5 Questions with Crossword Constructor Joanne Sullivan

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 Joanne Sullivan as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

[Joanne stands beside fellow constructor Tracy Bennett at this year’s Indie 500 tournament.]

Joanne is a terrific constructor whose puzzles have appeared in The New York Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and numerous other outlets. One of her puzzles is now featured on The New York Times‘ Wordplay Blog as one of their 11 Remarkable Crosswords for New Solvers (each hand-picked by Will Shortz). Her puzzle with Erik Agard at the 2016 Indie 500 Crossword Tournament, “Do I Hear a Waltz?”, was one of my favorite crosswords last year.

She often spends her time teaching crossword classes, spreading not only the love of crossword construction and wordplay to others, but hard-won knowledge and experience from a fun and innovative constructor.

Joanne 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 Joanne Sullivan

1. How did you get started with puzzles?

I’ve enjoyed a variety of puzzles and games ever since I can remember, but I had avoided crossword puzzles for decades. When I was a young adult, I would occasionally take a stab at The Sunday New York Times crossword and would manage to get only a couple of answers after reading every single clue. I was amazed that my father could routinely complete the whole puzzle. I didn’t aspire to match his achievement because I thought that crosswords were filled with useless, arcane information.

When I subscribed to GAMES Magazine, I solved all the puzzles in it except for the crosswords because I had the mistaken assumption that all crosswords were dry and boring. I now realize that I missed out on a lot of fun. The high-quality crosswords in GAMES were part of the new wave of puzzles that were filled with current references and lively phrases.

Many years later an office mate encouraged a group of our fellow coworkers to solve The New York Times crossword together each weekday. I never really enjoyed the computer programming work that I was supposed to be focusing on so I welcomed the diversion. I immediately was surprised at how clever and entertaining the crosswords were.

Like the character in Green Eggs and Ham, I learned that I actually liked the nourishment that I had assumed would be distasteful. In the beginning, my coworkers would pass around the newspaper, and we’d each fill in an answer or two until we managed to complete the whole puzzle. We relied heavily on Google by the time we got to Friday. Solving late week puzzles without help seemed like an impossible dream, but before long that dream became a reality.

[One of Joanne’s New York Times-published puzzles. This one makes excellent use of the black squares by incorporating some of them into the themed entries.
Image courtesy of XWordInfo.]

2. What, in your estimation, makes for a great puzzle?

I personally love puzzles with inventive, tricky themes and clues. Crosswords have been around for a long time so it’s hard to come up with a new theme or a tricky clue that misdirects the solver in a different way. Even new themes and clues tend to be variations on something that has been done before so I appreciate crosswords that are truly original.

What do you most enjoy — or most commonly avoid — when constructing your own?

Here are crossword constructing tasks in descending order of my preference:

  • Coming up with a theme and finding answers that fit it.
  • Writing clues / Arranging the black and white squares in the grid. (Two very different tasks that I find equally enjoyable.)
  • Filling the grid with non-theme answers.
  • Adding new words to my database of potential crossword answers and rating those words in order of desirability.

Maintaining a good database of potential crossword answers can greatly facilitate crossword construction, but I find database maintenance time-consuming and dreary so I avoid it. I try to rationalize my negligence by telling myself that it’s impossible to add words and assign values to them that will be valid for all audiences.

For example, the word UGLY would be a perfectly fine answer in any mainstream newspaper, but I would try to avoid including it in a personalized puzzle that I was making as a birthday gift because I wouldn’t want the recipient to interpret it as an insult. But deep down I know that my rationalization isn’t valid, and I’m just too lazy to properly maintain my database.

What do you think is the most common pitfall of constructors just starting out?

I think some new constructors might settle for mediocrity instead of pushing themselves to achieve more. I’ve heard that some constructors are afraid to arrange the black and white squares in a grid from scratch. They’ll only use sample grids that they copy from a crossword database. It might take a lot of trial and error, but you’ll probably come up with a better grid if you try to arrange the squares in a way that best suits your theme answers instead of grabbing a prefab grid. I’ll often experiment with dozens of different grid designs before choosing one that fits my theme answers best.

