Aug 8, 2009

Interview with Gail Grabowski

Like Doug Peterson, Gail Grabowski is a regular contributor to Stan Newman's Newsday puzzle. She specializes at early-week grids.

Gail started constructing puzzle in 2002, and she has more than 80 puzzles published by the LA Times. Her byline has also appeared in NY Times (11), USA Today and the Games magazine. Gail has also been contributing to Random House Casual Crossword series since 2004 and the Crossword Club (Rich Norris is the editor) since 2006.

There is always a simple elegance in Gail's puzzles. I enjoy them more because I am able to solve without cheating. Today's themeless is hard though. I was whipped.

How did you first get interested in crossword construction?

My father was an avid solver, and mornings always included coffee with crosswords. I got hooked but didn't have a clue about the effort that went into the puzzles. I happened to take a writing course in 2002 and met a gal whose brother sold crosswords to Dell. That info additionally spurred my interest so I went online to learn more about crossword construction. Fortunately, I discovered Nancy Salomon as a mentor. Then I knew exactly what I wanted to do.

How does your background influence your crossword style? I notice most of your themes are about wordplay, esp synonyms.

I suppose my background as a former teacher of English and literature influences some of my themes. Finding synonyms isn't particularly difficult. However, utilizing a synonym from a different perspective in a theme entry isn't always easy. In addition to equalizing the letter count, the entry shouldn't sound strained. I also enjoy cooking so some of my puzzles are devoted to food wordplay.

You are an amazingly prolific constructor. Where do you normally get your inspirations?

I don't see myself as all that prolific. There are many top-notch constructors out there who far surpass me in product. I don't think any of us are that concerned about quantity. We're more concerned about the quality of the theme, the fill and the clues that will make the solver enjoy the overall experience. As my crossword muse isn't all that reliable, my inspirations also come from everyday life, a variety of dictionaries/reference sources and my husband and friends. Then the wee hours offer me uninterrupted time to grab my notes for themes and go to work on refining them.

What is a perfect puzzle for you, in terms of themes, fills & cluing?

I don't know that there's a perfect puzzle because I feel it's all a matter of taste to the editor, solver, blogger and constructor. If I produced one that would meet that standard, it would have a theme like no other plus lively fill and some very thought-provoking clues.

Besides crossword, what else do you do for fun?

That's a great question as fun for me is constructing a crossword. (What isn't fun is clueing.) I also enjoy my daily exercise routine and an early morning bike ride. I love golf but play sporadically as I'm too competitive with myself. Summers are devoted to my veggie and herb gardens. Snowy winter days are passed with a good book.

9 comments:

Dennis said...

Another excellent interview. Gail's puzzles are among the best, and it's always fascinating to me to see how the top constructors view their craft. And I can certainly understand how the construction would be the fun part, and the cluing the chore.

Thanks for taking the time, Gail, and C.C., even though the other crossword blog hosts won't acknowledge you, you're simply the best.

Alex said...

Gail is a master at Monday and Tuesday puzzles. I enjoyed reading the interview. Thanks.

Fred said...

Gail Grabowski is one of my very favorite constructors and I always perk up when I see her byline on a puzzle. She's my role model for an early-in-the-week constructor.

Linda said...

CC: Your interest in constructors indicates you could be one someday. True?

Two contributors mentioned that Ms. Grabowski is "good on Monday/Tuesday puzles." This was not one of those!

Clear Ayes said...

I think it is wonderful that experienced constructors are so generous with their assistance to "the new kids on the block". It isn't the first time Nancy Salomon has been saluted as a mentor.

Most of C.C.'s previous interviews have mentioned a seasoned constructor who has helped the tyro to get started. (Gosh, I never thought I actually used that word in a sentence!)

Thanks so much to Gail for her story.

Anonymous said...

Gail Grabowski is my favorite constructor. Thank you for the fine interview.

Heather

Jerome said...

Dennis- "... the other crossword blog hosts won't acknowledge you..." I'd like your opinion as to why.

Anonymous said...

fascinating. thanks for the continuing constructor interviews, c.c. thanks, gail.

C. C. said...

Linda,
No. I can hardly solve a puzzle. I am just very interested in those constructors and their behind-the-scene work. I am glad many of you enjoy the interviews. I am also very grateful that Gail/Nancy et al took time answering my questions.