Welcome to the ninth edition of PuzzleNation Blog’s interview 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 Peter Valentine as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!
An enthusiastic solver of the New York Times Crossword, Peter takes his affinity for puzzles one marvelously artistic step further by arranging words from a given puzzle’s clues and answers into brief works of poetry.
Often paired with a background image to fit the mood — ranging from the gently haunting to the laugh-out-loud funny — Peter’s poems are an intriguing example of creativity sparking creativity, or perhaps more accurately, wordplay inspiring wordplay.
Peter 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 Peter Valentine
1.) How did you get started with puzzles? And what point did poetry and puzzles merge for you?
I was in my apartment one morning, doing the New York Times crossword puzzle. Normally I would race to complete the puzzle, but for some reason I was just idly staring at the across clues. This was April 25, 2002. The puzzle had some great clue words like neanderthal, aerosol, guffaw. I started playing with the words in my head and then found myself scribbling lines in the margins.
2.) How much experimentation went into devising the rules of your crossword-inspired poems? Did you try different formats or did this one emerge fairly quickly?
The format fell into place immediately. The 3-part format (across, down, answers) makes for an interesting creative journey…
Starting the poem is the hardest part. However, the restrictiveness of having only the words from the across clues to choose from makes it easier to embark on an idea. Too many words, too many choices.
Then, once I’ve got things going and I’ve written a few lines and I’ve exhausted the words in the across clues… I get to move on to the second part of the poem – the down clues – and a fresh new batch of words to play with!
The third part of the poem, which is made from the words in the answer grid can be tricky. There are so few words to work with (try writing a decent line without any prepositions or articles). So this part of the poem usually ends up being more of a coda.
Then I go back and title the poem, allowing myself the luxury of choosing words from anywhere in the puzzle.
3.) Do you have anything special planned for the hundredth anniversary of the crossword?
From among all the brilliant constructors of the New York Times Crossword Puzzle, we are undoubtedly going to see something special on December 21st. I will try to write at least a decent poem.
4.) What’s next for Peter Valentine?
I’m hoping someone will come along and offer me a book deal… or buy my screenplay… or hire me as a copywriter. Something has to give.
5.) If you could give the readers, writers, poets, and puzzle fans in the audience one piece of advice, what would it be?
If you love doing a variety of things, but only have time for one, why not try combining them… just to see what happens!
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