The Best Crossword Constructors of All Times

Knowing the tactics of solving crossword isn’t an easy task, but learning to construct puzzles is way more challenging.

Crossword constructors are the ones who design puzzles, give life to them, nurture them and introduce them to the world.

We have interesting puzzles designed by the best of constructors.

Did you know what’s running in the mind of a crossword constructor while he is making a challenging puzzle?

The daily crossword puzzles are a combination of sweat, creativity, and knowledge of the fundamental rules.

There is a complete process followed when a constructor creates a puzzle that is inclusive of selecting the theme, designing a workable grid, filling the complete grid and writing the clues.

Themes have to be fresh, specifically defined and consistently applied through the puzzle.

The Word-weaving skill

The well-crafted crosswords that appeal to a broad range of crossword lovers are developed by intelligent, literate, and creative crossword constructors.

Most constructors are professional, serious amateurs who give their heart and soul into making the quiz.

Constructors, editors, and publishers are the ones who make and distribute puzzles.

The making of a crossword is the reverse of construction.

Instead of deducing the solution from the clues that a solver follows, the maker puts the clue and tries to match the answer together so that it fits well in the grid. 

Well, anyone can’t randomly choose a career as a crossword constructor, he should have a lot of passion and love for words.

Let’s explore the journey of the best crossword constructors of the world. Know their struggles, inspirations first published puzzles and interesting incidents that went into their successful career.

1. Will Shortz

An enigmatologist who is considered as the ‘God of the Crossword Puzzle World.

He is the only academically accredited puzzle master in the world.

Background

Will Shortz knew what he wants from life, and this was depicted when he wrote an essay in school saying he will become a crossword constructor when he grows up.

His family had a routine of playing jigsaw puzzles every evening.  

Everyone use to sleep but he used to stay up all night until the puzzle was solved.

Mr. Shortz gained a love for words from his mother, who was a writer.

Every puzzle attracted him in school, but his favorite ones were numbers, logic, and mystery puzzles.

After graduating from law school, he entered directly into the world of crosswords.

Will Shortz got inspired by someone who majored in magic, and he then thought he should also opt for major in enigmatology.

He then became the only person to hold a degree in puzzles through the Individualized Major Program at Indiana University (1974).

The Crossword Journey

He became the editor of Penny Press Puzzle Magazine for almost seven months.

Then he switched to Game magazines and worked for 15 long years.

Since 1993 till today, he is an editor at The New York Times. Initially, when he joined the New York Times crossword, he took over Eugene Maleska who was 36 years older than him.

Now he doesn’t construct the puzzles but chooses the best from different contributors so that it gets published in The New York Times.

From 75-100 puzzles, he has to pick the best ones and edit them every day.

He never published the crossword as it is. He makes changes as some of the clues are the ones he made years ago and then sends them for posting.

Every puzzle is cross-checked and verified multiple times before getting published in the electronic and print media.  

Favorite Crossword Puzzle

Election Day 1966 is his all-time favorite, and one of the major reasons is that this crossword broke all records.

Solvers never expected that there could be a puzzle where the answers may vary.

Actually, this crossword goes against the logic of having two solutions. This never happened ever in the history of the crossword.

This was the same year when Bill Clinton and Bob Dole, were competing for presidential elections.

The clue for the middle section was “headline in tomorrow’s newspaper,” and the solution could be “Clinton Elected” or “BobDole Elected “.

The answer would change all the answers to the crossword.

For example, if the solver wrote Clinton, the next clue was “black Halloween animal” to which the answer is ‘cat,’ but if someone wrote Bob Dole, then the answer was ‘bat’. This brilliant crossword won the hearts of many.

Favorite Clues

‘First two time novelist’. Answer: Marie Curie. When St.Patrick’s day celebrated. Answer: Mid-March.

 Accomplishments

  • He is crazy about crossword construction. He has invented KenKen. He does fun things on NPR every weekend but for him being the puzzle editor at “The New York Times’ is the most prestigious job.
  • Mr.Shortz is one who started The American Crossword Tournament and World Puzzle Championship.
  • In North America, he has opened one of the largest table tennis centers.
  • With his public appearances and programs like ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’ and ‘The Simpsons’, he has become an inspiration for many crossword lovers.
  • He has been into the crossword industry for years now and has understood how to handle fame. 

