5 Questions for Crossword Constructor Erica Wojcik!

Welcome to 5 Questions, our recurring interview series where we reach out to puzzle constructors, game designers, writers, filmmakers, musicians, artists, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life!

This feature is all about exploring the vast and intriguing puzzle community by talking to those who make puzzles and those who enjoy them.

And this marks the second edition of a new series of interviews where we turn our eyes to the future of crosswords. Instead of interviewing established talents in the field, I’ve been reaching out to new and up-and-coming constructors and asking them to share their experiences as a nascent cruciverbalist.

And we’re excited to welcome Erica Wojcik as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

Erica has only started constructing crosswords over the last year, but she’s already making waves. Most notably, she has spearheaded the Expanded Crossword Name Database, a resource for constructors where the crossword community at large can submit the names of women, non-binary individuals, trans individuals, or people of color that you’d like to see in crosswords.

She currently has a puzzle up on Matthew Stock’s Happy Little Puzzles, and we’ll start seeing her creations in outlets like The Inkubator in the coming months. I have no doubt her byline will be appearing elsewhere soon!

Erica 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 Erica Wojcik

1. How did you get started with puzzles?

I used to do morning crosswords with friends in college, but only sporadically. In 2015, my husband got me hooked on the NYT crossword and ever since, our daily routine involves solving the Times puzzle together and reading Rex Parker’s blog. I study language development as a professor of psychology, and crosswords perfectly combine my interests in language and problem solving.

I’d been curious about constructing for a while, but finally decided to try it out in February 2020. I tweeted something about wanting to construct and tagged Anna Shechtman and Erik Agard on a whim, and they both gave super advice and other constructors chimed in as well. I was so shocked and delighted by how nice and helpful everyone was!

But, it was February 2020 and before I could actually dive in, the pandemic struck and I was stuck juggling a job, a toddler, and a newborn. I got my head above water in November, downloaded Across Lite, read Patrick Berry’s Handbook, got hooked up with a mentor via the Crossword Puzzle Collaboration Directory and very quickly became obsessed.

2. You have a puzzle in the pipeline with The Inkubator and you’re awaiting feedback on submissions to several of the major outlets. As you start to interact with the puzzle community at large, what have you learned along the way? What has been the most surprising part of the process for you?

Oh man, I’ve learned so, so many things from so, so many people! The most surprising part of constructing has been discovering the fun, welcoming online crossword community. I had no idea! It’s been such a delight to chat and joke and learn from so many folks. The most important (and most cliche) thing I’ve learned is to ask for help when you have a question. So many folks are willing to collaborate or share tips.

What, in your estimation, makes for a great puzzle? What do you most enjoy — or try hardest to avoid — when constructing your own?

I love puzzles that have personality and teach me something new, which usually means crosswords that have colloquial/contemporary phrases and avoid common crosswordese. Of course, I’ve learned that this is SO HARD to do. I end up ripping up entire grids because I have AMTOO and OSHA gnawing at me. But it’s worth it when you fill a grid that is just so clean and fresh throughout.

3. Do you have any favorite crossword themes or clues, either your own or those crafted by others? Who inspires you as a constructor?

There are WAY too many constructors that I admire to list here! But in recent memory…. I absolutely loved Nam Jin Yoon’s Saturday NYT puzzle at the end of January. So many good phrases. Such clever cluing on the shorter fill. I’m also a huge fan of Malaika Handa’s 7×7 blog. Those make me laugh out loud all the time.

4. What’s next for Erica Wojcik?

I’ve gotten so much positive feedback for the Expanded Crossword Name Database, and one thing that several people have asked about is whether I can create a similar database for cultural things (teams, places, organizations etc.) So I’ll be getting that up soon!

I’m such a n00b at constructing, so I’m still just constantly playing around with themes and grids and trying to really find my voice. I love love love collaborating so I hope to do more of that, too!

