Jul 29, 2009

Interview with Jerome Gunderson

Since June 2007, Jerome Gunderson has had 6 puzzles published by LA Times. Had we switched to LAT one week earlier on March 16, 2009, he would be the first LAT constructor we encountered.

Jerome loves anagrams. And he has a terrific sense of Norwegian humor, being a great grandson of an Olaf. Last time when Dennis brought up "Water a Flower Day", Jerome responded with "Baloney! Why would anyone put more water in a river?" - one of my favorite blog Comments.

I also enjoy and value Jerome's analysis of each puzzle. He always brings out the highlight of each grid and helps us to appreciate every constructing effort.

I love imperfection in art/life, and I am really touched by Jerome's "tiny flaw in a Navajo rug" & blemish fill in a perfect puzzle analogy.

How is today's puzzle different from your original submission? Any significant change on the grid?

Today's puzzle is very different from the original submission. The first draft had TEASE hidden in TEA SERVICE. Rich canned that because tease split two words and the other theme words were contained in just one. Big mistake on my part. So tease was out the window and replaced by RAZZLE DAZZLE. That change led to altering, by necessity, a large part of the grid. The constructor is the one responsible for having to deal with that. It's not the editor's job to redo a puzzle. It's the author's responsibility.

Which is the seed word of this puzzle? How did you come up with the set of theme answers?

Tease was the seed word. It simply occurred to me that you could take other words that meant tease and use them in a clever way by hiding them in unrelated phrases. I wanted the solver to have to work a little to catch on even though the theme is staring you in the face, right smack-dab out front.

The theme entries were fairly easy to come up with. How many phrases start with RAZZ, JOSH, KID and RIB? That easiness was pure luck. Not often does it work that way.

What's your background? How did you get involved in crossword solving/constructing?

When I was a lad my heroes were Jack London and Maxim Gorky. I was going to be as adventurous as they. Turns out that I never sailed the seas or walked the breadth of Russia. But I did land a job as a short order cook in a funky little diner. After two days training I was left on my own to handle breakfast and lunch. It became clear really quick why it is said all cooks are drunks. Each morning one of the waitresses would come in early and do the daily puzzle in the San Francisco Chronicle. I got into the habit of helping her. I don't think we ever finished one but it began a lifelong love of crosswords. In 2005 I made one and managed to get Merl Reagle to take a look at it. I thought the puzzle brilliant. A couple of days later he sent me a detailed critique. He pretty much said it might have been the crappiest puzzle he'd ever seen. His honesty (I still owe him for that) compelled me to improve. For two years I did every puzzle I could lay my hands on, and continued to make puzzles. Which I showed no one. I constantly compared the puzzles of the pros against my own stuff with the purpose of discovering the difference between the two. In 2007 I sent Nancy Salomon a few theme ideas and she liked a couple of them. In fact, she co-wrote my first puzzle and it appeared in June of that year in the Los Angeles Times. To this day she's gracious enough to respond when I ask for a helping hand.

As I was trying to be London or Gorky I wandered around a lot from town to town. Mostly in the Southwest and California. I had many jobs in my teen years. From the age of twenty to twenty nine I was an organizer for the United Farm Workers Union and a Teamster. For the last thirty years I've been a union carpenter. I live in a small town called Healdsburg. It's about an hour north of San Francisco. I'm blessed to be married to an extraordinary woman named Roxanna.

What is a perfect puzzle to you? What kind of themes/fills fascinate you?

The perfect puzzle would have Dan Naddor's cleverness, Merl Reagle's zaniness, Cathy Allis's humor, Nancy Salomon's fabulous fill, and the clues written by Bob Klahn.

I was fortunate to have lived on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona for two years. While there I learned that some rug makers purposely weaved a tiny flaw into the rug. The idea being that humans were not perfect, only the gods were. The flaw was simply a statement of humbleness. My puzzle today has the word ETES in it. It's my offering to a higher power. So I don't want to hear about it.

I enjoy any well crafted puzzle regardless of the theme. However, my favorite crosswords to solve are ones with a lot of whacky words and phrases. The whackier the better. I also love the tough Saturday type puzzle. When it comes to fill I'd rather see a phrase than a word.

What kind of references books do you use? And where do you get your puzzle inspirations?

My dictionaries are Random House Unabridged and Merriam Webster's. On line I use Onelook quite a lot. These sources are mostly for cluing and making sure my spelling is correct.

Inspiration and ideas can only come from your mind. There are an infinite amount of puzzle ideas to draw on. You simply have to find a way to tap into the billions of possibilities just sitting there unused. I don't believe that puzzles are an art form or that they take exceptional talent. I certainly don't believe you have to be a brainiac or highly educated to create one. I'm living proof of that. Most people are talented in something and most people have a good imagination. I firmly convinced that almost anybody could learn to make a crossword puzzle. Ultimately, I suppose you have to inspire yourself to accomplish anything. The inspirations of a muse are only you talking to yourself.

If anyone has a question I'd be delighted to respond.

16 comments:

Dennis said...

Wow, what a great interview! This was the best one yet, for the insight provided as well as the fact that Jerome has graced us with his comments on the blog and we've gotten to know him a bit.

I'm with Jerome - I'd always rather see a phrase than a word for a fill, and the whackier words truly force us to think outside the box. His idea of the perfect puzzle was just great.

Thanks, C.C. and Jerome for another outstanding piece of reading.

