Welcome to the inaugural 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 proud to have Ian Livengood as our first 5 Questions interviewee!
Ian has constructed puzzles for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and The American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, building a reputation as both a savvy constructor and a crafty cluesmith. He spends his days as a crossword editor for Penny Press, in addition to his extracurricular puzzle constructing. (And he even found time to contribute some terrific entries to two clue-centric PN blog posts earlier this year!)
So, without further ado, let’s get to it!
5 Questions for Ian Livengood
1. How did you get started with puzzles?
I started solving crosswords in high school as a way to pass the time. I was a pretty horrible solver at first, obviously, but stuck with it. I tried my hand at constructing a puzzle when I was 19 or 20 and the results were, uh, less than stellar. I think I used 82 words (78 is the limit in most outlets) with some suspect fill. I got the constructing “bug” again in my mid-20’s. I didn’t even know construction software existed — I was using Microsoft Excel and a crude wildcard search engine — but I eventually stumbled on some nice software and began to study exactly how puzzles were made.
2. Who are three creative types that inspire you?
It’s tough to identify specific people, but I certainly respect certain types of puzzles. I really enjoy a smooth and easy Monday, a diabolically tricky Thursday-level puzzle and a tough themeless puzzle. I really admire “smooth fill.” These are the non-thematic entries in a puzzle that avoid “crosswordese” (entries you only encounter in crosswords) and that are fun and interesting to solve. Frankly, it’s really hard to pull off, and I recognize and respect the skill it took to create ’em.
3. What puzzly endeavors are you currently working on?
I teach a crossword construction class every Sunday in the Spring and Fall in New York City to a group of seniors. As a class, we go through the process of picking a puzzle theme, building a grid, filling the grid and writing the clues. The goal is to get the collaborative puzzle into the New York Times.
Also, I have a book coming out in Spring 2014 called “Sit and Solve Sports Crosswords” through Sterling Publications. As you might guess, the book has 42 easy-medium 10×10 sports-themed puzzles. Since I’m a sports nut, this was a really fun one to make. Available wherever books are sold.
4. You were recently interviewed by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation regarding your crossword construction class. What was that like, and how did that affect how you see yourself as a constructor?
Yeah, that was a lot of fun. A Canadian NPR producer was solving a recent Sunday New York Times puzzle that class made and thought it would be fun to interview the seniors that helped contribute to the puzzle. I can’t say my Q-rating has really spiked, but it’s always nice to get positive feedback from solvers.
5. If you had a million dollars and three Hawaiian islands, what would you do with them?
Well… since I’m a skier and not much of a beach guy, I’d sell the islands and just go heli-skiing everyday. That sounds pretty nice.
Many thanks to Ian Livengood for his time. Check out his ebook of 25 easy puzzles here, and keep your eyes peeled for his work in the New York Times (Monday’s puzzle is a Livengood original)!
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