Sunday, June 27, 2010

Will Shortz, Enigmatologist

Today, Will Shortz, puzzle-master and NYT crossword editor, spoke to a crowd of curious librarians and crossword solvers.

He told us about what makes a crossword up to his standards, and a little about how he edits the puzzles.

The Basics:
  • Crossword puzzles in New York Times must be symmetrical. This is mostly for the aesthetic.
  • Every letter must be “checked,” meaning that every letter in an across word, must also be in a down word and vice versa.
  • Words should not have double letters.
  • A word cannot be repeated within a single puzzle.
Oh, and one thing he said seems intuitive, but apparently isn’t: PUZZLES CANNOT HAVE MADE UP WORDS.

Will believes the clues to his puzzles should really make you think. He takes immense pride in his crosswords being creative. He said that in a great crossword, the grids should be packed with lively and colorful words and phrases.

Fun Facts:
  • The youngest crossword “constructor” to be published in the NYT is 14 years young; he was published just this year.
  • Will, himself, started writing crosswords at 16.
  • Will usually writes (rewrites) about 50% of the clues of the published puzzles. For instance, a clue was submitted for the word aire: clue= "Leds river." Will changed the clue to: "suffix to zillion."
Then, of course, we played some games. One of which included Will giving us some examples of clues that had been submitted, but were incorrect in some way. We had to guess what made them inadequate crossword clues.

The librarians’ favorite:
Clue: Imply = Infer
****We all know that imply and infer are not synonyms!

Hearing Will talk was really interesting. Only at a place like ALA do you have the opportunity to get a glimpse into the mind of the man whose name you see every day on the NYT Crossword. I never thought of a crossword being about colorful language, but as Will was describing some of his favorite puzzles, it was easy to see the true artistry a “Shortz-caliber” puzzle exudes.

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