5. What’s one piece of advice you would offer fellow solvers, aspiring constructors/setters, and puzzle enthusiasts?

Read Patrick Berry’s Handbook and join Crossword Twitter 🙂


A huge thank you to Erica for her time. You can follow her on Twitter for all of her crossword endeavors, and be sure to contribute your ideas to the Expanded Crossword Name Database! I’m genuinely looking forward to seeing what she creates next.

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

5 Questions with Wrestling Commentator (and Crossword Constructor) Dave Bradshaw!

Welcome to 5 Questions, our recurring interview series where we reach out to puzzle constructors, game designers, writers, filmmakers, musicians, artists, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life!

It’s all about exploring the vast and intriguing puzzle community by talking to those who make puzzles and those who enjoy them! (Click here to check out previous editions of 5 Questions!)

And we’re excited to welcome Dave Bradshaw as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

dave bradshaw 1

To many wrestling fans in the UK and around the world — myself included — Dave Bradshaw is the voice of British wrestling. A prolific commentator who has represented companies like New Generation Wrestling, Defiant Wrestling, Wrestle Carnival, and more, Dave calls the in-ring action, keeps the audience informed about the performers and their storylines, and serves as the welcoming committee for new viewers.

In addition to his commentary work, he contributes to outlets like WrestleTalk Magazine, where he recently penned a wonderful piece about the history of LGBTQIA+ performers and representation in wrestling. In an incredibly personal moment, Dave came out in the article, joining an increasingly vocal and influential community of performers in the wrestling business championing LGBTQIA+ representation and mental health awareness.

On a much less impactful but still interesting note, he also started creating wrestling-themed British-style crosswords on Sporcle last year, and as part of a new series of interviews with relatively new constructors and puzzlers, I asked if Dave would take part in 5 Questions.

Dave 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 Dave Bradshaw

1. When and how did your interest in puzzles start?

I’ve always liked puzzles, but to be honest last year they were a bit of a lifesaver. Like so many people I’ve had rough patches with my mental health during the pandemic – for me the worst part was six weeks last summer for some reason, but I became a bit addicted to doing quizzes on Sporcle and it was a welcome distraction in some difficult times.

Also, I learned where every country is on a map of Europe, so that’s cool!

2. What inspired you to start making wrestling trivia crosswords?

One of the things I got into over the summer was crosswords, which for some reason I’d never really liked before, and I noticed that there weren’t many on Sporcle on the subject of pro wrestling, which is what I know the most about. So, having done loads of other people’s puzzles, I decided to try my hand at making my own and see if anyone would be interested.

I literally thought I would get maybe 5 people play the first one, but it was quickly over 500, so I decided to keep going and ended up doing them for 10 weeks in a row, with another series of them planned for later this year, all being well!

dave bradshaw 2

[Dave Bradshaw, alongside James R. Kennedy, presenting
ReLoaded for WCPW. Image courtesy of Defiant Wrestling.]

3. With ten puzzles under your belt now, what did you learn along the way? Are you finding it easier to make them, or does each still present its own challenge?

First I had to learn how to actually use the interface on the website, but that was pretty user-friendly, otherwise I probably would have given up! After the first one or two I started using a technique where I would decide on 4 or 5 long words that I wanted as answers in the grid and slot them in, then try to plot out which of the remaining squares I wanted to contain letters and which I wanted blacked out.

Also, I soon invested in the latest WWE Encyclopedia to give me more inspiration for answers! A few other things helped too – I found a website called http://crosswordsolver.org where I could find words that would fit in whatever gaps I still had – that was kind of essential.

Oh, and I learned that when you narrow your topic, e.g. by doing a crossword on a specific wrestling event rather than just on wrestling in general, it makes it much much harder to create!

4. What’s next for Dave Bradshaw?

As much as I like doing puzzles – and I plan to do more – my first love is being a pro wrestling commentator, and I am desperate for us to get to a point where people are able to congregate indoors again, so that the UK and European wrestling scene can restart!

