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May 23, 2009

Interview with Barry Silk (Sequel)

So much has changed since I last interviewed Barry Silk in January. He has had more puzzles published (6 puzzles by NY Times in 2009 alone, the current leader), and we have a completely different puzzle and a completely different editor.

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.

11 comments:

Linda said...

CC; You should have been a journalist! You do thoughtful, in-depth interviews. Good job!

Argyle said...

Banagrams: Is there any version where you would play with Scabble letter values and the winner would be the one with the highest score?

Thank you, C.C. and Barry, for this interview. It was great.

Dennis said...

Just an outstanding interview, with with my favorite constructor. And a Phillies fan to boot.

I was surprised to read that this puzzle is nine months old; is that unusually long for an origination-publication span? Also, just order of magnitude, how big is your word list? I would think that, given the daily bombardment of words from all sources, it would be difficult to maintain.

Thanks for the recommendation on Banagrams; I wasn't familiar with it, but will definitely pick one up.

Buckeye said...

Barry and c.c. Thank you for the insight. I'll try bananagrams; sound like fun. Great job c.c., and thanks again for your time and info, Barry.

I think I would like to construct a x/w.

For kids.

Under 5.

Maybe 4.

I must be off

Clear Ayes said...

What a pleasant surprise it was to see another interview with one of our favorite constructors. It was interesting to see C.C. go into further depth with her questions and to see Barry's answers.

Thanks for the tip about Bananagrams. My friends and I are always looking for new games to try.

As always, thanks to both Barry Silk and C.C. for taking the time to let us in on some inside crossword information.

Anonymous said...

Hi

In regards to clue 20 across, Woman in an insect name:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katydid

Katydid, in American English the common name for insects of the family Tettigoniidae, also known as long-horned grasshoppers and in British English as bush-crickets

Crockett1947 said...

C.C. and Barry, thank you so much for the interview and the Banagrams recommendation. It looks like an interesting game and I like the fact that no board is required.

Lemonade714 said...

Is there any field more limited than Crossword Puzzle Editor? How many are there in the world, certainly fewer than NFL starting quarterbacks, or other limited professions. Do contructors want to be editors, or can you edit without the patience and flair to construct> These interviews are great, thank you both.

Barry said...

@Dennis - without going into details, the size of my word list (including the words/phrases that came with the Crossword Compiler software) is in the hundreds of thousands. A significant number of those however are not really desirable to include in everyday crosswords. Most constructors, I would assume, refine their word lists over a period of time to accommodate their taste by adding words/phrases/names and weeding out the undesirables. e.g., EXCELSAT, GOLDIEHAWN, RATSORIZZO, HUMORME, DARLIN, IDOUBTIT, SENDCASH, OFASORT, and several other phrases in today's puzzle were not supplied in Crossword Compiler's original word list.

@Crockett1947 - In addition to not having a board in Bananagrams, a couple of other reasons I prefer it to Scrabble: (1) you don't have to wait for your turn... everyone plays at the same time. Your tiles do not join with anyone else's tiles, so your construction is independent of what the other players do. (2) No concern about where to place tiles in order to maximize your point score.

@Argyle: That sounds like an interesting variation on Bananagrams (using Scrabble letter scores), but I'm content to play it without worrying about point scores.

One other thing: I was somewhat disappointed to see my original clue for 18-Across (DARLIN) was changed from "1967 hit for the Beach Boys" -- but that's probably for the best.

Barry Silk

WM said...

Fun to have a more in depth interview...every insight is interesting. Was also excited to have another Barry Silk puzzle today.

Thank you to both C.C. and Mr Silk for for the interview. The challenge is always invigorating.

SandbridgeKaren said...

Thanks Barry for the interview and posts. I always enjoy your puzzles but this one was a true hammer for me, expected on a Saturday though. I was humbled but not deterred. I do wonder how someone becomes a crossword puzzle editor - I mean it's not something a 5th grader says they want to grow up to be. Makes me admire editors and constructors even more.