He said it feels great being famous but even if he wasn’t, he didn’t mind.

He only wanted to make crossword his life and that is something he has achieved. Crossword puzzles imbibe his happiness and he will always be remembered as a great crossword aficionado personality.

Whether you ask him about the first-ever crossword book published by Simon & Schuster in 1924 or reminiscing about the influence of his mother who was an author had on his life, you will notice that his enthusiasm is certainly genuine. 

When discussed his career, he explains he had been very blessed and lucky to be following and pursuing his passion.  How many in the world do that? 

In his words, “if you can figure out what you want to do in life and then focus towards the goal and make a living out of it, life will be beautiful.”

Books Published 

He has written over 500 books on puzzles some of them are:

  • Wittiest Wackiest Crossword
  •  Tons of Puns
  •  Sleepy Sudoku
  •  Will’s Best
  •  Lazy Day Sudoku
  •  The New York Times Supersized Book of Sunday Crosswords
  •  The Puzzlemaster Presented: 200 Mind-Bending Challenges. 

2. Brendan Emmett Quigley

Brendan Emmett Quigley, better known as ‘Crossword Wunderkind’ is the sixth most published constructor of the New York Times.

Personal background

In kindergarten, when boys drew tanks and dinosaurs and girls drew unicorns and rainbows, Brendan Emmett Quigley drew mazes.

He entered the world of crossword in the final year in college.

He was into a job for a law firm and was looking for a distraction when he started solving Time Puzzle every day.

After three months of religious practicing, he figured how to construct them.

The approach towards crossword construction

With every puzzle, it is attempted overemphasis of good stuff and de-emphasis of boring. Having a specific voice means being the first person.

He feels one should never keep overthinking about the theme but have fun with it. Once the theme is chosen, next is slotting answers in the grid.

The best way to fill the grid is to choose answers that follow the simple pattern, vowel, consonant, vowel, consonant.

Once this is done, he starts writing interesting clues-steering solver back towards the themed puzzle and keep the emphasis on wordplay.

Accomplishments

He is a professional puzzle maker since 1996 and he has made many accomplishments since then.

The crossword constructors create custom made puzzles for various occasions like birthday, bar mitzvahs, anniversaries and retirements.

If you are someone who needs a puzzle regarding something, he can make one for you as well.

His puzzles have also been a part of Creators Syndicate, Dell Champion, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Posts, Games Magazine, Tribune Media Services, USA Today, The New York Sun, The Crossword Club, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.

His work is so prominent that it is discussed on Sunday Night Football.

Books published

  1. Diagramless Crossword
  2. Drunk Crossword,
  3. Octopus Crossword
  4. The New York Times Crossword All-Stars
  5. Sit & Solve Marching Bands are a few of the thirty crossword books published by Brendan Emmett Quigley.

3. Ryan McCarty

He is a well-known crossword puzzle maker of ‘The New York Times’.

The first crossword published – June 17, 2017

 

Favorite crossword clue

Clue: crossword agent for climate change from The New York Times puzzle by Paula Gamache.

Background

As a child, he played a lot of word games like Scrabble, Boggle, and Bananagrams and tried plenty of puzzle books.

Crosswords were never the first love as he felt they required a lot of knowledge. Instead, he liked exploring Sudoku books, Games Magazine compendia, logic puzzles. 

He started solving the New York Times crossword during breakfast in the college and it enhanced his interest.

Then, he purchased crossword software tried hands in constructing puzzles.

He realized it involved an inherent set of rules and logical structure and also offered an opportunity for innovativeness.

He used to make puzzles for friends whenever he had free time.

After a few failed attempts, finally, his puzzle got published in The New York Times Crossword. Since then, he is exclusively submitting themeless puzzles for the subgenre.

 Crossword Journey

For him, crossword construction is now a passion for many solvers.

He enjoys making a 64-66 word grid with wide-open middles. Making puzzles brings him joy.

Crossword Compiler is his favorite computer software that he uses to create puzzles. 

As today’s society considers knowledge worthy, he feels privileged to contribute to the cultural snapshot with vibrant clues and entries.

He feels crossword construction is wonderfully satisfying and therefore encourages everyone who wants to give it a shot.

