Mar 9, 2010

Interview with Mangesh Sakharam Ghogre

Some of the regular readers of this blog will faintly remember Mangesh Ghogre. He used to comment here when we had the old TMS Daily Crosswords and he had also shared with us one of his published articles on crossword.

Mangesh, an Indian citizen, is an investment banker with a global bank based in Mumbai. Today he became the first India-based constructor to have a puzzle published by the LA Times, a remarkable achievement for a non-native English speaker.

Mangesh has been in contact with me since his first appearance in our blog and kept me updated with his construction effort. I am very impressed by his persistence and perseverance. He also amazes me with his writings on spirituality and his volunteer work.

What's the inspiration for this puzzle? And what are the other theme answers that failed to make the cut?

Well, I am a foodie. So, I thought why not have crosswords for breakfast as well? Fun apart, I recollect the trigger entry was BREAD AND BUTTER and wanted the theme to focus on latter half. Then I added CHALK AND CHEESE and COOKIES AND CREAM. The fourth entry is the one I took some time to find. When I got MIDDLE AGE SPREAD, Nancy suggested selecting more focused entries related to spread. That’s how the final set emerged. Talking of themes, I must confess that sometimes I struggle with “in-the-language test” because of my lack of familiarity with local language. I discovered that phrases/idioms popular in India, may not be in US. For eg, while working on this theme, I was surprised to learn that CHALK AND CHEESE is not in-the-language although it’s a valid English idiom.

What kind of difficulties did you go through to make the grid work?

Filling the theme and non-theme entries is fun though it could get taxing at times. But as a constructor, designing the grid is my Achilles’ heel. I am told designing a grid is an art. Even the software doesn’t help much. Like they say, you need an “eye” to make out if the grid will work.

What is it like to work with Rich Norris? What have you learned about his theme/fill preferences?

From the limited experience I have gained interacting with him, I think he is one of the most professional editors I have come across. He diligently responds to emails and provides feedback for improvement. Interacting with him makes you feel that your contribution is welcome and your effort is appreciated. Frankly, I am not yet ready to comment much about his theme/fill preferences.

Can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you develop an interest in crossword solving and then constructing?

I am an Indian citizen based in Mumbai. I have an under-graduate degree in mechanical engineering and an MBA with a major in finance. Currently, I am working in the Investment Banking division of one of the world’s largest banks. I stay with my wife and parents in Panvel – a small town on the outskirts of Mumbai.

Though all my education has been in English, it is not my first language. My mother-tongue is Marathi – one of the many languages spoken in India. I am also fluent in Hindi, the more popular language in India.

My friends tell me, and I agree, that I always had a hang for words. But my first encounter with crosswords goes back 13 years when I had just entered my engineering course and was staying in the college hostel. Every morning, when I and my hostel room-mates were busy having morning breakfast, we used to gaze at the “white-and-black painting” called crossword. Since many of us had an eye on cracking the GRE/GMAT, we looked at it as an activity to improve vocabulary. I remember 5 or 6 of us started with a lot of enthusiasm. But as you can imagine, the enthusiasm quickly faded. You won’t believe, but for the first 3 months we did not need a pen! We didn’t know a word – other than filling S for plural answers. Soon we found out the only way to improve is to painstakingly check answers for every clue next morning. Though my other friends gave up, I continued. I bought a small pocket-diary and started noting crosswordese, various rivers, flowers, animals, cities, Bible trivia, suffix, prefix, Greek gods and goddesses, etc. I couldn’t carry the diary everywhere, so I culled it in 2 pages. If it interests you, here is one of them. And before I knew it, I became obsessed with solving crosswords. I think it took me a year or so to fully solve a crossword – unassisted! Since then, I never looked back. I have been happily solving the daily crossword in Times of India (which syndicates the LAT puzzle) for the past 13 years now.

