The toughest puzzles the UK has to offer!

[A sample of the puzzle types awaiting you in the UK Puzzle Championship packet.]

I talk about crossword tournaments a lot in this blog, because crosswords are such a predominant part of the puzzle world. ACPT is a huge deal every year, the Indie 500 had its first (hopefully annual!) event last month, the Minnesota Crossword Tournament was last weekend, and Lollapuzzoola is gearing up for its 8th year of puzzle goodness this August!

But hey, maybe you’re not a crossword fan. (Though, with killer crossword apps like this one, why WOULDN’T you be?)

Don’t worry, there are still plenty of events that will allow you to indulge your puzzle fix without testing your crossword-solving mettle.

For instance, this Friday, the UK Puzzle Championship 2015 kicks off!

The championship consists of 28 puzzles, each with differing point values, potentially adding up to a maximum score of 650 points. Although the championship runs from Friday through Monday, those are only the hours available for competitors to download their puzzle packets. (You can download the instruction booklet, complete with example puzzles, here.)

As soon as you receive your password and download the packet, you’ll have only two and a half hours to solve all of the puzzles and input your answers onto the Answer Submission Page.

Now, unless you are a resident of the UK, you will only be able to participate in the contest as a guest. (The top UK participant will be the 2015 UK Puzzle Champion, and the top two UK participants become eligible to join the UK Team for the World Puzzle Championship in October.) But even if only UK residents can win, just attempting the packet is a puzzly challenge worthy of any ambitious solver!

So, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers, will you be throwing your puzzle-solving hat in the ring and joining me in this UK puzzly Thunderdome? Let me know! I’d love to see how you do!

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!

Start your engines! It’s the Indie 500 crossword tournament!

Having recently attended the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament for the first time, I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for other puzzle events and tournaments to check out.

And I stumbled across an upcoming tournament with a lot of positive buzz and interest: The Indie 500.

I decided to reach out to one of the participating constructors, Evan Birnholz of Devil Cross. Having met Evan at the ACPT this year, I knew he would be the perfect go-to guy to fill me in on everything Indie 500.

1.) What is The Indie 500?

The Indie 500 is a new crossword puzzle tournament started by five guys with their own free, independent crossword websites: Erik Agard, Peter Broda, Neville Fogarty, Andy Kravis, and myself. We’re each writing and editing the puzzles and we’re excited to hold our first tournament on May 30 down in Washington, DC.

2.) How does it differ from other crossword tournaments/events?

I think our tournament is, first, an outgrowth of the work we do on our respective websites. On a larger scale, it’s essentially a celebration of indie puzzling. The five of us behind the Indie 500 had published only a few puzzles in mainstream outlets before launching our sites, and now most of our crosswords are things that we’ve created for self-publication.

Because we each drew inspiration from independent puzzle writers like Brendan Emmett Quigley and Matt Gaffney and Ben Tausig, we wanted to give others who didn’t have many published puzzles to their name a chance to have a spotlight of their own, so we held a blind, open submission contest to find a sixth tournament constructor with fewer than ten publications in mainstream venues like The New York Times, The LA Times, CrosSynergy, and so on.

If nothing else, we figured this would inspire new constructors to be creative and submit something that they wouldn’t normally send in to a newspaper. We got several amazing submissions, and ended up picking a winner in Finn Vigeland.

[The six contributors to The Indie 500, plus initials.]

I believe our unique voices as puzzle-makers will help set our tournament apart from others. The puzzles on our sites tend to skew younger in content compared with mainstream puzzles — no surprise considering we’re all 31 or younger (I’m the oldest) — and so we like to dabble in themes and clues that reference modern and sometimes edgy material.

Because we don’t have the same space or “breakfast test” constraints that a newspaper puzzle might have, that gives us a lot of liberty to work with fresh and creative clues and themes, and we’re hoping to bring a similar vibe to our event.

We’re also throwing in some fun features that you likely won’t see at other tourneys. First, we’ll be releasing a separate meta puzzle suite before the tournament featuring puzzles by all five of us co-founders; the suite isn’t required for solving the tournament puzzles, but we think it will be fun all the same.