He keeps adding new entries on his notes app on his phone.

He watches TV shows and reads novels so that he could find interesting entries.

Having the habit to note down everything helps him in construction.

In a spreadsheet, he stores words. Sometimes he tries topic binges where he researches and adds hundreds of new entries on a specific topic like game terms, latest slang and idioms.

Accomplishments

  • Known as one of the best themeless crossword constructors who contributes work in the New York Times. 
  • An avid baritone.

Interesting Fact

Do you know he is an amazing singer? Well he sings in the Choral Arts Society of Washington, 18th Street Singer, and the Capital Hearings

Books

None 

4. Andy Kravis

He constructs puzzles for newspapers and independent venues.

The New York Times crossword constructor is also a proof-reader and general assistant to the puzzle editors.

He is a venom-style crossword-man symbiote.

First Published Puzzle

May 20, 2012, in The Los Angeles Times which was co-constructed with Will Nediger.

November 3, 2013: The New York Times puzzle was a Sunday collaboration with Victor Barocas.

Background

He started liking puzzles during the early teens but at that time he didn’t understand the rules of Times crossword.

When he was a student at the University of Michigan, he worked as an office assistant.

Every weekday he had to run copies of the Time Crossword for students so they can solve. He grabbed one copy and worked on it the whole day.

After shifting to New York to study law, he took crossword seriously.

He understood ‘wordplay’ by then and also heard of American Crossword Puzzle Tournament.

He tried to solve crossword from the New York Times Sunday puzzles and finished it.

Even then he wasn’t prepared for ACPT puzzles. From then onwards, he solved harder crosswords.

Crossword Journey

He met many people in the ACPT, and they encouraged him to turn into a constructor.

He is thankful to Will Nediger, Victor Barocas, Joon Pahk, Erik Agard, and Nellie Fogarty.

He admitted it was more of an ego that he had to get his puzzle published in a good newspaper.

After many rejections, the crossword finally got published. Crossword puzzles are his main source of income, so this is what motivates him the most.

Coming up with new themes, building grids, making clues, they all are fun as they inclined him towards his love for words and trivia.

He feels he is actually good at crossword construction.  

He does very less resource management. What he does is, he keeps tweaking his word list as he constructs a crossword.

If the crossword software: CrossFire suggests an entry but finds it to be obscure, he immediately removes it.

If he finds a novel entry, he directly constructs a puzzle right away.

Accomplishments

  • He helps in running the popular crossword tournament: The Indie 500 with four other co-directors.
  • It is held every June in Washington, DC. This is a great way to meet crossword nerds.

He promotes

  • The Inkubator: Puzzle construction platform for women
  • Women of Letters: women packed puzzles that benefits women-centric charities
  • Queer Qrosswords: Benefits LGBT-centric charities

Books

Challenge Accepted! 100 Word Searches

5. Joon Pahk

The first puzzle published

August 2008 in The New York Times and The New York Sun

 

 Background

He was always an avid game lover. He loved solving puzzles, but he was more of a logic/math puzzle solver that a word nerd.

Experimenting with puzzles started when he was a college student.

He and his roommate collaborated to work on cryptic crosswords but what inspired him the most was ‘WordPlay’ movie of 2006.

After watching the movie he realized his love for words. 

As far as crossword construction is concerned, it has been many years since he left his Physics tutor job from Harvard as decided to give puzzles a shot.

In the first two years, he wasn’t a full-time puzzle maker, but now he manages to put ample time.

Crossword Journey

For standard crossword, he uses Crossfire.

He keeps making tweaks to the word list whenever he is constructing a new grid.

He spends approximately 5-20 hours every week.

Whenever he spots a word that is too high or too low, he modifies it. Also, he keeps track of the new names and terms.

He likes his entries to be tropical or current.

Accomplishments

  • He has managed to come this far without explicitly mentioning his subscription puzzle service, Outside the Box Puzzles. He writes a Rows Garden puzzle every week.
  • He has published one book which turned out to be a big hit. Readers enjoyed many ‘aha’ moments with it. 
  • He was also a part of the television show ‘Jeopardy’ that ran seven years ago where he won seven games and $199,000. 
  • Then he came back to participate in the Tournament of Champions, where he was the semi-finalist.  