Constructors might also be satisfied with so-so fill (which are the non-theme answers) or clues. I can understand the urge to leave well enough alone, especially when submitting puzzles on spec. It can be really frustrating to spend a lot of time coming up with stellar fill and clues only to be told that your puzzle was dead on arrival because the editor didn’t like the theme. Instead of compromising their standards, constructors might try to seek out the few editors who are willing to preapprove themes. Or they may emulate the many excellent indie constructors who publish their puzzles on their own websites.

[A puzzle, mid-construction. Images courtesy of Crossdown.]

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

It’s hard to pick favorites because I’ve solved so many great puzzles and clues over the years so I’ll be self-centered and mention three of my own puzzles.

My Tuesday, February 23, 2010 New York Times crossword will always be close to my heart because it was my first published puzzle. Will Shortz picked it as one of the “11 Remarkable Crosswords for New Solvers,” but novices shouldn’t feel bad if they find it difficult. Most solvers found it harder than an average Tuesday puzzle.

Another special crossword is “Contents Redacted,” which The Chronicle of Higher Education published on October 16, 2015. I’m very grateful to Brad Wilber and Frank Longo for polishing it and working hard to present it in a way that stayed true to my vision. I also appreciate pannonica whose review on the Crossword Fiend blog was clearer and more insightful than any description that I could have written.

(Speaking of blogs, kudos to PuzzleNation Blog, CrosswordFiend, and similar blogs for helping us appreciate puzzles! Thanks for helping us understand the strengths and weaknesses of puzzles you review, explaining tricky themes and clues, and keeping us informed of news such as puzzle tournaments.)

One of my most satisfying experiences was co-writing “Do I Hear a Waltz?” with Erik Agard for the 2016 Indie 500 Crossword Tournament. Working with Erik was a joy. He’s brilliant and extremely kind. You should interview him next!

One great thing about making a puzzle for a tournament was having the flexibility to make an odd-sized grid that best suited our theme. I find that tournament puzzles are often very creative, perhaps because the constructors don’t have the same editorial and size constraints that they do at most other venues. Some of my favorite puzzles came from The Indie 500 and Lollapuzzoola crossword tournaments.

As a solver, my favorite clues are the ones that make me think, “What on earth can this mean?” One recent clue that gave me that reaction came from Brendan Emmett Quigley’s 9/20/17 AV Club crossword (which is titled “The Lay of the Land”). At first, I couldn’t make sense of the clue [Like slightly firm elbows, e.g.] When I read it, I thought, “What the heck is a slightly firm elbow? … Hmm … AKIMBO doesn’t fit … Hmm …” Eventually I achieved a great aha moment — AL DENTE!

I also love clues that put a fresh spin on old crosswordese or teach me interesting pieces of trivia. I find that The Chronicle of Higher Education and Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crosswords are particularly strong in that regard.

[Joanne poses with members of a crossword seminar,
showing off prizes from our pals at Penny Dell Puzzles.]

4. What’s next for Joanne Sullivan?

I’m currently focusing on giving crossword puzzle seminars. For years I had mistakenly assumed that crosswords were boring and impossible to solve. Now I enjoy showing skeptics how fun crosswords can be and giving people tips that help them improve their solving skills. I love hearing from novices who tell me that I inspired them to start solving crosswords and veteran solvers who say that my tips helped them tackle more difficult puzzles.

I recently taught my first children’s classes and was blown away by the kids’ intelligence and enthusiasm. I’m so glad those children caught the puzzle bug early and didn’t waste decades avoiding crosswords as I did.

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

Read Patrick Berry’s PDF publication Crossword Constructor’s Handbook. The former print version of that book (Crossword Puzzle Challenges for Dummies) taught me more about constructing crosswords than any other source.