Next, the solvers who make it to the finals will get to have their own individual entrance music while we announce their names in style. How cool is that?

But the biggest thing that sets our tourney apart? Pie. There will be Pie. No other crossword tournament can promise you that.

[Pie: an Indie 500 guarantee.]

3.) How did it start? How did you get involved in the tournament?

We each started talking about running our own collaborative gig shortly after the 2014 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. We just thought: events like this and Lollapuzzoola are such a blast, why not have our own tourney?

Of course we weren’t sure at first if it would be financially or logistically possible, but we got a great response from others in the puzzle world when we originally floated the idea. Over the last year, it’s just been a lot of planning, a lot of wrangling over the details, a lot of building and rebuilding grids… and now it’s almost here!

For myself, I just felt incredibly lucky to be included on the project with four other really talented puzzle constructors from the beginning. I had only published a small handful of puzzles on my website when we first discussed the idea of a new tournament, where the other four had been self-publishing for at least a year or two.

4.) As a constructor yourself, what’s your favorite part of an event like this? Do you have any favorite clues or puzzles you’ve crafted, either connected to the Indie 500 or on your own?

The best part about attending a crossword tournament is the camaraderie you get from hanging out with friends and meeting new people who enjoy the hobby of crosswords as much as you do. Solving the puzzles and creating them are fun to do, but that’s really secondary to the social aspect of a big event like this.

I’ve never had the chance to be on the other, more organizational side of things until now, but I will say that there’s a real rush I get from the thought of watching a whole room of people work on a puzzle of mine in real time.

[Solvers testing their skills at the Arlington Puzzle Festival.]

This won’t be the first time I’ve gotten that opportunity. Will Shortz once selected my first New York Times crossword as the final puzzle for the 2013 Westchester Crossword Tournament. That was a major thrill and I’m looking forward to that same adrenaline rush again.

As for favorite puzzles or clues of mine — I can’t really reveal much about what I’ve made for the tournament, but I’m a big fan of smooth grids with clues that really deliver a good a-ha moment, or at the very least make solvers laugh.

This early themeless puzzle is still one of my favorites because I was able to keep it relatively junk-free but still managed to fit in several longer, lively phrases.

This Halloween-themed puzzle was a nightmare to construct, but it had a fun gimmick and it gave me a chance to create some funny fake movie titles.

Often when I’m writing clues, I like to find quotations for famous people that may end up in my grids, especially comedians, since they’re usually a goldmine for funny sayings (like in 27-Down in this puzzle).

I’m also on the lookout for fresh angles on old crossword retreads — I once clued EDEN as [Apple site that was running perfectly until a couple of people violated its terms].

But for some reason, I still have a soft spot for a clue I wrote in the very first puzzle of mine that ever got published, in Ben Tausig’s Twenty Under Thirty compilation: [That’s what sheep said] (3 letters). The answer itself wasn’t exactly a great puzzle entry, but I figured, if the clue’s funny, people will still like it.


Thanks to Evan for taking the time out to answer my questions! You can check out the full details on The Indie 500 by clicking here!

I wish Evan and his fellow constructors the best of luck. Puzzle events and community-building efforts like this are always worthwhile endeavors.

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 Patrick Blindauer!

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. (Click here to check out previous editions of 5 Questions!)

And I’m excited to have Patrick Blindauer as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

Any list of the top constructors in crosswords today simply has to include Patrick Blindauer. His puzzles have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the American Values Club Crossword, GAMES Magazine, and numerous other outlets, and Patrick is known for his devilishly clever themes and challenging puzzle grids.

As a regular contributor to the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament and co-host of this year’s Lollapuzzoola, Patrick represents both classic crossword traditions and the enterprising spirit of today’s most innovative constructors, pushing boundaries and continuing to explore just how devious and delightful crosswords can be.

Patrick 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 Patrick Blindauer

1.) How did you get started with puzzles?

My parents instilled my love of puzzles and games from an early age. I remember my mom got me an educational toy called Mr. Light, and my dad had a subscription to GAMES Magazine, which I would flip through when he was done with it. I loved the visual puzzles and the contests, but I didn’t get into crosswords until many years later when I decided to give up cigarettes and take up solving.

