Last week, a diverse group of puzzle lovers gathered in Irvine Auditorium to hear from Will Shortz, the New York Times’ crossword puzzle editor. He’s held that post since 1993, but even if you’re not a crossword fan specifically, you’ve probably encountered Will’s work at some point. He’s been the puzzlemaster on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday since 1987, and he’s the man behind several best-selling Sudoku books. He’s also the only person in the world with a college degree in “enigmatology”—that is, the study of puzzles.
Shortz came to Penn as part of the academic Year of Games. (You can read more about that theme year here, and even print out a few ancient games to try.) As part of his presentation, Shortz discussed the main requirements for a crossword puzzle (symmetrical design; words of three or more letters; lively language), his favorite puzzles, and the psychology behind our attraction to puzzles.
Here, Shortz explains his all-time favorite crossword puzzle: an Election Day edition that appeared November 5, 1996 and offered two possible solutions to the clue “Lead story in tomorrow’s newspaper (!).”
And here, Shortz shares his thoughts on why we’re drawn to puzzles in the first place:
Following his presentation and a brief Q&A, Shortz split the audience into two teams and quizzed volunteer participants, NPR puzzlemaster-style. Wondering how you would have done? Here’s an example of one of the games Shortz led that evening:
Given two words, anagram the letters of one of them to get a slang synonym of the other one (i.e. DRUNK and MOBBED ==> BOMBED — an anagram of MOBBED that is also a slang synonym of DRUNK).
-COOL and CRAZY ==> ?
-DEBUTS and BANKRUPT ==> ?
-GENIUS and NINETIES ==> ?