Cruciverbalists might find the information about crossword construction interesting even if they don’t aspire to create puzzles themselves. The book includes 70 crosswords by Patrick Berry (who many crossword aficionados consider the preeminent crossword constructor) so it’s worth the $10 for the puzzles alone.


A huge thank you to Joanne for her time. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for her puzzles and her crossword seminars!

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 PuzzleNation Social Media Manager Glenn Dallas

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!)

For the entire month of August, I’ll be introducing the PuzzleNation readership to many of the members of the PuzzleNation team! So every Thursday this month, you’ll meet a new name and voice responsible for bringing you the best puzzle apps on the market today!

And we’re continuing this series with me, your friendly neighborhood PuzzleNation blogger, as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

My name is Glenn Dallas, and I’m not only lead blogger for PuzzleNation Blog, but also Social Media Manager for PuzzleNation, maintaining and providing content for all of our social media platforms. A lifelong puzzler and board game enthusiast, I try to infuse every blog post with that same level of dedication and passion. Hopefully, I succeed.

I consider it a privilege for me to take some time out to talk to the PuzzleNation audience, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!


5 Questions with Glenn Dallas

1. How did you get started with puzzles and games?

Looking back, it seems like puzzles and games were always around. My mother has always been a dedicated crossword solver. I can remember my older sister playing “School” with me and my younger siblings, using brain teasers and puzzles from old issues of GAMES Magazine as “lessons.” The classic board games were played often — Monopoly, Sorry, Mouse Trap, Battleship, even Trivial Pursuit, which I was probably too young for. But I’ve always been a trivia nerd.

Although formal puzzling fell by the wayside as I got older, wordplay and riddles and the like remained a recurring interest. I would often create puzzle content for friends’ websites or my own blog that involved Say That Again?-style rewording, palindromes, puns, anagrams, portmanteaus, brain teasers, and other forms of wordplay. (And, for a bit of context for long-time internet users, I’m talking about Geocities and Angelfire websites, as well as a blog that pre-dated LiveJournal.)

I got back into puzzles more directly in college when I began playing Dungeons & Dragons and other role-playing games, because I enjoyed challenging my players with tests beyond the usual monster hunts. So mechanical puzzles, sliding-block puzzles, and more Myst-style puzzle-solving became an interest (along with riddles and such).

After college (and a stint as a TV cameraman), I had an interview at Penny Press and was hired as a puzzle editor, bringing my amateur puzzly skills into a professional setting working on traditional (and non-traditional!) pen-and-paper puzzles like word seeks, crosswords, cryptograms, fill-ins, etc. And more than a decade later, I’m still at it.

2. You’re one of the senior members of the PuzzleNation team, dating back to its earliest days. How has your work for PuzzleNation changed over time and what can you tell us about PuzzleNation as it evolves and moves forward?

That’s true! Originally, I was just pitching in occasionally as a product tester — helping look for bugs or problems with early versions of apps — and I started providing ideas for content to our social media person for Facebook posts. I was a big proponent early on of expanding our efforts to include a blog; it’s a great centerpiece to a social media platform (and one that allows for more control than your average Facebook post).

But I also wanted PuzzleNation Blog to be a hub for all things puzzles and puzzle games, because there’s not really anywhere like that on the Internet. If you like movies, there’s IMDb. If you like books, there’s Goodreads. You’ve got Gizmodo for tech, science, and sci-fi, and Board Game Geek for board games. And although there are plenty of terrific crossword blogs out there, there’s not one central place to go to talk about puzzles in general. I always envisioned PuzzleNation Blog as that place.

When our previous social media person left the company, I was already writing blog posts once or twice a week (alongside Eric Berlin, who was our top contributor to the blog in its early days), and I inherited his position, along with the Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest accounts that went with them. (I have since added Tumblr and Instagram to our bevy of social media platforms.)

So, as you can see, I’ve gotten a bit busier as time passed, expanding my duties and becoming the lead blogger on the site, writing three (and sometimes more) blog posts a week.