I’m also doing some written journalism nowadays for WrestleTalk Magazine, including an article in the latest issue where I discuss the history of LGBTQ+ representation in our sport and talk for the first time about my own experiences as a gay man who is both a fan and someone who works in the industry.

I’m keen to be more open and visible with that part of my life, in case my story is useful for others, and the same is true about mental health – I’d like to be helpful to others who have had difficulties with that kind of thing. So hopefully I should be pretty busy, once we finally get out of lockdown!

[In this recent interview with WrestleTalk’s Luke Owen,
Dave discusses his article, coming out, and more!]

5. What’s one piece of advice you would offer fellow solvers, aspiring constructors/setters, and puzzle enthusiasts?

Just try it! I literally got started because I was bored one afternoon, and the next 10 weeks of it were way more fun than I ever anticipated. You’ll also find that you get better at making them as you go, and hopefully you start to develop a bit of a following of people who like to do your quizzes each week, which can be really motivating if people are saying nice things and giving your work high ratings.


A huge thank you to Dave for his time. You can follow him on Twitter for all of his wrestling and social outreach endeavors. Be sure to check out his wrestling trivia puzzles on Sporcle, and please take time out to read his incredible piece on LGBTQIA+ representation in wrestling in WrestleTalk Magazine. I cannot wait to see what he does next.

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

5 Questions for Game Designer Ellie Dix

Welcome to 5 Questions, our recurring interview series where we reach out to puzzle constructors, game designers, writers, filmmakers, musicians, artists, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life!

It’s all about exploring the vast and intriguing puzzle community by talking to those who make puzzles and those who enjoy them! (Click here to check out previous editions of 5 Questions!)

And we’re excited to welcome Ellie Dix as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

I first encountered Ellie Dix after stumbling upon the Kickstarter campaign for The Imp Box, a family-friendly game collection designed to look like a Christmas cracker. (Naturally, it immediately made the list of games to include in this year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide.)

I soon discovered that she, much like this intriguing game set, was far more than meets the eye. Ellie Dix is not only the designer of every game under the Dark Imp umbrella, but she’s also the owner of the company. A puzzle designer, game designer, author, and more, Ellie Dix is a self-made dynamo, representing the entrepreneurial spirit that has grown to define the industry during the modern board game renaissance.

With The Imp Box now available for sale worldwide and a new Kickstarter campaign on the horizon, I have no doubt that Ellie Dix is a name we’ll be hearing about for many years to come.

Ellie 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 Ellie Dix

1. How did you get started in the games industry?

I’ve been designing games as a hobby for some time, but when I sold my Education company I decided to focus full time on game design and publishing. Before that I’d used games in teaching and training. I’ve also been a hobby board gamer myself for a long time (and my parents before me). So when I finally made the switch, I just jumped in with both feet. I wrote a book called The Board Game Family: Reclaim your Children from the Screen, which came out in July 2019. My first games were published in November 2019. Since then it’s been a full on schedule of design, development and publication.

How has your experience been as a woman designing games and running a board game company, either in terms of challenges or general insight from your perspective?

Honestly, I expect the challenges have been very similar to those that a person of any other gender would experience. The board gaming community is so inclusive that my own gender seems completely irrelevant. I do, however, realise that I’m in the minority in this industry. I suppose the only thing of note is that I’ve been approached several times by other cis-females who’ve commented that they’re pleased to see the success of another woman in the industry. So clearly it can be helpful to others to see a woman doing what I’m doing.

2. What’s the key to a great family-friendly game?

Getting something that the kids and the adults will all want to play. Family games aren’t children’s games. Family games have to hook in and hold the interest of everyone. For me – complexity isn’t always an issue. Kids can cope with all sorts of levels of complexity. But making sure the game is fairly fast-paced is important. I don’t mean short, necessarily, but minimising downtime is crucial. Games with simultaneous play, actions for passive players or very quick turns work well. The theme has to hook the family in too!