It was one of the best decisions I ever made, simultaneously improving my health and leading me to a new hobby and eventually to a new career. After a year of solving I tried constructing, and after a year of constructing something clicked and I made my first sale (a Thursday for the NYT, which ran on 7/21/05).

2.) Whether it’s the New York Times or the American Values Club Crossword, you’ve created some truly innovative and diabolical puzzles, like your famous dollar-bill-shaped crossword (featured above) or the New York Times puzzle from last year where multiple movie titles shared boxes. Do you have any favorite puzzles or clues, either your own or constructed by others? And on the flip side, what’s your least favorite example of crosswordese?

Thanks! Those are certainly the 2 New York Times crosswords which have gotten the most attention. Other favorites which spring to mind are my 7/4/07 New York Times puzzle*, the 12/17/09 New York Times puzzle I made with Francis Heaney, and the stuff I wrote for the NY Sun when I started out, which are collected in the book Patricks’ Puzzle Pandemonium: A Cavalcade of Crossword Craziness.

[*Glenn’s note: The 7/4/07 crossword was designed so that the letters “USA” could be found when certain boxes were shaded. It was no doubt a beast to construct. The 12/17/09 crossword was Noah’s Ark-themed, and animal names appeared side-by-side in the grid.]

I’m also the proud poppa of 5 Puzzlefests (interconnected xword suites with a final answer), which I offer through my website, and I’ve written a bunch of puzzle books (“Crossword Word Search” and “Wide-Screen Crosswords” are two of my favorites).

There are lots of other constructors whose work I enjoy, especially those who devise novel gimmicks that really push the envelope.

[Here, Patrick stands beside fellow puzzle constructor
(and game designer!) Mike Selinker.]

My least favorite xwordese is probably LST, though I try to avoid all xwordese when I can. Coming up with a fresh SST clue is tough too, so I just avoid putting it in the grid in the first place.

[Glenn’s note: LST is an abbreviation for an amphibious military craft, short for Landing Ship Tank. SST is an abbreviation for supersonic transport, like the former Concorde.]

3.) You’re also a musician, and both the best puzzles and enjoyable musical performances often have a sense of flow and elegance about them. Do you ever find yourself relying on your more puzzly skills while performing, conducting, or teaching?

Not consciously, no, but maybe I should!

4.) What’s next for Patrick Blindauer?

I actually have something very exciting to announce: I’ve been commissioned to write a 6-puzzle set for the New York Times! It will run Monday-Saturday sometime this fall, and the plan is to make it a contest, as well. I’m thrilled and honored to have the opportunity to do something like this. Wish me luck!

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

Keep your pencil sharp and your mind even sharper.


Many thanks to Patrick for his time. You can check out his PuzzleFests and other puzzly works on his website, and be sure to follow him on Twitter (@pblindauer) to keep up on all things Patrick. (You can also learn more about the Lollapuzzoola tournament at BeMoreSmarter.com.) No doubt, Patrick will have something fiendishly fun for solvers soon.

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!

(More Than) 5 Questions: Lollapuzzoola edition!

Welcome to a very special edition of 5 Questions!

Usually, 5 Questions is simply that: five individual questions answered by our guest. But this time around, we’ve ditched the 5 Q format in lieu of a more relaxed, conversational interview. I hope you enjoy!


Last weekend marked the seventh edition of Lollapuzzoola, a crossword puzzle tournament held in New York City and hosted by people who love puzzles for people who love puzzles.

The brainchild of Ryan Hecht and Brian Cimmet, Lollapuzzoola has quickly become a beloved yearly tradition for top constructors and solvers, and I’m pleased to announce that friend of the blog and Crossword Goddess Patti Varol won the Locals division this year!

Patti is Puzzle Editor for The Uptown Puzzle Club and Acquisitions Editor for both Uptown and The Crosswords Club, as well as Assistant Editor for the Los Angeles Times Crossword.

Patti was gracious enough to take some time out to talk about her experience at Lollapuzzoola, so without further ado, let’s get to it in a very special edition of 5 Questions!


