Aug 27, 2009

Interview with Don Gagliardo

Ever since we switched to LA Times Daily Crossword on March 23, 2009, there have been a very few Thursday puzzles that were enjoyed by almost every solver in terms of theme creativity, solvability, "wow" factor and lack of "huh?". Don Gagliardo's ALFRED HITCHCOCK is one of them.

Don placed 10 theme answers in the grid, and intersected ALFRED HITCHCOCK with five movies in which Hitchcock had a cameo role. Don's "Hard G" puzzle is my all-time "Shock and Awe". I also loved his HUSH HUSH MEETING tremendously.

Don "Hard G" Gagliardo started constructing puzzle in Sept 2006. Since then, he has had 38 puzzles published by LA Times. I am constantly amazed by his originality and bold thinking. Now every time I see his byline, I expect some thrilling theme. Hope you enjoy the interview.

What inspired this puzzle? What are the other theme answers you considered but failed to make the cut?

This puzzle which is to appear Thursday, August 27, was simply inspired by numbers. The goal was to come up with a unique approach, so I chose something we all love, money. My original intent was to have the denominations one, five, ten, twenty and fifty. I had phrases like FABULOUS FIFTIES, ROARING TWENTIES under consideration. All the phrases had to do with positive adjectives associated with denominational numbers. I then realized that I had left out the rare two-dollar bills. I also thought that the two-dollar bill adjective should be contrary to the nature of the other bills because they are such odd-balls. To further enhance their contrariness, I thought the theme answer should come down the page versus the across for the others. I went with three across theme entries (one, five and ten dollar bills) and took a chance that I could find a way to work in the two-dollar bill going down. By incredible luck, I was able to cross the three across entries with the one down entry that I had chosen. To even further enhance the difference, I purposely created asymmetry in the puzzle, attributing it to the down theme answer in the clue. It sounded simple, but it sure became complex!

Which fills do you think might get "huh?" from the solvers and which ones are you most proud of?

The RICOLA cough drop may not be known everywhere (I can still hear the TV jingle). There is a major Chinese city, XIAN, which people may not know. PINKO is a funny word that may have last come up in a MASH episode, but is long gone and possibly unknown to younger people. The phrase "WE'RE ON" is possibly new to puzzles and may throw off solvers. Because it may be a first in puzzles (I don't see it in any databases), it would be a point of honor to have come up with it. I like combining abbreviations and words, which I did a couple times, and there is a short name in there, all of which creates unusual and interesting letter combinations.

How would you describe your style? You seem to like letter play. I truly love your HARD G and HUSH HUSH MEETING.

Yes, I love playing with quirky letter and word situations. You mentioned the HARD-G and HUSH-HUSH MEETING puzzles, thank you Zhouqin. The G puzzle was not originally intended as it was. I was playing with long theme answers with lots of J-sounding Gs (inspired by Ginger Rogers!) and thought, what if I could make all the down words be hard-Gs. Then I expanded it to include as many Gs as I could get into the puzzle. The HUSH-HUSH MEETING was literally the inspiration for that puzzle. I liked the phrase, and my inclination was to apply some aspect of letters to the phrase.

What is the most memorable puzzle you've made? Why is it so special?

I had a puzzle with 30 Ks in it last year (2/21/08). It was memorable mostly because of the wonderful response that I got from solvers.

What is a perfect puzzle to you? Who are your favorite constructors?

The perfect puzzle is the one that really turns the wheels in my brain. I like it when I struggle with all the clues, and suddenly it seems like all the answers happen at once. Two of my favorite puzzles of all time, and this in the Will Weng days at the New York Times, were by Peter E. Price and Edward J. O'Brien. Price's puzzle was a themeless Sunday, but with a very elaborate interlock of intriguing words and phrases. O'Brien's puzzle also had incredible interlock, with three stacked 21's, and the theme was extremely fun, with rhyming made-up phrases. I got hooked then, and have enjoyed the endless imaginations of constructors over a long period of time. There are many wonderful ones out there now, too many to mention, and I love them all!

What is your background and what prompted you to make your first crossword?

Because my father introduced me to puzzles, my desire was to give back to him. Thus my first efforts were to make puzzles for my father. I constructed puzzles on and off since junior high school, but waited until I was about 50 to start getting serious about it. My background is a rounded education, with interests mainly in the arts and sciences. By trade I am a piano technician.

Besides constructing crossword, what else do you do for fun?

Barbara (my wife) and I like to play Scrabble and piano. Lots of nature walks, especially with our doggy Violet, are always welcome. There are many subjects that interest me, so my reading tends toward non-fiction. Comic books are a passion of mine, which is ironic because I read few as a child. I also get in some occasional golf.


14 comments:

Hahtool said...

Wonderful interview, CC. Thanks.

Dennis said...

Great interview, Don and C.C. It's obvious that our constructors are passionate about their work, and it certainly is apparent in this interview. It's gotta be such a feeling of satisfaction when everything comes together, as it obviously did in today's puzzle.

Also interesting to note that it's a badge of honor to come up with a word or phrase that hasn't been used in a crossword before. Pretty cool.

I really enjoyed this one; thanks.

Anonymous said...

Don, is the 30 Ks puzzle archived somewhere? I enjoyed the interview.

Lemonade714 said...

Just a great way to start the day, thank you both.

treefrog said...

Enjoyed the interview. Loved the Alfred Hitchcock puzzle.

Barb B said...

Don Gagliardo, I love your crosswords. I loved the Alfred Hitchcock earlier this month and the GEES theme in April and the SHH one from May. I know there are more, but those are my favorites.

C.C. Thank you so much for making a place for puzzle constructors and puzzle solvers to get to know each other.

C. C. said...

Anonymous @7:44am,
Here is Don's 30 K's puzzle.

Barb B et al,
I should also point it out that this interview would not have been possible without Rich Norris. He is a quiet hero.

JD said...

Mr G, your puzzle was so much fun today, just like a good mystery-couldn't wait to finish! Thanks for sharing, and CC, thanks for taking the time to do these excellent interviews.Each one helps us understand how complicated this puzzle making is.

Linda said...

CC: You missed your calling...you are an excellent "reporter."

Mr. G: So glad to know that puzzles don`t have to be symmetrical... my piddling efforts often aren`t.

WM said...

Another excellent interview with terrific insight. Really loved the Alfred Hitchcock puzzle, especially because there were 2 movies I wasn't familiar with.

I applaud the fact that you generously give us enough information to make the puzzle doable and we get to have a good time along the way. The journey is as much a part of the fun as reaching the destination.

C.C. many thanks again for asking just the right questions.

kazie said...

Don,
Sounds like you enjoy challenging yourself. It works for us too! Thanks for the insights.

dominicabush said...

wow nice blog. i liked it

dhananjaya said...

your puzzle is also published in the times of India. hence we request you and all other "puzzlers" to keep that in mind,so that we can also take up your challenge.. I am doing the TOI crossword since the 15 years, but since the last 8-9 months, its become unsolvable for a non-american

dhananjaya said...

your puzzle is also published in the times of India. hence we request you and all other "puzzlers" to keep that in mind,so that we can also take up your challenge.. I am doing the TOI crossword since the 15 years, but since the last 8-9 months, its become unsolvable for a non-american