Crafting a crossword puzzle.

Crafting a crossword puzzle.

In Part 2 of our conversation about the intricacies of puzzle creation, Rich Norris, who supplies our daily crossword, and his editor, James Lower, discuss how the games are made.

Q. Rich, the crossword credit line includes names besides yours. What do you look for in puzzle partners?

A. Most constructors tend to favor making a particular type of puzzle. Some stick to early-week easy ones; some like gimmickry and wordplay; and some do almost exclusively themeless puzzles. Each type of puzzle calls for a different approach and a somewhat different personality. As a group, though, all constructors are well-read, well-organized and cooperative (there are often several revisions involved in getting to a publishable puzzle).

Q. Take us through the process.

A. The typical crossword is put together in three steps. The theme comes first. Once the theme answers are placed in the puzzle grid, the constructor determines the surrounding non-theme words and phrases, known as “fill.”

Most constructors keep notebooks or online files with partial puzzle ideas. For example, a page in a notebook might simply have FIX and SPOT written down – a result of the constructor’s realization that both words can mean “difficult situation.” The words must be fit into familiar phrases. The phrases need to be in pairs to satisfy the puzzle’s symmetry requirement. In this example, they should be used in a context unrelated to a “difficult situation.”

Changing the context helps conceal the theme from solvers, making the experience an adventure. The goal is to provide a moment of revelation, which we refer to as the “aha moment,” when solvers discover the connection.

Do you have more questions for any of the three of us? Contact me at gfbrown@tribune.com. If there’s enough interest, we’ll do another Trib Nation column on the topic.       

--Geoff Brown, Associate Managing Editor / Entertainment