It's amazing what you learn from crosswords. Today I learned that ANNE RICE was born Howard Allen O'Brien. Her mother liked the name. The Saturday, September 13 puzzle (answers) by Will Nediger wraps up Teen Week at the Times.
Artists of any stripe struggle to find their voice. Mr. Nediger is starting to establish a recognizable personal style. He has an unusual sense of humor that I enjoy and a confidence that belies his youth. And maybe great software. Whatever, it works.
Back when I interviewed Caleb Madison I was able to include a photo of him with Jemaine Clement. (Knowing who Mr. Clement is will be important if you ever want to pass yourself off as a cool teenager.) Will Nediger joins in with his own celebrity photo, a definer of cool in an earlier age. That's Tommy Chong in the middle and Mr. Nediger on the right. I can't tell where the photo was taken but it seems clear the trio traveled either years into the future or to a galaxy far, far away.
JH: Hi, Will, and thanks for speaking with me. According to today's notepad, you’re an 18-year old second-year student at the University of Western Ontario. What are you studying?
WN: I'm majoring in linguistics, which is no surprise to anyone who knows me and my love for all things word-related, which is also what got me into cruciverbalism and Scrabble. Of course, it turns out Scrabble isn't really a word game at bottom and a lot of linguistics is pretty mathematical, but at least crosswords are still an activity for logophiles.
JH: What is your solving and constructing background? What first prompted you to build your own? Tell me about getting your first puzzle published back in May, 2006.
WN: I've been solving for as long as I can remember. I wore out many a pad of graph paper constructing when I was younger, but my early efforts were full of entries like MITSU (clued with relation to Mitsubishi somehow) and worse. I never constructed themelesses, either, though nowadays those are mostly what I construct. I sent my very first attempt at a themeless to Peter Gordon and, predictably, it was rejected but I sent in a few more and slowly improved with Peter's guidance. I had lots of experience with the NY Sun by the time I tried the Times, so I think my second submission to the Times was accepted.
JH: How does being a Canadian affect your puzzle construction?
WN: There are lots of things most Canadians know that would be a mystery to Americans and vice versa, so some things which don't seem like obscurities actually will be to American solvers who make up most of the audience. The Quebec Act, for example, which I included in my Q&A Session puzzle, is part of every Canadian schoolchild's education, but fairly obscure for non-Canadians. Still, that didn't stop me from crossing QUEBECACT with EGOYAN. On the flip side, there's lots of Americana I don't know that most solvers do.
JH: What other puzzles besides crosswords do you like?
WN: Most anything, but I'm a professed anti-Sudokist.
JH: Which constructors do you particularly admire?
WN: I'm a themeless fanatic and I especially like Karen Tracey's creations which usually have creative grid designs framed with plenty of fresh and Scrabbly entries. Frank Longo's grid-filling prowess is also amazing, particularly in his large puzzles in Simon & Schuster. These are often packed with fill entries intersecting multiple theme entries which is always hard to pull off. I can always count on a puzzle with Byron Walden or Ben Tausig in the byline to be fun.
JH: How specifically has Will Shortz or Peter Gordon helped you?
WN: Will always includes useful comments with his rejection letters and even sometimes with acceptance letters. (I'll resist the temptation to make the inevitable "constructive criticism" pun here.) And he's very in touch with the cruciverbal zeitgeist which makes it a lot easier for constructors to know what he expects from submissions.
I remember Peter redoing a corner of an early themeless which he accepted. Initially I was really concerned with keeping the short fill clean, to the detriment of the longer fill. So I had a corner in which every entry was decent, but none of them had any sparkle. This works well for a themed puzzle (Stan Newman does this well), but not so well for a themeless, so he jazzed up the corner a little. I don't remember my original fill, but his had BARSCENE / IRISHSEA / TEETOTAL stacked.
JH: What advice do you have for other people wanting to get into crossword construction?
WN: Keep an eye on the blogosphere so you know what solvers like and what they don't. Then, once you've figured out what people like, ignore it. With time, you'll be able to satisfy editors while still sticking with your own style.
I particularly like that last quote.