Tell us a little about Lollapuzzoola.

My favorite description of LPZ is from the organizers: it’s the best tournament held in New York on a Saturday in August.

How does it differ from the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament?

It’s much more casual and laid-back, smaller, 150ish competitors versus 600ish.

All crosswords?

All crosswords. There’s usually a theme to the day — last year was birds (… I think) and this year it was baseball. There’s a meta puzzle that everyone solves to pass the time between the last puzzle and the Finals.

How many times have you participated?

This is my second year.

What do you look forward to most when heading into the tournament?

Now? Winning!

I’m kidding. I talk to crossword people all day long, but it’s always over IM or email. It’s great to see them in person.

[Tournament directors and pro puzzlers
Patrick Blindauer and Brian Cimmet]

And the crosswords at LPZ are fantastic — the clues are clever and current, the themes are fun and tricky. There is usually one puzzle with an off-the-page gimmick.

Last year there was a very fun puzzle with picture clues. This year there was one with audio clues (for the theme entries, not the whole puzzle).

How do they determine which three solvers in each division go into the final solve?

Ugh, math.

There are two divisions. Express and Local. If you’re in Express, you’re one of the solving gods – you’re in the top 20% at ACPT. Local is everyone else, the mere mortals who happen to be pretty good at crosswords.

[Glenn’s note: There is also a Rookie division, a Pairs division (where you solve with a partner) and an At-Home division, where anyone can purchase the puzzles for a very reasonable $10 and compete from the comfort of home.]

Scoring is a reflection of speed and accuracy. The scoring is way simpler at LPZ than it is at ACPT, but it’s still math, so…

The way they [Brian Cimmet and Patrick Blindauer] write it all up, you really get a sense of how playful the whole event is. They are there to have fun, and so the day is lots of fun for everyone. They are relaxed and we are relaxed… unless we have to stand on tiptoe in front of 200 people.

Oh, and you’re allowed to cheat.

You’re allowed to cheat?

They have a system with Google tickets. Once the allowed puzzle time reaches the halfway point, you can write a clue number on the back of a Google ticket, and signal to a judge. The judge comes over and writes the correct answer on your ticket. 25 points are deducted from your score, and you forfeit the 100-point perfect puzzle bonus.

But the penalty for multiple wrong letters can be worse than -25 for the ticket. I used 2 of them on puzzle 4, and I still had 6 letters wrong! That puzzle was a beast.

[Some of the trophies awarded at Lollapuzzoola 6 last year.]

So, can you take us through what it’s like to solve the final puzzle?

After everyone has solved the first five puzzles, the standings are announced and the top three in each division go into the final puzzle, which is solved on whiteboards in front of all the solvers.

When Brian Cimmet called my name for second place of the Local division, I was stunned. And then it turned out that the first place person really belonged in the Express division, so I was bumped up to first place.

They took us into this room in the back so they could set up the grids and distribute the puzzles to the crowd. Sara [Nies, ranked 47th overall, but a finalist in the Local division], Simon [McAndrews, 48th overall], and I were a blur of nervous, giggly energy, but Francis [Heaney], Jon [Delfin], and Scott [Weiss], the Express gods, were all chill.

They bring us out, and there were two immediate problems: I couldn’t get the noise-canceling headphones to stay on my head – they were too big and I was shaking so hard from nerves. And then I couldn’t really reach the top line of the dry-erase board. I was a nervous, shaking, flustered mess. We were all joking about finding me a phone book or a dictionary for me to stand on, but they couldn’t find one, and they had me test it out – I could reach, barely, on my tiptoes.

[Several solvers tackling the final puzzle
at a previous Lollapuzzoola event.]

I was on the far right of the stage. I could see Simon, but not Sara. I was shaking so hard at first that I couldn’t read the clues on the paper. And the board seemed so big and the puzzle seemed to be in German… I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and didn’t throw up on my shoes. I started solving in the lower right corner, because it was right in front of my face. Ultimately, I solved from the bottom up.