3. We’re currently in the midst of a board game renaissance, with greater exposure than ever for all sorts of games and play styles. What’s one trend in the industry you’d like to see more of and what’s one trend you’d like to see less of?

I love asymmetric games and I’d love to see more of them. Games with varying player powers or factions. This increases replayability. I’ve recently created an asymmetric family game – Uranus! – which is currently in the final of the Board Game Workshop’s annual design contest.

For me, I struggle to get into the big campaign games (Pandemic Legacy, The King’s Dilemma, Gloomhaven). I suspect there are too many on the market for the people who are playing them to actually play. They’re often too much work for regular gamers and families to get into.

4. What’s next for Ellie Dix?

I’m developing a range of roll & write PnP games for any number of players. These are all games that can be played by zoom. I’ve got several out already and they’ve been going great guns during the lockdowns. More are coming out before Christmas. Uranus! will be coming to Kickstarter in early March 2021. I’m also working on some exciting school projects next year! It’s going to be another busy year.

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

It’s easy to get paralysed by perfectionism. Very few great games started out as a great games. Be brave and just put your game out there, as early as you can, with any sort of back-of-the-cereal packet prototype you can. Find a great playtesting group full of other designers (not friends and family) or create one yourself.

The playtesting process is so vital to development. It’s a waste of time to make sure all the cards are perfectly balanced before you get it in front of people. You could spend weeks on a game that ultimately nobody wants to play. A playtesting group will help you to find the fun and ultimately make a better game.


A huge thank you to Ellie for her time. You can follow her on Twitter for updates on all things Dark Imp, and be sure to check out her puzzles and games through Instagram, YouTube, her game blog, and of course, the Dark Imp website. Whatever she cooks up next, you know it’s going to be great.

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

5 Questions for Crossword Constructor Amanda Rafkin

Welcome to 5 Questions, our recurring interview series where we reach out to puzzle constructors, game designers, writers, filmmakers, musicians, artists, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life!

It’s all about exploring the vast and intriguing puzzle community by talking to those who make puzzles and those who enjoy them! (Click here to check out previous editions of 5 Questions!)

And we’re excited to welcome Amanda Rafkin as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

rafkin

When she’s not contributing to musical theater with her deft piano performances (or entertaining herself with various showtunes), Amanda constructs crosswords for various outlets including her own puzzle website, Brain Candy, where she posts a new puzzle every day. She also features other constructors, providing a valuable platform for her fellow cruciverbalists!

She has been published in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Universal, The Inkubator, and many other outlets, and recently contributed a puzzle to the 2020 Boswords crosswords tournament (which just so happened to be your lead blogger’s favorite puzzle from this year’s tournament).

Amanda 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 Amanda Rafkin

1. How did you get started with puzzles?

I really started loving puzzles at some point in my pre-teen years when I would confiscate my mom’s half-finished puzzles when she would step out of the room. I think she eventually got so fed up with me stealing her puzzles that she bought me my own book of variety puzzles, and since then I’ve been off to the races.

I became interested in constructing a couple of years ago when I got more serious with my crossword solving and felt that crossword construction could fall in that blissful middle-of-the-Venn-diagram area between something I might be good at and something I might love. I guess who’s good at anything is a matter of opinion, but I’m happy to report that I was wildly correct about the love part.

2. In addition to your crossword constructing, you’re also a musician, which seems to be a recurring theme among some constructors (Patrick Blindauer, Brian Cimmet) and tournament solvers (Dan Feyer, John Delfin). Do your musical skills ever influence your puzzling, or do you ever find yourself relying on your puzzly skills while performing or composing?

This is something I’ve heard many times (the relationship between crossword constructing and musicianship) to the point that I, myself, wonder if there’s something to it! If there is, it’s not something I’m aware of at all. For me, the two things are pretty separate experiences in my life.

