The New York Times is the gold standard of crossword puzzles. If you can solve one, you feel pretty good.
If you can actually create and sell one to Times puzzle editor Will Shortz, you feel even better.
Ryan Milligan did just that. His crossword puzzle was published today. Not too shabby for a 25-year-old.
Then again, while at Staples High School he was already making crosswords. He got the bug helping his dad, Marty, solve the Times puzzle before school each morning (Ryan’s specialty was French clues). Soon, he was solving them on his own — on the bus, or during free periods.
Starting as a junior, the Class of 2008 member created one crossword a week. He’d print 150 copies, and leave them in the lobby. By lunchtime, they’d be gone.
His first puzzles, he admits, were “truly terrible.” Over the years, he honed his craft. He learned to fit the Times standard: 180-degree symmetry, fewer than 40 black squares, fewer than 78 words, no 2-letter entries, etc.
Ryan submitted his 1st puzzle to Shortz as a senior. It was rejected. So were the 10 or so that followed.
But the puzzle editor has been “an incredible mentor” over the past 8 years, Ryan says.
Shortz always gave full explanations for the rejection. Usually the theme was tired, or had been used before.
This time, Ryan hit paydirt. (Actually it was a year ago. Shortz has a long waiting list for publication.)
SPOILER ALERT: Today’s theme is “Hidden in plain sight.” The word “hidden” is hidden in the 1st long across row. The words “in plain” are hidden in the 2nd long row; the word “sight” is hidden in the 3rd one. The 4th long across row reveals the overall theme.
Ryan thinks Shortz liked it because it was “really different. Constructors often take standard phrases and change a letter or 2 around to make them wacky. But this is something that has really not been tried before.”
Shortz is a hands-on editor. He changed some of the long across answers, then pulled in Frank Longo to rework the puzzle a bit more.
Ryan is not resting on his laurels. He creates a crossword every couple of weeks, submitting those he feels are print-worthy.
The Dartmouth graduate works in marketing for Wayfair.com, an online furniture retailer. He lives in Boston.
Today he’ll walk around the city. Perhaps he’ll see someone trying to solve the puzzle he made. Few people read the constructors’ names; even those who do won’t know they’re working on “his” puzzle.
Ryan Milligan will be hidden in plain sight.
(To read what the New York Times crossword community is saying about Ryan Milligan’s puzzle, click here.)