Argyle said...

Hi, I was a little surprised by the two 3-letter themes and the two 4-letter themes.

Is this common and acceptable?

Do you think it's too far removed now to use "Don't tease me, Bro" as the theme title? (Everybody can comment on that.)

Dick said...

C.C., a great interview with lots of insight into the author and his views on puzzle construction.

Argyl, I like your "Don't tease me, Bro". Very creative, maybe you should try constructing a puzzle.

PJB-Chicago said...

Very nicely done C.C.--you definitely know how to ask the right questions, which is a very rare talent. Jerome, thanks for your candor & insight. In both the "worlds" that I inhabit (healthcare & a little comedy on the side), people say that you shouldn't criticize someone's work unless you know you're better at it than the other person. (Mom would add that if you are better, well "keep it to yourself!"). I know for a fact that I don't have one tenth of the logic or determination of constructors such as Jerome, so I'm going to try to remember that there's a human behind the grid, and to appreciate the brains & sweat that went into building it!
Thanks again to both of you for reminding us of why we love our puzzles.

kazie said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this interview, lots of good information. Thanks to both c.c. and Jerome. And I don't have any objection to étés! Seems we need at least one token French word every day!

Sallie said...

A second day of getting the puzzle with no help. Thank you, Jerome. It has happened only yesterday doing the LA Times.
Great comments on constructing. I am most appreciative.

Fred said...

I found the interview very insightful. Good job both of you. It is always interesting to read how a constructor comes up with, and puts together a puzzle. I really liked the inclusion of the interaction between Jerome and Rich Norris. It is a very common happening (more than you might think).

JoJo said...

Hey All, Definitely, harder than last two days. Terrific interview. This CW ws a lot of fun! Was able to finish w/ no help, although some answers came from perps. As much as I love woking to solve the puzzles I cannot imagine trying to create one, the patience it would take, I do not posess. Thanks for a stimulating puzzle, and interview.

Clear Ayes said...

I'm impressed! It is great fun to see a regular contributor on this blog display his talent with an entertaining pangram.

I thought the interview was one of the best yet. Jerome, your comment about "the tiny flaw" gave me a new respect for those little "toss in" fills that I had thought we see too often. I'll go easier on them in the future.

Thanks to both Jerome and C.C. for giving us this inside look.

JoJo said...

One last thing, my actual name is Joshua. I would love to know how the name came to be used as a term for teasing. I never questioned it before.

Crockett1947 said...

Great interview. I don't know about anyone being able to construct a puzzle, but it probably comes down to determination and desire. Since I don't have the desire to construct, I'll just stay on the solving side and enjoy myself over here.

Thanks for the interview, C.C. and Jerome!

Jazzbumpa said...

Jerome -

I do sincerely believe the crossword puzzle is an art form.

You might not have exceptional talent (but, then again, maybe you do!) However, you do have a talent that is, at least, uncommon. And you've put a lot of effort into honing it, with excellent results.

Henceforth, I will look for the one Navajo Humility Mark (henceforth NHM) in every puzzle, and everything that I do.

I'm impressed and delighted by your skill in anagramming - a thing I'm very bad at. (Makes me an easy mark at Scrabble. I attribute it to cross-dominance.)

Do you find that particular skill helpful in construction?

Cheers!

JimmyB said...

Great interview, C.C. and Jerome. I always love the insight into the minds of our constructors.

I got the puzzle just fine but had no idea regarding the theme until checking it out here. I thought it might have something to do with all the double-letter words (ZZ's, BB's, TT's etc.): 18 in across fills and 11 in down fills. Seemed like an excessive amount to me so thought it might mean something. Guess not!

Argyle: "Don't tease me, Bro!" Brilliant!

Strange coincidence with Jerome's fascination with Jack London. We just visited Jack London State Park near Sonoma a couple of weeks ago. (Wanted to expose our little guy -15 years old - to one of the local literary icons). I'm sure Jerome's been there since it's not very far from Healdsburg. Quite an adventurer, that guy London.

Barb B said...

What a great interview. Thank you C.C., and thank you Jerome.

I prefer whacky puzzles to intellectual ones, it’s so nice to start the day smiling. I’m with Clear Ayes; I will appreciate the flaws in the future.

I love the interviews, and all the constructors have been impressive, but Jerome has a sense of humor and accessibility that makes him a bit special, in my opinion. The fact that he posts on the blog even on days he isn’t the constructor puts him on a different level for me. (You too, Fred.)

WM said...

Jerome...Wondefully fun puzzle! C.C., absolutely terrific interview. Great questions elicit terrific answers.

It is always neat to get insight into the mind of a cruciverbalist(I just love that word)...it helps me to appreciate the solving.

I think Healdsburg is a lovely little town with great restaurants and a lovely Town Square with one of the two remaining Oakville Grocery stores...used to go up there for meetings when I worked for the Palo Alto one. You are also in apple country and near Sebastopol where my friend has her goat farm. Lovely country.

Thanks to you both for the interview.

Chickie said...

Thank you C.C. and Jerome for a very insightful interview. Being a novice at this crossword solving it is extremely helpful to see into the construction and execution of a crossword.

I was able to do today's puzzle without any help--unusal for me, and very satisfying.

I enjoy Jerome's comments on our Blog and hope he'll continue to be a part of our crossword experience, as a constructor and a Blogger.