Tag Archives: New York Times crossword puzzle

The Puzzle Of Alan Southworth

Westporters have a special relationship with the New York Times crossword puzzle.

Every year, puzzle editor Will Shortz hosts a competition at the library. (The upcoming 19th annual event is February 3.)

When library director Maxine Bleiweis retired in 2015, Shortz showed up — and presented her with a specially created, “MB”-themed puzzle.

Two months ago, “Westport” was even the answer to a clue — “Affluent Connecticut town” — in a Times crossword puzzle.

But our special relationship goes only so far. To be published by the paper, a puzzle must be good. Very good.

Alan Southworth’s is. Which is why — ta-da! — the 2010 Staples High School graduate makes his debut today as a New York Times puzzle constructor.

Alan Southworth (left) and Will Shortz, at last year’s Westport Library crossword puzzle contest.

The best constructors know a lot, about a lot of things. They have varied interests. Southworth definitely does.

At Staples he sang with the Orphenians, joined the jazz band, competed on the math team, and played freshman basketball.

At Princeton he majored in geosciences (and was certified in sustainable energy and environmental studies). He works now as an energy market consultant, in a Manhattan firm run by 2001 Staples grads Gabe Phillips and Jonathan Spivak. In his spare time, he plays singer-songwriter gigs around the city.

Southworth always loved words. He grew up playing Scrabble and Boggle with his mom, and relaxed before bed with Sudoku and KenKen.

In college, he discovered crosswords. He and his friends challenged themselves with the Times puzzle in the dining hall.

After graduation, he commuted nearly 2 hours each way. Vowing to be as productive as possible, he spent his train rides writing song lyrics. That soon morphed into crossword theme ideas.

His college friend Ryan McCarty had a couple of puzzles accepted by the Times. He wanted to collaborate. So Southworth devised themes. McCarty did most of the grid construction. Together they wrote clues.

They’ve kept a Google Doc of puzzle ideas ever since.

Their first 2 puzzles were rejected. This one was accepted, Southworth thinks, because the theme answers were a  bit “cleaner,” and the grid more open (fewer black squares in the middle).

Having a crossword accepted is quite an accomplishment. Having your first one run on a Thursday is remarkable. That’s the toughest day for a themed puzzle. (Monday is the easiest; Tuesday and Wednesday are a bit harder. Friday and Saturday are reserved for themeless — but more difficult — puzzles.)

Southworth has a digital subscription to the Times. But today he’ll buy a dead-tree copy of the paper — and make copies for his co-workers.

Here in Westport, his parents have promised to save their copy for him too.

And The Answer Is …

Today’s New York Times crossword puzzle starts easily.

1 Across:  “Home to Santa’s workshop.” 4 letters. Hmmm…”North Pole” doesn’t fit. So…just “Pole,” right?

Okay. 1 Down: “Affluent Connecticut town.” Also 4 letters.

Wow. I can’t think of any towns that start with “P.” Or even any 4-letter affluent Connecticut towns. Well, maybe Avon…

On to 5 Across, to the immediate right:  “Popular outdoor clothing brand, with ‘The.'” The only one I can think of is “North Face.” But there are only 4 squares. Leave that for later…

I’ll try the next one on the top line. 9 Across:  “Minnesota NHL team from 1967 to 1993.” That’s simple: “North Stars.” But wait — there are only 5 letters. So…just “Stars,” no?

Aha!

Every answer on the top is missing “North.”

Why would that be?

Oh yeah! Because they’re on the top line — in other words, the “North”!

So that must mean, um — the bottom line would be “South.”

Let’s check it out. 67 Across is “Country hosting the 2018 Winter Olympics.” I haven’t paid attention yet, but I’m guessing it’s not South Africa. What about…South Korea?

Yep — there are 5 squares. Bingo!

So back to the top — 1 Down. I’m betting every answer on the left side starts with “West.”

Which would make that “affluent Connecticut town” — the one with only 4 letters, starting with a “P” — “Westport”!

It’s a clever crossword. And I’ll be sure to thank Times puzzle editor Will Shortz for it personally, next February.

You know — when he makes his annual appearance at the Westport Library Crossword Competition!