Constructing crossword is a very recent phenomenon for me. Sometime last March, I felt that it is the next step. Some sort of changing gears. And what motivated me more was that I didn’t know much of American trivia and local stuff. So, what better way than to construct a puzzle myself. I remember I promised to gift myself a crossword on my birthday in May. I downloaded the trial version of the CCW software. Took up a random puzzle which had got published that week. Made a theme that fit it. Banged my head all over to get the non-theme fill. And Eureka! I had my first crossword ready for the B-day. But, it was nowhere up to the mark. Maybe I was being maverick or plain foolish, I sent it to Rich. Kind that he is, he politely explained to me the reason for the rejection. But his response made me sniff success – I knew I was not that far. I then joined Cruciverb mailing list – the online mecca of cruciverbalists, I must say. That led me to enroll in what I call the “University of Nancy Salomon”. She is so helpful. I can’t thank her enough.

What's your experience solving American style puzzles? I often feel frustrated and handicapped by my background.

I echo your feelings. Add to it that I have not once visited US and am not a reading enthusiast either. I used to wonder – when will I ever visit Lake Erie? Who is Slammin Sammy? How is EGAD a euphemistic oath? When will I taste POI/TARO (Sorry, I told you am a foodie!)? And in late 90s there were not many blogs like yours that discussed puzzles threadbare. It took me years to realise why the clue for ASPEN is quaking tree. It was as if I was a “non-resident American” who knew scads of local lingo and trivia but hadn’t once used it in daily life. When I started, I used to be so frustrated that so many times I have tore the paper to pieces and muttered quite a few unmentionables. But, with due credit to all those constructors and editors, the tickle next morning while reading the answers made the effort worthwhile.

What kind of puzzles do you solve every day? And who are your favorite constructors?

Apart from the daily crossword in Times of India, which I solve every morning when I commute to office in train, I barely find time to touch other puzzles. I wish to solve the NYT puzzle but it is not so easily available here in hard copy. Talking of constructors, I used to look forward to Alan Olschwang’s quote puzzles. Back in those days, in the Chicago Tribune era, it used to appear every Wednesday in Times of India. I also love to hate setters who make hard-to-crack puzzles – Barry Silk, Pancho Harrison, Jack McInturff, et al. These fellas puncture my literary ego with such innocence, it’s not funny.

Besides crossword, what are your other hobbies?

Well, I enjoy writing. I have had over 45 bylines (mainly op-editorials and feature articles) in leading Indian dailies including Times of India and The Economic Times. I usually write on spirituality/philosophy, business education and career. You could visit my website www.mangeshghogre.com for more. I also firmly believe in learning and sharing model. So, I spend weekends with my high-school students mentoring them on anything but studies. Of course, we discuss development of hobbies including crosswords. This program is in the 4th year now and I am excited to solve my debut crossword with them.


16 comments:

Lemonade714 said...

Fascinating to think you would achieve so much in this oddf world of crosswords. After growing up looking forward to Sundays where my parents stayed in their room until the NYTimes Puzzles were all done, I began with such ana dvantage, yet I have even come close to trying to create a puzzle. And to do so withuot reading a milion books, is amazing. Continued success.

BTW, what is CHALK and CHEESE?

tfrank said...

Good morning, C.C. and pals,

I enjoyed Mangesh's puzzle this morning. My practice is to work the puzzle upon arising, on an empty stomach, and his theme entries have spurred my desire for food. I have skipped your interview and will read it after breakfast.

There were no unknowns for me, and thankfully, no show business or musicians names clued. This is a refreshing change, as these clues are my weak spot.

I grew up in the South, where bagels were uncommon fare, so I never developed a taste for them. As a child, I had homemade biscuits
with eggs, bacon or sausage for breakfast. Our sweet was either homemade jelly or jam from fruits picked in the wild, or molasses. Our grandfather grew sugar cane and was known as one of the best molasses makers in the region. It was not the tangy, dark kind often seen in stores, but golden, like honey, with a mild taste.