Books

Triple Decker Trivia.

6. Andrew Ries

An avid cruciverbalist.

First Published Puzzle

August 13, 2007, in the New York Times.

Favorite clue

Erik Agard puzzle: “Pool noodles” cluing MIND MELD. 

Background

He started solving the crossword in high school, and curiosity in crossword construction started from thereon. 

Same to Joon Pahk, he was also inspired by the movie ‘Wordplay’ which he saw on DVD in 2006.

From then onwards, he started to get serious about construction. 

Andrew Ries transitioned to full-time crossword construction from the year 2017.

Now crosswords are his livelihood. It is no more a hobby. He feels fortunate as he is into something that he loves doing. 

Every crossword that he constructs gives him a unique opportunity to enhance his skills.

He has that constant desire to get better and this is something that motivates him above anything else. 

According to him, the online crossword game is a language.

And like learning a language takes time and practice to learn the basics, it takes a good amount of time to become a pro.

His crossword puzzle quiz fluency is best enhanced when he opens a blank grid and challenges himself to fill it. 

Initially, he did not use any puzzle construction software. He doesn’t suggest relying on crossword construction software for the constructor beginners.

Fundamental things like symmetry and numbering of the grid are easy when electronic help is taken.

He learned to write grids wit Matt Ginsberg’s database 9 that compiles thousands of entries and he feels the practice was invaluable. 

Now, he uses almost every constructor’s favorite Crossword Compiler for Windows.

When he rewinds his chapters of life, he can clearly depict the difference between his pre-compiler and post-compiler output. 

For Rows Garden, he manually writes the grid on a piece of paper using the Ginsbery’s database and online dictionaries like Onelook.com. 

Crossword Journey

He organized all the clues and entries in the Rows Garden Puzzles from the last five years.

He feels this is something he should have done years ago. This helps him to cross-verify that he is not overusing clues or flashy grid entries. 

In this particular clue, the word ‘pool’ transforms into a verb, and ‘noodles’ changes its meaning from the toys to the brain. This is certainly a tricky misdirect. 

Accomplishments

  • Andrew Ries successfully runs two subscriptions via his website, Aries Puzzle: Aries Rows Garden and Aries Freestyle which is theme free. These subscription services feature the original crossword quizzes sent every week over an email. 
  • He also has a few puzzle ‘EPs’ which are small one-off packs: ‘The Stagger Sessions, ‘FIVE and ‘Stretch’. 

Books

  • Maverick Crosswords
  • Minnesota Crosswords: 40 Puzzles About North Start State
  • Wisconsin Crosswords, For The Birds Crosswords.

7. Finn Vigeland

A smart crossword constructor inspired by ‘WordPlay’. 

First published puzzle

October 20, 2010, in The New York Times.

Background

Solving newspaper crosswords was a family hobby. He saw his grandparents and parents do it when he was growing up.

So, crossword love was inherited from the family itself.  

As an 11-12-year-old kid, he didn’t have the knowledge to complete a crossword grid, but he was always curious.

He was interested in logic puzzles and table quizzes. 

When he was in his teens, he got the pleasure to watch the documentary “Wordplay” and or the very first time realized that the crossword puzzle community is huge.

Watching top puzzle cruciverbalist, Merl Reagle and Liz Gorski, it made him open a blank document and write a crossword.

And in this process, he failed miserably multiple times.

He feels there is a sense of extraordinary ratification in this hectic process of evaluating every possible fill for a corner until the right one is filled in place.

He uses CrossFire for Mac and Crossword Compiler for Windows. He looks for a letter search pattern in XWordInfo.com and OneLook.com.

Crossword Journey

Vigeland keeps adding words on the go. Whenever he finds a good entry, he adds it to his word list.

He also has access to Jeff Chen’s enormous word list because he is a subscriber to XWordInfo. So he takes the help of the same. 

Accomplishments

  • He also got the privilege to collaborate on a puzzle by means of Queer Qrosswords that was debuted last year. 
  • He supports indie crossword like Inkubator, which is a comprehensive women-run and women-constructed puzzle.

Interesting fact

Finn Vigeland was 18 when the puzzle got published. He had been trying hard to submit the puzzle for a year and a half. 