Will Shortz at the Westport Library, last February.

(Hat tip: David Schwartz)

 

Ryan Milligan’s New York Times Success, Puzzlingly

Two years ago, Ryan Milligan had his 1st crossword puzzle published in the New York Times.

Today he’s got his 2nd.

Not bad for a 27-year-old.

Ryan Milligan

Long before he graduated from Staples High School in 2008, Ryan was solving Times crosswords with his dad.

In 11th grade he began creating his own. 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.”

Today’s is a typical Tuesday one. It’s clever, but not unsolvable. Clues and answers range from pop culture and sports to Edgar Allen Poe and commercial names.

Ryan says that this puzzle required “significantly less editing” than his debut.

I won’t give away the theme. But if you want a “clue,” check the headline of this story.

(To read what the New York Times crossword community is saying about Ryan Milligan’s puzzle, click here.)

Today’s puzzle

 

Ryan Milligan’s Puzzling Life

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.

Ryan Milligan

Ryan Milligan

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.

NY Times crosswordRyan 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.)

Today's puzzle, by Ryan Milligan. (Copyright/New York Times)

Today’s puzzle, by Ryan Milligan. (Copyright/New York Times)

Will Shortz Gets Booked

Will Shortz is sharp.

When asked what the title of his autobiography might be, he replied:  Times Square.

If that pun falls a bit flat, you’re 1 of the 3 Westporters who haven’t at least tried the New York Times crossword puzzle.

Will Shortz at the Westport Public Library tonight.

The rest of the town flocked to the Westport Public Library last night to honor Will Shortz at the 12th annual Booked for the Evening celebration.

They were not disappointed.

After music by the Doughboys; a Shortz-themed crossword puzzle by Times constructor Patrick Merrell; introductions by Phil Donohue and library director Maxine Bleiweis (battling pneumonia), and praise from Bill Clinton (via letter), the Times crossword editor/NPR puzzlemeister/Indiana University enigmatology major took the stage.

He led an audience participation word game whose rules are too complex to repeat here.  The key point is that — after some solid brain-twisting — the answer emerged:  “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

If I was half as clever as Will Shortz, I’d be a very happy man.

Word

Tom Brokaw, E.L. Doctorow, Calvin Trillin, Wendy Wasserstein, Pete Hamill, Martin Scorsese, Doris Kearns Goodwin, David Halberstam and Will Shortz.

If that was a clue — a long one — in a New York Times crossword puzzle, the answer would be:

Westport Library honorees.

The list is broad and diverse:  authors, historians, a TV newsman, a playwright, a film director.

On Thursday, May 27, the Library adds “crossword puzzle editor” to the list.

Will Shortz

Like previous “Booked for the Evening” honorees, Shortz loves words and language.  His forte is unique — games — but he is adored by millions of Americans for the joy he takes in puns, puzzles and wordplay.

He is sui generis — the only person in the world with a degree in enigmatology (“the study of puzzles”).  He also earned a law degree from the University of Virginia, a factoid that must delight hard-core fans (and puzzle his parents).

Shortz — who in his spare time is puzzlemaster for NPR’s “Weekend Edition Sunday” — has a long relationship with libraries in general, and Westport’s in particular.

Though he amassed many reference works in his Pleasantville, NY home — from the OED to specialized works covering opera, poetry, art, baseball, whatever — and he now uses the internet for most research, Shortz still frequents his local library.  He considers it “a friend, a place I can use whenever I want.”

In 2001 he agreed to provide puzzles for the Westport Library’s 1st crossword championship.  Ten years later, he’s still at it.  The “great time and great people” keep drawing him back.

On May 27, Shortz will talk a bit, then play interactive word games with the Westporters honoring him.  “We’ll test people,” he says.  “We’ll have fun.”

And if he were to clue “Westport” into a puzzle?

On a Monday, he says, it might be basic:  “Connecticut town on Long Island Sound.”

For a Saturday, though, he’d “find a fact that would be interesting to many people, but not well known. You’d need a lot of crossing letters to solve it.”

Sort of like:  Town whose library honored a puzzlemaster in 2010.

(Click here for tickets to the Westport Public Library’s “Booked for the Evening” benefit event.)