If you think completing a New York Times crossword puzzle is tough, creating one that makes its way into the paper of record, well that would be quite a four letter word meaning great accomplishment, yes, a feat.
Dartmouth College digital humanities librarian Laura Braunstein and her co-creator Erik Agard accomplished that great feat this past December, when their puzzle was published in the Times.
Braunstein has been constructing puzzles for a few years, with some even published over the past year in independent puzzle outlets. While she has submitted a few of her own to the Times before, this one was her first selected.
"When I was a kid, my grandfather used to tear the crossword out of the paper and just stick it in his pocket with a little stub of pencil," Braunstein explained. "And just walk around at any spare moment and just try and complete it. And he would ask me for help, even when I was 8 or 9 years old," Braunstein said. "He was an immigrant and he used it to practice English. Even after he had been in the country 50 years, he still loved learning."
Braunstein uses a software, like most puzzle creators, to make crosswords.
And they always have a theme. The title for her Times-accepted puzzle is "Full-Body Cast."
"It involves people within a specific profession that have certain things in common about their name. The trick was to figure out what that was and how to enter it into the grid in a specific way," she explains.
Increasingly, people are solving puzzles on smartphones and tablets as they go about their day. There are a number of crossword apps available. Agard also publishes puzzles on his blog, Glutton for Puns, where they publish puzzles, allowing them to reach a wider audience. Most creators offer a PDF download of their puzzles for people who prefer to put pencil to paper.
For people interested in creating puzzles, software is one way.
"Some people recommend just grabbing some graph paper and looking at crosswords you like and start with the smaller ones that are 15-by-15 squares. I would say even take a grid structure from a puzzle that you liked and think of things that may fit in it," Braunstein said.
This particular puzzle was a challenge and they "working with Eric, I knew that we had something that we were very proud of," she said, but it was great to reach that goal and see it published.