Meet the Puzzle Makers of New York Times Games – The New York Times

Chess Puzzles

Where do you live?

The Upper East Side of Manhattan in New York City.

Oct. 22, 2009. I was a senior at Julia R. Masterman high school in Philadelphia. I had just turned 17.

I solved all sorts of puzzles as a kid. My first memory of solving crosswords was during a trip to Israel when I was in seventh grade. My mom bought me a book of New York Times Monday puzzles for the plane. I failed miserably, only getting a few answers per puzzle and was perplexed at how anyone could know Elvis Presleys middle name or the name of an extinct New Zealand bird. (ARON and MOA. Now I know.)

My dad was a regular New York Times Crossword solver, completing the puzzle each day with his morning coffee. He used to print out the puzzle for me to take on my train ride to school, and I got hooked on crossword solving.

In my sophomore year of high school, I would doodle little crosswords in my notebooks, and progressed to making a few full-size puzzles for my dad and my aunt Amy to solve. Amy bought me Crossword Compiler (a crossword-making software) as a birthday gift that year, and I was off to the races. I only considered myself a professional at this once I was hired at The Times in 2014. Before that, it was just a fun hobby.

My favorite game is chess, which was my lifelong passion before I got into crosswords. I like the way it sharpens my mind, and the fact that there are endless chances to improve and learn. Games and puzzles that involve mental dexterity, strategic planning and creativity tend to be my favorites.

The Mini was the brainchild of Matt Hural, a former Games team director at The Times. He wanted something free and easy for visitors to the app to play and, in consultation with Will Shortz, they came up with a daily 5x5 crossword.

Id interned with Will Shortz the previous three summers, and was about to start working as his full-time assistant, so he recommended that I make it. My mind-set at the time was, Say yes to everything and figure it out later, so I accepted the gig without really having any idea how much it would shape my career going forward.

I appreciate having a creative outlet in The New York Times, of all places! where I can share the random bits of trivia and silly puns that pop into my head.

Its also really gratifying to meet people for whom the Mini is a small bit of joy each day. That feels like a sign that Im doing something worthwhile.

I use puzzle-constructing software called Crossfire, along with the XWord Info word list, which Ive helped curate a bit.

From all parts of my life, really: A book Im reading, a museum Ive visited, or a conversation with a friend.

I try to keep a notebook or sticky notes on me, so that if inspiration strikes for a fun clue/answer pairing, I can jot it down and make a puzzle out of it later. Ive found that even just taking a long walk in Central Park and letting my mind wander can do the trick. I will say that the Covid pandemic, with its perpetual sameness of time spent in my apartment, has made the creative process harder since theres just less life to draw on.

A Sunday puzzle that I made back in 2011 called Getting in Shape.

Im proud of this one because the idea is simple yet satisfying to crack, and the construction has a lot of elegant interlock, despite the many thematic constraints.

At that time, my constructing software was pretty basic, so I had to rely mostly on intuition and trial-and-error to get a good fill. In some ways, that work is more satisfying than when my tools became more sophisticated.

Even though the Mini covers subjects in the news, Ive basically avoided any references to Covid-19 (besides the occasional shout out to Dr. Anthony Fauci), since I think people get enough of that in the rest of the paper.

I know all the answers now so, no!

Join us here to solve Crosswords, The Mini, and other games by The New York Times

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Meet the Puzzle Makers of New York Times Games - The New York Times

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