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 fifth edition of our 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 Chez Knox as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!
It doesn’t matter if they’re squares or hexagons; if you’re talking grids of repeated shapes, Chez Knox has you covered.
Her debut crossword puzzle will be published by The Inkubator later this year, so you know her skills with squares are topnotch. And as for the hexagons, she recently contributed the Alabama hexagon to a crowd-sharing effort to complete a 50-states quilt. The national quilt museum even had exhibition space reserved for the quilt before COVID complications cancelled the exhibit.
And now, fellow quilting/sewing enthusiast Shannon Downey is taking this Internet-united work of quilt creativity around the country to share the power of art and craftivism, thanks to creative folks like Chez.
Chez 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 Chez Knox
1. How did you get started with puzzles?
The Sunday newspaper was a bit of a ritual around my house growing up. My dad and I always read the comics and did the word puzzles together.
2. 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?
Everyone genuinely wants to help a constructor succeed. I think I’ve been most surprised at the size of the cruciverbalist community – there are a lot of people out there into this kind of work!
What, in your estimation, makes for a great puzzle?
A great puzzle has a very clever theme connecting dots I’ve never before connected.
A good clue gives me so much joy! Lately I like finding puzzles with a well-executed clue echo. There’s a hint of nuance to this technique that makes me smile. (A clue echo is when the same clue is used twice in a puzzle. It is usually one word or a very short phrase. The answers contrast each other but connect through the clue.)
One example might be: 2D and 34A may both be clued as “Green” and the answers might be ENVIOUS and UNSEASONED.
What do you most enjoy — or try hardest to avoid — when constructing your own?
I try to avoid crosswordese – common fillers like ENO, OLIO, EKE, etc. But sometimes they are little words that sneak into a grid fill so that the sanity of the constructor is saved.
3. Do you have any favorite crossword themes or clues, either your own or those crafted by others? Who inspires you as a constructor?
My favorite themes are ones that highlight words inside of theme words/phrases. It could be a hidden word that plays on the meaning of the theme entry word or a handful of theme entries containing a common word among them. In the grid design, squares that make up this word would be shaded or circled.
An example of this kind of theme is given in Patrick Berry’s Crossword Constructor Handbook.
- CLAUDE MONET
- MADE MONEY
- SIMON DEMONTFORT
Do you see the common word here? (It’s DEMON)
I find Erik Agard’s puzzles to be particularly eloquent and clever. They challenge me in a new way and I love that! That’s the kind of feeling I want my puzzles to give people.
4. What’s next for Chez Knox?
The day-to-day answer is more puzzle construction practice. My goal is to get to a place where one of my puzzles is being published once a month.
Zooming out from the day-to-day, I’ve had a lot of change in my life recently so I don’t want to think about anything new for a while! My husband and I are settling into a new house while I’m setting into life as a Waldorf class teacher after 20 years in the field of IT. I have a class of first graders that I will teach all the way through eighth grade! (How fun is that?!)
Meanwhile, daily crossword puzzles keep me grounded and in connection with my love of the English language. I am SO EXCITED to be a boring person who delights in making a home, teaching, sewing, and solving/constructing crossword puzzles!
5. What’s one piece of advice you would offer fellow solvers, aspiring constructors/setters, and puzzle enthusiasts?
There are lots of free constructing resources available but if you’re serious about creating your own puzzles, you’ll need to pay for things like software and word lists.
A huge thank you to Chez for her time. You can follow her on Instagram for all of her creative endeavors, and be sure to keep your eyes peeled for her Inkubator debut! I can’t wait to see what she creates next!
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