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'This Has Been A Dream Job:' A Chat With Puzzlemaster Will Shortz

Tom Ipri
CC BY-SA 2.0

Will Shortz, the man who gives you the Sunday puzzle on Weekend Edition and puzzle editor for the New York Times, was in Boulder for the National Puzzler League Convention.

KUNC's Karlie Huckels was able to snag him on the phone before he jumped on a plane to leave the state. He gave a riddle and the answer will be at the end of this post, but see if you can figure it out!

It's an anagram.

Take the words "ski," "CO" (as in Colorado) and "there" and the answer is a two-word phrase. First word is three letters and the second word is seven letters.

Interview Highlights

What were you doing in Colorado?

"I just attended the National Puzzlers League convention. It's the world's oldest puzzlers association founded in 1883 — this is our 180th convention. We have a member living in Boulder who hosted us and this was the largest NPL convention in our organization's history. We had 244 participants. It was three and a half days of word puzzles and word games."

How long have you been a part of the NPL?

"I joined in 1972. I've been the historian for the league for about 30 years and I've been the program director for the convention every year since 1976."

What is it like being the puzzle editor for The New York Times? 

"Well, it's a dream job for me. I've been there almost 26 years now. I have the world's only college degree in puzzles, which I earned at Indiana University in 1974 in a self-designed major. Indiana allows you to make up your own major and I devised an entire curriculum in puzzles. So really this has been a dream job. It's creative playing with words every day, we brainstorm clues, we laugh a lot. I'm always learning stuff and always stretching myself."

What is the transition you've seen with a lot of things going digital?

"When I started at the Times in 1993, virtually everyone made puzzles the old-fashioned way, on paper with pencil and eraser. Now most people do it on a computer and there are programs that help create crosswords and there are databases of interesting answers for crosswords. So it's a a collaborative process now between the human and the computer to create the most interesting and lively puzzle. But it's not as if it's a computer-generated puzzle. Only a human can come up with an original theme, only a human knows what an interesting crossword answer is and what's not, and only a human can write an original clue.

"So when you're solving a crossword, you're matching wits with another human being and I'd say every day's New York Times crossword has one, two, three, sometimes more answers that have never appeared in a crossword before. We go out of our way to do that, and we write original clues all the time too."


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