Will Shortz wrote comments on his puzzles and reverted him the submissions. Finally, he was invited by Mr. Shortz at the Westchester Crossword Puzzle Tournament.

When he greeted him, Shortz recognized him immediately and discussed with him his latest puzzle. He accepted the crossword and published it two and a half weeks later.

Books published

None

8. Sam Ezersky

A young crossword constructor inspiring many.

First published puzzle

25 March 2012 in the Los Angeles Times.

Background

Sam Ezersky recollects that he was around six, waiting in a Hair Cuttery and he stumbled upon a half-completed Fill-In-puzzle in the open magazine.

It was similar to a crossword puzzle, but instead of clues, every solution was alphabetized by the length, portrait as a word bank. 

He was so fascinated by the interlocking of the words; he was able to complete the grid successfully.

He absolutely loved the overall experience. He liked that so much that he still remembers the parts of the puzzles in bits and pieces. 

After this, crossword became an obsession for 17 long years and is still counting. 

Not only he had a great experience with the Fill-It-in puzzles as he read in elementary school, but he was also fascinated by the construction.

During long road trips, especially car rides, he drew grids with crayons.

Discovering The New York Times in his early teens was like icing on the cake. He then decided to turn his passion into a serious pursuit.

He discovered Will Shortz Favorite Crossword Puzzles, XWord Info, and Cruciverb and all this helped him to enhance his crossword skills.

Even before his senior year of high school, the publication dream turned into reality. 

Crossword Journey

He chose to become a crossword constructor as he felt this is the only talent that he imbibes. 

CrossFire on Mac and Crossword Compiler on his PC are the software he uses. 

All the filling is done manually by querying the database with the help of strings of known and unknown letter patterns.

He loves this construction approach as it gives him the opportunity to showcase his creativity.

Therefore, he lacks a word list completely though he keeps with him a Google Docs.

The doc contains enticing words and phrases on which he keeps stumbling regardless of the fact if they are puzzle worthy or not.

His excessive obsession with puzzles is one of the major reasons he was featured in Time’s radar.

He started with crayon puzzles, then switched to paperback puzzles published in newspapers.

Further, he created his own puzzle website and now he is also a part of the crossword quiz game community. 

Accomplishments

  • As an assistant puzzle editor, his major tasks include analyzing the crossword submissions corresponding with the constructor. 
  • He has the job of editing clues with the crossword giants Will Shortz & Joel Fagliano so that puzzles get published successfully. 
  • He is also the editor of Spelling Bee which is The Time’s latest word game, Sam Ezersky is an occasional contributor to the Wordplay. Plus, he also co-hosts ‘Crossword Live’ with Deb every Thursday at 1 pm

Interesting Fact

Do you know?  I AM HE AS YOU ARE HE is of fifteen letters? Know-how.

Books published

None

9. Peter Gordon

A well-known cruciverbalist who is also an editorial director at Puzzlewright Press.

First published puzzle

January 1989 issues of Games 

September 15, 1989, The New York Times

Background

He loved puzzles since childhood. When he was 5 or 6, he bought a book called ‘Perplexing Puzzles and Tantalizing Teasers’ written by Martin Gardner. 

He was stuck in a clue that read: A Harmonia cost a dollar more than a pencil. Together they cost $1.10.

What is the cost of each? He worked very hard on it but was unable to solve it.

So, he took help from his elder brother, who had started learning algebra.

He made Peter understand how the equation worked, and this hooked him to maths. He completed his graduation with Math major from MIT.

Well, he still has the book from 1971, and he sent it to Martin Gardner so that he autographs it for him.

His craze for crossword was established years later.

He started working at Games in the year 1988.

Crossword Journey

Gordon feels what else can be done with a degree in mathematics.

According to him the key component of the Crossword Compiler has the ability to score the word list and fill the complete puzzle with words only above a certain level of score. 

With the help of this amazing software, he can try as many possibilities and fills it with something that has very few suboptimal words. 

Remembering his early times, when he started making crossword puzzles, there were no software or apps available, and one had to do it manually.

This is the major reason why the old puzzle had plenty of obscure words.

Almost every day he adds to his list and tweaks the word scores which are already on the list.

This has no end, but the fill computer ends up using reflects his world ranking. For him, it is considered worth the effort. 