The one exception to this I guess would be my theater-themed puzzles that I’ve grown so fond of. Every Thursday on my website is “Theatre Thursday”, where I post a midi-sized Broadway-themed puzzle, often accompanied by a bunch of relevant musical theater information that no one asked for. I also have a couple of Broadway-themed midi packs on the horizon. One is completed and will be released sometime in the (probably) not-too-distant future, and the other is a midi pack centering around each of Sondheim’s 19 major works, which I’m working on right now.

sondheim

[Sondheim constructed cryptic crosswords for New York Magazine,
so Amanda certainly finds herself in good company!]

3. To call the last few months tumultuous is an understatement, considering public unrest and pushback against infringements on civil rights. In a similar vein, there has been a more strenuous push in crosswords recently (Women’s March, for instance) for greater representation for women, people of color, and the LGBTQIA+ community. In your estimation, how are the major outlets faring regarding inclusion?

Well there’s a loaded question! The numbers will tell you that, by and large, they are faring rather poorly. There are of course some exceptions (notably, the USA Today, which publishes far more puzzles by women than men). If you’re looking at the major outlet (The New York Times), this can feel challenging to assess in some ways.

If we’re acknowledging a recent push for inclusion, then we also have to take into consideration the often 18-month delay between the time of construction and the time of publication. As a result, the things that are happening now may not reveal themselves to us until over a year from now. None of this is an excuse for not having implemented a more inclusive system long ago, but I do think that even the major outlets with a shorter queue than The New York Times may not reveal to us any of aforementioned representational shifts until months from now.

I hope this is something that we as constructors and solvers continue to keep our eyes on, so that we can continue to work on opening doors that may have previously felt closed, and offering equal opportunities to anyone and everyone interested in the endeavor of crossword construction.

I think, as a whole, the general industry is still struggling to understand the difference between “I personally don’t know this because of my own life experiences” and “This isn’t gettable/knowable/likeable for solvers”. Inclusion begets inclusion, as exclusion begets exclusion. By leaving certain things/people/customs etc. out of puzzles, we continue this cycle in perpetuity. The more different kinds of people we have making puzzles, the more likely it is that any given solver will be able to do a puzzle and see themselves within it. And, at least for me, that is a goal that I always try to keep in mind when constructing.

rafkat

[Solving runs in the family.]

4. What’s next for Amanda Rafkin?

I wish Amanda Rafkin knew the answer to that question as well. Given how things are going, it seems it will be a while before I’ll be doing much in the way of music again. So, for now, I’m going to continue to do what I’ve been doing for most of quarantine: making puzzles, putting them into the world, and hoping that they bring some kind of joy to folks during a time when joy can be a tricky thing to come by. Would it be awesome to be able to make a living solely from making crossword puzzles? HECK YES! So maybe that’s a goal for sometime in the future as well.

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

No matter who you are, no matter how much you know, no matter where you went to school, no matter who your friends are, no matter the experiences you’ve had in your life, no matter how woke you think you are, you have blind spots. We all have blind spots. And sometimes, in the wake of these blind spots can come decisions that hurt other people. We are imperfect but lifelong students on this collective journey to betterment.

Be open to feedback, specifically from people who have had different life experiences than you. Feedback is not criticism; it’s the space from which we all grow. So get feedback on your work and actually listen. Resist the urge to be defensive. Collaborate with other people. If they differ from you in some way, even better.

Oh, and if you’ve been tossing around the idea of constructing for a while but haven’t actually taken the leap…jump. The kindest and most supportive people are on the other side waiting to catch you.


A huge thank you to Amanda for her time. You can follow her on Twitter for updates on her puzzly and musical endeavors, and be sure to visit her puzzle website Brain Candy for all sorts of puzzle goodness. We can’t wait to see what she cooks up next.

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

5 Questions with Game Designer Grant Howitt!

Welcome to 5 Questions, our recurring interview series where we reach out to puzzle constructors, game designers, writers, filmmakers, musicians, artists, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life!