[Here I am, hard at work trying to beat a stuffed teddy bear in Jenga… and failing.]

I feel like the blog has grown and matured into what I originally envisioned — though there’s always room for expansion and improvement! — and my goal right now is continue maintaining that level of interest and quality.

As for our Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets, I’m always looking to encourage more interaction with the PuzzleNation audience. I’m hoping at some point to have recurring puzzle features on every platform. (For now, we’ve got the Insta-Anagram game every Monday on Instagram, and the Crossword Clue Challenge every weekday on Facebook and Twitter.)

3. The crossword has been around for over a hundred years, and many puzzles (whether pen-and-paper or mechanical) have roots that can be traced back even farther. What, in your estimation, gives puzzles such lasting appeal?

I think it’s the Eureka! moments that keep people coming back. They’re certainly what I find the most enjoyable and the most motivating factor. And puzzles provide those in spades.

[Image courtesy of tnooz.com.]

When you approach a particularly fiendish brain teaser, or a crossword clue that keeps eluding you, or a mechanical puzzle that has you stymied, and then suddenly, that light bulb appears over your head. You’ve cracked the code, found the hidden latch, connected the missing pieces, made a deductive leap that would make Sherlock Holmes proud…those Eureka! moments never fail to make it all worthwhile.

And when you work with puzzles, you get to see those moments more often than most people.

4. What’s next for Glenn Dallas and PuzzleNation Blog?

For me, quite a bit. My writing partner and I just launched a new promotional blitz for the novel we published last year, Sugar Skulls (my first novel!), and I’m deep into several ongoing writing projects, one of which is on track to wrap up before the end of the year.

On the side, I’m a freelance book reviewer, and I recently posted my 1,200th book review. I’ve also started work on another in-office murder mystery that I’m hoping to run at our summer picnic event next month. (And I’ll be sure to share pictures here and on Instagram of that!)

As for PuzzleNation Blog, I’m proud to announce that, after the recent success of our PuzzleNation team series of interviews, 5 Questions will be returning as a regular, recurring feature on the blog!

It will be at least once a month (but hopefully twice a month), and I’ve already lined up our first guest for September, with more terrific puzzlers, constructors, and personalities to follow!

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

Make time for yourself every day to do something that fuels you. If you want to write, write something every day, whether it’s just a haiku or a journal entry or a limerick or whatever. If you like games, play a round at lunch with friends or coworkers. There are plenty of quick-play games and puzzles that fit that bill. (Oooh, that gives me an idea for a blog post…)

But I digress.

We spend so much time worrying about, well, everything, it’s easy to let the good stuff, the stuff that reinvigorates you and keeps your spirits up, fall by the wayside. So make a little time for you every day. It does wonders.


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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!

DIY Pencil and Paper Puzzles!

pencil-paper

Picture this. You’re stuck somewhere with friends. The airport, a traffic jam, wherever. Nowhere to charge your phone, so you can’t play Trivia Crack or solve any of the great puzzles offered by the Penny/Dell Crosswords app.

All you’ve got is paper and pencils, and you’re in a puzzly mood. What do you do?

Well, you whip up some DIY puzzle fun, of course.

Now, the classic go-to pencil and paper game is Hangman. The goal is simple: guess the complete word or phrase by guessing one letter at a time. Each correct letter is filled in every time it appears (like on Wheel of Fortune), and each incorrect letter results in one piece of the Hangman being drawn. If you let too many incorrect guesses stack up before solving the puzzle, the Hangman is completed and you lose.

hangman

People have differing rules when it comes to the Hangman’s complexity. Some draw the gallows and noose as well as the Hangman, while others pre-draw the gallows and noose, only drawing the Hangman when wrong guesses occur. (I, for one, always liked drawing him a jaunty top hat before sending him to his demise.)

I can remember a time we played Hangman in high school because the professor for our physics class didn’t show up. One of the other students I didn’t know very well suggested it, and his first two puzzles were cracked pretty quickly. But then the third one had most of the class stumped.