I am blessed with a fig tree in my yard and usually put up fifteen or twenty pints of fig preserves. I think I will go and have some now!

Have a great day.

Mainiac said...

Amazing that you have the ability to create a crossword having never spent any time here. Nice fresh puzzle.

mangesh said...

Hi,

So nice to see all your comments.

Lemonade714 - chalk and cheese is an idiom used to describe two related things which have little in common. Usually siblings - say one is a rock star and other is a hermit.

Thanks tfrank and Mainiac for your appreciation

MJ said...

I am so impressed with Mangesh Ghogre's dedication and perseverance toward a goal. Well done!

Clear Ayes said...

Congratulations to Mangesh Sakharam Ghogre on the publication of his LAT puzzle. I would never have imagined that it was constructed by a person who has never been to the United States.

I loved your pages of crossword notes. I smiled at so many of the little four letter words that confound me every day.

I got sidetracked reading Mr. Ghogre's articles on his website. I had to leave to come here and congratulate him on his puzzle and his interview with C.C. I enjoyed what I've read so far and will go back and finish reading a little later.

To both C.C. and Mr. Ghogre, thank you for a very interesting interview.

Jayce said...

Fabulous interview.

Mr. Ghogre, you are a fascinating person. C.C. you sure know how to ask questions that get interesting replies.

Thank you.

Crockett1947 said...

What an accomplishment! The human spirit and the workings of our minds are a wonder to behold! Congratulations on a sterling puzzle.

Anonymous said...

.. Congratulations !!!!

Great work & a wonderful website :)

Hahtool said...

Amazing! What a great puzzle and to think that you did this all without ever stepping into the US! I've been doing crossword puzzles for years and don't think I would ever have come up with some of the fresh words found in this one. Congratulations to you! And a thanks to you, too, CC, for the interview.

I also wondered what Chalk and Cheese meant, so that's for explaining that!

Chickie said...

Such a refreshing and enjoyable puzzle today. Thank you Mangesh
Sakharam Ghogre. What an amazing feat for someone who has never been to the U.S. and for someone whose second language is English.

Thank you C.C. for an interesting interview. I truly enjoyed reading the answers to your questions and chuckled in a few spots, also.

sandhya said...

Hi Mangesh,
Have known you as an aspiring young lad since you were studying Management. Have been observing your journey of progress through all these years...! I distinctly remember your vision statement you read aloud with so much energy and conviction...it was only a matter of time then ... Its happening dear! Great going!Cheers!

Gareth Bain said...

Thank you Zhouqin for the additional angle on today's puzzle! Sorry I'm a little slow in adding my 2c, don't know if anyone's still here!

Yeah! I'm also absolutely in awe about a non-first-language-speaker pulling off an LAT crossword!

Like usual I only got the theme late in solving. At first found the entry tieing things together somewhat jarring, but on reflection SPREADS causing MIDDLE-AGE SPREAD is a genius idea! Loved the insight as to how it started out as a lot more prosaic theme, and developed into this!

I'm a native English speaker, but I can definitely sympathize with the difficulties of Indian English versus American. South African and Indian dialects are more similar to each other (being more recently diverged from the mother language) and have also had more than a few issues in my constructions - PIP AT THE POST anyone?

Amused that 2 of the 3 spreads are American English. Only have a vague idea of APPLEBUTTER as some weird American thing. Similarly STRAWBERRYJELLY is STRAWBERRYJAM here. Would these be familiar in India? Or did it take a bit of translating?

mangesh said...

Hi Gareth,

Such pleasure to hear from you. I have enjoyed solving your LAT puzzles...

Glad you liked the theme. Some solvers missed the SPREAD play.

You are right ..jam is more popular in India. jelly is catching up tho..

Can we chat offline ...you could mail me at mangeshghogre@yahoo.com

David said...

I did not miss the spread play. But it's jarring tying theme.

Ramakant_T said...

What a fascinating work in crosswords...

Bravo!!!

Cheers,
Ramakant T.