Simon finished solving first, and once he stepped away from the stage, I calmed down – I knew I couldn’t win, so I just wanted a clean grid. I slowed down, I read more carefully, I started to enjoy the puzzle. I was sure Sara had finished already, too. I finished the puzzle and started checking the grid, line by line, very carefully, and then I took a step back … and saw Sara was still solving! I turned around and took off my headset as quickly as I could, and there was this huge collective sigh of relief – Sara had only two letters left when I turned around.

My friends were on the edges of their seats, telling me to stop checking the grid and turn around. I finished a good 20 seconds ahead of her, but officially, it’s only 3 seconds because I took so damn long to check the grid. Doug [Peterson, crossword gentleman] told me later that he had been trying to get Brian and Patrick’s attention because they hadn’t noticed I was done – they were busy reviewing Simon’s grid.

Heartbreak for Simon, who finished more than a minute before me: he left a square blank and placed 3rd. But as soon as I finished, Simon thumbsed-up to me and whispered, “It’s you!” because of his wrong letter. Big smile, really gracious.

And, it turns out – had Erin [Milligan-Milburn, who has a cheating trophy named for her after winning Rookie of the Year when she wasn’t a rookie] and Angela [Halsted, Locals finalist last year] remained in the Local division, it would have been an all-girls Local final! And I still would have been in first place going into the finals. How cool is that?

And I got the greatest trophy.

And a gift card to Barnes and Noble, and a puzzle book. A bunch of us agreed it would have been funnier if a dude got the bikini-clad musclewoman trophy… but I’m not giving it back.

(It didn’t sink in that I’d actually won until Oscar, Brian’s two-year-old son, handed me the musclewoman.)

After everything was over, I asked Doug, “How did this happen?” And Doug, laconic as ever, shrugged and said, “You’re good at crosswords?”

So you’ll be back next year to defend your title?

If I understand correctly, I will be in the Express division next year. But I will be there. And they just announced the date — Lollapuzzoola 8 will be on 8/8.

What advice would you give a first-time Lollapuzzoola-er?

Solve puzzles. Have fun. Stay for pizza.


Many thanks to Patti for her time and insight into the Lollapuzzoola experience. You can check out her work at The Uptown Puzzle Club, The Crosswords Club, and the Los Angeles Times Crossword. Can’t wait to see what 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!

Crossword History: A Timeline

The hundredth anniversary of the crossword is nearly upon us, and we at PuzzleNation Blog thought we’d take a look at the long (yet surprisingly short) road it took to get to this marvelous centennial!

And so, without further ado or folderol, we proudly present:

A Brief History of the Crossword
(by Glenn Dallas and the PuzzleNation Team)

16th – 11th century BC

Inscriptions from New Kingdom-era Egypt (Eighteenth to Twentieth Dynasties) of horizontal and vertical lines of text divided into equal squares, that can be read both across the rows and down the columns, are made. These inscriptions are later referred to by Egyptologists as “Egyptian crossword puzzles.”

19th century

Rudimentary crosswords, similar to word squares, begin appearing in England, and later elsewhere in Europe.

June 22, 1871

Future inventor of the crossword, Arthur Wynne, is born.

March 23, 1897

Future New York Times crossword editor Margaret Farrar is born.

February 25, 1907

Future New York Times crossword editor Will Weng is born.

December 21, 1913

The New York World publishes the first crossword, invented by Liverpool journalist Arthur Wynne.
(The puzzle is originally known as a word-cross.)

January 6, 1916

Future New York Times crossword editor Eugene T. Maleska is born.

1920

Margaret Farrar is hired by The New York World as a secretary, but soon finds herself assisting Arthur Wynne with proofreading puzzles. Her puzzles soon exceed Wynne’s in popularity.

Colonel H.W. Hill publishes the first Crossword Dictionary.

1924

Margaret Farrar publishes the first book of crossword puzzles under contract for Richard L. Simon and Max Schuster, “The Cross-Word Puzzle Book.” It was an instant bestseller, launching Simon & Schuster as a major publisher.

The Sunday Express becomes the first newspaper in the United Kingdom to carry crosswords.

1926

The cryptic crossword is invented by Edward Powys Mathers, who uses the pseudonym of Torquemada. He devises them for The Observer newspaper.