It read: C A P T A I N ___ O ___

People kept guessing “Captain Ron,” even though there was clearly no N in that second blank. When I realized it was “Captain Lou,” I blurted out the answer, and suddenly, we were fast friends.

Because of Hangman.

mark-wahlberg-plays-guessing-game-with-a-teddy-bear

Another simple game is Guess My Word. One person chooses a word, and the other narrows it down by guessing words and being told if those guesses precede or follow the secret word in the alphabet.

For instance, if the word was QUINTET and your first guess was HALLOWEEN, I would say after. So, in one guess, you’ve eliminated every word that comes before HALLOWEEN alphabetically.

And if you’d like to give it a shot, puzzle constructor Joon Pahk created a Guess My Word feature on his website that is great fun (and sometimes pretty challenging).

tic-tac-toe

I was going to mention Tic-Tac-Toe here — another staple of the pencil-and-paper puzzle game genre — until my mother mentioned a variation she read about in Parade magazine.

In the article, Marilyn vos Savant is credited with creating Toe-Tac-Tic, a reverse Tic-Tac-Toe game wherein getting three in a row means you lose.

It’s a completely different style of game play, adding a nice twist to a classic game. (Though, quite honestly, I’m not sure we can credit vos Savant with its creation, since I can remember seeing this played in the mid-2000s. I’m not sure anyone called it “Toe-Tac-Tic,” but the rules were the same.)

31b20lfvkhl

And finally, for fans of card games, you can always whip up a round of 1000 Blank White Cards.

Named for the only thing you need to play — a bunch of identical blank pieces of paper, index cards, or something similar — 1000 Blank White Cards is a game you design and play both before and during the game! You can also further refine the game in subsequent sessions.

As Wikipedia so aptly puts it:

A deck of cards consists of any number of cards, generally of a uniform size and of rigid enough paper stock that they may be reused. Some may bear artwork, writing or other game-relevant content created during past games, with a reasonable stock of cards that are blank at the start of gameplay.

Some time may be taken to create cards before gameplay commences, although card creation may be more dynamic if no advance preparation is made, and it is suggested that the game be simply sprung upon a group of players, who may or may not have any idea what they are being caught up in. If the game has been played before, all past cards can be used in gameplay unless the game specifies otherwise, but perhaps not until the game has allowed them into play.

Once your initial deck of cards is created, players draw a card from the deck and either play them, keep them, or add them to the active rules of the table so they affect everyone. In this way, gameplay is quite similar to another classic puzzle card game, Fluxx, especially with the ever-changing rules and malleable gameplay.

Not only has 1000 Blank White Cards appeared in GAMES Magazine, but it was also included in the 2001 revision of Hoyle’s Rules of Games.

11404929

I am a huge fan of customizable games, so I have played 1000 Blank White Cards many times. From cards that can cause immediate victory to cards that can negate those cards, from point cards and rule cards to cards that requiring singing or truth-or-dare challenges, the possibilities are endless.

Some of my favorite cards are just drawings of turtles, where another card grants you special powers or bonuses depending on how many turtle cards you have. Another allows you to create a new card on your turn, either to keep for yourself or to give to another player.

And the rules can depend entirely on who you’re playing with. Sometimes, you can make a new card every round, while other times, you can only introduce a new card when you’ve drawn a card that allows it. Heck, there might even be blank cards in the deck that you can draw and customize immediately! It is literally up to you and your fellow players how to play.

Fans of Calvin and Hobbes will no doubt draw comparisons between 1000 Blank White Cards and Calvinball, and rightfully so. (Savvy card-game players may also recognize similarities to the figure-out-the-rules-while-you-play game Mao.)

But whether you’re playing Hangman or guessing a word, getting three in a row or avoiding it at all costs, or even creating your own signature game, as long as you’ve got a partner in crime and an imagination, you’re never without a puzzle.


Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

Goodbye, Merl.

