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Feb 17, 2009

Interview with Verna Suit

This interview was conducted in early January. I was hoping to publish it when we have a Verna Suit puzzle. Now I doubt it will ever happen. Our editor Mr. Wayne R. Williams has stopped communicating with our regular constructors since last November when Tribune declared bankruptcy.

The quality of our puzzles has deteriorated significantly every since. I think we should write to Mr. Williams (
PuzzlesWRW@aol.com) and ask for more quality puzzles from old constructors like Verna Suit, Barry Silk, Doug Peterson, John Underwood, Allan E. Parrish, Norma Steinberg etc. I would love to have more of Alan P. Olschwang's non-quips (Great USA Today puzzles) and Stan B. Whitten's simple & enjoyable grids.

For those who have been missing Barry Silk, he has two puzzles coming our next weekend. A Saturday LA Times themeless and a Sunday NY Times co-authored with Doug Peterson. I will link the LA Times when it's published and plan to blog it on a Sunday when most of you do not have our regular TMS puzzle.

OK, now back to the interview:

What's your background and how did you develop a passion for crossword construction?


I've always worked crosswords. I spent my federal government career playing around with language and words, and in my retirement, constructing crosswords is a way of continuing to do that. I got interested in making them around 1990 when I briefly shared a desk with noted constructor Bill Lutwiniak. I asked him what qualities a constructor needed, and he said a good vocabulary and to be a good speller. He advised that if I was interested in constructing, I should start small (13x13). That seemed a waste of time, so my first construction effort was a 21x21, on which I immediately got stuck. So I went back to baby steps and made a couple of 13x's. I moved up to 15x and over the next few years played around with grids when I had time. This was all manual, of course, in those early days. Then in 1998 I had the good fortune to meet another constructor, Carole Anne Nelson. She critiqued the puzzles I'd made so far, told me about rules I didn't know existed, and introduced me to important resources. Both Mr. Lutwiniak and Carole Anne are gone now but I'm deeply indebted to each for sending me along the right path. In February 1999 I submitted my first puzzle and it appeared in the LA Times on May 27th. Since then I've been published also by the NYT, USA Today, TMS, Games Magazine, the NY Sun, Newsday, Sterling, Adams, Dell, Penny Press, and other odds and ends of places. About a year ago I started making a crossword for the Montgomery County (MD) Friends-of-the-Library quarterly newsletter, where I get to play with my own choice of bookish themes (fun for an old English major) and be my own editor.

How would you describe your style? I notice that you like "Three Things" puzzle. How are they different from a normal themed puzzle?

Eclectic? And not very prolific. I prefer 15x over 21x, which are just longer. 15x is a nice size to solve and to make. I also prefer puzzles with themes. I first came across the "Three Things" theme in a TMS puzzle years ago and really enjoyed the challenge of working it. You know something about the individual words but not where each one starts or stops, and must rely on your intuition. I discovered they're also fun to make. I enjoy coming up with strings of the best words I can. Note: I have to apologize to solvers for the last one I did, "Three Lines", that appeared 12/3/08. I had an abundance of good "line" words and was able to fit in 6 theme strings instead of the usual 4. I sensed it was going to be a tough puzzle to solve, with all those discontinuous strings, so I wrote easy clues. But the editor apparently decided the clues should be harder and changed a lot of them. It ended up being a lot tougher puzzle than I planned.

Where do you normally get your theme inspirations?

From whatever is on my mind at the time, or from an interesting word or phrase I come across.

What kind of puzzles do you solve every day? How do you normally tackle a puzzle?

I usually start the day with a Sudoku to wake up, and work a few more of them during the day to relax. I get the Washington Post which has the Crossynergy crossword puzzle and the TMS, and often work both of them, plus Merl Reagle's on Sunday. I usually skip quotation-theme puzzles, which I've gotten bored with. I start working at 1-across and keep filling in whatever I know, wherever it is in the grid. It's a rare puzzle I can't finish these days (except for a bunch of them at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. I've attended five times and am solidly in the top 70% ;-/) I do enjoy tough crosswords, though. My favorite constructors are Bob Klahn and Frank Longo.

Any tips for our TMS solvers on how to improve our solving skills?

Read a lot, work a lot of puzzles.

Thank you, Ms. Suit.

9 comments:

Dennis said...

C.C., as always, excellent interview. Nice job.

C. C. said...

Dennis,
Still remember Verna's "Three Lines" puzzle? It brought over 9,200 solvers to this blog. A record.

Dick said...

CC, I cannot add anything more to the comment made by Dennis. Nice job!

Clear Ayes said...

Thanks to Verna Suit for taking the time to answer C.C.'s questions. As always it is interesting to get a peek into the mind of a professional constructor.

Thanks also to C.C. for the great interview and comments.

carol said...

C.C. Thanks for doing this and bringing it to us. Some of these constructors are amazing to me. It is so nice of them to take the time to answer questions!

JD said...

Thanks to you both for taking the time to do this interview. This is truly a learning blog for us all.

Crockett1947 said...

C.C., another excellent interview. It's so nice to get to know a bit more about the constructors! Thanks for Ms. Suit for sharing her thoughts with us.

wolfmom said...

C.C. Terrific interview. Knowing what constructors are thinking is good information for solving future puzzles. Thank you also to Ms. Suit.

NYTAnonimo said...

Just now reading and enjoying some of the blogs I missed this week. Thanks C.C. and Verna!