A puzzler, by any other name…

Fake names, stage names, noms de plume… they’re more common than you might think. Authors, musicians, actors, and performers of all sorts can take on new identities, either to make themselves more marketable, to build a brand, or simply to create a public persona in order to keep their private lives separate.

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, crossword constructors in the UK (known as setters) also employ pseudonyms, literally making a name for themselves as they create challenging cryptic crosswords for their solving audience.

Evocative names like Araucaria, Gordius, Crucible, Otterden, Anax, Charybdis, Tramp, Morph, Paul, Enigmatist, Hypnos, Phi, Nutmeg, Shed, Arachne, and Qaos grace the puzzles in England’s The Guardian newspaper.

That made me wonder… if American constructors were given the same opportunity, what UK-style names would they choose?

So, I reached out to some of my fellow puzzlers, and as I compiled their replies, some curious patterns emerged. I thought I’d share their responses with the PuzzleNation readership.

Whereas several UK setters have employed the names of former members of the Inquisition and other nasty sorts — like Torquemada, Ximenes, and Azed (which is Deza backwards) — to highlight the torturous challenges solvers could expect, some of their American counterparts prefer to highlight the playful, tricky aspect of constructing.

Constructor Robin Stears would publish under the name Loki or Anansi (citing two famous mythological tricksters), while meta-puzzle master Matt Gaffney would ply his craft under the name Puck. (He actually played Puck in sixth grade in a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.)

[Loki, as played by Tom Hiddleston in the
Marvel cinematic universe, seems to approve…]

Other constructors embraced wordplay involving their names, like Brendan Emmett Quigley who chose Beck (his initials pronounced phonetically) or Penny Press variety editor Cathy Quinn, who chose the nom de plume Sequin (for C. Quinn).

Still others revealed their feelings about those curious words that are only found in crosswords. Variety editor Paula Curry opted for the name Ese-Averse to show her disdain for crosswordese, while puzzle historian and constructor David Steinberg selected Osier, both for its crosswordese appeal and its homophone pronunciation (OCR, representing the Orange County Register, for whom David has served as crossword editor for years).

[This crossword features several infamous crosswordese
clues as entries. Do you recognize them all?

Naturally, my fellow puzzlers at Penny Press had some of my favorite puzzly stage names. Will Shortz’s WordPlay editor Leandro Galban sets himself firmly against the heroic solver by choosing Grendel, while variety editor Andrew Haynes opted for either Bob the Settler or The Flying Penguin. (He feels that “the” adds a certain arrogance to the pseudonym, and Bob has that delightfully bland palindromic quality.)

Editor Ariane Lewis would be known simply as Dub, leaving interpretation up to the solvers, while editor Maria Peavy offered a plethora of possible pennames, including Pushkin, Excelsior, Kutuzov (in the spirit of Torquemada), Sphinx (another famous riddler) or Grail.

Or you could adopt a full false moniker like variety editor Keith Yarbrough did, and go by Rufus T. Firefly.

As for me, I haven’t decided if I want something esoteric like Syzygy (alluding to the rare alignment of both planets and quality crossword grids), something obscure and wordnerdy like Snurp or Timmynoggy or Interrobang, or something meaningless but fun to say aloud, like Skylark or Guava.

So watch out, UK setters, because one of these days, you might see names like Sequin or Osier or The Flying Penguin baffling your solvers with cryptic crossword cleverness.

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