[Picture courtesy of crosswordfiend.com.]

The puzzle world was stunned this weekend by the sudden passing of a true crossword legend: Merl Reagle.

Merl has been one of the biggest names in puzzles for a long time now, one of the few crossword constructors who was successful and prolific enough to work on puzzles full-time.

Between his appearance in the Wordplay documentary and a cameo on The Simpsons alongside New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz, he proudly represented both the love of puzzles so many solvers share AND stood as a standard-bearer for crossword construction and quality puzzling.

Merl sold his first crossword to the New York Times at age 16 — ten years after he started constructing puzzles, amazingly enough! In a career spanning five decades, his contributions to the world of puzzles were myriad. Nearly every year, one of his puzzles appears at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. The crossword he constructed for the 100th Anniversary of the Crossword was turned into a Google Doodle, and, based on my research, is the most solved crossword puzzle in history.

A craftsman with humor and heart (and no small amount of anagram skill), Merl was truly one of a kind.

[Picture courtesy of tucson.com.]

I had the privilege of meeting him at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament this year. It was only for a few minutes while the tournament participants were tackling one of the early puzzles and the vendor’s floor was pretty empty. (Otherwise, there were always puzzlers crowded around Merl’s table between tournament puzzles. He was the center of gravity around which many fellow puzzle fans orbited, a master of ceremonies wherever he went.)

He was friendly and gracious, one of those people who can strike an instant rapport with virtually anyone. He put me at ease immediately as I checked out his latest puzzly offerings and we briefly chatted about the tournament itself. (I didn’t get the chance to challenge his legendary anagramming talents, sadly.)

Fellow puzzler and friend of the blog Keith Yarbrough was kind enough to share one of this experiences with Merl:

Merl gave me his philosophy of puzzle construction at the ACPT one year. His goal, he said, was to make the solver smile. Coming up with a funny theme was the main thing. His test when he came up with an idea was to run it past his wife, who is not a puzzler. If it made her smile, it was a keeper.

He wasn’t out to frustrate the solver with obscurities or unnecessary crosswordese, so he used common entries as much as possible. His mantra was that the fill should not be overly difficult.

[Picture courtesy of cltampa.com.]

The dozens of tributes I’ve seen online are a testament to how many friends and admirers Merl earned over the years. There are too many to link to here, but I want to highlight a few from fellow puzzlers Brendan Emmett Quigley, Deb Amlen, and David Steinberg.

Merl, you will be missed. Thank you, for the laughs, for the tough crossings, the trickiest-of-tricky clues, and the many unexpected delights you managed to spring on so many solvers.

You can check out Merl’s work on his Sunday Crosswords website as well as some of his collections on Amazon. Click the links. You won’t regret it.

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

5 Questions with constructor Patrick Blindauer!

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 Patrick Blindauer as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

Any list of the top constructors in crosswords today simply has to include Patrick Blindauer. His puzzles have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the American Values Club Crossword, GAMES Magazine, and numerous other outlets, and Patrick is known for his devilishly clever themes and challenging puzzle grids.

As a regular contributor to the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament and co-host of this year’s Lollapuzzoola, Patrick represents both classic crossword traditions and the enterprising spirit of today’s most innovative constructors, pushing boundaries and continuing to explore just how devious and delightful crosswords can be.

Patrick 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 Patrick Blindauer

1.) How did you get started with puzzles?

My parents instilled my love of puzzles and games from an early age. I remember my mom got me an educational toy called Mr. Light, and my dad had a subscription to GAMES Magazine, which I would flip through when he was done with it. I loved the visual puzzles and the contests, but I didn’t get into crosswords until many years later when I decided to give up cigarettes and take up solving.

It was one of the best decisions I ever made, simultaneously improving my health and leading me to a new hobby and eventually to a new career. After a year of solving I tried constructing, and after a year of constructing something clicked and I made my first sale (a Thursday for the NYT, which ran on 7/21/05).