It’s all about exploring the vast and intriguing puzzle community by talking to those who make puzzles and those who enjoy them! (Click here to check out previous editions of 5 Questions!)

And I’m excited to welcome Grant Howitt as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

gshowitt resized

Grant is a prolific tabletop game designer who has created multi-book campaign settings and adventures, but is perhaps best known for his one-page roleplaying games, where he fits an entire game — objectives, setting, characters, rules, and other game details and stylistic flourishes — onto a single piece of paper!

He has built a reputation for clever design, irreverent campaign concepts, and topflight roleplaying experiences, and he’s currently putting all of those creative energies into Heart: The City Beneath, a recent Kickstarter success story.

Grant 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 Grant Howitt

1. How did you get started with roleplaying games? When did you start designing your own games?

I got into RPGs back in 2000 – I saw a game of Vampire the Masquerade being played, and while I didn’t take part, I kind of fell in love with the possibility of the thing. I come from a wargaming and videogaming background, so the flexibility available to players blew my mind when I saw it done live. I didn’t actually play regularly for another six years, because my high school friends were too cool to do it, and I can’t blame them.

I started making my own games significantly before that. I wrote my first game in high school, a hack of a game called Zaibatsu that I got off an Angelfire website, and it reflects my 14-year-old obsession with marijuana, shooting two guns at once, and generally dicking about. (I still like all of those things but I feel like I’m expressing it in more subtle ways these days.)

I went on to write a Live-Action Roleplaying system called Zombie LARP at University with my friend Chris Taylor, who I now co-own an RPG business with alongside Mary Hamilton. (I’m married to Mary; it’s pretty cool running a business doing the thing you love most with the people you love most.)

honey heist

[Have you ever masterminded the world’s greatest heist while being a bear?
That’s the goal of Honey Heist, a one-page roleplaying game created by Howitt.]

2. Your games run the gamut from one-page works like the lighthearted Honey Heist and the tension-filled Wake to more complex and detailed games like One Last Job and Spire.

But one interesting thing aspect of your games is that there’s always an abundance of material to inspire the roleplaying part of the game. When designing the mechanics of a game, how do you find the sweet spot between necessity, efficiency, stylistic flair, and going overboard?

That’s a hell of a question! It’s tricky; you get to learn the feel for it after a while. Chris also reins me in a lot and helps me keep a handle on my excesses; he’s very much the yin to my yang. I think the goal is to make something that’s fun to read and that sparks ideas for adventures in the reader’s head – you’re giving them the keys to a fantasy world and guiding them to their own stories, rather than telling them something directly. So you can get loose with it and stitch things together with a theme rather than worrying about, you know, sentence structure and all that stuff.

spire-cover-blue

3. What are two games that have had a strong influence on your own roleplaying experience, either as a player or a game creator? And what two of your own games would you recommend that people try to widen their own gaming experience?

First off: Dogs in the Vineyard by D Vincent Baker, which is out of print now, but it taught me that games can be about one thing and do it perfectly rather than try to simulate any potential actions within a game world. It taught me a lot about abstraction. It’s hugely clever and one player character always ends up shooting another by the end of a session due to an argument about faith, and that’s extremely my bag.

Secondly: Wushu, by Dan Bayn, which is geared towards daft high-action explosive schlocky pulp play, but the system is so monumentally clever because it barely exists. The fascinating thing about Wushu is that it says “yes, you can do that” where most other games say “no, you can’t do that yet” which means that, after about three sessions, you end up burned out because no-one’s keeping you at arm’s length from your potential. I love it. It’s roleplaying cocaine.

And from myself? I think people should buy the most expensive ones, because I need a new pair of boots. (Actually? Read GENIUS LOCI which is about playing a cannibalistic post office god in 1960’s rural Southern England, because it’s not like anything else I’ve read or written, and that counts for something. And HAVOC BRIGADE, which is about an orc “infiltration” mission into a human city, and it’s legitimately some of the most fun I’ve had running a game due to the wild freedom afforded to players.)

heart cover resized

4. What’s next for Grant Howitt?

At the moment we’re getting Heart delivered to Kickstarter backers (you can pre-order it from our site here) and it’ll be delivered sometime in August) and that’s been a big creative drain – we put out the corebook and four sourcebooks alongside it in a few months.

