5 Questions for Author and Crucinova Editor Lisa Bunker

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 Lisa Bunker as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

Lisa Bunker is a lifelong puzzle fan and a constructor whose work has appeared in Games Magazine, The New York Times, and Simon & Schuster publications. Of course, this is in addition to her work as an author, an activist, and a representative for the state of New Hampshire.

But now having returned to the world of puzzles, Lisa is probably best known these days as the creator and editor of Crucinova, one of the most ambitious and innovative puzzle outlets on the rise in the puzzleworld today. (You might have seen them included in the Boswords puzzle packet, on r/crossword, or on Twitter!)

Lisa 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 Lisa Bunker

1. How did you get started with puzzles? Where did the idea for Crucinova originate?

Since infancy I’ve been fascinated by words, numbers, and the beautiful patterns that can be made with them. My childhood collection, still with me, was mechanical puzzles. My earliest memory of crosswords in particular is of becoming aware that my parents were interested in them, and then trying to make one for my father. I think this would have been when I was about eight.

It was a free-form vocabulary-style puzzle, and I recall my young brain delighting in discovering how you could cross two words at a shared letter, and then add more words and build something. By high school I had a hand-drawn grid in the back of a notebook that I would work on when I was bored in class, so by then I was figuring out how interlocking fill worked. I erased some squares so many times that I wore holes in the paper.

Crucinova arose out of several factors. One was my frustration at being unable to place unconventional puzzle ideas with any of the mainstream outlets. Also, on the solving side, my wife and I started doing the New York Times puzzle every day, and while we enjoyed it and still do, they did all seem to fall within narrow conventions with regard to themes, grid design, and cluing – the same conventions I remembered from twenty years ago.

I’ve always been interested in reinventing things, so I started thinking, surely there are other constructors with creative ideas they’re having trouble placing, and surely there are other solvers who would enjoy exciting new solving experiences. And when I found out that there was now a platform available that empowered anyone to offer online solving – PuzzleMe, from AmuseLabs – the last piece fell into place.

2. You have recently returned to constructing after a hiatus. How has the puzzle world changed over time? As you start to interact with the puzzle community at large again, what have you learned along the way?

I hesitate to set myself up as an expert on the Crossworld of yore, but obviously the Internet has changed everything. Back in 2006, the last time I was active nationally, most puzzles were still printed in daily publications rather than posted online, and submissions to the Times were still by snail mail. If there was online community around solving, I was not aware of it.

Now we have not only online solving from all the major outlets (including new ones like the Atlantic and the New Yorker), but also several indie subscription services and dozens of free personal constructor blogs, a thriving solver’s blog scene, indie tournaments, and abundant spaces on social media platforms for both constructors and fans to gather and share their enthusiasm. There are even Twitch TV channels where you can watch live solving, which I love. As an editor I find it so valuable to be able to witness someone solving a grid I edited.

What I’ve learned along the way is that the denizens of the Crossworld are truly lovely humans, generous, smart, funny, and kind. I’ve learned that there is a wonderful tribe to which I didn’t even know I belonged. What a delightful discovery!

3. Over the last few years, there has been a push for greater representation in crosswords for women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community. And there has been some movement forward, particularly for women in constructing and in editorial positions. How do we keep this momentum going? What are some useful things that allies can do to assist?

One way, obviously, to keep the momentum going is by supporting and celebrating diverse creators. As a Rainbow Human myself (I identify as trans, non-binary, and queer), I took inspiration from The Inkubator‘s mission to feature the work of female-identified constructors and to include more diverse content in fill and clues.

I’m also impressed with Sid Sivakumar’s new Juggernaut puzzles, which specifically foreground South Asian culture and content, and by the Queer Qrosswords project, which has sought to raise money for LGBTQ+ causes. I think there’s a ton of room for more culture-specific work like this, created by people from the cultures in question.

Another thing we can all do to help is to continue to encourage more new diverse folk to get involved in constructing. I would estimate that three quarters of submissions to Crucinova still come from straight white men. All submissions are welcome…but what can we do to empower everyone else? How do we continue to deconstruct unspoken assumptions about who is and isn’t allowed to do this work? It’s an endless project in which we are all involved.

[The diabolical grid from Michael Buerke’s Quadripoint puzzle,
one of the free sample puzzles on the Crucinova website.]

4. What’s next for Lisa Bunker? What’s next for Crucinova?

Crosswords are actually not my main gig. I’m a writer first and foremost. At the moment I have two books out on submission, one a Young Adult fantasy with gender-revolutionary elements, the other a pointed political novel for adults about what we all went through together in the year 2020.

I also have an exciting new collaboration in the works about which I’m not yet at liberty to say anything specific, and I have ideas for three or four more books in the pipeline. So, my plan for the foreseeable future is to just keep writing, while also keeping Crucinova humming along, turning out an excellent puzzle each week.

As for Crucinova, it is still in its early stages, so for now the plan is to keep trying to grow the business. I’ve committed to paying my constructors, so I need a certain number of subscribers to break even, and so far we are some hundreds of memberships away from that goal.

Long term, if we manage to become self-sustaining, I can imagine putting out books of Crucinova grids, and possibly some special projects – spearheading the effort to get a crossword emoji, for example. Crucinova is a business, and I think it’s crucial for businesses to find a way to give back, so as soon as we have any profits to share, I’ll be wanting to find a way to share them.

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

To solvers I would say, please consider paying for your puzzles. I know that many excellent constructors are offering their work for free, which is their right and which benefits us all, but at the same time, constructing is an art, and I think artists should be paid for their work.

