Creating puzzles with clues to the Word

The Baltimore Sun

Timothy E. Parker lives a puzzled life.

But he does it on purpose. In fact, he enjoys making brainteasers for the millions of people who attempt to solve the crossword puzzles he designs for newspapers nationwide, including The Sun and USA Today.

And recently, Parker published a book of games and puzzles directed at a new audience -- those seeking to learn more about the Holy Bible.

King James Games -- a compilation of more than 200 Bible-based puzzles -- hit stores in February.

"It's about 350 pages, and as you solve the puzzle, it teaches you the Bible," says Parker, who is an associate pastor at Tabernacle of Deliverance Christian Center in Baltimore.

"The book gives churches a new way of distributing the Word," he says. "It's a fun way of learning the Bible and remembering its message."

Parker's fascination with puzzles began when he was a child in East Baltimore.

The childhood fascination grew into a hobby he continued as an adult. He'd solve crossword puzzles in books and newspapers.

"I wasn't nerdy. In fact, I was very active in sports, but I just liked puzzles," Parker says.

Then, one day in 1996, he turned his hobby into a money-making venture, quitting his $50,000-a-year job as a tire-store manager.

"The Lord gave me a word about 10 years ago," Parker says. "And that word was 'puzzle.' I had just come from church. And when I spoke the word, my wife said she felt a spiritual electricity. That was odd because I had felt the same thing."

He began searching the Internet for more information about crossword puzzles and soon discovered a niche.

"I discovered that none of the newspapers had [interactive] crossword puzzles," he says.

So he created his own daily interactive crossword puzzle, "The Universal Crossword," which could be played on a computer.

Users could play with a puzzle that included three innovative buttons. One button printed the solution to the puzzle. The other two either filled in the word or a letter to give the player clues.

He sold his idea to newspapers by e-mailing them the link to his Web page, which featured the puzzle. His easy-to-use puzzles were first sold to seven newspapers. Within about three years, his puzzles were published in print and online by hundreds of newspapers nationwide.

With this success, Parker started a company, Master Puzzles Inc., and hired 60 puzzle-constructors.

"I created the company because I saw that there was a need for really strong puzzles," he says. "Then I recruited people so that I wouldn't have to do it all on my own," he adds with a chuckle.

Today, his puzzles are distributed by Universal Press Syndicate.

In May 2000, Parker was named the "World's Most Syndicated Puzzle Compiler" by the Guinness Book of World Records. Three years later, he was named USA Today's senior editor of crossword puzzles.

He plans to put together other Bible-based puzzle books for Andrews McMeel Publishing, publisher of King James Games.

"They won't be all exactly the same," he says. "There will be some specifically for children or some that are developed differently."

He is also working with game-show magnate Merv Griffin on developing puzzles for Let's Play Crossword, a game show that is expected to premiere on NBC on Sept. 10.

Pastor Petersem Burke of the Tabernacle of Deliverance Christian Center says he's encouraging his members to use Parker's puzzle book as another way to learn about God and the Scriptures.

"It's a great opportunity to learn about God," Burke says. "For many of the [puzzle] questions, you have to go to the Bible for answers. You want people to open up the Bible."

Staff reporter Karlayne Parker contributed to this article.

Timothy E. Parker

Age: 46

Profession: Puzzle master

Education: B.A. degree in communications from the University of Maryland

Family: Married to Giselle Parker for 25 years. Two children, a son and a daughter

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