I feel a follow-up interview with Barry is in needed as I failed to ask him several questions last time. And I thought it's a great idea for newcomers to get to know Barry as well.
Enjoy the interview. I was surprised to learn that he can go weeks without constructing a puzzle.
What is the seed word for today's themeless? Which part of the grid gave you the most trouble during the construction?
I chose PARAFFINWAX for the seed in today’s puzzle. It’s “scrabbly” and as I far as I know, hasn’t been used in either the Los Angeles Times or New York Times puzzles. I constructed the puzzle back in August, 2008, so I don’t recall the details of what gave me trouble, but I can tell that it was not easy building upon that seed in the grid. As you know, I like to use the rarer letters (Q, Z, X, J, K) in my grids when possible, so when I try to fit them into a grid, there are less fill possibilities: because they are less common. So, the RATSORIZZO/NOZZLE corner was harder to find good fill than the other corners in this puzzle.
Why are the first 12 or 13 Down clues, instead of the Across clues, numbered consecutively? Are Across clues normally harder than the Down ones?
Each grid cell that starts a word, either Across or Down, has to be numbered for cluing. Therefore, you will always see each cell in the first row containing a clue number since they all start a word. They are numbered consecutively left-to-right, top-to-bottom order, by convention.
The clues in a puzzle, whether Across or Down, should be roughly the same level of difficulty. With that said, it is typical for the answers to Down clues to be shorter in most puzzles and shorter words are usually a bit easier to figure out than the longer ones. So although it may seem the Down clues are easier, that it not the case.
You are so productive in your work. Where do you find your inspirations and how do you overcome writer's block when your Muse does not visit you?
My inspirations can come from a variety of places: something heard on television or radio, conversations, newspapers, signs, listening to music, or solving other puzzles. Whenever I hear an “interesting” phrase that I think would make for a good entry in a puzzle, I update my word list. So, when I’m starting out to write a themeless puzzle, say, I review the word list to see what might make a good seed and go from there.
My crossword construction activity varies quite a bit. Sometimes I’ll go for a month or two without constructing a puzzle. Sometimes I’ll make several puzzles in one week.
How is working with Rich Norris different from your communications with Will Shortz?
Rich Norris and Will Shortz have different crossword submission requirements. Rich accepts puzzle submissions via e-mail while Will only accepts submissions via snail-mail that require a manuscript formatted according to his specifications. Rich always replies to submissions in the order that they were submitted and generally I can expect his reply within 2-3 weeks. On the other hand, Will doesn’t necessarily respond to puzzles in the order of submission, and his responses can come anytime between a few weeks and 4-6 months! Both editors provide feedback on what they liked and what they didn’t like about a puzzle, so that helps sometimes in preparing puzzles to suit their tastes. If they like a puzzle but they take issue with a minor part of the puzzle, they will ask me to revise the problem area and resubmit. Whenever they change my original clues, it is almost always an improvement.
I know you love the Phillies. Do you go to their ball games often? What else do you do for fun?
I attend about 2-3 Phillies games every year. I’d go more often, but it’s a three hour drive for me each way from the Washington DC area. My cousin, who has a Sunday season-ticket plan, goes on vacation each year during August and offers to sell me his tickets during that time. He has great seats about 20 rows back between home plate and third base, so I usually go to a game or two with his tickets during August. My wife is from NYC, so I’ve seen the Phillies play the Mets and Yankees in NY on occasion.
For fun, we go to movies regularly, dine out, get together with our friends, and play Bananagrams when the opportunity arises. I discovered Bananagrams last year and find it much more enjoyable than Scrabble. I highly recommend it to those who like crosswords and word games.