My advice to constructors comes from what I’ve learned transitioning from constructor to editor. When you’re making puzzles, you are free to imagine all kinds of wild and amazing things. Coolness of concept can become an end in itself, and I totally get that. But when you are selecting and editing puzzles, you have to think about giving solvers a satisfying puzzle experience. I get so many submissions to which my response has to be, I’m amazed by what you’ve made here, but I can’t see how to turn it into something fun and fair for my subscribers. So the advice is, think of the solver.

To puzzle enthusiasts everywhere, of whatever stripe, I would simply say, I feel you. I share your geeky joy. Let’s keep doing what we love, and keep lifting each other up.


A huge thank you to Lisa for her time. You can follow her on Twitter for updates on all of her various projects, and be sure to check out Crucinova for some very cool, experimental, and outside-the-box puzzles. Whatever she and the Crucinova constructors cook up next, you know it’s going to be great.


dailypopwsicon

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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!

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Inclusiveness in Puzzles: New LGBTQ+ Scrabble Words!

wordwithfriendsjedi

From time to time, someone will ask me whether a certain word is appropriate for a crossword. It could be a new constructor, or an aspiring constructor, or a fan of crosswords. It could be about a relatively new slang term, or an obscure word, or a foreign word, or a celebrity. Sometimes, they’re wondering if it’s too hard, or too new, or too niche, or whether it’s appropriate for crosswords at all.

That’s the thing. There is no one source you can go to for all your crossword questions. There’s no definitive list of appropriate words or phrases, because the language is constantly changing and evolving. Pop culture is dynamic, and new ideas, concepts, and personalities are always cropping up. In that way, crosswords are essentially eternal, because the source material constantly shifts in popularity and familiarity. There are always new words to fill those iconic black-and-white grids.

But, if you were looking for that mythical definitive list of appropriate words, it’s not unreasonable to assume you’d go to the International Scrabble Dictionary, the official source for what is allowed as a valid answer word in a game of Scrabble.

Recently, for the first time since 2015, new words were added to the approved list. Over 2800 fresh entries are now officially eligible for tournament and at-house use, and they’ll all appear in the latest edition of Collins Official SCRABBLE Words. (Collins, which also publishes the Collins English Dictionary, added the words after they were approved for use in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary last year. These 2800 words join over 276,000 already approved for Scrabble play.)

It’s quite appropriate that we’re covering this story in June. As many of you are aware, June is Pride Month, and awareness of LGBTQ+ issues and culture affects all aspects of life, even puzzle games!

Among those 2800 newly-approved entries are non-binary and gender-neutral words like “genderqueer” and “agender,” as well as related terminology like “misgender” and “cisgender.”

But the LGBTQ+-friendly term that’s getting the most attention in Scrabble circles is “ze”. This two-letter word is a gender-neutral pronoun, allowing individuals who don’t identify as strictly male (he/him) or female (she/her) to better differentiate themselves and their gender identity.

letterz

For Scrabble players, the word opens up a whole host of new possibilities. After all, “ze” allows far greater opportunity to score big points by playing that valuable Z tile. (“Ze” is only the third two-letter z-word to be authorized for the game, joining “za” and “zo.”)

Now, obviously, in the grand scheme of things, this is a very small step for LGBTQ+ representation, but it is a step. After all, every opportunity to include LGBTQ+ culture and embrace it is part of making it a more familiar part of life for all of us.

In this small way, Scrabble includes previously marginalized individuals by not only accepting these new words, but by changing and adapting in order to do so. It’s an act of welcoming.

Here’s hoping there are far more acts like this, big and small, to come.

[Sources: Pride.com, New York Times, Collins Dictionary.]


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Pride in London gets puzzly!

It is always inspiring to see puzzles being used to benefit others. Just recently, I wrote about the ambitious (and successful!) Women of Letters project, a puzzle packet designed as a bonus incentive to donate to worthy women’s causes and charities.

Yes, many of those charities are based here in the United States, but worry not: there are puzzly endeavors overseas working and collaborating with other worthy causes. Today, let’s look at one wonderful project happening just across the pond in England.

Pride in London is an annual pro-LGBTQ+ festival, one of the longest running in the United Kingdom, and it celebrates the diversity and spirit of the UK LGBTQ+ community. It’s a marvelous event, one that attracts a million visitors to London every summer.

And one of London’s premiere escape rooms is playing a part, presenting a series of special offers exclusively for the Pride in London festival.

Breakin Escape Rooms is hosting several dates across June and July for members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community, and they call the event Escape With Pride.

From the announcement page:

Get locked in one of our thrilling themed rooms, solving the puzzles inside to escape before the time runs out! Come on your own and meet new people, or get a team together. There’s a maximum of 6 players in one room, and a minimum of 3.

Whether you’re a pirate, detective, superhero or space-trooper there’s a game here for everyone. Can you escape with Pride?

A donation will be made to Pride from each ticket sold…

Escape With Pride events will be held on the following nights:

  • Wed June 13
  • Wed June 20
  • Thu June 28
  • Wed July 4

Honestly, I think this is an awesome way to celebrate Pride in London. Just think about it. Escape rooms are all about working together, relying on friends and strangers alike, to complete an important task. It’s exactly what the LGBTQ+ community has been doing for decades, and precisely what the community is celebrating with Pride in London.

(Of course, the stakes are lower — and a bit sillier — with the escape rooms, but still, the metaphor works.)

Will you be attending Pride in London or the one of the Escape With Pride events, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let us know in the comments below! We’d love to hear from you!


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!