1931

Dell Puzzle Magazines begins publishing.
(Dell Publishing itself was founded in 1921.)

1941

Dell Pocket Crossword Puzzles first published.
(The magazine continues to this day.)

February 15, 1942

The New York Times runs its first Sunday edition crossword. (Click here to read more about this.)

June 2, 1944

Physics teacher and crossword constructor Leonard Dawe is questioned by authorities after several words coinciding with D-Day invasion plans appear in London’s Daily Telegraph. (Click here to read more about this.)

1950

The crossword becomes a daily feature in the New York Times.

August 26, 1952

Future New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz is born.

1968

Lyricist Stephen Sondheim begins creating cryptic crosswords for New York Magazine, helping introduce Americans to British-style crosswords.

1969

Will Weng succeeds Margaret Farrar as the second crossword editor for the New York Times.

1973

Penny Press is founded.

1977

Eugene T. Maleska succeeds Will Weng as the third crossword editor for the New York Times.

1978

First year of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament,
later featured in the documentary Wordplay.

1979

Howard Garns creates the modern Sudoku puzzle for Dell Magazines (under the name Number Place), the first pen-and-paper puzzle to rival the crossword in popularity (though this spike in popularity would occur decades later under the name Sudoku).

June 11, 1984

Margaret Farrar, while working on the 134th volume in Simon & Schuster’s crossword puzzle book series, passes away.

1993

Will Shortz succeeds Eugene T. Maleska as the fourth crossword editor for the New York Times.

November 5, 1996

One of the most clever and famous crosswords of all time is published, the election-preceding crossword where either BOB DOLE ELECTED or CLINTON ELECTED could read out, depending on the solver’s answers.

June 23, 2006

Wordplay documentary hits theaters, featuring both celebrity solvers of crosswords and the participants and organizers of the 2005 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament.

February 29 – March 2, 2008

Thanks in part to the Wordplay documentary, the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament outgrows its previous setting and moves to Brooklyn.

June 6, 2008

Matt Gaffney launches his Weekly Crossword Contest (MGWCC).

August 2008

Lollapuzzoola, a crossword-solving tournament with a more tongue-in-cheek, freeform style, launches in Jackson Heights, New York.

October 6th, 2008

Patrick Blindauer’s famous dollar bill-inspired crossword puzzle is published.

2009

The city of Lvov, Ukraine, creates a crossword that spans an entire side of a 100-foot-tall residential building, with clues scattered around the city’s major landmarks and attractions. It’s awesome.

October 11th, 2011

PuzzleNation.com goes live.

June 2012

David Steinberg launches the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project, intending to create a complete database of every New York Times crossword.

August 13th, 2012

PuzzleNation Blog is launched.

June 14th, 2013

Matt Gaffney celebrates five years of MGWCC,
stating that MGWCC will run for 1000 weeks
(which puts the final edition around August 6th, 2027).

December 21st, 2013

The Crossword officially turns one hundred years old.


Additional information:

February 15th, 1942: The New York Times initially regarded crosswords as frivolous, calling them “a primitive form of mental exercise”; the motivating impulse for the Times to finally run the puzzle (which took over 20 years even though its publisher, Arthur Hays Sulzberger, was a longtime crossword fan) appears to have been the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

In a memo dated December 18, 1941, an editor conceded that the puzzle deserved space in the paper, considering what was happening elsewhere in the world and that readers might need something to occupy themselves during blackouts. The puzzle proved popular, and Sulzberger himself would author a Times puzzle before the year was out.

June 2nd, 1944: The words Omaha (codename for one of Normandy’s beaches), Utah (another Normandy beach codename), Overlord (the name for the plan to land at Normandy on June 6th), mulberry (nickname for a portable harbor built for D-Day), and Neptune (name for the naval portion of the invasion) all appeared in Daily Telegraph crosswords during the month preceding the D-Day landing.

This has been attributed to either an incredible coincidence or Dawe somehow overhearing these words (possibly slipped by soldiers involved) and incorporating them into puzzles unwittingly.


