Crossing the country: Shortz visits Butler

Did you know, if you turn a crossword puzzle upside down, the grid remains unchanged?

Do you know what percentage of the crossword is allowed to be black spaces? Many people grab their pencils or pens and scratch their heads as they look over clues without giving a second thought to the process of puzzle creation.

The world of professional crossword creation and solving, however, is active and tight-knit. At its head is Will Shortz, crossword editor of The New York Times and puzzle master for National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition Sunday.”

Shortz will be speaking in the Reilly Room at 7 p.m. Friday about the history of crosswords, even presenting some puzzles for the audience to solve.

“You know, if you’re a comedian you’re to be funny, and so I figure if I do a presentation, my talk should be puzzling,” he said.

Shortz was born in Crawfordsville, Ind., and said he comes to Indianapolis about twice per year. Despite his frequent visits to see his sister, who still lives in Indiana, he said he doesn’t think he has ever been to Butler University.

Few would argue against Shortz being the foremost expert on crossword puzzles in the country and also the face of the crossword creation and solving community.

He started the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in 1978 and has directed it every year since. He and the tournament were highlighted in the 2006 documentary “Wordplay.”

Shortz is also founder and director of the World Puzzle Championship and co-founder of the World Puzzle Federation.

Asked what he hopes his legacy will be in the puzzle world, Shortz said he has made crossword puzzles more relatable.

“I’d like the puzzle to appeal to all levels of solvers,” he said. “Beginners, intermediate solvers and experts, young solvers starting in the teens up to as old as people get.”

In addition to serving solvers of all ages, Shortz accepts submissions from people of all ages. Before he became editor, only five crosswords by teenagers were published in The Times, he said. But he has published puzzles by 29 teenaged creators.

On the other end of the spectrum, he said he recently published a puzzle by a 99-year-old woman.

In addition to puzzles, Shortz is an avid table tennis player. He is the owner and operator of the Westchester Table Tennis Center in Pleasantville, NY. He said he only went one day without playing (Oct. 3, to be exact) last year, and this year he intends to play table tennis every day.

Shortz graduated from Indiana University with a degree in enigmatology—the study of puzzles—a curriculum he developed while a student. He then went on to law school at the University of Virginia.

He said he loves all puzzles, not just crosswords.

“Even in as repressed a society as mid-seventeenth-century Massachusetts, people still had a desire to create and solve puzzles,” Shortz said, speaking of one of the earliest published works in the United States—an almanac containing puzzles.

“It’s part of human nature, to want to solve a mystery.”


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