Don’t give up on your dreams

Published 12:27 am Sunday, August 30, 2015

If you’ve ever cursed the name Will Shortz, you were probably working on one of his ridiculously difficult crossword puzzles in the Sunday edition of the New York Times.

Sure, the weekday puzzles seem pretty doable, but that Sunday one? I can’t say that I’ve ever completed the whole thing.

I do love crossword puzzles though. And when you get into a habit of doing them, you definitely get a feel for the writer’s style and what types of clues to look for.

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Shortz said, when he started working at the New York Times, “a man wrote me, saying that solving crosswords edited by me was like taking a new mistress—not unpleasant, it just took getting used to. That’s how personal crosswords are.”

I read that quote earlier this week and it got me to thinking. Not so much about how personal crosswords are, but the fact that someone had to write them.

That’s right. Crossword writer is a job. How fun would that be?

Shortz new early on that he wanted to be a puzzle maker. People talk about how you can follow your dreams and be anything you want. Well, he did it. And with an education to back it.

He is the only person in the world known to have a degree in enigmatology, the study of puzzles. He actually created his own degree program. The more I think about it, the more I feel I went about college all wrong.

Shortz went to law school after getting his enigmatology degree, but never took the bar exam. Rather, he started his career in puzzles.

The rest is a seven-letter word for chronicle or narrative.

Today, Shortz’s name is synonymous with crossword puzzles and says he gets about 100 submissions per week. But when you’re working one of his puzzles, more than half of the clues were thought up by him.

“The most important thing is accuracy. Anything I’m not 100 percent sure of I verify, and then I edit for the proper level of difficulty, freshness, color and just a sense of fun,” Shortz said in an interview with Mental Floss.

He also talked about the process from creation to publication.

Once the puzzles are typeset, they are sent to test-solvers who check for errors and add comments. Then they are sent to the NYT where a former national crossword puzzle champion tests the puzzle again.

Talk about another cool job — test-solving crossword puzzles.

I have no idea why I find this man’s life so fascinating, but I do.

I have always loved crossword puzzles and other word and logic puzzles, but it never occurred to me that I could have become someone who creates my own.

I have a great admiration for people who pave their own way in the world. They know exactly what they want to do in life and they find a way to do it. Shortz had to create his own degree program to study what he loved.

And now he gets to do what he loves every single day. We should all be so lucky.