Thanks for visiting the PuzzleNation blog today! You can like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, cruise our boards on Pinterest, check out our Classic Word Search iBook (recently featured by Apple in the Made for iBooks category!), play our games at PuzzleNation.com, or contact us here at the blog!

5 Questions with Puzzle Constructor Robin Stears

Welcome to the fourth edition of PuzzleNation Blog’s newest feature, 5 Questions!

We’re reaching out to puzzle constructors, video game writers and designers, writers, filmmakers, 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 Robin Stears as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

Robin is a puzzle constructor whose crosswords appear not only on her StearsWords site, but have also appeared in Penny Press/Dell and Kappa titles as well as the Los Angeles Times. Her puzzles are clever and topical, often striving to add new entries and wrinkles to the field of crossword construction and cluing.

Robin 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 Robin Stears

1.) How did you get started with puzzles?

Crossword puzzles and word games have always appealed to me, and after my first daughter was born, I was looking for a way to work at home. My mom suggested the idea of constructing crossword puzzles, since I’d been killing time solving them while I was wondering what to do. Armed with a stack of dictionaries, graph paper, and pencils, I created a puzzle, and typed it on my mom’s typewriter, and colored in the black squares with a marker. I sent my first puzzle to Janis Weiner at Kappa, who promptly sent it back with a bunch of notes. I’m very grateful to her for taking the time to explain what I did wrong. It’s because of her I decided to try again. She rejected most of my puzzles at first, but she always explained why. I consider her my mentor, but she probably doesn’t know that.

2.) You recently constructed a puzzle utilizing that most infamous of cinematic weather phenomena, the sharknado. You have a knack for releasing topical puzzles steeped in pop culture. Is this more a case of keeping your puzzles fresh (since so many crosswords slip into archaic terms and dated references), or of you constructing the kinds of puzzles you’d enjoy solving?

It’s a little bit of both. I think language is fluid and crossword puzzles should reflect that. For example, the word “inception” wasn’t quite as popular in everyday conversation prior to the 2010 movie release as it is today. I don’t know about other constructors, but I find it very satisfying to be the first to use a new word in a crossword puzzle; I suspect they do, too, as evidenced by the number of times ZZZQUIL was used in puzzles when that product was introduced.

The fandom crossword puzzles were born from a comment I saw on Tumblr; someone complained that there weren’t any fandom puzzles. It occurred to me that the only specialty puzzle — where all the clues refer to a single theme — was the Bible puzzle, probably because there are nearly 600,000 words in it. There are about the same number of words in the Lord of the Rings books, though.

Nearly every fandom has a wiki, and a plethora of trivia websites, and by exploring them — along with the Internet Movie Database, Wikipedia, Reddit, and other sources, I was able to create several puzzles specifically for certain fandoms, including both Star Wars and Star Trek, “Adventure Time,” and “Doctor Who.” There is so much information online, that I was actually able to create the “Doctor Who” puzzle without having seen a single episode! My younger daughter’s a big fan, though; she inspired the “Adventure Time” one, too. They also allow me to pay homage to the things I love, like Stephen Colbert, Syfy movies, Donkey Kong, and the US Postal Service.

Every constructor’s style is a little different, and like most solvers, I have my favorites — Liz Gorski, Tyler Hinman, Brendan Emmett Quigley, Merl Reagle, Matt Gaffney, Trip Payne, and of course, Patrick Blindauer, whose dollar bill crossword puzzle is my personal all-time favorite. We all put our personal stamp on the puzzles we create. But, the modern crossword puzzle is about to turn one hundred years old, and if they’re going to remain relevant in the modern world, they have to change and adapt to suit younger solvers. That means constructors need to use the Urban Dictionary as well as Webster’s.

3.) You’re also a published author with several titles to your credit. How does the creative process for writing a book compare to that of creating a crossword?

Writing fiction and writing crossword clues are completely different processes. A novel is a long, leisurely cross-country trip, while a crossword clue is a quick peek around the corner. It took me about a year to write each book, after researching it for months, and another six months of editing. Crossword puzzles may take anywhere from an hour to a day to complete, depending on the size and the theme entries. In the past few years, partly for the instant gratification, partly because it’s more lucrative, and partly because it’s more fun, I’ve concentrated more on crossword puzzles, although I do have another novel I intend to finish.