So at present Chris and I are taking time to recharge, keeping the business ticking over (I’m still writing one game a month and don’t intend on stopping any time soon), commissioning works from other authors, and trying to centre ourselves to get perspective and write the Next Big Thing. We have a few ideas at present; maybe something set in the same world as Spire and Heart, maybe some sort of Deep South ghost-hunting game, or maybe something about eating magical materials to cast neat spells. I dunno just yet.

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

Make stuff! It’s fun. Then of course the next part, which is just as important, is to release it. You have to get stuff out there, get eyes on it, help people make a relationship with your work.

I see a lot of games which have been in development for, like, a decade – and that’s too long for most projects, you wind up with something weird and ingrown and self-referentially exclusive. So release stuff that you’re unsure but excited about, because nothing is ever perfect, and try to have fun with it.


A huge thank you to Grant for his time. You can follow him on Twitter for updates on his latest projects, visit Rowan, Rook, and Decard for his impressive library of games, and if you enjoy his roleplaying creations, please consider joining his Patreon! There is literally no telling what he’ll create next!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

5 Questions for Twitch Streamer and YouTuber Rachel Howie

Welcome to 5 Questions, our recurring interview series where we reach out to puzzle constructors, game designers, writers, filmmakers, musicians, artists, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life!

It’s all about exploring the vast and intriguing puzzle community by talking to those who make puzzles and those who enjoy them! (Click here to check out previous editions of 5 Questions!)

And I’m excited to welcome Rachel Howie as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

howie0

Whether she’s exploring the verdant expanses of Breath of the Wild or slaying overpowered monsters in Dark Souls, Rachel Howie is an established force in the Twitch video game community. Wielding years of experience as a YouTube presenter and a lifetime of video game fandom, Rachel entertains and informs across Twitch and YouTube under the handle “DontRachQuit.”

As both onscreen performer and video editor, Rachel is a one-woman multimedia content creator, bringing humor, enthusiasm, and some wicked button-mashing skills every time she picks up a controller and live-streams her gaming exploits.

And this month, she’s even raising money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital through their Play Live program!

Rachel 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 Rachel Howie

1. How did you first get into video games? What genres or styles of games most appeal to you?

Growing up, I was always obsessed with Nintendo. My older cousins had a SNES, and then later an N64, and I was just absolutely obsessed with it. Because I was far too young to play much more than Jungle Hijinx on Donkey Kong Country without screwing up all my cousins’ progress, I’d beg and beg them if they would play so that I could watch and learn all the secrets. Perhaps a prelude to my future career in streaming!

So I have my cousins, or I suppose, my uncle, to thank for getting me interested in video games. He had a 120 star save file in Mario 64 and my little eyes just lit up with admiration every time I started it up.

When the Pokemon anime started on TV, I begged for my first console to call my own, and my parents got me a little yellow game boy pocket with Pokemon Blue. I must have been around… 6 years old? I had to ask my Dad for help because I literally couldn’t figure out how to exit Blue’s house. Good times.

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[She even named her dog after a Pokemon!]

Nowadays, the genre I am most invested in is Action/Adventure and RPG. I love anything that offers me the ability to create a custom character and just get lost in a world full of people who need my help. Throughout the past 15 years, I’ve played copious amounts of World of Warcraft, and I do enjoy MMOs, also. However it is hard just to nail myself down to one genre, as I do enjoy all sorts – Dark Souls, The Legend of Zelda, WoW, Pokemon, The Binding of Isaac, Okami, Portal, the Ori games, Kingdom Hearts, and I’ve been super into Beat Saber lately on the Oculus!

