More than a few people have asked me how I became a puzzler. What strange, meandering road led me to the hallowed halls of puzzlesmithery? Could aspiring puzzlers follow the same path to puzzlewonderful adventures?
There’s no single path to puzzlerhood. Sure, there are some fairly universal commonalities. Do you have a great vocabulary? Mad trivia skills? Are you a whiz with palindromes, anagrams, or other forms of wordplay? These can all help. Also, a background or degree in English doesn’t hurt.
But every puzzler I know took a different route. It’s not as if we all one day awoke to a knock at the door, only to discover a small basket left on the doorstep, and tiny elfin footprints leading back toward the enchanted forest down the street.
Though, admittedly, that would have been awesome.
Here, let me take you through some of the highlights in my puzzle resume, and we’ll see if my experiences offer some guidance or inspiration for those with puzzletastic aspirations.
Unrecognized Wheel of Fortune Grand Champion, USA, 1988-present
Since I was about seven years old, family members have called me into the family room to see who can puzzle out the quotes, phrases, and punny answers behind the lovely Vanna White, and I regularly school both contestants and kin with ease. While Mr. Sajak refuses to recognize my two decade reign as Wheel of Fortune Grand Champion (Stay-at-Home Division), that doesn’t make it any less noteworthy.
Internship with the Riddler, Gotham City, 2000-2001
There are few puzzle personalities in the world with the flair, cachet, and renown of Edward Nigma, otherwise known as freelance detective and occasional criminal mastermind The Riddler. So when I had the opportunity to sit in with him and learn from his decades of riddle-centric shenaniganry, I leapt at the chance.
I studied the intricacies of mechanical puzzles, wordplay, and punsmithery while under Nigma’s wing, and although I frequently found myself in legal and moral gray areas — and on the receiving end of more than a few POW!s and BIFF!s — the experience was well worth it.
Tetris Foreign Exchange Program, St. Petersberg, 2002
There’s no better spacial awareness training than Tetris — I can feng shui the packages in the back of a UPS truck like nobody’s business, and don’t get me started on my legendary vacation-packing skills — and with the addition of that horrendous tension-inducing “you’re near the top!” music, I’m cool as Siberia under pressure.
Puzzle Summit with Will Shortz, New York City, 2007
Okay, it wasn’t so much a historic meeting-of-the-minds as it was me yelling puzzle ideas at him with a megaphone as I chased him down the street. But that totally counts.
Freelance Puzzle Historian, Self-Appointed, USA, 2009-present
Oh yes, puzzle history is a rich and varied field of study, one to which I have devoted a great deal of time and effort, unearthing some fascinating and surprising discoveries. For instance, did you know that Nero did not, in fact, fiddle while Rome burned? He was far too busy being frustrated by the extreme Sudoku puzzle he’d picked up in the marketplace.
PuzzleNation Citizen, PuzzleNation, 2011-present
Yes, I was granted full citizenship in PuzzleNation, with all rights and responsibilities that entails. (Like walking the Diggin’ Words dogs and such.)
Well, there you have it. A brief glimpse in my particular puzzle experiences and how they’ve shaped me. Here’s hoping you can blaze your own puzzlerific trail, be it through decoding Linear B with Cryptogram-ingrained proficiency or anagramming your friends’ names to your heart’s content.
Good luck, and in the meantime, keep calm, puzzle on, and I’ll catch you next time.