2.) Whether it’s the New York Times or the American Values Club Crossword, you’ve created some truly innovative and diabolical puzzles, like your famous dollar-bill-shaped crossword (featured above) or the New York Times puzzle from last year where multiple movie titles shared boxes. Do you have any favorite puzzles or clues, either your own or constructed by others? And on the flip side, what’s your least favorite example of crosswordese?

Thanks! Those are certainly the 2 New York Times crosswords which have gotten the most attention. Other favorites which spring to mind are my 7/4/07 New York Times puzzle*, the 12/17/09 New York Times puzzle I made with Francis Heaney, and the stuff I wrote for the NY Sun when I started out, which are collected in the book Patricks’ Puzzle Pandemonium: A Cavalcade of Crossword Craziness.

[*Glenn’s note: The 7/4/07 crossword was designed so that the letters “USA” could be found when certain boxes were shaded. It was no doubt a beast to construct. The 12/17/09 crossword was Noah’s Ark-themed, and animal names appeared side-by-side in the grid.]

I’m also the proud poppa of 5 Puzzlefests (interconnected xword suites with a final answer), which I offer through my website, and I’ve written a bunch of puzzle books (“Crossword Word Search” and “Wide-Screen Crosswords” are two of my favorites).

There are lots of other constructors whose work I enjoy, especially those who devise novel gimmicks that really push the envelope.

[Here, Patrick stands beside fellow puzzle constructor
(and game designer!) Mike Selinker.]

My least favorite xwordese is probably LST, though I try to avoid all xwordese when I can. Coming up with a fresh SST clue is tough too, so I just avoid putting it in the grid in the first place.

[Glenn’s note: LST is an abbreviation for an amphibious military craft, short for Landing Ship Tank. SST is an abbreviation for supersonic transport, like the former Concorde.]

3.) You’re also a musician, and both the best puzzles and enjoyable musical performances often have a sense of flow and elegance about them. Do you ever find yourself relying on your more puzzly skills while performing, conducting, or teaching?

Not consciously, no, but maybe I should!

4.) What’s next for Patrick Blindauer?

I actually have something very exciting to announce: I’ve been commissioned to write a 6-puzzle set for the New York Times! It will run Monday-Saturday sometime this fall, and the plan is to make it a contest, as well. I’m thrilled and honored to have the opportunity to do something like this. Wish me luck!

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

Keep your pencil sharp and your mind even sharper.


Many thanks to Patrick for his time. You can check out his PuzzleFests and other puzzly works on his website, and be sure to follow him on Twitter (@pblindauer) to keep up on all things Patrick. (You can also learn more about the Lollapuzzoola tournament at BeMoreSmarter.com.) No doubt, Patrick will have something fiendishly fun for solvers soon.

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

Wait a Minute, Mr. Postman…

With subscriptions to puzzle magazines like Will Shortz’s WordPlay and GAMES Magazine, as well as puzzle-by-mail services like The Uptown Puzzle Club and The Crosswords Club, there are plenty of ways to get puzzles by mail.

But one particular puzzler in the UK has put an intriguing twist on the idea of puzzles-by-mail: he’s challenged the carriers of the Royal Mail postal service to solve puzzles in order to deliver his mail.

A graphic designer by trade, James Addison was impressed by the diligence of the postmen of the Royal Mail, and he playfully decided to test their mettle with different challenges, including maps, word searches, pictograms, and other befuddling methods to conceal the intended destination of the letter.

From an article on The Telegraph website:

Although he enjoys solving puzzles himself, he said his hobby was fuelled by a desire partly to test the Royal Mail’s ingenuity and partly to honour old-fashioned letter-writing, following his mother’s advice that a handwritten thank-you note showed you had made an effort.

Well, Mr. Addison is certainly taking his mother’s words to heart. And it seems the postmen of the Royal Mail quite enjoy the spirited challenges his letters offer.

[To try your hand at solving some of Jim’s letters, including those pictured in this post, click here!]

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