Accomplishments

  • Fireball Crossword is his subscription puzzle series which is definitely 45-times a year hard crossword. 
  • Fireball Newsflash Crosswords is 20 times year news based puzzle that doesn’t have a very hard difficulty level. 

Books published

  • 100 Years 100 Crosswords.
  •  Wickedly Hard
  • Fireball crosswords
  •  Devilishly Hard Fireball Crosswords
  •  Easy Monday Crosswords
  •  Solving Sudoku
  •  Tasty Tuesday Crosswords
  •  Hellaciously Hard Fireball
  •  Diabolically hard fireball
  • Harder Wednesday Crossword
  • Oy Vey Sudoku
  • Tougher Tuesday Crosswords
  • Scorchingly Hard Fireball Crosswords and many more. 

11. Tracy Bennett

A motivational crossword constructor of all times.

First published puzzle

Patric Berry at the Chronicle Higher Education in February 2013 which was co-authored with Victor Fleming.

Solo and Charlotte’s Web themed titled “C-Net” in March 2013.

First New York Times Crossword July 2013.

Background

As told by her parents, the love for crosswords sprouted when she was 17 months old.

As a child, she kept working on different picture puzzles which were published in the newspaper and kept asking the teacher to give another spelling test.

For her, words were a source of satisfaction and fun at the same time. 

The New York Times Sunday puzzle was something she discovered at the age of 16.

There was a stack of New York Times Sunday magazines on the table. So she picked up the topmost paper and landed at the free crossword puzzle.

She easily figured out the long answers were connected and worked upon them first.

That was something that clicked her mind, and it was the time she realized that puzzles were her thing.

She got stuck while solving the puzzle and kept the magazine back. 

After a while picked it back and started all over again. This helped her keep going.

Dictionary was also her savior as she looked up to a plethora of words that she didn’t know.

She managed to complete the puzzles somehow, but the least did she knew that it would become the turning point of her life. 

She formed a lifelong devotion for crosswords. As a reward, she carried the magazine stack with her when she left without taking notice of whether the homeowners will look for it or not. 

Crossword Journey

Like many others, she also had the urge to make a puzzle after seeing Merl Reagle in WordPlay flick.

First ACPT was attended by her after seeing the documentary. The interaction with the real people who make puzzles gave her a wonderful experience. 

Will Shortz suggested a copy of Patrick Berry’s “Crossword Constructor’s Handbook,” and she soon bought it. 

This eventually proved to be an excellent guide for her as it has fashion simple, unthemed grids by hand.

She is grateful to Vic Fleming, who agreed to mentor her and helped her understand the process of puzzle making, theme development, grid work, and clue writing. 

She could then make a few rookie mistakes safely and understand the puzzle making philosophy before eventually flying solo.

You guys won’t believe, but even her dreams are related to puzzling.

Sorting small objects, matching, and arranging things are all that she keeps dreaming about.

The constant hard work is visible as she never wakes up from her dreams before solving the complete puzzle.

Her brain thrives on close structural work and language mechanics.

Like everyone else, Crossword Compiler is the best tool, according to her.

The pro-grid filler is an add-on offering plenty of bells and whistles and is most intuitive. 

On average, an hour a week. As she works on Burst magazine, she has a habit of circling phrases in each issue while reading the articles.

These phrases have a unique score in the word list. 

When her 15-year-old son says something she never heard like, ‘I’m a meme lord!”, the first thing she does is taking out the notepad and scribble, Meme Lord(8). Sporting the list is a hobby as she keeps removing junks, offensive or technical phrases.  

Accomplishments

  • Bust Magazine: This is the hub for her funny and strangest puzzles. She creates puzzles for it. 
  • She has experimented with LGBT and straight-up wordplay.
  • The Inkubator is recently launched via a Kickstarter campaign. It is a collaboration with Laura Braunstein. The subscribers received their first puzzle in January. 

She is a part of Inkubator firstly because as there are professionally constructed crossword quizzes that meet the high expectation of the crossword lover for fun and a fair challenge. 

Secondly, it is aimed at helping women, cisgender, trans women, and woman aligned constructors. 

Thirdly, they provide a venue for women to publish and get paid for every high-quality crossword, especially when there is not a wide opportunity in mainstream publications because of feminism and provocative content. 

Books Published

None