5 Questions with Puzzler/Artist Hayley Gold!

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 Hayley Gold as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

An enthusiastic puzzle solver as well as an accomplished artist, Hayley combines her interests with Across and Down, a weekly webcomic devoted to The New York Times crossword.

She combines humor and the keen eye of a long-time solver to not only entertain, but offer worthwhile insight into crosswords as a whole and individual puzzles in particular. Whether she’s punning on themed entries or proving her pop culture savvy with references galore, each Across and Down comic brings something unique to the table.

Hayley 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 Hayley Gold

1. Which came first for you: puzzles or art? How did you discover puzzles?

Well, I think art is rather intuitive. As soon as a child gets hold of a crayon their artistic career begins. A lot of people are miffed when artists comment that they’ve been drawing all their life, but I actually did more drawing in my youth than in my maturity, when pressure became attached to it.

That being said, I find doing puzzles much more relaxing and more natural for me. So, though one may have preceded the other doesn’t mean that it’s the dominant hobby.

2. When did you launch Across and Down, and has it evolved from your original vision?

I started the site in January 2014 as a project for my web comics class. The whole operation was rather hasty. We were told we needed to come up with a comic that’s updated weekly, the teacher said the content was completely up to us, though her web comic followed a linear narrative, as did the comics of most of the other students.

I needed something I could do without too much time lost, as the class was only an elective and I had other comics to complete, and something that focused on writing more than visuals as that has always been my strong suit. And of course I wanted it to be fun, and something that I cared about.

I never imagined it would become what it has. Okay, let me rephrase that. I have wild fantasies about it being much MORE than it is, what I never imagined is how much I would NEED it. I experience withdrawal if I go too long without making one.

[Strategy, a wonderful crayon-and-pencil piece, as featured on her portfolio site.]

3. Your comics offer a wonderful mix of humor, tongue-in-cheek wordplay, and savvy commentary from a clearly experienced solver. How have the constructors reacted to your comics? Do you think couching your critiques in this format allows you to say more than a straightforward review or blog post?

In general, I get a good response from constructors. I certainly never got any flak from anyone. Many have reached out to thank me actually, which is a very rewarding gesture. And I’ve never attempting real blogging to compare the reactions side by side, but I would guess that giving everything a lighthearted air does assuage some of the severity of critique.

But, at the same time, I am rarely totally critical and try to be balanced. And though I often address the constructor directly, I try not to make any serious personal attacks if I thoroughly rip something apart, though, by and large, I don’t do comics on puzzles that are completely horrendous. Partly because I don’t wish to be horribly cruel to anyone, and partly because I don’t think it’s very entertaining. At least in a comic, I think nitpicking about the usual crossword faux pas gets repetitive.

[A sample of one of her most recent webcomics.]

4. What’s next for Hayley Gold?

I’m working on a graphic novel, but no ETA on that. And for anyone who’s a fan of my site, I’ll warn you that it’s totally different, both graphically and narratively, so no guarantees that you’ll like it. I also need a job. Hey, anyone out there, hire me! Would love to do some custom crossword comics!

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

Er, I’m not really good with this. God knows, my life is a mess. But let’s try to narrow it down a bit. How about advice pertaining to webcomics? Make it about something you’re passionate about. Most of my peers quit their webcomic after the class finished. Now, my stick-to-it-iveness may be due to my uptight nature, but also because it really meant something to me.

Also, keep at it even if you think no one is reading. I hope to get more eyeballs as I go along, though my site still reaches relatively few readers. People may look over it once and then never come back instead of subscribing, or just never come across it even though they are ardent puzzle solvers.

When I go to comics events, so many people come up to me to tell me what a “great idea” my site is — but they personally don’t do the puzzle so it’s not for them. I’ve experienced a very small overlap in the fanbases. The way comics are promoted, as one big giant blob of content, is rather weird — as if readers would be attracted to all of it simply because of the medium, rather than it being placed into subcategories — but I digress.

Choose something you like, stick with it.

Many thanks to Hayley for her time. Check out AcrossandDown.net for her comics and links to her other works, and to keep up on all things Hayley, follow her Across and Down Facebook page, her Twitter (@HayleyRabbit), and her Etsy page! I can’t wait to see what she has in store for us next.

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