2. Puzzles are frequently an integral part of a video game, either as obstacles or as the entire focus of the game. What’s one example of a game that utilizes puzzles effectively and a game that fails to do so?

I absolutely love puzzles. The first thing that springs to mind is probably because I’ve been playing the recently released Resident Evil 3 remake, and that is last year’s Resi 2 remake. The very idea of having enjoyable puzzles inside a horror game may seem pretty strange, but in Resi it just works. It’s a great change of pace from the ‘shooty shooty zombie, run run run Mr. X is comin’, regular gameplay. So I’d definitely put the Resident Evil series as a whole forward as a game that very effectively incorporates puzzles.

If we wanna talk entire focus of the game, Portal 2 is king. Seriously. What a game.

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I find it difficult to think negatively so nothing springs to mind immediately when thinking of a game that tries puzzles but falls flat. The obvious answer I suppose might be The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time‘s water temple on the N64, but this is purely linked to the Iron boots being equippable from the start menu – something fixed perfectly in the 3DS remake.

3. Visuals play a huge role in several of your endeavors, as editors are visual storytellers who help illustrate a given narrative and Twitch streamers provide a sort of visual performance art alongside their gameplay. What’s the key to accomplishing both styles of storytelling effectively?

If we take video editing first, it really is quite simple. An edited video will be made to fulfill a brief, it has a purpose – what it will be used for and whether it’s supposed to invoke a certain emotion, or response from people. The key is knowing exactly what you are making and keeping that in mind with every single cut, every title card, every sound effect or piece of music. Watching back your work is also important, and trying to visualise how it might be perceived by a third party.

Twitch streaming, I feel, is even simpler. Live content is natural, or rather, it usually is. There are plenty of streamers who put on high-production value shows or perform as a character during their streams. I honestly just wing it! I’m a naturally pretty expressive person who tends to have 150% emotions and this just seems to work so well for streaming.

I also love, and try to encourage, mascots and channel memes into things like alerts – so the visual style ends up very lighthearted and fun, full of hype to celebrate when people are kind enough to financially support. When I was creating my branding, I wanted something that people could identify with me that also described my vibe, and the kind of content I create. So I went for bright colours, and yet a strong, sharp edged font – the perfect marriage of fluffy dogs and Dark Souls!

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4. What’s next for Rachel Howie?

The tail end of last year was a bit of a roller-coaster for me. I was forced into a corner and had to give up on a job with a team I loved with all my heart, and leap into something that I wasn’t exactly ready for. I had been streaming on Twitch and creating content in my spare time for three years previously, and it was borderline sustainable income, so giving up a reliable salary was absolutely terrifying. However I have not regretted it in the slightest. My Twitch channel got partnered, my YouTube is steadily rising, supported by Patreon, and I’m exploring new avenues like podcasting. Heck, I went out and got a puppy! Life is pretty scary at the moment, but it’s also never been so exciting.

I’m going to continue working hard on my channels, and continue to try and help everyone through this uncertain time with my goofiness and relatability. I’d love to start going to more events, such as Insomnia and Comic Con, as ‘DontRachQuit’, and slowly carve my name across the industry. Also it would be really great if I could manage to finish this deathless run of Dark Souls before I grow old!

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

The most important thing I’ve learned over the past 6 months, is that life is too short not to try and follow your dreams. You are the most important thing, and your happiness is paramount. It’s all fine and well putting others before yourself, but if that’s just going to make you unhappy, I’m afraid it’s not worth it. Just be yourself, treat yourself, and do what makes you happy. Never stop trying, never stop learning – failure is just another opportunity to learn. Keep trying, you can do it!


A huge thank you to Rachel for her time. You can follow her on Twitter (as well as Instagram, YouTube, and Twitch) for updates on all things “Don’t Rach Quit,” and if you enjoy her videos and streams, please consider joining her Patreon! I can’t wait to see what video game she conquers next!

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