyed the variety puzzles in Dell magazines; my favorite was the Bowl-a-Score Challenger (also known as Bowl Game).

In this game, you’re given 10 letters arranged like bowling pins, and the goal is to form one word using all the letters for a “strike” and two smaller words for a “spare.” I was never satisfied to make just one spare: I’d try to form as many combos as I could: 5,5 4,6, 3,7 etc. This game instilled in me a love of anagrams that’s lasted to this day.

[Leslie performing in the 2005 American Crossword Puzzle
Tournament talent show... which she won, by the way!]

2.) In your estimation, what separates a topnotch puzzle from a run-of-the-mill puzzle? What are some favorite puzzles or clues you’ve encountered over the years?

Crossword puzzles have truly evolved in the 32 years that I’ve been in the “puzzle biz,” and I continue to be astonished by the originality and cleverness of the people who make them. A great crossword begins with the theme, of course, but I believe the fill is just as important. The solver solves the *whole* puzzle, not just the theme entries. You can have a brilliant theme, but if the rest of the grid is filled with crosswordese, Roman numerals, obscure abbreviations, and overused words, it will diminish the solving experience.

One of my favorite crosswords appeared in the January 2007 issue of the Uptown Crosswords Club. It was called Self-Effacement by Robert H. Wolfe, and the gimmick was that there were no I’s in the grid. I decided it would be even better if there were no I’s in the clues, either. That was a fun challenge!

I remember the hardest two answers to clue were ENYA and BOHR. For Enya I couldn’t use the words Irish, Gaelic, singer, vocalist, musician, or (Grammy) winner. The clue for BOHR couldn’t include Danish, Nobelist, Niels, physicist, scientist, pioneer, or Einstein (contemporary).

Another example is a terrific puzzle constructor Raymond Young made for my magazine, Dell Puzzler’s Sunday Crosswords. It was a 15×15 crossword that, when solved, became a Word Search puzzle in which the names of all the playing cards, from ace to king, were hidden. Pretty impressive for a daily-sized crossword!

3.) In addition to your work in puzzles, you’re something of a game show pro, having worked on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and been a contestant on NPR’s Ask Me Another. Do you feel that your puzzle-solving experience has helped you in your game show adventures? Are there any other shows you’d like to tackle?

[Leslie on NPR's "Ask Me Another"]

I actually held two positions while working on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire — first as a researcher and then as a question writer. I’d say my years as a professional puzzle editor certainly helped me there: one picks up a lot of trivia and odd information in that line of work!

Being on Ask Me Another was a hoot. For one thing, it’s unique among game shows because so many the questions involve puzzles and wordplay, not just trivia. Right up my alley! You can hear the episode I was on at their archives.

You can listen to the whole episode, or just the segments I’m in: “Bankable Stars” (my first segment) & “Reverse Spelling Bee” (big finish).

4.) What’s next for Leslie Billig?

After 12 years as editor of the Uptown Puzzle Club, I’m excited to succeed Rich Norris — [Glenn's note: Los Angeles Times Crossword Editor] — as editor of the Crosswords Club.

Patti Varol — [Glenn's note: friend of the blog, puzzle constructor, and all-around good egg] — succeeds me as editor of Uptown, and solvers can continue to expect challenging and entertaining crosswords in each of these Clubs. Check them out!

5.) If you could give the readers, writers, and puzzle fans in the audience one piece of advice, what would it be?

No advice, but a request: please introduce any children in your life to the joys of puzzle solving — the pleasures and benefits will last a lifetime.


Many thanks to Leslie for her time. You can follow her work with the Crosswords Club here, and be sure to check out her library of puzzle books at Barnes & Noble here! I can’t wait to see what puzzly fun she cooks up next.

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!