4.) What’s next for Robin Stears?

Well, there’s that novel… eventually. In the meantime, I’d like to attend more puzzle events, like Lollapuzzoola and the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. Last year, I volunteered at my local tournament, and it was fun meeting the participants and discussing the puzzles they’d solved — there’s no substitute for immediate feedback. Solving crosswords is very different from constructing them. I have a database at my disposal, and I have great respect for solvers who have to remember all those clues! I’d like to meet the constructors I admire to exchange ideas and hear their stories, and Amy Reynaldo and Kathy Matheson (Crossword Kathy), whose blogs are so informative and whose ideas and opinions I respect — it’s because of Amy’s “Diary of a Crossword Fiend” blog that I removed certain words from my database, like APER. I’d love to finally meet the people behind PuzzleNation, Cruciverb, Sporcle, and Quinapalus, and all the other puzzle-related sites. Constructing crosswords is a lonely business — I need to get out more.

The fandom trivia puzzles are a challenge, so you’ll probably see more of those. Fans of “Breaking Bad” will see a special puzzle at the end of September for the final episode, and baseball trivia fans can expect their puzzle in October, during the World Series. For Halloween, I’m planning a horror movie puzzle, and of course, I’ll do something for the 100th anniversary of crosswords in December — I’m open to ideas for that one.

Ben Tausig recently pointed out in an article in “The Hairpin” that there seem to be fewer women constructors, and I’d love to help remedy that. When I first started, twenty-odd years ago, constructing a crossword puzzle was difficult and time-consuming — these days, most constructors use software with a built-in database of words and clues. My personal choice is Crossword Compiler. I think anyone with a basic knowledge of the rules and a bit of computer savvy could create and publish a crossword puzzle. I believe there’s plenty of room in the crossword puzzle world for new constructors with new ideas. Technology and the opportunities for puzzle creators and solvers to interact with one another will change the ways crosswords are created. I had a lot of help in the beginning, and I hope to pay it forward to the next generation of crossword constructors.

[[Glenn’s sidenote: Robin also had a lot of interesting points regarding the move toward digital puzzle distribution, and I think that topic deserves a post of its own. Keep your eyes peeled for that post (and her thoughtful comments) in the near future!]]

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

When I construct a crossword puzzle, I always have the fans in mind. I want to create a solving experience that’s fun and enjoyable for them. The entire time I was constructing a special “420” puzzle, which, to my knowledge, had never been done before, I was imagining how surprised and delighted some puzzle solvers would be that week. And like the Super Bowl puzzle and the Harry Potter puzzle, I knew that not everybody would appreciate it, but the ones who did would appreciate it all the more because I constructed it especially for them.

When I construct puzzles for Penny Press/Dell, I also have a certain fan in mind — someone who enjoys an easier solve, with a little less pop culture and a little more word play. No matter which publisher I’m targeting, I’m always thinking about the puzzle solvers and what they might enjoy. Frequently, I construct customized crossword puzzles as gifts; they’re always a big hit because they’re personal.

So, my advice is this: Tell me what you want! Send me an email, tweet me, write on my Facebook or Google+, hit me up on Blogger or Tumblr — StearsWords is not hard to find. I maintain a variety of social media because I want puzzle fans of all kinds to interact with me. Much of my day is spent scanning social sites like Twitter, Pinterest, and Reddit and reading puzzle blogs, trying to find out what kinds of topics might interest puzzle solvers. Anyone can send me an idea for a puzzle, and if I like it, I’ll do my best to make it happen. I’d rather give puzzle fans what they really want than give them what I want them to have and hope they like it.

Many thanks to Robin Stears for her time. Check out her StearsWords puzzles on her website, and follow her on Twitter (https://twitter.com/RobinStears)! I can’t wait to see what puzzly goodness she cooks up for us next.

Thanks for visiting the PuzzleNation blog today! Don’t forget about our PuzzleNation Community Contest, running all this week! You can like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, check out our Classic Word Search iBook (three volumes to choose from!), play our games at PuzzleNation.com, or contact us here at the blog!