For many readers, nothing is more satisfying -- or frustrating -- than trying to solve a crossword puzzle.
Today and tomorrow we shine a spotlight on Rich Norris, who provides our daily crossword, and his editor at Tribune Media Services, James Lower. Together we pull back the curtain on the mysteries of puzzle creation.
Q. Rich, a hallmark of your puzzles is brain teasers among the clues. How do you know whether you’ve served up a delightful red herring or a perfidious gotcha?
A. I have a philosophy that the crossword is a friendly contest between the puzzle constructor/editor and the solver -- except the solver is always supposed to win! After I edit the puzzles, three different testers try out each week’s puzzles before I send them to Tribune. If I let an unsolvable gotcha or three slip through, one of the testers is bound to mention it, and I make changes.
Q. How do you work out the changing difficulty levels during the week?
A. I let the theme guide the puzzle’s difficulty. Straightforward themes appear Monday and Tuesday. Slightly more complex themes appear midweek. Tricky wordplay themes, for the most part, are reserved for Friday. Saturday is a fairly hard themeless puzzle. But even in the harder puzzles, I try to leave a smattering of easier clues. Even the highly skilled solvers need a place to get started.
Using the answer STOP as an example, an easy clue might be “Word on a red road sign”; a harder clue would be “Organist’s selection”; an even harder clue, “Block.” Another example: In an easy puzzle, TITLE might be clued as “Information on a book’s spine,” and in a harder puzzle, you might see “Spinal column?”
Part 2 tomorrow: The process of constructing a crossword puzzle.
--Geoff Brown, Associate Managing Editor / Entertainment